ELECTION 2018: Westmoreland faces first challenge from Bailey
Four years ago, Cherokee County Commissioner Gary “Hippie” Westmoreland ran unopposed in District 3. This year, he faces a challenge from Corey Bailey, a tireless community volunteer.
The winner of the Tuesday, May 8, primary has no opposition in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election unless a late comer files as an independent before that day.
Bailey has invested 14 years as a member of community organizations, including Friends of the Murphy Public Library, Master Gardeners of Cherokee County, the Valley River Humane Society, Cherokee Arts Council and Murphy River Walk, among others.
“I have a grasp of where the county is going,” Bailey said. “If you’ve been around downtown Murphy lately, you can feel it. There’s a buzz. We’ve been trying to figure out how to get young people to come back and be the next generation of business owners and elected officials, and I think we are starting to see that now.”
A comment made by Westmoreland last year after the arts council asked the county to match some grants sparked Bailey’s interest in running.
“With the state the county is in, we can’t waste money, and this is wasting money,” Westmoreland said at the May 15, 2017, county meeting.
“He said money appropriated for kids in the arts was a waste, and I can’t deal with that mentality,” Bailey said.
Bailey said the non-profit organizations he is a part of have been able to thrive without help from the county.
“We’ve been able to accomplish a lot in Cherokee County and Murphy with no tax dollars,” Bailey said.
Bailey said most of the commissioners have not given the arts community a chance to show their value to our community.
“I have seen one commissioner in four years go downtown for the (First Friday Murphy) Art Walk,” Bailey said. “I don’t know how they can vote against us for a matching grant when they don’t even know what we are trying to accomplish. We have a lot of talented artists and musicians, and we have to cultivate that for tourism and increase our tax base.
“Four out of five commissioners are totally out of touch with our community.”
Bailey, who spent six years as an Army Reserve medic, said one of his priorities is to help improve services for local seniors and veterans. He added that the county should base its economic plans on taking advantage of Murphy’s natural beauty and resources. He also supports tax incentives for small businesses to set up shop in Cherokee County.
Bailey said a major educational priority of his is to see more programs for students to learn skilled labor trades.
In his first term, Westmoreland learned that being a commissioner is a tough job.
“It’s hard work, and there are a lot of issues,” Westmoreland said. “But I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
Westmoreland cited the county’s progress in health care and jobs, along with improvements in Emergency Medical Services with a new station in Marble and a new site purchased on U.S. 64 West. He also was proud of the progress in making some local trash disposal sites open 24-7 without any county employees losing their jobs.
He also said getting the school board going in a long-term direction with facilities was crucial.
“We finally got them talking about figuring out exactly what we are going to do to solve some of these problems,” he said.
Westmoreland also cited the cooperation between the towns of Andrews and Murphy on infrastructure as something he was proud to help facilitate.
Individually, Westmoreland came up with a plan to renovate the lantern atop the county courthouse at a huge savings by leading a team of county staff, volunteers and students to work on it personally over the next 18 months.
Westmoreland had a unique opportunity to meet with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) about obtaining rural infrastructure grants.
“We are trying to prioritize what we need … is it water and sewer? Natural gas? Broadband? That’s what we need to determine,” he said.
Westmoreland said his common sense is one of his strengths serving as a commissioner.
“I am level headed, and I am able to look situations over and do what’s best for the people,” he said.
One of his top priorities is education for local students.
“We need to get our schools back to ‘A’ schools,” he said. “It is important for our kids to have a proper education.”
Westmoreland said he cares about the citizens and wants to give them the best services possible – without raising taxes.
“I love this county,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I want to serve the people again.”