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Wednesday, 09 December 2009 15:13

New Sylva board member could help bridge rift

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Sylva’s incoming Mayor Maurice Moody said he wanted to start his career with a consensus vote and that’s exactly what he did.

In its first act, the newly seated Sylva town board unanimously voted to appoint Christine Matheson to the commissioner’s seat left vacant by Moody when he became mayor.

The unanimous appointment could bridge the voting divide that had emerged on the board over the past two years.

“I really did not want to start off this board with a 3 to 2 vote and I think we made a significant step tonight,” Moody said.

In Matheson, the board selected a Sylva native who worked for over a decade in the district attorney’s office and has participated with the Jackson County Economic Development Commission.

Matheson announced her intent to operate as an independent voice on the board.

“I’m fairly independent, and I vote my mind,” Matheson said. “I’ll take each issue as it comes. I don’t want to label myself or place myself in any category.”

Moody had made clear his desire to fill the seat he vacated with someone with broad support in Sylva all along. The board was facing the possibility of a contentious 3 to 2 vote that could have set up a long-standing divide between two commissioners with so-called “progressive” voting agendas –– Stacy Knotts and Sarah Graham –– and two commissioners expected to espouse more traditional platforms –– Ray Lewis and Danny Allen.

In the run-up to last week’s town board meeting, Moody was busy seeking a consensus-building candidate and talking individually with the commissioners.

“I kept looking,” Moody said. “I think Chris had the most to do with everybody coming together. She’s well-known in the community and she’s an independent thinker.”

Over the past two years Knotts, Graham and Moody have consistently voted together and espouse what can best be described as a “progressive” agenda that favors channeling resources to the downtown district and investing in parks and recreation amenities. Ray Lewis and Harold Hensley had embraced a fiscally conservative platform focused on the nuts and bolts of providing public safety and infrastructure. Hensley lost his seat in the fall election and was replaced by Danny Allen, a close ally of Lewis and Hensley with a similar philosophy.

Allen indicated after his election that he would push hard for the appointment of Hensley, who narrowly lost re-election by a 10-vote margin. But Knotts said she preferred a replacement who would more closely represent Moody’s viewpoint, setting up a potential showdown between the board factions.

Both sides hailed the appointment of Matheson.

“I don’t think we could have replaced Harold with anybody but Chris,” Lewis said.

Allen said it was important to him that Moody’s replacement had grown up in the community.

“From my standpoint, yes, that was important,” Allen said. “That will help with the transition.”

Moody downplayed Matheson’s Sylva upbringing, instead emphasizing her past participation in local government.

“I don’t put that much weight on where you come from,” said Moody. “All of our ancestors came from somewhere else at some point. I think you just need to have people who are interested in the community.”

Knotts, who moved to Sylva later in her life, showed she had won the confidence of her peers as the board unanimously voted her to serve as vice mayor. Knotts said she voted for Matheson because of her work with the EDC and her visibility in the community.

“I thought it was important for the person to be well-known in the community,” Knotts said.

The series of unanimous votes in the board’s first meeting may represent Moody’s crowning achievement as a first-term mayor –– building consensus in a board with two distinct ideologies.

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