Highlands Board of Commissioners are elected every four years. The mayor and board serve four-year “staggered terms.” The mayor and two commissioners were up for election in 2009, leaving three remaining commissioner seats up for election on Nov. 8.
The three seats up for re-election are currently held by Dennis DeWolf, John Dotson, and Larry Rogers. Both Dotson and Rogers filed to run again, while De- Wolf decided to give up his seat.
Three challengers will be joining the incumbents for the Nov. 8 election. Brian Stiehler, Michael Rogers, and Eric Pierson have all filed to run for the vacant board of commissioner seats. Michael Rogers was not available for comment at presstime.
Brian Stiehler has worked as the Golf Course Superintendent for Highlands Country Club for 11 years, and attributes much of his success to the people he has met at work. “It is the most rewarding job and I am fortunate to work for many successful people, most of who are my mentors,” he said. “Club politics has taught me to mature over the years and become an extremely effective communicator to people of all education levels.”
Although he is not originally from Macon County, Stiehler has embraced the culture and says that his favorite things about Highlands are the people and the environment. “I have met the greatest people ever in Highlands. I love all the outdoor activities as well, I love small town life,” Shiehler said.
After graduating from Exeter Senior High in Reading, Pa., Stiehler attended Penn State University where he obtained a Bachelors of Science in agronomy and a minor in horticulture. According to Stiehler, his entire college experience will be beneficial if elected to the board. “Regardless of your field of study, the purpose of college is to teach students to think. I excelled at Penn State, graduating with highest distinction and in the top of my class.”
Stiehler is dedicated to the community, serving as president-elect of both the Rotary Club of Highlands and the Highlands Chamber of Commerce. He is also a member of the board of directors for the Highlands Literacy Council, Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance, Macon County Economic Development Commission, Chair for the Highlands Winter Arts and Business group, and has also served as chair of the Town of Highlands Scholarship Golf Tournament for the past two years. Aside from Stiehler’s leadership roles within Macon County, he is also dedicated to volunteer work in the community. “I serve as a volunteer at the Highlands Historical Society and volunteer at the Highlands School, helping in the maintenance of their soccer field,” said Stiehler.
According to Stiehler, running for Highlands Town Board has long been a goal of his. “I am high energy and love challenges and learning. This has been a long-time goal of mine and I am very determined to represent the people of Highlands,” noted Stiehler. “That’s what politicians should do, but rarely do.” If elected to the board of commissioners, Stiehler hopes to promote open communication between Highlands’ officials and the public. “I envision open communication and 100 percent transparency of our town board, where any citizen is comfortable approaching me about any issue,” Stiehler said. “My objective is to represent the people of Highlands, make responsible and reasonable, well thought out decisions based on what is right for Highlands. Stiehler noted that Highlands is in need of someone that is approachable and willing to represent the best interests of the citizens, and someone who can put their individual opinion aside. “I will weigh both sides of any issue before coming to a decision that is fair. Reasonable people making reasonable decisions,” said Stiehler.
A family man, Stiehler and his wife Hilary have been married for 11 years, and have a six-year-old daughter, Anna, who is in the first grade. Taking advantage of Highlands’ inviting outdoor activities, Stiehler considers himself to be an “avid small stream fly fisherman,” he noted. “I will go fly fishing at any available opportunity. I am also an avid golfer, playing to a six handicap index,” said Stiehler. “In addition to that, I enjoy gardening and spending time with my daughter, Anna, and all the joys that come with being a father.”
Eric Pierson filled to run for a vacant commissioner seat to be a voice for Highlands citizens. “I have always had an interest with what goes on in Highlands. I want to see Highlands continue to grow and be a wonderful town to live in and raise a family,” he said. “Also, I decided to run because of the urging of many local residents that asked me to run to bring a local voice back to the board.”
Pierson attended Highlands High School before graduating from UNC-Asheville with a degree in biology and a minor in analytic/organic chemistry. According to Pierson, his education will benefit him as commissioner through the life experiences it has garnered for him.
Through being a self-employed businessman in construction and development, Pierson has developed a grasp through first hand knowledge of the codes that are in place in Highlands and the effect they have on business within the town. His professional experience will be of benefit in the role of commissioner because he is already familiar with the business side of the town.
