The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners had its first meeting with new members Tuesday, Dec. 6, but displayed old patterns of voting along party lines while tapping a vice chair and during a heated discussion about a resolution against discrimination. Commissioners ended the meeting in a closed session about a potential economic development project that county staff tells Xpress could bring 500 jobs the the county.
A new vice
New Chair Brownie Newman and Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Robert Pressley and Al Whitesides, who was appointed Tuesday night to finish the remaining two years on Newman’s District 1 seat that he vacated to chair the board, tackled the issue of appointing a new vice chair.
Commissioner Ellen Frost won the post by a 4-3 vote with Republicans Joe Belcher, Mike Fryar and Pressley voting for Fryar and Democrats Beach-Ferrara, Frost, Newman and Whitesides voting for Frost.
Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to donate two parcels of land in the Avery’s Park subdivision to Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. County Manager Wanda Greene said staff has been unable to sell those parcels, totaling just under 3 acres and that they are costing the county upward of $5,000 a year to keep. She also noted that commissioners previously directed staff to work with affordable housing partners to see if they had a purpose for the land. With that in mind, the land will be taken over by Habitat for Humanity with the stipulation that it be used for affordable housing. You can read more about that resolution here.
Next, commissioners sounded off over a resolution against discrimination and intimidation. Language in the resolution states: “Hate crimes, threats or intimidation of any kind or manner will not be tolerated.” The Democratic bloc had the item added to agenda due to what it perceives as an openly hostile post-presidential election landscape.
Pressley and Fryar asked the resolution be tabled until the next meeting, stating it would give them more time to look it over and perhaps make language changes.
Whitesides responded, “When I look at it, I can see why we might want to put it off. But when we look at the environment we are in, especially after this election and especially when I hear my grandson talk about how kids talk about it, when it comes to hate speech … I know it’s not law, but we need to set an example for the community,” he said. “We can’t sit back and bury our heads in the sand. When you look at what’s out there, I have some problems. I went through this in the ’60s and I’ll be darned if I go through it again today.”
“I want to share context about its intent. It begins with acknowledging Weaverville approved a resolution with this text and we are following their leadership,” said Beach-Ferrara. “It’s a tool for expression. Specifically, the intent is to express to residents of Buncombe County our core commitment to being inclusive. It’s not a partisan issue; it’s about decency and fairness.”
At that point Fryar stated he would like to add language to the resolution and alluded to past county hiring practices that he insinuated favored members of the Democratic party. He went on to say he would like language about having public school teachers remain apolitical. “We have had complaints. … If we are going to spend the money on schools, then these teachers need to leave political views at the front door. Both sides. It doesn’t matter to me,” said Fryar.
Frost then retorted, “It’s important to remember we don’t have jurisdiction over the school.”
To which Fryar responded, “We don’t have jurisdiction over the people of Buncombe County, either.”
Beach-Ferrara then asked Fryar if adding the language “political party” to the third section, listing those the resolution admonishes discrimination against, would help.
Fryar responded, “That helps. But there have been three incidents I know of. … All I’m asking is let the students make the decision, as they grow in life, what party they want to be in. I don’t want to see anyone harmed in any way.” He went on to detail attending a rally at a school auditorium and hearing the F-word directed at him and other Republicans multiple times.
“We just keep piling on ordinances on top of ordinances. We have a new governor, a new president. So be it. We all have to figure out where we’re at. [Whitesides] and I know we don’t want to go back to where we were,” continued Fryar. “I want everyone on an equal playing field. We might not agree, but we can work together.”
Whitesides then stressed his rationale for having this ordinance before the board despite previous, similar measures. “We keep pushing race under the table. We’ve got to talk about it. Until we do, we won’t solve the problem,” he said. “We are dealing with same problem today that I dealt with as a college student. This resolution is good. We need to keep it in front of us. If we don’t lead, we will have the same problems of the last 50 years over and over again. … We’ve got to deal with it. This resolution keeps it before us.”
Belcher then weighed in, stating he appreciated the conversation commissioners were having on the topic but took issue with the resolution’s tone. “I don’t agree with all the language in this. I think once elections are over, they are over. I’m not really OK with the overall way it’s written and would like some time to tweak it,” he said. “But I want to send a signal to the people of Buncombe County that they should treat each other with dignity. So I’m going to vote for it.”
Commissioners then approved the resolution unanimously. You can read it here.
Commissioners then unanimously approved sending Belcher to the Legislative Goals Conference where the North Carolina County Commission Association approves its agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
Commissioners made the following board appointments:
Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee
Susan Stuart, Laura Wagenknecht — unanimous
Whitesides — unanimous
Metropolitan Planning Organization
Newman — unanimous
Beach-Ferrara — appointed 4-3 over Pressley
Tourism Development Authority
Belcher — unanimous
Crimestoppers Board of Directors
Fryar — unanimous
Health and Human Services Board
Frost — unanimous
Riverfront Development Board
Whitesides — unanimous
Economic Development Coalition
Whitesides — appointed 4-3 over Pressley
Land of Sky Regional Council
Pressley — unanimous
Juvenile Crime Prevention Council
Beach-Ferrara — unanimous
Frost, Pressley — unanimous
Commissioners ended the meeting with a closed session about a potential economic development project. State law allows commissioners to privately discuss such opportunities and few details are available as of now. However, county staff tells Xpress the project might bring 500 jobs to the county.
Commissioners don’t meet again until next year, on Tuesday, Jan. 3.