When it comes to staying well fed, the Macon County commissioners are leading the pack. From finger food and pizzas to fortify them during regular meetings to huge sit-down dinner spreads with fellow boards in the county, commissioners in Macon County have eaten $9,651.80 worth of food in two-and-a-half years.
This type of eating by public officials used to be more common in Western North Carolina. But most other commission boards have gone on a Spartan diet as the economic times have worsened and fiscal austerity have become county watchwords.
“We do it as little as possible,” Swain County Manager Kevin King said, adding that on occasion during the yearly board retreat the Swain County Board of Commissioners might order in a pizza.
The same is true in Haywood and Jackson counties, too. Neither board brings in food for regular night meetings as does the Macon County Board of Commissioners.
“We might have a bottle of water,” Haywood County Manager Marty Stamey said. “And we don’t do a lot of luncheons. If we’re having a really long work session we might have some small sandwiches. But we don’t do a large meal spread.”
The Macon County Board of Commissioners has one night meeting a month. Board Clerk Mike Decker said the county brings in chicken tenders, sub sandwiches or pizza for those meetings.
Commissioners also meet with other boards on a regular basis for eating meetings, from their counterparts with the town of Franklin to the county’s own planning board. So far this year Macon County commissioners met at Fat Buddies restaurant in Franklin three times and picked up the check: once with the school board, once with the planning board and once with the boards from the two towns in Macon County, Highlands and Franklin. The towns and the county take turns picking up the meal tab; this latest time it was Macon County’s turn.
The price tag for meals so far this year by Macon County? Try $1,367,78 and counting.
“We’ve got to keep our girlish figures,” Commissioner Ronnie Beale said with a laugh. “Is this the best thing you’ve got to write? If so, you go right ahead.”
Beale and other commissioners defended their eating ways, particularly the joint eating meetings with other boards.
“When you have everybody there it is a lot of people eating, but it’s worth it,” Beale said. “It’s been productive and puts you face to face. Besides, without a meal you probably wouldn’t get them there.”
Commissioner Ron Haven said he’d never thought about the amount of eating being done in Macon County.
“I’d look at anything there is to save money. I know it sounds high, and I’m surprised to hear that, but I haven’t priced it to see. I haven’t looked at it so I’m not saying it’s wrong or anything,” Haven said.
Like Haven, Commissioner Jimmy Tate said he was surprised to hear such a high dollar number for the board’s menu bills.
“I’m curious now that you’ve put a bug in my ear,” he said, adding that he planned to talk to County Manager Jack Horton about the bill.
Chairman Kevin Corbin, who has been on the board for about a year, said he believes that eating meetings are a good method of developing rapport with another board’s members. He particularly cited the recent joint meeting held with the planning board at Fat Buddies.
“We need the ability to sit and talk with them a bit other than in a meeting setting,” Corbin said. “There was the most need for that with the planning board because it’s been contentious.”