After two years on the board, Commissioner Jeff Harding wants to continue serving the citizens of the county he loves.
“I have a true heart for Mitchell County and I want to see it succeed and do well,” he said.
Harding, 61, is the owner and operator of Harding’s Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance as well as the co-owner and operator of Lakeview Mercantile and Gardens with his wife Darla, the current Mayor of Spruce Pine.
“When it comes to why I’m qualified, I’d say I’ve ran a successful business for 30 years with a large clientele base, where I work with the public every day and had to balance a budget,” he said. “Also, you can look at my voting record over the past two years. That speaks for itself.”
When it comes to his tenure on the Board thus far, Harding said he feels he has brought more accountability and transparency, even with some of the difficulties he’s faced.
“We’ve had a few bumps in the road and we’ve addressed those bumps and are currently moving on,” he said. “The county is running very smoothly right now, from the county manager, to the finance officer, to all department heads. I’m very happy with our great staff.”
Harding added he was disappointed the Board has yet to make clear plans for the county’s future.
“Two years ago, it was my goal for us to have plans in place and set goals and say how are we going to attain those,” he said. “As of today, we still have not done that as a board. And I really don’t think we can progress and move forward if we don’t have a plan on how we’re going to get there.”
Harding said his top priorities going forward will be the new middle school, a new Sheriff’s Department building and a jail in the county. He acknowledged these would all be huge costs initially, but would “save us money in the long-run.”
“I think the county is at a crucial time right now and we have an opportunity to grasp the positive and move forward,” he said. “On the negative side of that, if we’re not proactive and don’t have plans and goals in place, we’re going to remain the same.”
Mitchell County native Harley Masters is ready to bring a new outlook to the Board of Commissioners.
“I want to be a county commissioner, because I think being a young, female small business owner, I can bring a fresh perspective to some of the issues Mitchell County is facing,” she said. “I’m hard-working, I care and anyone that knows me knows that I don’t put half-effort into anything, so being a commissioner would be no different.”
Masters, 29, is the co-owner and operator of Southern Ridge Café in Bakersville with her husband John. She said being in charge of a small business has helped prepare her for the duties of county commissioner.
“I’ve started and ran a successful small business that has survived the past two years, especially during all the COVID hurdles that many small businesses have had to overcome,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in actions speak louder than words and I think my actions since opening my business have basically shown that I love this county and all of its citizens.”
As a commissioner, Masters said she wants to bring clarity to Mitchell County citizens about the board’s priorities.
“The county will face a lot of issues in the next few years,” she said, going on to cite issues such as the new middle school and a new jail. “But, regardless of any of the issues we’ll be facing, the board is going to have to sit down and prioritize this list of issues. I would hope once the list is complete that we can set goals to work towards getting those things accomplished.”
As a Republican candidate, Masters said she is a supporter of the second amendment and law enforcement, but said she is less focused on affiliation and more focused on kindness.
“At the end of the day, everyone has their right to believe whatever they want,” she said. “That’s what makes America great. As a commissioner, I will work hard for the citizens of Mitchell County because, at the end of the day, we are all neighbors and we all need to try to be a little bit nicer to one another.”
Brandon Dean Pittman might not be from here originally, but he has a deep love for Mitchell County.
“Mitchell County is kind of a gem,” he said. “This is a good-hearted community that takes care of each other. I think that’s one of our biggest strengths.”
Born and raised in Lincoln County, Pittman, 37, attended the University of North Carolina at Asheville where he received a bachelor’s degree in history and education licensure.
Pittman is currently a fifth-grade social studies and science teacher for Mitchell County Schools and he considers his experience as an educator to be a major advantage for him.
“As an educator you have to do a lot of things,” he said. “You have to have a long-term vision, but you also have to be detail-oriented. You have to be flexible and you have to be able to mediate disputes. You have to be willing to make a lot of stuff with very few resources.”
Pittman said while he’s running as a Republican, that’s just an affiliation.
“I am a Republican, but that’s just a label,” Pittman said. “Most often, I refer to myself as a conservative. I’m very proud to have conservative values. For me, conservative values are freedom, family, faith, hard work and self-reliance. I love those values.”
While Pittman acknowledged some of the major issues commissioners are facing, like the Department of Social Services and the new school project, he said his focus as a commissioner would be to encourage growth.
“I like a measuring stick and I think the root of most of our problems is a decline in tax base,” Pittman said. “We need young families, like myself, to come to Mitchell County and say ‘this is a great place for me and this is where I want to raise a family’ so, whenever I vote on something as commissioner, the measuring stick for me will be, in the long run, does this encourage people to take up roots here and raise their families?”
Pittman is married to Mitchell County native Lisa Pittman. The couple has two sons, Bransen and Zebulon.
The above profiles are part one of a two-part series of candidate profiles for Mitchell County races. The above profiles were written by MNJ reporter Juliana Walker. Look for profiles of Mitchell County Board of Education candidates in the Oct. 21 edition of the News-Journal. Democratic candidate Howard Larsen is also on the ballot for the commissioners race but announced this past August that he was suspending his campaign, therefore he was not profiled as a candidate.