New faces challenge incumbent commissioners
The race for seats on the Sylva Town Board is on. The deadline to file to run for Sylva’s town board elections was Friday, July 15.
Current board members, Harold Hensley, Ray Lewis, and Chris Matheson are all up for re-election. Candidates include all three of the current board members, a former board member, Lynda Sossamon, and newcomer John Bubacz. The election will be held Nov. 8.
A local businessman and member of the Downtown Sylva Association (DSA), Bubacz is the owner of Signature Brew Coffee Co. Bubacz wants to continue to serve his community in every way possible and understands the importance of being involved in the community that he lives in and believes that the town board is a great way to give back to his community.
A native of Miami, Fla., Bubacz moved to the Cowee Community with his family of seven when he was a young boy. After high school, Bubacz attended Western Carolina University and pursued a degree in psychology. After college Bubacz first began his career at Mountain Youth Resources in Jackson County and the Smoky Mountain Center in Swain. In 2001, Bubacz opened his first business, the ‘Wha Cha Want’ Bodega in Cullowhee and has continued to build up his business, now owning the ‘coffee roastery’, Signature Brew Coffee Co., on Main Street in Sylva. Bubacz believes his business background is sure to help in the role of town board.
“I have had to be able to relate to any type of person as a coffee shop owner,” he said. “Every type of person drinks coffee and eventually, every type of person comes in to buy coffee. I like that I can talk to anyone about anything. I really like people.” Whenever he can find the time, Bubacz enjoys being outdoors and often uses camping and hiking as a way to relieve stress.
According to Bubacz, he first became interested in the political process while attending town meetings as a board member for the DSA. Intrigued by the political process, Bubacz decided to seek a position on the town board. He believes that if elected, he would be better suited to help bring an active rail service to Sylva that would service the surrounding cities of Asheville and Knoxville. Ultimately, the rail service will help with the growth and development of the area. Dedicated to his community, Bubacz said, “I love the small town feel of Sylva. Anywhere I go in Sylva, all of Jackson County really, I see faces I know. I like that.”
Lynda Sossamon first served on the town board from 1998-2001 and had taken time off to focus on the business she owns with her husband. Sossamon was born in Winter Garden, Fla., where she lived until moving to Jackson County to attend Western Carolina University. While at Western, Sossamon studied both mathematics and computer science on top of earning a Bachelor’s of Science in chemistry. According to Sossamon, her chemistry degree would be extremely beneficial for a town board commissioner. “I feel that my degree in a scientific field gives me the ability to look at a situation in a logical way, and I think that is a good way to approach issues facing commissioners on the town board.”
In addition to her education, Sossamon believes that her 27 years of retail business experience is sure to help her as commissioner. “With no degree in business, we [she and her husband] had a lot to learn, making sure that you bought the product customers wanted, that you had enough money to pay your employees and bills, and most of all, having the best customer service to keep your customers happy,” she said, “running a business is a difficult task, especially in hard economic times like we have now.”
According to Sossamon, it is those very same principles that apply to running a town.
“My place as a commissioner would be to make sure that it is done in a fashion that gives the people of Sylva the best and most for their tax dollars.” Sossamon has debated running for reelection since her first term and finds now is the best time to do so while balancing her business. She believes that she has several qualities that would make her an asset to the board and the people of Sylva. Sossamon believes that not only will her past service on the town board give her a head start on learning the current functions of the board, but the knowledge she has gained by grants and fund raising techniques through her membership with the MedWest Harris-Swain Foundation should also be of benefit in the role of commissioner.
Aside from spending time with her husband, Boyd, Sossamon spends her free time enjoying plays and gardening. She also considers herself “a big fan of the arts.” She sings in her church choir as well as in the Western Carolina Community Chorus. As a breast cancer survivor, Sossoman is extremely interested in making sure the women in Jackson County have access to all the resources and information they need to take care of themselves.
If elected to the town board, Sossoman hopes to work toward promoting Sylva for the “wonderful town that it is.” “I am sure all of the residents feel as proud of Sylva as I do,” she said. “I would like to find a way to bring more people to Sylva, maybe stay a while and add some revenues to our town’s budget.
“I love the vibrancy of Sylva, the whole town has really come alive,” she said. “Some of it started during my previous tenure on the town board—the Main Street design and streetscape—I think, started a revitalization that continues today and I want to continue to be a part of it.”
