Asheville City Council

In the past few years, members the Asheville Civic Center Commission have felt a bit out of the loop. First, City Council stole some of their thunder by creating the Future of the Civic Center Task Force. Then Council approved the hiring of an outside consultant to study what to do with the facility. And then the Chamber of Commerce countered with its own study.

“Commission [members] heard what was happening through the media; they had to read about it in the newspaper,” said Asheville City Council member Ed Hay during Council’s Nov. 21 work session. Hay chairs the Future of the Civic Center Task Force.

Last year, the commission wasn’t consulted on revisions to Civic Center fees and charges. “We got lost in the shuffle,” said Civic Center Commission Chairman Carl Mumpower, who gave Council some feedback regarding a proposed overhaul of the ordinance that outlines the commission’s make-up, authority and purpose.

Mumpower reported that commission members were “happy” with all but one aspect of the proposed revisions: an amendment that would give Council the power to appoint the chair of the commission, instead of continuing to allow members of the 11-person commission to choose their own chair. Hay and City Manager Jim Westbrook urged Council to take the appointment power; Mumpower and Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger pushed to keep the status quo.

Westbrook argued that the commission is “probably one of the more important” bodies established by the city; the commission should further the goals set out by Council for the Civic Center, and this, he said, would be facilitated by having a Council-appointed chair.

Hay urged, “It’s important that [the commission chairman] represent the interest of the city.”

Mumpower countered, “Y’all go to a lot of trouble to select commission members. We should have the insight and wherewithall and awareness to appoint our own chair.” He also emphasized that the chair must often be outspoken and push for action; a commission-appointed chair would be freer to do this than one appointed by Council, he noted.

But the commission oversees hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, since the Civic Center is subsidized by the city, Mayor Leni Sitnick pitched in. “That makes it a different commission, [and calls for] accountability to the [Asheville] taxpayers,” she argued.

Cloninger said he understood the reasoning behind seeking to have Council appoint the chair, but maintained it made more sense to allow commission members to pick their own leader. As with many other boards and commissions, “in the course of meetings, a leader emerges,” said Cloninger. He suggested a compromise, that Council allow commission members to recommend the chair, and have Council act on that recommendation.

The Downtown Commission now picks its own chair, although for many years in the past, Council named the chair, said Council member Barbara Field. She noted that Council held that authority at a time when downtown revitalization was in its early, formative stages; perhaps the fate of the Civic Center is now at a crucial stage, she opined, seeming to learn toward a Council-appointed chair.

But other Council members leaned Cloninger’s way: Charles Worley argued that it would be “best” if Council let the commission make its own appointment. And Terry Bellamy seemed satisfied that the current chain of command is adequate to protect the city’s interest — Council appoints all 11 members; the commission makes recommendations to the Civic Center director; the director reports to the city manager, and the manager serves the Council, which retains the ultimate authority.

Cloninger added that if Council appointed a chair whom no one on the commission liked … “that could really stifle things.”

Sitnick called for an informal show of hands: Who would support allowing the commission to recommend a chairman?

Cloninger, Bellamy, Worley and Brian Peterson raised their hands.

Who would support Council simply naming the chairman? Only Hay, Sitnick and Field raised theirs.

So Council compromised on this issue, allowing the commission to recommend a chairman, but retaining the final say for itself. But changes in other areas will be included in a revised ordinance, which Council indicated it would adopt on Nov. 28. Those changes will clearly define the commission’s authority as advisory and give final authority for Civic Center operations to its director (currently, David Pisha).

Said Mumpower, “There’s a desire [on the part of commission members] to feel like we do matter.”

Film Board-appointment debate

Most city-board appointments don’t raise a stir. City Council’s subcommittee for board/commission matters reviews applications and makes recommendations to the entire Council for reappointments and interviews. Only major appointments, for such boards as the Planning and Zoning Commission, the city school board or the Board of Adjustment, ever raise much of a debate amongst Council members.

But on Nov. 21, filling four vacancies on the Asheville Film Board became an issue at an otherwise ordinary work session.

Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger suggested that Council follow the recommendations made by Film Board Chair David Quinn, and appoint Andrea Dray, Guy Chancey, Kathi Peterson and Robbie Williams to the board. Cloninger acknowledged that only Dray resides in the city (Council has a standing policy of appointing only city residents to boards/commissions). But he agreed with Quinn’s argument that, “their background, expertise and past contributions to civic activities in Asheville represent valuable assets for the Film Board.”

Chancey, for instance, works for WLOS-TV; Williams would be the first African American on the board.

Council member Ed Hay objected: All four appointments should be city residents, he argued. Doing otherwise, he said, “is not fair to city residents.” Hay conceded that Council sometimes makes exceptions — a noncity resident was chosen for the Carriage Advisory Board when a veterinarian specializing in horses was needed. And Hay said he could support Williams appointment in the interest of creating more diversity on the board. But he drew the line there.

