The Waynesville town board election got interesting this week with news that Mayor Gavin Brown would run for re-election against his long-time friend and political ally Alderman Gary Caldwell.
While all eyes are on the mayor’s race, the rest of the ballot isn’t exactly a snoozer. Along with the mayor seat, all four aldermen seats on town board are up for election as well.
The town board has grappled with several controversial issues over the past four years, from the heated debate over the Plott Creek apartment complex, the Green Hill Cemetery decoration purge, whether to allow dogs at festivals, and how much to trim back people’s yards along the street.
Candidate sign-up period began last Friday and runs through noon, Friday, July 19. Typically, candidates file out of the gate to get ahead of the pack and make their intentions known, or they wait until the last day after seeing who else is running.
After five candidates filed the first couple of days, the mid-filing doludrums had set in by Wednesday with no one new coming through the door as of press time Thursday afternoon.
At least one town board seat will be wide open since Caldwell is running for mayor instead of alderman. Another may also be wide open if Alderman Leroy Roberson decides not to run.
Here’s a look at who’s signed up to run so far for the four alderman seats:
Jon Feichter, 53, information systems director for Meridian
Feicther has been on the board four years.
“I certainly have a passion for Waynesvillle and want to be involved in making this a wonderful place for everybody,” Feichter said. “I think overall this board has been successful. There have been things that didn’t go quite as well as I would have hoped, but I hope when we faced those situations we’ve done a good job making them right.”
Feichter said his biggest disappointment has been how few people come to town meetings, so he often posts Facebook polls to solicit feedback from the public.
“One thing I have tried to do very hard is listen to the citizens.
That’s the biggest reason I opposed the Plott Creek apartment complex,” said Feichter, who was the only town board member who voted against the 200-unit project.
He also goes to sometimes painstaking lengths to talk through the criteria he used in his own decision-making process.
“I do feel an obligation to help people understand why I vote the way I vote. Part of that is explaining the facts I evaluated,” Feichter said. “It goes to my core philosophy of what I think my role as alderman is, which is to represent the citizens of Waynesville. I’m in a better position to do that now after four years of experience.”
Julia Freeman, 52, executive director of REACH
Freeman has been on the board eight years.
“I still have the passion to represent and give back to the community,” Freeman said. “I have always made my decision based not on politics but what I think is in the best interest of the town and our future as we grow.”
Freeman said sustainable growth has become a big issue the last four years and will continue to be going forward.
“We want to keep our small town mystique but allow growth to sustain the younger generations who we don’t want to lose,” Freeman said.
While some turn-over will be inevitable in this year’s election with at least one seat being wide open, Freeman said it would “unsettling” if the board lost all its experienced members and the institutional knowledge that goes with it.
“Whether the public decides to keep the incumbents, I hope they do. My greatest fear would be 100 percent turnover from mayor down to the four alderman,” Freeman said. “Some consistancy is important among those serving in that position.”
Anthony Sutton, 47, director of information systems for Biltmore Farms
Sutton ran for the town board four years ago, and is back for a second try with more local name recognition this time around.
“I think we need a fresh voice on the board of aldermen. I do not believe they have done a bad job, however, there is a time for new ideas going into 2020. We need to have a clear vision of our future,” Sutton said.
Sutton has a detailed campaign platform and multi-point plan outlining focus areas he sees as vital to maintaining and improving Waynesville’s quality of life.
“There are four areas that build a community — jobs, education, health care and housing,” Sutton said. “You need a well-rounded person who understands all those areas to help the town one forward.”
Sutton is vice-chair of the Waynesville planning board, and has been through several controversial decisions about growth and development lately, including the Plott Creek apartment meelee.
“Sometimes we have had to make decisions I didn’t personally agree with but it’s about making the tough choice of what’s best for the entire community,” Sutton said.
But he never makes decisions lightly.
“I always drive and stand in the spot where we were making a decision. I like to do my homework and make decisions based on facts,” Sutton said.
Sutton is the systems manager for Biltmore Farms, a property management and development company in Asheville, whose portfolio includes Biltmore Park.