A new year — the 230th since Buncombe County’s establishment in 1792 — brings with it the potential for new maps to govern the county’s Board of Commissioners districts. Under current state law, those boundaries are tied to Buncombe’s N.C. House districts. But an item to be considered at the board’s meeting of Tuesday, Jan. 4, suggests county leaders want to change those rules.
The board’s agenda lists “a discussion of Board of Commissioner districts and structure,” accompanied by a letter of engagement with Raleigh-based law firm Poyner Spruill dated Dec. 1. The letter says that the firm’s attorneys will help the board “potentially prepare an amicus brief on behalf of Buncombe County” in ongoing litigation, brought by the N.C. League of Conservation Voters and other plaintiffs, over redistricting maps proposed by the Republican-led General Assembly.
No cost limit for Poyner Spruill’s engagement is included in the letter, but the two main attorneys listed, Caroline Mackey and Eddie Speas, will both be compensated at $400 per hour for their work. Demographer and redistricting consultant Blake Esselstyn will also provide services at $250 per hour.
As proposed by the legislature, the new boundaries create a District 2 with no incumbent county commissioners. Democratic Commissioners Al Whitesides and Amanda Edwards, who represent current Districts 1 and 2, respectively, were drawn into a new District 1 and would therefore run against each other after serving their current terms.
And based on results from the 2020 presidential election, the redrawn District 3 contains a majority of Republican-leaning voters; under the current District 3 lines, Democratic newcomer Parker Sloan beat incumbent Republican Joe Belcher with more than 58% of the vote in 2020. The new lines thus appear to favor the other District 3 commissioner, Robert Pressley, the board’s only Republican.
The board may have an unexpected ally in Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt — the same lawmaker who, while serving as Buncombe’s state representative in 2011, proposed tying county commission districts to House lines. Now serving Henderson County, Moffitt said during a Dec. 10 gathering hosted by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce that he would now consider passing new legislation to draw commission districts separately.
County to hire internal audit director
The top role in Buncombe’s Internal Audit office, which oversees the county’s financial reporting and internal financial controls, has been vacant since July 1. That could change if commissioners OK the hiring of Dan Keister as internal audit director.
Keister comes recommended by a majority vote of the county’s Internal Audit Committee and would start Monday, Jan. 10, if approved by the board. His annual salary would be roughly $111,000.
In a Nov. 2 presentation to the board, Internal Audit Committee Chair Kendra Ferguson said staffing issues had greatly hampered the department’s effectiveness. Current audit employees, she said, “do not have the capacity to complete audits” and “do not have expertise to assess risk and audit Information Technology functions.”
Consent agenda and public comment
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 13 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:
- Acceptance of a $24,500 grant for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office from the U.S. Department of Justice. The money will be allocated specifically for the purchase of protective equipment.
- A budget amendment accepting a $30,000 grant from the N.C. Education Lottery to fund the design of new stadium lighting at A.C. Reynolds High School. Not funded was an additional county request for $845,000 to cover the projected cost of the new lights.
- Acceptance of a $5,000 grant from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority for the Buncombe County Public Libraries to purchase “personal finance resources.” No county match is required.
The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. before the regular meeting to discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 response and other matters. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.
In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.