For the second time this year, Maggie Valley can boast a brand new alderman on its five-member town board.
Mike Matthews was picked by an uncharacteristically unanimous vote at the board’s meeting last Tuesday, filling the seat left vacant by former alderman Scott Pauley’s departure in August.
Matthews is a long-time Maggie Valley resident who has lived in the town on and off for 15 years.
At 31, Matthews brings a much younger perspective to the board, and the current members noted that fresh outlook as one of the reasons they chose him over the other two candidates who had put in for the position.
“He’s got a lot of energy,” said Danya Vanhook, who was herself appointed to the board in March. “He has a lot of young fresh ideas.”
Matthews came to Maggie in high school, and after leaving for several years, has returned with his wife and two children to make the valley his home.
He said he went out for the job because of a longing to see the town, so often embroiled in conflict and infighting, return to the more harmonious days he remembers from his childhood.
“I’ve seen Maggie how it used to be and how everybody used to get along,” said Matthews. “Now, there’s such a disconnect between the businesses and the residents and the town officials. Everybody should start working together and getting on the same page.”
Indeed, even at the same meeting where he was appointed, there was contention among residents and business owners over noise ordinances and confusion over town-imposed fees.
Matthews said that he believes the best way to overcome those conflicts is better communication from all parties and more visibility by the town in the community.
“You’ve got to get out and be visible and go to the businesses and go to the residents,” said Matthews, though he pointed out that changing the mood in Maggie Valley can’t just come from the town hall. “It’s got to take everybody.”
Recently, however, the town board has had enough contention to deal with among its own ranks, without worrying about discord from the wider community.
Though this particular seat came up for grabs through non-political circumstances — Pauley moved from the valley due to financial constraints — the board hasn’t lacked its share of political quarrels.
In the months leading up to his resignation, Pauley and fellow alderman Phil Aldridge had several public disagreements, while Aldridge also took vocal issue with the opinions of other board members regularly.
And in February, the town lost another alderman to politics when Colin Edwards resigned over what he thought was poor handling of the town’s alcohol board and squabbles with Ralph Wallace, it’s chair and former town mayor.
Over many issues that come before the board, there are often discordant factions among the elected officials. Even the process of choosing replacement aldermen has been hotly contested between officials and among town members.
Outside the town hall walls, disagreements also persist as business owners and residents often have clashing priorities on town issues such as the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds and its profitability, budget spending and noise ordinances. It isn’t unusual to hear a few residents and business owners stand up at town meetings to take issue with how the board is run or even the board members personally.
It’s this climate that Matthews said he’d like to change.
“It seems like everything is so one sided, it’s divided up,” said Matthews. “I think we just need to figure out a way to get everybody together, to get everybody on the same page, get everybody to realize that we’re all working towards the same goal: to make Maggie better.”
He’s coming to the job after a stint on the planning board, which will now end. According to town rules, an alderman can’t also sit as a planning board member.
Asked whether he’d like to run when his seat comes up for reelection, Matthews said it’s certainly something he’d be interested in. He was planning to run for the seat anyway, had he not been appointed.
“I intend to keep going as long as I can,” he said.
The spot, however, won’t be up for election for another two years.
Mayor Roger McElroy said he was hopeful that Matthews could provide another good link between the board and the community.
“We thought he would be good to interface with the local people as well as the people who have moved into the valley,” said McElroy.
At their meeting, all the sitting aldermen seemed enthusiastic about Matthews, despite their differences of opinion over the process for choosing the post.
In the past, Aldridge, the regular voice of dissent, had advocated for filling an open seat with the next runner up from a previous election. But since that person, Phil Wight, wasn’t in the running, even Aldridge threw his vote behind Matthews.
Several times the idea of bringing the appointment of an empty seat to a popular vote, or at least appointing the next runner up, has been broached by Aldridge and other community members.
But the board’s sentiments seem unlikely to swing that way, should another spot become available.
“It’s not something that I look at, because it could be somebody that has 100 votes or somebody that has two votes,” said Alderwoman Saralyn Price.
Some at the meeting questioned why Pauley’s seat couldn’t be placed on the November ballot, along with the two alderman positions already up for reelection. However, state election law will not allow for such a change after the candidate filing period has closed.
Matthews will be sworn in at a special called meeting on Oct. 4.