After years of sideline painting and photography as a pastime, a now retired Sue Weathers is finding an abundance of inspiration in the mountains of Western North Carolina — far away from her childhood home in England.

Since moving to Macon County five years ago, Weathers, who previously worked in laboratory safety, has been able to refocus on her first loves — painting and photography.

“Mostly what I’ve done, I’ve done here; I’ve learned to do here,” Weathers said.

Weathers does not paint many still-lifes and detailed portraits but instead emphasizes the shapes within a scene and the feeling the view evokes.

“What I paint is to do with the shapes that I see and also the feeling it gives me,” Weathers said. “I don’t do a lot of detail stuff.”

Weathers uses oils or watercolors, or both, to illustrate her picturesque surroundings in Macon County where she has lived for five years. “How can you not paint something like that?” Weathers asked. “I have just been taken over by the landscape.”

The watercolors offer a flatter mountain background, while the oils allow parts of the painting to stand out, giving the work perspective. Weathers avoids pieces that could be mistaken for photography — another art form that she has dabbled in since the age of 7.

“I don’t like my paintings to look like photographs,” Weathers said. “(Although) I like my photographs to look like paintings sometimes.”

Weathers received her first camera — a Kodak Box Brownie — when she was just six or seven. She later graduated to a Kodak 35mm camera

Her father was a master photographer and owned a retail camera store in England.  He sold cameras and equipment, developed film, and took photos. Her parents would spend most of their days and nights working at the shop, and Weathers would spend the time painting or entertaining herself with other activities until early in the morning, sometimes 1 or 2 a.m., when the work was finally done.

“It was something to do,” Weathers said. “There is a lot of down time when your parents are working.”

With her early life immersed in photography, it seems only natural that she would delve into the art herself. However, her dad had qualms about the matter.

“I really wanted to do photos, but my dad didn’t want me to. He thought there were better things,” Weathers said.

So, she went to the University of Liverpool and earned a degree in science. Weathers then moved to Alberta, Canada, before settling in the U.S. Weathers moved to Rabun Gap about five years ago after living for a time in Florida and recently moved closer to downtown Franklin to be closer to the Macon County Art Council’s Uptown Gallery.

Similar to her painting, Weathers’ photos focus mostly on nature.

For the most part, Weathers allows her photos to speak for themselves and does very little doctoring.

“I don’t mess with my images very much, but I do saturate them,” Weathers said.

Weathers enjoys both mediums — one allows for more abstraction, while the other is more detail-oriented. One of her paintings is a perfect example. Weathers photographed a nature scene with trees lining a river and mountains in the background. And, although the photograph captured each leaf and crevice, it could not capture the way the sun hit the rocks well enough to Weathers’ liking. So instead, she painted it.

If she had to choose, Weathers said she would stick with painting.

“I think I am growing more as an artist with the painting,” Weathers said.

Weathers currently shows works at Uptown Gallery in Franklin and will open a studio in her home this summer.

For more information about the artist and her work, visit

The Macon County Planning Board has been given one simple task: review the subdivision ordinance with the intention of making it more user friendly.

The directive came in a relatively brief get together and make-pretty joint meeting with the Macon County Board of Commissioners, held over barbecue dinners at Fat Buddies restaurant in Franklin. The pleasantries exchanged were a far cry from the controversies that have embroiled the planning board for the past year or so.

Macon County’s subdivision ordinance already has been reviewed four times previously. The planning board will start the review process of the subdivision ordinance May 17, and at that same meeting will elect a chairman and vice chairman. Lewis Penland has served as chairman for four years.

“I’m debating back and forth about it. I’m still undecided,” Penland said Monday about whether he will seek the chairman’s post again. “But there’s part of me that’s stubborn and stupid and that wants to do it again.”

Penland also said that several of his fellow planning board members have asked him to remain on as chairman.

Penland, a professional golf-course developer, has been a lightening rod for criticism as the pro-planning and anti-planning factions in Macon County have warred over the past couple of years. Penland is an unabashed supporter of some form of steep-slope regulations and a proponent of construction guidelines for developers. Neither of those Penland-led initiatives have passed muster with the conservative-dominated Macon County Board of Commissioners, however.

The steep slope ordinance seems now to be dead in the water, and not a peep about construction guidelines were heard during the joint meeting. The construction guidelines would have set very basic requirements for developers on such things as hillside excavation and compaction of fill dirt. The guidelines went to commissioners for consideration some nine months ago and haven’t been heard from since.

Instead, commissioners are opting to go back and review its existing ordinance.

None of that tension and backroom drama was in evidence at last week’s meeting. Instead, everyone seemed eager for now to put a happy, smiley face on planning in Macon County.

“We’ve had some controversies in the past,” said Kevin Corbin, Republican chairman of the commission board. “If I have a task as chair of this board it is to move things forward. Planning isn’t just rules and regulations — planning is about planning.”

Democrat Ronnie Beale agreed, saying “we need to move ahead.”

Beale did emphasize that while he supports the review of the subdivision ordinance he wants it fixed and not destroyed.

“The key, the challenge, is to have effective regulations but not gut it,” said Beale, who is a builder by trade.

