Last updated on October 19, 2022
*Editor’s note: Danny Antoine is also running for election for the Macon County Board of Commissioners, however he declined to answer questions from this media outlet.
Early voting kicks off across North Carolina Thursday, October 20 and will continue through Saturday, November 5. Election Day is scheduled for Tuesday, November 8. Macon County residents will first cast their vote for the Macon County Board of Commissioner District 1 seat — which represents the Highlands, Elijay, Flats, and Sugarfork area of the county. Voters will pick between either Highlands Resident and unaffiliated candidate Jerry Moore, or Ellijay resident and Republican candidate John Shearl. Both Moore and Shearl are considered newcomers in the race as the incumbent for the seat, Jim Tate, announced his retirement from the board earlier this year.
On the back side of the ballot, voters will then be asked to cast their votes for TWO candidates under the Board of Commissioner District 2 seat — which represents Iotla, Millshoal, North Franklin, east Franklin, South Franklin, Union, and Smithbridge. There are TWO seats up for election, meaning every voter can select TWO out of the four names that appear on the ballot. Incumbents Ronnie Beale (Democrat) and Gary Shields (Republican) are running for re-election and will be facing challengers Betty Cloer Wallace (Democrat) and Danny Antoine (Republican).
In total, Macon County voters will be selecting THREE commissioners — and because November is a general election, not a primary election, any voter can vote for any candidate, regardless of political affiliation. All candidates will appear on the same ballot.
District 2 County Commissioners (PICK TWO)
Shields was born in the Cartoogechaye Community and lived on Mill Creek until completing the 9th grade at Franklin High School. He then attended Walhalla High School due to his father’s work schedule where he completed the 10th grade. Shields’ parents moved to Waynesville, NC, where he completed grades 11 and 12 and graduated from Waynesville Township High School in June 1966. In October 1966, Shields entered the military and served two tours of duty in Vietnam completing his military service obligation in June 1969.
Shields entered Gardner-Webb College (University) in August 1969 and earned a BA Degree in Social Science in 1973. He continued his education at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte earning a MA Degree in Master of Education in 1975 and in 1985, he earned a MA Degree in Guidance Counseling from UNC-Charlotte via Western Carolina University. After graduating from Gardner-Webb College (University) in 1973, Shields began working in the Kings Mountain School System as a teacher and school administrator for eight years. In 1981, Shields was hired by the Macon County Board of Education where he served as Counselor/Teacher at Nantahala School, FHS Counselor/Assistant Principal, Union Elementary School Principal for five years and returned to be the Principal of Franklin High School for 21 years. Shields retired from Franklin High School in June 2010.
“After serving 37 years in public education and after retiring in June 2010, I was elected to the Macon County BOE where I served 4 years,” Gary Shields said when asked why he was seeking re-election. “I soon felt that my understanding of county government was very limited and how Macon County existed beyond the BOE. Being elected to the Macon County Commissioner Board in 2014, I have strived to understand the total workings of Macon County. In November 2022, I will have completed 8 years in county government and have chosen to seek another 4 year term to feel that my INVESTED time has not been in vain. With INVESTED time come UNFINISHED business that I am willing to give my time and energy toward completion.”
Ronnie Beale was first elected to the Macon County Board of Commissioners in November 2006. A Macon County business owner, Ronnie and his wife Cissy have three children, Cara Higgs (Bill), Evan, and Barrett, and live in the Iotla community.
Beale graduated from Franklin High School in 1973, attended Southwestern Community College, and has served as the President of Beale Construction since 1980. Beale also owns and operates All Seasons Storage from 1998 to 2022 and owned Carolina Mini Mart from 1999-2020.
Beale has served the residents of Macon County for four terms, during which time he has served as both Chairman and Vice-Chairman. In addition to the board of commissioners, Beale has served as past chairman of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, Macon County Social Services, Macon County Board of Equalization and Review, Macon County Planning Board, Past President of the Franklin Daybreak Rotary Club, served on the Board of Directors of Enter Bank for over 20 years, Past Chairman of the March of Dimes, the North Carolina Community Foundation and served on the board for REACH of Macon County. He is past master of Junaluskee Masonic Lodge and past ambassador to Shriner’s Crippled Children Hospital.
Beale’s current involvement includes serving on the board for Macon County Fair, and Board of Directors of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. Beale is currently the Vice Chair of the Southwest Commission and Vice Chair of Vaya Board of Directors, the mental health arm serving 31 Western Counties.
Beale was voted North Carolina Commissioner of the Year in 2013 and continues to represent Macon County on the state level. A past president of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and current member of the association’s governing board, Beale is also slated to serve as the next President of the Southwest Commission, the regional council of government.
