For those who love to fish local waters but believe in “catch and release,” the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is asking that you “catch and eat.”
At the December Town Board meeting, Mayor Pat Taylor outlined the program.
The Commission is expanding seasonal angling opportunities through its Winter Pond Stocking Program.
It is releasing hatcheries’ surplus trout in select private impoundments with public access across central and Western North Carolina this winter.
Locally those waters are the Cashiers Public Pond and Harris Lake in Highlands, owned by Terry Potts where 900 trout will soon be released.
Some regulations regarding the “catch” apply.
There is a seven trout per day creel limit but there is no minimum length limit, nor bait restrictions. The trout may be fished year-round and the state’s basic fishing license is required.
Rec Park Playground
Also, at the meeting the board learned that a unanimous donor wants to donate $50,000 to revamp the playground at the Rec Park. Though the work won’t start until sometime in 2021, the donor wanted to make the donation by the end of the year. The board voted unanimously to accept the donation.
Mayor Taylor said the Rec Committee will begin discussions with Rec Director Lester Norris.
The Local Government Commission, which must OK the town’s financing for the new fire department, left the item off its December agenda but said it will be on its January 5th agenda.
Town Manager Josh Ward said therefore BB&T extended the loan terms until Jan. 15 and the closing date is now Jan. 8.
He said the Army Corps of Engineers OK’d the town’s wetland impact plan for the bottom portion of the property along US 64 west.
“We had to pay an impact fee to the state mitigation fund of $11,027 which we sent out so we will be ready to go as soon as we get the approval from the LGC on the loan,” he said.
The new fire department is being built on the property on US 64 west and Oak Street.
Mayor Pro Tem
The board voted unanimously to vote for the Mayor Pro Tem beginning in 2022 for a two-year term rather than continuing its process of rotating commissioners to the position each year.
Mayor Taylor said he discussed this with the NC Mayors’ Association and voting for the Mayor Pro Tem for a two-year appointment is the way it’s done most other places.
“The vast majority said the term starts on the year when there is a municipal election and extends until the next municipal election.
The idea being that there may be new board members and even a new mayor elected at those municipal elections.
So, Commissioner Amy Patterson will serve Mayor Pro Tem for 2021 but from then on the Mayor Pro Tem will be elected by the board every two years.
Property owner Betsy Bird at 555 Arnold Road has requested to be annexed by the Town of Highlands.
According to Ward, the property is contiguous to the town – a necessary stipulation to annexation.
For instance, a property owner on US 64 east requested to be annexed so that they might hook on to town water, but since the property isn’t contiguous to town property the request was denied.
The properties on Arnold Road are along the shoreline of Lake Sequoyah and touch part of the Old Edwards The Farm property which had been previously annexed as well.
Mayor Taylor said he wasn’t for piecemeal annexation saying it should be broader and Commissioner John Dotson agreed.
Commissioner Donnie Calloway suggested tabling the request until the Comprehensive Plan was completed, but Commissioner Brian Stiehler said the board should move ahead with the request.
“This is an opportunity to get one more piece of property off Lake Sequoyah and get it on our sewer system,” he said.
Commissioner Patterson and Commissioner Marc Hehn agreed.
“That particular piece of property is along our drinking supply, regardless of how many others we get along there. Every piece will then fall under our impervious ordinance.”
She made a motion to set a public hearing for annexation and to change the zoning at the regular January board meeting.
Commissioners Dotson and Calloway said they were OK with scheduling a public hearing but that’s all they would agree to at this time.
“I agree with Commissioner Calloway and the mayor about piecemealing this out. If the adjoining property owners would come to us too, I would be more in favor rather than having “piano keys” of property that are in the city limits and subject to city ordinances when our city employees will almost have to have a map to know which properties fall under town jurisdiction,” he said. “I am not in favor of the piecemeal approach but in favor of the public hearing to see what the public has to say about it.”
Bird’s property is one of five properties in the same physical position, so Ward suggested the owner contact the other property owners to see if they, too, would like to be annexed. It’s possible the board may know more about those properties by the January meeting.
Laurel Street Alley
At the November Town Board meeting Public Works Director Lamar Nix notified the board that the end of the town-owned Laurel Street Alley near Spruce Street was on private property – that of the old funeral home – and its location could affect the sale of that property. He suggested the town move the street over.
The Public Works Committee met to discuss it and agreed unanimously to move the street.
At the December Town Board meeting, Nix requested permission to move the street and for $50,000 to be allocated for the project.
“It could be January, or February or March before the state issues permits like this across the state, but we want to be prepared to move forward after the state permits it,” he said.
The board voted 4-1 to relocate the alley and allocate the money to do so from the fund balance.
Commissioner Hehn voted no and asked to be recused from voting for personal reasons.
“This is setting a policy that we only do work on our rights-of-way. We are off the rights-of-way and moving on to the rights-of-way,” he said. “I would like to be excused from voting because I have a personal conflict.”
Attorney JK Coward said recusals are more complicated than people might imagine.
“First you have to ask the board to vote on whether you have a conflict because there is a statutory duty to vote in North Carolina on anything that’s on the table and if you want to be excused the board has to vote on whether you are allowed to be excused,” he said. “If they vote yes, you are allowed to be excused. If they vote that you have to vote, then you have to vote.”
Commissioner Hehn said he had wanted to discuss the issue with Coward prior to the meeting so he could tell the board he had a valid reason to be excused. But they never connected.
“That’s for the board to decide if you have a valid reason,” said Coward. “Not me.”
Commissioner Hehn said his attorney said he shouldn’t discuss his reasons in public. The board made no motion to excuse Commissioner Hehn from voting.
Therefore, the question was called. The vote was 4-1; Hehn opposed.
If the board had voted to allow Hehn to recuse himself, his vote would have been tallied as a “yes.”
Pledge of Allegiance and moment of silence
Mayor Taylor said that Commissioner Hehn had requested that the board begin saying the Pledge of Allegiance and having a moment of silence before each meeting.
“I am a man of faith and I think it’s important to take a moment of silence and reflect on the day and on what we hope to do and to be kind to each other,” he said.
Commissioner Patterson was against the idea.
“I feel like I don’t have to say who I am or what I am; I show who I am and what I am and whether reflective, or respectful or kind, you can tell that by how I act,” she said. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution when I became a member of this board. I think it’s eye candy, frankly, to do the pledge and those kinds of things. You know who you are, your citizens know who you are, and I don’t think you have to reaffirm that every time you have a meeting rather than by doing the good work.”
The board voted 3-2 to say the Pledge and have a moment of silence beginning with the first in-person meeting in 2021.
Commissioners Patterson and Stiehler voted no.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper