Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

One-stop early voting kicks off this week, with one-stop voting in Franklin beginning Thursday morning. Voting for the Franklin municipal election will be taking place in the Macon County Courthouse at the Board of Elections office starting Thursday morning, and will run Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., ending on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 1 p.m.

Six candidates are vying for the open seats on Franklin’s town council. Two incumbents, Billy Mashburn and Barbara McRae have filed to run for office to retain their seats, and with Council member Patti Abel not running, her seat is open. Newcomers David Culpepper, JimBo Ledford, Angela Moore, and Greg Raby have a also filed for election.

Meet the candidates 

David Culpepper was born at Angel Community Hospital in 1978.  He graduated from Franklin High School in 1996 and from Western Carolina University in 2001 with a BS in Communication/ Public Relations. Culpepper and his wife Charlotte have two children, Ledger, 8, and Daisy, 5.

Culpepper has been self-employed for 16 years in the Architectural Salvage business.  “You could say I’ve been at it since way before it was cool,” said Culpepper. “My hobbies include working, reading, outdoor adventuring with my family and researching the county mapping system.”

Culpepper has no formal political experience, but regularly attends town meetings to voice his concerns or questions over town issues.

“I find myself speaking during public comments, at both county and town meetings, more often than either myself or the respective boards would probably like,” said Culpepper. “I ran for vice president of the student body in high school and my opponent promised to install both a snack and soda machine in the main building. To make a long story short, he beat me in a landslide, I even voted for him because I really wanted those vending machines to happen. Like most political promises, he was unable to deliver, but has subsequently become a prominent attorney in the area. At the end of the day political leaders should be held accountable by their constituents. Decisions should make sense and should be explainable and understandable. I will strive for logical solutions and fairness to all.”

Culpepper said he wants to run for office, to bring a different perspective to the board.

“There is no single answer to this other than a desire to make the world a better place,” Culpepper said when asked why he is running for office. “I see things differently than most people. I’m an eternal optimist who sees challenges as opportunities. There is nothing more satisfying than accomplishing a goal that most people had deemed impossible. I thrive on making situations better, capitalizing on opportunities that make sense and create benefit for all involved. I’d like to put my skill set to work for the benefit of my hometown because I want our children to have opportunity in this beautiful place we call home.”

JimBo Ledford has  been a proud resident and business owner in Franklin for 13 or more years now. “My family’s roots in America started in Franklin many moons ago, and while a strong desire to thrive may have led my grandfather to Oregon following the lumber gold rush, it was nothing short of destiny that brought me back home,” he said. “I did a brief stint in Florida on my way back here where I learned my trade, thanks to Plumber’s Local 719 in Ft. Lauderdale. Once I made it back, it didn’t take me long to figure out that I love Franklin and wasn’t here by accident. The people of this town, this community and the surrounding areas have treated me like family since day one. I have three beautiful children that were all born right here in Franklin and I hope to continue to help this town be a great place to raise them and continue to be part of what makes Franklin great.”

Ledford said if elected to the town council, it would be the beginning of his political career, as he has never run for any political office in the past.

“I am running for office because it seems like the next logical step in my journey,” he said. “Politics has become for me something that I didn’t know I was being prepared for, but now it makes total sense that this is my life’s path. I have always tried to be a friend to all, I have consistently been involved in my communities, trying to help improve them in any way. Many people throughout my life have looked to me for a listening ear, an open mind or for sound advice or an empathetic heart, and I have always had a strong desire to help and give back to my fellow man. I feel like I was designed for public service and that my life to this point has been nothing short of preparation for just that.”

Barbara McRae grew up in an Air Force family and lived in many places, including a tour in Wiesbaden, Germany. She married Jim McRae, an Atlanta artist, and moved with him to Franklin in 1972. The couple lived on Jones Creek for 20 years before moving to Harrison Avenue. Jim passed away in December 2010. He had five children. One, the late Scott McRae, was editor of The Franklin Press for several years before he moved away. The youngest boy, Sam, is a FHS graduate. He is now serving as a special agent with the U.S. State Department in Central African Republic.

