Mountain Xpress: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your current occupation, any political experience, and how long you’ve been living in Asheville.
Saul Chase: The last question’s the toughest. I’ve been living in Asheville sort of from 2003-2009 transitioning from Boone. We owned a little condo right across from the Asheville High School, Beverly Condos, where my wife Nan spent a lot of time writing Asheville history, an excellent history of Asheville. While I was up in Boone, we were coming down and having fun down here. We sold our house in Boone and built a house in Broad Street in 2008 and moved here really effectively then out of Boone. So I haven’t been here a long time, but I have had some political experience. In Boone, I was on the Boone town council for eight years, back in the ’80s and ’90s and there I worked on lots of infrastructure issues. Municipal government should really be efficient delivery of services and not about ideological issues and that’s what I was able to accomplish in boone and that is the main reason why I’m running here for Asheville city council because I’m concerned about the quality of the streets and the sidewalks.
Well, like you said, the last question about how long you’ve been here is the toughest one. Do you really think since 2008, living here officially since 2008, that that’s enough time for you to have mastered the issues that are important to people on City Council?
Every one of them? No it is not. There are some issues that I am not well versed on, but what I do know is that I’ve been effective at being able to get the town of Boone to make changes in its infrastructure. I had actually only lived there for two years before I was on the Boone town council because I supported the sale of alcoholic beverages in the town of Boone. It was dry at the time and there were some problems on the town government, so I decided to run, and I came out in support the alcoholic beverages sales in a university town, made some sense, and got elected. But really then, really worked on infrastructure issues, and a lot of those issues that Boone faced, Asheville faces right now, although Asheville faces some more in regard to the real concern about the quality of the streets and sidewalks.
So was the issue of sidewalks and infrastructure the big issue for you that after three years of living here you said, ‘This is why I’m running for City Council. This is how I’m going to change this town, and this is how I’m going to do it?’
I won’t say I have to change the town. I would like to make the town better. This is a great place. We’re a beautiful town, but I’d like our streets and sidewalks to be beautiful. I would add the words, not just sidewalks, but the words streets and sidewalks and that’s a wide variety of things. That includes not just the quality of the roads themselves and the safety of the roads themselves and it’s keeping the signs clear of branches. It includes better snow removal pickup. It includes a lot of things fundamentally the safety of the citizens of Asheville and whether I’ve been here for two years or three years or 10 years, if I can help make a difference in that regard, I’d like to do that.
Speaking of making a difference, there are a lot of concerns right now with the Asheville transit system. Do you think that needs to be changed, and if so, what would you change about it and where would you find the funding to do so?
I definitely think it needs to be improved. Now Asheville, that’s one way Asheville’s better than Boone, we had a little bus system in Boone that wasn’t used as much as it should be, but I see that plenty of people use the Asheville system and need it so it does need to be improved. In riding the city bus, I’ve noticed one thing is that the route made a very large loop to accommodate a nursing home. That loop didn’t seem to me to make sense because we want to have as frequent bus service as we can and that’s a change I would look for. And I certainly would look for funding for that purpose and there are I do think there are ways that we can get some funding. In general what I’m looking at for funding for a lot of these things, including the bus service, is to try to get some of the occupancy tax money, the money that hotel motel guests to Asheville receive. Asheville doesn’t get that money, that goes to the Buncome TDA, but if we could get some of that money, and I have some plans as to how to do that, then we could look at putting more money into the bus service for more frequent service and more comprehensive service up to 10 p.m.
There’s another big concern: the issue of affordable housing in Asheville. How do you plan to deal with that?
I said before there are some issues that I’m not well versed on and I’m going to put that one in that category. I’m certainly concerned about the fact that people need to be able to live in this wonderful town and they need to be able to have housing that they can afford, too. When I lived in Boone and when I served on the Boone Town Council, there was not— there was some work done on affordable housing but not to the level here because there was not the need that is clearly here. But as far as speaking to the specific issues on how I could improve on that, I do not know enough about the affordable housing system to be able to comment on that but if elected, and even before, it will be something I will be looking into more.
