Less talk, more action: That’s the goal of changes to public comment policy for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners proposed by Chair Brownie Newman. His colleagues will consider whether to approve the moves during the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 5 p.m. in room 326 at 200 College St.
Under the new rules, members of the public would no longer be permitted to comment on each of the board’s motions individually. Instead, all public input would be lumped into a single general comment period, moved to the start of the meeting from its current position at the end. The changes would make the commission’s policy different from that of Asheville City Council, which holds general comment at the end of meetings and allows separate comment on every item that requires a vote.
“The main rationale is that it’s probably just a more efficient way to do it,” Newman explained in a phone conversation with Xpress. He also noted that the shift would give commenters the currently unavailable opportunity to weigh in on the consent agenda prior to the board’s vote. All required public hearings would continue to be held in accordance with state law.
County resident and regular commission commenter Jerry Rice expressed concern over the proposed policy at the end of the board’s Aug. 20 meeting. Because members of the public would no longer hear commissioners’ discussions on individual agenda items before offering comment, he argued, their remarks would be less well informed.
“You don’t want to hear the public. But the public is important, even if it’s just me and Don,” Rice said, referencing fellow frequent commenter Don Yelton, who has often personally criticized Newman during board meetings.
Asked about these points, Newman responded that members of the public could reach out to commissioners individually if they wanted to learn their thoughts on specific items before a meeting. “I personally believe that his concern is probably more about wanting to have the opportunity to make public comment four or five times at every meeting, and frankly, I’m not convinced that’s the best use of everyone’s time,” Newman added.
In other business
The Buncombe County Tourism Authority will update commissioners on the progress of its Tourism Management and Investment Plan, a $440,000 project that will guide the long-term deployment of millions in occupancy tax revenue through the TDA’s Tourism Product Development Fund. According to state statute, 25% of all occupancy taxes must be used for capital investment projects that drive new overnight visits to the county.
A presentation available before the meeting notes that the TDA has conducted three public input workshops about the plan, as well as a “community sentiment survey” that the authority’s website says drew over 2,000 responses. However, the presentation does not contain any details about the results of this input. The survey in particular was widely criticized on the Asheville Politics Facebook group, with several commenters calling it a “push poll” biased toward tourism interests.
Commissioners will also consider a minor technical correction to the county’s contracts policy and a ground lease with the city of Asheville for the East Asheville Library. Under the lease terms, Buncombe would pay the city $1 annually for 99 years to use the property while funding all “repairs, maintenance and care of the leased premises,” as well as the renovation of existing basketball and playground facilities.
The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains four items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include resolutions to:
- Approve the county’s monthly tax collection report. According to Tax Collector Jennifer Pike, Buncombe took in nearly $1.56 million of current-year property, real estate and motor vehicle taxes in July, as well as over $44,000 in taxes owed from years dating back to 2008.
- Accept a report on the county’s legal settlements for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018-19. The only item listed on that report is a $1,558 settlement for damage to a 2012 Kia Optima; the driver of that vehicle had her front bumper torn off by a spike in the curb stop of the county parking lot at the Buncombe County Sports Park.
The board’s regularly scheduled 3 p.m. pre-meeting was cancelled due to what Board Clerk Lamar Joyner called “a lack of topics.” The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.