McRae’s college degree was in Biology and Philosophy, with a minor in Chemistry, and she spent two years in graduate school studying Physiology before taking a career U-turn. She worked at IBM as a Systems Engineer for six years, then followed yet another path after her marriage. She turned to writing, crafts (weaving), and photography, and  worked as a reporter for The Franklin Press for several years. Then she worked in public relations, marketing, and customer service during a 23-year career at Nantahala Power and Light/ Duke Energy. After retiring, McRae returned to The Franklin Press as editor before retiring again, though she continues to contribute columns and features to the paper and do other free lance work in writing and publishing.

McRae is in her first four-year term as a member of the Franklin Town Council. “I am registered unaffiliated, and this is a nonpartisan board,” she said. “Years ago, I ran for Macon County Board of Commissioners as a Republican, and lost. That was my only prior experience, though I have long been an observer of local politics, as a reporter/editor and interested citizen.”

McRae said that she has been involved in town issues for quite some time and wants to continue working to better her community.

“My early involvement in Franklin’s Main Street program ignited my interest in urban development and historic preservation,” said McRae. “When I ran for office four years ago, those interests were paramount for me, and they continue to drive me. I have a passionate love for cities – especially Franklin. I believe that great civic places bring people together in ways that promote the health of the community, create a marketplace of ideas, and generate economic growth. Parks, gardens, benches, public art, street festivals, and other public events, such as Pickin’ on the Square and family movie night, bring vibrant life to our town. So do activities led by the private sector with the encouragement of the town, such as the New Year’s Eve celebration. Not only are such activities good for residents, but they are part of the town’s appeal to tourists, and that is a major part of our economy. I am motivated to run, in part, by my deep desire to create spaces that nurture the human spirit, and preserve Franklin’s rich and unique heritage. Much of this depends on the private sector, but the town’s supportive role is critical. Improving and uplifting our neighborhoods, and providing attractive housing for people at all income levels are also very important to me.”

Top issues facing the town and where you stand.

For this portion, candidates were asked to state their opinion, plan, and outlook on prominent issues currently facing Franklin. 

1) Parking

Main Street’s businesses continue to grow and expand, bringing more and more people downtown. With more visitors, parking continues to be an issue. What would you like to see happen with parking and how do you think it needs to be addressed? 

Culpepper: “Both sides of Main Street should be parallel parking. There should be intermittent landscape peninsulas that protrude from the sidewalks and clearly delineate crosswalks. This issue has been discussed for too long and too much money has been spent studying the situation. Parallel parking, while somewhat of a challenge to some, would be no harder than backing out of the current angled spaces. I’d like to see the parking layout designed for the safety of the pedestrian and those spending time on main street. The layout should be such that vehicular traffic is calmed and lanes not blocked by vehicles sticking into the roadway.”

Ledford: “From my understanding, parking has been a problem in downtown Franklin for quite some time, with multiple plans paid for and ultimately filed under the non action or money wasted category. Presently I would like to see some sort of forward action with the situation. I appreciated the idea Mayor Scott suggested about trying new traffic and parking patterns temporarily with the use of tape, temporary paint, chalk, or something of that nature to try multiple ideas, with little cost, to see if any of these ideas suit Franklin’s unique needs. Ultimately I would like to see parking off of Main Street and moved to a location, or multiple locations, throughout and around the area. I personally would like to see Franklin become more of an alternative transportation community, helping to promote a more active lifestyle by making simple things like walking, cycling, jogging, and commuting pedestrian-friendly where people are shown the same respect as an automobile.”

McRae: “The fact that we worry about parking tells me that business downtown is healthy. Compared with many places I’ve visited, we don’t really have much of a problem. You may not be able to find a place right in front of the business you plan to visit, but – other than festival days – you can typically find something in one of the town lots or streets. We need to plan for the future, however. A downtown parking garage could be the answer, and I would support it if we could put together a favorable financial package.”

2) Whitmire Property

 The Whitmire property has been debated over the last several election cycles, and while the town has discussed plans to address it, nothing has been implemented. If you had to decide tomorrow, what would you like to see done with the Whittier Property?

