Maybe they were just talked out after their weekend retreat in Hendersonville. Whatever the cause, the Asheville City Council’s Feb. 4 work session was a marvel of brevity; it took a mere 45 minutes to cover a three-point agenda.
Mayor Charles Worley called the meeting to order, asking for a moment of silence to remember the seven astronauts who died on the space shuttle Columbia Feb. 1.
Rape cases increase
The number of rapes reported in Asheville last year was the highest in at least five years, according to a report by Police Chief Will Annarino. The report, requested by Council member Holly Jones, also summarized the incidence of domestic abuse and other types of assault in the city between 1998 and 2002.
Of the 55 rape cases reported in 2002, 41 were deemed by police to be credible, said Annarino, up from 37 cases in 2001 (and 21 cases in 2000). In contrast, the number of domestic assaults reported has dropped sharply, from 92 in 1998 to 60 last year.
Annarino told Council that the increase in sexual-assault cases reflects a national trend — and a renewed confidence in law enforcement.
“More people are reporting because, more and more, they think something will be done,” asserted Annarino. In the past, he admitted, the procedures for investigating and prosecuting rapes — both locally and nationwide — were “poor.” Even so, Annarino’s own numbers show that of the 41 rape investigations taken on by police in 2002, only 12 resulted in arrests. Investigative hurdles aren’t the only obstacles, however; in 15 of last year’s rapes, the victims chose not to press charges. And prosecutors, noted Annarino, sometimes decline to take on a case.
Numbers, however, never tell the whole story, and Annarino and Council members tried to uncover the deeper meanings behind the statistics.
Council member Jim Ellis wondered about the nature of the attacks.
“Most [suspects] are acquaintances,” said Annarino. “That’s important when considering the downtown situation; you don’t walk out of a bar and get raped.”
Jones, too, emphasized that it isn’t strangers lurking in the downtown shadows who commit these crimes.
“There’s a lot of harassment against women, but it is not the people on the street,” she said. “It’s not the panhandlers.”
Jones called on both Annarino and Council to keep domestic violence in the crosshairs even as downtown issues remain in the spotlight. “Let’s keep our eyes on the prize,” she urged. “Let’s not lose sight of domestic assault.”
Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy, meanwhile, noted that attention also needs to be paid to the neighborhoods, including providing funding for neighborhood-watch programs.
“We have to know what’s going on next door to us,” Bellamy declared. “We need to continue initiatives we started 10 and 12 years ago.”
Bellamy also said she puts a high priority on hiring new police officers.
“I think we need them,” agreed Council member Joe Dunn, adding that he attributes much of the crime problem, both locally and nationwide, to a breakdown in families.
Tech it to the streets
A proposal by the city Planning and Zoning Commission calls for changing the wording of the Unified Development Ordinance to allow businesses conducting high-tech research in areas zoned for business, commercial, institutional and industrial uses. The change, said Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford, would support efforts to make Asheville a center for high-tech research.
After investigating potential environmental hazards sometimes associated with such research, Shuford’s office concluded that there are enough regulations in place to ensure environmental safety.
Worley, contacted after the meeting, said such industries are generally considered to be nonpolluting, relatively nonintrusive, and valuable additions to an area’s economy.
But Bellamy had concerns about the types of research that would be allowed, including an ethical question that has reared its head in national news recently: cloning.
Although Shuford said cloning research would probably fall under medical research, Bellamy wondered if there is a legal way to ban cloning within the city limits.
City Attorney Bob Oast, admitting that he doesn’t know much about the legal ramifications of cloning, advised Council to wait until the prospect of such a business locating in Asheville is more imminent before making any legal moves.
The proposed change to the UDO will be on the agenda for the Feb. 25 formal session, with a public hearing followed by a Council vote.
The city is accepting applications for the Recreation Board, which advises Council on the operation of city parks-and-recreation programs. The deadline for applications is Friday, Feb. 14. For more information, contact the city clerk’s office at 259-5601.