Mountain Xpress: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your occupation, age, any political experience before now, how long you’ve been in Asheville, just introduce yourself.
Marc Hunt: Sure. Well, I’m Marc Hunt, 55 years old, live here in North Asheville. I’ve got a great wife and two great boys and we’ve lived in Asheville for 16 years. My career track has been interesting. I started out as a white water rafting outfitter in my early 20s as an entrepreneur. I did that for a number of years. Eventually, moved to Asheville 16 years ago and worked in community and economic development with Self-Help Credit Union, which has sort of a mission of economic justice for underserved communities and the past few years I’ve worked for a nonprofit land conservation organization providing financing and funding to protect the rural landscape and partnership with private landowners and others. Politically, this is my first venture into elected office. I’ve been a volunteer and an advocate, so I’ve interacted with local governments, and state governments, even the federal government in various ways, sometimes very detailed ways, over the years. I think this is a time in my life, with my two boys getting older and kind of off toward college years and so on, that this might be a fit. There’s a window of time here, so that’s a little about me.
I know that earlier this week you attended the WNC for Change forum and during your closing remarks, you mentioned the A-B Tech sales tax referendum.
As an individual, I plan to support it. A-B Tech is really critical to our local economy. A-B Tech specializes in training people for industry and jobs, and for us to break out of the pattern we’re in of only having very low average wage scale in this area and this region, we really need to train workers, have them skillful. A-B Tech — strengthening A-B Tech any way we can at the local level is important. I think it’s a worthwhile community financial investment and I support it.
We’re also curious, what specific steps would you take to address Asheville’s lack of affordable housing?
Affordable housing is another key concern of mine. Step one is to make sure we fund, fully, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. With the budget decline over the past couple of years, we have reduced the funding to only a portion of the targeted 6 or 700,000 per year. I’m eager to see us get it back to that. I think it’s worth the investment there. We’ve got an affordable housing crisis in this community especially in the rental market, which is what the trust fund is targeted to support. I’m also interested in incentives we can provide for developers to encourage affordable housing development in the city. We’ve made great progress recently with the density bonus for sustainable and affordable development in transit quarters. You know, a big part of affordability is being able to afford transportation to the extent that we can make transit accessible to more people. That helps with the affordability challenge our citizens face.
Glad you mentioned the transit system because it leads me to ask, do you think that we need to improve the Asheville transit system?
The transit system is poised for some significant changes. We’ve got a great transit commission and a great staff and they’ve worked effectively together over the past year and a half to reconfigure the master plan a bit. What we’re going to see in the next few weeks, literally, are a reduction in the time interval on certain routes from one hour to 30 minutes. Now, I know myself from my own experience on transit and talking to other people that use transit frequently, that when the intervals are an hour if you miss the bus by one minute, you’ve got a 59 minute wait, and that is a deterrent to transit use. Thirty minute intervals makes it so that people can be able to use it on an elective basis and what we really need to do in this community is make sure that we offer transit in a convenient, predictable way so that citizens can rely on it at a frequency that they can count on so that more and more people get on transit and the more transist, the more fares we collect, the more we can afford to expand routes. So we’ve got to get a critical mass and I’m eager to see that happen.
Xpress: So if you did want to change that route time and get more people riding the bus, where would you find the funding to do that right now?
Well they’ve creatively reconfigured with the existing budget they have reconfigured routes to have some route overlaps so that in main cooridors you’ve got 30 minute intervals effectively and that’s just better planning and better organization.
Now I will say that I am open to the idea of increasing funding at some point, but I think that we’ve got to get more people riding the buses on an elective basis. So far most all the people that ride use our transit system, use it out of necessity, of their inability to have or use an automobile for one reason or another. We’ve got to get folks leaving their cars at home and use transit electively. There are great cases and models of other towns successfully doing that elsewhere around the country.
Well it’s no surprise that sustainability is a big buzzword for you. After all, you did serve as chairman of the City of Asheville Greenway. So what does sustainability mean for you and especially how you would like to run Asheville City Council?
Well I think you’re right it has different meanings, but for me sustainability has to do with efficient use of resources, especially energy and that relates directly to environment. I think that the City of Asheville, in terms of managing its own programs and properties, has made some great steps to reducing its energy consumption. There’s more to do and we’ve got a plan to do that and I think we’re on exactly the right course for that. I think the real work is to support the private sectors to become more energy efficient or resource use efficient, and the thing that I think is a great opportunity still is to create a loan program where property owners can get easy to access, affordable borrowed money over long terms that allow them to go in and insulate and weatherize to make homes more efficient. We’ve got thousands and thousands of homes in this community that are older, some of which aren’t insulated like the house I moved into. I’ve spent quite a few hours in the attic and repatching ductwork and those kinds of things that I know that there are lots of houses that could benefit from them. And, our community’s overall duty to the environment would improve if we can get that mobilized. There’s some great efforts underway, I don’t want to say we’re doing nothing, but I think there’s opportunity to really take it to another level.