Republican Jimmy Tate, the new liaison for commissioners to the planning board, said he hopes “everyone will set the needs of Macon County above personal feelings.”

Tate was on the planning board until being appointed about three months ago to the board of commissioners.

Larry Stenger, a nine-year member of the planning board and the current vice chairman, told commissioners it is up to them to set the tone and the course for the planning board.

“If the county commissioners don’t have the vision then the planning board doesn’t have any direction,” Stenger said.

To that end, the planning board was instructed by commissioners to provide recommendations on changes to the subdivision ordinance for interim County Attorney Chester Jones to review. Jones said that he is willing to meet with the planning board as necessary to facilitate the review process.

After the planning board completes tweaking the subdivision ordinance, commissioners said that they’d assign a new task. No deadline was set for the completion of the review.

The planning board will review a list of issues that include:

• Clarifying the language and amounts on surety bonding. If developers want to sell lots before completing subdivisions they are required to put up a monetary bond, intended as a safeguard in case developers walk away and leave unstable, partially graded slopes behind that need fixing.

• Road design standards. A general cleanup of definitions plus consider meat and potatoes issues such as road-turning radius when switchbacks are involved, required road widths, pullouts and general compaction standards.

• Whether to allow the technical review of subdivisions to be handled by county staff instead of the planning board, in large part to expedite the process.

• Clarifying the language about access roads into subdivisions when they cross other people’s property.

A move by the town of Franklin to spray the ancient Nikwasi Indian Mound with weed killer is not sitting well with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks last week described himself as “appalled” and called on the town to formally apologize for what he termed a culturally insensitive action and one that demonstrated a marked lack of respect for the Cherokee people.

“I’m going to make an issue out of it. I am not a happy camper. I’m not happy at all,” Hicks said in an interview. “I think this is really disrespectful to the tribe.”

Hicks said he plans to talk to both town and county leaders in Macon County.

For its part, Franklin leaders said they were merely trying to cut back on weekly mowing maintenance of the mound, which is located on town property. After the grass was killed off, the town intended to replant it with a low-growing native grass variety that wouldn’t need mowing.

“If they were tired of taking care of it or something, they could have approached us for help. We would have sent over our own mowing crew,” Hicks responded.

Nikwasi Indian Mound is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain, Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.

Last month, the town sprayed the 6,000-square-foot mound with an herbicide to kill the grass with the intent of replanting with “eco-grass,” a grass that grows much slower and shorter than regular grass. It had taken a town crew of four workers about half a day once each week during the spring, summer and fall to take care of Nikwasi Mound.

Town Manager Sam Greenwood said he’d made the decision to use the weed killer independently of the town board or of the town’s mound committee. Greenwood said replanting had not taken place yet because “we’re still waiting on the herbicide to break down so we can made sure there’s nothing residual.”

Greenwood said he felt the decision was in the best interest of the town, the mound, and that it was respectful of the tribe.

“This way we can put in a permanent ground cover and keep the town crews off the mound,” he said in explanation.

The future eco-grass won’t require mowing.

“I think they had good intentions, but they went about it wrong,” said Tom Belt, a Cherokee scholar who teaches at Western Carolina University. “It is like deciding you would like to make a change to an alter in a church and not consulting the clergyman or congregation. It would have been appropriate for the people doing that, the caretakers in Franklin, to consult with someone first, to talk with them about what would be the appropriate thing to do.”

The mound is not just a historical marker or symbol to the Cherokee, Belt said, “but has a deeper meaning. A spiritual meaning. And I know the Cherokee people would work with anybody to conserve it.”

Franklin town Alderman Bob Scott was accused in a town memo as having triggered subsequent media coverage of the now denuded mound. He in fact did not do that. Scott said, however, that he didn’t comprehend how some in town had thought the action of spraying herbicide on Nikwasi Indian Mound would pass unnoticed.

“You can’t hide a 500-year-old mound in the middle of town that’s turning brown,” he noted accurately.

Scott, who is a member of the town’s mound committee, said that his understanding was that the town would “let the grass grow up naturally on the mound until we decided what to do. We were trying to do it right so that it would be OK with everybody. We were in no hurry.”

Mayor Joe Collins stopped short of saying the town would issue an apology to Cherokee. He did express regret that the spraying had taken place and said that Greenwood “had overstepped his authority.”

That said, Collins noted that running mowers up and down the mound also isn’t a good caretaking solution. The new grass, he said, “will allow for less tromping around on it.”

Collins is in a particularly sticky situation. He and Hicks both noted his family ties to Cherokee — Collins’ mother was an enrolled member; the mayor is what’s called a first descendent.

“Cherokee is me,” Collins said. “We certainly want to be in accord with the Eastern Band, which is our neighbors and, in some ways, our family.”

Collins said this situation might prove an opportunity to engage in a conversation with the tribe about the mound.

There have been some discussions in Franklin about turning the area into a park of sorts.

“We have been a faithful steward of Nikwasi Indian Mound,” Collins said. “We are acutely aware of its significance. We have protected that mound for generations and will continue to do so.”

