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Q&A with Franklin Town Council Members; early voting begins Thursday

One-stop voting for both the Highlands and Franklin Municipal Elections begins Thursday, October 14 and will run until Friday, October 30. Residents that live within the Franklin or Highlands city limits will be able to cast their votes during the early voting period or on Election Day scheduled for November 2. 

Voters will have two chances to meet with Franklin Town Council Candidates over the next week. The first opportunity will be tonight, Thursday October 14 at the Macon County Public Library from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The public forum is hosted by the Macon County News and the Smoky Mountain News and will begin with a meet and greet of the candidates followed by a question and answer session moderated by the newspaper outlets. Then, the community will be hosting a meet and greet for the Town Council candidates on Monday, October 18 at the Lazy Hiker Brewery beginning at 6 p.m. Candidates will be asked questions submitted by the public. 

In Franklin, the office of the mayor and three council members will appear on the ballot. 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 untimely death of Barbara McRae. Neither Scott nor Mashburn are seeking re-election. The Franklin Mayor seat is already decided as current Council Member Jack Horton was the only person to file for the seat. 

With Horton assuming the position of Mayor after the November 2 election, there will be a total of four council members seats up for grabs — however only three will technically be decided by the election. The top three vote-getters in the Franklin election will secure the three seats on the ballot, and while the fourth seat could go to the fourth top vote-getter, that seat will ultimately be filled by the Franklin Town Council. It will be up to the board members appointed after the November election to fill the fourth vacancy. 

Meet the Franklin Town Council Candidates: 

JimBo Ledford

JimBo Ledford and I the bi-product of a Franklin native, twice removed. He was born and raised in small town Prineville, Oregon and made his way back to the homeland via West Palm Beach Florida where he did a five year stint learning his trade and meeting the mother of his children. 

“Franklin called me home shortly after my now ex-wife and myself got married in 2005 and we made our way to south Franklin (Otto) where we lived and were blessed with three beautiful children that proudly call Franklin home and attempt to contribute to our culture of sports,” said Ledford. “While living and working in Florida I began what would become a lifelong (so far) career in the trades. I began as a commercial carpenter and quickly evolved into a plumber through the assistance of a job site accident and the necessity to protect myself from the cruelties of being uninsured. Once I was accepted into the plumbers union I quickly rose to the top of my class receiving the apprentice of the year award for each of the three years I attended the union training program and never once having to “ride the bench” at the union hall waiting for a job call.”

 In recent years Ledford has branched out into the music and entertainment industry by constructing an indoor/outdoor entertainment venue with the hopes of advancing the culture and music scene in Franklin. 

“During the Pre-COVID days we held many multi-day events and were well on our way to being a successful business and place of local outreach in our community,” said Ledford. “While being forced to shut down we dove into some construction the venue had been lacking and intend to open again in all our glory.”

Ledford has remained active in the politics of both the town of Franklin and Macon County over the last decade, actively working with the town of Franklin to address issues he takes an interest in. Ledford, who has also run for office in Franklin during the last several elections, says he continues to want to better the town he calls home. 

“I am running for town council because I believe Franklin is a wonderful town that is quickly evolving into an even more wonderful town and I’d like to be part of that guiding committee,” said Ledford. “I believe that the town of Franklin is filled with smart, creative individuals that have ideas for the town that would help us progress and I’d like to be a welcoming site to anyone that wishes to present an idea to the Town of Franklin. I believe that the Town of Franklin has very smart, very capable human beings in key positions and I’d also like to be part of that team. I believe that Franklin has some issues but I also believe we have way more going for us than we have against us and I’d like to see if I could help Franklin reach its full potential as the gem of WNC.”

 What do you view as being the greatest issue facing the Town?

“I’m trying to keep my answers as local as possible because this is a local election but I believe the greatest issues facing our town currently is also the greatest issue facing our country and that’s the lack of a labor pool,” said Ledford. “I don’t believe this is an unsolvable problem but I do believe it will take some out of the box thinking from members in our communities that aren’t afraid to band together to try new ideas, implement new programs, re structure some of our current programs and set some new precedences regarding what we will allow to happen to our most valuable commodity, our people.”

What would be your top three priorities for the Town if elected?