As you know, the concerns about Asheville’s relationship with Raleigh have kind of been a hot button issue for a little while. How would you plan to improve Asheville’s relationship with Raleigh if you were elected to City Council?
Throughout my volunteer and professional career, I’ve had many many cases of being on the other side of an issue or a challenge from other people, and I’m a person who’s very comfortable having open dialogue and communication in any setting. Clearly there are people with different political views at state and local level governments from myself, but I’m very committed to have frank, open discussion and dialogue. One of the things that motivates me to come into this campaign and seek this job is that I feel like I’m able to communicate, I’m committed to communicating, I mean I think it’s hard work but it’s something that’s critical and that’s something I always say is that I think we’ve got more in common in this community across the political spectrum than many people appreciate or understand. One thing I’m determined to do is to find that overlap to emphasize what we do have in common and let our differences be what they are but work together to achieve things that we really can achieve together and focus on that.
Let’s ask the big question: In case the budget takes another turn for the worse, and you have to cut something, what would you cut?
I don’t have the benefit of having been on the inside of understanding the detailed nuances of the city’s budget. Let me say this, my career has involved a lot of finance. I’ve actually designed and created an accounting and budgeting systems for small business and nonprofits. I was the chief financial officer of a company that had over 500 employees, and oversaw, at a top level, budgeting. I’m accustomed to making some really hard decisions financially. I think I can add value on Council that fiscal experience and I also think that we’ve got a city manager and a senior staff in our city government that is very adept at understanding finance, and rather than target any one thing, I would say that I will work faithfully perhaps in a more detailed and engaging way than the council members have in the past just because of my experience and I really want to add value there. I think that there will be opportunity to deal with whatever situation arises, positive or negative, that we’ve just got to do it skillfully and carefully and I’m committed to.
So you can’t pinpoint one down at this moment?
Well, if there were revenue would you know where you’d want to distribute that money?
The interesting thing about our budget response the past two years is that it’s been across a wide variety of programs. And, to go back to the earlier question, it’s not as simple as picking one thing to reduce. I’m sure that a further reduction revenue would probably need to be spread here there and beyond, and not in an across the board way, I don’t believe in that. So as we get more revenue, and I’m a forever optimist, I believe that Asheville will out perform in terms of economic development and in our revenues. It may not be immediately, but over time, it will and we will have decisions to make about where to invest. It will be a nice problem to have. I suspect just as our reductions have been incremental and spread, the increases will be, too. I will say people that have known me for a while in my advocacy on city issues is that I think that our investment in our infrastructure, from roads to our city’s buildings—City Hall is in serious need of some renovation, and especially some things that can enhance our livability and our aesthetic, like greenways and parks and stream corridors. We have opportunities to emphasize capital spending, and there’s some strategic ways we can do that in a very cost efficient way going forward. I’m eager to look at that with other members of council and staff as we would go forward.
How would you have voted on 51 Biltmore if you had been on City Council at the time?
On 51 Biltmore, that was a very complex decision. I don’t—I haven’t studied it in enough detail to have the benefit of the council members. Let me talk about what I would have done from the start there. When that decision arrived at Council, what seven months ago at this stage, it was almost a no win situation. Whichever side of that issue you voted on, it was a difficult vote because on one side, we made a commitment to purchase property years before at a certain price. To renege on that would have been not an easy thing to do. On the other side, it’s expensive, it adds to our dependence on automobiles, and I don’t like either of those things. If we had to do it over again from the start, it would have been better financial analysis, better anticipation of what the cost would be, cost benefit. Before the project would have started three years or so ago, we would have had our eyes wider open with me on Council. So it would have been — I don’t think we would have gotten to the difficult decision. It would have been clearer and yay or nay from earlier on.
Well, unfortunately, not a lot of the City Council members that had to make that vote did not have that ability to go back three years. Part of the job is making tough decisions, so what would you have done?
I probably would have voted, well, again, I wasn’t really looking into the details, but based on what I’ve seen as a reader of the news, I would have voted to allow the parking—the acquisition— to go forward and to build a parking deck based on what I saw there.
How do you plan to win?
I entered this race determined to do really well. People should understand that my life history as an adult, as an entrepreneur, and as a business leader and as a leader of various nonprofit organizations, I’ve exerted myself and been very intent on helping others succeed. I view my role on City Council as helping the city. I believe that I can offer great leadership and great things. So I entered the race with great volunteer support, what I think is a great plan. I have fundraised in a very thoughtful, purposeful way and recruited volunteers and gotten great people to help with the design of our images and everything that goes with it, and I’m not a professional campaigner, but I am driven to succeed. So I hope that my campaign is being run effectively and will help me win. I hope that my ideas and principles will, more than the way I’m running my campaign, will prevail and that’s what I the citizens will respond to, which is who I am and what I stand for. So again, it’s the same purpose and intensity I brought to just about everything in my life that I want to bring to leading city government, and hopefully that’s showing up now.