Culpepper: “If the town were planning to purchase this property now, I would advise against the purchase.  But, this is not the case. The town does own it and thus has the unique opportunity to shape the East Franklin landscape permanently. Current market values would suggest the property selling at a loss.  The property can be utilized in a positive manner by allowing the owners of it, the citizenry of Franklin, to use it. The town should mow the property and allow people to congregate on it and come up with ideas. Don’t close the door on any opportunity for the Whitmire property, but in the meantime, it can function as a park and should be utilized as such. If future trends show that a park is a viable long-term benefit to East Franklin, then the town can put more money into that development.  If future trends show the highest and best use to be a private use or a public/private collaboration, then let those avenues be explored. No matter the final decision on what the bulk of the property should be, it would be a mistake not to save a small portion for a future fire substation or similarly needed infrastructure.”

Ledford: “If I had to decide what to do with Whitmire property tomorrow I would vote that the town keep it, clean it up, help to provide some basic infrastructure, and open it up to the public for use. I would then work towards forming stronger bonds of cooperation with local nonprofit organizations, such as Mainspring conservatory, to extend the Greenway from behind the shopping plaza, through an access point that is already in place, and across the Highlands Road to connect to the Whitmire property. This action alone would open up opportunities for many government grants and would help the town to further improve this property. I believe this piece of land has been conserved for this long for a reason and has huge potential to provide a variety of things for this town with very little work. The Town of Franklin’s outdoor movie night, for example, is already becoming so popular that it won’t be long before they need a new venue, and the Whitmire Property already has a natural amphitheater that could host as many people as you’d care to meet. Immediately, I would vote to allow the use of the property for an outdoor music and arts festival that would help to provide the property with the basic infrastructure the property needs to make it a little slice of heaven for all of Franklin. Thinking ahead I would like to see the town buy the nine-acre parcel that adjoins the Whitmire property and develop it into high end apartments or condominiums that would appeal to a professional class of people like doctors and professors and lawyers and plumbers. I know people will say the town is not in the real estate business and to that I say, why not?”

McRae: “For years, Town Council has considered the future of the Whitmire property and so far been unable to settle on a plan that suits the majority, though citizens have brought several very interesting proposals forward. My preference would be for mixed use development with some green space preserved for walking/biking trails and perhaps a small park with a playground. Franklin needs more housing, particularly for those in the middle-income range, such as young professionals, and this would be an excellent location. I would like any development to take into consideration the neighborhood that borders this property. That said, I am willing to wait for the report on this matter from our consultants.”

3) County and town relations

Macon County and the town of Franklin work closely together on several issues that overlap the two entities. What is your impression about the state of this relationship and how do you think it can be improved?

Culpepper: “I’m not intimately familiar with the inner workings of how the Town and the County communicate, but it appears there is room for improvement. Maybe an idea as simple as a Town Council member sitting in on some county meetings and a County Commissioner reciprocating for town planning meetings. Alternatively, a committee idea could be explored with both members from the Town and County giving input on how to better serve the community and address overlapping issues.  There are monetary savings possible on both sides and savings could be used to advance projects benefiting all. One pending issue that will require cooperation is the proposed Greenway extension to the County Rec Park. Mainspring Conservation Trust has done the hard work of procuring the property, now the town and county need to work together to get it off the ground. I’m prepared to donate my council member salary to making this goal a reality if any one commissioner will do the same.  The greenway extension is that good of an idea. It’s an obvious win/win for everyone.

Ledford: “The town and county governments in Franklin work closely on many projects, and from being involved in this process personally, I can say that they do a great job. From my observations, I see that a vast majority of the people holding governmental positions that can help make things happen in our community believe in cooperation and realize there’s a much bigger picture here than what branch of the government you are employed by. Something that is happening in America that has attracted my attention, and seems like it could be a very feasible idea for Franklin, is that town and county municipalities are merging to form one governmental body. From my experience the less government interference and overlay that you have dictating your decisions and who does what, the more you can get done, and maybe even get it done this century. Please google some key words such as county borough, municipal government merger, town and county municipalities, etc., and you will find that many counties/boroughs have merged with municipals/towns/cities within their borders and none of them have wanted to go back. I’d really like to hear some feedback on this idea, it’s not about cutting jobs, the jobs are still going to be there, it’s about cutting out the government’s slowing of progress.”

