When the Highlands Town Board convenes on Tuesday, Dec. 6, two of the three commissioners being sworn in will be brand new. Although they are newly elected commissioners, Brian Stiehler and Eric Pierson will bring a wealth of community experience to their positions.
Highlanders voted on three of the five seats on the Highlands Town Board during the Nov. 8 election. Since all Highlands Town Board members serve at large, voters had the opportunity to cast their ballots for three candidates. The top three vote getters were thus elected.
In this past election, Stiehler received the most votes; Pierson was second, and incumbent John (Buz) Dotson was third.
At 33, Stiehler will be the youngest member of the Town Board.
“I have immense respect for the Highlands Town Board, but I believe it needs to be more open. There is certainly room for improvement in that area,” says Stiehler.
Stiehler cites the termination of former Planning Director Joe Cooley and the dismissal of former Town Manager Jim Fatland, as examples of the lack of transparency by town officials.
“I understand that commissioners receive advice from the Town Attorney about what they can and cannot say,” says Stiehler. “But people in Highlands feel disassociated from the board because of its lack of transparency. We need to improve that, and I’m going to try to do my part in that improvement. We have to build a better relationship with the citizens of Highlands. We have to begin by listening to people. And we can’t dwell on the negatives. I plan to bring positive energy to the board.”
Stiehler and his wife, Hilary, have one daughter, Anna, 7, who attends Highlands School. He is the superintendent of the Highlands Country Club Golf Course. The Stiehlers moved here in 2001 following a stint at Scotland’s St. Andrews Course and at Augusta National. The Penn St. graduate served three years as assistant superintendent of the Highlands Country Club Golf Course before being named superintendent.
Stiehler is president of Leadership Highlands, president-elect of the Rotary Club of Highlands, president-elect of the Highlands Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Literacy Council Board, the Jackson- Macon Conservation Alliance and the Macon County Economic Development Commission.
How does he do all that, spend time with his family, and serve on the town board?
“I enjoy it,” he says. “It’s sort of my hobby. And we have good leadership in all those organizations. I can’t stand stagnation. The busier I am, the more organized I become.
“There are three things that will guide my actions on the board:
• Be honest.
• Be myself.
• Be up front.”
Eric Pierson, 37, will be the second youngest member of the town board. This wasn’t the first time that he sought a position as Highlands commissioner, but as he says, “The third time’s a charm.” This time he garnered the second most votes.
Pierson is a seventh generation Highlander, and he and his family are steeped in the resort community’s history. His great grandfather, Jeremiah Pierson, built the rock house atop Satulah Mountain. His father, Steve Pierson, served as a Highlands commissioner for many years. His mother, Brenda Pierson, was recently named to the ABC Board.
It’s not surprising that Pierson lists as one of his primary goals “to see that Highlands preserves its history.” He adds, “I’ve always been interested in this town.”
Like Stiehler, Person feels that the Highlands Board has demonstrated a lack of openness, again citing the Joe Cooley and Jim Fatland situations. Another area dear to Pierson’s heart is the town’s infrastructure. “We need to do all we can to add to and improve our infrastructure,” he says.
Specifically, Pierson feels the town needs to provide more of its residents with sewer system coverage.
“We need to keep a closer eye on the way the town spends its money,” he says. “For example, we should have been replacing water meters with radio-read meters all along, instead of having to spend over $800,000 in one fell swoop.”
Pierson, a builder and developer, serves as a member of the Highlands Fire Department. He and his wife, Katherine, have two children, a daughter, Cayden, 3, and a son, Croft, 2. Pierson is a former chairman of the Highlands Planning Board and a former chairman of the Town’s Appearance Commission. He has been a member of the Macon County Planning Board, is a member of the Highlands Zoning Board for the past two years, and is a member of the ABC Board. He will have to give up both of those posts upon being sworn in as a commissioner.
“I know that every decision you make can’t please everyone. My guiding philosophy will be, 'Is it best for the Town?'" said Pierson.