Tee Coker and his company recently learned firsthand something they probably already suspected about creating brands and taglines for towns. Forget about pleasing everyone: it can be an insurmountable challenge to please anyone at all when it comes to developing exactly the right slogan for a community.

“It turned out a tagline wasn’t something Highlands either wanted or needed,” Coker said, perhaps reminded about Coca-Cola and its legendary public-relations disaster with “new Coke.”

Coker and his marketing consultant company, Arnette, Muldrow & Associates, were trying to convince Highlands’ leaders that the town had an upgraded image and needed a new slogan to match. Coker’s masterpiece — “Simply Stunning” — was destined for the same dustbin of history as new Coke, however.

Coker didn’t take the rejection personally, it should be noted. That’s just part of the job when your profession is developing taglines or slogans.

“It’s fun to do this for the most part,” Coker said. “But, it’s certainly challenging.”

Coker said that each community the company works with has its own personalities involved and various motivations at play for developing taglines. That can make reaching consensus difficult.

In Western North Carolina, quite a few communities have adopted a brand and slogan. Maggie Valley is “Can you come out and play?” Franklin is “Discover us.” Macon County is “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life.”

The challenge is coming up with a slogan or motto that highlights a community’s assets and creates an identity to distinguish it from other places. That can be difficult because everyone here, more or less, plays off our mountain locale.

In Haywood County, the tourism agency uses “See yourself in the Smokies.” Neighboring Cherokee is “Meet me in the Smokies.”

In local communities, the task of picking taglines has been taken up by marketing professionals, town officials, residents and wide assortments of tourism-oriented committees.


Community pride

In Western North Carolina, logos and slogans reflect the heritage, history and image of the region’s towns.

Big cities use big dollars to brand and create taglines. New York is “The city that never sleeps.” Chicago is the “Windy City.” Virginia is for lovers. Las Vegas is “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Austin is “Keep Austin weird.”

But, branding and taglines are not just for the big cities of the world. When any city, county or state adopts a tagline, slogan or motto, it’s pitching that destination as a place to visit, live or work.

“We wanted something understated and unique to Highlands,” said Ron Shaffner, design committee chairman for the Highlands Small Town Main Street Program. “‘Simply Stunning’ sounded like something that relates to weddings or diamonds — and that’s not Highlands. We felt ‘Simply Stunning’ might become ‘Simply Cliché’ after 10 years or so.”

Arnette, Muldrow & Associates led a series of roundtables in Highlands during two days in February. While the “Simply Stunning” slogan is a no-go, the design committee has pretty much settled on a suitably understated logo: an image of a tree simply baring the town’s name, “Highlands, North Carolina.”

“It turns out Highlands doesn’t really have to market itself aggressively so it isn’t that shocking that they don’t want a tagline. Highlands is a special case in many ways — there’s not really any other analogous communities in the Southeast,” Coker said.

The logo is simple and small enough to fit on a lapel pin or to go on letterheads or even on the sides of town vehicles.

The town might use its elevation — 4,118 feet — in branding efforts too, he said. The Highlands Chamber of Commerce already capitalizes on that claim to fame as the basis for its distinguishing slogan “Above it all.”


A changing community

“The tough thing about it is trying to make a tagline that is all things to all people,” said Matt Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce.

Cherokee, as much as any community in WNC, is in transition. For decades the Cherokee Indian Reservation marketed itself as a family destination for cultural events. That’s still true, but now you also have Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort and such specialty niches as trout fishing on the Oconaluftee River.

Pegg said a good slogan must reflect the myriad nature of the offerings in a community such as Cherokee but not be so generic as to be useless.

“And there’s probably not another place you can go from the National Park to all the glitz and glamour of what will be at Harrah’s,” Pegg said, referring to the casino expansion and the new casino entrance under construction. Known as the rotunda, the new entrance that will feature shining five-story trees made of colored glass, with a 75-foot waterfall cascading down the middle and a 140-foot screen wrapping around the walls where choreographed light and surround-sound shows will be projected.

Pegg said committees and marketing professionals helped develop Cherokee’s taglines, including the currently in use “Meet me in the Smokies.”

“If it’s something we can do we try to do it internally, but we’ll certainly bring in groups to help, too,” Pegg said.


Heeding demographics

Until recently, neighboring Swain County like Cherokee played off of its position next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For several years, Bryson City used “base camp for adventure.” After reviewing visitor demographics, the town opted to change course, however.

Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, said that it turned out the most important decision maker when it comes to trips to Swain County is actually 40-year-old women. The “base camp for adventure” was deemed too extreme to attract a wide cross section of visitors, particularly that imaginary 40-year-old woman.

“We do get a lot of younger folks, but we didn’t want to scare off that other demographic by saying we’re too extreme,” Wilmot said, saying she didn’t think most 40-year-old women were looking for freestyle kayaking events or to mountain bike at Tsali Recreation Area, two well known Swain County-based sports possibilities.

“We wanted to think about that armchair adventurer, too,” Wilmot said, saying the tourism agency wanted to include gentler outdoor adventuring such as walking up Deep Creek to see the waterfalls.

