The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners slogged its way through a more than seven-hour meeting while trading barbs en route to approving a resolution that reaffirms the county’s commitment to a workplace supportive of diversity; moving ahead with real estate revaluations; approving a Utility Energy Innovation Task Force; and approving minutes from a contentious closed session in March 2015.
The Tuesday, April 5, marathon meeting highlighted the ideological tensions among commissioners and the public as the county’s Personnel Ordinance resolution became a proxy for the emotionally charged North Carolina House Bill 2 and showcased pleas from both sides of the issue. In addition, discussion about the joint energy-innovation task force became symbolic of the commissioners’ divisive thoughts on what constitutes transparent government.
The Commission chambers teemed with people waiting to discuss HB2 as commissioners slowly began working through the agenda — but ultimately the Board opted to reprioritize its business to allow those wishing to speak to do so without having to sit through other agenda items.
The Resolution Regarding North Carolina General Assembly Session Law; House Bill 2 is basically a reworded version of Buncombe County’s already approved Personnel Ordinance. The measure, which commissioners approved by a 4-3 vote, split down party lines, does not change existing policies and was in part a symbolic referendum on HB2.
The resolution was placed on the agenda by Commissioner Ellen Frost who said after the legislature approved HB2 she wants to it to be known, “There will be hell to pay” if county employees face discrimination in the workplace because of it.
Before the resolution was approved, about 25 members of the public made spirited and emotional comments.
Buncombe County resident Renee Blatchley said after medical procedures she has used the women’s bathroom for years without incident. However, she said, she now worries that HB2 could cause her run afoul of the law. “I could be criminalized for life simply for using the, quote, wrong public facility. Even a minor brush with the law endangers my livelihood, my family, my employment and maybe even my life. … We transgender people are neither disturbed nor disordered. We are not perverts; we are just different.”
Buncombe County resident Daniel Best said that he has three options at work when using the bathroom. He said he can risk breaking the law and use the men’s room or, “I can go into the women’s room, but I run the risk of being perceived as a man in the women’s room and everything that comes along with that. I can also not use the facilities for my nine-hour work day. This is an untenable situation for me and it’s what I deal with everyday.”
Buncombe County resident Linda Humphries spoke in favor of HB2, citing the need to keep bathrooms safe. “I went to the restroom a few minutes ago. I would venture to say I had two biological males join me. Whose problem is that? Who’s the protectors in this? I’m talking about your safety as well as our safety. … If keeping men out of women’s bathrooms and showers protects the life of just one child, one woman from being molested and assaulted, then it will be worth it.”
Buncombe County resident and pastor of Bible Baptist Church Andrew Sluder noted he has never said he hates anyone, but he does have concerns about who might be in the bathroom with women. “I love my neighbor; I just don’t want to use the bathroom with her.”
Sluder expressed concern about Buncombe County approving a measure similar to Charlotte’s. “My boys have no business going into a women’s bathroom for any reason. If they have to go to a public school that the government controls … my boys would have the right to strip down naked and walk into the girl’s shower and shower with girls. That’s exactly what [the Charlotte ordinance] would have done.”
Commissioner Mike Fryar said he blames Charlotte for HB2 and added, “We are all equal as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if you’re gay, lesbian, transgender. … Putting this up again tonight is just political. It’s totally political and I wish it wasn’t political because we want to be fair to our county employees. I just don’t get going back through this issue. It’s something that should never have been put on the agenda.”
Commissioner Miranda Debruhl also argued the resolution was a political move.
However, Commissioner Frost maintained it would reassure county employees that they have a safe workplace.
Commissioner Holly Jones agreed that the issue is absolutely political and said, “[HB2] discriminates against our LGBT community. It is in a political context that our companies are leaving our state and we are losing jobs. … That is bad politics.”
The resolution was approved 4-3, with commissioners DeBruhl, Fryar and Joe Belcher voting against it.
Additional coverage of Buncombe County Commissioners’ Tuesday, April 5 meeting, with details on the Board’s other agenda items and actions, can be read here.