Harold Hensley was first elected to the board in 2005 but narrowly lost his seat in the 2009 election, but then was re-appointed in July of 2010 replacing Sarah Graham.
Raised in Dillsboro, after graduating from the former Sylva High School, Hensley ventured into the Navy, where he served for two years. Bringing with him the discipline he learned in the Navy, Hensley returned to Jackson County and went into business for himself, while also working for the Board of Education’s maintenance department. Hensley worked his way up the ranks and retired from the Board of Education after 30 years, ending as a maintenance supervisor.
At first Hensley was unsure about running for re-election, but after a flood of community support and encouragement, Hensley decided to run. “I think we’ve done some really great things,” said Hensley, “and I would like to continue to help doing them for a little while longer.” If re-elected, Hensley plans to direct his focus on ensuring the completion of relocating the police department to the old Jackson County library.
According to Hensley, he has very little free time between working as commissioner and managing a rental property, but whenever he gets the chance he most enjoys being at home with his wife Fern, and spending time with his daughter, who works for Western Carolina University, and his grandson, who attends Southwestern Community College. “I just enjoy everything about being in Sylva,” he said. “Like the old timers say, If I didn’t live here, I’d move here.”
Ray Lewis, a native of Jackson County, has been a member of the board since he was elected in 2003. Before becoming a member of the town board, Lewis was employed by the Sylva Police Department from 1978-1998, and before that was employed by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office from 1968-1973.
Lewis was also the co-owner of the Cullowhee Exxon Station from 1973-1978. If re-elected, Lewis will be starting his third term as commissioner. Mr. Lewis was not available for comments at the time of this article.
Christina Matheson was appointed to the town board in January of 2010 to take the seat vacated by Maurice Moody after he was elected to mayor during the November 2009 election. Matheson, a native of Jackson County, attended Western Carolina University where she majored in psychology and minored in law. After Western, Matheson went on to Campbell University where she obtained her law degree. Matheson returned to her home town and served in the district attorney’s office for 10 years. Certain that the combination of education and life experiences has been beneficial in her role thus far as commissioner, Matheson said, “Having a law degree has been beneficial to me with the understanding of the legal aspect of the job,” she said, “but nothing can really compare to the understanding I have gained from growing up in the community. Being born and raised in Sylva has allowed me to have a greater understanding and be better able to relate to the needs of the town.”
Matheson is adamant that the experience she has gained as a member of the economic development commission has given her an understanding of the economic development needs of the community, which has benefited her as commissioner because she is able to take a more hands-on approach in making sure those needs are met.
Re-election is important to Matheson because she wants the opportunity to complete the things that she has been a part of starting. “Since I have been a member of the town board, we have already accomplished so many great things,” said Matheson. “I think it’s important and I want to continue contributing to the growth and progress of our community. It is crucial that we continue to be focused forward, and a lot still needs to be done, and I want to be a part of that.” Like Hensley, one of the most important things Matheson wants to see completed is the police station’s move to the library. “We are moving toward that goal and in the process of seeing it happen,” she said, “I want to see the police officers in a location that meets all of their needs. I want to see it out to its completion.”
Matheson is intrigued by the town’s diversity. “I love the diversity of people we have here; you can see it in the restaurants and the shops,” she said. “We are fortunate to have a large university but still be able to keep the small town feel in the community. We are a community of neighbors.” The small town atmosphere was helpful when raising her family in Sylva; Matheson’s daughter, Niki, lives in Raleigh with her husband and 4-year-old son, and Matheson’s son, Nathan, is a junior and football player at Smoky Mountain High School. When Matheson isn’t attending her son’s football games, or running her business in Cherokee, she relieves stress by working outside in her garden. “I love being outside working in the garden. I love the flowers and seeing things grow,” she said.
The Village of Forest Hills has two board seats that are up for re-election, as is the mayor’s position. Gene Tweedy and Suzanne Stone currently hold the seats that are up for re-election; both have filed to run.
Forest Hills’ town zoning administrator, Mark Teague, has also filed to run for a town board seat, as did Ken Dickert, who is also a member of the planning board.
The current mayor, Jim Wallace, has filed to run for re-election. Alan Begley, who is a member of Forest Hills’ planning board, has also filed to run for mayor.