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about this last question and to talk to members of the Town and although I believe things like infrastructure are important I also believe Nathaniel has a vision and a step by step plan on how to accomplish these infrastructure goals and the capability to see them through and that leads me to the answer that my top three priorities for the town would be to A. Find our identity and vision,” said Ledford. “I don’t believe Franklin has a firm grasp, or even a loose grasp on what we want this town to look like as a community. Are we a sports town? Are we an outdoor town? Are we a music town? Are we a tough on crime town? Are we a compassionate town looking for alternative solutions to age old problems? Are we a retirement village? Are we a ghost town? Are we a combination of all or many of these things and if we are how do we accomplish that cohesively? B. A lack of cohesion and cooperation among governing bodies. We are a wet town in a dry county, our town square and central place of gathering is owned by the county and used and maintained by the town, our county commissioners and town counselors oftentimes speak of each other as if they live across the world from each other instead of across the street. I believe that communication and cooperation are key to any successful large venture, like running a town, and I believe that there may be some lines of communication and some relationships that could be mended to allow our town and county to operate more smoothly and I believe forming a cohesive governing body throughout the county is important. C. The Lack of a clear plan of action. The Town has all the required govt plans but no plan on how to accomplish those plans. I believe that knowing who you are and what you want to accomplish are two of the most important steps to figuring out how you want to do it. I believe we need to discover our identity, form a cohesive governing body throughout our town and county and then develop a step by step plan on how to accomplish our goals as a town and reveal our true identity….whatever that is.”

David Culpepper:  

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, 12, and Daisy, 9.

Culpepper has owned and operated Architectural Salvage since 2001, which has allowed him to travel the world looking for weird and unusual materials to bring back for distribution to dealers and designers.

Culpepper, who is the only incumbent in the Franklin Town Council race, has served on the board since first being elected in 2017. 

“I heard a good saying one time that was basically, “be the person you needed when you were younger.” and that really hit me and i try and work toward that everyday,” Culpepper said when asked why he is seeking re-election. “Along those same lines is, “it is a wise person who plants a tree under whose shade they will never sit.”  Those sayings touch on why I’m so passionate in advocate for younger folks and recreational opportunities for them. The same reasons for running the first time; to help make my home town a better place to live, work and play by fostering ideas, and ideals, that will help Franklin be a more livable, walkable town.”

What do you view as being the greatest issue facing the Town?

“Identity,” Culpepper said. “We need to realize that catering to tourists and retirees does not promote a healthy, economically feasible town. We need people to want to live, work and play here.  We need younger folks, we need a workforce, we need to foster an environment that younger adults want to live in. We need more younger people involved in local politics.  We need energy and big ideas. Too much effort is put toward the minutia of the day rather than making the town a more exceptional place. If franklin is a great place to live, folks will naturally visit, folks will retire here. You literally cannot keep people away from a place that ranks high in livability qualities.”

 What would be your top three priorities for the Town if elected?

“Foster and help develop the idea of the Bartram trail running through downtown,” said Culpepper. Advocate for more outdoor recreation in and near town.   Example: designated place for mountain biking on USFS land near town Example: continue to advance Whitmire(sunnyside) as permanent rec and outdoor gathering space. Expand sidewalk and greenway connectivity to make franklin a more pedestrian/bike friendly town.”

Frances Seay:

Frances Seay is a native to Macon County and has owned a home in the city limits for over 11 years. She has had a successful career in Macon County Schools spanning 32 years with an emphasis in Kindergarten. She is also experienced as an event coordinator and fundraiser.

She is interested in serving on the Town Council to address issues that are particular to our town and to assist in planning for a productive future. Her main goals are responsible progression for Franklin, good steward of city resources, social issues improvement, and general advancement of our town. Seay remains active in community organizations, serves as an officer and teacher at church, and enjoys spending time with family and friends. Her hobbies include cooking, watching movies, and anything in which her niece Emily is involved.

“I am running for Town Council because I own a home in the city limits and I am concerned about progress in our town,” Seay. “I was approached to run since the passing of Barbara McCrae.  I thought about it extensively and I thought that if anyone thought I was the same caliber as Barbara, I would try my best.”

What do you view as being the greatest issue facing the Town?

“The greatest issue in the town in my opinion is continued progress in all areas (economic and social),” said Seay.

 What would be your top three priorities for the Town if elected?

“Industrial Growth (e.g. new business, quality jobs),” said Seay. “Social Improvement (e.g. homelessness, crime rate, family entertainment), and Responsible Investment of City Resources (e.g. property value, tax spending).

Rita Salain:

Salain is a Franklin native that grew up within the town limits. After graduating from Franklin High, Salain attended Appalachian State University and graduated from the University of South Carolina. She lived in both South Carolina and in Decatur, Ga. She retired in 2018 and moved home to Franklin in March 2020. 