In the end, the tagline chosen was open ended: “My Bryson City is …. (you fill in the blank).” The message, and the photo accompanying it, changes according to the publication viewers being targeted — “My Bryson City is dazzling” might accompany an advertisement highlighting autumn color. “My Bryson City is the Dragon” could accompany a photo of a motorcyclist targeting a riding audience.

“It is an easily manipulated yet consistent message,” Wilmot said, adding that an advertising firm helped develop Bryson City’s changing tagline.

“We were all sort of thinking the same things, and we knocked ideas around in a creative meeting then took a couple ideas to the board,” she said.

Bryson City is also an example of how difficult it can be to rid yourself of an old tagline you might have outgrown. For years the town went by “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon,” and in fact, there’s still a sign on old U.S. 19 coming into town boasting this fact. Brad Walker, a former town mayor who’s long been involved in the hotel business in WNC, said that particular tagline of “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” was developed by the tourism agency in Swain County some 10 or 15 years ago.

“We were trying to figure out what the town is. And we decided the biggest thing we are is that we are in the Smokies, and we are the opposite of Gatlinburg,” Walker said.

So “unhurried, unspoiled and uncommon” really meant not Gatlinburg, Walker said.

Asheville, formerly “Altitude affects attitude,” has also undergone a change that reflects the city’s transition and newest image as a center of all-things-hip. Asheville is now “Any way you like it.”

Taglines and identities can be funny things. Some communities — in this case, Bryson City once again — can be downright protective of them. Bryson City recently took issue to the wording on a public art piece being installed on Main Street in Waynesville.

Donations are helping erect a replica of a historic arch that once spanned Waynesville’s main street, proclaiming the town as the “Eastern Entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

That wording was too long for the artistic replica, however, so instead it will bear the words “Gateway to the Smokies.”

Not long after news stories ran about the arch, Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway received a phone call from Bryson City Town Manager Lee Callicutt regarding the wording on the arch. It was a slogan that Bryson City has used on its seal and police department badges for decades.

Callicutt had been directed to pass the concern of the Town of Bryson City onto Waynesville. The concern was duly noted but nothing came out of it.


Deciding around the table

Advertising agencies and companies can spend a fortune writing the right tagline. Small towns don’t have that kind of money. So sometimes they simply borrow.

Macon County’s current tagline, “Enjoy the beauty, discover the life” is a tweaked version of one a small business there was using, said Linda Harbuck, longtime executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Committees are used in Macon County to decide on taglines, saving on dollars and tapping local talent when it comes to defining the exact image to project. Harbuck said that community has had a number of different taglines during the years. The longest running one was “gem capitol of the world,” a play off of the large number of gem mining operations in Macon County. Macon County also has used “Mountain treasures, simple pleasures.”

“We don’t have any scientific ways of coming up with them,” Harbuck said. “A lot of things have just come from us sitting around the table talking.”

That’s been true in Maggie Valley, too, said Teresa Smith, executive director of the chamber of commerce there.

“We’ve used several recently,” she said. “We are trying to play off the park and being in the great outdoors.”

Maggie Valley uses a marketing committee to come up with choices. During the past several years, the town has used “Maggie’s calling.” Last year, they used “Far enough away yet close enough to play.” This year, it was tweaked to “Can you come out and play?”

Smith said it is indeed difficult to come up with taglines that make all those involved happy. Maggie Valley tourism leaders hold several meetings a year to do just that, usually working around a theme to help define the image Maggie Valley wants to project.

Jackson County recently has scaled down its slogan to focus on a single image it wants to project: mountains. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce recently has been just using “N.C. Mountains.” It has also used “Mountain lovers love Jackson County” during the past few years, and previously used “A change of altitude,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the chamber of commerce.


Brand vs. tagline

Betty Huskins, a longtime marketing expert with Ridgetop Associates, makes a clear distinction between brands and taglines. A brand, Huskins said, “is who you are in other people’s minds. A lot of people feel they’ve developed a brand when they’ve gotten a slogan or tagline, but you can’t just choose that.”

You can’t, in other words, choose the perception people have of you simply by picking a catchy slogan.

Huskins said ideally in marketing “you have to see who you are and build what you want to be.”

Huskins said the best taglines, as she was taught and still believes, should be no more than three words (think Highlands’ “Above it all.”)

A tagline, she said, should ultimately define “who you are and what you do.”

Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, said a tagline has to generate an emotional response.

“You may think it is wonderful, but if people don’t respond to it, it doesn’t do much good,” she said. “If you have a really good slogan they know where you are talking about. It needs to appeal to people on an emotional level.”

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is currently using “See yourself in the Smokies.” The previously used tagline, “where the sun rises on the Smokies,” is still used too on logos, Collins said.

A few years ago, Haywood County made the tagline switch to “See yourself in the Smokies” on advertising to try to get prospective visitors to picture themselves doing such activities as skiing or hiking.

“We did it to get people to put themselves in that photo and imagine doing those activities,” Collins said. “It’s just another format of using the Smokies and to evoke that emotional response.”

Like Huskins, Collins makes a distinction between branding and taglines. Haywood County’s brand, she said, “is our natural scenic beauty.” The slogan is to try to get people to come and participate in that great scenic beauty in Haywood County.


