The so-called “parking-gate” saga continued Aug. 12, as Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell and Buncombe County Commissioner Mike Fryar took to the airwaves to spar.
After last week’s Mountain Moral Monday rally, Bothwell said he used his electronic parking pass to let 64 vehicles out of the county parking garage on College Street. The county subsequently billed the council member $512 — the amount that Buncombe officials determined should’ve been paid by the exiting vehicle owners.
In response, Fryar accused Bothwell of stealing from the county and helped alert the media to the incident, which was covered by several local outlets, as well as the Associated Press.
But this morning, Aug. 12, WLOS reported that Fryar “is now facing questions about his own actions at a county-owned parking lot months ago.” Eleven months ago, Fryar removed cables the county had placed at its Coxe Avenue parking lot in order to allow people to park for free.
On the afternoon of Aug. 12, Bothwell, a Democrat, and Fryar, a Republican, traded accusations and defended their actions during an hour-long live interview on “The Pete Kaliner Show” on News Radio 570 WWNC.
Bothwell called Fryar’s allegations “a partisan attack” and, in light of the commissioner’s own actions, questioned his “moral standing” for lodging the complaints.
Bothwell said he used his parking pass to let people out of the garage because the gate was malfunctioning and traffic was backed up. “I thought I’d be thanked for helping solve a problem,” said Bothwell. “I undid a thing that could have lasted two or more hours. It’s not stealing. … To me that’s totally crazy.”
Fryar told Bothwell he should’ve called county staff rather than let people out, accusing the Council member of doing it “for political gain.”
In an email newsletter, Bothwell used the incident to ask supporters for donations to his campaign fund.
“I would never take anything on myself, to let people out,” said Fryar.
Meanwhile, Bothwell lodged similar complaints against Fryar for his move to open the Coxe Avenue lot. “That was not his right to make a change,” said Bothwell. “He took it upon himself to open that parking lot.”
Fryar said he took the cables off in response to complaints from people wanting to park there. “Hopefully it solved a problem,” he said. “I didn’t do it for political gain.”
Fryar said that he recollects talking to County Manager Wanda Greene about it and getting her approval. However, Greene told WLOS: “I told Mike, don’t do it, don’t mess with it, because it would be destruction of county property.”
On “The Pete Kaliner Show,” Fryar said a key difference was that his action didn’t cause the city to lose money. Bothwell countered that it did, because by letting people park in the lot for free against county policy, they weren’t paying the city for parking on the street or in garages.
Noting that he will pay the county’s $512 bill, Bothwell added: “The county is profiting from this, and you’re complaining.”
“Both of us violated county policy without violating the law,” said Bothwell, who noted that in addition to the bill, the county revoked his parking pass.
The county traditionally provides free parking passes to members of Asheville City Council. And the city provides free parking passes to Buncombe County commissioners.
Fryar said he doesn’t think any elected officials should receive free parking passes. Although the passes can be used anytime, he only uses his when he parks in town for official government business rather than recreational events such as basketball games, he said.