Mayor Terry Bellamy, along with City Manager Gary Jackson, appeared on the Conversations radio show on WCQS last night. Bellamy defended her controversial vote against same-sex domestic-partnership benefits and said that the issue was a way for Council member Gordon Smith to boost his own chances at a future mayoral run.
Listen to the full show here.
Bellamy said that she felt that Smith’s way of bringing the issue up — by asking Council to support partnerships in concept before later voting on a specific plan and timeline — was wrong.
“This issue was put forward in a way that was very divisive,” Bellamy said. “I don’t believe that the information that was put forward to City Council last week was put forward in a good manner. I think it was put out there as a political issue, not to help the employees.”
When asked by host David Hurand if she would have voted for the benefits even if the process had been to her liking, Bellamy replied, “I think when the city of Asheville starts going down this road without a clear understanding of the costs, how it would impact our finances, how it impacts heterosexual couples who live in the same situation, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Bellamy also said that the way the issue was brought forward was intended to “create a political dynamic for four years later for a person to potentially run for mayor.”
“For me to listen to [880 AM] the Revolution and hear the person who helped put this legislation together say, ‘We’ve watched the mayor for 10 years; she’s been silent on this issue, and so we knew if we painted her in a corner she’d have to come out on a position’ — that’s not good policy,” Bellamy said.
Asked by Hurand to clarify if she was believed Smith was using the issue to run for mayor in the future, Bellamy said, “I think so. I think if it was meant pure and sincerely, he would have followed the process that was outlined.”
“I hadn’t really thought about my mayoral prospects before, maybe I should,” Smith told Xpress today with a laugh. “I had no such plans or intentions. I must admit, I’m flattered that Mayor Bellamy thinks that I’m such an excellent strategic thinker that I’d have this all planned four years out.”
Smith also defended his method of bringing the issue forward, noting he got signatures from Vice Mayor Brownie Newman and fellow Council member Cecil Bothwell to bring the issue onto the agenda quickly, and that Bellamy placed it on the agenda, as is the regular process.
Jackson said that after the Feb. 9 vote, staff is working to meet a timeline to implement the benefits by Jan. 1 of next year.
“We’ll share with Council what we believe the complexities are in putting the program together and our recommendation on whether or not we can meet that timeline,” Jackson said, adding that “other cities have been down this path,” some for more than a decade, and that staff would be examining those cities’ experiences.
Jackson and Bellamy also talked about the city’s deficit.
“We have a very lofty vision and high expectations in this community. We have to forge partnerships,” Jackson said, adding that those partners could include Buncombe County and the local state-legislative delegation.
“When we stepped away from the water system, the city took a hit. Financially, we made a commitment to put all our revenues from the system back into our system, to be transparent as possible,” Bellamy said.
She added that “the relationships that are strained, are gone. … I feel a different vibe.”
Jackson said that the city had racked up $500,000 in costs dealing with the winter storms, and expected to still be out $200,000 after state reimbursements.
Bellamy said that city’s expectations have risen far beyond the ability of its revenue to keep pace.
“We want more sidewalks, street cleaning, repaving, resurfacing. We want more parks, more greenways, more affordable housing. We want the city of Asheville to fix the Civic Center, support momentum, support the Grove Arcade, make sure there’s a new parking deck downtown,” she said. “The demands are growing. … Where’s the money coming from?”
— David Forbes, staff writer