After serving for 23 years on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, Vice Chair Bill Stanley is planning to retire from public office when his current term ends next year.
“We’ve had a good time. We’ve had a good run: 23 years of wonderful stuff,” he says, adding: “But that’s probably long enough.”
Of all his accomplishments in that time, the 82 year-old Stanley says he’s most proud of helping the county transition to a manager form of government, and his efforts to improve the school system.
When he first took office in 1988, Stanley explains, “the chairman was the county manager, and of course that made everything political. When we went to the county manager form of government, that took the employees out of the political picture. It gave us better employees with better standing.”
Stanley continues: “Our schools at that time were in ridiculously bad shape. They were like the third or fourth worst in the country. We built 26 or 27 new schools. And we’ve got two more opening in coming months.”
Earlier this year, the General Assembly mandated that the board switch from an at-large election system to district elections. Several of the current commissioners lambasted the move as a blatantly partisan maneuver from GOP legislators to increase Republican representation on the board. But Stanley, a moderate Democrat, found himself living in the 114th District, which encompasses most of Asheville and it’s large majority of Democratic voters. Some observers speculated that would make him vulnerable to a challenge by someone running to his left. But Stanley maintains that after winning six elections in a row, the switch to the district election system and associated political calculations didn’t weigh on his decision.
“That didn’t have anything to do with it. Nothing at all. I was just tired,” he maintains.
And likewise, he says the outpouring of criticism he received earlier this year when he defended the commissioners’ salaries – which, including technology and travel stipends, were among the highest in the state – didn’t factor in.
“I’ve been fussed at more than that over the years, a whole lot more,” he says with a laugh. “That wasn’t fussing. You try to site a landfill. That’s when you get them to fuss.”
Stanley adds that the decision was a longtime coming: “I’ve thought about this after the last two times I’ve run. I wasn’t really happy with some of the other candidates running, so I just kept on running.”
Stanley first publicly declared his intention to retire at a Dec. 3 breakfast meeting of the Democratic Mens Club. Two days later, Asheville City Council Member Brownie Newman, a fellow Democrat, announced his intention to run for a seat representing Stanley’s newly drawn 114th District. Democratic commissioner Holly Jones also lives in that district; voters will be allowed to elect two representatives to the board from that district under the new rules. And Newman said he had the support of Jones to join in the race.
Meanwhile, Stanley says he’s holding off on any endorsement of a successor, at least for the time being.
“I’ve got plans to meet with Brownie later this week, then I’ll decide how I feel about his candidacy,” he reports, adding: “Brownie’s got some good ideas, and some good experience, and he’s young. And that may be what we need. I don’t know. … Brownie’s done a good job on City Council.”
In the meantime, the commissioners are planning to appoint a new vice chair during their regularly scheduled Dec. 6 meeting, and Stanley say’s he’s not opposed to serving the last year of his term continuing in the largely symbolic position.
“I’ll serve if they elect me,” he says.
As for what he plans to do with his free time after he steps down next year, the retired high school principle and businessman says, “I intend on using it to the ultimate limit. My wife and I want to travel a little bit. … I’ve been [serving on the board] a long time and we missed out on a couple of things because of it. The wife and I have been married 56 years, so we’re going to catch up.”