Helen Stapleton, Renaissance Woman: Efficiency, Frugality, Future

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of interviews with some of the local candidates running for office. General election voting is Aug. 2.
In discussing her first term as Franklin County Commissioner, Helen Stapleton, candidate for District 5, Seat B said, “It’s a very efficiently run county.” The same might be said of Stapleton’s Renaissance Woman grace in navigating a complex and multifaceted life.
Within the span of just a few hours she switches hats from Director of the University Language Lab to help her husband milk down a cow who just gave birth before ferrying her teenage son to play practice.
Born and raised in Alexandria, La., Stapleton came to Sewanee as an undergraduate student in 1986. She went on to earn a master’s degree in Linguistics and ESL at Georgia State University, spent two years in Africa in the Peace Corp putting her ESL skills to use, and in 1994 returned to Sewanee to marry Archie Stapleton and raise three children.
“Being a stay at home mom was my best job,” Stapleton said.
In the Philippines for several years when her husband received a grant for a pottery workshop, Stapleton again taught ESL. Back in Sewanee, she served three years as director of the Sewanee after school program before taking the language lab position with the University. She also became actively involved with the Franklin County Democratic party and currently serves as secretary.
She lauds the county’s electronic voting mechanism for having a paper trail and no internet connection. As commissioner she sponsored legislation to keep that practice in place, and hopes in her second term to see the resolution through to a “yes” vote.
As a member of the IT Committee, Stapleton organized training to help seniors avoid cybersecurity attacks and is working to advance full transparency at county commission meetings. She’d like to see agenda background information projected on a screen. At present, only an abbreviated agenda is readily available to the public.
Stapleton also serves on the School Committee. The need to build two new middle schools tops her priorities. “If we wait until the high school debt is paid off in 2022, we might not need a tax increase, but there’s urgency to begin building now due to the leaking roofs.”
“We haven’t had a property tax increase in a number of years,” Stapleton said. “The county’s tax rate is very low. There’s no wheel tax. Maybe when the middle schools are paid off, the county can decrease the tax rate. We’ve done that before.”
Stressing the importance of the middle school project, Stapleton said, “Even if you don’t have children in school, you’ll benefit. The young people at these schools will become your police officers and nurses.”
Other initiatives dear to Stapleton include bringing broadband internet access to underserved areas and supporting the continuation of the Rural Reentry Program to help those convicted of a crime readjust to life after release from jail.
Running a no-frills campaign, Stapleton said, “I don’t believe in yard signs, and I’m going to reuse the cards I have left from my last campaign and change the voting date. I’m very frugal.”
“I’m hoping people know me,” she concedes. “I intersect with a lot of people.” Stapleton also teaches yoga and sells fruit, vegetables, and honey produced on the family’s small farm. “I try to maintain cordial relationships with everyone even if I disagree with them.”

Asked what most qualified her to serve as commissioner, she said, “I’m good at seeing an issue from both sides.”