Early voting across North Carolina begins April 28 with the Primary voting day set for May 17. The Macon County Board of Commissioners currently has three seats up for election. Two seats in District II, which covers the Franklin area, and one seat in District I which serves Ellijay, Flats, Highlands and Sugarfork. The May 17 primary ballot will feature Republican candidates for office. Since only two Democrats have filed to run – Ronnie Beale and Betty Cloer Wallace – a primary is not needed for the Democrats. The top Republican vote getters will be placed on the November ballot to face the two Democrat challengers or an independent challenger who secures enough signatures to be placed on the ballot by the deadline.
Leading up to the primary, The Macon County News will publish candidate profiles for local offices included Macon County Board of Commissioners District I, District II, Clerk of Superior Court, and Macon County Sheriff.
Gary Shields, Dan Reitmeier, Danny Antoine, Richard Lightner, and Gregg Jones are vying for the two District II commissioners seats. The candidates were asked to provide a short bio and were asked the same questions.
Gary Shields was born and raised in Macon County. Shields attended Franklin High School, Walhalla High School and Waynesville Township High School where he graduated in June 1966.
After high school, Shields joined the United States Army where he served two tours of duty in Vietnam before finishing his military service in May 1969. Shields attended Gardner-Webb College in August 1969 where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in December 1973 and then began his career in public education. Shields completed his Masters Degree in School Administration from University of North Carolina-Charlotte and later completed his Masters Degree in Guidance and Counseling from UNC-C via Western Carolina University (WCU).
Shields’ professional educational career began in Kings Mountain, N.C., where he served as a teacher and school administrator for eight years. He then had the opportunity to move back to work in the Macon County School System where he worked for 29 years, 21 of which was as principal of Franklin High School. Shields retired in June 2010 after 37 years in education.
After retiring, Shields ran for the Macon County Board of Education and was elected to serve a four-year term. After one term on the Board of Education, Shields ran and was elected for his first term on the Macon County Board of Commissioners in November 2014 and was re-elected in 2018.
“In November 2022, my plans are to seek a third four-year term on the Macon County Board of Commissioners,” said Shields. “I have two major reasons for running for a third term. … I have invested time and energy by serving our country that enabled me to recognize my strengths and weaknesses to include an appreciation for the values of the United States of America. My 37 years invested in education allowed me to view the past while recognizing the need to assist our youth in preparing for their future so they will become productive citizens and leaders in their respective communities. My 29 years invested in the Macon County School System, working with professional educators, showed patience allowing me to grow and reshape my philosophy of life for the betterment of mankind. My 21 years invested as the principal of Franklin High School was a blessing and due to all the lives that I interacted with, I was blessed because we grew up together. I can say my growth was greater because those memories will always be cherished.”
Shields continued, “My second major reason for seeking a third, four-year term is because of unfinished business,” he said. “COVID-19 exposed our weaknesses when our schools had to transition from the classrooms to the living rooms. Regions, states and our nation, as a whole, realized that another “utility” called broadband was a link that had to be addressed. I have been on the Macon County Broadband Committee for six or seven years and never felt so helpless until recently when federal and state funds were combined in the American Rescue Plan allowing counties to coordinate with federal and state providers. These “rescue” monies are once in a lifetime and we have a short time to complete a plan and then put the plan in place for broadband services in Macon County.
Continued unfinished business in progress includes:
– Macon Middle School: This renovation began [nearly] years ago and at our last commissioners meeting we are on target to completing this project in 2023.
– Macon Middle School Athletic Building: This project is with the architects at this time and is being built to assist the school’s curriculum and athletic programs played on the MMS campus.
– Southwestern Community College: At this time the state is reviewing the specifications for a new Burn Building on the campus of the National Guard Armory in Franklin. The National Guard Armory was leased to SCC and will be used to expand the curriculum and studies now being taught in the Jerry Sutton Facilities Building
– Nantahala Community Center and Library: This project is in the final stages of completion and will enhance the community opportunities for social events and media and Broadband activities.
– Highlands School Pre-K and school renovations. This need was brought to the attention of the county commissioners via community presentation at the February/March meeting.
– Additional classrooms to be built at Cartoogechaye Elementary and East Elementary School via ESSER FUNDS with a 2024 ending date for funds to be used.”
