BEECH MOUNTAIN — The Beech Mountain Town Council voted to fire its Town Manager Tim Holloman by a 4-1 vote during its Tuesday, Dec. 10, town council meeting.
The motion was made by Council Member Weidner Abernethy and seconded by new Council Member Kelly Melang. New Council Member Erin Gonyea and newly appointed Mayor Barry Kaufman voted in favor while new Council Member and new Vice Mayor Jimmie Accardi voted against.
Accardi, Melang and Gonyea had been seated on the council less than 30 minutes earlier, replacing outgoing Council Members Renee Castiglione, Carl Marquardt and Wendel Sauer.
The decision to fire Holloman came after the council voted unanimously to allow Abernethy to continue to serve on the council. Previously in November, former Council Member Sauer asked that Abernethy resign due to discovering he had registered to vote in Burke County upon purchase of a new home in April.
Abernethy contends the registration change was an accident and the calls for him to resign were “politically motivated.” Abernethy said that his primary residence is still Beech Mountain and that he rectified the situation in October upon discovering the change. The previous council had a hearing on the issue Nov. 21, but the meeting was recessed until the new council took over.
The vote to keep Abernethy on the council received applause from the audience.
Immediately after the vote to fire Holloman, Abernethy motioned that Beech Mountain Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Pudney be appointed interim manager, which was confirmed by a quick unanimous vote. The appointment was met by applause from the audience.
“The chief has led the Beech Mountain Fire Department for 10 years,” the town said in a Dec. 11 statement.
Holloman was allowed to finish the meeting as town manager.
Accardi said he was uncomfortable making the decision to remove the town manager during peak ski season, calling the move “a gamble.”
“I will not make a political decision, I will make a well-informed decision,” Accardi said. “And I’d rather base his evaluation off performance, so whether that be 90 days or more, so I’m not eligible to make a decision at this time, if that makes sense.”
Accardi said he knew the consensus of the board and that he would be the lone “nay” vote, but didn’t want to base his vote “off third-party or second-party information.”
Gonyea said she makes it her business to seek information first hand and does due diligence, talking to townspeople and “looked at facts, documents and evidence.”
“My personal opinion is that our town needs a change; I think we need to move forward and I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Gonyea said. “Some of the decisions we’re faced with are never easy, whether they’re personal or not, they shouldn’t be, it’s for the best interests of our town.”
“I’m very comfortable with my vote and the direction I choose to go because I’ve done my homework,” Gonyea said.
“My thought process on this is that I was voted in on a clean slate and I think we need a clean slate, so I suggest going forward with the motion,” Melang said.
After the second by Melang, Holloman passed a letter to the council members that he said was drafted by his attorney.
“Well regardless of what this says, I’m not an attorney and I feel we need to … I mean council needs to have some form of legal representation into these allegations,” Abernethy said after reading the letter. “I think they’re unwarranted and obviously involved me, so imagine that.”
Abernethy said the allegations on Holloman’s letter were about comments allegedly made by him, but said the information was “baseless” and wanted to move forward with the termination.
The Watauga Democrat asked to obtain a copy of Holloman’s letter, but the town on advice of its attorney declined to provide it, indicating it was a personnel record.
Holloman was hired as Beech Mountain town manager in February 2017. Prior, Holloman has worked as town manager of the towns of Oak Island and Topsail Beach, as well as with the Cape Fear Council of Governments in the greater Wilmington area. Holloman had also led municipal planning and utilities departments in the towns of Benson, Dunn, Wilson and Columbus.
Per the terms of his contract, Holloman is entitled to four months of base pay. Holloman’s base salary was $82,000 a year.
According to Beech Mountain, Pudney will make $70,232.50 as interim town manager.
Beech Mountain will be looking for a town manager for the third time in the last five years. Randy Feierabend was fired in 2015 after serving the town since 2009. Ed Evans was town manager from 2015 until late 2016, when he resigned to take the same position in Blowing Rock.
