There was a lively crowd gathered on the bottom floor of Pack Place as the words “Thank you for your many years of service” played across a video screen, accompanied by a huge, drifting autumn leaf.
The Nov. 19 event was a send-off for two long-time members of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners: outgoing Chair Nathan Ramsey, a Fairview dairy farmer who’s headed the board for eight years, and Commissioner David Young, co-owner of Fugazy Travel Agency, who’s been in office for 16.
Since Young took office in 1992, Buncombe County has changed immensely: Downtown Asheville has revived, tourism and development have boomed and the county’s population has grown by about 50,000 people.
Young rattled off a number of changes he’s proud to have overseen in his time.
“It’s great to see your accomplishments in the community: protecting the acreage we’ve been able to protect; zoning, which was very controversial but we were able to get it done, and that’ll be a legacy; the county’s in great financial health; we’ve built a lot of new facilities, a lot of new schools; we’ve given our teachers, our county employees a lot more money,” Young said. “There’s new libraries, new soccer fields. It’s a much different county now.”
Regrets? “It’s hard to think about regrets, I push those aside,” he said. “There’s clearly been issues I’ve been wrong about, but I’d have to think hard [to come up with regrets]. At the end of the day, I’m happy with the whole body of work.”
Ramsey was a little less rosy, saying that he saw the glass “half-empty” on policy issues.
“I look back, and there’s more disappointments than joys,” Ramsey told Xpress. “I look back at the water-agreement issues with the city—I’m disappointed about that. I’m disappointed about dropout rates, workforce development, getting more high-paying jobs in the region. But we got 911 consolidated, we’ve worked with the community college [and] with the bond referendum for public schools.”
The board has faced a number of controversies in recent years. In addition to the acrimonious water dispute, the board as a whole has been criticized for selling a piece of public parkland to a private developer. A judge has ruled the sale illegal, though the matter is still making its way through the courts.
Young, however, quipped that “we haven’t embarrassed ourselves” and said that focus would be key for his successors.
“In these tough economic times, you’ve got to pick two or three things. The shotgun approach is not going to work,” he said.
Young chose to run for state treasurer instead of contest his commissioners’ seat, and lost in the Democratic primary earlier this year. Ramsey was bested in his re-election bid by Vice Chair David Gantt.
However, at the closing ceremony, Gantt noted that “Nathan and I voted together 97 percent of the time,” and returning commissioners Bill Stanley (who acted as emcee at the event) and Carol Peterson all praised Ramsey and Young as being committed to the good of the county. They presented both of them with watches bearing the county seal, as well as a framed series of pictures for Ramsey and a photo album for Young.
Both men plan to return to their private jobs, though neither ruled out further involvement in politics or county government.
Nor did Stanley.
“Oh, you’ll see them around again—we’ll find some way to put them to work,” he said with a chuckle.