Current slogans:

Bryson City: My Bryson City is ___

Canton: Where the mountains kiss the sky

Cashiers: Nature’s design for enjoyment

Cherokee: Meet me in the Smokies

Franklin: Discover us

Haywood County: See yourself in the Smokies

Highlands: Above it all

Maggie Valley: Can you come out and play?

Macon County: Enjoy the beauty, discover the life


Facebook-submitted slogans, courtesy of our readers


The use of weed killer to temporarily denude an ancient Indian mound in Franklin has some critics accusing the town of cultural insensitivity.

Nikwasi Indian Mound, which is located within Franklin’s town limits and is tended to and maintained by town crews, is one of the largest intact mounds remaining in Western North Carolina. Large earthen mounds were built to mark the spiritual and civic center of American Indian towns that once dotted the Little Tennessee River Valley through Macon County and the region. Scholars note that while its precise age is uncertain Nikwasi Mound pre-dates even the Cherokee.

“I think it is totally disrespectful and terrible for them to be so cheap that they won’t just cut the grass,” said Lamar Marshall, a local historian on Cherokee sites and places. “They are always bellyaching about having to mow the grass on it.”

It takes a town crew of four workers about half a day once each week during spring, summer and fall to take care of Nikwasi Mound. Or rather, it used take that amount of time — Town Manager Sam Greenwood explained the intent of last week’s herbicide application is to eventually replant Nikwasi Mound with “Eco-Grass.” Town Mayor Joe Collins defended his town manager’s decision to apply herbicide.

“We are looking at a way to basically be able to not mow it during grass-growing season,” Collins said. “It is very labor intensive and it keeps a lot of traffic on the mound.”

Collins said the new grass essentially stops growing at about six inches tall, removing the need to mow each week.

The mound is approximately 6,000-square-feet in size. The town does not have an exact cost yet on how much money it will pay for hydroseeding, but the cost of the Eco-Grass comes to $32 per 1,000 square feet, Greenwood said.

The town manager said the herbicide application was a one-time thing to kill off existing grass and weeds to pave the way for planting the Eco-grass. In two weeks, crews will rough up the mound using rakes and the Eco-Grass seed will be sprayed onto the mound, he said.

“It’s not very expensive or intrusive, and it will keep the mowers and the mowers’ smoke off the mound. It’s a very conservative approach, and once (the seed) gets applied, it will look very close to what it was,” the mayor said. “This is going to mean less traffic and reduce impact on the mound.”

Greenwood said the town also plans to institute a town law that would allow police officers to enforce rules keeping people off the mound, and an informational kiosk about it will be placed there to help visitors understand the significance of the site. Nikwasi Mound in 1980 was designated an archaeological site on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marshall, however, believes the herbicide was inappropriate despite the long-term goal of getting out of the mound-mowing business. Marshall pointed to the human and environmental risks of weed killers.

“The safe poisons today are banned tomorrow when there is enough time to research them,” Marshall said.

Marshall said the town does not fully appreciate the importance and heritage of Nikwasi Mound.

“It could be the centerpiece of the entire town,” Marshall said. “It’s a waste of a valuable local resource.”

Three of the five seats on the Macon County Board of Commissioners are up for election this year, and all have a primary race that needs deciding for either one party or the other. Democrats will be asked to narrow down the field in one race, while Republicans will have two races on the ballots.

Last week, in an effort to help voters hear from the candidates firsthand, the Macon County League of Women Voters hosted a forum for those men running for commissioner. Five of the six involved in the primary election participated.

The primary issues in these races were addressed at the forum: issues about what role, if any, land planning should play in Macon County; and how to jumpstart an economy struggling through a recession.


Republican primary for district two (Franklin): Pick one

(The primary winner wins the seat for keeps, as there is no Democratic challenger for this seat in the general election.)

Kevin Corbin, 50, insurance business owner

How would you help the local economy?

Corbin said that the recession hit Macon County particularly hard because of its heavy dependence on the construction market and tourism.

“What can we do? Government needs to stay out of the way. Small business creates business. Government does not create business.”

Corbin spoke about current efforts of the Economic Development Commission. He noted that the Board of Commissioners had identified the EDC as its top priority and taken measures to bolster it with the addition of a fulltime executive director as opposed to the previous position of an “economic development coordinator.”

“We hold them accountable,” he said, noting that the board gets a direct report once each month.

Where do you stand on land planning?

“I don’t have all the answers, and we’re learning as we go,” Corbin said of Macon County’s strident conversations about land planning. “It’s been very frustrating to me … when these things get emotional and people start arguing back and forth, it’s not helpful to anyone.”

Corbin said that he believes the recent move to define the planning board as clearly advisory in nature has helped, “and things will move forward in a positive way.”

What’s important to you to address?

Education, Corbin said, “is near and dear to my heart. Educating kids has got to be a top priority. If you don’t care about that, then you don’t care about our future.”

He said that the technology needs of the schools must be tackled. In 2000, he said Macon County went from 80th to 11th in state rankings on technology, but now the rotation of computers has gone from five years to nine and almost 10 years. Corbin said that some of the county’s healthy fund balance (it stands at 33 percent) should be allocated to the schools for the technology program.

