Smathers promises growth, transparency in Canton
Creating a more focused approach to economic development, expanding recreational opportunities and providing for the town employees are among Zeb Smathers’ top issues in the race for alderman.
If elected, the 30-year-old local lawyer promises to act on his campaign slogan "Believe in Canton," to help grow and improve the town as a progressive and proactive board member.
His first focus is on growing not only downtown Canton, but the corridors into town such as Champion Drive and Old Asheville Highway.
Smathers believes that to achieve that goal, the board could start by re-examining the job descriptions of town employees, especially the assistant town manager, and make one person responsible for concentrating on economic development.
That person would also be in charge of booking events at facilities like the armory, Colonial Theatre, Camp Hope and tournaments at the baseball fields. And he or she would be asked to work closely with the county economic development department and regional partners.
“We need to make sure our town employees have the resources and training necessary to serve this community. This community is changing. The world is changing around us. We need to make sure we’re keeping up with the times and making sure our job descriptions are there, see what we can do to make things more efficient and try to save money in the process,” Smathers said.
While trying to grow the town, he wants to remember what made the town in the first place.
“We cannot forget about Evergreen, seeing what we can do to encourage them to possibly add jobs to our existing businesses. We talk a lot about new stuff, but we can’t lose sight of how lucky we are to have Evergreen here,” Smathers said.
In the longterm, he said he would even like to strike up discussions with the mill about exploring the use of natural gas.
Smathers, who is on the recreation boards in Canton and the county, wants to enhance current recreation facilities and create more opportunities. A supporter of the tournaments at the sports complex, he wants to explore grants to fund the addition of two or three more fields to the complex. He thinks adding fields would be more feasible than lighting the complex.
“We could increase the use and people at the ball fields more by adding two more fields than by adding lights. In the long term it would be cheaper because lights in the summer time will give you maybe two more games a day. More fields will get more games the whole weekend,” Smathers said.
If financially feasible, he would like to see the addition of a dog park or even a skate park in town.
“People want to see us taking on things and accomplishing things,” he said.
He hopes that the idea to raise the county’s occupancy tax to create revenue for recreation projects will come up again if he is elected.
“I think the 2 percent idea was a good idea. I think it would help the whole county as a whole recreationally. It could have completely changed the dynamic of recreation in this county and I look forward to when we are able to readdress that in the future,” he said.
When it comes to the recreation park, Smathers wants to not only address the issue of the deteriorating pool, but also the booking of events at the stage, adding to the walking trails, booking basketball tournaments and more.
“If you’re going to talk about major money, we need to look at how we can best use it to make the biggest difference possible,” he said. “I am for keeping the pool open, period. But to me, it’s not just about fixing the pool — it’s about making sure the whole rec park is looked at and can be promoted for families to attend.”
By the time the pool closes next summer, the next board must already have a plan in place, he said.
Though his father, Pat Smathers, was mayor for 12 years, he says he has a mind of his own when it comes to the town’s politics.
“It may surprise people that a father and son can agree and often disagree on many issues. I appreciate my dad’s service, especially during the floods. One thing that I feel in very close agreement with him is that we must talk about big ideas in order to accomplish big things,” he said.
More than anything, Smathers wants residents to believe in Canton as much as he does.
"I want to help lead and get things done. This town has been very good to me and I want to give back and give people the same opportunities and the same memories that I had," he said.