Budget and policing disagreements at forefront of Council meeting

Amy Cantrell protesting the Asheville city budget
SIT TALL: The Rev. Amy Cantrell kept her seat on the floor of Council chambers in protest of the 2018-19 city budget, which Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn presented to Council members. Photo by Daniel Walton

Asheville City Council took no additional public comment on the city’s more than $180 million budget at its June 19 meeting, but the Rev. Amy Cantrell still managed to make her position known. During remarks about Asheville’s new comprehensive plan, the founder of the intentional community and homeless support nonprofit BeLoved Asheville praised Council’s vision on community values such as interwoven equity while criticizing its lack of funding for those same values.

“As a faith leader and a person of conscience, I cannot stand for this budget,” Cantrell said. She then proceeded to take a seat, calmly and cross-legged, in front of the podium in Council chambers. There she remained, even when approached by two police officers and asked to move, as city Chief Financial Officer Barbara Whitehorn gave her final remarks on the spending details.

The one-woman sit-in represented the culmination of community protest over the budget, which included a teach-in on June 12 and a rally outside City Hall before the meeting. Cantrell and other advocates had argued against a $2 million increase for the Asheville Police Department, suggesting that the money should be moved to community programs such as fare-free transit, participatory budgeting and opioid overdose and abuse prevention. They also critiqued a lack of transparency in the budget process, particularly the APD’s strategy of meeting with small groups of Council members in an apparent effort to avoid public discussion of its funding.

Whitehorn acknowledged some of these concerns in her statements to Council. “We do want more public transparency in the budgeting process, and that includes providing more details early on about the police budget,” she explained about her department’s goals for the next budget cycle. Whitehorn also expressed a desire to involve the public in strategic planning for use of a possible tax influx that could come as a result of the sale of Mission Health to the for-profit operator HCA Healthcare.

No additional changes, however, made their way into this year’s budget as Council decided to adopt the ordinance in a 4-3 vote. Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, and members Vijay Kapoor and Julie Mayfield all voted in support of the budget. Members Brian Haynes, Sheneika Smith and Keith Young voted against the plan; all three had shown hesitation about the APD funding increase during previous work sessions, but only Haynes had gone on record saying he would not pass the budget.

Reading from a prepared statement, Kapoor noted that he didn’t agree with all aspects of the budget but recognized the need for compromise to address serious issues in the city. About policing specifically, he said, “While I would prefer that we spend this money elsewhere or not spend it at all, the fact is we need more police officers in Asheville to deal with the level of service calls APD receives. Right now, our officers are being pulled from other locations in the city to respond to calls downtown.”

Budget protest banner
DISSENT WRIT LARGE: Protesters outside the Council meeting shared their goals for the Asheville city budget in banner form. Photo by Daniel Walton

Smith countered by saying Council would be funding a police increase without accurate information about how the department was functioning. She added that in other cities, expanding police presence has failed to reduce crime and caused “a lot of negative interactions around low-level crimes.” Interjecting from the audience, Asheville Fraternal Order of Police President Rondell Lance exclaimed, “What a ridiculous statement for someone to make.”

Council went into closed session after the budget vote, but Cantrell remained on the floor. Speaking with Xpress from her seat, she shared her hope that community voices would sway Council members to make changes in next year’s spending. “Rather than putting the onus on the police to clean up community problems, we should be giving them dignified work to do,” she said. “We should be putting our money toward the root causes of problems that we know we can face and solve together if we have the funds.”

Shortly after that statement, Cantrell was again approached by the police. With hands unhandcuffed but behind her back, she was escorted out of Council chambers and into the elevator. She was subsequently arrested, charged with second-degree trespass and released later in the evening.

A matter of words

Upon returning from closed session, Council embarked on what Manheimer called “a do-over” of three controversial motions on policing policy adopted at its May 22 meeting. Young had introduced those motions to Council’s agenda without prior notice and used the parliamentary procedure of “calling the question” to cut off public comment and force a vote. After those mandates each passed 5-2, with Kapoor and Wisler dissenting, they attracted intense scrutiny from police advocacy groups such as the N.C. Police Benevolent Association and the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.

