Buncombe County to pay more than $7 million settlement fee for wrongful convictions

Creative commons photo by Travis Wise

After a crowded and lengthy Tuesday, Aug. 4 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners went into closed session to discuss three legal issues and two economic development issues.

And after 30 minutes of private discussion, the commissioners rejoined the then-sparse audience to announce that the county must pay more than $7 million in settlement fees to five men who were wrongfully convicted under former Sheriff Bobby Medford’s watch, having served six to 11 years behind bars.

The six commissioners present voted unanimously to pay this settlement and thanked county attorney Curt Euler for a good job bringing the settlement fee down from about $17 million. The county will pay this settlement on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

Prior to this sparsely attended announcement, the room was filled with former Weaverville extraterritorial jurisdiction residents, who had applied earlier in the year to rezone their neighborhood from R-2 multifamily housing to an R-1 single family zone.

The commissioners previously found this rezoning request in line with county requirements, being the current home to all single-family residences. But one couple, John and Brenda Landgrover, were living at their Florida residence at the time and were not notified of the rezoning.

In June, this topic came before the commissioners and was tabled due to insufficient information.

On Tuesday, nearly 30 people got up to speak about the couple’s request to change their property back to an R-2 zone.

While concerns for an apartment complex popping up in a quiet neighborhood repeatedly came before the board, the Landgrovers told their neighbors that this was not their intention: that they planned to give the property to their children. Their problem with the rezoning, they said, was “the principle of the matter” that the notice to rezone never reached them in Florida even though they had set up a forwarding address — and that under the zoning statute, the decision was technically not legal.

After hearing the many different sides of the issue, the commissioners decided to vote in favor of the Landgrovers, accepting their request to return to an R-2 zone.

This is a hard decision, said Commissioner Ellen Frost. “I can see it from all sides. But at the end of the day, I don’t think the owners were notified. How would that make you feel?” she asked the audience.

With Commissioner Miranda DeBruhl withdrawing herself from the discussion due to a personal conflict, the board moved on to a requested text amendment to the county zoning ordinance.

Harry and Ricky Coates requested that the county allow travel trailer parks in commercial service districts, but the request drew mixed feelings from the board.

Currently, travel trailer parks are permitted in R-3 residential zones, as well as the county’s open use district, which makes up the majority of county land.

Fryar suggested that the board table the request to look at it further, because, under county rules, the request would not be permitted to come before the commissioners again for another year should it be denied.

But that request was denied. And so was the revision to the ordinance in a 3-2 vote, with Belcher and Fryar against.

County Manager Wanda Greene then requested that the commissioners take her advice about Waste Pro services. Though the company failed to complete its duties for county residents in the past, Greene explained that she and county staff have since met with the company to come up with a plan to do a better job, including a better understanding of pick-up routes and newer technology to track progress along those routes.

The company will report back to the county before a period of 60 days to show the progress that’s been made.

“We had three commissioners here with their trash not picked up,” said Chairman David Gantt. “We’re not special people, but that’s some dismal service.”

In the end, the commissioners voted unanimously to take Greene’s advice about the company’s future turnaround. New technology purchased for these services will not be funded by the county.

After a presentation by Police Chief Glen Matayabas, the county also passed a resolution to reduce the number of mentally ill individuals in county jails over the next five years.

The next Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting will be held on Sept. 1, at 4:30 p.m., on the third floor of the county building at 200 College St.

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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