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News What does it take to be a commissioner?

Commissioners Ronnie Beale and Kevin Corbin often go “all in” for causes near and dear to the hearts of the community. Last March, Beale and Corbin took the “polar plunge” for local charities.Public servants explain responsibilities of the position.

Macon County citizens take to the polls every two years to decide who would be the best representatives for the county. County commissioners are elected to serve their respective districts and make important decisions that affect all county residents. It is public knowledge that the commissioners convene once a month to discuss matters pertaining to the county and to consider important county business, but what do they do beyond that? What does it take to be a county commissioner and what sort of commitment have the five men who currently sit on the Macon County board made to the citizens?

We wanted to know just that, so we asked them. To start, we asked why they wanted to run for office, and if their reason has changed.

Commissioner Ron Haven was first sworn in to represent District II of Macon County in 2010, and is up for re-election this year. When asked why he first ran for office, and if that had changed, Haven said, “I felt like Macon County could have been run responsibly for far less tax money. Has that reason changed? I still believe with the right interest it can be.”

Commissioner Kevin Corbin, who was first sworn in to office in 2011 came to the board a little different than Haven. “I was appointed to fill out Jim Davis's last two years when he was elected Senator,” said Corbin. “He and former Senator Bob Carpenter approached me about the seat and I told them, yes. Honestly I enjoyed working with and for the county so much that I ran for election then in the fall of 2012 and was 'reelected' by a pretty large margin. I am very thankful for that and work hard every day to be deserving of the honor of serving this county. You can really make a difference in your county as a county commissioner. It is a very 'hands on' office and you only need three to five votes to get something done … not hundreds like in Raleigh or Washington.”

Commissioner Paul Higdon was sworn into office in 2012 and wanted to run for office to give the commission a stronger voice. “My reason for entering politics was to have a stronger voice in local government,” said Higdon. “Excessive taxes, fees and regulations have impacted all businesses including mine and I needed a forum to express my conservative values and try to inject common sense back into government.”

Commissioner Jim Tate took office in 2011 and is also up for re-election this year. Like Corbin, Tate was appointed to his seat. “I actually didn’t run, I was appointed,” said Tate. “But my original intent was to try to maintain, if not improve our quality of life. I have always had a sense of public duty and this is how I best felt I could serve my home. That reason has not changed.”

Commissioner Jim Tate speaks at the BizWeek banquet earlier in the year, a banquet that celebrates local businesses.Commissioner Ronnie Beale was first sworn in in 2006, and is also up for reelection this year. Unlike the other commissioners, Beale believes his reason for serving has changed over the years. “I first ran to give back to the citizens of Macon County and work to improve the quality of life of all Maconians,” said Beale. “And if anything has changed, my motivation to move Macon County forward in many ways has only gotten stronger.”

Has there been any part of being commissioner that surprised you, like a duty or responsibility you were not aware you would have before taking office?

Both Higdon and Haven stated that they were not surprised about the responsibility that comes along with being a commissioner.

“Surprise is probably not the word I would use,” said Beale. “I have, however, got deeply involved in subjects that before coming a commissioner I knew little about such as mental health, the desperate need for a dialysis center and many other subjects. To really help in all these areas I found out you had to be involved not only in the county but the region and on the state level.”

Tate stated that although the responsibilities were not a surprise, the bit of celebrity he has received is. “Since I moved home after college, I have followed and interacted very closely with local politics, so the duties are not a surprise,” said Tate. “However, the popularity of the position was a surprise. I have found that in this position, I have to be very careful with my day-to-day actions because everyone knows you. For example, if I go into a store, I can expect to be approached by someone that I do not know with some advice on the latest topic. I have learned to embrace these interactions and to listen. Every resident of Macon County is important and it is part of my duty to listen to them.”

According to Corbin, he was slightly taken aback by how involved he became. “I was a little surprised how much time it takes and how many folks call about county issues,” said Corbin. “Also, each commissioner is assigned by the chairman as liaison to several areas of the county. This is in addition to duties all five commissioners share.

We then are the contact to that department or area. If we don't do that job, it goes undone or under-represented. That is a huge responsibility.”

