Brittney Raby – Staff Writer
With two seats up for grabs on the Macon County Board of Commission, the Republican candidate position will be decided after the March 15 primary election. Incumbent Paul Higdon is seeking re-election and is being challenged by two Republican candidates, Emmanuel “Manny” Carrion and Greg Boyer. Whoever receives the most votes in March will go on to have Democratic challenger Bobby Kuppers in November.
Higdon, a Macon County native, graduated from Franklin High School, before attending the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Higdon also served in the United States Army. “I’m happily married to my high school sweetheart, have two great children and one extremely beautiful granddaughter,” said Higdon. “I’m actively involved in my church and two small family owned businesses.”
Higdon is currently serving his first term on the Macon County Board of Commissioners and has served on the board of health for a number of years as well as been involved in political issues most of his adult life.
“I’m seeking a second term on the board for the same reason I did the first time, to add a solid conservative voice to the decision making process on government services funded by Macon County taxpayers,” said Higdon. “Currently our federal debt is over $19 trillion, state debt is around $5 billion and county debt is nearly $40 million. Every U.S. citizen is responsible for a portion of this debt so as leaders, we need to be very careful and cognizant where money comes from and how we vote to spend it.”
Carrion, who is happily married to his wife Jill, is currently raising his blended family of four children in Macon County. Carrion and his four children, Morgan, Chase, Taylor and Price, are active in the community and volunteering in their community. “We love Macon County,” said Carrion. “Our family enjoys volunteering, attending Discover Church, and being involved in youth sports.”
Carrion graduated Franklin High School in 1997 and as an entrepreneur at heart, he ended up leaving Macon County for better job opportunities and experiences abroad. However, in 2007, he moved back to Macon County and started his own business, Carrion Tree Service. “I have since invested heavily in our local community,” said Carrion. “Between Carrion Tree Service and my involvement as a silent investor of The Bowery Restaurant, I am proud to say that I help employ upwards of 40 people. ”
While running for a vacant seat on the Franklin Town Board, Carrion gained invaluable political experience that led him to want to serve on the county level.
“It gave me insight into the process in which local governments function,” said Carrion. “I’m glad I did it. However, I would say that my political experience is limited, but I think most folks find that refreshing in today’s politics.”
Carrion is seeking office to better Macon County for his children and the youth growing up in the community.
“The main reason I’m running for office is Macon County’s youth,” said Carrion. “I have four young children at home, and I’m excited about working hard to give my kids and yours, a chance to stay in Macon County. I want them to prosper here, get married, raise their own families here, and I want the same for their kids after them. The odds are against me right now, but if I wait until my kids are 16 years old to start getting involved, I’ve lost the battle. That’s why I’m focused on getting involved now – while they are still young.”
Carrion noted that taking an active role in county government and a desire to shape Macon County’s foundation has also led him to seek office.
“I’m also excited about playing a small role in the way our local government actually makes it easier for businesses to thrive and create new jobs,” said Carrion. “I do not believe it’s up to government to create jobs, but I do think that its role is to aid any needs that our local market demands – ultimately allowing for job creation. I look forward to this opportunity.”
Boyer is a graduate of Montreat College, Florida State University, and O.W. Coburn School of Law in Tulsa. “I have the privilege of practicing law here in Macon County, representing individuals and non-profits in state, federal and tribal courts,” said Boyer. “Locally, I am past president of the Macon County Humane Society Board of Directors. I am the current Chairman of the board of the Smoky Mountain Pregnancy Care Center. I also serve on the board of Cullowee Mountain Arts. My wife and are members of Franklin Covenant Church. Before becoming an attorney, I was a pastor and a social worker. As a social worker I worked in Child Protective Services.”
Boyer and his wife Katharine have been married for 45 years. Together they have three grown children and one granddaughter. “We are also parents to four rescued canines,” said Boyer. “We live in the cottage in Cowee where we spent our honeymoon.”
Six years ago, Boyer ran for District Court judge, but has not held a political office in Macon County.
“What a blessing it is to live in these mountains,” said Boyer. “Macon County has great potential along with some serious issues. The federal government has down-graded our economy to the lowest tier for poverty assistance. We have lost good manufacturing and construction jobs and our quality of life is negatively affected. Our high school graduates are leaving and not returning. According to the Franklin Press, the average age is 59. I am running for county commissioner because I want to be part of the solutions that secure our future and defend our values. Together we can find innovative ways and common sense approaches to the issues facing us.”
