This is the second in a series of interviews with this year’s Asheville City Council candidates. Xpress will run the interviews both here and use them for our upcoming voter guide, and all candidates were asked the same five questions. This interview is with community activist and candidate Jonathan Wainscott.
1) Do you have confidence in City Manager Gary Jackson and the overall city administration? Why or why not? What would you change?
I would like to see a greater level of transparency and oversight by the Council when it comes to management and staff. I’m concerned over the apparent lack of vetting of police Chief [William] Anderson, considering his obvious history and performance in other police departments. I’m not sure why that was missed by Council and why that was not spoken out against. That lack of concern or lack of oversight in the selection process.
So I don’t have a tremendous amount of confidence I suppose. I wouldn’t say so much that he [Jackson] absolutely needs to go, but a more in-depth look at his performance needs to be taken into account.
2) What’s the city’s most underserved population? What would you do to help them?
Children are the most underserved population in Asheville, and it’s my desire to bring a lot more revenue into the city by way of enterprise revenue, so that’s outside of taxation. Then focus all of that money into the school system so we can provide more teachers, lowering the student-teacher ratio in our classrooms, augmenting after-school and pre-K programs so that children, specifically poor kids, have a greater opportunity to participate in a really robust and excellent school system.
So hopefully they’ll be able to have a better chance of working their way out of the poverty they’ve inherited.
3) Are the city’s development policies too loose, too restrictive, or just right? What would you change?
I think the development policies don’t really have a lot of teeth. We saw that with the UDO [Unified Development Ordinance] where Staples and Greenlife and now the development on Merrimon Avenue with the redundant grocery stores. Our policies can just be walked around by way of lawyers exploiting the letter of the law despite the spirit of the law.
So in some regards I feel that the policies are ineffective and think we should do everything we can to strengthen them. At the same time we’re fighting an uphill battle when lawyers are doing everything they can to find loopholes in those policies and ordinances, especially if we’ve got a development lawyer serving in public service and crafting public policy while her — obviously I’m talking about [Vice Mayor and mayoral candidate] Esther Manheimer— job is to find ways to make the desires of the developers come to fruition, regardless of the policies we have in play. I think the conflict of interest there is quite alarming.
4) Do you favor increasing funding for mass transit? If so, what other expenditures would you cut, or what taxes and fees would you increase, to raise the money?
I would like to see the fee for transfers on the public transit system increased from zero to just 25 cents. I think if you’re going to ride the bus more than once, you should pay for it more than once. You don’t necessarily have to pay full fee. Obviously that becomes a cost to the riders, but at the same time the cost to people who aren’t using transit — rising gas prices‚ for example — are borne by the people who are using those services.
That would be one way to increase the funding, which I also believe needs to happen so that we can add full service seven days a week, thereby adding Sunday service as well. I do think that the transit system is underfunded, but I’d like to see participation from the users. At this point I don’t see where we can necessarily make cuts in anything because our taxation is so low and our infrastructure and service needs are outpacing our revenue. We really have to increase revenue rather than making cuts somewhere else.
5) Do you favor a bond referendum to address Asheville’s infrastructure needs? If so, what specific projects should the money be used for?
At this point I don’t favor a bond referendum. I do think we should make sure we are using all of our available resources in the most efficient manner. I think the most important infrastructure needs are the conditions of our sidewalks, our road surfaces and the surrounding areas of those— just doing a better job of clearing vegetation so that we’re not ceding the pavement we actually have to plants, so we can actually use all the available asphalt and concrete we have underneath our feet and wheels to our fullest extent.
Then we need to fill in the gaps between disconnected sidewalks. That would be the biggest infrastructure improvement I could see, second to improvement and maintenance of our parks. I want to see quicker progress when it comes to developing greenways along properties we already own, I think the greatest barrier to park creation is land acquisition. We have plenty of land along the French Broad River that’s sitting there undeveloped. It wouldn’t require a lot of money to make things more useful today, but we seem to be waiting for large chunks of money to do things in the future and foregoing the utility of the present.