Columbus council candidates submit responses

Published 1:21 am Friday, October 30, 2015


By Claire Sachse

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Candidates for Columbus town council have submitted the following responses to the Bulletin’s questions concerning why they are running for office, what they hope to accomplish in office, their thoughts on their town, ideas for water solutions, and more.

Municipal early voting today is from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., ending tomorrow, Oct. 31, when votes can be cast between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 3 at Columbus, Tryon and Saluda polling places from 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

The Town of Columbus has four candidates running for three council seats. Incumbents Richard Hall and Margaret Metcalf are running for re-election, along with newcomers Emily Gage and Mark Phillips. Former appointed council member Scott Hamby’s name will be on the ballot but he has dropped out of the race and has resigned from council. Columbus’ incumbent mayor, Eric McIntyre, is running unopposed this year.


Why are you running for Columbus Town Council and what is your top priority for the town?
Mayor Eric McIntyre: I am running one last time to help keep town in right direction and there has been nobody to step up to the plate who wants to serve the citizens of Columbus. Top priority is to keep town in a financially sound position going forward.

Emily Gage: As a voice for the youth, I would like to make Columbus a place where young people can come to enjoy themselves. At the present, preteens and teens have to go out of town for non-athletic recreation, which is not only an expense in travel for families, but also a loss for potential business in Columbus.

Richard Hall: Based on my years of service, I feel that I am qualified to continue in the role of Town Councilman. It has been my honor to have served the citizens of Columbus and I always try to keep in mind that I am merely a servant of the people. My top priority for the town is to ensure that it remains the safe, kind, and friendly town that I have known for the last thirty years. The business of the town is a living, breathing thing. There are always issues to be dealt with and improvements to be made. I compare it to the paddling of a canoe.  You can’t just paddle once. You have to continually adjust your direction to keep it going in a straight line. With the hard work of our mayor, council, manager, and staff, I feel that Columbus has been able to stay on that straight course, even through difficult economic times.

Margaret Metcalf: I am running for Columbus Town Council because Columbus is very special to me. I grew up here and I want to help keep Columbus moving forward. During past tenures on Council, we started many projects and I want to follow through those projects to their completion. My top priority for the town is to help protect our natural resources while encouraging the growth of our town.

Mark Phillips: I am running for Columbus Council because I have called Columbus home since 2005. Having lived here now for 10 years I want to be more involved in the community. I feel serving on town council is a great way to be more involved in what goes on in Columbus. I also want to see Columbus grow and become a well-recognized community in western North Carolina. My job takes me all over western North Carolina. When I tell people I live in Columbus it amazes me how many people do not know where Columbus is. I want to change that.


How do you propose the town attract more residents, visitors and businesses to downtown?

Mayor Eric McIntyre: Keep the town clean and active with things to do. Farmer’s market has nice crowds each week. Seldom do we have empty stores for lease but when we do they are not vacant for long. The town is always ready and happy to work with prospective business opportunities that come to us.

Emily Gage: To attract visitors Columbus needs something that catches their eye, be it an interesting event or a business with a unique concept. However, the creation of such an event or business cannot be left to the government. The collaboration of private investment with the government towards such an end would produce amazing results.

Richard Hall: Regional advertising has portrayed Columbus as a Mayberry-type town – Americana at its best. Our farmers’ market, our restaurants, and various businesses are currently bringing people to our town. It is satisfying to go down Main Street and see license plates from other states parked in front of our businesses. We have a healthy, vibrant community which needs controlled growth to keep it small and endearing, yet thriving.

Margaret Metcalf: We need to expand our infrastructure to encourage new businesses. I would love to see small specialty shops throughout Columbus; I think these stores would draw more tourists to the area and help spread the word that Columbus is a unique town nestled in the foothills. These shops would also offer more choices to our residents so they would not have to leave Columbus to meet their needs.

Mark Phillips: I feel that to attract more residents, visitors, and businesses to downtown Columbus we need to spruce up the look of the town a little.  I am not referring to a bunch of neon lights or anything like that.  I have noticed in my 10 years here there are business signs up that have been closed since I have been here or longer.  We need to clean that up.  Also sidewalks need to be renovated as well as some side streets.


Now that the water contract negotiations between Polk County and Inman-Campobello Water District have ended, do you think the county and towns should revisit discussions about a countywide water authority and if so, how do you propose to make it work this time? If not, explain why.

