Brownie Newman, Democrat
Place of residence: Asheville
Occupation: Partner at Headwaters Solar
Political experience: Two terms on Asheville City Council and currently serving second term on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.
Endorsements: Buncombe County Association of Educators; N.C. Sierra Club; Asheville Citizen-Times
Amount of money raised: $25,000
Top three donors and amount contributed: Mack Pearsall, $2,000; Ken Brame, $500; Rich Wasch, $500
Why are you running?
I am running because I want Asheville and Buncombe County to be a great place to live, work and raise a family, not just a nice place for tourists to visit. I want to provide leadership to protect our mountain communities through strong environmental protection standards and to do more to support our working families. I will work to make the work of our County Commission more transparent, accountable and forward-looking. In contrast, my opponent is a Tea Party Republican. The Republican legislature in Raleigh has caused our state and our community many problems in recent years. We do not need to put the same kind of people in charge of Buncombe County.
What is Buncombe County’s best path toward creating more jobs outside of the service and tourist industries? And how do you plan on making it happen?
We should build stronger partnerships with initiatives such as Venture Asheville, Mountain BizWorks and Self-Help Credit Union, which are helping locally owned companies grow and create more jobs. These organizations and others have a proven track record of helping foster local job creation, but the solutions need to be scaled up. We need a greater focus on supporting women-owned and minority businesses in these strategies.
Are you in favor of using economic development incentives? If so, what kind? If not, why?
Yes, but we need to reform the policies. Buncombe County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, so just creating more jobs per se is not the priority. We need jobs that help significantly increase wages. As chair, I will work with the commission to update our economic development incentives so we focus on strategies that truly raise the average wages in the community. We also need to expand our policies to be more supportive of small- and medium-sized businesses, not just larger companies.
North Carolina law states footage from the Sheriff’s Department body cameras is not part of the public record. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? Why or why not?
I am glad the Sheriff’s Department is using body cameras. This is an important as well as complex issue. If there is a dispute between a citizen and law enforcement, the video footage should be made available to the citizen to help resolve disputes and assure accountability. It is not legal or appropriate to make all footage automatically available for public review. For example, if police officers have reason to come into your home and their body cameras are recording, would you want the media or total strangers to be able to review video footage taken inside your home? There are legitimate privacy concerns, and the wishes of family members and property owners must be taken into consideration.
As infrastructure needs grow, would you consider using bonds to fund projects? Why or why not? And, if so, what type of bond would you pursue?
Yes, I would. I am open to considering a general obligation bond referendum, such as the city is currently considering, for improving the county’s infrastructure. This approach has two advantages. First, it allows the voters to decide what projects and priorities they want to see funded by holding a referendum. Second, it allows the local government to access the lowest-cost financing, which means more of the taxpayers’ money is spent on improving infrastructure and less on interest payments to a bank.
Does HB2 highlight the state overstepping its bounds in regard to legislating municipalities? Why or why not?
Yes, it does. It was rushed through without garnering any public input and without thinking through the consequences. The legislature should have never even gotten involved in this issue. If local communities disagree with how their local governments are approaching an issue, they can hold those officials accountable in local elections.
As development continues to boom, how can the county help ensure affordable housing for its residents?
The county directly invests in projects that include permanently affordable housing, and we also have incentives for all projects to include a percentage of affordable housing. We need to expand both our investments to create permanently affordable housing and our incentives so that most new projects that are built include at least a percentage of affordable apartments or homes.
Are the current zoning policies adequate to deal with the pressures of increased development in the county?
No, they need to be strengthened and updated. We should update our plans to encourage growth in areas of the county where our transportation infrastructure can support it, while preserving our steep slopes, watersheds and our family farmlands.
What zoning designation that doesn’t currently exist would you like to see, or what is an existing, but underutilized, zoning designation?
I’d like to see some areas designated as transit-oriented developments. We will need to extend transit into additional areas in the county. We should encourage clustered development in areas that can be served by higher quality public transit, near jobs and services.
What county-run service needs the most improvement, and how would you address it?
We are fortunate to have talented, professional department leaders and staff working throughout the county government. In light of the growth pressures facing the community, we need to invest more in our planning department so we can take a more proactive approach in our community planning work.
What is the most important issue facing Buncombe County, and how do you plan on addressing it?
The most important issue is building a stronger local economy that works for everyone. Buncombe County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, but local wages are below the state average. Meanwhile, housing costs are high. A lot of people who work full time struggle to make ends meet in our community. There is no single solution to this challenge, but local government can make a positive difference. We can address it through how we support local businesses, affordable housing, taxes, job training and, in the long run, by improving educational opportunities for all.
How do you represent a constituency with varied political ideologies?
Most people in our community want to see the county that takes a progressive approach to environmental protection, civil rights and equality, living wages, public education and health care. I share these values and want to see the county provide leadership. At the same time, we are a diverse community, and we need to listen to all perspectives.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
I grew up on a working farm in the foothills of the mountains. I have lived in Buncombe County for 26 years. I bring the perspective of having worked in both the environmental community and in the business community. I have served two terms on the Asheville City Council and Board of Commissioners. My opponent has said that he enthusiastically supports Congressman Mark Meadows, who is best-known for leading efforts to shut down the government and for asserting that President Obama is from Kenya. This reflects a Tea Party/Donald Trump mentality that goes against the values shared by most people in our community and makes him unqualified to lead Buncombe County.