“It just makes sense to take care of our kids.”


Vic Drummond, 68, retired owner of his own computer consulting and software development services business

How would you help the local economy?

While politicians might not be able to directly create jobs, “you can promote policies that attract businesses,” Drummond said, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a low tax rate and the continued development of a great school system and of necessary housing. “Those are the things that will attract people to come to the area,” Drummond said, adding that he does not support tax incentives for new business.

He did echo the sentiment that small business is the true future of Macon County and spoke of the need to have a trained workforce and adequate infrastructure.

Where do you stand on land planning?

“I believe that development is the lifeblood of any community. I’m against planning … that’s going to tell me where I can live, what size yard I can have or that will infringe on my rights to use my property as I see fit.”

Drummond did not totally exclude the use of regulations to fix development problems, but he did emphasize that “I’m against regulations simply for regulations sake.”

What’s important to you to address?

Drummond proposed a 9-percent property tax reduction. Macon County’s tax rate is currently the lowest in the state at 27.9 percent, it’s fund balance stands at 33 percent, more than double many counties.

Drummond said that millions would be returned to tax payers’ pockets under his plan, which would include holding the line on a 9-percent reduction until the fund balance stands at 25 percent.


Democratic primary for district 3 (Cowee to Nantahala): pick one

(The winner of that race will face Republican Paul Higdon in the general election.)

Bobby Kuppers, 58, Franklin High School teacher

How would you help the local economy?

The civics teacher emphasized three steps in his economic development ladder: keeping what’s there already by being an “entrepreneur-friendly community,” providing workforce training and ensuring there is adequate infrastructure.

“You can’t let your schools slip,” Kuppers said, adding that was equally true for the Macon County Airport facility and the recreation parks. Such things as good schools and recreation parks, Kuppers said, could prove “a big part of getting a company to come here.”

Where do you stand on land planning?

“I think there’s a misconception that there’s an equivalent between planning and regulations,” Kuppers said, adding that “tough economic times demand planning.”

Kuppers said that he believes the county needs to adhere to the Macon County Comprehensive Plan, a document commissioned in January 2009 that created a guide for policy decisions concerning the county’s growth.

He said going forward on proposals for governmental regulations on land planning people can expect to hear him ask, “How does that fit into the comprehensive plan?”

What’s important to you to address?

Kuppers said the challenge of coming out of a recession is that holding the line spending wise in Macon County has come at a cost.

“After awhile what you have is no longer what you need,” he said, referring to infrastructure as “the challenge” now facing the county.

“We’ve got to have a plan,” Kupper said, pointing out that computers in the schools, for instance, are now on a nine-year instead of five-year rotation.

Kuppers said the county’s recreation park, once Macon’s “crown jewel,” is showing impacts of reduced spending and attention.

“Our kids, grandkids, they only get one childhood.”


ick Snyder, 56, property manager

How would you help the local economy?

“I believe the county needs to explore every opportunity to make Macon County small-business friendly.”

Snyder indicated that he believes the county needs to consider making some financing available to companies that are looking to settle or expand in Macon County. Snyder emphasized that he’d want to see any such dollars extended tied directly to job creation.

Where do you stand on land planning?

Snyder, saying he wasn’t much of a talker, simply said that Macon County does need to review its existing ordinances to ensure they are not unduly burdensome.

“It’s making it hard on developers.”

What’s important to you to address?

Snyder briefly emphasized the importance of tourism.

“We need to make Macon County a destination, not a pass through.”

Snyder also said that he believes attention needs to be placed on providing affordable housing and affordable day care.


Republican primary for District one: pick one (Highlands)

The other candidate, Steve Higdon, did not participate in the forum or return a phone message seeking an interview.

(The primary winner wins the seat for keeps, as there is no Democratic challenger for this seat in the general election.)


Jimmy Tate, 40, landscape business owner

How would you help the local economy?

“I think we need to promote our county and be ready for (economic development) when it does get here. Promote, be ready and hold what we have.”

Tate said the table has been set in Macon County through work of the Economic Development Commission. He said that it is important that Macon County build and maintain excellent schools and keep a thriving medical community and hospital as incentives for new businesses.

“We need to outshine everybody else,” Tate said, adding that he, too, believes it’s important that the county keep property taxes low.

Where do you stand on land planning?

Tate has served as a member of both the Highlands planning board and on the Macon County Planning Board. He was recently appointed the liaison to the planning board for commissioners.

“As a county commissioner and as a resident, I will always be a good steward of this county,” he said, adding that he has also, as a small business owner, experienced burdensome government regulation before. “We need balance and commonsense regulations.”

What’s important to you to address?

Tate noted he’s “a rookie” at being a county commissioner. He said that if re-elected he has a simple goal of helping ensure government is efficient. Tate also wants to maintain good schools and ensure communities have adequate law enforcement protection.

Facing a dire state budget outlook and a loss of one-time federal stimulus dollars, Macon County School’s leaders came hat in hand this week asking county commissioners for money.

The school system wants a budget increase of more $1.15 million from the county — both to offset cuts at the state and federal level and to make up for a maintenance backlog brought on by funding cuts in previous years.

