The Halloween Voter Guide to Asheville City Elections

The Halloween Voter Guide to Asheville City Elections-attachment0

With Halloween and the Asheville city elections so closely aligned, we offer both some scary art (by cartoonists Brent Brown and Randy Molton) and the candidates’ replies to five key questions.
Come midevening on Nov. 5, Asheville voters will have picked their new mayor and three City Council members. There are two mayoral candidates and five Council contenders (of whom two are incumbents). In a series of forums, what positions have the candidates taken? How have they responded to voter questions? Look for recent stories at mountainx.com/election, and check these excerpts from the candidates answers.

Asheville Mayoral Candidates


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.

Asheville City Council candidates


Cecil Bothwell

Occupation: carpenter, author, publisher
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Political experience: Asheville City Council member
Endorsements: Asheville Fire Fighters Association, Sierra Club of WNC, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 238, NC AFL-CIO, Jim Barton, Patryk Battle, Mark V. Case, Isaac Coleman, Lael Gray, John Huie, Minnie Jones, Teddy Jordan, David LaMotte, Debbie Metcalf, Jake Quinn, Heather Rayburn, Drew Reisinger, Jackie Simms, Fred Simms, Barry Summers,  Errington Thompson, Jay Weatherly, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara
Money raised: $32,000
Top three donors, and how much each has contributed: Charlie Thomas, $1,000; Bothwell for Congress, $958.39;  Woody Kaplan, Dave Erb, Ken Brame, $500 each.

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

I think Gary Jackson is the best city manager I’ve been aware of in the last 20 years. He’s been implementing gradual change to move the city and the bureaucracy in a better direction. Big government, even at the city level with 1,000 employees, does not change quickly or easily. I think the changes in permitting, the Police Department, the Fire Department, the structure of the administration, have all been really good.

At the state level, I’d love to see a change in the municipal rules so there was more transparency with the department heads. I believe the personnel files of the city manager, the city attorney, the city clerk, the department heads like the police chief and fire chief should be public record. Hiding the records of those senior officials diminishes public trust. If people could have seen the investigation of the police chief that was going on this year, I believe it would have really diminished the distrust.

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

The people who work downtown but live outside of town, because that’s where it’s affordable. That would be downtown service workers principally, and I’m advocating for a downtown circulator transit at 2:30 in the morning. We can’t provide full bus service in the middle of the night, but it would be great if they could get within some blocks of their home.

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

I think the development policies are mostly about right, but I would eliminate tax incentive policies. I don’t think they’re working. The Linamar management said the city incentives didn’t make any difference, and my impression from my interaction with New Belgium’s people is that they would have come here anyway. I would much prefer to put that money into improving the city: more greenways, more sidewalks, better transit, cleaner streets.

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, but you have to look at the entire budget. I would be willing to shave expenditures on parks and rec to put more money into transit, bike lanes, sidewalks. And the new streetlights will be saving about $360,000 a year on power bills. I’d love to see that put toward transit.

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

Absolutely. The big money issues should be decided by the voters. I’d like a bond referendum on greenways, sidewalks, and probably even increasing the frequency of street repaving. Our current budget attempts to get down to a 35-year cycle. If taxpayers are willing to pay a couple more cents a year on their taxes, we should go quicker.


Mike Lanning

Occupation: retired Asheville Police Department officer
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Political experience: None
Endorsements: North Carolina Police Benevolent Association
Money Raised: $1,600
Top three donors, and how much they contributed: Southern States PBA, $500; Mark Herman, $300; Joseph Dunn, $200.

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

For starters, I have no confidence in our city’s elected officials, who delegate the direction to our city manager. I believe in accountability and transparency, and I don’t think we have that now. I would work with our Legislature to get the personnel laws changed for government employees, so files would be open. Since taxpayer money would be paying for elected officials’ salaries, I think we should have that transparency.

I’m the only candidate who’s worked for Mr. Jackson, and he’s a very soft-spoken, decent man who I personally like. That said, the city manager will implement whatever the majority of Council wants done. [Jackson] would also implement the changes that a new Council wants, so I do have confidence in him.

