Democrat loses TWSA seat

This story was written by Haley Smith and Quintin Ellison, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

Republican Commissioner Mickey Luker denied party politics were involved in Monday’s successful ouster of a prominent local Democrat from the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority.

“There isn’t a bit of it politically motivated,” Luker said during the Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting.

“Oh, you know it was,” responded Whittier farmer Joe Ward, one day after his removal from the local water-and-sewer authority.

In November, Luker defeated former Democrat Commissioner Mark Jones. This helped the GOP solidify a board majority that Republican members first won in 2012, then lost in 2014. Ward mounted an unsuccessful campaign in 2014 for commissioner, running against Republican Charles Elders. Monday, Elders voted with Luker and new Republican Commissioner Ron Mau to remove Ward.

Jackson County has two appointments to the eight-member board (Western Carolina University has a seat on TWSA, but not a vote). Monday, commissioners also appointed Mau to TWSA. He replaces Jones.

Ward’s removal appears to mark the first time Jackson County commissioners have chosen to replace a sitting TWSA board member. Denying reappointments, however, has almost become routine.

Ward’s term extended to December 2018. Glenville resident Tom Sawyer now replaces Ward. Sawyer is a registered Republican and former TWSA board member.

In 2014, Sawyer had sought reappointment, but lost his TWSA seat to then Commissioner Jones. During that 2014 meeting, Elders opposed “throwing ’em (volunteer board members) into the cold. Nothing has been explained to me yet as to why we should take a member off the board who has served well.”

In 2016, Republican Commissioner Doug Cody sought reappointment to TWSA. He didn’t get it. None of the four Democrat commissioners were willing to second an Elders’ motion in Cody’s favor.

That’s when Ward got his seat on TWSA – he replaced Cody.

“I had hoped that the new commissioners would have extended to me the same courtesy that the former commissioners extended to Doug Cody,” Ward said. “They didn’t fire him, they just let him finish out his term.”

During Monday’s meeting, Luker said he’s responding to residents who want changes. “There’s a huge majority of our community who have a concern about what’s going on at TWSA, who question what’s happening,” he said. “It just feels like that agency needs to take a fresh look, a new look, maybe re-look, at the direction they’re heading.”

“We’re going to remove this fellow because we need to go in a new direction?” Democrat Commissioner Boyce Deitz said. “And we feel like removing this one fellow is going to change the direction of this board and change the direction of the philosophy of this board? As a country we’re divided as heck and as a state we are, too. I hope this board doesn’t get into being divisive. Maybe we can be better than that – maybe we can’t.”

Luker said Sawyer should be on the TWSA board to ensure the southern portion of the county has representation.

TWSA formed in 1992 after the towns of Sylva, Webster, Dillsboro and Jackson County consolidated water-and-wastewater efforts. Board members receive $333.34 a month, or $4,000 annually. The board usually meets twice each month, plus members serve on various subcommittees.