Without discussion at its Jan. 11 session, City Council voted unanimously to resolve a lawsuit brought by WNC Citizens for Equality, led by former Council member and Buncombe County Republican Party Chair Carl Mumpower, that alleged the city was wrong to distribute funds for two racially based scholarship programs operated by the Asheville City Schools Foundation.
Council’s action, which was one of several consent agenda items, amended two earlier agreements with the Asheville City Schools Foundation that provides funds for two foundation scholarship programs. The amendment alters the eligibility requirements for the scholarships and adds language prohibiting discrimination.
WNC Citizens for Equality charged that the scholarships — described in the ACSF 2021-22 scholarships catalog as being for Black or minority students — excluded otherwise eligible applicants on the basis of race. In exchange for resolving the lawsuit, the revised agreements require the scholarships to give preference to “first-generation college students,” with no mention of racial requirements. The new language also prohibits ACSF from discriminating with regard to race, among other characteristics, when determining recipients of city-funded scholarships.
Speaking with Xpress, City Attorney Brad Branham said that the city had acted within its legal authority, but by agreeing to amend its donation agreements with the Asheville City Schools Foundation, the city incurred no financial liability or legal costs associated with the lawsuit.
“The updated language was the result of negotiation between all parties involved and their legal counsel, and the city is pleased that this compromise will allow the foundation to maintain the scholarship program,” Branham said in a Jan. 13 email. “This resolution allows the city to now turn its full attention to other matters of importance to our community, such as the pending reparations program now underway.”
Copland Arnold Rudolph, executive director of Asheville City Schools Foundation, said that the settlement does not change the scholarship process for students.
“The ACSF scholarship process remains exactly the same and we currently have more scholarship opportunities for all qualifying students than we did three months ago. We are blessed to live in a community where so many people are called to support all students who want to pursue their dreams,” she told Xpress. “ACSF and the city of Asheville have real, critical equity work in front of us. We are now able to focus 100% on that work.”
Mumpower declined to comment on the settlement, but in an email exchange with Xpress in November about what he wanted people to understand about the lawsuit, Mumpower said, “We should all be very careful to avoid stepping back on the extraordinary progress we have made on racial equality.”
Mumpower partnered with the Rhode Island-based Legal Insurrection Foundation and the conservative activist group Judicial Watch on the lawsuit. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a Jan. 12 press release that the settlement should serve as a “wakeup call to those activists and allied politicians pushing the extremist leftist agenda to segregate and discriminate based on race.”
Fitton wrote, “Our clients, a group of Asheville residents, including high school students, courageously challenged this blatantly discriminatory and illegal scholarship program in federal court. Thankfully, the city of Asheville did the right thing in quickly ending these indefensible race-based scholarship programs.”