Forum gives Town Council candidates a voice

Candidates participating in the forum, from left, Frances Seay, David Culpepper, JimBo Ledford, Rita Salain. Not pictured, Stacy Guffey. Photo by Betsey Gooder

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

Candidates vying for the three open seats on the Franklin Town Council spoke to voters last Thursday during a candidate forum hosted by the Macon County News and the Smoky Mountain News. All five candidates were in attendance and shared their vision for public safety, economic growth, and how to fill the council seat that will be vacant after Jack Horton is elected mayor in November. 

The November election is for Macon County municipalities only, meaning voters who live within the city limits of the Town of Franklin can vote in that election, and voters who live within the town of Highlands city limits can vote in that election. 

In Franklin, the office of the mayor and three council members will appear on the ballot. In Highlands, the office of the mayor and two commissioners will be up for election.

In Franklin, the seats up for election include the mayor seat — currently held by Mayor Bob Scott; and town council seats held by David Culpepper, Dinah Mashburn, and the seat left vacant after the death of Barbara McRae. 

Neither Scott nor Mashburn are seeking re-election. 

Incumbent David Culpepper filed for a second term and will face challengers JimBo Ledford, Rita Salain, Frances Seay, and Stacy Guffey. With three seats on the Franklin town council up for re-election, the top three vote-getters will claim a seat this November. 

Current town council vice-mayor and former Macon County Manager Jack Horton filed for mayor and without any challengers, has all but secured his seat as the next mayor of Franklin. Because Horton will be leaving his town council seat prior to the end of his term to take over as mayor, it will be up to the Town Council to appoint someone to fill his seat.

Addressing how Horton’s seat would be filled if elected, candidates varied on if the fourth top vote getter should be appointed or if the new board should fill the vacancy some other way. 

Candidate Stacy Guffey said the while the town has not always just appointed the next top vote-getter to fill the vacancy, he believes that with the seat coming open so soon after the election, it should be filled by the fourth top vote getter, which allows the town of Franklin residents to decide on the new board member. 

Incumbent David Culpepper and candidate JimBo Ledford both said that they believe all candidates on the ballot are qualified to hold the seat and would be a good choice — however they currently didn’t have an opinion as to who or how that seat should be filled. 

Candidates Rita Salain and Frances Seay said that regardless of how the residents of Franklin vote in the election, consideration for who should fill the vacancy should be solely up to the new board. Salain and Seay noted that while the best choice may be the fourth top vote-getter — there may also be some other individual within the town of Franklin who may have not wanted to run a campaign, but would be a better fit with the personalities on the new board and may get along better, therefore they would like to see the option kept open to any resident in Franklin, not just those who are currently running for office. 

Candidates discussed the need for expanded recreational opportunities within the town of Franklin, which has seen more attention since the development of the Whitmire Property. As it stands, the majority of recreation within the town of Franklin such as the Little Tennessee Greenway and the public parks are all county managed properties. The candidates all shared the vision for the town to take a more active role in opportunities specific for inside the city limits. 

Early voting for the municipal election in Macon County will continue through Saturday, Oct. 30, at 3 p.m. Election Day is Nov. 2.