“We asked the Film Board to give us a recommendation, and they did that,” countered Council member Terry Bellamy. “Think about what we’re saying. Do we really want the recommendation of [our] commissions or not?”

“I don’t have any problem with the qualifications of these applicants, but we have a policy,” declared Barbara Field.

Cloninger mentioned that the Film Board “needs a shot in the arm,” meaning Council’s support. In the near future, the board will be asking for staff support and a budget, as well as seeking cooperation from county government, he reported. Cloninger urged fellow Council members to support the board’s recommendation. If Hay objected strongly, said Cloninger, Council could ask Quinn to come up with a city resident in Peterson’s stead, while Council goes ahead and appoints Williams, Chancey and Dray.

Hay consented, and Council indicated their intention to appoint Williams, Chancey and Dray at their Dec. 12 work session, but to revisit the fourth appointment in the near future. Council members also indicated they will reappoint current Film Board members Cindy Pomeroy, Peter Loewer, Sarah Blankenship, Pam Turner, Jerry Birdwell and Bill Norwood.

Those dadblasted campaign signs!

No recount is needed; City Council members want all those dang campaign sounds removed, stat!

This election season, some of the signs were placed so high on utility poles in the city — which violates the city sign ordinance at any height, incidentally — that Asheville code-enforcement officers have had to stand on top of the cabs of their trucks to reach the things, Mayor Leni Sitnick complained. And Bell South has reported that its workers are being snarled by the nails remaining from the placement of such signs. Some Buncombe County commissioner candidates’ signs were so large, in fact, that they blocked pedestrian access on sidewalks, she added.

The last straw for Council member Charles Worley occurred while he was driving through the Interstate 240 “cut” through Beaucatcher Mountain, and seeing the median decorated with campaign signs.

What’s a city to do? Asheville’s three code-enforcement officers remove campaign signs when they see them; so do city sanitation crews. City staff members are working on ways to put some bite in the city codes that forbid campaign signs in some locations, said Mike Wheeler, Asheville chief enforcement officer.

“Fine them for the staff time,” said Sitnick.

Where do most of the signs end up? Some are kept at the city’s Public Works building on Charlotte Street, should candidates wish to pick them up. But most are “put … in the dumpster,” according to Wheeler.

Water Authority update

At their Nov. 21 work session, Asheville City Council members received the annual report of the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson.

There’s a seven-month supply of water available, despite a mini-drought in September and October, according to Water Resources Director Tom Frederick. Although the North Fork Reservoir is 11 feet below spillway (compared to a 35-foot drop during the 1998-99 drought), more than 5 million additional gallons per day are available from the Mills River Treatment Plant, which opened last year, he noted.

Authority members had projected a revenue shortfall this year, Frederick said, as a result of lowered water demand. The decreased demand is a result of the closing of a major industrial plant last fiscal year and conservation measures instituted during the last drought. But water consumption has risen in the past year, which means revenues are up, he said.

“Does that mean we’ll get a rate cut?” asked Mayor Sitnick.

No: Rates were raised partly in anticipation of the high cost of relocating water lines displaced by N.C. Department of Transportation projects, Frederick responded. He added that the results of a new rate study will be reviewed by the Authority this winter.

Council member Brian Peterson asked about the status of the Water Efficiency Task Force, a volunteer group made up of water users. Authority members nearly axed the group a couple of months ago.

Frederick replied that the WET Force has been given until January to regroup. Conservation and education efforts by Water Resources staff, he emphasized, have not been cut.

Peterson also asked whether the Authority’s policy on extending water lines is in sync with the city’s smart-growth policies. Extending water lines to more rural areas, such as Candler, would encourage urban sprawl, he pointed out.

Although a master plan adopted by the Authority several years ago outlined possible transmission-line extensions, none are currently budgeted. The Authority has refocused its goals on existing infrastructure, such as replacing old lines in town with larger ones, so that infill development can occur, Frederick reported.

Council members took no formal action on the report.

Summer report card

Asheville earned the Outstanding Parks and Recreation Department Award from the U.S. Tennis Association, Southern Section, this November.

And that’s in recognition of just one summer program sponsored by the Asheville Parks and Recreation Department every year — the Asheville Open Tennis Tournament — Superintendent Butch Kisiah told Council members Nov. 21.

Kisiah offered a few other Parks and Rec statistics: This year, nearly 4,000 children participated in summer child-care programs at Claxton and Vance Elementary schools; more than 3,000 teens participated in mountain biking, swimming, street dances and other activities this summer; at least 83,000 people visited the city’s 11 recreation/community centers from May to August; more than 10,000 folks took dips in city pools; at least 8,000 kids took part in a summer-playground program; and 2,000 plus people played on the more than 100 softball teams hosted by the city.

Said Kisiah, “We make summer … fun.”

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About Margaret Williams
Managing Editor Margaret Williams has been at Xpress since 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987.

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