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Blakely to run for Fletcher mayor as Whiteside bows out

Fletcher Town Council member Preston Blakely filed to run for mayor.

Preston Blakely, who won a seat on the Fletcher Town Council two years ago at age 25, filed to run for mayor on Monday as incumbent Rod Whiteside confirmed he is retiring from the job after one term.

The first day of filing for Fletcher, Mills River and Flat Rock on Monday also assured at least one competitive race for a council seat in Flat Rock while two incumbents filed for re-election in Mills River. In Fletcher, incumbent Sheila Franklin drew a challenger, John Olsen.

"I want to continue some of the good work we've started on the council," said Blakely, 26. His priorities include "equity, workforce housing, a new Henderson County library in Flertcher, still continuing the Heart of Fletcher project. I want to continue with transparency and make sure we're as transparent as possible in government. I'd like to have performance measures so we have a way to improve services in our community as well as report to our community."

A manager with the family-owned Quality Janitorial Group, Blakely has an bachelor's degree in political science and African-American studies from UNC Greensboro and a master's in public administration from Western Carolina University. The Fletcher Town Council and advocates for a new library have urged the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to build a new library on the Town Hall campus. So far, commissioners have said no.

"In the past, we've seen where the (county) library board of trustees expressed that there is a need for a new library in this part of the county" and that the current Fletcher library is inadequate. "I would argue it doesn't need to be studied," Blakely said. "I think it would meet the needs of the community. It's master-planned in our Heart of Fletcher project" to be sited on town-owned property.

Whiteside, who rode an aggressive door-to-door campaign to a stunning upset of longtime Mayor Bill Moore in 2017, said he is moving on.

"I am retiring ... for a variety of reasons, one of which is I'm just at a different point in life and I would prefer to be more in control of my time right now," he said. He takes pride in the progress the town has made on numerous projects during his mayoral service. "I can't  take credit for all of it but certainly we have moved along in the last four years and I am grateful for that."

He is endorsing Blakely. "During his time on council I would like to think I have," he said when asked if he had mentoried his young colleague. "I've certainly extended my hand in any way I can during his time. ... I have absolutely enjoyed my time and the people of Fletcher are the best residents in the state."

Franklin, the District 1 incumbent on the Fletcher Town Council, filed for re-election Wednesday, twy days after Olsen signed up to run.

Olsen said his "Moving Fletcher Forward" campaign is focused on "the commercial development push coming southward from Asheville and Arden."

“Today I begin the next phase of this campaign,” he said in a news release. "I have the experience and background to evaluate development proposals and ensure our town grows in ways that respect our community and provide the maximum benefit for our residents.”

Olsen also said he wants to modernize how the community interacts with town services.

“Local government should be focused on ensuring residents can easily and conveniently access town services," he said. "Residents in other communities enjoy services that provide access to town information including online reporting of issues of concern, modernized access to updated town ordinances, police records, town news and events, and much more.”

In other filings:

  • In Flat Rock, Matthew A. Toner III filed for the District 1 Village Council seat currently held by Pam Tiles, who said she does not plan to run, while Jim Hart and incumbent Susan Gregory filed in District 2 and Barbara W. Jeter filed for the District 3 seat currently held by Albert S. Gooch Jr.
  • In Mills River, incumbents Brian Caskey and Brian S. Kimball filed for election.
  • In Saluda, in the qualifying period that closed on July 16, Tangela D. "Tangie" Morgan filed to challenge Mayor Fred Baisden while Paul Marion and Mark Oxtoby signed up to run for Saluda city commissioner.