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

There’s a large population of elderly that probably require and need city services, but they were brought up to be self-sufficient, and a lot of them are too proud to ask for help. The police or the city could implement a community watch that’s more involved in the elderly community or the community centers where a lot of these people spend their time.

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

If you talk to anyone that’s built a building and a business here, the first thing they’ll tell you is that the ordinances and policies are restrictive. To solve those problems, I would try to receive input from small-business owners, the community, and then have Council members and staff review it.

The big issue coming up is neighborhood development. If we must build, and build densely, to build our tax base, I’m afraid of what Asheville will look like in the future, and I’m afraid if we continue to do that, it will hurt people relocating to Asheville, and it will hurt the beauty of Asheville. I’m for recruiting larger companies to locate here, which will help take the tax burden off homeowners.

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?

I’d first have staff review the numbers of people actually using it to see if it’s cost-effective. I’m not in favor of any tax increase, and I really don’t agree with the current Council’s spending priorities. We need a full budget review and priorities set to keep taxes as low as we can.

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. First, we should review and change our spending habits, such as the $2 million for the Art Museum. Asheville’s infrastructure is deeply in need of repair, and Council’s priority should be providing those basic services.


Gordon Smith

Occupation: child and family therapist
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Political experience: Four years on Asheville City Council; four years on the city’s Housing and Community Development Committee; two years on the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee; two years on the city’s Public Safety Committee; four years as liaison to the Transit Commission, Asheville-Buncombe Homelessness Advisory Committee, and Public Art and Cultural Commission
Endorsements: The Sierra Club, Western North Carolina Labor Council, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Council member Marc Hunt
Money raised: $21,151.65
Top three donors, and how much each has contributed: Veronika Gunter, $750; Ken Brame, $600; David Macy, $512.

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

Yes. Gary has shepherded this organization through a Great Recession, a hostile Legislature and difficult times. He’s also been very good about providing information to Council and being real transparent in his dealings. There’s a lot of management shifts going on within the city organization, and Gary is working to improve that. There are long-standing issues within the Police Department, and we’re hoping the current top-to-bottom review will reveal the core issues and lead to structural changes.

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

Low-income people. Some are service workers; some are unemployed, impoverished people. In both cases, we have to try to have more jobs with higher wages, create more affordable housing, have a broader, more comprehensive multimodal transportation network, and pursue an Asheville where everyone has access to healthy, affordable food.

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

The Unified Development Ordinance was written for an early ’90s Asheville. We’re now trying to restructure our development rules to match the city’s smart growth future. We need to identify areas that can accommodate greater density and adjust the zoning. The old UDO was about what was going to be in a building. The way forward is more how the building will interact with the surrounding environment. We have to stop building-by-building fights that create divisions, alienate builders and make it harder for neighbors to trust the process.

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?

Over the last four years, transit was the one thing we didn’t cut. In fact, we expanded service. I would like to add Sunday service, working with all members of Council to determine the best way forward. My guess is it would be phased in, starting with more limited service costing about $300,000 a year.

As far as what could be cut or shifted around, I believe what we’re doing now with infrastructure improvements in the River District, South Slope, Eagle Market Place, etc., will allow us to make system improvements over the long term.

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

I’m open to the idea. In this last budget, we doubled the amount for road resurfacing, and next year, we’re going to see sidewalks on both sides of Hendersonville Road. We’re engaging in some large-scale projects while increasing our existing-sidewalk maintenance.

Bond referendums have been successful in other cities. I think a lot of people here want to see us get further faster, but at the same time I’d like to see what results from the investment strategy we’re undertaking now.


Jonathan Wainscott

Occupation: woodcarver
Party affiliation, if any: unaffiliated
Political experience:
Endorsements: candidate did not respond by press time
Money raised: $1,000
Top three donors, and how much each has contributed:

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

I would like to see a greater level of transparency and oversight by Council. I’m concerned over the apparent lack of vetting of Police Chief William Anderson, considering his obvious history and performance in other police departments. I’m not sure why that was missed. So I don’t have a tremendous amount of confidence in Jackson, I suppose. I wouldn’t say he absolutely needs to go, but a more in-depth look at his performance needs to be taken.