Public Education in Macon County:
Higdon: ” As to public education, this board and previous boards have committed enormous resources in building and upgrading local school buildings which is our responsibility and most of our current debt is related to school construction,” said Higdon. “If approved, the current $2 billion bond referendum on the primary election ballot would provide $1 billion to UNC colleges, over $300 million to community colleges and nothing for K-12 schools. If state leaders were serious about K-12 public education funding, why was it not included in this package deal? I do think we need a detailed maintenance plan on all school and county buildings with associated cost as part of the annual budget. ”
Carrion: “I am a supporter of public education and our local teachers,” said Carrion. “As a product of the Macon County School system myself, I am willing to back the hard work of each and every teacher out there. These folks are grooming our children to take the next step in life. I feel they deserve our support. Due to budget cuts and challenges facing our community, I am looking forward to having a common sense discussion with our school officials to evaluate where we’re at, and help make the best decision available to us at the time. I’m ready to be involved in that decision making process.”
Boyer: “Education is the future of our children and the future of our county,” said Boyer. “A point will come when we will have to tell the state ‘no’ to the directives that burden our budget, sacrifice real education, and undermine our community values.”
County finances and a nearly $50 million budget:
Higdon: “As to finance, we provide high levels of services and should be able to do so without increasing the budget,” said Higdon. “Once a budget is approved, all decision makers should strictly adhere to that budget with the exception of well defined emergencies. With a current fund balance of over $19 million (42 percent of budget), it’s easy to fund just about any request outside the budget and I don’t support this approach to spending.”
Carrion: “First, I applaud our county’s leadership when it comes to our annual budget,” said Carrion. “When debt is being eliminated – that’s a good thing. I would like to see our leadership, with me involved, continue the good work and stewardship of our citizen’s tax dollars. I look forward to being involved in that process. Owning my own successful business has given me an appreciation for balanced budgets, and I’m excited about putting that appreciation to work for the great people of Macon County. Our county currently has the fourth lowest tax rate in the entire state. I think that’s an attractive thing for relocating businesses and residents alike, and I’m in favor of keeping it there. Having said that, I feel that there is a delicate balance when it comes to budgets and providing the services needed to keep a county functioning at an optimum level. I will be in favor of responsibly allocating funds that help move Macon County forward, not backwards.”
Boyer: “As I do not know all that the county will face in the near future, I cannot say if taxes should be lowered or raised,” said Boyer. “We must continue to lower our debt and review our expenses. We must provide competitive salaries for our law enforcement and county employees. This is critical both for today and for our future.”
Economic development and moving Macon County forward:
Higdon: “We adequately fund a Economic Development Coordinator and Commission who are charged with this role,” said Higdon. “When large industries are leaving our area, it is extremely difficult to recruit similar industries. Like it or not, small businesses like construction, tourism and real estate have been the backbone of our local economy for years and I would like to see all related permitting fees for this segment reduced or eliminated and monitored for a certain test period. Anything our local government could do to enhance the business environment for existing or new small businesses should be researched.”
Higdon would also like to see commissioners focus on county security and ensuring all citizens and county employees are safe.
“We have tasked a committee to bring suggestions to the board on if and how we could improve safety and security for employees and citizens that utilize county controlled buildings and property,” he said. “Personally, I would like to see all gun free zones on county controlled property removed and encourage the school board and Franklin aldermen do the same.”
Carrion: “When it comes to Economic Development, I am looking forward to working with our local business leaders and existing EDC, so we can work towards the common goal of aiding the current needs of our local business environment. Macon County has a ton of positives going for it. Franklin recently won the Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s Top Town award for best small town in the entire Blue Ridge (Baltimore, Md. to Atlanta, Ga.). I think we should continue to embrace the outdoors and work to attract small business owners and CEOs within that industry that value the quality of life that they desire, and only a county like ours can provide.”
Another area Carrion plans to focus on if elected is the county’s connectivity issues.
“Internet & cell phone connectivity is a real issue in our county,” he said. “I look forward to discussing new ideas and ways to improve these much needed services. With improved connectivity, I feel that job creation would definitely see an uptick, especially with the growing number of ‘at home’ entrepreneurs. As an added bonus, this demographic has shown to be active in their communities, and they tend to be outdoor enthusiasts. A perfect fit for Macon County.”
Boyer: “The county needs to focus on what our goals are,” said Boyer. “We must decide our identity as a community. Are we a second home and tourist community? A manufacturing and small business community? A retirement community? In order to bring in clean industry and high tech jobs, we should investigate how other counties have attracted them successfully. Support for the recreational opportunities and use of our natural resources will bring in tax dollars from outside the community.”