On Sept. 21, the Transylvania NAACP held an online forum for candidates vying for two seats on the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners. Democrat Lauren Wise and Republican Emmett Casciato talked about the issues, but incumbent Republican Jake Dalton did not attend. Questions were posed to the two candidates present by Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof.
What actions would you take as a commissioner to ensure have adequate court facilities?
Wise: As an architect, I was lucky enough to be able to work on the Buncombe County Courthouse and designed and helped build that facility, so I feel I’m pretty confident in the programming needs of a new courthouse. This had been looked at for over 20 years at this point. The initial programming requirements stated we needed $21 million and then at the last capital funds meeting that has now tripled to $57 million. We need to act on this immediately because construction costs are not going down.
Our courthouse, which is an historic landmark and really key part of our community, is failing. It’s failing our community and it’s failing the people who work there. I do not believe, from my knowledge of how courthouses work, we can use the existing courthouse to be sufficient for the needs of the future courthouse.
We need to be able to separate our citizens from prisoner transport, from judge transport. We need parking. To do any kind of courthouse we need a major addition to the existing one, which could really take away from the impact of that building. We have to get started on this now. The people have come to us and given us direction. We have a path forward, We have an opportunity to raise taxes if we have to, but let’s act now.
Casciato: The courthouse has been a nemesis, like Mr. Wise said, for over 20 years. It’s something that needs to be done. We had people nearly get injured in there from ceilings falling and we cannot have that. We had a major leak in a basement that ruined some of the documents, so it’s becoming a necessary problem.
Back in 2018 if we just solved the problem then, that courthouse would have been built at this time and we wouldn’t be having this problem right now. But as you can see, it’s still with us right now and they were talking about $25 million now and $25 million down the road.
Well, Mr. Wise and I agree we should spend the whole amount of money and get it done right now because the prices of materials are going up and the price of labor is going up.
In five, six years from now that $25 million on the second phase could end up to be $35 to 40 million, so I think we need to act on it right now. I think everybody in this town knows it’s going to happen. They know they might get hit with a tax hike. They are talking about maybe raising half a cent or so on the occupation tax for our hotels around here, but then again it might be another two cents for the property owners being taxed. No matter what, the courthouse needs to be addressed and we need to work on it quickly and efficiently.
Wise: I’ve worked on a lot of phased projects and courthouses that are phased are incredibly expensive to build. I have never seen a phased project come in under budget or on time. It will eventually cost the taxpayers more money to try to phase it into sections. It’s really important that we don’t get deceived by that number. I also think it’s possible to, when we look at property taxes, to start considering other property tax options.
We just increased taxes for the school bond. How would you have this community fund a new courthouse or a renovation?
Casciato: People come to me and ask me all the time, ‘What do you think about the courthouse?’ I say, ‘Well, you’re going to get hit with another tax.’ Unfortunately, it’s something that is just going to happen for us to have the courthouse.
Now, I don’t know whether grants are available for that courthouse for capital funds. It’s hard to find grants for capital funds. We can raise the occupancy tax, but other than that I don’t see anything else we can do. I don’t know what our county manager can think of, or one of our attorneys can think of how we can make sure that the people are not going to be taxed severely.
To me it’s like a political football; darned if you do and darned if you don’t. I think we need to face the fact that, yes, we are going to see some taxes raised.
Wise: At the capital needs meeting they talked about if we tried to do the full $57 million it would require between a two and three cents property tax increase. Just recently the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners released a fact sheet.
It showed that out of 100 (counties) we have the 69th lowest tax rate, so our property tax rate is very low but we have one of the highest per capita taxable property rates in North Carolina at number eight.
That means we have a lot of property in our county that is second homes or multi-million-dollar homes.
