Connolly steps down as county attorney

For 20 years, Asheville attorney Joe Connolly has served as Buncombe County attorney. But an Aug. 7 e-mail announced that the Board of Commissioners will interview new candidates for his job.

Connolly tendered his resignation back in April, but the August announcement was the first public indication of Connolly's impending departure. According to board Chair David Gantt, Connolly resigned because of his wife's poor health. In a May 26 letter, Gantt accepted the resignation with "mixed feelings," praising Connolly's "distinguished leadership" and noting that he'd served six boards during his tenure.

"He's been great, very loyal," Gantt told Xpress. "He's given us a lot of good advice. Every attorney has their hiccups, their ups and downs, but I think the world of Joe Connolly. He's been attorney as long as I've been on the board."

Gantt added that staff have narrowed their search for a new attorney to three candidates, whom they will interview in a closed session the morning of Aug. 18. Connolly will remain on the job until a replacement is appointed.

There have indeed been a number of legal "hiccups" in recent years. Although Buncombe County came out victorious last year when Connolly helped fend off a lawsuit from the city of Asheville over the water system (Buncombe was a co-defendant with the state in that case), three other high-profile legal battles haven't turned out as well for the county.

It came out on the losing end of a ruling last September that found its controversial sale of public parkland to developer Stewart Coleman illegal. Coleman appealed that decision, but the county did not.

In March, the county also lost a lawsuit in which local developers challenged its zoning ordinance. The county chose not to appeal that ruling, and commissioners are in the process of redrawing zoning maps for the entire county and re-approving the zoning ordinance to comply with state law, a process that will probably end up taking most of a year.

And earlier this summer, Melanie Pitrolo won a federal gender-discrimination lawsuit against the county, which found that she had been discriminated against while being considered for a spot as director of the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency.

On May 12, the commissioners met in closed session to discuss an unspecified "personnel matter." While no announcements came out of that meeting, and none of the commissioners would reveal what was discussed there, a message was writ large on a white tablet, seen through the glass: "Stop Losing Lawsuits."

Gantt refused to comment on whether that was related to Connolly's resignation.

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