After introducing new Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper and new Water Resources Director Jade Dundas, the Asheville City Council said, “Thank you; Thank you very much,” to late rock ‘n’ roller Elvis Presley at the Tuesday, July 28 meeting.
Mayor Esther Manheimer read aloud the story of Elvis in Asheville, from his sold-out three-day Civic Center performances in July 1975 to his death two years later, in August 1977 — just ten days before a scheduled return to Asheville.
Forty years later, Ashevilleans still remember — and they want that second performance.
With help from Elvis Elliston and Elvis Sandford (Jon Elliston of Carolina Public Press and Jason Sandford of Ashvegas, dressed in costume), Council proclaimed July 30, 2015, Elvis in Asheville Day. The rock-holiday will be celebrated at the Orange Peel, where attendants will view a mini-documentary of the star’s time in Asheville, listen to a performance by Elvis tribute artist Carlo Martini and sock-hop to an Elvis-themed dance party.
Next up on the agenda, Assistant City Attorney Jannice Ashley presented the proposed revisions to the city’s animal ordinance.
At a Jan. 9 meeting, the Governance Committee changed a U.S. Cellular Center booking policy to exclude events that include performing wild or exotic animals. The change, a request from local animal advocacy group Asheville Voice for Animals, sought to prohibit circuses with animal acts from appearing at the event and expo center.
Following this decision, the Council began to consider prohibiting these types of events from all city venues.
Changes include altering the definition of “wild animal,” retaining the definition of “exotic pet” and adding a definition for “wildlife sanctuary” to the ordinance. The new definition of wild animals uses umbrella terms such as “nonhuman primates” and “all felines other than domestic house cats” rather than listing specific species to ensure all animals are protected. Also added under the definition: elephants, camels and any hybrid of the animals already listed (prohibiting the use of wolf-dog hybrids and other similar creatures in human entertainment).
Ashley explained that wildlife sanctuaries will be allowed within the Asheville city limits, so long as they meet the requirements laid out in the new definition, meaning the facility is provides adequate care and refuge for abused, neglected, unwanted or displaced animals — and not as a space for commercial, entertainment or breeding purposes.
In the animal care section of the ordinance, Ashley says she was “surprised to see there was an exception for zoos, animal exhibitions and circuses.” The amendment to the ordinance eliminates this exception to ensure equal care for all animals.
Though the city is effectively banning animal-performance entertainment from its boundaries, Ashley explained that zoo and aquarium outreach programs will still be allowed, so long as the organizations are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which, she references, “sets a high bar” for “high quality” animal care.
During public comment on the topic, Nancy Brown, founder of Full Moon Farms wolf-dog sanctuary in Black Mountain, asked the Council to postpone decision, saying wolf hybrids are often multiple generations removed from their wild ancestors.
“These dogs are not wild animals,” she firmly stated, concerned for her right to bring her dogs to charity events in the city.
Later in the discussion, Councilman Cecil Bothwell asked: “Full Moon Farm is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It’s in Black Mountain, but if it were in Asheville, would it be allowed?”
Ashley answered that, yes, under the wildlife sanctuary definition, it would.
Members of Asheville Voice for Animals also spoke at the meeting, saying that the changes to the ordinance are a win-win for Asheville, for animals and for children who won’t grow up thinking abuse and disrespect for animals in entertainment is OK.
The revisions to the animal ordinance were approved, 6-0.
Parking garage discussion stalled
Next on the agenda was a $390,000 contract with Chartwell Staffing Solutions.
Transportation Department Director Ken Putnam presented the proposition, which would contract employees through Chartwell for the city’s parking garage staffing needs.
Options listed in the contract, Putnam explained, would increase overall cleanliness of the city’s four garages, including power-washing, general cleaning, restroom painting and steam-cleaning options — as well as options to paint and seal the stairwells and “overhaul” the elevators in the three older garages.
Also, Putnam says, the Civic Center garage turns 35 this year and is approaching the end of its life. Therefore, the city is considering heavy-duty structural maintenance that would take place in 2017.
Though Vice Mayor Mark Hunt expressed embarrassment at the cleanliness of city parking garages, he asked the Council to consider postponing the decision until the company can come back with “a more comprehensive cleaning strategy.”
Bothwell, confused by Hunt’s reasoning, asked him what he was hoping for in the specifics.
Hunt explained that, though the city recently increased its budget for garages by 14 percent, the grime found in city garages has only gotten worse. With this expensive contract, he’d like to hear about specific plans, detailing the extent of what the company would do, as garage cleanliness is a top priority — not just an option.
The contract would also extend the hours of garage restrooms, for which most council members voiced their support.
Currently, garage restrooms close at 6 p.m. in winter, 10 p.m. in summer — which is just around the time people downtown start drinking, Hunt said. Though restroom clean-up needs increase during the night, he said, well, “People need a place to go” — a place that’s not garage stairwells.
The Council agreed to postpone the decision until Chartwell can give a detailed analysis on the cleaning efforts it expects to complete.
LEAF asks City Council to invest in the youth
Though not printed on the agenda, one more item appeared before the Council on Tuesday evening. Representatives from LEAF requested $15,000 from the city for their ongoing efforts to bring the arts to youths in underserved communities.
“It’s my pleasure to tell the story of what the arts can do for kids,” said Jennifer Pickering from LEAF for Youth.
The two initiatives needing city funding? The Easel Rider mobile art lab and the One Mic Studio at Burton Street Community Center. Both initiatives are designed to instill a love for the arts that these young Ashevilleans might not discover on their own.
Councilwoman Gwen Wisler voiced her concern that the request for funding did not appear on the Council’s agenda until late July. Requests from nonprofits were heard at scheduled meetings in the spring, before the year’s budget was approved.
Rather than make an amendment to the budget, the money LEAF requested is to be absorbed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “What programs would be cut because of this?” Wisler asked.
City Manager Gary Jackson agreed, saying he would be uncomfortable approving a shift in funds this early on in the fiscal year, which began July 1.
Traditionally, this kind of request would be presented during the city’s once-per-year budget-centered meetings, acknowledged Hunt, and it’s unfortunate that LEAF’s request does not align with the city’s schedule. However, he continued, both campaigns are worthy of city funds.
Pickering approached the podium once again to apologize and explain that the late request was due to both a misunderstanding of the city’s process and several unreturned inquiries from as far back as November.
Ultimately, the funding for LEAF’s two programs was approved 5-1, with Wisler opposing.
Jan Davis recognized by Civic Center Commission
During public comment, the Civic Center Commission presented a “surprise” request to name a portion of the center after Councilman Jan Davis, who, not seeking re-election in the fall, was essential in helping the center receive much needed upgrades.
The “Jan Davis Craft Beer” Corner, Manheimer joked, will (seriously) be on the agenda at the Council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m.