“My husband and I have owned property in Macon County for more than twenty years and a house here for the past 15,” said Salain. “When we moved back home fulltime, we bought a house right in town and we love it.”   

Salain is a hobby potter and loves the Cowee Pottery School located at Cowee School. She is a reader and has belonged to a book club for the past 35 years and now belongs to two excellent book clubs in Franklin. She is a volunteer with Mainspring Conservation Trust and loves the work they do to help people conserve their land, while still using it, and helping farmers keep their farm land as farm land. 

Salon’s career was focused in public health, working for ten years in both the State Health Department in Georgia and in South Carolina. For twenty years, she owned and managed her own consulting practice, working all over the United States, but primarily in the South’s rural communities with a focus on rural health, primary care and maternal and child health; building, developing and evaluating systems of care and improving access to care. Clients included non-profit organizations, hospitals, health associations, primary care practices, community groups and state public health offices. 

“I am running because I love this place and its people,” said Salain. “Franklin is rich with good people, natural beauty and hard workers. I would like to help Franklin capitalize on our many assets, including our cultural history. I think I can make positive contributions. I am not afraid of learning, researching and working hard. I do my homework. And, I know individuals and small groups of people working together can make a big difference. (As Margaret Mead, noted anthropologist, said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”). I want to work with others committed to seeing Franklin grow in positive, healthy ways, while protecting the beauty and the very special aspects of this place that make it home. I salute all those who have worked hard to keep this town unique and beautiful through the years. I want to help too.”

What do you view as being the greatest issue facing the Town?

“There are many issues facing Franklin,” said Salain. “I’m unsure of what the greatest issue is but I want to work on attracting more, good paying jobs and growing our businesses so they can hire more people; attracting (and keeping) young people living in town; working to increase the supply of affordable housing; keeping the town safe; helping the town welcome new residents and help them become part of the town; helping build or expand affordable, quality child care for young families.”

What would be your top three priorities for the Town if elected?

“Working to increase assets that make Franklin, a great place to live, work and visit,” said Salain. “Helping small businesses grow and thrive throughout the town. Implementing approved priority plans that meet identified town needs, including cleaning up abandoned houses and vehicles, building more sidewalks and paths and making the town more beautiful and livable.”

Stacy Guffey:

Stacy Guffey is a Macon County native who’s grown into leadership in business and public life in the region his family has called home for generations. A graduate of Franklin High and Western Carolina University, Guffey served as Macon County’s planner from 2004 to 2009. He helped establish and run the Arts and Heritage Center at the old Cowee School, where he serves as the part-time director, and founded a consultancy practice to help with economic development and planning projects throughout Western North Carolina. To further his expertise in government policymaking, in 2018, Guffey earned a Masters in Public Administration degree from the University of North Carolina while taking on a new role in Downtown Franklin’s preservation efforts with the purchase and rehabilitation of the 1897 building that contains the Scottish Tartans Museum, where he lives in an upstairs apartment. 

“I believe, over two decades of education and work in my home region, I’ve prepared for the privilege to work with my neighbors, fellow business owners, and local and regional leaders to make sure we position ourselves to realize our best hopes for our town both now and in the generations to follow,” said Guffey. “Town Council is the level of government closest to and most accessible to the voters and, because it’s non partisan, it’s somewhat immune to the divisiveness that grips most other levels of government these days. I’m looking forward to serving in a position where we can directly affect the future of our town.”

What do you view as being the greatest issue facing the Town?

“Growth will be the biggest issue facing the town in the next few years,” said Guffey. “Our task is to deal with that growth in a way that benefits our local workers and business owners while at the same time protecting and enhancing the small town feel that makes Franklin unique.”

What would be your top three priorities for the Town if elected?

“We should help our local small businesses thrive and prosper,” said Guffey. “There are a lot of tools available to local governments to support small businesses from incentives, buy local programs, to inclusive zoning regulations among others. We need to look for ways to alleviate the housing shortage, especially for our local workers. For example, we should make sure that our zoning code allows for a variety of housing types and encourages more housing density where infrastructure is already in place. We should continue to develop and grow our relationships with the county, the tribe, local non profits, and business and community groups to enhance the areas that make Franklin unique like our historic downtown, the Nikwasi area, the greenway, west Franklin and others. That will improve the quality of life and quality of life is what drives our local economy and it’s what makes Franklin the best place to live.”

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