Buncombe County Commissioners argue about, hear public input on HB2

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has started the budget process for next fiscal year. During its meeting on Tuesday, March 21, 46 nonprofits asked to be a part of that budget.

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.

New business

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.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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17 thoughts on “Buncombe County Commissioners argue about, hear public input on HB2

  1. James

    I wonder how Holly Jones and Ellen Frost would like it if they were followed into the women’s restroom at the county building by a group of men – Larry the Cable Guy type of men. “Oh but James, that’s not a transgender.” Doesn’t matter! All he’d have to do under the tyrannical ordinance Charlotte passed is to say “ah, well right now I think I’m a woman” while he stands as they sit in stalls next to each other. And it would all be perfectly legal if HB2 wasn’t passed and signed. I’ll bet Holly and Ellen would feel very uncomfortable in that type of situation and would be very uncomfortable if their daughters were in that type of situation.

    • bsummers

      How much time do you spend imagining these scenarios? Me, I recommend a good book.

      • James

        O.K. Well why don’t you go hang out in the women’s bathroom at the mall and write a book on your experiences. Based on the comments today, I’m sure no woman would mind you hanging out while they go about their business so long as you say “I think I’m a woman right now so I have a right to be here.” Go for it bsummers, I’m sure you will get lots of reactions which will make you a best selling author overnight.

    • Peter Robbins

      It might help, “James,” if you could quote the language from the ordinance that you theorize would produce the result you fear.

      • Peter Robbins

        Really, “James”? You’re awfully talkative for someone who apparently hasn’t read the ordinance.

  2. Robert Thompson

    How about freedom FROM religion?!

    It’s difficult to take seriously statements from those who have the illogical belief in god or gods.

    Frankly, I fear the Christians far more than any Muslims.

    • The Real World

      I fear them all, to a degree. Once you know enough, it would be irrational not to have some amount of fear.

      But LOL, Robert, (assuming you’re a nearby resident) your last sentence is pretty amusing considering you live in the Bible Belt.

    • James

      Really Robert. Well you have the full freedom to take a trip to Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan and even Iran. Please go to any of those countries – or for that matter, any majority islamic country – and shout from the public square that you advocate freedom from religion. I look forward to your report on how the people in those countries came up and told you that even though they disagree, they’re going to sincerely pray for you.

        • James

          Oh so you want to join in bsummers. O.k., I think that’s wonderful so here’s your assignment… Book a trip right now to Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia. If you can do it during the haij, all the better. Stand with a bullhorn in front of the great mosque and tell the people there that 1) freedom from religion is swell and 2) they need to make their public bathrooms co-ed so the transgendered on pilgrimage won’t be offended. Thanks Bsummers. Oh and also, you’ll need to lie on your visa and change your name because non-Muslims are forbidden from visiting Mecca and medina.

          • bsummers

            This is your best defense? Saudi Arabia is worse? That is truly pathetic.

            Look at that clip again. That guy claims that since Jesus was quoting Leviticus when he said “Love your neighbor as yourself”, you can’t hold Christians accountable to do that without also empowering them to kill the gays.

            “If you want to wave off the Old Testament laws, you have to wave off that one too, which Jesus quoted, and you can’t call it a ‘Christian law’ anymore.”

            These people are psychotics. And this isn’t just some random yahoo. This murderous bigot spoke at the same conference recently that Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee spoke at.

            http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/cruz-jindal-and-huckbee-join-multiple-speakers-who-want-gays-put-death

            “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
            ― Mahatma Gandhi

          • Lulz

            By all means, ISIS and the Taliban will be more open to gays. LOL, I dare say they’d make public examples out of them just like they do Christians. But of course that’s OK in your book Mr lefty. Hey Mr lefty, why is is OK for Muslims businesses in the USA to deny gays but not for others? Where’s your outrage at that? It doesn’t fit your narrative of course. But please oh please test your theory out and see what happens. They refuse to do business with those that go against their religion and people like you PRETEND is doesn’t happen. Or ignore ir completely LOL. But your ideology is based on lies and cover ups in order to manipulate the young, blacks, women, and now of course gays.

      • Robert Thompson

        Howdy James!

        While I appreciate your offer to go on a suicide mission, I’ll pass. My comment was in reference to the current legislation that is obviously religiously motivated. I’m suggesting that following religious ideology in place of rational thought as a method to run a country, at any level, is a dangerous road to travel. Please refer to the countries you referenced as examples.

        So, do you want your laws (and the reasoning for them) to come from the Bible?

        • James

          What’s the problem? You said you fear Christians more than Muslims so you should be gung-ho about a secular progressive peace mission to the Islamic world where the Christians are either genocided or living under submission according to shariah law.

          • Robert Thompson

            Answer my question.

            Yours is easy: Religious conflict often results in war and death. Obviously an asset to the human race.

            And we call ourselves civilized.

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