Upcoming retreat jumping off point for new mayor

Franklin mayor Jack Horton, with the help of his wife Lydia, took his oath of office in December after being the sole candidate for mayor in the November municipal election.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

An opportunity for Town of Franklin’s planning and local government community to participate in evaluating past goals and establishing new ones is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Jan. 21-22 . As new Town of Franklin Mayor Jack Horton explained, an informal dinner starts the retreat on Friday evening at The Lodge at Cat Creek and then all-day meetings will be held Saturday at Town Hall. 

“There is a big list of topics to discuss,” said Horton. “We will be talking about infrastructure, budgets, finances, teamwork, and issues we might have talked about last year … where we are on them. Some things to address are the skate park, the Whitmire property [a little over 12 acres off Highlands Road that the Town owns], litter issues and the cleanliness of our town, intergovernmental cooperation with the county and our sister town of Highlands, and working with the state and the federal agencies that have a presence in our area. Plus, we will look at festivals and things like urgent needs such as recruiting additional employees who are retiring or moving on.”

Public Works Director Nathanael Moore has taken a position in Greensboro, N.C., and Town Clerk/Human Resources Director Travis Tallent will be taking a job in Greenville, S.C. Those two positions are ones that will need to be filled soon. 

“We’ve got quite a few things on our plate,” said Horton, “but there are opportunities as well. We will talk about a comprehensive plan, where we are now and where we want to be in the next 12 months. And then we will establish short-term and long-term planning for objective goals.” 

Horton became the Town of Franklin’s mayor in the latter part of 2021; the previous mayor, Bob Scott, decided not to run again after serving four, two-year terms. Horton has spent most of his adult life serving in local government. 

“I was born in South Carolina and grew up in Mecklenburg County and graduated from high school there,” said Horton. “After serving in the Navy, I went to college and graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s and master’s in political science. I started in 1976 as a college intern in local government in Swain County in Bryson City. Then they offered me a job as the county tax collector. In 1978, I was the first county manager in Swain County.”

Horton was in Bryson City until 1981 and he met his wife, Lydia, a native of Bryson City, while she was working at a bank there. 

“We got married within the year [1977] and she’s been my greatest supporter and we’ve been very blessed.”

Horton left local government to work in the private sector in Waynesville for a few years. 

“But then I was itching to get back into local government, so I became a town manager in Huntersville, near Charlotte, for a few years. Then Macon County was looking for a county manager, and I worked here from 1985-91 before becoming a Haywood County manager for 15 years. I left there in 2006 and was in Caldwell County in Lenoir for two years.”

When the Macon County manager retired in January 2008, Horton returned to Franklin “for good. There is the saying, ‘I wasn’t born here, but I got here as soon as I could.’ That’s me.” 

After Horton retired as Macon County manager in October 2013, he was encouraged to run for a spot on the Town Council. He was elected in 2019, and then, “Bob Scott convinced me I should run for mayor, so here I am.”

The Hortons have two grown sons, Adam, who resides in the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area, and another, Seth, in Durham. The couple also has three grandsons. 

Horton indicated that although he has had a busy career, he has his work cut out for him as mayor of Franklin. 

“There are several things I hope we can achieve as a team, and one is to get a better handle on and do some improvements on our infrastructure for water and sewer. This will be a big part of our focus in the next two-to-five years. We also want to create an environment for businesses … recruit and retain new employers to give residents more opportunities … create a local environment that is business friendly. To do that we have to have good infrastructure and a housing market that is available and affordable. We also need to be able to support local businesses. Most people who grew up here have to go away to get good jobs. They need to be able to have the option to live and work where they were raised.”

All that said, Horton recognizes that an open-the-flood-gates approach to local business growth would be counterproductive. 

“We don’t want to become another metropolitan area that people are fleeing from,” he noted. “We need to maintain the growth and the atmosphere by looking at projects and evaluating them in a way that considers quality of life. Just as important as creating jobs is smart growth. Business growth and quality of life sometimes come in conflict with each other, but we’re seeking to strike a balance.”

Horton said he believes his education and long career in serving local communities has equipped him to be a mayor. 

“I’ve learned over the years that the people you go to church with, meet in the barber shop, see at the grocery store, these are your neighbors who you are directly responsible to. Most people who run for public office on the local level have a heart for the people they represent. By and large, I’ve found over my three-plus decades that people in local leadership are sincere and want to do the right thing. My goal is to look at what I can do in this position to make things better than how I first found them. It’s not about getting credit or glory or accolades. It’s about getting things done.”