By Dave Russell
Sylva town board candidate Luther Jones wouldn’t mind finishing fifth in the Nov. 5 election if, he said, outside money and influence hadn’t entered the election.
He is rankled to the point that he filed a complaint with the N.C. Board of Elections.
Jones sent a four-page notarized campaign finance complaint and supporting documentation to Raleigh last Thursday. It details his concerns about the involvement of Down Home North Carolina – their money and one of their endorsed candidates – in the race.
For the first time, Sylva’s town board race saw a state political action committee, whose primary funding is from out of state, get involved and endorse candidates, Jones said.
Down Home North Carolina denies wrongdoing in promoting incumbents Dave Nestler and Greg McPherson and newcomer and staffer Carrie McBane.
Jones’ 70 votes placed him in fifth place, short of a minimum 106 necessary to continue his quest for a seat. Two candidates – Ben Guiney and McBane – tied at 106, and one of them will take office pending canvassing, provisional ballots and perhaps a coin toss Friday morning.
There are nine provisional ballots in Sylva, according to Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl.
Jones has no issue with Guiney, who was not endorsed by the PAC.
“He’s right here in town, people know him, and I fully appreciate that,” he said. “He kicked my butt. What I do not appreciate is outside money coming in here and attempting to take an election.”
Guiney wrote a letter to the editor published in last week’s Sylva Herald expressing his consternation at the outside influence.
Jones feels he needs to add his voice.
“I think somebody needs to speak out about this money coming from outside the town,” he said. “It influenced our election.”
Jones takes umbrage with the fact that McBane is a staffer on the PAC’s payroll.
“I find it highly disturbing and inappropriate that a person on the staff of a political action committee is being supported in an election by the very same political action committee who employs and pays her salary,” Jones’ complaint stated.
He also notes that in an October interview with The Sylva Herald, Down Home’s regional coordinator, Chelsea Hoglen, said the PAC employed two full-time, paid canvassers.
The pair made the rounds of Sylva’s town limits to knock on doors and hand out 4 1/2-inch by 11-inch rack cards explaining the PAC’s platform and urging voters to vote for three town board candidates.
“If Ms. McBane was canvassing and using these materials during that time, she would have been being paid by the PAC to promote her own candidacy,” he said in the complaint.
Jones called that “coordination,” which is illegal under state election law, he said in an interview last Thursday.
“She’s working as paid staff,” he said. “Theoretically, if you could say that as long as she was not being paid for running, then that’s OK. The problem I have with that is that it stretches the imagination.”
In perusing Down Home’s online election reporting, Jones said he could not find an expenditure reporting the canvassers’ salaries.
McBane did not visit anyone’s home as a paid canvasser, she said. In spite of her status as a part-time staffer, she did not take part in Down Home’s decision to endorse her or anyone else.
“I was never allowed to be a part of what was happening with Down Home,” she said. “I was never guaranteed that they would endorse me. I understood there were boundaries we were not allowed to cross.”
McBane ran her campaign on less than $100,” she said.
“If I had significant backing from Down Home, you would have seen more information plastered around Sylva – billboards, signs, door knockers, you name it,” she said.
Door knockers are the rack cards handed out to citizens by the canvassers as they went door to door.
“I understood coming into this that I would be on my own,” she said. “Down Home endorsed three candidates and I happened to be one of them.”
McBane interviewed with Down Home just like the other candidates before the endorsements were made. She did not know she had earned the endorsement until someone told her, she said.
“I had no idea they were doing the door knockers with our pictures on it until that was shown to me,” she said. “I didn’t know what their strategy was and I wasn’t allowed to know.”
McBane said that no matter the outcome of the election, her work as a community organizer with Down Home will allow her to continue to help people.
“I just want to make sure that people understand that Down Home has worked really hard for the betterment of our communities,” she said. “A majority of our residents are suffering without basic necessities, and this is my job.”