Other states and other counties have looked into the possibility of what is called a two-tiered tax system. I don’t know much about that system, but I know it’s a way you can leverage property taxes more fairly for people who live full-time in a county versus people who don’t live here full time, so I do think there are opportunities. I also know our own Joint Historical Preservation Committee has looked into different grant opportunities for at least repair and upkeep of the courthouse. I served on the JHPC for a number of years and we had been looking at that for a long time, so I think there are opportunities.
Casciato: I live in Connestee and there’s a lot of expensive homes up there. A lot of people live half here, half in Florida, Georgia or South Carolina. There’s a lot of tax dollars up there. Even if you own land, you’re being taxed on your land. Even undeveloped land, you’re being taxed on it … so I think that we’re just going to have to tax the landowners. We’re just going to have to tax them. In order for this to happen, that’s the only way we can do it and it has to be done because we do not want the second letter from Judge Knight. If that happens, we are going to have to move our courthouse maybe to another county and our business to another county. That would take a lot of money away from us.
What is your position on voter-approved school bond projects?
Wise: This bond was voted on by the people of the county and it was voted on by 60 percent, overwhelmingly approved. That happened four years ago. Our school board immediately went into action to get designs started.
They used a company named Clark Nexsen. I’m an architect. I know about architectural firms. Clark Nexsen is the most respected school builder in the Southeast and one of the best in the country, so we’re in good hands there.
Four year later, we have nothing to show for it. What our commissioners tell us now is the either the people really don’t want to build the schools even though they voted for it, or that they don’t understand what they are actually getting for that $68 million bond even though the school board has been very clear about what they’re getting for that bond, or that all the schools aren’t covered under that bond.
When the bond issue came up before the voters it was very clear what schools were part of that bond issue, so disenfranchising our voters in that way I think is very disrespectful. We have intelligent people in this county who can obviously figure our what they voted for.
The second part of that is we are at the end of a global pandemic. Construction prices have escalated dramatically.
No one could see that coming. As an architect, I’ve seen absolute insane construction prices, but I can say is prices aren’t going to go down and they are finally starting to level out. Not acting is simply going to cause our schools to continue to fail. Our kids have to go to these schools. Our administrators work in these schools. We have a path forward; let’s take it.
Casciato: I think the question we should be asking is why are our schools in such disrepair. They are only about 60-70 years old. I know schools that are over 100 years old and they are still functioning as high schools and they’re in good shape.
So what happened? Who dropped the ball 10 years ago or 20 years ago? Why weren’t these conditions taken care of when it occurred, not when it’s so damaged that the ceilings come down, water’s coming in and so on and so forth.
They needed to be addressed at that point. Listen, my brother was a grounds and maintenance supervisor of the Lake Worth township schools (in Florida).
A school was built in 1922. It’s still functioning as a school. Yes, there were repairs: we had to update the computer systems, we had to upgrade the lunchroom, we had to upgrade the gymnasium. Yes, those things happened, but the actual three-story building is still functioning as a school. I just have a hard time finding out why these schools were not maintained and kept up. We wouldn’t be talking about this if they were. Yes, we can add a new this or a new that, but we don’t need $68 million to fix a leaky roof. We can use less money.
We could have used maybe $26 million and did all the schools. The thing I’m trying to point out is, yes, 60 percent of the people voted for this bond.
Yes, I want the kids to have good schools and safe schools as well. I don’t want them to go to a school that isn’t safe. I just have a problem with why our schools are in such disrepair, that’s all.
How do you view the current relationship between the County Commissioners and the Board of Education? What, if anything, would you do differently?
Casciato: I think communication is the biggest problem between the two boards. I think we have to have face-to-face meetings of the whole boards and communicate in front of the citizens whether it be where the school board has their meetings or where the County Commissioners have their meetings.
I am all for working together. I do not want people to be disenfranchised because they don’t know what’s going on in the county … Educated people, that’s how we get along, by working together, by communicating, by finding out what’s wrong and coming together to a happy medium.