The three resolutions presented on June 19 each rescinded one of the previously passed motions and replaced it with slightly different wording. Instead of directing interim City Manager Cathy Ball to implement written consent, search rationale and regulatory stop policies herself, the new language authorizes her to work with the APD to develop those policies. Haynes, however, emphasized that “although the wording may have changed in those [resolutions], the expectations have not.” Addressing Ball directly, he continued, “The policies should reflect the original intent of the motions passed by a 5-to-2 majority.”

Roughly 30 speakers, some coming from an overflow room, offered their comments on the resolutions. The majority consisted of citizens and activists speaking in support of the measures, but police and several citizens also provided critiques. Law enforcement representatives focused on the specific wording of the written consent mandate, saying the current language would leave them vulnerable in certain situations.

“The new resolution that’s being proposed gives the police absolutely no wiggle room whatsoever,” said Rick Tullis, an officer with the APD. “There are a multitude of calls for service that the police answer that call for police to possibly ask for consent where it’d be too dangerous to go back to a car to retrieve a form or to turn your back on somebody to retrieve a form.” Lance added that the FOP would be happy to approve of the language if the words “when safe and practical” were amended to the written consent resolution.

Kapoor, who met with representatives from both police groups and the NAACP to discuss the policy, expressed his sympathy for the law enforcement perspective. He offered the theoretical example of a domestic violence dispute where an abusive husband might refuse to give written consent for a voluntary search, thus preventing an officer from entering the home and checking for weapons. “This resolution allows the chief to consider circumstances where she, as a nationally recognized law enforcement expert, believes not allowing verbal consent to suffice would put the public or officers at unnecessary risk,” Kapoor said.

“I’m going to go ahead and call b.s. on that,” Young responded, referencing the police’s ability to conduct searches without consent under their “community caretaker” function. He also roundly rejected the need for qualifying language in the written consent resolution. “From this point forward, if I see ‘ideally’ in a policy for this, we will back here again and again,” he said. “‘Ideally’ exercising my rights is not an option for you to decide.”

Council decided not to make any changes to the language as they passed each of the new resolutions unanimously. Ball and Chief Tammy Hooper of the APD will now work out the details of the policies; at Council’s May 22 meeting, Hooper told Young, “We’re not adopting a written consent policy,” citing the department’s use of body cameras to record consent.

After the meeting, Kapoor emailed Xpress to share his disagreement with Young’s interpretation of police powers. The N.C. Court of Appeals, he said, noted in the 2017 decision State v. Huddy that the community caretaker exception has never previously been applied for a residential search in the state. “It’s clear that these situations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and my point is simply that it’s reasonable in some situations to allow verbal consent to suffice,” Kapoor wrote.

Council’s next regular meeting will take place on Tuesday, July 24, at 5 p.m. in Council chambers.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and city government beat reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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17 thoughts on “Budget and policing disagreements at forefront of Council meeting

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    Sheneika Smith is an idiot. She needs to learn to keep quiet to disguise her stupidity. SHE is the kind of non leadership we now suffer. Ditto Keith Young. Listen to their arguments. They are elected criminals against the city.

    • Lulz

      You don’t really believe these tools are elected because of actual ability do you? I say lower the police presence. It’s the best way to rid the town of tourism for sure.

  2. boatrocker

    Now that’s what Jeeezuz would have done.
    Passive resistance, non-violent,
    protesting the APD pharisees’
    out of control abusive budget in order to subdue/beat the masses.

    Let my people go indeed.
    Amen to you, Rev. Amy.

    And congrats to the MTX for covering non beer news!

    • Thanks much! Non-beer news is the vast majority of what we do, after all — this current week’s issue has exactly three paragraphs of editorial content covering beer- or drinking-related events.

  3. Jason

    Amy Cantrell is a moron. I don’t disagree with her approach and “one-woman” sit in tactic, but her ideas for the budget are just as ridiculous. Fare Free Transit and more funding for what SHE thinks is important. Give me a break. Somebody should investigate her non-profit.

    • Lulz

      LOL she’s in the wrong town to push for funding of drug abuse prevention. It’s an alcohol fueled tourism trap.