“I am running for re-election to the Macon County Board of Commissioners to continue working with our local school board to give all students across the county the best opportunity to succeed,” said Beale. “It is also extremely important to me to continue advocating to provide broadband to as many households as possible in Macon County while also working every day to improve the quality of life for Maconians. Lastly, I am seeking re-election to continue working diligently in mental health and substance abuse area, which affects all of our families as I have done since being elected in 2006.”
Betty Cloer Wallace
Betty Cloer Wallace has a lifetime of public service including: 5th generation Maconian; four university degrees in California, Georgia, and North Carolina, including Doctorate in Public Administration, UGA; Associate Superintendent, Macon County Schools; Director, Western Regional Education Center (WNC); Superintendent, Vance County Schools (17 schools, 1,100 employees); Assistant State Superintendent, NC Department of Public Instruction, Raleigh; US Department of Education Fellow, Washington, DC; Associate Superintendent, NW Arctic Borough, Alaska; Adjunct Professor, WCU and SCC; served on numerous boards and commissions for industrial recruitment, facilities planning, and economic development; Amazon book author; tree farmer (native hardwoods); rental businesses (commercial and residential); NC Democratic Party, State Secretary (elected two terms), State Executive Committee, Executive Council.
“To continue using my half-century of experience and credentials in public service administration and economic development to work toward practical and sustainable change for Macon County; to help reverse the top-down authoritarianism that has controlled our Board of Commissioners for many years; to encourage a greater voice by our citizens in local government; and to help create a more moderate and balanced governmental representation of our residents as per gender, community, vocation, social needs, and financial wherewithal,” Wallace said when asked why she is running for county commissioner.
What do you see as being the greatest issue facing Macon County?
Shields: “I serve on nine assigned Liaisons by the chairman and 6 Liaisons that are unassigned,” said Shields. “Of the 35 Liaisons our county has, each commissioner has Liaison assignments and brings issues to the board that are priorities in that moment and skilled workforce, housing/rentals, health care, senior citizens to include Broadband services are always a issue topic.I think our board members would agree that to single out “one issue” would be debatable. My idea is to focus on a “group issue”. In our budget summation each year, I look at the “Expenditures Graph” and view the top 3 expenditures. For the 22/23 budget year 3 departments are in constant need. PUBLIC SAFETY which involves Sheriffs department, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Management and other public safety departments make up 30% of our budget. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES includes Health Department, Social Services, Veterans, Mental Health and Senior Services and Housing makes up 22% of our budget. EDUCATION (Macon County School System) has numerous capital and current expense needs to include technology and operating budget to accommodate for ever-changing circumstances makes up 19% of the budget. These 3 important departments make up 71% of our 22/23 budget and each has single issues or multi issues that need constant attention.”
Beale: “I think the top three issues facing our county today are, “Number 1: Providing our children with the tools to succeed. We must continue investing in our children as they are the future of Macon County. Since being elected we have constructed two new schools, placed additions on three schools and totally renovated several schools. Also, provided a teacher supplement while working closely with our local board of education,” said Beale. “Number 2: Access to quality broadband. Macon County must continue working with local providers to expand broadband internet access. In August of 2022, we completed the 1.5 million South Macon Fiber Backbone project. This would not have happened without support of the majority of the County Commissioners. Which appropriated $580,000 to this very important project. And lastly, number 3: Housing is crucial to economic development. We have excellent schools, a new medical facility, low crime rate, abundant natural resources and great recreational facilities. These qualities combined which the continued expansion of broadband internet makes Macon County a very attractive location for potential employers / individuals. What we are missing? Affordable housing. It is the most important factor. Not only to economic development, but to the future of our county. We must work with Federal and State Governments in providing affordable housing.”
Wallace: “Lack of economic development providing jobs that can support families,” said Wallace. “Statistics for two decades shows that our poverty level remains at 30% and that we are continuously losing our young families because of lack of good jobs, healthcare, vocational options, and social opportunities. We must change our current societal and economic trajectory if we want to slow down the exodus of our young families, take care of our elderly and disabled citizens, and move forward as a viable and economically competitive county.”
Macon County is in the midst of significant infrastructure planning for the school system. What are your thoughts on the new Franklin High School Project proposal?
