New and smiling faces populated the crowd at the Buncombe County Commissioners meeting on Dec. 1, as four winners of the Nov. 4 elections took their oaths of office and commissioners elected a new vice chair.
Buncombe County Commissioners Ellen Frost, Miranda Debruhl, and Brownie Newman — and re-elected Sheriff Van Duncan — stood with their families as each, in turn, raised their right hands in front of a packed chambers. Later, the Board split 4-3 on the vice-chair vote, picking Republican Joe Belcher to the largely ceremonial position (albeit one with about a $5,250 pay raise).
After speaking the oath and signing their documents, each official gave a brief statement.
“I want to thank everyone for coming tonight,” said Frost, who kept her seat on the Board by defeating challenger Christina Merrill, Republican. Frost’s re-election helped Democrats retain their 4-3 majority on the Board. “I want to thank Buncombe County citizens for the incredible optimism they bring forward to what we do.”
Frost swore her oath on a Bible that belonged to Lillian Exum Clement Stafford of Black Mountain. Stafford was the South’s first elected female legislator. “Even before women had the right to vote, Buncombe County sent her to the legislature,” said Frost. “I’m honored that friends of the family drove this up from Greensboro. She was hard-driving, a trailblazer for women’s rights and voting rights. So, I hope we can carry on. I’m very honored by this, and I look forward to working. We’re going to have a great commission.”
“Thank you very much for being here tonight,” said Sheriff Van Duncan, who went next. “I appreciate the confidence you’ve had in me, and more importantly the 400-plus men and women and the Sheriff’s office, for the past eight years. I look forward to serving another four years. I thank you very much, and look forward to serving with the commissioners and everyone else.”
“I want to thank all the other elected officials that joined us this evening,” said Commissioner Newman, who was third in line. He had faced no opposition in Democrat stronghold District 1, which encompasses most of the city of Asheville. “I want to thank everyone who supported me since I’ve been elected to the [Board]. I’m really exciting to have to opportunity to serve again for another term … and the opportunities to continue working together to address the key challenges facing Buncombe County.”
Last up was newly elected Commissioner Debruhl, embarking on her first term of any sort in office: “I also want to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who are here to show support for all of us. I am beyond honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve the people of my community, so thank you.”
After the swearing-in ceremony, the commissioners convened for a succinct agenda. They voted 7-0 to approve a resolution for the Buncombe County Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Financing Authority to issue $4,250,000 in bonds to Plasticard-Locktech, which manufactures the magnetic-stripped cards used for gift cards and hotel keys, among other applications. According to County Attorney Michael Frue, the resolution does not involve county money.
“The county is not obligated on any of these funds once they’re issued; it’s a method of financing for manufacturing of tangible personal property,” he said. “It had to come to this board because the Internal Revenue Code provisions require that the Board of Commissioners, in any locality where this money is being borrowed, approve it.”
The commissioners also elected by 4-3 vote Commissioner Belcher as vice chair. Newman was also nominated for the position, but Chair David Gantt, Debruhl, Fryar backed Belcher, while Frost and Jones tossed their support to Newman.
Finally, commissioners made appointments to a plethora of committees and boards. Commissioner Fryar was appointed to the Audit Committiee, Commissioners Newman and Frost to the Transportation Advisory Committee, Commissioner Belcher to the Tourism Development Authority, Commission Frost to the Crimestoppers Board of Directors, and Commissioner Jones to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. Commissioner Debruhl was appointed to the Health and Human Services Board, and Commissioner Newman was appointed to the Riverfront Development Board.
Commissioners take a long break for the holiday season, with their next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 6, at their usual start time of 4:30 p.m.