I know from the board over at the (Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas) we don’t agree on everything, believe me, but we leave the meeting with some sort of resemblance of what we are planning to do in the future. I think communicating with the school board is very important. I can’t see any other way of saying it.
Wise: Communication is a two-way street and we have seen a failure of communication between these two entities. It’s really important to remember that just like the county commissioners are elected positions put there in place by the people, so is the Board of Education.
People put their faith in these representatives on the School Board. The county commission has been acting as if this board was more of a suggested entity to them and not an elected position. Just recently the Commission passed a number of spending resolutions to move the bond forward and one to help with other improvements, but they also placed a number of caveats onto those motions.
Jake Dalton during the bond issue made a motion that said they had to renegotiate the entire memorandum of understanding between the two boards, which gave much more control to the county commissioners. In the last funding round, the motion was made to increase oversight of the spending to where now the Commission has to get reports every 30 days, had to be involved in making contracts and a number of other stipulations that are far and above what the state recommends. So, while communication is two way, we need the commissioners to work with the school board and not to try to move control away from.
Casciato: I believe it is a two-way street. You’ve got to give and take, and I believe that both entities are voted on. I agree with that, but you’ve got to come out into the open and actually say what you need.
If the school board needs something, tell us what you need. I’m one for listening. If I’m elected, I’m one person on a five-panel commission. I’m just saying that my instincts are that I want to work diligently with the school board to make sure our students have adequate buildings, adequate education, adequate funding for what we need for them to do.
I have no problem with that. I have a problem with getting that $68 million bond and only getting a little bit of what you’re supposed to get.
How can you justify and tell the people, ‘Hey, listen, but I’m sorry, you’re not going to get what you voted for, we’re going to give you this.’ And then the people, ‘Okay, is that all we get?’ ‘Yeah, you get a gymnasium, a cafeteria and an administration section.’
Wise: We’ve heard a lot of talk about what we’re getting for the $68 million like a gymnasium, a cafeteria and an administration building are somehow not important.
Those are the three most critical buildings that are literally falling down. If we don’t act now to at least repair what we can, we won’t have anything to repair.
I do appreciate that we’ve lost value for that $68 million. If we were to try to go through another bond resolution, by the time we got that passed and approved I think the gym may actually be gone so it’s important that we can get down what we can get done now, in my opinion.
Casciato: The gym that I think we’re talking about is the one the Marine Corps Junior ROTC uses. I’ve been in the gym I don’t know how many times for award ceremonies for them.
I don’t know what’s wrong with it. There might be some structural problems … I don’t know why we need a whole new gym when we have one. There’s a beautiful floor in that gym.
These are the types of things that we have to look at. Are the classrooms adequate? I don’t know. Are the facilities for the library adequate … the facilities for the auditorium, is that adequate? I think we need to work on those types of things, too. I’m an artsy-crafty guy. I love art. I love theater. I love all that stuff. Matter of fact, I directed the senior class play at one time, but those are the types of things that as a commissioner I want to look into. I want to make sure that we are stewards of the money and we’re going to make sure that we do the right thing with the taxpayer’s money. That’s what it comes down to as a commissioner, you’re the steward of the people’s money.
What do you see as your role as a county commissioner in regard to health care?
Wise: Our health care situation in this county is bordering on abysmal, maybe not even bordering on. Our hospital is currently under a lawsuit brought by the city and numerous other counties in this region because they’ve been accused of price gouging. One immediate step is to move forward with that lawsuit.
Unfortunately, our county commissioners were invited to join on that lawsuit and they declined. I say that’s unfortunate because that would have given a lot more leverage and validity to that lawsuit.
I reached out to the commissioners and asked why they did not want to join and I was told they felt it was a little bit wishy-washy and they didn’t want to get involved. I think that’s really unfortunate.
