Asheville City Council Aug. 9, 2011 meeting
- Southside community center name sparks controversy
- P&Z candidate list whittled down
- P&Z field narrowed to nine candidates
Everyone from Gov. Bev Perdue to local officials hailed the June 29 announcement that Linamar Corp. would bring about 400 manufacturing jobs to Buncombe County as an amazing opportunity.
To lure the Canadian auto-parts manufacturer, however, Asheville and Buncombe County both had to offer incentives. For the county, that meant temporarily buying the former Volvo plant in south Asheville and putting up $10 million in grants. The Board of Commissioners approved those steps July 26 (see “Part and Parcel,” Aug. 3 Xpress).
And on Aug. 9, it was City Council’s turn. The city had offered to refund 90 percent of the property taxes the company pays for five years, totaling an estimated $2.2 million. Under the terms of the deal, Linamar will receive no city money until it starts paying taxes here.
The negotiators apparently considered the incentives a small price to pay for the company’s $125 million investment in the facility and the hundreds of high-paying jobs promised, which Linamar says will average $39,000 a year plus benefits. The extensive construction the company plans will also give the local economy a significant boost.
Council member Cecil Bothwell was skeptical, however. It was his turn to give the invocation at the start of the meeting, and he pointedly noted “the amorality of corporations.”
City staff and supporters on Council stressed that most of the jobs would go to WNC residents — not people transferred here from elsewhere.
Bothwell, however, said: “Yeah, it's great that we're getting new jobs. Who can argue against getting more jobs for our community? But this is a part of the total program of forcing communities, metropolitan areas and states to compete for jobs.”
Such incentives, he continued, are “part of a serious problem with industry in America. We shouldn't be using our tax base to support a corporation.”
Vice Mayor Brownie Newman said that while he understood Bothwell's concerns on “an abstract, philosophical level,” refusing to offer incentives would be unrealistic.
“If we could create the type of world we wanted, would there be these types of incentives?” he said. “Probably no. If you could get no one to do it and just compete on who has the best schools and infrastructure, that'd probably be better. … But that's just not reality; it's just not the way it works. Without incentives, these kind of economic-development projects will not happen here.” On that basis, Newman called the Linamar deal “an extraordinary accomplishment.”
Mayor Terry Bellamy also praised the arrangement, noting that the company will work with A-B Tech to to train potential employees.
“I look at this as an opportunity for our community to grow and build a strong relationship with an international operation,” she said, adding that she wouldn't tell the 400 people who might get hired “‘Nah, we don't need these jobs.”
Bothwell retorted, “If no one stands up for the honorable way to go, then no one will stand up for the honorable way to go.”
Council member Bill Russell said that, factoring in the estimated two to three jobs created indirectly for every Linamar employee, “Potentially this is thousands of jobs we're talking about.”
The deal was approved 5-1, with Bothwell opposed. Council member Esther Manheimer was absent, though she did participate in two other votes by phone.
What's in a name?
Another point of contention was what to call the new community center in the city’s Southside neighborhood. The Recreation Advisory Board suggested naming it the Southside Community Center Dedicated to the Rev. Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. A longtime advocate for the city's African-American community, Grant was also active on nonracial issues citywide.
Bothwell suggested simply naming it the Southside Community Center, but his motion failed for lack of a second.
Meanwhile, community members were angry that despite overwhelming support, their preferred wording hadn’t been chosen.
“It is unfair that we went out into the community and received opinions, only to have them ignored,” declared Mildred Nance-Carson, a Southside resident who helped lead the fight for a new community center.
“There are few things across the city named for black citizens that have done so much,” the Rev. L.C. Ray pointed out, adding, “Many things throughout our great city and county are named after important individuals.”
The Rev. John Grant said the advisory board's response was an example of why the African-American community is skeptical when the city asks for input.
“Grant was for all citizens of this city,” he said. “It is disappointing and misleading for the advisory board to give the impression it wanted citizens’ input, then not follow through with it.”
Supporters noted that 72 of the 100 survey respondents wanted the center named after Grant.
“I understand racial concerns,” asserted Bothwell; “I've been through Building Bridges three times.” But “partisans” for Grant had mounted a lobbying campaign on his behalf, trying to garner support in local churches and other forums. Bothwell said he felt this had “bent” the process.
After hearing the residents’ concerns, Russell withdrew his motion supporting the board’s suggestion, and Council member Jan Davis’ motion to name the facility the Rev. Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center was unanimously approved.
The interview shuffle
Yet another spat emerged over interviewing candidates for the Planning and Zoning Commission. Because revised guidelines have increased the commission’s power, giving it final say over more proposed downtown development, Council had voted June 20 to modify the selection process.
Each Council member now submits a list of their five preferred candidates; those receiving the most nominations are then interviewed. In this case, Council had eventually settled on six of the 15 candidates for three open seats.
But Bellamy, who was absent from the June 20 meeting and hadn’t submitted her list, felt she was being shut out. “My people are not even considered,” the mayor complained.
“This is the process that the majority agreed to follow,” Newman replied. “All members of Council were invited to give five names by noon today; everyone but you gave their list of names.” P&Z candidates are being treated differently from those for other boards because of the commission’s increased power and prominence in development decisions, the vice mayor noted later.
“So you're saying I don't get to add my list?” countered Bellamy. “I want my names added to the list: I think this process is contrary to any process we've had before.”
Davis said he’d called and emailed her earlier, trying to get her list before the meeting. “There is zero intent to leave your voice out,” added Council member Gordon Smith.
Bellamy said she didn't mind interviewing all 15 applicants, because “This is the future of the city we're talking about here.”
After comparing her choices with the others, Bellamy proposed adding two candidates, David Mosrie and Joe Minicozzi, to the list. Bothwell, meanwhile, wanted to add Steven Rasmussen. Council accepted all three additions, and the list was unanimously approved.
Accordingly, Council members will interview nine candidates during their Aug. 23 meeting: Minicozzi, Mosrie, Rasmussen, Kristy Carter, Abigail Emison, Jeremy Goldstein, Bruce Greene, Jane Mathews and Mark Mathews. At 20 minutes apiece, the interviews will take about three hours.
Bin there, done that
Council also voted 6-1 to increase the recycling fee from $2.95 to $3.50 per month to pay for new 95-gallon bins, in hopes of increasing recycling. Bellamy cast the lone dissenting vote, citing concern about cost. Residents will receive the new bins in March. Council members have held off on implementing an incentives program for recycling until staff can assess the impact of the new bins.
— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.