Buncombe proposes overhauling conflict of interest policy

Buncombe County seal

More than three years after former County Manager Wanda Greene was federally indicted, the first charges filed over a wide-reaching scandal of top Buncombe County staffers and elected officials abusing their positions for personal gain, county leaders are floating major revisions to the conflict of interest policy that governs employees. The new language, slated for a vote at the board’s regular meeting of Tuesday, Nov. 2, includes significantly more detail about what public servants are allowed — and not allowed — to do.

The current policy, as included in the county’s personnel ordinance, runs for less than a page and does not specifically define what a conflict of interest entails. In contrast, the new proposal is six pages long and describes a conflict of interest as “when private interests interfere or appear to interfere with the performance of official duties.”

The new document also contains sections on accepting gifts or favors while conducting Buncombe business, holding outside engagements and other employment, managing members of the same family who work for the county, insider trading and limiting romantic relationships between employees.

“Certain items or situations are excluded from the definition of a gift/favor,” the proposed policy notes. Among those exceptions are items worth less than $35, “modest items of food and refreshments not offered as part of a meal” and travel to events where an employee is a speaker or participant.

The move comes as part of a larger personnel ordinance update, which is scheduled to continue in phases through the winter of 2022. At the Nov. 2 meeting, board members will also consider placing county Health and Human Services employees under the ordinance, updating how cost-of-living raises are calculated and changing language regarding on-call compensation.

EMS requests 18 new paramedic positions

After an Oct. 19 presentation to the board outlined slow response times and staffing challenges with the county’s Emergency Medical Services, Van Taylor Jones, Buncombe’s director of emergency services, has submitted a formal request for help. A budget amendment listed on the Nov. 2 agenda seeks to establish positions for 18 new regular paramedics — an increase of more than 26% over the current level of 68 paramedic positions.

Of the new positions, 14 would be full time and four part time. The amendment does not list a cost for the new roles, only noting that “estimated lapse salary in the function will be used to cover new positions and salary changes.” (According to the county’s fiscal transparency dashboard, the average annual pay for a full-time paramedic is about $66,000.)

The amendment also requests $360,000 to purchase two quick response vehicles, SUVs that would give EMS staff greater flexibility in responding to calls, plus equipment for the vehicles and additional equipment to stock spare ambulances. The money for those capital expenses would come from the county’s fund balance.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains six items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Along with the routine approval of prior meeting minutes and September’s tax collection report, the agenda includes a resolution approving a petition from property owners in Swannanoa to add a 0.14-mile portion of Richmond Avenue to the state highway system.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. before the regular meeting to discuss Buncombe’s COVID-19 metrics and other matters. (The county’s indoor mask mandate, which had been scheduled to expire Oct. 29, was extended through November by the Oct. 27 decision of board Chair Brownie Newman.) 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.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

2 thoughts on “Buncombe proposes overhauling conflict of interest policy

  1. Lesko Brandon

    What a great deal for the “better than us commoners” commissioners, they can still travel to Hawaii at our expense, just like the last crooks.

    • MV

      Traveling to Hawaii? Really? WTF? Don’t they know this is the tourist mecca?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.