Patience was the word of the evening as City Manager Debra Campbell updated members of Asheville City Council on her plan for community conversations regarding the future of public safety. “We know that expectations are extremely high and that you want us to move very, very quickly. But we are being extremely cautious, very deliberate, and we hope that you will bear with us and participate,” she said at Council’s Aug. 25 meeting.
For the past three months, community members have repeatedly called on Council to defund the Asheville Police Department by at least 50% and invest in Asheville’s Black communities, many times taking to the streets in protest of current approaches to policing. But during her presentation to Council, Campbell laid out an official avenue for community participation on the topic.
Starting next week, the city will hold virtual public meetings through the city’s Public Input platform to discuss what Campbell preferred to call “reimagining” the APD. Concurrently, paid facilitators from outside the city will hold small in-person meetings to talk directly with “the most impacted groups and communities,” Campbell said. City staff will share surveys, questionnaires and blogs on all available platforms.
Two facilitator teams were selected to lead the process: Shemekka Ebony Coleman of Raleigh will head some discussions, and the Charlotte-based Amplify Community Consulting team of Glenn Thomas and Christine Edwards will lead the others. Costs for all facilitation services will not exceed $10,000, Campbell said.
Facilitators will also compensate a limited number of people representing the most impacted groups for their participation, Campbell added. Specifically targeted communities include Black residents, those living in public housing, victims of crime and people without housing.
The update comes less than a month before Council plans to vote on a budget amendment that would distribute funds to city departments, including the APD, for the remainder of the 2020-21 fiscal year. On July 30, Council voted to allocate just three months of funding for essential services, having previously passed an interim budget in an effort to allow more time for community engagement.
A recommendation based on community conversations will go before Council on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Members are expected to hear public comment and vote on an amendment at the same meeting.
“People are experiencing and expressing valid feelings of sadness and anger, fear and uncertainty,” Campbell said. “They look to local government to calm their fears and provide resources to address their issues and concerns. Unfortunately, we can’t always move as fast as people would like us to, given the complexity of the issues and available resources. But we want to reassure the community that we hear you and commit to working with you for as long as it takes to make our city better.”
Council member Sheneika Smith seconded the need for ongoing conversations beyond September, saying that many stories would emerge with focused community input.
“Blackness and being poor is not a monolith,” Smith said. “Everyone has a different experience and everyone has different needs. We’re going to have to be very specific to what the people in Asheville need, and we may not get that by September. But I’m telling us to be patient with one another and know that we’re all in this together.”