Greenways, safety discussed at candidates forum
Candidates running for two seats on Bryson City Town Board of Aldermen shared their thoughts about the office in a candidates forum held at Swain Arts Center on Tuesday night, Oct. 17 and co-sponsored by Downtown Merchants Association and Smoky Mountain Times.
There are five candidates running including incumbents Rick Bryson and Janine Barker Crisp and challengers Lisa Anthony, Robert Brian Duplak and Ben King. Crisp was not at the forum Tuesday that drew a crowd of around 20 people.
Debi White was the forum moderator, and candidates took turns being the first to respond to questions.
At the event, candidates answered questions ranging from their experience with handling budgets, ways they would like to improve the town and the town's relationship with local businesses, among other questions.
On budget management, the candidates had the following to say about their experience:
Anthony: “I’ve sat on the board for the Restoration House here in Bryson City and during the process served as their treasurer, so I was responsible for keeping all the books together, where we are at with managing the money for that and making sure we were good stewards of our donators’ finances. In my day to day work up at the Cherokee Indian Police Department we had a brand new program there in our outpatient center and we have budgets we have to adhere to, so working within those budgets to get our needs met as far as supplies we need, that would be my experience with budgets.”
Bryson: “I’ve run a business myself and been treasurer of school board in Ohio, so I have experience with running a budget. I have to say with respect to budget of town of Bryson City, we are in such great shape that I’m inclined to listen to the advice of people who pay a lot more attention to that than some others. We’ve got some good people in management. We’ve got a new town manager who is absolutely as sharp as he can be, and we’ve got a great aldermen in Janine Crisp who is herself an accountant. I’m inclined to listen to them and see how our money is distributed. The state of North Carolina asks every town in this state to have a fund balance to cover any upset expenses you might have. The state requires each town to have a 2 to 3 month fund balance. The town of Bryson City has a 15-month fund balance.”
King: “Being a business owner, obviously, that’s one of the first things I bring to the table in how to operate a budget and expenses. Looking at all the things that go into town, I’ve learned a lot about how things get paid for and how things are run, it’s very interesting to see how some of the things come together and how they are required to be. For example, water and sewer are two of the services the town provides that have to fund themselves. There’s obviously a lot more to learn about town budgets…but personally and in my business looking at a 5-10 year plan and not just the next year I think is something that’s very important. I have a different opinion about the fund balance issue. I don’t see it necessarily as a good thing to have 15 months of extra funds sitting there not being used.”
Duplak: “I have very little experience with budgets, and I don’t own my own business, but I do plan to in the future, and that’s one of the reasons I’m invested in the success of Bryson City. I’m good at noticing good ideas and noticing things when they are going wrong. I agree with Ben, I don’t think it’s a good thing to have extra money. I think it’d be good if we could spend it to improve the town.”
On improvements in town, Bryson said he would like to see Island Park improved, adding the town needs to do more to address the drug problem here. The other candidates also said they’d like to see Island Park improved.
King said he’d like to see “a cleaner town, safer street and safer sidewalks.” He added the water and sewer infrastructure needs to be updated for future growth.
Duplak said along with improving Island Park and making it more welcoming, he’d like to see a pedestrian path or greenway developed through the town connecting to the park.
Anthony said she’d like to see “safe walkways to different locations to walk to work, grocery store, doctor” and more beautification in town.
Candidates were also asked about the relationship with town businesses, the chamber and Tourism and Development Authority and had the following to say about it.
King: “I think that’s definitely a relationship that’s been tattered over the past several years between the town, the TDA, chamber and county there, there have been some divisive hot topic issues that have come up. I don’t know if that’s necessarily created the seam we’ve seen between those organization, but to have a strong vibrant community, I think we need to all work together to achieve similar goals or at least communicate…Knowing what the other is doing, plans to do and needs are is very important. I know a lot of businesses in town feel a little underserved when it comes to the relationship with the town. I’d really like to improve that and make them feel like they have a voice and that their concerns are being heard.”
Duplak: “I definitely believe we need to have stronger relationships with our businesses. One way is to have a presentable town. With community, I think we could work harder to reach out to local business owners and actual go and talk to them. I think reaching out to local business owners and finding out more about how they feel is important. It definitely needs to be a partnership.”
Anthony: “We’re community, and moving away from us and them and creating we. That includes all of us. One of the things I would like to happen is to bring all the entities together. As I understand, there is no long-term plan. I want to see more public forums where people can come out and share their concerns and vision for their community. This is our community. Also working with county, TDA, chamber and all the businesses, hearing their concerns, voices and needs. If we’re going to have a thriving community, we’re going to have to work together; it’s going to take all of us.”
Bryson: “The strongest thing a merchant or business owner can do with respect to the board of aldermen is to come in and talk to us because we don’t always tell what you want. Sometimes we’re in a position to say yes and sometimes we’re in a position to say no. For instance, the restaurant owners were having a terrible garbage back up problem over weekends so we put on a Saturday pick-up time. What we need as a board of aldermen is to have people come forward and say, ‘this is what we need to do.’ We will listen.”
The candidates then had closing statements at the end.
King began by saying he grew up here and came back here. Recently married, he wants to start his family here and help be a part of the future growth for the town, including a 5-10 plan.
“BC is made up of more than just young people, it’s made up of families with kids, retirees, and we all have to live here together and contribute. We all have to figure out what’s best for BC and how we can make that happen within a budget,” King said.
Duplak said he’s also invested in the future of the town, adding he wants to see more young people involved in politics and more opportunities for them.
“I’d like to say the big reason I’m running is not only how much I love this town, but I also want to ensure the future for this town. I plan on being around Bryson City for a very long time, and I think we can make a lot of changes in these next few growing years to establish a base, and maybe we can get some young people out and involved in politics,” Duplak said.
Anthony called herself a “hometown girl,” having grown up here and raised her family here.
“For me, running for this board came from a place of heartache in the division I’ve seen. I want to get back to a perspective of leaders are servants of the community. I want to be a voice for all people in this community, and I want to be able to open the doors again, getting away from us versus them and creating a we.”
Bryson, too, said Bryson City is a great place to live and visit. He said he wants to continue on the progress he’s been involved in the past four years serving on the board.
“We’ve made incredibly great progress. We have a water system that gives you an honest count. When I first came on the board, we had a system that was dumping 40 percent of our water into the ground. Now, we’re coming back with additional meters and finding leaks because these meters signal us when have leak. We have improved our streets, and we’re working on sidewalks. We are looking at open doors for people to come in and talk to us about what their concerns are. We’re often out in the community talking to people. This town belongs to you, and we want to make sure that you continue to feel that this town belongs to you and that we’re listening.”
Election Day is Nov. 7. This year, there will also be early voting held Oct. 19-21, Oct. 23-28 and Oct. 30-Nov. 3 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Nov. 4 from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
On Election Day, the polling location is the Bryson City Chamber of Commerce building located at 210 Main Street. Polls that day will be open from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
For more information, contact Swain County Board of Elections Office at 488-6177.