Commissioners table art projects, nonprofit funding changes

Asheville City Councilman Keith Young spoke during the Buncombe County Commissioners meeting. He addressed commissioners about including more African-American voices in the county's two proposed art projects.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners started its Tuesday, Nov.1, meeting with its usual open public comment. Three residents used the platform to ask for more inclusion of the African-American community in the county’s two new proposed art projects at its new courthouse.

Asheville resident Eleanore Wayne said two of her African-American friends recently told her they don’t feel as if Asheville wants them there. “I strongly urge you to stop the process now and start anew, this time with representation from the entire county,” she said.

Asheville City Councilman Keith Young also weighed in. “Being the only African-American elected official in the county, I felt it my due diligence to make my presence felt. … I would hope this body would take heed and include other voices,” he said.

Commissioners would later take action on two agenda items tied to the county’s proposed art projects.

Code changes
Next, commissioners made quick work of four public hearings concerning various amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance. None of the public hearings garnered any comments, and all were approved unanimously. You can view those four below:

Art inclusion
Next, commissioners discussed a proposed history wall and sculpture. During its last meeting in October, commissioners approved a measure to vote on two art installations for the lobby and courtyard of the new courthouse. For more information about the history wall and sculpture proposals, you can view Xpress’ previous coverage of the issue.

County staff informed commissioners that its original proposal of having county staff make the history wall for under $5,000 would no longer be feasible, and the estimate is now about $25,000 for the project.

Buncombe County resident Joy McConnell was the only person to speak at the public hearing concerning approval of the art projects. “I’m very concerned about inclusion of African-American community members. … The whole African-American community was basically wiped out during urban renewal,” she said. “We need to provide the African-American children with a sense that they belong here so they can have a vision for their own future here in Buncombe County.”

Commissioner Ellen Frost said the decision needs to be postponed until there is more input from all of the community. “It happens all the time to minorities, but we can stop it right now and not put a timeline on it. Do it the way we should do it,” she said.

Commissioner Joe Belcher said he agreed but added, “I want to make sure the faith community is represented. When I looked at some of the drawings, I did not see that,” he commented. “This is a very difficult assignment.”

Commissioner Brownie Newman said he likes the proposals, but “We clearly need more time. Now we realize we need a lot more input,” he noted.

Commissioner Holly Jones said, “I support the direction this is going in. It’s not about the final product, but about the way we get to the final product.”

Commissioner Mike Fryar then floated the idea of having a rotating history wall, perhaps with support from different community organizations.

Chairman David Gantt said, “This is what art is about. It’s discussion, making sure everybody is part of it. We need to include everybody.”

Commissioners unanimously approved to reject the bids and postpone action on the project. The history wall has $25,000 allocated for its future, up from the previous budget of $5,000.

Commissioners also unanimously approved rejecting the sculpture bids and moving forward with more input. County staff also recommended the potential of alternate sites for the sculpture as the area suggested has a large number of utilities beneath it, potentially making installation difficult. That project has $50,000 allocated for its future, up from the previous budget of $35,000.

Nonprofit nonissue
Next, commissioners discussed a resolution that would change the way the county funds nonprofits. The resolution would require extra levels of financial disclosure, services only be provided to county residents, public record requirements for funded nonprofits and other restrictions.

Frost asked, “If somebody were to arrive at the Family Justice Center, battered and beaten, would they have to prove they live in Buncombe County, or would they be accepted and treated humanely? Because, according to this, they would not be served.”

Staff from Helpmate, a Family Justice Center nonprofit partner, noted the organization does receive funding outside of Buncombe County and would not turn anyone away.

Gantt said, “As I understand our current law, we require open books, annual financial statements, audited statements and quarterly performance contracts, so if someone is not performing in second quarter, we know about it then.”

“I like this conversation and I think it’s useful to ask if we are good stewards of the money. I like the flexibility and the accountability we have,” said Gantt. “Buncombe County is known throughout the state and the country for partnering. We choose to partner with people that are on the front lines doing the work every day. I think it makes the money go further.”

Commissioner Tim Moffitt, who asked the resolution be added to the agenda, then said, “In light of some new information this evening, I would ask we remove the resolution from the agenda for further consideration down the road.”

The motion to remove the agenda item was approved unanimously.

You can view the proposed amended language, highlighted in yellow, here.

Sell, sell, sell

Commissioners unanimously approved selling county-owned property at 125 S. Lexington Ave. The property has been appraised for $
Commissioners unanimously approved selling county-owned property at 125 S. Lexington Ave. The property has been appraised for $615,000.

Finally, commissioners discussed the sale of county-owned property at 125 S. Lexington Ave., a condominium unit in Lexington Station. Currently, the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency is housed there but will be moving to the county’s facilities at 200 College St. The Lexington Avenue property is 4,400 square feet and has five parking spots, but county staff said the space is not very accessible to the public. Staff said the property won’t be sold for less than $615,000, its appraised value.

Commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with the sale of the land.

You can view the resolution here.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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