Additionally, in this county our commissioners refused to support Medicaid expansion. We pay for Medicaid expansion. We have many people who don’t have any health care coverage at all and those are the poorest people in our county who could really use that help. That would be a priority of mine, to get Medicaid into this county so that we can help some of the poorest people who desperately need it. We also have issues with adult health care and child health care. These are all critical issues before us. There’s no easy solution to these problems, honestly, so I think we have to really reinvestigate what we want in our community and how we want to create that vision moving forward.
Casciato: Transylvania Hospital was built by the people of Transylvania County, the citizens here, and historically provided an excellent service to the citizens of our county.
Then HCA came in and reduced the staff and services such as a birthing center. We don’t have that anymore, so there will be no birth certificates coming out of Transylvania County.
They have to go elsewhere. We’re suing them, but the county was worried about litigation and fees. That could have added up to a lot of money and they just did not want to pursue that.
That’s the reason they didn’t sign on to that, but the current medical service provided at this hospital are very good. Nurses provide great service and unfortunately the future of our great hospital is in question.
When my wife and I first moved here, that’s one of the reasons … when you get up in age you start looking to make sure that there’s a hospital nearby and we were happy that there was a hospital here. Then you find out a lot of the services are no longer available and you have to go to another hospital. I would work very hard to work on anything to keep that here and as far as child care and those types of things. Yes, I’m for all of that. I have no problem with any of that.
Wise: As far as I understand it, and I’m definitely not a lawyer, the lawsuit is a pro bono affair, so while you may run the risks for some costs for that I think on the whole it is pro bono by the lawyers representing our city and other counties. It is a risk, but it’s a risk worth taking.
The county faces a number of large capital project needs. Please comment on how you would prioritize these needs.
Casciato: I believe if we don’t have the infrastructure, it’s hard to bring industry here, to bring housing here and that is the biggest project for me.
From Gaia Herbs over to Rosman, if you don’t have sewage and water you can’t have a housing development or businesses coming in. There are a lot of businesses that do want to come to Transylvania County. They love it here.
From what I hear, they want to come here but we don’t have the infrastructure to keep them here. The county can probably entice them with certain incentives and so on, but if you don’t have the infrastructure they’re not going to come.
On 280, water and sewage going west and water and sewage going up towards Asheville, I think those are the areas that we have to concentrate on. I believe the next thing we’ve got to think about is our EMS station. That’s a big project down there that’ll be part of the capital fund. That particular project, we definitely need that. Another thing that’s on the horizon is the community college. They’re asking for $32 million. If we did all the capital developments, it would be over $370-some million dollars. So we’re going to spend the courthouse, we’re going to get sewer and water out to Gaia Herbs to open up that land, and that’s the only way we can expand our housing and industry. That’s the only land left. Everything is taken up through the forest through the HOAs and POAs all around here plus the flood plains, so we end up with very little land left.
Wise: There’s sort of a trifecta of elements people look at when they’re moving to a new location. It’s schools, it’s workforce housing and it’s obviously jobs.
Our schools are in trouble with infrastructure. We have no workforce housing and because of that we can’t get people here for jobs. The number one improvement we need to make is sewer and water. We have a golden opportunity thanks to Biden’s infrastructure plan in the Rosman corridor to use land-use planning to encourage workforce housing and small and medium manufacturing along that corridor.
It is critical we do that. On the Planning Board, we have been asking to move forward with land-use planning and have been told by commissioners now is not the time. The time is long gone; we need to start moving on that immediately.
This is a years-long project that takes to get this kind of thing into place. So, number one, infrastructure, sewer and water. Number two is Blue Ridge Community College. Vocational training is of critical importance to our county and all regional counties. We need to make sure that we provide job training for people in this county because if we provide that job training they will want to work here. The timeline given for the Blue Ridge Community College improvements was out to 2028, which is six years from now. That’s ridiculous. We really have to get that going. Those are the kind of things I would start looking at.
Casciato: I think that’s very important. We’re losing trades. Kids are not going into the trades anymore. It’s important that we keep Blue Ridge happy because a lot of our kids use that for trades.