The school system is seeking $6.9 million for fiscal year 2012-2013 — up from $6.7 million this fiscal year — plus $1.2 million in capital outlay funding to take care of building maintenance needs. The schools received $250,000 in capital outlay this year.

Macon County commissioners are now working through their own budget process and made no promises one way or another during the work session. County Chairman Kevin Corbin did emphasize that hard times made for hard budget choices, but the former longtime school board chairman also expressed the desire to financially support the schools.

“We’re committed to education,” Corbin said.

Macon County does not plan on instituting a property tax increase this year.

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman forecast an expected $1.4 million cut in state funding. That amount could be offset, however, in the unlikely event that a Gov. Beverly Perdue proposed three-quarter cent sales tax increase passes the General Assembly, Brigman said. Revenue from the tax increase would be dedicated to schools. Macon County also has completely used up $1 million in federal stimulus money in a two-year allocation that was dedicated to school salaries.

“That money was a temporary patch,” Brigman said.

Macon County Schools since 2008 has eliminated through attrition 22.5 jobs, including a principal’s position, 6.5 teachers and 15 teacher assistants.

“The classrooms have been impacted,” Brigman told commissioners.

The biggest discussion point involved money for technology. Macon County Schools has fallen so far behind on replacing computers it’s now on a nine-year rotation schedule, which in the fast-moving world of technology renders the equipment virtually obsolete. Brigman requested $489,000 this upcoming budget year.

This, schools technology leader Tim Burrell said, would put Macon County Schools on a five-year rotation for equipment. It would then require $389,000 annually to keep the schools on that rotation.

School leaders said it would actually take more, $1.2 million, to completely catchup Macon Schools regarding current equipment replacement.

“So that would get you to the starting line,” Commissioner Bobby Kuppers said of the $1.2 million, which is not contained in the actual request for fiscal year 2012-2013.

Kuppers is a teacher at Franklin High School.

One looming issue for Macon County Schools is that starting in 2013 students will be state-required to take and pass online assessments. Burrell said there are not enough computers available at this point for that to take place.

Commissioners asked for a breakdown on exactly what equipment is needed to bring the current system up to snuff plus prepare the schools for conducting online assessments of students.

A huge former antique mall in Macon County will soon become the largest private gambling operation outside of Cherokee when Jokers Wild, a sweepstakes parlor featuring 65 video machines, opens next month.

And, there’s plenty of floor space left to double the number video terminals in the huge, rambling building, located just across the highway from the busy tourist hub Smoky Mountain Hosts.

Heading down the highway toward the Georgia state line, another operation with 30 of these Internet gambling machines will soon be rolled out. In all, there are about a dozen sweepstakes cafés — really, some of these are more like small casinos — operating in Macon County along the stretch of highway leading from Georgia.

Despite criticism that the sweepstakes cafes are simply out-and-out old-style gambling parlors, their popularity is undeniable.

“We’re adults; it’s our choice whether to play or not,” said Joe Donahue, a north Georgia resident who was at Deuces Wild on U.S. 441 one day last week with his wife. “It’s my money.”

By the looks of it, a lot of people feel the same way Donahue feels. This was early on a workday, and several customers were already inside playing. U.S. 441 regulars said that at night, the parking lots of these sweepstakes cafés are packed with cars. Many are reportedly coming in to play from Georgia, explaining the concentration of the sweepstakes parlor on the highway corridor just inside the North Carolina state line.


Legal machinations

More than 1,000 sweepstakes cafes are estimated to be operating statewide despite a ban by the General Assembly on video gambling. When sweepstakes machines appeared in the wake of the ban — looking for all the world like a reincarnation of the outlawed video gambling machines, despite owners’ claims to the contrary — operators of the machines and the General Assembly became locked in a game of cat and mouse, leading to a new state law that broadened the ban and, ultimately, lengthy legal challenges.

Continuing uncertainty about whether the state actually can prohibit these sweepstakes cafes, the state attorney general has recommended that law enforcement not shut them down for now.

A few weeks ago, a North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling, with one of three judges dissenting, found that the current state law prohibiting sweepstakes cafés is unconstitutional. This means these bigger sweepstakes cafes — maybe better termed sweepstakes cafeterias — could be just the beginning of what Macon County and other Western North Carolina communities can expect.

The N.C. attorney general’s office says it will appeal to the state Supreme Court.  

Sweepstakes cafés sell “time” to customers to gamble online or by cell phone. Customers, in return for whatever amount of money they care to risk, log on to their machine of choice and play for the allotted time purchased.

Sweepstakes café owners and managers argue that letting customers “find” cash and prizes via computers is simply buying and selling Internet or phone time — not real gambling, in other words.

Georgia launched a crackdown last year on certain “illegal” Internet cafes.

Under Georgia law, violators found to be operating illegally are typically charged with commercial gambling or for violating Georgia’s RICO Act for racketeering.

Some operators may have turned their sights to North Carolina.

Based on information gathered in the sweepstakes cafés and from names of permits on file with the Macon County Building Department, many of the gambling businesses in Macon County are, in fact, owned by Georgia residents.


