City staffer received no complaints about newspaper boxes during past year *UPDATED*

City staffer received no complaints about newspaper boxes during past year *UPDATED*-attachment0

According to the results of an open records request from Xpress, Marsha Stickford, the city of Asheville’s neighborhood coordinator, only received one email about the state of newspaper boxes during the past year, and that wasn’t a complaint. At a Feb. 2 meeting with newspaper publishers discussing possible restrictions on the boxes, Stickford claimed that she received numerous complaints, but couldn’t produce them because she deleted the emails.

The Downtown Commission is currently looking at the state of the area’s streetscape, and staff laid out a number of possible restrictions, ranging from permits to an approved “palette” of colors for newspaper boxes to common, city-owned boxes only in specified locations.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, representatives of newspapers asked for copies of the complaints the city claimed that it was receiving, complaints that, according to some city staffers and commission members, constituted one of the main reasons for the push to restrict the paper boxes.

“I’ll be honest with you: I delete them,” Stickford said when asked about the email complaints by newspaper representatives. “I write them back and say the city doesn’t regulate, that you need to communicate with the owner.”

Under the state’s open records law, municipal staffers are not allowed to delete emails pertaining to public business. After the meeting, Xpress made an open records request for all complaints about newspaper boxes received by Stickford during the last year, and for the retrieval of any deleted emails that fit that criteria.

“I’ve searched the archives and no emailed complaints were received by Ms. Stickford by email between Feb. 2 2010 – Feb. 2 2011 regarding newspaper boxes (with the exception of one email about graffiti which I’ve attached),” city spokesperson Dawa Hitch wrote in an e-mail to Xpress yesterday evening. “When an employee deletes an email, it can be retrieved from the server the city uses to archive emails.”

The one exception Hitch mentions — a Jan. 31 email about graffiti from APD Community Resource Officer Evan Coward — notes that police arrested two suspects for painting newspaper boxes and sidewalk grates.

“I am aware of the issue of graffiti on paper boxes downtown and met with Jeff Tallman with Mountain Xpress this afternoon,” Coward wrote. “We have a close working relationship and will be sharing as much information as possible in order to help reduce graffiti incidents and aid in charging.”

On the absence of email complaints, Stickford says “I honestly didn’t remember if I’d gotten emails.”

But Stickford did say at the meeting that she deleted email complaints. When asked about this, she tells Xpress “no, what I said is that if I got any, what I know really well is what things I can help with and what things I can’t. I get a lot of complaints about a lot of different things. Newspaper boxes were a policy issue and that it really wasn’t for me to address.”

“If I got any emails — and clearly I didn’t get any, because Dawa did a search — the main issue for me is that it’s a policy issue, it’s not something I address,” Stickford continues. “My comment was really more that if I got any I probably sent a nice reply telling them I couldn’t address that and then deleted it, because I get such a high volume of complaint emails that the ones I keep are the ones I end up following up on.”

Now, Stickford claims that complaints aren’t the issue.

“This current look [at restricting newspaper boxes] wasn’t motivated by citizen complaints: this came out of the Downtown Commission.”

The Downtown Commission will take up the topic at its meeting Friday, Feb. 10, at 8:30 a.m. on the first floor of City Hall.

Photo by Bill Rhodes

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13 thoughts on “City staffer received no complaints about newspaper boxes during past year *UPDATED*

  1. Jeff

    You mean our city bureaucrats are lying to us in order to create layers of regulations of something that is not actually a problem?

  2. Dionysis

    It seems Ms. Stickford is either incredibly incompetent or incredibly dishonest. Either way, not the kind of person whose salary should be funded by taxpayer dollars.

  3. Jeff

    A bigger nuisance than the presence of newspaper boxes is the proliferation of dog crap on the sidewalks downtown. Perhaps Ms. Stickford’s & planner Glines time would be better spent with a little shovel in one hand and a plastic bag in the other solving a REAL problem.

  4. ashevillain7

    Thank you for the great reporting Xpress!

    Your work really sheds a lot of light on the incompetence of City employees. This is quite unfortunate for the taxpayers and really makes me question the motives of those in positions of authority in the gov’t.

    I was laid off from my accounting position (within a private company) a little over a year ago. During that time I’ve applied to a number of accounting jobs with the City…all of which I am well qualified for. I’m honest and would never treat taxpayers so trivially as a lot of these employees do. I have only been lucky enough to get ONE interview with the City…once again, I was perfectly qualified and I thought I nailed the interview (which was quite rigorous I might add). Obviously I didn’t get the job.

    This really just makes me wonder! Not that I want to toot my own horn or anything…that’s not why I’m writing this…but the City must really just not want hard working HONEST classy respectful qualified individuals to work for them. Seems they prefer the opposite.

  5. “this came out of the Downtown Commission.”

    Dear Lord, please keep these worthless bureaucratic pointy-headed busy-bodies out of my life. Thank you.

    Everyone go back to what they were doing.
    ……………………………….

  6. michael mac

    Wow David, that is a pretty weak article. Complaints can only be in email form? Really?

    I have complained, and I know of many others who have complained too. But keeping score of emails isn’t really the issue, is it?

    At a recent Public Downtown Commission Meeting, EVERY Commissioner, and several more staff and members of the public, numbering a total of about 15, all agreed that the proliferation of “news” dispensers is a problem that needs attention.

    Some violate visibility at street intersections, some are abandoned, stuffed with trash or covered with graffiti, and some contain nothing but advertising.
    These are public sidewalks and spaces, and belong to all of us. As dispensers proliferate, with absolutely no rules currently in place, other uses are choked out. The corner of Biltmore and Patton, once a cherished plaza for performers and gatherings, is now occupied by a trainwreck of vending boxes.
    As we organize and improve our streetscapes, as part of the Downtown Master Plan, we have to stitch a multitude of uses into our precious sidewalks and public spaces: benches, trees, signage, lights, ADA accessible pathways, etc. Included in this is responsible placement of newspaper vending boxes.
    Welcome to a popular downtown where people care about something other than pimping a product.
    Michael

  7. brebro

    I like the “TAG” function on this site, where you can click on a tag like “Newspaper boxes” and find all the other pertinent articles associated with that tag, but it doesn’t work unless someone has consistently tagged such articles.

    For instance, it would have been good to have this article:

    http://www.mountainx.com/article/3649/Buncombe-Countys-removal-of-newspaper-boxes-may-violate-First-Amendment

    .. about the initial removal of the boxes from last July included in that tag, but it wasn’t. A sitewide search for “newspaper boxes” did not help either, but Google found it for me!

  8. Jeff Fobes

    brebro, someone must have added the tag to the other post. It is now tagged correctly. Thx for the feedback and using tags.

  9. Dionysis

    Feel free to go back to whatever you were doing and don’t concern yourself with “everyone” else. That sounds pretty busy-body itself.

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