In the latest installment of our ongoing series of interviews with Asheville City Council candidates, Jake Frankel talks to Tim Peck about issues ranging from government outsourcing and affordable housing to changes at the police department. (Audio from the interview included).
Mountain Xpress: Let me start by asking you why you’re running for City Council?
Tim Peck: I’ve been involved in city politics as an activist for many, many years now and I’ve got a certain amount of knowledge about how the city works and I’m a little concerned. Mostly about over-regulation and the role of government, and I want a seat at the table to keep an eye on that and try to influence other Council members to try and reverse those trends.
What are some specific areas of city government that you would like to limit or cut? Are there services that you think the city should cut altogether? Are there services you think should be contracted out to private companies?
We can contract out some things now. For example, we’re contracting recycling and some temporary staffing … But we’re not contracting out any of our basic city services. We have a policy-contracting statement that prohibits that, which I think we should change. I think we should start contracting out more of our basic city services, other than fire and police, which I consider to be critical and proper functions of government.
This is something that’s been done in many other cities successfully. One of our problems right now is that 65 percent of our budget goes to city staff. And I think this is part of the problem with excessive growth of government. Government is growing too large and it’s too expensive and we don’t have the money to do the things we want to do. Everyone wants sidewalks and bike paths and buses and greenways. I’m sorry, but we just don’t have the money for any of that stuff.
So we’re going to have to find some ways to cut expenses. Because our revenue sources are drying up, as City Manager Gary Jackson pointed out very precisely in his report to City Council last year in his report titled, “Asheville, NC 2010: A Financial Crossroads.”
Are there any departments you think should have staff cuts right now, specifically?
They should all have staff cuts. They need to all be contracted out, everything other than police and fire. This is called a public private partnership form of government and I’m advocating that. …
Do you see a problem laying off city staffers in this tough economic environment? Do you think that would contribute to the unemployment problem in the area?
No, it won’t contribute to unemployment. This is part of the public/private partnership, this is all negotiable with the private contractor. We can negotiate, we can stipulate in the contracts that city staff should be offered positions with the private company. Or we can stipulate that they have to hire the city staff. Or better yet, with all that expertise, I would suggest that city staff consider placing a bid themselves.
What we need to do as a city is put out an RFP [Request for Proposal] for all basic city services. And I think with the talent and expertise that we have here, there’s a lot of opportunity to have those same staff members working for the private company. … So these are not layoffs.
If you were elected to City Council, how would you go about making that happen in the face of what would likely be a lot of resistance to the idea?
First of all, I’d have someone who’s connected with this type of public/private partnership form of government come here to the city and speak with City Council and speak with the City Manager Gary Jackson and talk about the pros and cons. And what specifically constitutes a public private partnership form of government. And what would be the costs and benefits.
It would be obvious after that to the city, that there are a great deal of benefits and very few costs. And we would actually be able to get to a surplus. …
Are there any specific taxes or fees that you would like to see decreased?
Yeah, there are a lot of charges that I think have been going up and up. I think what we need to do is cap those right now. If we can start outsourcing our basic city services, we won’t need to raise those anymore, we won’t need to raise property taxes anymore. Which is what the City Council wants to do every year.
After a couple years, let’s see how that goes. And we’ll look at some of the savings that we’ll realize because of that. And then take a look at maybe reducing some taxes and fees and charges.
You mentioned that you’d still like to see the police department fall directly under the guise of the city. What would you like to see in a new police chief? … Do you see any areas that need to be improved at the police department?
I’m not sure what the last police chief had as a deficiency. I know there were some questions about some problems in the department. I don’t know if that’s directly the police chief’s responsibility or fault. I understand he resigned over that, and I don’t blame him. He was really taking the heat.
Compared to the previous police chief I don’t know what we would want compared to what we had before. But what I would want to ensure is that the police chief knows the role of government and knows that his job is to protect the individual rights of all citizens of Asheville and not pick and choose which citizens’ rights he wants to protect and which ones he particularly doesn’t want to protect.
What about affordable housing. Do you think that’s a major problem in this area? If not, why not? And if so, how would you go about dealing with it?
Affordable housing is a big problem. And the lack of affordable housing is caused by government’s interference in the economy: zoning, regulation, taxes. This all adds to the cost of doing business and it causes unemployment.
So you have poor people trying to purchase housing that costs too much and that’s what makes it unaffordable.
What about Asheville’s relationship with Raleigh. Do you see ways it could be improved?
Yes, that can always be improved. Ever since I’ve been living in Asheville, we’ve had all sorts of conflicts with Raleigh because we didn’t have home rule.
We have to live within the constraints that Raleigh places on us. We can’t expand those and make them more liberal. We can only make them more constrained. We can only add more rules and regulations that are more restrictive, not less. …
I know we’ve had a power shift in Raleigh, but I don’t see that that’s changed things all that much. We’ve still had a lot of heavy-handed stuff coming from Raleigh, and that’s the way it’s been set up.
I’d like to see more local rule. I don’t know if that’s going to improve our relationship with Raleigh. But I’d like to be persuasive on that score.
How are you going to win this campaign? What’s your strategy?
Well, I don’t plan on winning. I plan on running. My plan is to offer Asheville a choice. And they can take it or leave it. …
We’ve been running out of money for years, and this is what Gary Jackson pointed out in his report. He very politely and diplomatically said our current path financially is unsustainable. Now we can keep going down that path and keep having candidates who are going to keep promising bike paths and parks and greenways and buses and rainbows over Pritchard Park. But we don’t have the money for it. …
I have some ideas on how to solve that problem, and I’m giving Asheville a choice. That’s all I can do. I can’t plan to win. I don’t have a natural constituency in this town. …
Do you actually really want to serve on City Council or is it really more about the campaign for you?
Oh, yeah. I definitely would like to serve. I’m being realistic. I know this is a very progressive town and it’s also a very political partisan town. I’m not a progressive and I’m not a Democrat, and that’s what you have to be if you want to win. …
I’m not being so optimistic to think that I’ll be one of the front-runners. However, if I were to gain the votes needed to win, I would be very pleased to serve. I have a lot of good ideas. I have a lot of input I’d like to provide to the city. And I’d like to work with the other City Council members on moving forward to provide the city with the things it needs in a prioritized way.