Election interviews: Esther Manheimer and John Miall

Election interviews: Esther Manheimer and John Miall-attachment0

Caricatures by Randy Molton

As the municipal election on Tuesday, Nov. 5 draws near, time is running out for Asheville voters to decide who they want to be the city’s next mayor. The two candidates vying for the job are current Vice Mayor and lawyer Esther Manheimer and former City Risk Management director John Miall. Each candidate answered five questions, which ranged in topic from underserved populations to their stance on a bond referendum. Their answers can be found below.

Today, Saturday, Nov. 2 is the last day to vote early in the municipal elections.

Prefer to vote on election day? Precincts will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Esther Manheimer

Occupation: Attorney
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Political experience: Asheville City Council member, 2009-present
Endorsements: AFL-CIO, Sierra Club
Money raised: $34,613
Top three donors, and how much each has contributed: Ron Manheimer $1,210; Carolyn Coward and Kim Teich, $1,000 each.

1) Do you have confidence in City Manager Gary Jackson and the overall city administration? Why or why not? What would you change?

Yes. Asheville’s administration is highly professional, forward-thinking and progressive, as reflected in both strategic planning for future needs and goals, and in providing day-to-day municipal services. The administration is comprehensive in furthering Council’s goals regarding transit, affordable housing and reducing the city’s carbon footprint, and in launching new initiatives, such as enhanced recycling and capital improvement investment districts. I appreciate that this administration recognizes the essential importance of community collaboration and participation in developing policies and plans that reflect our community’s values and priorities.

2) What’s the city’s most underserved population? What would you do to help them?

Underserved populations in Asheville include people who are impoverished, experiencing homelessness, suffering from lack of medical coverage/services, or whose educational needs aren’t being met. Many of these factors overlap. To effectively address this matrix of struggles, the local, state and federal government, along with nonprofit agencies, for-profit entities and citizens, must work in partnership. For example, I supported increasing the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to $1 million annually, which helped fund the nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunities’ construction of Eagle Market Place, the Larchmont and the Glen Rock.

3) Are the city’s development policies too loose, too restrictive, or just right? What would you change?

The city’s development policies are in need of review and rewriting. Portions of the zoning code have been rewritten (the Downtown Master Plan), but as Asheville struggles to balance the pressure of increased popularity and growth with the community’s desire to maintain our quality of life, we must draft zoning ordinances that reflect our community’s vision for the future. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work; I support a neighborhood approach, like the new land-use policy the West Asheville community is drafting for the Haywood Road corridor.

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?

Yes. Since serving on Council, I’ve supported adding Saturday service for buses and increasing frequency on certain routes. To encourage people to utilize the transit system, it must be easy to use and meet residents’ needs. I also support adding Sunday service. Transit is costly and requires subsidization. Currently, the city uses revenues from parking decks and meters to subsidize transit service, as the two services are related. This financing structure reduces the burden on taxpayers who don’t use the transit system.

5) Do you favor a bond referendum to address Asheville’s infrastructure needs? If so, what specific projects should the money be used for?

A bond referendum is worth exploring for certain major projects that are costly and transformational. Although Council has already increased funding for greenways, pedestrian infrastructure and bike lanes, a bond referendum dedicated solely to infrastructure in the Multimodal Master Plan might be appropriate. I support a referendum that furthers an even cleaner, greener and healthier Asheville.

John Miall

Occupation: retired, risk management consultant
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Political experience: None
Endorsements: Police Benevolent Association
Money raised: more than $21,000
Top three donors, and how much each has contributed: Other than myself, as of today’s date, Oct. 23, Sheila Blair, Tom Duckett, Larry Merrill and Neil Rogers have each donated $1,000.

1) Do you have confidence in City Manager Gary Jackson and the overall city administration? Why or why not? What would you change?

My concern is not about any one individual but about a long-standing series of financial and management errors well known and documented by the city’s own auditors, the Local Government Commission and the various Police Department scandals. I’ve been a part of local government long enough to know when a complete change and new direction is necessary. If elected, I would set a new standard of performance and accountability, based less on “Who should go?” than on “Who is good enough to stay?”

2) What’s the city’s most underserved population? What would you do to help them?

Our taxpayers. We’ve seen basic services like sanitation require new fees. Taxes were raised 7 percent. The city now carries 55 percent more debt than it did five years ago. Our leaders decided to discontinue leaf pickup and abandon street-and-sidewalk maintenance, not to mention new construction of those necessities, in favor of art museum gifts and every development scheme presented to Council. Special interests are driving our city; the taxpayers have been run over by the bus.

3) Are the city’s development policies too loose, too restrictive or just right? What would you change?

Asheville has long had a reputation as a city that’s hard to do business in. The Downtown Association and hundreds of volunteers spent years building the Downtown Master Plan, the centerpiece of which was the business improvement district. Council adopted that plan. At the 13th hour, this Council pulled the rug from under them by rejecting the BID. We don’t even do the things we say we’re going to do with development.

Plan it. Adopt it. Do it. Keep your word: It’s the American way.

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?

Yes. I would recommend asking for a dedicated room tax to build and maintain the infrastructure needs of multimodal transportation. I would even consider a tax on bicycles and mopeds, much like what automobile owners pay. This would require a close working relationship with our legislators, which is currently lacking. I commit to building that relationship and finding a way to finance these needs without higher property taxes.

5) Do you favor a bond referendum to address Asheville’s infrastructure needs? If so, what specific projects should the money be used for?

No. We cannot borrow our way to prosperity any more than we can brew our way there. We can’t even pay our current bills without a combined 12 percent tax and fee increase this year. Asheville saw increased revenues in the past two budget years, but Council said our “expenses grew at a rate five times faster than revenues.” That’s a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

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