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State passes district elections for council seats
Wednesday, 02 August 2017 13:00

From Staff Reports

The North Carolina General Assembly on June 29 passed Senate Bill 285, an act requiring Asheville City Council members to be elected by district.

Because the bill was strictly local, no gubernatorial signature was required. The new districts will apply to the 2019 election, provided the city fails to win any legal challenges. The idea was largely supported by Republican and business interests that feel the population of South Asheville is underrepresented.It was not the motivation, but it was added later.

As an afterthought, advocates pointed out districts could also help minorities be elected to council, but that depended on where the lines would be drawn.Districting is typically advocated by minority parties, using geography to increase partisan representation.

All members of Asheville City Council are currently Democrats.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Edward, R-Henderson, won support from Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe, when Edwards agreed to support having an independent commission draw the district lines. The commission would have seven members appointed by council, with no more than three belonging to the same political party. The bill directs council to divide the city into six districts and change its charter to reflect the election of candidates to council from the districts and by the districts. The mayor will continue to be elected at-large.

If council fails to comply before Nov. 1, the General Assembly will create the districts during the 2018 legislative session. Turner said he believed the commission would advance redistricting reform in the state. Traditionally, the majority party has been able to use their powers to draw representatives and candidates from the minority party out of their strongest constituencies and sometimes double-bunk them. This, in turn, leads to uncertainties with legal challenges, calls for special elections, and holds thereon. Turner was “for it before he was against it” because Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, later amended the bill to give Asheville’s council the option of drawing the lines itself. 
Legislature’s actions rated terrific, horrific
Wednesday, 02 August 2017 12:56
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Sharply contrasting reports on the just completed “long session” of the North Carolina General Assembly were presented by two local legislators representing the two major political parties during the July 14 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners.

The hour-long breakfast meeting, which drew about 70 CIBO members and others, was held in the Mountain View Room at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

Making diverging presentations to the extent that they may have seemed akin to a parallel universe were Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson; and Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe. Edwards spoke for 20 minutes and Turner, 10 minutes.

Following party lines, a bright and glowing assessment of the GOP-dominated legislature’s accomplishments was given by Edwards, while Turner gave a decidedly dark and dire summary.

Edwards also used part of his time to slam the coverage of the Asheville Citizen-Times, contending that the newspaper — decidedly liberal, in his assessment — is unwilling to print positive news about the actions of the General Assembly, where he and other conservatives hold sway.

Leading off, Turner said, wryly, “Yeah, I lost the coin toss, so I get to go first.

“We just finished the long session… There were 925 bills filed in the House, only 380 made it to the Senate. Only 145 made it potentially to law. It’s a rough ride trying to get anything done in Raleigh.”

At that point, Turner noted his concerns about the legislature making questionable moves.

“No. 1 is the cuts in the Department of Justice,” he said. “Reduction of 120 attorneys. Those are the folks we rely on for felony repeals. So that will be a big shift.”

Also, he said that the legislature has made cuts to funding for consumer fraud and elder abuse. “For those of you who have to deal with elder abuse and evictions, those things will be slowed down.

“We’re reaching crisis level funding for the courts,” Turner said. “We’re getting into constutitionally shaky areas for justice for the state” due to “lack of funding for court system in the state,” as a result of spending reductions by the General Assembly. 

“Another thing is cuts to the Department of Environmental Quality — cuts of service people,” Turner asserted. “Buncombe County has 59 hazardous waste sites. Those are all handled by DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality). So that backlog will get worse.”

RAD budget shortfall explained; questions fly; mayor catches flak
Wednesday, 02 August 2017 12:55
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The budget shortfall for improvements in the River Arts District was explained by Asheville city officials during the Council of Independent Business Owners meeting July 14 at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

City officials spent about 10 minutes reviewing the situation, after which CIBO members and guests fired questions at them for nearly 20 minutes.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, a Democrat, began the RAD update by thanking state Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, for his efforts, noting that “he is right that are some good things happening that aren’t publicized.” She also praised (Rep. Brian) Turner (D-Buncombe) for his efforts. (Both Edwards and Turner had given CIBO a legislative update earlier in the meeting.)

“As you have heard in the news, the bids for this (RAD) project came in very high,” Manheimer told the CIBO crowd.

She noted that, to answer technical questions, she had brought along City Manager Gary Jackson and Jude Dundas, interim Assistant city manager and capital projects.

“We’re trying to provide a palette for private investment,” the mayor added.

“Because of the costs coming in higher than projected, it means future phases will have to be cut... These projects will be part of a future phase as funding becomes available.” Manheimer noted that the next steps include public work sessions and community engagement.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, Asheville resident Shelia Surratt asked if a referendum to measure citizen interest in splitting Asheville into districts for the election of City Council still will be on the ballot in November.

“Yes,” Manheimer said. “It will be on the ballot in November.”

CIBO member Mac Swicegood asserted, “It’s very embarrassing that the RAD cost is so much higher. So when we get into these greenways, which will be so much more expensive,” what will happen with their maintenance?

In response, Manheimer said, “I will say parks and rec maintenance is a problem — not just in good times, but in a recession. Part of the bond referendum is going to go a long way to do that,” regarding Swicegood’s concerns about covering the costs of greenway maintenance.

Jackson, the city manager, added, “All of the infrastructure that gets built… It’s not over-budget. Its a matter of being within budget — and the greenways were not part of the prioritization.”

A man then said that “politics is about listening and getting things done At the last City Council meeting, you said you were shocked at how much the RAD project went over budget.

“We’re seeing construction costs increasing 10 percent annually… My question is...  how did this come about? Was it due to the facts weren’t related to public officials? Or a combination of all of the above?”

“I think your question was how council didn’t know before the meeting,” Manheimer said in response. “The costs were looking higher, but not this dramatic. The bids did come in and they were very dramatic. The main concern was to keep the funding. They figured out the solution.”


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