Plumbing, electricity … it’s not magic when you hit that switch and the lights go on; someone had to put the wiring in. When you flush the toilet, that’s not magic; a plumber had to do that.
When you open and close a door, that’s not magic; a carpenter had to do that and we’re losing our trades. When I was a kid and my dad was at home I was hammering nails when I was 8 years old. That’s how I learned a trade … sawing out doorways and hammering nails. We need kids to get involved in trades. When I was in high school, I was so upset a counselor had gone up in the auditorium and told 11th graders they would not be successful if they didn’t go to college. Well, we have a lot of kids in college who come out and they end up tending bar or waitressing because they took some subjects that were not relevant to today’s life. Now we need those plumbers, we need those electricians.
Not a lot of kids are working with their dads anymore. They’re doing other things so we need those and we need to keep the people here. We’ve got to keep our young people here. Workforce housing, yes, that’s important, very important, but you can’t move forward until we get the water and the sewage in place. We could talk about it all we want, but until that happens we can’t move on.
Please tell us more detail on your funding plan for these projects.
Wise: In my role as an architect I have to deal with really complicated projects that deal with very discrete budgets, and so I do have some familiarity with having to work within a budget.
We will need to look at some point at a property tax increase. I cannot tell you without looking at the models what that will be and how that will be leveraged over time, but that is a reality. The reality is we have some of the lowest property tax rates in North Carolina and that is handicapping us.
It’s why we’re having trouble moving forward with our capital needs campaigns. That’s why we have our $350 million worth of needs because we’ve kept kicking that can down the road and refusing to deal with it. There’s grants we can look at for some funding. That’s harder for strictly capital needs, but it’s possible. We have all sorts of economic driving opportunities.
The Ecusta Trail is a great one. The county commissioners, excuse the pun, absolutely derailed that project and the city of Brevard had to pick it up.
That’s a project that requires no local tax money. It is going to be fully funded by grants and is a huge economic driver for this community, not only in terms of revenue but also in terms of job creation.
Why the Commissioners decided that it was not worthy of their attention is a mystery. I’ve heard the excuses, but there is no reason why we can’t look at really powerful projects like that to help our community.
Casciato: I also agree that grants from the state and from the federal government can help us. I believe private investment can help us, private developers coming in and I also believe that we might have to tax again. That’s still on the table; you’ve got to tax.
Unfortunately that’s an evil thing after they got hit just a little while ago, but you’re going to have to do that.
As far as the Ecusta Trail goes, I have a lot of problems with that. I made a list here of what could happen and it’s not free. It’ll be tax dollars.
After that is built, they’ll be tax dollars whether it’s county or city, but they’ll be tax dollars going towards that. It’s not just going to be grant money and then it’s over. Who’s going to maintain it?
There’s a lot of problems, to me, moving forward with that. I don’t know if you guys know this, but people along there are taxed on that property and after that trail goes in they’re still going to be taxed on that. I don’t know about you, but if I’m taxed on a property I guess I own it. But no, the people there don’t own it. And then there’s another problem: liability.
Who holds the liability on that? Someone rolls off of that trail into someone’s property and gets hurt, it’s on the homeowner not on the trail. It’s on the homeowner. I talked to county officials about that to make sure about that and they told me that is a fact. That will happen.
There’s a lot of problems there. I talked to the chief of police. I said, ‘Who’s gonna stop at the big roads going across Crab Creek and across Everett, across Old Hendersonville Highway?’ He said, ‘Well, we think that the bikers are going to stop.’ When you’re going 35-40 miles an hour on that road, I don’t want no poor kid coming out there and getting hit. There’s a lot of main arteries there and there’s a lot of other things that I can talk about that are negative about that. It looks like it’s going to go through, but we’re going to live with it. I’m not happy about it and that’s how I feel.
Wise: I would encourage everyone to research the realities of the Ecusta Trail, the benefits and cons of it.