What liaison boards are you on for the county? How often do the boards meet and as a liaison what are your duties for those boards?

In addition to monthly meetings with fellow commissioners, each commissioner is assigned to various local boards and organizations as a liaison. These boards hold monthly or quarterly meetings and conduct business that the commissioner liaison is involved in and then reports back to the board.

Tate serves as liaison to the fire commission, airport authority, emergency management, 911 and emergency services, planning board, and Highlands TDC. “Most of these boards meet monthly, however some are quarterly,” Tate explained. “My general duty is to communicate between these boards and the board of commissioners. Communication is perhaps the most important aspect of being a commissioner.”

Higdon serves as the liaison to about six local boards, with the health board being the only one that meets regularly. “If there are health issues that need to be presented to the full board, my role is to do that.”

Commissioner Ron Haven presents an award to Jane Kimsey from Macon County Department of Social Services.In addition to the health board, Higdon serves on the Community Funding Pool alongside Haven, the Solid Waste Advisory Board, the Watershed Council, the Well Study Committee, the Water/Sewer Committee and the Watershed Review.

Corbin serves as liaison to the Child & Family Council, The Community Funding Pool, The Criminal Justice Partnership, Crosby Center, Recreation, Transit Services, Education, and WNC Tomorrow. “My busiest by my own choice is education. I spent several years on the school board and know the challenges they face,” said Corbin. “Public education is not perfect and certainly is weak in some regions of the USA. I acknowledge that. However, here it is a great value for our investment. We have strong local schools here and I want to do what I can to help them. We don't necessarily need to 'throw money' into education, but rather help them make good decisions for our children and grandchildren. Each of us serve as the primary contact to six or seven agencies/ departments. How active we are is the choice of the individual commissioner. I try to make all my meetings and be a good voice back to the commission.” Corbin also serves on boards regionally and on the state level. “I am proud to be active statewide and regionally for our county,” he said. “I served the past two years on the Legislative Goals Committee for the NCACC and will co-chair the committee over the next two years. Beginning in September, I will be the Chairman of Region A. This is the group that is made up of county commissioners, mayors, and town board members of the seven western counties (Haywood west to the Tennessee line.). I thank my fellow board member from across the Region for supporting me in this effort. This is a strong group that works hard to bring grant money, etc., to our region.”

Haven serves as liaison to the TDC alongside Tate, Inspections/Building Commissioner, Humane Society liaison, Housing Task Force, Greenway Project, Economic Development, Dangerous Dog board, Chamber/Promotion & Tourism, Animal Control Study Committee, and the Appalachian Trail Gateway Community board.

Out of all the commissioners, Beale serves as liaison to the most boards. For the county, Beale serves as liaison to the Sheriffs Department, Senior Citizens Department, Macon Citizens for the Handicapped, LBJ Job Corp, Education, Macon County Code Enforcement, Macon County Library Board, Macon County Economic Development Commission and the Community Care Clinic. “As liaison to the different departments you work closely with each of the department directors such as their budget, and we are always looking for ways to improve the service to the citizens,” said Beale. “We meet monthly or bi-monthly. With some departments we communicate daily and weekly.”

Beale also serves on several regional and state boards as a representative of Macon County. Regionally, he serves on the Southwestern Transportation Board, Smoky Mountain Mental Health Board, Cherokee Preservation Foundation, and the Southwestern Child Development Board.

On the state level, Beale serves on the Medicaid Waiver Committee, Member Crisis Intervention Committee, and is an officer in the North Carolina County Commissioners Association where he will be sworn in as president on Aug. 16.

As liaison to various boards, as well as ongoing invitations to things such as Veteran’s Memorial Day parades, joint meetings with other local boards, open houses and grand openings, commissioners spend a lot of time and money to stay connected with the commissioners, all in addition to their full-time jobs. Commissioners are paid $9,865.39 annually to serve on the board, with the chairman making an additional $2,000.

All commissioners agreed that serving as county commissioner is definitely not for the money that comes along with it. Higdon noted that when he ran for the office, he was not even aware it was a paid position.

Next week: Part II of what it takes to be a commissioner.


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