Charge ‘em while you got ‘em

Towns across Western North Carolina have imposed steep business license fees on the sweepstakes parlors, hoping to make a little money off the lucrative enterprises operating within their borders.

Franklin recently increased its fees. Franklin charges $2,600 per Internet café establishment and $1,000 per machine. This is an increase from a flat $2,600 fee per business charged previously.

Town Planner Mike Grubermann said establishment owners are making enough money off the machines that even the new fees “are just a drop in the bucket.”

Grubermann said sweepstakes cafes in Macon County have become a major business enterprise.

“It seems like everybody has got to have sweepstakes machines now,” said Grubermann, adding that a dog grooming business in town recently added some “so that people can play while getting their dogs groomed.”

Unlike the town of Franklin, Macon County has no way to cash-in on these sweepstakes parlors, which mark almost the sole form of economic development taking place these days in WNC.

Maggie Valley and Canton currently both demand $2,500 for the first four machines and charge $750 for each subsequent machine. Maggie collects $8,250 a year, while Canton makes nearly $32,000 each year. Waynesville is looking to charge the same amounts.

Waynesville Manager Lee Galloway said the town’s attorney is preparing the necessary ordinance and that he wasn’t certain when the town’s aldermen would consider the law change. Galloway said a new ordinance might not take effect before July 1.

A sweepstakes poker café has opened on South Main in Waynesville with about 40 machines, but Galloway said at most, operations are still the three-or-four machine businesses located in service stations or similar establishments.

Not too long ago, however, two people came into Waynesville’s police department asking for permits to start operations with as many as 40 to 60 machines.

David Connell, who owns the building that has been rented outside Franklin for Jokers Wild, said he’s excited to finally have a renter onboard for the huge, former barn.

“It’s been sitting a year and a half empty. No one else could afford to rent it,” said Connell, adding that the owner of the future sweepstakes café expects to open sometime in April.

Jack Morgan, head of building inspections for Macon County, said the business owner would have to make the building handicap accessible and meet certain other requirements.

More than 300 Macon County students and others interested in the natural landscape will attend Invasive Species Awareness Day from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday, April 2, on the Little Tennessee River Greenway in Franklin.

Learn about how exotic species are a scourge on the native mountain ecosystem and what can be done to combat them.

This educational get-together is part of  N.C. Invasive Plant Awareness Week, an opportunity to teach identification, control and prevention of exotic invasive plants and animals in natural areas. The event is hosted by the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and Friends of the Greenway.  

Experts from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River, Western North Carolina Alliance and others will host educational displays, give brief presentations and answer questions about exotic invasive plants, insects, mammals, fish and aquatic invertebrates. Weed-eating goats will also be on the greenway to demonstrate a natural method for removing exotic invasive plants. Additional topics to be covered include the importance of streamside buffers for water quality, methods of native habitat restoration and the benefits of healthy forest soils.

A rain date is set for Wednesday, April 4.

828.507.1188 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Responding to missing or injured hikers this time of year is expected in Macon County, where the Appalachian Trail winds through the mountains and the Nantahala National Forest makes up another substantial portion.

“Some years, at the peak (of thru-hiking) on the Appalachian Trail, we’ll get as many as three or so calls in a month from early spring for three or four months,” said David Key, director of Macon County Emergency Services.

Key said that it is easier to get lost, even on a well-marked trail such as the famous AT, than many people might believe.

“People say, ‘How in the world do you get lost?’ But it really depends on the signage. It’s hard to find your way around when you get disoriented,” Key said.

True, the trails are blazed with painted spots on tree trunks every few hundred yards along the trail. The AT is blazed with white paint spots, and the side trails in blue. But without signs of trail names, simply seeing the blazes isn’t much help.

“It’s like going into a town and all the street names are the same,” Key said. “Off the AT, all is blue, and that’s all you know. Everything is blue.”

Warren Cabe, Franklin’s fire chief, held Key’s position for many years. He too described responding to lost hiker calls, mainly involving the AT, as routine in nature. The cost, he said, isn’t easy to calculate.

SEE ALSO: Anatomy of a Smokies search

“The biggest thing is time,” Cabe said. “But the real intangible thing in Macon County is the volunteer help. It’s not a tangible cost. You’re talking time away from families and time away from jobs.”

Cabe said that fortunately most searches in Macon County that he oversaw did not last more than one, or at most two, operational periods, meaning that county staff was on the job anyway without running into overtime pay issues.

“It seems they’d almost always come in or we’d find them at about dark,” Cabe said.

The most disturbing case of a missing person on national forest lands in Macon County that Cabe remembered didn’t even involve an actual hiker.

It was a man with Alzheimer’s disease who went missing one day in the Nantahala National Forest. Search parties later found his car, burned with the body inside, tucked away on a forest service road. Cabe believes the fire was from some sort of mechanical malfunction with the vehicle, though questions obviously still remain unanswered.

SEE ALSO: Motives of missing man remain a mystery

Additionally, he said, Macon County over the years has lost one or two hikers to hypothermia in the Highlands area, where the elevations can pose a problem, and quickly, for those unprepared for the weather challenges.

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