The first endorsement by elected officials of plans to remove the Vance Monument from downtown Asheville could come on Monday, Dec. 7. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will vote on whether to accept the recommendation of the Vance Monument Task Force, a body jointly appointed by the county and city of Asheville, to take down the obelisk that memorializes Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance.
The commissioners had voted on June 16 to remove two other Confederate memorials from downtown. That resolution also established a citizen task force to determine if the Vance Monument should be removed, repurposed or relocated. Task force members spent 12 weeks gathering information and evaluating over 600 public comments before voting 11-1 in favor of removal on Nov. 19.
Previous discussion about Confederate monuments has divided the commission along partisan lines, with Republicans Joe Belcher, Anthony Penland and Robert Pressley voting against the June 16 resolution. Both Belcher and Penland were defeated in the November election; Pressley will be the board’s sole Republican following the swearing in of Democrats Parker Sloan and Terri Wells earlier on Dec. 7.
If the board votes to accept the task force’s recommendation, members will direct County Manager Avril Pinder to work with Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell on developing next steps for removal of the monument. Asheville City Council is expected to vote on the recommendation on Tuesday, Dec. 8.
State law prohibits the removal of a public “object of remembrance” unless a government official deems it a threat to public safety. However, Asheville City Attorney Brad Branham has suggested that the resolution establishing the task force, which declared that “the legacy of slavery, institutional segregation and ongoing systemic racism directly harm public safety and public health,” already meets that requirement.
In other news
The only public hearing on the commission’s agenda concerns a request to rezone roughly 10 acres along Long Shoals Road from residential and neighborhood service to commercial service. The applicant, James Keith, has plans to establish an impound lot on the property. Both the Buncombe County Planning Board and county planning staff recommend approval of the change.
Commissioners will also vote to select a new vice chair. Pressley, the current holder of that position, unsuccessfully campaigned to unseat Chair Brownie Newman in this year’s election.
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 11 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Accepting a federal Justice Assistance Grant of over $13,000 for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. The money will be used to purchase equipment for county forensics and crisis negotiation.
- Allocating nearly $49,000 to cover transaction costs for two conservation easements. Over 26 acres of forest in the Hickory Nut Gap and 13 acres in Avery’s Creek will be protected in perpetuity using funds that had previously been reserved for the purpose.
- Approving a fireworks display for New Year’s Eve at the Biltmore Estate. The resolution notes that “physical distancing and mass gathering guidelines will be strictly adhered to.”
The commission will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss enforcement of COVID-19 emergency orders, county input on Duke Energy’s Integrated Resource Plan, work toward racial equity and other matters. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
Public comment will only be permitted through live telephone calls at the start of the meeting; no in-person comments, emails or voicemails will be accepted. Those planning to comment must sign up online or call 828-250-4001 by Friday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. All commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.