For the 21st century, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners has reverted to a little old-fashioned philosophy: They’ll allow questions from citizens during the public-comment section of each regular meeting, and do their best to answer those questions right then and there (or have county staff respond).
Commissioners had been discouraging questions — if not outright avoiding them — Board of Commissioners watchdog Mike Morgan and other critics have complained. For the past two months, Morgan has hammered on that issue at nearly every regular meeting.
“We’ll go back to the old system,” Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol declared during the Jan. 4 pre-meeting session. He gave a nod to Morgan, and added, “We’ll answer [all] questions, if we’re able.”
“I’d like to reserve the right to [delay responding, in order to] give a fair answer,” Commissioner David Gantt remarked during the brief discussion. He also noted that the policy isn’t meant to provide a forum for Board of Commissioners candidates in the coming year (all five seats are up for election this fall).
Morgan agreed that there should be no campaigning during the public-comment period.
Sobol then added: “The board’s being open about this. Our neighbors in Henderson County turn the television [cameras] off during public comment.”
Quality counts: The Buncombe County Library System earned best-in-the-state honors for its public-relations work, beating out such bigger systems as Mecklenburg County’s, Debra Compton reported at the Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 4 regular meeting. “They [all] have [big] staffs, and I have a staff of one,” noted Compton, the library’s public-relations coordinator.
Detention Center exchange
If it looks like a good deal, take it: At their Jan. 4 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners agreed to exchange the county-owned Juvenile Detention Center (covering about two acres) for 13 state-owned acres next to Craggy Prison and the old county landfill.
The county turned over operation of the center to the state a few years ago, and now state officials intend to spend about $2 million renovating the 30-year-old facility, County Manager Wanda Greene explained. The state leases the facility from the county for $1 per year. The county has also been considering a golf course at the old landfill. “We need a little more land for [another] hole,” noted Greene.
Board of Commissioners critic Don Yelton commented that he has “no problem” with the exchange — but would like to see a map of the properties involved and copies of any recent appraisals “to see if it’s a good deal.”
Greene provided neither, but suggested that Yelton visit the county attorney’s office to view the relevant maps. She recommended that board members approve the exchange.
“It sounds like a good deal … getting 13 acres we can do something with … although I’ll have a problem with spending taxpayers’ money on a golf course,” Commissioner Gantt remarked. He also pointed out that, since the center is in dire need of improvements, it’s a good idea to let the state undertake renovations.
As Commissioner Bill Stanley explained, the center houses juveniles being detained before trial, as well as runaways.
With no other comments, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the exchange.
Postponed county retreat
In other news, County Manager Greene announced that staff have “more work” to do on preparations for the commissioners annual retreat, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 4 -5. She asked commissioners to postpone the retreat, noting that a new date will be set at the next regular meeting. Board members agreed.