Monday mornings for the rest of year, BPR is going to be talking to some of the new mayors in our region who were elected to their offices for the first time in this month’s election. We start this series by going west to not just the end of our listening area, but the end of North Carolina. BPR’s Lilly Knoepp spoke with Tim Radford, who will be the new mayor of Murphy:
Lilly Knoepp: Thanks so much for being here with me today, Tim. So you ran an uncontested race, so not a lot of surprises Tuesday night. I thought we'd start out with your role in Cherokee County. You're very well-known in the county for your role at WKRK, which is a Christian radio station, but maybe you could tell listeners who are a little bit less familiar, what your role has been at WKRK, and a little bit about the radio station.
Tim Radford: Oh, I tell my listeners that I'm still 27 years old, but I that's in radio years. Uh, so it was kinda like dog ears, but a little different, I have been here at WKRK at worked here in high school at age 16, went away to college to UNC Chapel Hill. Go to our Heels! I came back when I was 22 years old and purchased the station. And I've been the owner for the last 26 years.
Lilly Knoepp: The regular things that you do as part of your role at WKRK, is you live stream all of the town events, all of the county commissioners’ meetings, and you also host weekly check-ins with the mayor and the sheriff, and really just kind of check in with the community a lot. Is your role at the station going to change now that you're going to be the mayor? I mean, you can't host check-ins with yourself.
Tim Radford: Right? You've done your homework. I can tell you, I do believe that government needs to be completely transparent. And that is one of the ways that, uh, we can provide that. If we look at the size of the rooms that are at the city hall and the commissioners’ meetings, we can't fit the entire county in there, if people want to be in person. So this is a great way for me to point a camera. And just without even me editorializing, let folks at home see how their tax dollars are being spent or what decisions the local leaders are making on their behalf. So it's become a really popular thing. It's all just a public service from our station to our community. We don't make any money by doing that. So is it going to change a little bit? Yeah. I have some wonderful employees here at the radio station WKRK and all of them have taken on a little extra work things that w that I was working on day to day, so I can focus more on the pound business. So my role is going to stand a little bit here on the radio I'll probably still maintain a one day a week, maybe Saturday, for my on-air show, just so I don't get out of practice.
Lilly Knoepp: What do you see as the most important issue facing Murphy right now? What did you hear from voters when you were running?
Tim Radford: A lot of the issues I've heard, we have a wonderful downtown area. We're kind of outgrowing it. Our tourism is picking up and a lot of our downtown traffic patterns need to work. It's like an obstacle course. We have large trucks that are parking in our spaces, and they're still sticking out in the middle of one lane. We have tractor trailers that unload their trucks and they center their trucks on the yellow line, which has taken up two lanes. So working with the NC DOT to find out the best way to manage our traffic in downtown. And safety is something I'm very big on. So I want to make sure that the people that live here and that visit here from out of town can get through our city safely. And that also in involves our police. We have a great police department as well as fire department. I couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with and we currently have on staff.
Lilly Knoepp: What do you see as the most important issue kind of facing Western North Carolina and the region as we're, as you're moving into this role as mayor?
Tim Radford: Well, one of the things I've been talking about for years now - Senator Kevin Corbin, anytime we meet, he knows what I'm going to ask about: the availability of broadband. I think that we saw the tremendous need when COVID-19 first came about and our schools shut down. A lot of students here in Cherokee County had no internet. They live in the rural areas and there's really not a lot of options for broadband here. So that’s one of the things I really want to continue pushing for and getting funding for; I want to see every home in Cherokee county have access to broadband. To me that is no longer a luxury. It is a utility. I cannot imagine running my business without having a broadband connection. It was a few years ago that Commissioner Westmoreland had showed me a book that the county commissioners throughout the state put together. And it wasn't that long ago that 73% of our county did not have access to broadband. And that was eye opening to me. So getting broadband I think is very important. And one of the reports I also read in a radio magazine, when the pandemic hit, a lot of folks, started working from home and with a broadband, they could do that. So when polled 39% of the U.S. said that if they had to go back into the office, they would look for a different job. And when we are looking at the millennials and gen Zs, it was closer to 50%. So knowing that we have broadband here, a lot of people have moved here because of the pandemic, but they want to be able to enjoy the quality of life. They do need the broadband to be able to successfully work from home.
Lilly Knoepp: What do you see as the local government's role in COVID-19 policy?
Tim Radford: Honestly, I don't think that that really should be an issue for the local mayors or county commissioners. I think we need to listen to health experts. I think this has been one of our biggest problems with trying to get past COVID-19 is that so many people were listening to misinformation because it was on the internet because it looked real. We go to the doctor to feel better. The doctor has spent years of his life studying medicine and the people that are specializing in viruses. Those are the people that we need to turn to, and then they can make recommendations. And I'm not really a huge mandate person, but I would be more than happy to say, ‘here are my recommendations on how you conduct your lives,’ whether it be a mask or get a vaccine. But I don't like the idea of mandates. Just from the local standpoint, I don't think it's going to make a lot of people happy, but if we continue listening to our health experts, whenever there is a, a virus or a pandemic or an endemic around, let's listen to people that actually have the, the smarts versus the politicians. Politicians are not medical experts. So if we can remove politics from health, we'll be in much better shape.
Lilly Knoepp: Yeah. I think that's all the questions that we had. Is there anything else that you wanted to speak to as far as your goals as mayor, as you get ready to take office?
Tim Radford: I have a list at home of like 87 things to start working on. So I don't put those in all the interviews that I've done, but yeah, I think we've touched on some of the highlights. The infrastructure we have so much of our town is underground. No one sees it until it breaks. You know, the water is flowing, the sewer’s running fine. It's only when there's problems people notice that. So there's a lot of stuff that has to be taken care of just as regular maintenance so that we don't have the problems. We still have some pipes underground from the 1800s. So those are in bad shape. They have to be repaired. So a lot of infrastructure. None of that is glamorous. It's not attracting people to our area, but it's stuff that has to get done so that our city can continue operating.
And of course, my job is to find the best balance between keeping our town small and charming. You know, that small town feeling that people love to come here for. While also trying to match, what level of tourism do we want, because tourism is important. It's how we keep our texts taxes as low as possible. If we had no tourism involved, then our taxes would be much higher for property and things like that. So we love keeping the property taxes low. We love greeting visitors, but a lot of people don't always like losing that small town feel. So I have to find that right balance so that we maintain a small charming city, but yet welcoming to folks from the outside.