There’s been an enormous amount of misinformation spread about this project. I’ve heard so much misinformation coming from the county government that it is confusing to me, and I actually sit on the Ecusta Board Advisory. I don’t want to get on the nuances of that now, but please look into it and really fact find for yourselves.
Casciato: A lot of people who are in favor of the trail don’t live along the trail. Very few people who want it (live) along the trail. It cuts people’s property in half. People farm on both sides.
Is the city going to allow them to roll their tractors on the other side of that and to farm that side too? Those are things that I think are important. Now you’re talking about people’s livelihoods. There’s other things that we need to talk about. There are so many trails in this county.
Why do we need another trail? It’s beyond me. I would like to take that $20 million or $30 million, whatever it takes, and use it somewhere else to make it more feasible for all the residents … People up in Balsam Grove … the people who have lived here all their life … they’re never going to use that. Who’s going to use it? Not the cyclists that are really cyclists. They’re going to be using the roads. I’m really upset over that. I mean, you’re taking over 4,000 square foot of land off of these people in some of these places. These people are used to going across the tracks into their farms and they’re raising animals. A lot of it isn’t beautiful going through there if you think about it, but that’s my opinion and I think that’s the opinion of a few other people too, especially along that trail.
Workforce housing has become a community concern. What do you see as the role of county government regarding housing and what actions would you propose?
Casciato: Workforce housing is going to be dense housing, whether it’s apartments, condos, townhouses or whatever, but it has to have density.
Why? We just don’t have the property, the land, to have individual homes to house as many people as we hopefully will need for the industry coming in here. We’ve got to get developers in here and private money has got to come in. We’ve got to entice them to come in here. Once again, and I’m sure Mr. Wise will attest to this, you’ve got to have water and sewage. You’ve got to have it; that is the main thing.
One day the big dream is that we can connect Brevard with the Rosman run. That would be awesome if we could do that. That would bring so much more to this county. We still forget about 280, too. We’ve got to put the water and sewage out there too. We can’t waste any land that we have left here because there’s not much left.
If you start subtracting everything down, we have maybe five to seven, eight percent of the land left that we can actually build on … Every time I go by Ecusta Road and I see all that property, it just makes me ‘Ugh.. why can’t we use that?’ Acres and acres and acres of beautiful land, but yet it’s unfortunately contaminated and it takes a lot of money to make that work. It’s something that just bothers me is all, that land and we can’t use it. I think workforce housing is necessary, let’s put it that way.
Wise: I agree completely and it’s the county’s responsibility to help facilitate this. We do have a golden opportunity and one of the last opportunities with the 64 infrastructure expansion to use focused land use planning along that corridor to help identify workforce housing.
It is one of the last places where we can make it happen and you cannot do dense workforce housing without sewer and water. It is important to know we are talking about dense housing, but it is workforce housing that is really for working families. Right now we have people who work in our government who can’t afford to actually live in the county they work for.
That’s how bad it is. It’s a problem across multiple counties. It’s certainly not unique to us. What is unique to us is we have very little land left to develop and we have an opportunity right now and only right now to really solve that problem for our citizens.
Casciato: You can see going out 64 now they’ve already started it and I’m happy that’s in progress right now. I was at the groundbreaking at Gaia Herbs and that started it all off.
It was because we didn’t want Gaia Herbs to leave us either. They employ a lot of people, so we wanted them there. Along there too, we have to watch out because a lot of people own that property along 64. Now, trying to get enough acreage together to make the dense type of housing that we need, that’s going to be something else.
I’d like to see 30 acres of one lot, but no .. you’re going to have 10 over here, 10 over there and 10 over here. That’s what’s tough.
We need to see if we can get 30 acres in one lump so we can actually do something with it. Yes, we’ve got to keep our young people here. We’ve got to keep our nurses here, our firemen here, our sheriffs here, our police officers here. We need to keep these people here. I agree with Mr. Wise: workforce housing, dense housing, is the only way we’ll keep them here.
