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County Commission race left winners and losers

Michael Edney and Tim Griffin share a laugh during a Chamber of Commerce forum on April 23. Michael Edney and Tim Griffin share a laugh during a Chamber of Commerce forum on April 23.

 

Among the organizations that had reason to celebrate the election results on May 6 were the Flat Rock Playhouse, Pardee Hospital, the schools and the Friends of Ecusta Trail.

 

In the two weeks before the primary, supporters of those interest groups blasted out emails urging recipients to vote for incumbent county commissioners Tommy Thompson and Michael Edney and challenger Bill Lapsley. All three won.
Among losers in the election could be the town of Fletcher, which garnered little support among seven candidates for the county commission for its request that the county build a new town library.
"Fletcher decided to become a town of its own, they are now receiving a tremendous amount of tax dollars, they told their people that they wanted to incorporate and they wanted to be on their own, and I think they ought to go out there and build their own library," Thompson said at one candidate forum. "In that last 10 years, Henderson County has lost $10,114,896.30 (in) tax dollars that went to Fletcher because they incorporated. They can take care of themselves with a town library."
Another probable result of the May primary is greater cooperation and potentially new alliances between the Board of Commissioners and the county's five towns, the biggest town in particular.
Although it yielded no big surprises, the election clarified some issues that have floated to the top of local politics over the past 20 years and debunked some assumptions about the people's opinion:

  • The dramatic shift in the balance of power didn't happen. If Young held his seat and either Thompson or Edney lost, the Board of Commissioners would have come under the control of Grady Hawkins, a wily and experienced tactician, Young and the new third vote. Instead, the election could marginalize Hawkins on the short end of a 4-1 vote.
  • Support of the Flat Rock Playhouse was not the liability that observers might have predicted two years ago when an angry mob persuaded four county commissioners to pull the plug on funding the board had previously approved. Thompson, Lapsley and especially Edney declared their support for the sustaining the State Theatre of North Carolina through some financial aid. Griffin said his strong pooisition to a proposed 1-cent hotel tax that commissioners considered (then killed) in 2012 was "a catalyst" for his decision to run.
  • The power of the controversial 1995 Asheville water deal to provoke voters was overstated. Challenger Andrew Riddle used the issue to bludgeon Edney, who voted for the deal when it was adopted. Voters shrugged.
  • Beating up on schools, belittling teachers and promising to wring savings out of local education spending is out of style. In forums, candidates were asked about teacher pay raises. All seven said they deserved a pay raise. Three years after Tea Party Commissioner Bill O'Connor made public schools a regular punching bag, the tactic has been discredited and abandoned.
  • Service counts. Lapsley was well known by the development community and by public agencies and non-profit boards he had served on — including social services, Four Seasons hospice, the Partnership for Economic Development and Pardee Hospital. Lapsley answered the question of whether a first-time resume candidate could turn out a three-term incumbent and experienced campaigner.
  • While the Ecusta Trail didn't lose, no candidate uttered anything in the spring primary campaign that could be mistaken for leadership on the issue. Behind the scenes, Ecusta Trail supporters acknowledge they have some "educating" to do. Judging by the misinformation candidates uttered and the tepid support, they've got a long ways to go.
  • With no overriding issue driving voters, such as land-use planning, taxes or schools, a contest comes down to hard work, reputation and a network of support. Thompson narrowly beat challenger Tim Griffin as both candidates drew strong support from a lifetime of service.

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