Pierson filed to run for commissioner in order to continue serving the community in a greater capacity than he has in the past. “I served on the Town of Highlands Planning Board and Appearance Commissions for six or seven years. I served eight or nine years on the Macon County Planning Board,” said Pierson. “I am currently on the Town of Highlands Zoning Board and the ABC Board and have been a member of the Highlands Fire and Rescue for 16 years. If elected, Pierson has already begun thinking of things he wants to see change. “I would like to bring a local perspective back to the decisions being made for the town,” he said.
Highlands is important to Pierson on a personal level because his family has lived in Highlands for seven generations. Pierson and his wife Katherine are continuing the tradition by raising their two children, Cayden and Croft. Pierson enjoys all that Highlands has to offer by spending time with his family, hiking, and reading in his spare time.
John Dotson wants to continue serving Highlands as commissioner. Dotson has been involved in business in Highlands for the last 22 years and attributes his past and continuing success as commissioner to his experiences. “I have seen the town go through changes and growing pains,” he said. “Thankfully most of the changes have been for the betterment of the town and its citizens. Watching plans from inception to fruition, success and sometimes failure, is a great teacher.”
Re-election is important to Dotson in order to see things through to completion. “There are numerous changes in the works with ongoing and planned projects, the town is in a constant state of growth and movement. I would like to see the town continue to be responsive to the needs of its citizens and taxpayers as it has become,” Dotson explained.
Before entering the business world, Dotson attended high school at Rabun Gap, and received his associate degree in advertising from Southwestern Community College. According to Dotson, he decided to run for commissioner to seek improvement for Highlands. “It has been an honor and pleasure to have served for the past four years on the Board of Commissioners of the Town of Highlands,” noted Dotson. “Four years ago, I felt Highlands was headed in directions that were not in the best interests of either the town or its citizens. With the input of Highlands citizens to guide me, I felt then, as I do now, that I can help make a difference,” explained Dotson.
Prior to being elected to the town board, Dotson served the community as a member of the Zoning Board and Appearance Commission for the Town of Highlands.
Having travelled a fair amount in his life, and had the opportunity to live in numerous places, Dotson explains that his favorite thing about Highlands is that “it is just a wonderful place to live.” Dotson has lived in various places during his life ranging from metropolitan areas to farm county, from oceanside to mountains. “I can say that Highlands has the most appealing appealing combination of people, climate, lifestyle and business I have seen,” Dotson said.
Intrigued by the history and origin of his family, Dotson often enjoys researching family genealogy. “I was blessed 36 years ago to have married my wonderful wife Mary. We have two beautiful and talented daughters which were raised in Highlands, attended Highlands School and have since graduated from Wake Forest and Elon Universities. They are both professionals living and working in Raleigh,” said Dotson.
Like Dotson, Larry Rogers filed to run for re-election to secure his commissioner seat. A native of Highlands, Rogers has maintained a local business since 1955. “I have seen many changed in this town over the years and feel that my personal experiences allow me to be an asset as commissioner,” he said. “When it comes to building and operating a great town like Highlands, we, the community and town officials, are all equal partners working toward a common goal; that goal is to allow Highlands to grow, but not to forget that the people that make up this small town are just as important as the growing process.”
Rogers’ decision to run for re-election was made based on his assertion that he can continue to benefit the town of Highlands. “The main reason that I am running for Highlands Town Board again is that I know I could make a difference, because I have the ability to hear and connect with the people within reasonable limits,” he said. “I also feel very strongly about people being treated fair and equal.”
If re-elected, Rogers intends to work toward the abolishment of the ETJ (extra-territorial jurisdiction) ordinance, something he can only do if he continues to serve as commissioner.
Rogers has served the Highlands community in different capacities, allowing him to be more successful as commissioner. He previously served on the Highlands Zoning Board as well as the ABC Board. The relationships he has built during his current role as commissioner has been beneficial for Highlands thus far. “As a current commissioner to the Town of Highlands, I have been involved with the other commissioners on the board to make much needed improvements to the utilities and streets in the city limits.”
According to Rogers, his favorite thing about Highlands is the people and the overall friendly atmosphere of the community. Rogers and his wife, Genevieve, have four grown children and seven grandchildren. When he isn't spending time with his family, Rogers enjoys remodeling old houses and working in his garden in his spare time.