Danny Antoine was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He moved to Macon County in 1998 and has been married to his wife Mary for 13 years. Together, the couple have 15 children and 11 grandchildren. Antoine is an ordained minister as well as a family and marriage counselor and has also owned and operated a small business in Macon County for the last 22 years. He is a 6th Degree Black Belt, was the 2002 Karate World Champion and is the 2021 Legends of the Carolinas Martial Arts Hall of Fame Inductee. He serves as the volunteer chaplain for the Franklin Police Department and the Franklin Fire Department.
Antoine serves as a board member for Macon County Care Network and for KAVOD Family Non-Profit Foundation.
“I am not a politician. I am simply a concerned citizen unwilling to sit on the sidelines,” said Antoine. “My desire is to serve my community to the fullest extent of my abilities and will consider it an honor to do so. I love our county and I want to be able to add to our beautiful culture, not merely receive from it. I truly believe in the title of ‘public servant,’ and serving this county has been my lifestyle for over 20 years. Many issues revolving around helping our youth and families in general can be solved by county officials who work well together for the greater good of the citizens. I would like the opportunity to be an elected county official who will serve the people of Macon County with integrity, striving to give my very best at all times.”
Richard Lightner’s father was a career Marine, so he grew up attending schools in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. He graduated from WCU with a BSBA in Finance and Economics in 1980. While attending WCU, Lightner was elected president of a national fraternity and met his wife, Judy Dillard Lightner. The two were married in 1980 and started life in Franklin, Judy’s hometown. Lightner has been a member of Cowee Baptist since 1978, where he has served as deacon for 35 years.
After WCU, Lightner was finance manager with Carolina Tire, Student Services Director at Macon Program for Progress, Professional Sales and Management at Lowe’s where he was recognized as the top 10 salesman with Lowe’s Company. From 1985-2019 Lightner worked as Macon County’s Tax Administrator. He was elected the WNC Tax Association President two times, North Carolina Association of Assessing Officers President, Outstanding Tax Assessor for North Carolina, best tax office in North Carolina twice, and recipient of the Order of The Long Leaf Pine by the Governor of North Carolina for dedicated service to the state and its citizens.
While Lightner was not elected by the citizens for an office, he was an appointed county official, (Tax Administrator) with a legal appointment every four years by the Macon County Commissioners. The vounty manager and Lightner’s position are the only two positions in the county that directly report to the elected commissioners.
“I have been a part of the county’s management team since 1985 and I have worked with every county manager except the very first one,” said Lightner. “I have worked with all the commissioners since 1985 either Democrat or Republican. My 85,000 hours involved with all county issues prepare me to make a difference on day one. I have retained the knowledge of how the county established procedures and dealt with issues for the pass 35 years.”
Danny Reitmeier was raised in Franklin with his sister, Beth Corbin and their brother, Chris. Reitmeier was a student athlete and very involved in student government all through his school years. After graduating from Franklin High School, Reitmeier joined the Air Force and served for 8.5 years. Reitmeier is a proud veteran, having served in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. He is married to his wife, Kim. Reitmeier is a born again Christian, saved by the blood of Jesus and serves as a member of Holly Springs Baptist Church, where he has attended for 28 years.
After the U.S. Air Force, Reitmeier began his professional career where he has experience working as a tax software programmer, landscape maintenance accounts manager, small business owner, operating his own landscape business, as well as working for the U.S. Post Office.
“My reason for running for commissioner is simple,” said Reitmeier, “I love our county and the people that live here. I think it’s time for a change. It’s time for new ideas, new energy, new personalities, and new ways of looking at things. I want to move our county forward in a positive way and make it economically viable for people to make a good living here and not move away. I am a ‘people person’….I’ve never met a stranger. I truly care about people. I believe those character traits will help me connect with the citizens in our county and earn the trust necessary to move our county forward and help all of our citizens. I want ALL of our citizens to have a true, strong voice that will listen to them and be a transparent, tireless worker for them. They deserve that.”
Gregg Jones is a native of Macon County, growing up his family owned and operated Jones Ruby Mine for which he contributed 20 years of his life helping his family succeed with the business. Today, Jones is a small business owner, owning and operating a small grading business. He is active in the community, serving on volunteer boards and coaching community basketball.
