ELECTION 2018: West, Stiles clash in District 1

    There is no secret that the most contentious political race in Cherokee County’s Tuesday, May 8, primary is between incumbent District 1 Commissioner Cal Stiles and school board member Tim West, both of Andrews.
    West, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and twice-elected school board member, said his campaign is all about, ”Substance over Stiles.”
    “It’s a combination of things (why he is running for commissioner) but, first and foremost, Andrews matters,” West said. “I love Andrews, I love the people in Andrews.”
    West said he believes Stiles has not done enough to help his home district.
    “Andrews is paralyzed,” West said. “What has (Stiles) done to help Andrews?”
    Stiles, twice elected as a commissioner in 2012 and again for the eastern-most district in 2014, said while he was elected to represent all of the people in the county, he has done plenty for Andrews. He was among those who started Project Andrews to rent storefronts downtown, along with being a strong advocate for the new high school football stadium.
    As a member of the state’s water infrastructure board, Sties arranged to get Andrews $1.3 million in loan money after the town’s grant application failed three times. He also arranged for the Southwestern Commission to apply by proxy for a $300,000 infrastructure grant after the administrator failed to send it in.
    Stiles also said he helped get a $200,000 Golden Leaf for Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters and assisted in getting Murphy a $2 million grant for the sewer system on Regal Street.
    West is skeptical, adding that Stiles’ ads focused on “who he knows rather than what he has done.”
    The challenger also was critical of Stiles’ political beliefs, saying he is a “RINO,” a Republican in name only.
    “I am fiscally and socially conservative,” West said. “It’s what I am. My 18-year-old daughter has been a conservative longer than Cal.”
    Stiles ran as an independent in 2010, then as a Republican in both 2012 and 2014. His wife, Janet Stiles, ran for commissioner in 2006 as a Democrat.
    “I am a true conservative in my business and personal life,” Stiles said. “I have tried to make choices that are in the best interests of the taxpayers.”
    The winner between these two Republican candidates will face Democrat Gary James in the fall general election Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Cal Stiles
    Stiles has been the most outspoken of the commissioners during this four-year term, often finding himself on the wrong end of 4-1 votes.
    “I want to be the voice of the citizens of Cherokee County,” Stiles said. “I was not elected to go along to get along. I try not to be antagonistic, but I have 40 years of conservative business experience that I lean on to make my decisions. I look at things from a business perspective.”
    Stiles was the only commissioner to vote against the new Emergency Medical Services station being moved to the former Cherokee Well Drilling site, something he said was too expensive, too rushed and in a bad location.
    Stiles said he was the lone member of the board who wanted to keep the project for the assisted living facility in Peachtree alive when other commissioners voted to call in a bank note on the grant. That project is expected to succeed.
    He added that increased jobs, workforce housing and broadband infrastructure for local residents were among his priories for the next four years if he is re-elected.
    School funding also is a major issue facing both the county and school board. He is in favor of pursuing a possible state grant that could help build a new facility for Tri-County Early College High School, The Oaks Academy and trade school programs, even with the potential for a $5 million county match.
    “I think we can come up with the $5 million, but we need to know the exact proposal,” Stiles said. “We need to know when the money has to be on the table. If there is a qualifying project, I think we should go for the $15 million. We have to start somewhere, and we have had some six-figure repair requests from the schools at some of our
meetings.
    “We are trying to bring our school system into the 21st century with a 20th-century budget, which is very difficult. But it is very important that we do something to stay competitive and retain young people.”

Tim West
    West, a longtime flight instructor, has framed his perspective around his chosen occupation.
    “Sometimes we try to cure the symptom instead of fixing the problem,” West said. “It’s like flying. From 41,000 feet, you can get a pretty good perspective of things. If we make a decision from 1 foot off the ground, we can miss the big picture.
    “We need to make decisions from a leadership point of view and not hurry anything. We just need to fly the airplane and remain calm, avoid doing something rash.”
    West has seen the issues with facility funding firsthand on the school board. He wants to see all the proposals before jumping into anything that could strap the county for cash.
    “It’s a difficult balance to get our kids our the best education possible while being responsible to taxpayers,” West said, adding that some proposed school projects would require a mass increase in property taxes, which he does not want to see. “We have to make good choices.”
    West said he has seen some plans indicating that the Early College/Oaks project could cost up to $37 million, which would require a lot more money from taxpayers to pull off. He believes it’s a huge mistake to go into debt on schools, and the only solution is a bond referendum to let voters decide.
    As for other problems facing the county, West said youth are under fire from multiple directions, including issues at the Department of Social Services as well as the illegal drug problem.
    “The primary issue in the county is drugs,” West said. “We need to focus on the safety and security of our students.”