District 2 candidates for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners faced off at an Oct. 8 forum, revealing different views on a variety of issues such as jobs, taxes, equality and more. All of the candidates in the race participated: Republicans Mike Fryar and Christina Kelley G. Merrill, and Democrats Ellen Frost and Carol Peterson.
Held at the Black Mountain Library, the forum was organized by the Asheville-Buncombe League of Women Voters and sponsored by several media outlets, including Xpress.
Here’s a look at some of the views the candidates had:
On what they consider to be the most important issue facing the county
• All the candidates agreed that job creation is the biggest issue. Fryar, a Fairview resident and used-car dealer, said the best way to facilitate economic development is by cutting regulations on companies. He also emphasized the need to lower the county’s debt.
• Frost, a Black Mountain resident who owns the Bed & Biscuit pet-care facility, emphasized the need to create living-wage jobs, as opposed to jobs that pay less. She pays all her employees a living wage, she said.
• Peterson, a retired Fairview resident, is the only incumbent in the race and she emphasized the need to continue supporting A-B Tech and education in order to create jobs.
• Merrill, who lives in Fairview and owns a marketing business, lamented that “one of the area’s biggest exports is educated students.”
On if they consider themselves progressive
• After saying flatly that he’s not a progressive, Fryar compared progressives to selfish children who want candy that they can’t afford. He said somebody needs to stand up and tell them that they can’t have all the luxuries they want because the county can’t afford them.
• Merrill said she was fiscally conservative, but “loves the arts.” She added that she thinks most people are tired of political labels.
• Peterson and Frost agreed that they also don’t like labels. Peterson said she was “progressive on some things, conservative on others.”
On adding protections for LGBT employees to the county’s personnel ordinance and offering domestic partner benefits to employees in same-sex relationships
• All of the candidates agreed that no one should be discriminated against, but only Frost said she supported adding language to the ordinance that specifically protects LGBT employees. Frost was also the only candidate who said she supported offering same-sex partner benefits. The other three candidates agreed that such benefits would be too expensive.
On offering economic incentives to companies in order to create jobs
• Peterson and Frost agreed that offering incentives is an important way to attract companies such as Linamar and New Belgium Brewing Company to the area and in exchange for hiring local workers.
• Merrill said local companies are resentful of the incentives and should get the same incentives as companies moving to Buncombe County from out of town. Fryar said he only supports tax breaks for companies — not the kind of grants that were offered to Linamar and New Belgium.
On supporting “green jobs”
• All of the candidates said they support “green jobs” to differing degrees, with Frost emphasizing that “we need to change our paradigm” to focus on cultivating environmentally friendly industries. Peterson noted that she supported several environmental initiatives on the board, including a new LEED-certified court building and a landfill program to recycle methane gas for electricity production. Fryar was the most skeptical, saying “green jobs are probably good in their own way, but other jobs are better.”
On implementing the county greenways plan and using imminent domain for property acquisition
• All the candidates agreed that eminent domain shouldn’t be used to implement the county’s plan to build roughly 100 miles of greenways. Peterson noted that she voted to specifically ban it in the plan.
• Peterson and Frost said they support the county’s greenways plan in principle, but don’t think the county should hold a bond referendum to fund it next year. Frost said she wants to see more public feedback and Peterson said she wants the Buncombe County Parks and Recreation Services to present a more clear outline of its priorities.
• Merrill said spending money on greenways in the tough economy doesn’t make sense, noting that she thinks there’s already plenty of places in the county where children can exercise, such as schools and parks. Fryar also said greenways would be a bad use of money, maintaining that the conversion of the Asheville Speedway in to Carrier Park several years ago hurt the economy.
On the relationship between Asheville and Buncombe County governments
• Fryar said annexation from Asheville poses a danger to county residents and maintained that the city gets a disproportionate amount of county resources. He also said he’d like to look at combining the city and county Parks and Recreation departments.
• Merrill said that many people who live outside of Asheville don’t feel like they’ve been represented on the board. The county and city school systems should work together more closely, she said.
• Peterson said she takes a holistic approach to governing, trying to embrace differences and not be divisive. She said the county already works closely with the city of Asheville on shared goals.
• Frost noted that Asheville is the economic driver of the county and stated: “As long as we’re divided we’re not going to progress.”
On the county’s budget
• Fryar said raising the sales-tax last year to fund new buildings at A-B Tech was a big mistake and wants to cut costs. New offices planned for the county’s administration are excessive, he said.
• Merrill said taxes are too high and wants cuts.
• Both Frost and Peterson noted the county’s recent credit upgrade to AAA, saying it provided a good indicator that its finances were managed well and debt burden was reasonable.