After about a year on the job, Highlands Town Planner Andrew Bowen resigned August 2018 and ever since the search has been on to find a replacement.
The position entails planning and code enforcement – enforcement of town ordinances – the part of the job no “planner” particularly likes.
Consequently, with no takers for the job as outlined, the Town Board agreed to split the job – there would be a planner and a code enforcement officer who would work as part of the police department.
This past February, John Cherry was hired to be the town’s code enforcement officer. Years ago, he worked as Highlands’canine officer and after a stint overseas has returned with expanded duties.
Finally, at the May Town Board meeting, Town Manger Josh Ward announced that the town had hired Michael Mathis of Franklin to be the “Assistant Planning Director-In Training.”
Town Manager Ward has been Acting Town Planner since Bowen left. Ward started his Highlands career in that department more than a decade ago, working his way up to Town Planner, then went to Bryson City to be Town Manager. In December 2016 he returned as Highlands Town Manager. Since he was Town Planner he can groom Mathis for the job.
Last Thursday, Ward said he believes Mathis is a good fit for the planner job. “We were looking for someone who was young and would stick around,” he said.
Which is exactly what Mathis, 23, has in mind. “If you get a good job like this, you stick with it,” he said.
Mathis lives in Franklin and is recently engaged. He started his college education at Southwestern Community College and then went on to Western Carolina University where he earned two bachelor degrees – one in Business Law and one in Finance – he graduated May 2018.
Asked why he accepted the position in Highlands, he said it is his chance to give back.
“To serve the community,” said Mathis. “While I was going through school I was laid off and the citizens of North Carolina put me through school. So, I figured this is my chance to give back.”
Mathis said the job in Highlands will also enable him to be close to home and family.
“Plus, this is a great team to work with,” he said.
For the first few days of his first week he has been accompanying Ward around Highlands getting a feel for the day-to-day operations of the department.
His salary is $40,000 with benefits.
Pictured at the top of the article is Assistant Planning Director-In Training Michael Mathis.
By Kim Lewicki & Brian O’Shea