      Fare free bus rides? Here’s a thought, get the employers of those who work to pay for it. Make these people who make the real money in this town start contributing to it. Those that don’t work such as the elderly get a pass.

  4. Enlightened Enigma

    Rev Amy has NO clue either … sorry … yes I know she FEELS like she’s making a difference but probably NOT.

  5. Robin Canuck

    The City transit system is already subsidized by taxpayers and the federal government because it loses so much money per year, and that’s with a fare system. I wish all of these do-gooders like the good reverend would realize that free isn’t free; that someone has to ultimately pay for the service (usually taxpayers).

    If you want more of the budget for your pet projects; stop giving stuff away. Personally, I’d like for the City to actually go back to fixing roads and sidewalks like they used to do. They can fold up their Transportation Department to pay for it, and probably have money left over for a tax cut.

    • luther blissett

      “The City transit system is already subsidized by taxpayers and the federal government because it loses so much money per year, and that’s with a fare system.”

      Every public transit system in the world (aside from a couple of Bullet Train routes in Japan) loses money based on user fees, and therefore relies upon subsidy. The economics question is whether the positive externalities of the system outweigh the costs. The subsidiary issue in the US, especially in smaller cities, is that people who never use public transit — whether it’s because they’re wealthy and healthy enough to drive, or because they don’t want to be counted among those people who ride the bus — assume those externalities don’t exist, even though they’ll gladly use transit in big cities where things would grind to a halt without commuter rail, subways and buses. Or put their kids on a yellow bus every morning for school.

      I’m ambivalent on fare-free transit. I’m not ambivalent on route frequency and reliability.

      “Personally, I’d like for the City to actually go back to fixing roads and sidewalks like they used to do. ”

      You may need to see an optometrist about the rare condition that blinds you to the road and sidewalk crews at work.

      • Robin Canuck

        Sorry Luther, I should have clarified: I meant fixing roads and sidewalks that already exist and in neighborhoods with kids and families. I see all of the new construction, but I was referencing that the City can’t even maintain what they’ve already got.

        And, I don’t need an optometrist to see the sidewalk cut in front of my house that had been there for nine months; Stevie Wonder could see that. When I called Public Works, they said that “their contractor is six months behind and that they’d get to it as soon as they could”. I called the Mayor’s office, and a City crew responded within a week, and they repaired it the same day. It’s funny that when I called Public Works they were adamant that only contractors repaired sidewalk cuts, but when I called the Mayor’s office; they suddenly had a repair crew available.

        My comment about them going back to “fixing roads like they used to”, was a reference to my previous experience: In the past, you would call Public Works, and in a day or so, someone would call you or occasionally a crew would just would show up. They even had a policy of fixing potholes in one day. Now, you’ve got to “get in a queue and wait for the City’s contractor to get around to it”.

        • Lulz

          I’ve got a sidewalk that’s been open for at least 10 years now.

        • boatrocker

          Aw jeez you have to wait in line like everyone else?
          Let’s hope you don’t have to go to the DMV, bank, grocery store,
          use a public restroom or wait until someone else uses a door to go inside.

          Point being, if taxes and property value/how it looks for upkeep by the city are
          your biggest 1st World Problem, I think you’re doing OK.

          IT’S A SIDEWALK AND NOT SYMPTOM OF SOCIETAL COLLAPSE.

  6. boatrocker

    At exactly what age do posters here begin obsessing about taxes as their pet cause?
    Probably the same age when they start drawing off Social Security, the 2nd biggest gaping wound for taxes besides the military’s budget.

    • Lulz

      These non-profit windbags and overpaid made up job cronies don’t realize that their lives are funded by others. Local government has been able for far to long to simply tax and spend at will without any consideration of the impact. Leftiod fools blindly turning an eye to it, or in the case of some hear calling for even more taxes. is why it’s gone beyond stupidity and into the realm of not living in any sane reality. I could understand if services were on par with the dreaded 1970’s and 80’s, but they don’t even come close. The money is used to expand government into SJW causes that only end up subsidizing abusers of taxpayers on one end. And on the other, to subsidize downtown and tourist crap that don’t do diddly squat for anyone that lives here.

      • luther blissett

        — Everything is terrible.
        — What should be done instead?
        — Everything is terrible.

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