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

Children. Bring a lot more revenue into the city by way of enterprise revenue, so that’s outside of taxation. Then focus that money on the school system, providing more teachers, lowering the student/teacher ratio, augmenting after-school and pre-K programs, so that children, specifically poor kids, can participate in a really excellent school system and, hopefully, have a better chance of working their way out of the poverty they’ve inherited.

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

The development policies don’t have a lot of teeth. We saw that with Staples and Greenlife and now the redundant grocery stores on Merrimon Avenue. So I think we should do everything we can to strengthen our policies. But we’re fighting an uphill battle when we’ve got a development lawyer crafting public policy — obviously I’m talking about [Vice Mayor and mayoral candidate] Esther Manheimer— while her job is finding ways to make developers’ desires come to fruition, regardless of the city’s policies. I think the conflict of interest is quite alarming.

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?

I would like to increase the fee for transfers on the public transit system from zero to 25 cents. That’s a cost to the riders, but we need to increase the funding so we can add full service seven days a week. Because our taxation is so low and our infrastructure and service needs are outpacing our revenue, we really have to increase revenue rather than making cuts somewhere else.

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

I don’t favor a bond referendum. We should make sure we’re using all our resources in the most efficient manner. The most important infrastructure needs are the condition of our sidewalks and road surfaces. Do a better job of clearing vegetation, so we can fully use all the available asphalt and concrete. Then fill in the gaps in sidewalks. I want quicker progress in developing greenways along properties we own. The greatest barrier to park creation is land acquisition; we have plenty of land along the French Broad River that’s sitting there undeveloped.


Gwen Wisler

Occupation: owner of Asheville Profits business-consulting practice
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Political experience:“I have extensive business experience including CEO of the Coleman Company, a $800 million outdoor recreation company.”
Endorsements: Sierra Club, Asheville Police Benevolent Association, WNC Central Labor Council, Asheville Firefighters Association
Money raised: $15,000
Top three donors, and how much each has contributed: $608, Kathryn Heifetz; $500 each from Steve Ayala, Ken Brame, Mack Pearsall, Ronald Richter and Michael Wisler.

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

In general, yes, I would say I have confidence in Gary Jackson. What I’m hearing out in the community is that the city could be a lot more customer service-oriented, that we’re still sort of reliant on the “squeaky wheel” management philosophy. I would try to push Gary to improve on that, responding to the first call as opposed to requiring citizens to call three and four times.

I think [staff needs to] allow citizens to have access to the decision-making process, maybe by putting that online. I know we’ve got priorities relative to what streets and sidewalks are taken care of and in what order. I think that could be published, so citizens could see where their street or sidewalk is on the list, just making information and the decision-making process a little more easily accessible.

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

I’d have to say it’s the African-American community. I think continuing to work with the Housing Authority to make sure the living conditions in some of the housing projects are improved, and even potentially looking at how we could eliminate some of those projects and move folks into more traditional housing.

Also, continuing to work on bringing higher-paying, living-wage jobs to Asheville and encouraging those employers to focus on that population.

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

I think the written policies are about right, but they’re not applied consistently, and not easily understood. I would push toward looking at the language and helping people navigate, so they don’t have to read through so much to figure out if a particular ordinance even applies to them.

I’ve heard that two different people within the Planning Department can have two different interpretations of the same rule. Developers say they’ve gotten something approved by one person and then another person looks at it and has a different opinion.

I’m really interested in the work on form-based zoning that’s going on in West Asheville. If that’s a success, I’d like to see it implemented citywide.

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?

I think the current budget for mass transit will help. Right now I’m looking at making sure we hold onto those dollars and don’t get them taken away by other projects.

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

I don’t have an opinion on that. I’d have to study it more. If there were a referendum, I’d like to spend more money on mass transit. But I’d really have to see how that works in comparison to the rest of the city’s debt.

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