© 2024 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Blue Ridge Mountains banner background
Your source for information and inspiration in Western North Carolina.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sylva Town Council Commissioner steps down after Pride parade vote

Sylva Town Council Commissioner Natalie Newman announced that she would be stepping down on Saturday.
Lilly Knoepp
Sylva Town Council Commissioner Natalie Newman announced that she would be stepping down on Saturday.

Sylva Town Council Commissioner Natalie Newman announced on Saturday that she was stepping down from the town board and four other board seats.

Newman made the announcement via text to local media and town officials on Saturday afternoon.

“Effective immediately due to concerns I cannot and shall not publicly express, I resign in every capacity from every board I currently hold seat on. Thank you for allowing me to serve my community.”

On Monday, Newman, the first woman of color to serve as town commissioner in Sylva, spoke exclusively with BPR about her reasons for resigning.

“I can't continue to serve my community in those positions, so it only felt right that I needed to step away from everything,” she said.

Newman resigned from all her roles including Sylva Town Board Commissioner, Main Street Sylva Association Board Member, Southwestern NC Housing Consortium, 2024 State Director of Carolina Smokies Association of Realtors and Vice President of Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors.

Recently, she was the lone vote on the board in support of the annual Sylva Pride parade. At the April 11 meeting, Newman expressed her continued support for Pride and her disappointment in the current board.

“If anyone fears that me speaking out about this will result in retaliation from the powers that be and hinder any future Pride events, I urge you to see what is happening. What has already been taken and realize that if using your voice causes you to lose these liberties then realize that not using your voice, hiding in silence is the only thing allowing you to hold onto those few things,” Newman said at the meeting.

“I feel like this whole situation with Pride's permit being just flat-out denied was kind of the straw that breaks the camel's back,” Newman said.

She said the debate around Pride in Sylva mirrors systemic national and local issues.

“We recently had the vote on panhandling where to me it really felt like we were attacking our unhoused population in this town," she said. ”This is not just about the Pride parade. This was just enough is enough.

Newman said the conversation is about more than whether or not to permit a parade.

“We've got to look our neighbors in the eye and address these issues and the elephant in the room,” she said. “Because we can say it's not here- that the hatred for the queer community, our brown people, our unhoused people. We can say that we are accepting of all these people, and we love all these people, but our actions are not reflecting that right now.”

First elected in 2021 after being a part of the local Reconcile Sylvagroup, Newman is not a stranger to controversy. During 2020, Newman and other members of the group reported threats. One misdemeanor assault charge was filed against Jackson County resident Josh Marks in October 2020 after he allegedly threw a lit cigarette at protestors.

While she said she has not received threats related to the Pride vote, the issue made her consider her family’s well-being.

“I guess to clear the air, I have not received any death threats this time around, but we are still in the early days of who knows what's going to happen. But I've got two little girls now, and a lot of people know that I was pregnant with my first child during the protests of 2020,” she said. “I've got to look out for my family first and foremost,” Newman said.

She said that she has begun to feel a shift in tension in town that reminds her of 2020.

“It felt like the chapter was about to repeat itself again, and it may still but like 2020 happened,” she said. “It was starting to feel like some of that same energy in those vibes that we felt in 2020…,” Newman said.

Newman said she needed to turn the page. “I don't need to learn this lesson again. I don't need to see that ugly hateful side of people that I truly do care about,” she said. “I don't need to live through that again.”

Newman ran for mayor in the 2023 election but lost to current mayor Johnny Phillips by less than 100 votes. The election also included three seats on the board. Commissioner Brad Waldrop was elected after being previously appointed to the board. Commissioners Mark Jones and Blitz Estridge won spots on the board for the first time. Newman was able to retain her seat on the board despite losing the mayoral election. Her term would have extended for about another year and a half. Commissioners Ben Guiney and Greg McPherson were not reelected.

Newman said that although the new board member’s policies haven’t aligned with hers, the misalignment is not why she is leaving.

Since Newman has stepped down from the board, a new member will be appointed, according to Town Manager Paige Dowling.

“I was saddened to hear of Commissioner Newman’s resignation from the Town of Sylva Board of Commissioners. We wish her well and appreciate her service,” Dowling said in an email.

The vacancy will be advertised in the Sylva Herald with applications due to Town Hall on May 1. On May 9, the applications will be distributed to the board for review in open session. Candidates’ names will not be shared before May 9. The board members will publicly vote on May 23 and the new board member will be sworn in on May 30.

Newman said stepping down does not mean that she won’t be part of Sylva.

“It's not over. I can still be super involved in my community and give back to my community and serve my community without having a title or board position or anything like that,” she said.

“I know that my speaking the truth has caused people in our community to be uncomfortable,” she said. “But you know, I think that's exactly where we need to be if we're going to have these hard conversations - we've got to look at ourselves and say like, ‘what the heck is going on right now?’ And just so everyone knows, I'm good. I am at peace.”

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.