“I want to give the citizens of Macon County their voice back to help make decisions where their tax money is spent,” said Jones. “I want to be the county commissioner that is transparent, available, and willing to work for the citizens of Macon County. I would like to see more citizen participation in their community.”
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing Macon County?
Shields: “School Capital needs are ongoing and our schools have to be maintained. Broadband is not a luxury but a necessity for the health and safety of our communities. Quality workforce. Affordable housing/rent. Safety, Health and Education make up 70%-plus of our annual budget. Providing senior services Mental Health (young and old),” he said. “Nothing is free so monies have to be allocated accordingly by need and you budget and seek studies that show you the major needs of the county. Our Capital Improvement Plan, with other data, gives the board a guide for going forward and the board does this with high concern of property owners having to provide the necessary funds via increased taxes.”
Antoine: “There are many issues confronting our county; the levels of importance can be fairly relative,” said Antoine. “Drugs are a major issue here plaguing all age groups. The assets that are available to our children and teens are lacking. Young people are our greatest asset and the leaders for our county’s future. I firmly believe we can help alter this drug epidemic by raising a strong generation of young men and women with their identities intact. I believe in teaching the youth how to contribute to our society rather than just take from it.”
Lightner: “The largest items in a small community vary very little from that of a large community. The top four items are items of safety, education, economic growth, and budgets. Macon faces all these issues just as our larger sister counties in N.C. We need to have public safety adequately funded but not at the cost of shortchanging other vital services such as education and senior services. Economic development is mentioned to me by everyone I meet. We need to establish an office of Economic and Grants Director within the county. We already have the funds in the budget to do so. We see the importance of grants with some recent grants making the local news.”
Reitmeier: “It’s pretty much impossible to name only one ‘biggest’ issue in our county. However, with that being said, I believe we have to find a way (or ways) to give our citizens the means to find good employment which would allow them to keep their families here while making a good living. Be it some type of industry, making sure we get as many people connected with broadband internet, which would allow people to be employed in ways that were never possible before, or other things like that. We also have to be vigilant when it comes to public safety, our schools and health and human services.”
Jones: “Building schools: I would address this by getting grant writers to bring in rural area grants to cover our needs and help distribute different funds for the needs of Macon County,” said Jones.
Commissioners are faced with more and more requests for public education funding. What is your stance on county’s role in funding public education? Do you think the current levels are adequate or do you think they should be increased/decreased? Do you support the sales tax referendum that will be placed on the ballot in November?
Shields: “I feel the ‘brick and mortar,’ via the county, is a hardship for some counties because they do not have a tax base that is sufficient for 2022 public education. The state has looked at counties with ‘brick and mortar’ needs and have designated lottery monies to assist with school projects but the monies are scarce. My greatest concern is mandates from the state that are not accompanied with funds and the commissioners are held responsible for providing the needed mandated services. The state should supply 100% of the current expenses that are passed on to the county via school mandates,” said Shields. “I do support the .25 sales tax that will be on the referendum in November 2022. Our Region A is made up of seven counties (Haywood west) and six of those counties have passed the .25 sales tax and speaking to many of those county leaders, it is a fair tax that visitors can participate in without all the burden falling on the local property owner. Yes, this is another revenue that the property owner would not have to endure because this revenue would be earmarked for the schools/education.”
Antoine: “I believe the county’s investment in public education is crucial to our county’s future. Without sufficient information, I cannot say in all certainty whether or not our current spending levels on public education here are adequate. However, that doesn’t seem to be complicated to answer once I understand the accurate numbers on our spending. I am not for raising taxes when, at our current tax rate, we are not properly allocating the taxes currently collected. If the choice were between a sales tax vs. an ad valorem tax, I would choose sales tax because at least the pass-through traffic can help cushion this tax. Ad valorem property tax would only hit our citizens. I will also say, being that we are maintaining approximately $32 million in savings, I think we should consider the potential use of those funds rather than placing the burden of heavier taxes on the citizens.”