Shields: “The topic of a new Franklin High School has been a conversation for over 20+ years. In the past 2 years, I have served on the FHS Project Facilities Review Team and was first involved in searching for a school site of at least 30 acres,” said Shields. “Property owners soon realized that a high school may not be “neighborhood friendly” due to over 300+ student vehicles moving twice each day, 80+ faculty and staff vehicles, 40+ school busses, parent traffic and most of all the traffic that comes with a 3A sports program with 30+ athletic teams. To top the search for a new high school, water and sewer had to be available and this was limited outside the city limits. Our next project, via LS3P Architect Firm, was to look at the FHS campus and bring in a data engineering team to evaluate the 7 identified buildings that are north of Panther Drive. The data engineering team was given directions to project an upgrade of 50 years on each of the 7 buildings and to bring all assessed buildings up to today’s building codes and needed additional Square-Footage.In June 2022, after approximately 3/4 months, the FHS Renovation Plan, of approximately 149 pages, was released back to the FHS Facilities Project Review team for studying. On July 26, 2022 Macon County Board of Education and the Macon County Board of Commissioners held a joint meeting in the Franklin High School Fine Arts Center, open to the public, and each board voted to authorize our county manager to negotiate a contract with LS3P for a “schematic design for a new Franklin High School at the current location”.
Beale: “I am very anxious to see what the architect brings forward on October 18,” said Beale. “Over the years we have continued to spend money at FHS which is the same as putting a band aid on a major wound. I think a new high school is vital not only to our students, but to our community in many ways. We must continue to give our students the best opportunities to succeed.”
Wallace: “We need a new county high school, but not a little toy high school shoe-horned into the current 20.4 acres site,” said Wallace. “A comprehensive high school should be at least 50 acres with easy access and egress, and facilities to house a wide range of programs. The current cramped campus will never be adequate for what our children need; and the prior decisions of our commissioners should not have taken us down this unfortunate path. The current site would be adequate for a middle school but not for a high school.”
What are your thoughts on the proposed expansion to Highlands School?
Shields: “I had the opportunity to see the new site plans and toured Highlands School with Principal Jetter a few months ago,” said Shields. “I will be involved in a meeting updating the Facilities Review Team on this project on October 13, 2022 at the BOE room at 9 a.m. Today’s date at this writing by me is October 12, 2022. I will be listening tomorrow for additional information and future plans concerning this project.
Beale: “Highlands is requesting a pre-k building,” said Beale. “As of now they do not have a general pre-k at all. I think this is an item that we certainly need to look at for the future for Highlands students.”
Wallace: “Both Highlands and Nantahala Schools should be expanded as proposed to meet the needs of those communities, both educational and civic,” said Wallace.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish if elected?
Shields: “A. Putting closure to the new Franklin High School Project, B. Affordable housing and rental dwellings and C. Broadband and Cell service available to all of Macon County,” said Shields.
Beale: “If re-elected, the top three things I want to see accomplish are, first, securing access to quality broadband, Macon County must continue working with local providers to expand broadband internet access. In August, we completed the South Macon Fiber Backbone Project. Broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for our economic growth and education of all Macon County students.
Second, I want to continue to work diligently in providing better mental health and substance abuse services to the citizens of Macon County, as I have done since being elected in 2006. This is one area where most if not all of Macon County’s families are affected.
And lastly, I want to continue working with our local school board in giving the students of Macon County the best opportunity for success.”
Wallace: “(1) Long-range facilities planning for our schools, court system, law enforcement, senior services expansion, healthcare options with specialty clinics, and a multi-purpose civic center,” said Wallace. “(2) We have an Economic Development Commission that is virtually unknown and which functions outside the purview of the Board of Commissioners. The EDC should be brought under the administrative oversight of the Commissioners (or a new one formed), become transparent to the public it is supposed to serve, and recruit retailers and industries by aggressively marketing our county through numerous commercial associations and networks. (3) Better communication between our local government and public by way of a Public Relations and Public Information Office, especially with broadband expansion into all parts of our county. Furthermore, we the people must insist that our local government illuminate the will of the people rather than continuing their authoritarian top-down decision-making.”
What is your stance on the proposed sales tax referendum scheduled to appear on the November ballot?
Shields: “I am 100% for the 1/4 cent sales tax,” said Shields. “In 2007, the NC General Assembly gave County Boards of Commissioners the authority to levy an additional 1/4 cent county sales-and -use tax, subject to voter approval. These monies brought in ($2,000,000) equates to approximately (2 pennies) that could be used toward lowering our Ad Valorem, property taxes. This 1/4 cent sales tax revenue could be used in funding capital needs in the Macon County School System where presently, school capital needs are paid for by Property Taxes or called Ad Valorem Taxes. Of the 7 counties west of Haywood County, Macon County, has the opportunity on November 8, 2022 to join the other 6 counties in Region A to become partners and move forward in supporting the Macon County School System with their capital needs projects.”
Beale: “I support the quarter cent sales tax for several reasons,” said Beale. “It will generate approximately 2 million dollars in revenue. This revenue will be earmarked for education, which will help in keeping our ad valorem taxes low. Since we are the only county in the far west that does not have the quarter cent sales tax, it will keep our money local instead of our neighbors receiving it.”