Do you feel mental health service meet current needs. If not, what would you propose to ensure those that needs these services can obtain them?
Wise: In no way do our current mental health services meet the needs and this is a chronic problem and certainly not unique to Transylvania County, certainly not unique to western North Carolina.
Part of the issue is that we’re having so many issues with our hospital system whee people can’t get support services for mental health and even if they can the wait times are in the months at this point.
We need to really focus on how do we get those support systems in. Although it’s a critically important issue, I do not really know enough about it to really know the solutions right now and that’s my honest answer. It’s something I need to research in-depth. I do know where the problems lie. I don’t know what the solution is right now and I think that is part of this whole fact-finding campaign.
Casciato: As a school teacher for many years, you see a lot of that. We had a lot of special ed students in my P.E. classes and they had different exceptionalities that we had to deal with.
It’s sad to see that because you know their home life isn’t the greatest and you get a lot of kids that are very disruptive .. their parents.. you know, drug use, alcohol abuse, domestic violence … I seen it all as a teacher and as a coach. I tried to tell the kids when they came to school, ‘Leave your baggage at home. Come to school. You’re safe here. Learn and enjoy your day,’ because when I leave them at the end of the day I don’t know where they’re going.
It’s a shame. I taught mostly minorities, Blacks and Hispanics, that’s all I taught most of my life and I had some really great kids. I really did. They’re a lot of fun to be around and they kept me young, but teaching high school kids you see their home life .. it’s sad. You can see some are mentally abused and when I took that survey of those 305 people in this county, drug abuse was the number one concern of theirs, then housing. Drug use and alcoholism .. it just boggles your mind and what happens with these young kids and how they’re treated. It’s sad. It’s just sad. I’m with Mr. Wise .. I don’t know too much about it or what we can do, but I’m for anything that can help anybody in this county.
Do you support arming our local teachers?
Casciato: In today’s world, I know down in Florida they were arming them. I think that with the right person and the right people training, yes, I think that might be a good idea. I think you can’t stop a fella coming in shooting.
If he shoots you first, you can’t help your kids. My point is yes, I believe that the right people, certain people, not all, but some people, I think we need to protect our kids. And I do believe it’s going to happen more and more throughout the United States the way things are happening.
So yes, I do believe we need to arm teachers that are actually certified and go through the proper training. Yes, I do.
Wise: I’m a veteran of Desert Storm and I’m a combat veteran so I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when people hurt other people.
I will say unequivocally that teachers in no way should ever be forced to be armed in our schools.
There is no way to really explain the stress, the trauma you go through. What will happen is teachers, even if they feel like they are well trained, will end up hurting other people by accident or get hurt and be shot by law enforcement officers because they have a gun and that’s a chaotic environment.
I say this from a point of compassion because it is heartbreaking that our children are being slaughtered in our schools and our first response is to throw more guns in the mix and those guns being in the hands of educators.
This is a very passionate thing for me because unfortunately I’ve been in the position to see what happens and I cannot stress enough how bad of an idea that is.
Casciato: You said ‘forced’ and, no, I’m not forcing anybody. If no one wants to have a gun, they don’t have to have one. No one’s forcing anybody. I’m just saying it could be available. That’s all I’m saying. I’ve never been in combat. I’ve been shot at a couple of times, but I’ve never been in combat. I certainly think you’ve got to fight fire with fire, and I’ll leave it like that.
Please comment on how you view the relationship between county and city government, both Brevard and Rosman. Are there any initiatives or changes that you would propose?
Wise: I do feel like there is a real lack of communication between our county government and Brevard and Rosman.
I’ve talked to all of our county commissioners and all of our city council members about this issue.