Lightner: “Education is one of the pillars of our community. In fact, public education started in our county by parents and their neighbors coming together and paying for the small schools in areas like Ellijay, Cowee, Clarks Chapel, and many others areas. Locally we spend 19% of our budget on education while our neighbor, (Jackson) a very similar county, spends 24.06%. North Carolina law establishes that the county is responsible for the school facilities. Our children deserve schools that meet 21st Century needs and not that of the 1950s. The question is how do we pay for them? We can establish a tax district for the schools just like the fire districts we have. By doing this, we can see where every dollar is budgeted and spent. No longer will school dollars be misinterpreted going to different programs or lost in the general budget.
Yes, I support the sales tax increase of ¼ cent. Many travel to Clayton or Asheville to shop and pay a higher tax there to support their needs so why would we not want our services to our citizens to receive the same type of funds?”
Reitmeier: “I know the county’s role in funding public education is primarily ‘brick and mortar.’ The state is responsible for pay/salary. The county should fund adequately, based on needs and be prudent economically as those needs are being taken care of. I do support the tax referendum being on the ballot. Our citizens should have their voices heard as to whether or not the tax increase should be put in place.”
Jones: “How I stand on public education in Macon County, we need to expand the schools to downsized classrooms to make learning more attainable,” said Jones. “Our school buildings need to be updated for better operation and maintenance for the safety of our children and faculty. I do not support the sales tax referendum.”
Macon County has completed a large space needs analysis project to address infrastructure needs. What are your thoughts on the current direction the county is taking to address these issues?
Shields: “The county has completed a large ‘Space Needs Analysis’ and we need to review this analysis often to measure immediate needs and need changes that occur with time,” said Shields. “Needs seem to change often and the ‘new needs’ will replace previous ‘needs’ and the ‘Capital Improvement Plan’ and ‘Space Needs Analysis Plan’ should be reviewed often for a summarization of changes needed. I, as a commissioner, should review both products and assess and bring thoughts or questions to the county manager or board for additional input.”
Antoine: “It seems like the analysis was done, but there hasn’t been much forward motion on it. Getting refocused on the results acquired from the analysis can get us moving in the right direction for the county.”
Lightner: “A $300,000 study was completed in 2019 and has seen little movement on it. Until we commit to keeping our present buildings in good repair, we need to be frugal on building new ones. We also need to involve the public in the plans on new buildings.”
Reitmeier: “The large space needs analysis identified all the county buildings and their inner workings that needed attention, repairs, improvements or potentially to be replaced. I think this analysis/report is a great working tool. It should help the decision-making process as far as what the priorities are in the future. I know there have already been some improvements made, such as LED lighting, which will help save some money.”
Jones: “The direction the county is taking to address the large space needs analysis needs to have additional planning in our fast pace growing county,” said Jones.“The county currently has unfinished projects that need to be completed. Otherwise, they need to be done away with so held up funding could be used for other projects.”
Any other issues or information you would like to include for your voters?
Shields: “I am proud to work with each commissioner or discuss concerns with the total board. As a commissioner, one has to ‘agree to disagree’ in a respectful manner,” said Shields.
Antoine: “I want to encourage all of our citizens that although the many grievances you have shared with me are very critical and valid concerns, you have the opportunity to elect officials that will respond to your voices. There needs to be better maintenance on existing projects and infrastructure where we have put substantial investments. I believe we can do a better job with activities for the elderly of Macon County. I would like to see our active voter numbers hit an all-time high in this election, which is why I’m calling out to the younger generation, the age group of 18-55 to be more exact. I am calling on you for your participation in helping to bring about the right changes for our county.”
Lightner: “We need public input from the beginning, not after hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent and decisions are already in the process of being approved. Citizens’ input before monetary output are vital because visions lead to plans that become reality.”
Reitmeier: “These are some of the things that are important items/issues in our county that I believe we need to concentrate on. It is not a comprehensive list, but some main points/ideas…
• Education/invest in our youth
• Emergency services (all departments…fire, sheriff, police, EMS)
• Economic growth
• Veterans services
• Senior citizens services
• Keeping taxes low
• Broadband internet access
I am always willing to listen and discuss any ideas, thoughts, concerns, questions, etc. from any of our citizens. We have to take care of all of our citizens. We have to be transparent, listen, and be true voices as their representatives. We are there for them!”
Compiled by Brittney Lofthouse