Wallace: “I am in favor of the sales tax if it is clearly designated for schools without displacing other funding, which is unlikely. The sales tax hike has been disingenuously oversold by our commissioners in several ways—primarily as revenue from tourists without acknowledging that most buying in our county is done by our own residents year round. Also, the minuscule amount of revenue from the sales tax is not a drop in the bucket when applied to the exorbitant cost of the projected high school, a cost that conservatively will approach $200 million over the next three decades,” said Wallace. “The only reason the commissioners are putting a sales tax on the ballot now is because public voting on local sales tax is required by state law; and they are obfuscating the fact that it will do very little to help our overall economic wellbeing, that we will be paying the sales tax forevermore, and that their top-down decision (without a public hearing) to build an inadequate little toy high school has not been popular.”
If elected, what you will you do to ensure all areas of Macon County (Highlands, Nantahala, Cowee, Franklin, etc) and all residents regardless of political affiliation (this election could mark the first time in more than a decade that the board is made up by only one political party) receive equal and fair representation?
Shields: “Each board member represents a district (1,2,3),” said Shields. “The representative(s) from their district has an obligation to listen and promote the needs of his/her district. When needs are brought before the commissioners, the representative(s) of that district should present the problem, not based on color, race, gender, religion or political affiliation. Commissioners should remind themselves of the Oath of Office they swore to uphold and remember the Pledge of Allegiance and support the last 6 words in the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all”.
Beale: “Since being elected in 2006, I have and will continue to serve all Macon County citizens regardless of their political affiliation,” said Beale. “My record as a county commissioner has always been to have an open door policy for all Maconians and this will continue to be the case.”
Wallace: “Listen to the citizens and ensure that all are heard. Hold regular public hearings and regular public referenda on a wide range of issues.,” said Wallace.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
Shields: “I follow a motto of “Earned Not Given,” said Shields. “I am a Vietnam Veteran and have invested in our country by serving in the military. I have invested in a career of public education as a teacher, counselor, assistant- principal and building principal. I have spent 37 years as a educator with 29 of those years in the Macon County School System with my last 21 years, before retiring in June 2010, as principal of Franklin High School.”
Beale: “Having had the privilege of serving as a commissioner for the past 16 years, I am very familiar with all county departments and also the budget process,” said Beale. “I have had the opportunity to network and forge relationships with leaders across the region and the state. Having served as President of the North Carolina County Commissioner Association and currently serving on the Board of Directors, I have the opportunity to speak and represent MC on a state level. I also serve as Vice Chairman of the Southwest Commission for the seven far west counties, which gives Macon County the opportunity to work on issues that are vital to this region and to Macon County.”
Wallace: “My half-century of experience and credentials in a wide range of public administration in education, industrial recruitment, facilities planning and construction, research, finance, and public relations,” said Wallace. “The role of the Board of Commissioners is service through policy-making and oversight of legal matters pertaining to the public, oversight of administrative functions to ensure that all citizens are heard equitably and fairly, and responsible expenditure of tax revenue provided by citizens for the public good of everyone. My belief is that local government belongs to our citizens and should transpire from the bottom up, not from the top down. It is not a business with a bottom-line profit and should not be operated as a business; it is a public service for ensuring that taxpayer money is used according to the wishes of “we the people” who generate it—all the people, not just some with special interests.”
Any additional information you would like to include?
Shields: “I served 4 years on the Macon County Board of Education and I am completing 8 years as a Liaison to the Macon County BOE and will complete my 8th year as a Macon County Commissioner in November 2022. All total, I have served 49 years in public education,” said Shields. “I am choosing to seek re-election for another 4 years on the Macon County Commissioner Board. I have “unfinished” business that I want to be a part of putting closure to. Macon County is my home and supporting “MACONIANS” is my goal.”
Beale: “During my tenure as County Commissioner, we have managed to keep one of the lowest property tax rates in the State of North Carolina, Capital outlay has increased by 33% to approximately $9.9 million in fiscal year 2023, the county’s outstanding debt has decreased by 22%, The unassigned fund balance hasincreased by 100% making Macon County which plays a key role in Macon County’s solid financial position,” said Beale. “If re-elected my door is always open, as it has been for the past 16 years, to all Macon County citizens. My goal is simple. To help our community in any way possible.”
Wallace: Macon County has been hard hit in recent years with major retailers pulling out of the county. Retailers go wherever there are profits to be made. Simple as that. A local economy must be advantageous for “we the people” before the people can support significant retailers; and a local economy is dependent on jobs that can support families, educational opportunities, healthcare, public safety, and affordable housing. Otherwise we are left with our current dollar store economy, part-time service jobs, and proliferation of substandard infrastructure,” said Wallace. “I am a fiscally and socially Moderate Democrat who believes that our local county government should represent all of us, that fair and balanced moderation is best for the long haul, and that we need a vision for our county that focuses more on being producers instead of consumers.”