The city council members truly feel like they have reached out to the best of their capacity to try to strike some kind of conversation with the county and just can get nowhere. I haven’t been in those meetings. I can’t say what was talked about, but I have seen a complete disregard of the city of Brevard from the county. I think that would be hard to argue that’s not the case. We’ve seen that with a number of issues.
The Ecusta Trail is one where the county, after deciding they did not want to be involved and the city picking it up, then turns around and says they were upset that the city picked up that project.
The recent Pisgah Labs expansion, there’s been some communication issues there that still need to be resolved. I think part of my role on the county commission would absolutely foster as open a relationship with all of our municipalities as humanely possible.
Brevard is the largest economic engine in this county and to treat it as sort of an inconvenience doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Open communication is the key to every successful relationship. It’s really the foundation of how our community will work. I’ve had a lot of experience with this in the past trying to foster communication and build bridges and coalitions.
I feel comfortable in doing it. Let’s absolutely start this conversation from the county to the city because I know the city has reached back out the other way.
Casciato: As a commissioner, I will communicate. I like that. It’s the only way we know what we’re doing. If the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, then you have a problem.
I’ve been attending for the last year or so every Rosman Alderman meeting and I learned a lot from Brian Shelton the mayor. I have personally spoken with him many times because I think Rosman is an integral part of Transylvania County.
I want to be able to have relationships with their aldermen, which I have now, and the mayor. I know a lot of people on (Brevard City) Council personally and I have no problem reaching out and communicating.
Without communication, you don’t know what is going on between the two factions. I think it’s very important that we communicate and I will always be there to communicate. I talk to everybody that comes in that museum (Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas). I’ve talked to thousands and thousands and thousands of people, and, yes, I’m proud to say that museum is an economic driver for this town.
We get people all the time. Matter of fact, wait till you see what happens over here at the Co-Ed Theater in October. We have hundreds of kids coming to see what we’re doing at the museum.
We’re proud of that. Those are the types of things that we bring to this county and … Balsam Grove all the way out to Sapphire, I communicate with them all. I go to all their jam sessions. I’m there every week. For the last two or three years, I’ve been doing it. I always reach out.
To me, reaching out is easy. It’s easy for me to talk to you. You may not like what I say and I might not like what you say, but, guess what, we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to iron it out to make sure that we’re going to be able to work together. Brevard is one unique little town and people just love it here. Every time I talk to people, they think it’s beautiful and we’re happy and we’re proud of it.
Tell me what would be your top priority as commissioner.
Casciato: It’s hard to say just one, but I think communicating. Communication, to me, is the number one priority besides all the infrastructure we need.
If we don’t work together in this county, I don’t think we’re every going to move on and be successful with a lot of things
I think we can do. I honestly think we can do a lot of things. Now, you’ve got five commissioners and I would be only one, but I’m telling you I will work to make sure that we communicate together. To me, that’s the most important thing. The other stuff will come. This is important.
Wise: Internally, if I am elected to the commission, I really do want to immediately start working on building relationships with the other four people on that board. I am a Democrat.
I certainly do not share all the same ideals and viewpoints as the other members, but I do believe strongly that’s a very healthy position to be in because it creates dialogue and if you can create dialogue it can create a solution. Internally that’s the number one thing: to start building a coalition.
Once we build a coalition, I think we can really start moving some projects forward. The key projects for me moving forward are workforce housing and more importantly some land use planning so we can facilitate not only workforce housing but dedicated small and medium manufacturing sites and also start working on our school infrastructure issues.
I think those are primary areas because once we get those two things fixed jobs will come to our county. There’s a trifecta between schools, workforce housing and jobs.
We need to start identifying this so we can really start growing our county. We are shrinking now, so we really want to start growing this county. It’s an amazing place to live and we have so much to offer, but we’re being crippled by some of our infrastructure issues.
The deadline to register to vote in the next election is 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14. Early voting in Transylvania County starts Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Election Center on Gaston Street and ends Saturday, Nov. 5. Polls open on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.