Buncombe Republicans claim exclusion from COVID-19 process

Penland speaking at the May 5 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting
SPEAKING OUT: Republican Commissioner Anthony Penland, second from left, raises concerns about his lack of inclusion in COVID-19 discussions at a May 5 meeting. Screen capture courtesy of Buncombe County

Republicans and Democrats on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners again sparred over the county’s COVID-19 response at the board’s May 5 meeting. As they also had argued during an April 16 special meeting, Republicans Joe Belcher, Anthony Penland and Robert Pressley said they continued to be left out of key decisions about how to restrict business and social activity in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vice Chair Pressley — who is also running to unseat Democrat Brownie Newman as the board’s chair in November — pointed to a May 3 email from Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, herself a Democrat, addressed to the commission’s four Democratic members and County Manager Avril Pinder. While he did not explain the subject of the message, he objected to being excluded from a discussion of business concerning the whole county.

“Inside of it, it said, ‘You can let the other three commissioners know,’” Pressley said. After Newman countered that he had promptly forwarded the message, Pressley responded, “Oh boy, I’m so glad! I know she’s got our email [addresses].”

In response to an Xpress request for comment, Manheimer forwarded the email, which concerned the distribution of federal COVID-19 relief funds to counties and cities. The mayor had omitted the county board’s three Republicans from the message’s address line. “I didn’t mean to leave anyone out and asked that it be forwarded to all commissioners,” Manheimer said.

Meanwhile, Penland said he was particularly concerned by the way the county had issued restrictions exceeding state guidance on businesses and funerals. He acknowledged Newman’s authority as board chair to issue emergency orders unilaterally but said the commissioners should have had a chance to debate.

“Folks, 28 years I’ve coached sports, and I can take a defeat,” Penland said. “What I can’t take is the citizens that I serve didn’t get to hear me say anything else about these orders, knowing that businesses are putting boards on their windows. They are not coming back.”

Newman responded that any commissioner could have requested a discussion of the orders at previous board meetings. He also defended the county’s stricter actions, saying they were necessary given Buncombe’s role as a tourism hot spot and regional economic hub.

“I think the additional protections we put here have been great. I think they have saved lives and will help bring this economy back,” Newman said. “I do not regret any of it.”

Following their debate, the commissioners did reach an agreement to lift the county’s restriction on funeral sizes, voting 5-2 to raise the limit on attendance from 10 to 50 people in line with state guidance. Opposing the move were Democrats Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Amanda Edwards, both of whom said restrictions shouldn’t be lifted without input from Buncombe public health staff. (The two were also the only commissioners to wear face coverings at the meeting, attended in person by all board members and county staff.)

“The process that has worked very well from a public safety perspective in Buncombe County is giving public health experts and staff time to think and digest and come back with localized recommendations that make sense,” Beach-Ferrara explained.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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11 thoughts on “Buncombe Republicans claim exclusion from COVID-19 process

  1. bsummers

    They’re pissed because Esther left their names off an email, even though she asked that it be forwarded to them, which Newman promptly did? Wow, precious little snowflakes.

    “What I can’t take is the citizens that I serve didn’t get to hear me say anything else about these orders…”

    That’s what they’re mad about – they weren’t invited to showboat on an order that they acknowledge that Newman can issue without their approval…

    “Following their debate, the commissioners did reach an agreement to lift the county’s restriction on funeral sizes…”

    And then they go ahead and give the GOPers what they want, but I’ll bet they’re still complaining. Snow. Flakes. Playing junior-high-school games with people’s lives because there’s an election coming up.

    • Dopamina

      Y’know, I’m right there with you. For a party that comes down so harshly on “safe spaces” and “liberal snowflakes” they sure seem to be a whiny & emotional bunch.

      And look, there is nothing wrong with being emotional, we all interact and deal with the world in different ways; what is a problem is the glaring hypocrisy!

      Don’t call people out for being emotional and illogical if you yourself are being emotional and illogical!

  2. James

    Shouldn’t the GOP members be out at a protest helping to spread the coronavirus?

    • bsummers

      Good point. C’mon fellas, let’s Git Er Dun. This Rapture won’t trigger itself!

      And BTW, that’s President ThermalExhaustPort to you! And don’t you forget it, or I’ll make you swiffer the Death Star…

    • Lou

      Ha, are you kidding me, they’ll be the first ones filing a lawsuit for exclusion of critical medical services. Whiniest bunch of man babies on the planet.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      says ‘Bright’ …

      When will the Maoyor and City Council APOLOGIZE for their dumbassery in the filing and the loss of the needless $4.1 MILLION lawsuit against a new hotel ?
      Do ANY of them have ANY class or courtesy ? We have enemy IDIOTs trying to further ruin this city…

  3. Bright

    Helpful hint…when the fools “open” the city back up, wait 45 days and let the greed mongers (repubs) test the waters first!

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