Mayor Eric McIntyre:  If the county and Saluda and Tryon decide it is their best interest to create a water authority then they really need to look at it carefully again.  Speaking only as mayor and just for myself, I cannot see Columbus wanting to be a part of it any time soon.  We are in a different “place” with regards to our water system and the only major debt we have is the new wastewater treatment plant which should have been built years ago. I can say it now but the people of Columbus are very fortunate that there were no major issues with the old system for the past 10 – 15 years after meeting there one night and hearing from people knowledgeable about the shape the system was in.

Emily Gage: The water contract that was between the county and the water company known as Inman-Campobello Water District was a proposed contract between them and has nothing to do with the town. Columbus has good wells that meet and exceed their needs and allow the town to sell cheap, dependable water to its residents.

Richard Hall: I have always been open to the county and other towns to talk about water issues. In the beginning, the problem was: How do residents get water in times of drought? Over the years, we have discussed those issues and have discovered ways for the towns and county to share water resources in times of drought or other distress. As far as revisiting the issue, Columbus has always, and I think will always be open to discussion. However, we have not been inclined to join a water authority because it would not be advantageous to our citizens to hand over control of the town water to a board which serves the entire county. We are currently running an excellent system that is able to offer the lowest water rates in the county. By handing over control to a water authority, Columbus would perhaps have only one vote in decisions made for a countywide system. The Columbus Town Council continually wants what is best for the citizens of our town, and we must be open to what they think about the issue. Therefore, I will be open to any discussion about what is best for our town.

Margaret Metcalf: I do not think the discussions should be revisited at this time. We do not need a water authority right now. There have been many discussions in the past 10 years about forming a water authority, but they have not been in the best interest for the citizens of Columbus. If we were to revisit this discussion, and I’m sure we will, it needs to be an equal playing field from the start. I think we all need to protect our natural resources to the best of our abilities. I would love to entertain other options besides a water authority to see which would best suit all of our citizens.

Mark Phillips: Water and utilities will always be a sticky subject for residents of any town or county. I would be willing to look at all options for water. The bottom line is that whatever is decided must be a win/win for residents and municipalities.  If one group loses both groups lose.


Do you feel Columbus’ ordinances are up to date? Are there any areas of change you feel Columbus should address with its regulations?

Mayor Eric McIntyre: Staff has been going through ordinances for last several months to make sure we are in agreement with the state where we need to be. They have found some very small issues such as how something is worded that may not be exactly clear or 100% with what is required and we have amended those during council meetings. I can’t think of any rule or regulation at this time that either council or the townspeople would have issues with but you never know until it is brought to council’s attention to be addressed.

Emily Gage: As far as ordinances go, I feel that the council has done well with keeping everything up to date. If elected I hope to work with the council to continue that streak.

Richard Hall: In order to do what’s best for our citizens, Columbus Council continually addresses needed updates to our policies and ordinances.  As staff, planning board and different committees bring information, we try to address them on a timely basis to keep issues to a minimum.  Every year, we have a mid-winter council retreat.  During that time, council prioritizes needs and sets a course for the year to come.  This has been a very successful method for keeping our ordinances and priorities up to date.  Ordinances and rules are one thing, but I am ever mindful that we are dealing with people, and people must always be our priority.

Margaret Metcalf: We try to stay up-to-date on our ordinances; this is a work in process. As society changes, our ordinances need to change. We are very fortunate because our staff keeps us abreast of state legislature changes, they communicate the wants and needs of the citizens of the town, and they give Council all the tools Council needs to make informed decisions. I would like to thank the citizens for trusting me to make decisions on their behalf. What is best for the citizens of Columbus is, and always will be, my number one priority.

Mark Phillips: I am not going to pretend that I know all the ordinances of the town of Columbus.  I am sure some are outdated and need to changed. It will be my duty and the duty of other council members to look at the ordinances and determine what changes need to be made. Again, I have little doubt some changes need to be made. A person or entity cannot get better without a willingness to make some changes. The one constant in any business is change. Those that cannot or will not embrace making changes are doomed for failure. A great man I knew used to tell me all the time that the status quo does not exist. You either get better every day or you get worse every day. If you are not getting better, someone else is getting better and by default you are getting worse. We must always look for ways to get better.