Another issue of course has to be the budget. We’ve brought it up in the last couple of questions. If the budget does take another turn for the worse and you had to make a cut and there was no way around it, what would you cut? And if there were revenue, where would you distribute that money?
Let me talk about the revenue first. There is potential with the revenue and that does get back to the occupancy tax. The money from that Asheville guests pay, goes not to the City of Asheville, not one penny, it all goes to the Buncombe County Tourist Development Authority. This year, the Buncome County Tourist Development Authority in their wisdom is giving $2 million to the Asheville Civic Center to upgrade it for the upcoming 2012 Southern Conference Basketball Tournament. They can do that and they should do that because it helps fill hotel and motel beds and the Asheville Civic Center is a viable organization. They’re doing that this year. My suggestion, in fact, my request, will be that they do it every year. Not $2 million, that’s a big chunk, but some. The city of Asheville, the property tax payers of Asheville, are subsidizing the Asheville Civic Center to the tune of approximately three-quarters of a million dollars a year when you add operating expenses and the upkeep of the building. If we were to get that amount of money, that would offset $750,000 that we would then not have to pay and could free up. My hope would be that a substantial amount of that money could be took and put toward improving the streets and the sidewalks. If we get other deficits some place, then that money could be used to help make up that deficit. So I hope that we would be in a better financial position once we have access to more of that money. Right now we are paying for a lot of people’s party. We pay for their party at the Civic Center. We pay for their party at Belle Chere. We pay for that party in other recreational offerings that we have in Asheville. They’re beautiful. But we need to get some more help paying for the party and that’s one way we could do that.
Then, if you had to make a cut somewhere, where would you cut?
I really cannot answer that question. I need a much better understanding of the budget. I have read through the budget and I have looked at certain items that I have questions about when I followed up on them, I realized, ‘Oh that’s why that’s in there.’ Maybe there are some areas, but I would really need to be more familiar with the functioning of the city, observe how it’s going on, and then at that point I would be, at that point, if we had to make cuts, be willing to do so.
The relationship that Asheville has with Raleigh has also been a topic of discussion. How would you plan to improve those relations between Asheville City Council and Raleigh?
Chase: We need to be an advocate for the City of Asheville, of course, the bigger that we are, the stronger that we are and I would hope that we could get lots more people involved in the political process in simply voting. Two years ago, only 19 percent of people that were registered to vote, voted in the Asheville City Council election. That number needs to be higher. We need to register more people. We need to get those people who had not voted, to vote consistently, and once the Asheville has that, we have a bigger voice and the people in Raleigh will listen to us more because we are talking more as a large number of voters, not a small number of voters. So the bigger we are, that would help our relationship. But of course, to be presenting and advocating what’s best for the City of Asheville if we advociate things that are best for the majority of the citizens, whether they are Democrats or Independents or Republicans, then that will help our relationship with the state legislature because they know we as voters will be looking at what they are doing to help the City of Asheville. So we put forward a positive and progressive plan, and we hope that they will listen to that, that is what we need to doing terms of improving our relationship.
So, all this being said, how do you plan to win?
Chase: I plan to get more people voting than have ever voted in a municipal election and I have specific plan for doing that, but I’m going keep that particular plan to myself at this point.
Is it a secret?
Well, I’ll be doing things that where—I will tell you one thing that I will do, and that’s no secret at all. I have a shirt, a big yellow shirt. I didn’t wear it today, but on the front it says ‘Elect Saul Chase, Asheville City Council.’ On the back, it says in very large letters, ‘Elect Saul Chase.’ I’m hoping lots of people will wear that, they already have. I saw people wearing it at the Goombay Festival with people who were there who clearly saw those shirts around. Those people will be around the city and those people will be around the city during early voting. And the best answer to your question is, the way I want to win this election is get more votes during the early voting period than any other candidate, and if I do that, I think I have an excellent chance at winning the entire election.