Buncombe weighs public comment rule changes

Buncombe County seal

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.

Consent agenda

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.

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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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7 thoughts on “Buncombe weighs public comment rule changes

  1. Buncy

    Well, yeah, you might know Brownie prefers darkness to sunshine, silence to dissent, ignorance to information, stupidity to education, illiteracy to the ability to read and write.

    At least there are two Republicans on the board who can keep under surveillance the band of thieves known as the Buncombe County Democrat Party.

    • ApePeeD

      Well you know what they say, Buncy, fourth floor bathrooms of the courthouse keep the rats coming.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    Chairman Brownie Newman made no effort to appear in front of the sentencing judge of the Wanda Greene squad to call for harsh punishment for the citizens of the county. Why not? THIS is what you call NO leadership ability at all. Who’s next to be indicted?

    • I did not observe any current or former commissioner, Democrat or Republican, in attendance during the sentencing hearings.

      • Enlightened Enigma

        It would be the Chairman’s duty and he is a democrackkk like them all…the biggest democrackkk criminal bust in NC history and barely covered in state wide news, if at all…media protects the democrackkks in NC.

        • luther blissett

          “It would be the Chairman’s duty”

          Who made you king of the county? If you want a say in those things, run for office.

  3. Don Yelton

    Don Yelton
    Brownie did not know that the current procedures permitted questions about consent agenda items and had it marked through. He also offered that he wanted public comment moved to the front so people could comment about it. Either he did not know the current rules or he was lying. You have to decide. The old and new procedure give the county manager the authority to shuffle funds as long as she does not require additional funding. Yes, you heard me correctly. Similar to what has happened?????? Any time a line item gets more money the commissioners need to vote on it.
    We can see each commissioner individually. Sorry you have to deal with leaving a message or the new welcoming cold computer screen. Sure miss that smiling warm face when you get off the elevator on the third floor.

    I think the mountain xpress readers want open, transparent government and not hiding behind a computer screen, and not taking comments on votes of the commission. The proof is in the pudding. Call, write letters etc.

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