As Asheville takes steps to reckon with its long history of systemic racism and economic inequity, local business owners are wondering what impacts the city’s ambitious initiatives will have on them.
Addressing the Council of Independent Business Owners, an Asheville-based trade group, on Jan. 15, Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell shared an update on her 30/60/90-day work plan to address racial inequality. Last summer was marked by a series of “extremely intense conversations with the community,” Campbell told the group, the most contentious of which concerned the Asheville Police Department budget.
Rehashing the events of the summer’s back-and-forth budget process over the Zoom call, Campbell reminded participants that she and City Council had only cut the APD budget by about 3%, far less than the 50% reduction some activists had demanded. Conversations on next year’s budget will resume later this month.
Attendees posed a series of questions about department morale and APD body camera footage in the online meeting’s chat box; meeting moderator John Carroll only asked Campbell about current staffing levels. She replied that the department currently has about 50 vacancies.
Street renaming also ranks high among the city’s priorities, explained Ben Woody, Asheville’s director of development services. City staff have identified 120 streets that share the name of a documented slaveholder, he said, though he assured attendees that not every flagged street would promptly change names.
“There’s a whole element of research that still needs to happen to make sure that the street is indeed named after a slaveholder and that we are correct in our assessment,” Woody said. “If the city does decide to change the name of the street, we will follow the statutory process to do so that involves public participation, a public hearing and City Council consideration.”
Asked if business owners will receive compensation to offset costs for marketing new business names and addresses necessitated by the street changes, Woody said the city hadn’t yet made that decision. “I agree that there is a cost for a business that has to reimagine branding, but I don’t think we know enough yet about what streets may change names and whether they have businesses on them,” he said.
City officials are not considering changing the name of Asheville, Campbell added. The city is named after Samuel Ashe, an 18th-century North Carolina governor and slaveholder.
CIBO members also asked about the current status of the Vance Monument. In December, both Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted to accept the Vance Monument Task Force’s recommendation to remove the monument. The city has requested bids for the cost of removal, Campbell said. She expects formal budgets to go before both elected bodies in the next month.
And city officials have not forgotten about their commitment to pursue reparations for Asheville’s Black community, Campbell emphasized. Although the aforementioned initiatives are “related to reparations and repairing the harm that has been done to people in our community,” she said, the city and county are working to firm up the structure and responsibilities of a Reparations Commission, as established in the July Council resolution supporting reparations. These recommendations will be ready in the next 45 days, she said.