On Tuesday, March 13, Asheville City Council will hold its first regular meeting since the Feb. 28 publication of leaked body camera footage showed a former Asheville police officer, Chris Hickman, beating a black Asheville resident, Johnnie Jermaine Rush, after stopping him for allegedly jaywalking.
Council members met in a special closed session on March 5, after which the city released more information regarding the timeline and investigation into the use-of-force incident.
During a meeting of the Citizen’s Police Advisory Committee on March 7, members of the committee and city officials, including Chief Tammy Hooper, faced a fiery show of outrage from the community. A steady stream of Asheville residents, many of them African-American, approached the microphone to call for reforms, decry the actions of the police officer and share personal stories about run-ins with the Asheville Police Department.
In response to questions from the audience, Hooper said the department is not investigating who leaked the footage and said she would resign if that would solve the problem. City Council member Vijay Kapoor defended Hooper in a statement he released after the CPAC meeting.
“Changing the culture of a police department is not an easy thing to do, and Chief Hooper has been making progress, though not at the pace that she or others would like,” Kapoor wrote. “This is clearly a setback, but I support her.”
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Racial Justice Coalition (a local group that includes 14 partner organizations) will present suggestions for improving accountability and workplace culture at the Asheville Police Department in light of the recently publicized body camera video.
City Council will consider items on its consent agenda. Unless specifically singled out for separate discussion, these items are typically approved as a single package. In brief, they include:
- A resolution supporting the N.C. Department of Transportation in funding, designing and constructing improvements at the intersection of Hendersonville and Overlook roads. According to a report prepared by the city, there will be no initial financial impact to the city, but the city will be responsible for maintaining the sidewalk after it’s constructed.
- A resolution authorizing the city manager to apply for funding from the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization for fiscal year 2019 through fiscal year 2021 for about $18 million in transportation funding. The city would be required to match $4,379,260 over the three-year period.
- A budget amendment to increase the U.S. Cellular Center Fund by $725,000 in response to the addition of numerous large-scale events during the 2017-18 fiscal year since the completion of budget planning.
- A resolution supporting the sole-source purchase of buses and related charging equipment from Proterra Inc. using grant money received through the Federal Transit Administration’s Low- or No-Emission Vehicle Program.
- A resolution authorizing the city manager to implement an agreement with the NCDOT to relocate waterlines as part of improvements to Bridge No. 686 over Upper Grassy Branch Ext. NCDOT estimates the cost of the project will be $81,580. With a 10 percent contingency, the total project budget would be $89,738.
- A resolution authorizing the city manager to execute an approximately $1.8 million contract, plus a 20 percent contingency, with Rogers Group, Inc. to resurface about 3.2 miles of city streets. Funding for the contract comes from the 2016 General Obligation Bonds approved by Asheville citizens in November 2016.
- A budget amendment of $39,856 in Asheville’s Special Revenue Fund to reflect additional funds awarded by the State Division of Aging and Adult Services, Housing and Homeless Unit.
- A resolution authorizing the city manager to implement a $50,000 contract with Equinox Environmental to create a Tree and Riparian Enhancement Plan. A $60,000 grant from the Duke Water Resources Foundation will cover the cost of the contract as well as a project with UNC Asheville staff and faculty to help create educational signage. UNCA STEAM students will fabricate and install the signage in the RADTIP project area.
In addition to the presentation by the Racial Justice Coalition, Council members will also hear from the Asheville Museum of Science.
According a presentation available on the city’s website, the Asheville Museum of Science served 42,462 visitors in 2017. About 15,000 were from Asheville and almost 18,500 were from Buncombe County.
The presentation also compares the average funding mix for U.S. museums in 2009 with the Asheville museum’s mix of funding in 2017. In 2017, the museum’s total budget was about $850,000.
The budget for U.S. museums in 2009 consisted of on average about 24.4 percent of support from multiple levels of government. The Asheville museum receives 3.6 percent of its budget from government support. About 60 percent comes from private giving and the remaining 36.4 percent is from earned income such as ticket sales and program and event fees.
City Council will conduct three public hearings, all related to street or right-of-way closure requests. The proposed closures would affect a portion of Peachtree Street and two rights-of-way — one near 85 Deaver St. and the other at the end of Deaver Street south of Howard Street.
Staff anticipates the closures will have no financial impact on the city and will promote growth.
In other business
City Council will also decide whom it will interview for several city committees, including the newly created audit committee (See “Asheville to get another layer of audit oversight”). The audit committee will be composed of five members: one City Council member and four outside members, who must have a minimum of five years of experience in the management of accounting, finance or audit for a corporation, nonprofit or governmental entity.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.
Prior to the March 13 meeting, Council members will hold a joint meeting with the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in the first floor conference room at 200 College St., Asheville.
For more of the latest city and county news, check out Xpress’ Buncombe Beat.