The town of Maggie Valley has a tiny voter population — only around 300 are registered — but it boasts some of the most interesting small-town politics and quarrels to be found anywhere. As one Maggie Valley resident put it before he got punched in a now infamous brawl that spilled out of a town hall meeting, “there will be peace in Afghanistan before there’ll be peace in Maggie Valley.”
The current mayor of Maggie is Roger McElroy, a long-time town board member and Maggie Valley resident. McElroy has been around since Maggie first became a town in the 1970s. This is his first term as mayor, but he wasn’t elected to the office. Instead, he was appointed to replace Jo Pinter, who resigned two years into her term as mayor. McElroy says he’s running to see some of the projects and initiatives he’s started to completion. As he puts it, “At my age, I could be out laying in the sun in Florida. I’m not doing the job for personal glory, I’m doing it for the town.”
McElroy’s opponent is Linda Taylor. Taylor, a 14-year resident of Maggie Valley, is not currently on the town board but previously held a seat for eight years. She and McElroy have a history of being at odds with one another. Taylor insists that many important issues are not discussed openly in town meetings and has accused McElroy and other town officials of back-room communications. Taylor’s outspokenness with her claims has helped make her a controversial figure in Maggie Valley politics.
Both Taylor and McElroy say they are running positive campaigns, though they are finding themselves forced to address the history of the rivalry between them.
Taylor waited until what she calls “the 11th hour” to formally enter the race for mayor. She grappled with the decision after taking a two-year hiatus from politics, which started when she lost her bid for a third term on the town board in a close race.
“I felt that people deserved to have a choice, and the desire for public service never really left me during those two years,” Taylor said. During her time out of office, Taylor hasn’t attended board meetings but has followed the town issues closely. She’s extremely well informed about one of the biggest issues in Maggie Valley — the town’s proposed land-use plan.
She cautions against making too hasty of a decision in passing the land-use ordinances, however. She’d like to see the town pass a moratorium on development, for example, and hammer out the technicalities of the plan in the meantime to the point where “everyone gets something out of it.”
Taylor would also like to see Maggie Valley work more closely with partners on a regional level, such as the Metropolitan Planning Organization and neighboring Cherokee, rather than seeing itself as an individual entity.
Within the Maggie Valley community, Taylor sees the need for the local business community to work more closely together. She says it appears there’s too much separation between the older, more established businesses in Maggie and newer business owners.
“I think people might think the right way to do business is some exclusivity. In reality, there are lots of brilliant business people in this town. We need to foster these smaller businesses and make them feel they are welcome and that what they do for our community matters greatly to us,” she said.
“There are so few business owners that have been here since the beginning. There’s a lot we can learn from the ones that are left behind about how they did it ... but there are also a great number of new business people in the community that made their money elsewhere and invested it in our community, that feel like they’re not being heard,” she said.
Taylor’s talk of exclusivity and the need to include more people in the town’s community echoes her long-time accusations of back-door communications between members of the town board. If she was mayor, she says, she’d encourage more open dialogue.
“In an effort not to (be constantly at odds), I think the board has gone in the other direction in that they don’t talk about issues. (As mayor) I don’t anticipate having every vote go down unanimous like it does now, I anticipate challenging those board members to bring those constituencies forefront to the discussion.”
Taylor denies that there is currently any beef between she and McElroy. “From my side there’s not a feud.” If McElroy loses the race, she says there’s plenty of opportunity for him to serve the town in other capacities, and says he should feel free to do so.
As for working with a board that has been aligned with McElroy for the past several years, Taylor said she’ll have no problem.
“Being on the town board shouldn’t be a personality or popularity contest. It should be about people who are willing to do the job and who are well-suited to it,” she said.
With nearly 20 years as a town alderman and two years in the office of mayor, Roger McElroy’s experience certainly qualifies him for the position. During his time as mayor, he’s worked to expand the town’s sewer capacity, pushed for more recreation in the area, and partnered with state legislators in a bid to officially name Maggie Valley the trout capital of North Carolina.
The accomplishment McElroy is most proud of, however, is his successful push to restructure Haywood County’s Tourism Development Authority to benefit Maggie Valley. The controversial process has reshaped the way the TDA’s dollars are distributed, and Maggie Valley, which brings in a higher percentage of the overnight lodging tax than any other area of the county, will now get a guaranteed percentage of those dollars.
Like Taylor, McElroy sees the importance of working with entities on a regional and state level, and prides himself on having good relationships with state representatives Phil Haire, D-Sylva, and Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville.
“Maggie Valley can’t do something alone. You have to collaborate .... if you’re going to get something new and different. That takes work and it takes connections with government entities,” he said.
In response to some of Taylor’s accusations, McElroy said a claim of backdoor communications is ridiculous.
“I can’t speak for all board members, but as far as me and other board members, I have had no meetings that weren’t public,” McElroy countered.
McElroy’s campaign manager Marion Hammel frequently speaks alongside McElroy, and said she and McElroy were taken aback when accusations of backdoor communications were mentioned at a recent candidate’s talk hosted at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
To the contrary, McElroy said, he encourages dialogue during open meetings.
“Any motion that’s brought up I ask for the aldermen’s opinion, don’t I?” he asked Hammel, who nodded her head in agreement.
“If aldermen don’t speak up, there’s nothing Roger can do about that,” Hammel said.
McElroy says the only time it might seem like he’s discouraging dialogue is if he tries to prevent people jumping up to speak out of order or when they’re not on the agenda.
“I don’t think I’ve denied anyone the ability to say what they need to say regarding issues,” McElroy contends.
McElroy says that he’s learned to be open to new ideas during his time in office, but maintain patience at the same time.
“I try to be progressive and open-minded. I certainly like to have new ideas, even though they’ve been tried in the past. You have to be receptive. One thing I’ve learned in municipal government is if you do something too fast, you make a mistake. You need to take enough time to make sure it’s the right thing and you have a consensus in the community,” he said.
Of political rivalries between he and opponent Linda Taylor, McElroy says he’s not interested in conflict — he’s just interested in getting things done for the benefit of the town.
“When you go into a town board meeting, people have names, they don’t have issues. If you do, then you don’t belong on the board,” he said.
On the issues:
• Touts his role in pushing for re-organization of the Haywood Tourism Development Authority, which will guarantee Maggie Valley more proceeds from the room tax.
• Says he has formed close working relationships with state lawmakers that will benefit Maggie Valley.
• Wants to finish several projects started by the current board, including the development of recreation facilities and upgrades to sewer system.
• Says no town business has been conducted behind closed doors, and that he tries to be “progressive and open-minded.”
On the issues:
• Says town’s current leaders discuss too many issues in private.
• Supports a temporary building moratorium until kinks are worked out of proposed land-use plan.
• Says town needs to form better partnerships with regional neighbors and planning organizations.
• Wants to forge a closer working relationship among new and established businesses.