McRae: “The town and county have many overlapping areas of concern, and I think we work harmoniously together on these. We also have unique areas of responsibility. Sometimes these are confusing to citizens. For example, though the Greenway goes through the heart of Franklin, it is a county resource. The town clearly has an interest in the Greenway, but our involvement is necessarily limited. There may be ways to expand the town’s role in the future as the proposed River District and projects of Nikwasi Initiative take shape around the river and Nikwasi Mound. We have many formal avenues of communication with county commissioners and other county officials. We see them at meetings of Southwestern Commission (Region A), to which all towns and counties in the region belong. We also hold regular joint meetings with the county and the Town of Highlands. Town council members serve on several boards with our commissioners. For example, I’ve been a member of the Macon County Economic Development Council for the past four years and was recently reappointed. These boards give us further opportunities to discuss important issues with county officials and better understand the problems they face. Furthermore, town and county employees have good relations with one another and often work together on mutual projects. Open, honest communication and mutual respect are the critical ingredients in maintaining a good relationship. We need to continue to do what we’re doing now and look for other communications avenues. Personally, I’m always glad of the opportunity to talk with county commissioners and other officials – county manager, sheriff, department heads – and have always had a warm reception from them.”

4) Is there an issue that you think is pressing in Franklin that was not addressed? If so, what is it and your plans to approach it?

Culpepper: “Community building… a sense of community. It is not the job of governing bodies to provide jobs, but it is the job of governing bodies to foster an environment in which people want to live and work. The manufacturing heyday is likely past, and while retention of what industries we have left should be a concern, focusing on the future and what types of jobs will come with it should be the main priority. It appears small business, and the economic benefits they provide, are the most likely avenue of growth for our area.  Working toward an environment in which people want to live and work is essential to the success or our town. Franklin is doing a great job with our downtown festivals and family-friendly events like outdoor movie night. This is the type of thinking and action that creates a quality of life for residents.  Infrastructure such as sidewalks, hi-speed internet, parks, greenways, outdoor recreation facilities and a vibrant downtown are all imperative to a thriving community. These must be encouraged and promoted while simultaneously trying to limit the tax burden on town residents. People want to move here, let’s encourage them by being open for business and new ideas.

Ledford: “As I’ve been campaigning and speaking with people throughout the town and the county, I have found that one of the biggest complaints from the public surrounds voting rights. Having a business in Franklin for the last 12 years, while living in Otto for the first 10 years of that time, I can understand the concern and frustration. I’ve also heard things like, “I have a Franklin address why can’t I vote?” I believe that’s a good question. What happens in the town of Franklin affects way more people than just the residents of the town’s limits, And I think that these laws and ordinances regarding voting rights need to be looked at and addressed. I appreciate your time and would like to talk about anything that you would like to talk about that might affect the town, whether it is relevant to the town council position I am running for or not. My name is JimBo Ledford and I’m running for the Franklin town council during the 2017 election cycle and would really appreciate your vote.”

McRae: “I alluded to the need for additional, attractive housing for all income levels. We’re witnessing an interesting demographic change. The period of people moving away from cities and towns to the countryside seems to have reversed and more people want the amenities of city life. They want walkable spaces and interesting things to do. But, they also have specific ideas about appropriate housing. Millennials have different ideas than I did at their age – and we don’t have the kind of housing stock they are looking for. We all know of people who have long commutes because they can’t find a house that suits their needs here. Employers tell me they could hire more people if potential employees could find the kind of housing they want, so this is an economic development issue as well. Revitalizing some of our existing neighborhoods is a partial solution. Housing is a problem throughout Western North Carolina and there are regional efforts under way to solve it. We as a town need to stay current with this issue and make sure that we have whatever tools we need to encourage the kind of development we want.”

*Editors note: This is the first installment of candidate profiles. Click here for interviews with candidates Billy Mashburn, Greg Raby, Angela Moore.