Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
The Franklin Town Council met May 4 for its regular meeting via a live YouTube feed, due to N.C. Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order limiting gatherings to a maximum of 10. At the top of the new business agenda was a presentation on the current status of the Nikwasi Initiative by board member Bob McCollum.
“The process of building a nonprofit is a long and winding road. We’ve been very methodical in building a foundation for what we have in place now,” said McCollum.
The Nikwasi Initiative was established in 2015 to promote, interpret, and link cultural and historic sites (such as the Nikwasi and Cowee mounds) along a Cherokee Cultural Corridor, an educational initiative with plans to run from Cherokee to Franklin and to the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River. The Initiative provides not only educational and cultural opportunities, shared McCollum, but also collaboration between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and local communities.
Most recently, Elaine Eisenbraun (her bio is available on the Nikwasi Initiative website) was hired as executive director.
“We reached a point where we have to have professional leadership; someone who will work on [the Initiative] as a primary focus,” said McCollum.
Until the Eisenbraun appointment, Nikwasi Initiative was an all-volunteer effort. “She will focus on our financial future,” he said.
“The transfer of the [Nikwasi Mound] deed (last May) was the last piece in place,” explained McCollum. “When we go out to get grants now, because of pieces we’ve put together and the final piece of the deed transfer, we will be able to compete for money for the project now … to build the Nikwasi Initiative for the future.”
McCollum reminded the Council that the Nikwasi Initiative’s first construction project occurred last year and was the Cowee Mound education kiosk, located one mile north of Cowee Baptist Church. The next and in-the-near-future construction project by the Nikwasi Initiative will be the Nikwasi Mound’s kiosk.
He told the town council that local businessman Bob Sanders gave a small parcel of land for the purpose of the kiosk placement. McCollum asked the council for permission to utilize that parcel, which is .02 acres or 871 square feet, for the installation of the new Nikwasi Mound kiosk.
“When that decision is made, we can set a go date for construction,” said McCollum, sharing that monies for design, construction, etc. will come from various foundation grants. He said that while local funding is not necessary, the “vote of confidence” from the Council provides credibility when the Initiative seeks grants.
Finally, McCollum said that the Initiative’s partnerships with the [Qualla Boundary] tribe has been a positive aspect.
“We’re working with the chief’s [Richard Sneed] office to make sure everything that’s done is compatible with the comprehensive plan.”
McCollum added that another possible addition to what is being referred to as the Nikwasi Gateway area, where there will eventually be the Women’s History Trail sculpture and other historical and cultural education components, is an aviary for disabled American bald eagles.
The Council agreed to discuss McCollum’s request regarding land use for the Nikwasi Mound kiosk.
Another new business discussion involved a presentation by Town Planner Justin Setser to develop a ranking system for the town’s current sidewalks that would involve mapping, measuring, and photographing, as well as inventorying sidewalks for ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance, all of which would lead to a comprehensive sidewalk plan “as a tool for future development,” he said. “We will also look at obstructions … cracking, cleanliness …”
Sidewalks will be classified based on various criteria and shape of sidewalk. For example, “A poor sidewalk is one with major defects and poor ADA compliance,” said Setser, while a fair sidewalk “potentially would need to be upgraded in the next five to 10 years.” A poor sidewalk classification would need to be replaced “as soon as possible,” he added.
A motion was made to accept Setser’s plan.
Homeless task force
In other new business, the Council revisited briefly a March 11 proposal by Bob Bourke, president of Macon New Beginnings, regarding a homeless task force. The proposed task force would consist of representatives from the town, local businesses, non-government agencies, and concerned citizens, with the goal of cataloguing resources currently available to the homeless population, identifying needs, and determining how to take necessary actions to assist the population.
Bourke has reported to the Council that around 100 people in Macon County were identified as homeless in 2019, with Macon New Beginnings serving 229 people. Homeless individuals and families generally seek shelter in vehicles, along riverbanks, in parks, wooded areas, abandoned buildings, storage units, and more.
Mayor Bob Scott suggested the matter be moved to June for more in-depth discussion.
Town Manager Summer Woodard distributed the proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget. A budget work session was scheduled for Tuesday, May, 12, at which time there will be a “deep dive” evaluation and discussion of the budget. The public can view the budget on the Town of Franklin website and also at themacon countynews.com.
Finally, Town Attorney John Henning Jr. discussed the phased re-opening of the Town of Franklin. The governor made the announcement on Tuesday after the Monday board meeting that the state would enter phase 1 at 5 p.m. on May 8 with some loosening of restrictions.
Mayor Bob Scott pointed out that some rural counties are not experiencing as many cases of COVID-19 as more densely populated areas, but said, “I don’t want the public to get their hopes up that on May the 8th everything is going to open wide up.”
He and Henning reiterated that the Town will be open as much possible, while at the same time staying within the state’s restrictions.
“Everybody has been on board and taking this seriously,” added Mayor Scott.