After firing Holloman, Abernethy made a motion to fire Stacy “Four” Eggers IV of Eggers Law Firm of Boone as the town attorney and replace him with Nathan Miller of Miller and Johnson of Boone. Melang seconded the motion. However, the motion failed 2-3 as Accardi, Kaufman and Gonyea voted against.
Accardi said they’re not making decisions “in good time or fashion.”
Kaufman said he was just informed of the idea to replace the town attorney “an hour before” and said he hadn’t had time to make his decision.
“I think it’s a decision made on emotion and not logic,” Kaufman said.
Gonyea then said she wouldn’t vote in favor.
“I am uncomfortable making a quick decision,” Gonyea said.
Miller was in attendance, having represented Abernethy in the challenge to his ability to continue to serve.
The board recessed its meeting before completing the listed agenda, opting to return at 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 23.
BLOWING ROCK — A changing of the guard occurred at the Blowing Rock Town Council on Tuesday, Dec. 10, as eight-year council member Jim Steele said goodbye and the newly elected David Harwood took his place.
“It was a a joy to serve you all and serve with these people,” Steele said. “I’m sure glad I moved here 20 years ago.”
Steele was honored for his service to the town before departing. Following which, Harwood, Albert Yount and Mayor Charlie Sellers took their oaths of office.
Following the seating of the new council, Councilperson Sue Sweeting was voted to be the new mayor pro tem by a 3-2 vote over Yount, who has served as the previous mayor pro tem. Sweeting, Virginia Powell and Doug Matheson voted for Sweeting while Yount and Harwood voted for Yount.
Later in the meeting, the new-look council voted 3-2 to move the annual January retreat in town, instead of having it in Asheville as in years past. The retreat will take place Jan. 6-8, a Monday through Wednesday, at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum.
Powell, Sweeting and Harwood voted in favor of moving the retreat to Blowing Rock while Yount and Matheson voted to keep the retreat in Asheville.
Yount has long been an ardent supporter of keeping the annual retreat in Asheville, saying he thinks it helps the council come together and away from potential distractions. Powell and Sweeting have said for two years they wanted to keep the retreat local to save the town’s money and be more transparent to the community.
The topics of the retreat, as well as the exact hours, will be determined by Town Manager Shane Fox by the week of Dec. 31, he said.
In a presentation to the council, Blowing Rock residents Sam Glover and Sam Hess spoke about an initiative to spruce up Memorial Park and its playgrounds in the next two years.
Glover said that the current park and playground is lacking in its appeal and is in need of significant change. Both men said the current playground and park’s state is something they have noticed as new dads and as lifelong Blowing Rock residents who said they spent hours in the park growing up.
“We want to show the community there’s a need for this,” Glover said.
In their presentation, Glover and Hess said a refurbished park and playground can increase nearby property values, promote health and wellness in the community and can be an economic driver among other positives.
The duo’s proposal was to accelerate $500,000 from the town’s capital improvement plan for the 2020-21 budget cycle and apply for a state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant. Another idea presented was to create a five-person residential committee to work with the town manager and Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation on the plans.
Hess said the plan would be to leverage up to $1.2 million for the construction of a new playground and refurbish Memorial Park.
The aim would be to start construction in the fall or winter of 2020, according to the presentation.
The council decided to hold off on creating a committee until they hear from town staff at the council’s retreat in January, but many noted they liked the ideas.
In a step toward having a new hotel in downtown, the council unanimously approved the conditional rezoning of the former Blue Ridge Motor Court property in the 800 block of Main Street, which includes the construction of a 12-room hotel on the site.
The project was proposed by local developer John Winkler, whose company The Winkler Organization owns and operates hundreds of student apartments in Boone and the boutique Inn on Cornish hotel that is nearing completion several hundred yards away from the new site.
According to the plans, the 12 rooms would each have two stories and include a kitchenette, a living area, two bathrooms, one shower, a patio and balcony. Six of the spaces would face North Main Street and the other six would face the back of the property toward Sunflower Lane.
The plans include 15 parking spaces and a new entrance into the property on Main Street, which Winkler said would be level to the road.
Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock said the building materials meet the town’s design standards and there were no applicant-proposed conditions.
Powell asked if the property was subject to the 75 percent green space requirements that is in the code for certain units. Rothrock said this property is not subject to those rules as it has front-facing parking.
Sweeting initially contested the idea that the structure was a hotel and said when she called the Watauga County Health Department, they would classify the building as a condominium and it would thus subject to lesser safety restrictions than if it was classified as a hotel.
“I just don’t know if we need to approve it for a hotel when it’s a condo,” Sweeting said.
Rothrock said the specific use of the property as a hotel is one of the conditions the Blowing Rock Planning Board stipulated on its approval.
Winkler said that even though the plans don’t have a lobby or service desk, his organization’s maintenance department would take care of the guests’ needs. Winkler also said that he will own the property, but it will be run by his daughter, Amber, and her husband.
“We’re excited about Blowing Rock, we really are,” Winkler said. “It’s a great community.”
BOONE — David Wilson Brown, a Democrat from McAdenville in Gaston County, has filed to run for the Fifth District of North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives and announced his campaign on Dec. 12 in Boone.
“I am excited to announced that here in the town of my alma mater, Appalachian State University, that I’m officially filed to be a Democratic challenger in the new Fifth Congressional District of North Carolina,” Brown said at the Watauga County Democratic Party’s headquarters in downtown Boone.
Wilson is an IT consultant specializing in business productivity who previously worked in corporate media production and as a web developer, according to his website biography. Wilson says he graduated with a degree in political science and communications from ASU in 1996.
Brown previously ran in the old N.C. 10th District in 2018 against Republican incumbent Patrick McHenry, losing by a 51,000-vote margin out of the more than 278,000 votes.
“The potential to represent the people here is beyond thrilling to me,” Brown said on Dec. 12.
Brown will take on eight-term U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Banner Elk Republican who filed for re-election on Dec. 6. No other candidates have filed in the race.
The second week of the three-week filing period saw fewer filings than the first week. Filing runs through 12 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20. Candidates have from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday until then to file.
All partisan offices go through the 2020 primaries, which takes place on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. The 2020 election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
The N.C. Senate District 45 race has two filers as Boone Democrat Jeanne Supin will challenge Blowing Rock Republican Sen. Deanna Ballard.
In the 2020 N.C. House District 93 race, incumbent Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) and challenger Ray Pickett (R-Blowing Rock) have filed.
The Watauga County Commission currently has three Democrats going for the three contested seats. Carrington Pertalion filed for Watauga District One, the seat currently held by Republican Perry Yates, Dec. 2. Watauga County Commissioners Chairman John Welch signed up to run for his District Two seat and Watauga County Commissioner Charlie Wallin, representing District Five, is also seeking re-election. All three county commission races are contested individually on the ballot.
The 2020 Watauga County school board race has four filers for three seats so far. Current board member Steve Combs, Ronald (Ronny) Holste, former board member Jason K. Cornett and outgoing Boone Town Council member Marshall Ashcraft will run against each other in the single race where the top three vote-getters are elected. The school board is a nonpartisan race.
Amy Shook, a Republican, filed for re-election to Watauga County Register of Deeds on Dec. 2.
All three incumbents in the 24th N.C. Judicial District, consisting of Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancey, filed for re-election on Dec. 2. Hal Harrison of Spruce Pine, Rebecca Eggers-Gryder of Boone and Ted McEntire of Spruce Pine signed up at the state elections office in Raleigh. All three incumbents are Republicans who serve alongside Larry Leake, a Democrat from Marshall who won re-election unopposed in 2018. Each judicial seat is contested individually.
In North Carolina, several federal offices will be contested in 2020. U.S. president, U.S. senator, N.C. governor, N.C. lieutenant governor, N.C. attorney general, N.C. auditor, N.C. commissioner of agriculture, N.C. commissioner of insurance, N.C. commissioner of labor, N.C. secretary of state. N.C. superintendent of public instruction and N.C. treasurer will be contested in partisan elections.