The Beat: Change, change, change

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Organizers with equal rights group Just Us For All said they hoped the "We're Not Bashful" rally would serve as a catalyst to expand the LGBTQ movement in Asheville. photo by Jerry Nelson

More than 100 people took to the streets of Montford and downtown Asheville May 12 to march for LGBTQ rights. Organizers with equal rights group Just Us For All said they hoped the "We're Not Bashful" rally would reinvigorate the LGBTQ movement in Asheville.

Hundreds marched last May for a similar rally in response to a series of alleged assaults on LGBTQ individuals in the Montford neighborhood. In a statement posted on Facebook, organizers said they hope to make it an annual event, and that "hopefully one day it'll be a celebration and a realization of how much things have changed."

"As we all know, gay bashings, homophobia, transphobia and blatant actions of violence still occur in our city," it adds.

Driving that point home, Christina Isabella Tiongson asked marchers gathered at the Vance Monument to raise their hands if they had been victims of abuse because of their sexual orientation. About half of the hundred or so people raised their hands. Tiongson said that she'd been the victim of hate crimes three times in the last year alone.

"We need love, we need safety, we need each other!" she declared before leading the crowd in chants of "I am here! I am not bashful!"

The group was joined by Asheville City Council candidates Chris Pelly and Marc Hunt, as well as Council member Gordon Smith, who touted the sweeping equality ordinance the Council passed in February. The resolution added protections for sexual orientation, gender and gender identity to the city's employment-discrimination policy; crafted an ordinance prohibiting bullying on city grounds; created an official domestic-partner registry; and endorsed the prospect of civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples.

City looks for new company to manage Asheville Transit System

The city of Asheville plans to solicit proposals from new companies to manage its transit system.

“We’re developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) and we’re hoping to have it ready to go to invite proposals beginning in June,” reports City Manager Gary Jackson.

The City’s transit infrastructure is currently being managed by First Transit, Inc., which is paid about $130,000 a year to perform duties that include maintaining vehicles and hiring and supervising drivers. The Cincinnati-based company was awarded a three-year contract in 2008 with a two-year extension option.

Asheville is required to use a management company for day-to-day transit operations because a North Carolina state law forbids cities to negotiate directly with unions, and Asheville Transit’s drivers are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union. The relationship between First Transit and union workers has reportedly been tense, and the company has been the subject of criticism for its safety record. The city is in the process of completing a safety audit and plans to incorporate additional safety measures into any new contract, says Jackson.

“We’re going to insert some structural changes in the contract to implement some of the safety audit findings that came back to us this winter,” he explains. “[The audit] offered some suggestions and we’re going to make sure that we have management plans aligned with those. And accountability for implementing those audit decisions.”

The RFP takes the city’s plans to roll out the first wave of reforms called for in its Transit Master Plan “to the next level,” adds Jackson. “It’s part of our ongoing effort to get the very best transit system we can get for our money.”

Starting in June, the Asheville Transit System will implement changes designed to improve its routing and on-time performance. The city will also mount a marketing campaign to increase ridership, changing the name of the system from ATS to ART (Asheville Redefines Transit).

Asheville Citizen-Times reportedly lays off 12 newsroom employees

According to the Gannett Blog, an online site run by a former USA Today editor and reporter, employees at the Asheville Citizen-Times were told last week that one-quarter of the newsroom jobs — 12 out of 47 — were getting cut. tracks the goings-on at the Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper publisher (which owns the Citizen-Times). The tip came from a reader of the blog (which isn’t affiliated with the company itself). An excerpt:

“Certain staffers will be required to apply for some of the remaining positions [says the anonymous tipster]. A Corporate representative is expected to help supervise these re-application interviews during meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, my reader says.

“The timetable for completing this reorganization is unclear. Any layoffs would come as Gannett continues trimming costs through unannounced job reductions and other austerity measures at least across the U.S. newspaper division, the company's biggest and most financially challenged.”

As of this writing, the news hadn’t been confirmed, and Citizen-Times Publisher Randy Hammer did not respond to a May 12 call and email from Xpress. But the popular Ashvegas blog (run by Citizen-Times staffer Jason Sandford) linked to the information, and comments on the Ashvegas post discussed the hard times facing the newsroom employees.

A comment from username “Query” asks: “Jason, why aren't you reporting on this news yourself rather than just linking to the Gannett Blog? Clearly, as a Citizen-Times employee facing a layoff, you know much more about the situation than the Gannett Blog does. Why not tell us what you know?”

Sandford responds: “Query, the answer should be clear, but I'll spell it out for you: because I'm essentially trying to figure out the future of my career in these next few days, and I don't want to say anything to jeopardize that.

“If I start laying it all out there, will I ruin my chances at landing one of the open jobs? I'm trying to decide if I will, in fact, apply. Is it time to move on? … The decisions have to be made by Monday.

“A deep-pocketed investor or one lucky lottery ticket sure would be nice right about now, but absent that, I'm facing some very difficult choices.”

— Managing Editor Rebecca Sulock contributed to this report

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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