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Wednesday, 25 July 2007 00:00

Town elections are important for future of WNC

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A coin toss.

That’s what decided the race for mayor two years ago in the Jackson County town of Forest Hills. It was an election that featured an evenly divided electorate and ended with the kind of flair usually found in theaters. It was also a great example of just how close local elections can be, where in this case just one voter could have tipped the scale to one of the candidates.

Western North Carolina towns are gearing up for what should be an unusually interesting local election come Nov. 6. In almost every race there are multiple candidates vying for the same seat. That means people care about their communities and want the best for them. Perhaps that is one of the reasons so many people are discovering Western North Carolina and moving here in droves.

That commitment to giving back is what separates these candidates at the lowest level of the political spectrum from those at the top. Even though we maintain an intense interest in the presidential candidates, it’s often hard to relate to them. These are people who jet around the country to make campaign stops and attend lavish fund-raising events as they try to raise millions of dollars. They are removed from our realities, like whether it is important for Waynesville to invest in a skateboard park, or whether Sylva needs to form a better relationship with the Downtown Sylva Association.

Town elections are often marked by one- or two-issue candidates. Very often people sign up to run because a current board made a decision that a challenger just couldn’t live with. And so they decided to run for office and try to throw the bums out. There’s nothing wrong with that motive, but the truth is that running even the smallest of towns is a complicated business. Single-issue candidates will be in for a rude awakening should they end up winning.

There is no shortage of important issues facing Western North Carolina’s towns. In Waynesville, candidates are staking out positions on how the town’s watershed will be managed and whether the residents should have access to mixed drinks. There’s also criticism of the town’s comprehensive land-use plan, which means there could be a move to weaken it if certain candidates win.

Sylva is also developing a plan for its old watershed, but in its case the question is how much recreational use should be allowed. The town has also considered annexing new areas into town limits, an issue that often proves controversial. Franklin and Bryson City are both facing a host of growth-related challenges, and leaders of those towns are being challenged to develop plans to make sure that growth is not detrimental to its residents’ quality of life.

And so the stage is set for an important Election Day come Nov. 6. Instead of a coin toss, hopefully informed voters who take the time to learn where the candidates stand on the important issues will decide this municipal election. That’s the only way we’ll get the leaders who will lead Western North Carolina into a bright future.

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