Buncombe to discuss nondiscrimination ordinance March 16

Buncombe County seal

Buncombe County could become the first local government in Western North Carolina to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance, pending the outcome of discussions by the county Board of Commissioners. The board will hold the first public reading of the proposal at its regular meeting Tuesday, March 16, with a final vote currently scheduled for Tuesday, April 6.

Counties and municipalities had been forbidden from passing such ordinances by a provision in House Bill 142, a North Carolina law that also repealed House Bill 2 — popularly known as the “bathroom bill” for its requirement that transgender people use facilities corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth. However, the relevant HB 142 provision expired on Dec. 1; Orange County and several municipalities have since approved nondiscrimination ordinances.

Buncombe’s proposed language, added to the county board’s agenda by Democratic Chair Brownie Newman and Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Parker Sloan, would ban discrimination in employment based on “race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, age or disability.” The rules would also apply to public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels and homeless shelters (but not bars, which in North Carolina are classified as private clubs.)

The potential penalty for violating the ordinance, a $100-per-day civil fine, has been weakened from the $500-per-day fine included in a draft floated by Beach-Ferrara on March 2. If approved, the rules would not go into effect until Thursday, July 1, giving county staff time to develop a process for receiving and investigating discrimination complaints.

In other news

A controversial Pratt & Whitney manufacturing plant returns to the board for a rezoning request. The move would reclassify 11.57 acres of the 100-acre Biltmore Farms parcel slated for the project from R-3 residential to EMP employment, thereby matching the rest of the property. Both Buncombe staff and the county planning board support the zoning change.

Commissioners will also hear presentations regarding Agriculture Awareness Day and the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency. Another presentation regarding facilities at the Asheville City Schools is scheduled, but no documents were linked to the board’s agenda as of press time.

One aspect of the school district’s facilities planning has already drawn questions. ACS has requested $920,000 from Buncombe’s Early Childhood Education and Development Fund to establish four preschool classrooms at Asheville Housing Authority locations after closing existing classrooms at the Asheville Primary School.

In their response to that proposal, members of the county’s Early Childhood and Development Committee pointed to the divide between the district’s worst-in-state racial achievement gaps and claims that its preschool programs were making a difference. “The ACS have operated child care/early childhood programs for many years, but in reality they do not seem to be having the result promoted here,” a question from the committee read. “If funded, how will the results from this grant be different and actually impact the achievement gap through early childhood education?”

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains seven items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • Reallocating nearly $17,000 from a Dogwood Health Trust grant in support of expanded internet access at county libraries. The money had originally been earmarked for promotion of the 2020 census but was not spent due to COVID-19.
  • Authorizing all county departments to participate in the N.C. Local Government Debt Setoff program, which allows state tax refunds and lottery winnings to be claimed in settlement of debts $50 or more. Buncombe’s tax department has participated in the program since 2002 to recover unpaid taxes.
  • Permitting a fireworks show to be conducted at the Biltmore Estate on Saturday, April 10. The display, valued at nearly $7,200, is tied to a wedding on the property and will not be open to the public.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response and other topics. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

Public comment will only be permitted through live telephone calls at the start of the meeting; no in-person comments, emails or voicemails will be accepted. Those planning to comment must sign up online or call 828-250-4001 by Monday, March 15, at 3 p.m. All commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.

Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. 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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5 thoughts on “Buncombe to discuss nondiscrimination ordinance March 16

  1. Richard B.

    The transgender craziness continues, thanks to some BC Commissioners who must think that the 5% or less of their constituents – I would guess much less – who demand to go pee in the opposite sexes bathrooms, are more relevant to their re-election than the 95% of reasonable voter/citizens.
    Non-discriminatory laws, if needed, are fine. We are already guaranteed all the rights as individuals that the Commissioners are proposing, but okay, go ahead and put a stamp of
    approval on that which all reasonable people agree to, if you believe that the action enhances changes of being re-elected.
    However, all reasonable people know that the majority of society should rule on something like avoiding the embarrassment of having to go to the bathroom alongside someone of the opposite SEX, no matter what GENDER they declare themselves to be, which is their choice, totally.
    This is not a Right or Left subject for debate, it’s Common Sense, which seems to have become increasingly absent from our civil and political discourse.

    • James

      Dennis Hastert, Mark Foley, Gym Jordan, Matt Gaetz…. it seems the only people we should be banning from public restrooms are Republican members of Congress…

      P.S. Stalls in public restrooms are only embarrassing to people sitting next to Larry Craig (R-ID).

      P.P.S. We personally know a family who was denied a rental property in Buncombe county by the owner because part of the family renting the house consisted of a gay couple. (And their father and a sibling) Currently that is legal to do. So, no. Many people are NOT “guaranteed all the rights as individuals.”

  2. Stan Hawkins

    What is the penalty for littering Buncombe County? For a community leadership / media so bent on “green” “climate equity” “earthiness”; I have never seen so much litter along our roads, streets, parking lots, etc. etc. Could this be a “here’s your sign” moment that real leadership means more than eloquent verbiage, and that your policies are attracting a decline in our society?

    What a contradiction we are witnessing being weaved for political leverage. How bout some leadership, and quit littering Buncombe with your politics, and show some backbone in cleaning up Buncombe. A trash bag, a stick, and a little footwork (safely) starting with the commissioner’s office would be a good start.

    • Xiden lost, we all know it.

      I see the useless masks littering everywhere too, if covid is such a huge threat the demunists pretend it is, (except at the Mexican border) why isn’t there biological waste receptacles everywhere to “stop the spread”?

      • Stan Hawkins

        The US Army has a saying that explains it fairly well; “don’t pooh in your mess kit”.

        What we have in this county is a focus on gender nonsense, blue sky political bull, a waxing of a “throw the public a bone mentality” with a promise that it will taste good. The media including this publication pays lip service to the idea of real journalism; such as asking an occasional question of elected county officials, “how does this policy promote the community idea of a nuclear family – that wants to protect the rights of their teenage (biological / science based sex) daughter to compete on the playing field of life including sports?”

        Yet, they are afraid to ask the question for fear of being cast a hateful “gender-phobic” relic of yesteryear. This, while we dodge an increasing amount of debri scattered in our public spaces – yet no news of fines being levied for that?

        Perhaps the political nonsense, as I hinted earlier, has a direct correlation to the accumulation of our discontent. “Follow the science” – we are told, but by whom and who are they beholding to?

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