Buzzworm news briefs

Green realtors

Last September, the Asheville Board of Realtors announced a new program for environmentally conscious members. By completing 36 hours of classes on how to advise clients on environmental issues, realtors can earn an Environmental Consultant Certification, known as an ECO. The courses cover a range of environmental topics, such as green building, indoor air quality and Energy Star Rating.

At the most recent ECO seminar, presented by the Environmental Leadership Center at Warren Wilson College on Feb. 2, two dozen area real-estate agents learned about the difference between good ozone and bad ozone; the effect of thermal inversion in mountain valleys; the primary sources of the region’s air pollution; the national epidemic of children’s asthma; the importance of clean air as an environmental, health and economic issue; radon and carbon monoxide monitors; the hazards of “new car smell” from paint, carpets and mattresses; the health threat posed by kerosene-heater fumes; and the ways human activity can increase the frequency of landslides, along with ways to reduce the losses of such catastrophes.

Warren Wilson professors John Brock and Dean Kahl were joined by Rebecca Latham and Rick Wooten of the N.C. Geological Survey to teach the four-hour course.

For more information about the ECO program, contact David West of the Asheville Board of Realtors at 255-8505.

— Cecil Bothwell

An antediluvian punk memoir

“If the city that inspired this writing turns out to be more ephemeral than the writing itself, then it’s time to put the writing in a more permanent medium,” says Ethan Clark, editor of the new compilation Stories Care Forgot: An Anthology of New Orleans ‘Zines.

Clark spent seven years in New Orleans’ once-thriving punk scene, becoming known as a creator of the ‘zine (or self-published magazine) Chihuahua and Pitbull. When Hurricane Katrina decimated the city, for Clark it wasn’t just buildings and the lives of friends that were destroyed, it was a wealth of memories.

“It felt like the end of the world,” recalls Clark, who had relocated from New Orleans to Asheville not long before the storm. “It looked like New Orleans was going to be razed. I was freaking out trying to figure out how to do something helpful.”

An e-mail from a friend and fellow ‘zinester suggested one potential way: publish a compilation of New Orleans ‘zines.

“At first, I thought that was a silly idea,” Clark says. “But, as I started thinking about it more, I realized I could put it out as a book, and that it could be a fund-raising tool for someone other than FEMA or the Red Cross, who were kind of sitting around and twiddling their thumbs at the time.”

The resulting collection, Stories Care Forgot, is an archive of writings and comics by nearly 20 ‘zinesters who once called the Big Easy home. It’s an assortment of fragments and stories written before the flood, stitched together by Clark’s own memories.

“As young white kids who are not from New Orleans, we don’t represent all of that place and time by any means,” Clark says. “But that writing is there, and I do believe that it’s good and that it’s important to preserve.”

Funds raised by Stories Care Forgot will benefit the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund and Plan B: The New Orleans Community Bike Project, a community bicycle collective. A release party for the anthology will be held at Malaprop’s Book Store in Asheville on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 6 p.m.

For more information, visit www.ethansellsout.com.

— Steve Shanafelt

A liberal dose of politics

For many Democrats these days, it isn’t easy being “Blue” — especially in a “Red” state that helped send George W. Bush the White House, Brevard Republican Charles Taylor to Congress, and two Republicans (Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole) to the U.S. Senate.

In fact, it’s enough to make some frustrated liberals hit the bottle — or, in the case of a few local Dems, a pint glass at the Jack of the Wood pub in downtown Asheville.

But these aren’t just bitter libs (well, OK, perhaps just a wee bit); they’re conversational politicos with their eyes on a prize — namely, returning to a time when “neo-cons” were just pieces of the great political mosaic and not the nation’s ruling elite.

Ranging from a mere handful to more than a dozen, these local Democrats and progressives meet every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the pub as part of a small-but-growing national phenomenon known as “Drinking Liberally.”

“It began in New York City in May, 2003, when it felt as though the politicians, press and public were giving conservative cons a free pass,” states the drinkingliberally.org Web site. “We began as one-part support group and one-part strategy session, playing with slogans and ideas we thought Democrats needed to be saying.”

The Asheville chapter of the drinking club was the 128th such group to form in the country, joining five others already established in North Carolina. More groups form each week around the nation.

Gordon Smith, who co-hosts the local gathering with Felicity Green, says the purpose of the weekly political gabfests “is to meet and drink — and if other things happen, so be it. We just talk about whatever.”

But each week usually does have a theme. At the most recent meet-up on Feb. 9, Smith settled on “ethics” as the focus. But as bar conversations usually go, anything and everything was fair game for discussion. “The theme can morph into a million different things,” said one participant. Indeed, the informal talk between Smith and a half-dozen others ranged from former football star Heath Shuler‘s campaign to unseat Taylor this November to local environmental issues, from the Iraq War to the National Security Agency eavesdropping scandal and numerous points in between.

While not everyone shared Smith’s excitement over the Shuler campaign (the former NFL quarterback hasn’t earned his liberal bona fides, in their eyes), Smith remarked that Democrats — if they want to return to power — must become a bit more like Republicans in terms of their attitudes towards elections.

“Democrats want to fall in love with a candidate — Republicans fall in line,” he commented. “[Failed Taylor challenger] Patsy Keever was a beautiful candidate, and I would have been proud to have her in Congress. But now? Now, I just want to win!”

For more information on Drinking Liberally, visit www.drinkingliberally.org.

— Hal Millard

Democracy 101

At a time when the State Board of Elections is investigating potential campaign-law violations and turning attention to the larger issue of campaign finance in North Carolina, local citizens are gathering to discuss these issues at a “promoting democracy” meeting this Thursday in West Asheville.

“We have some things going on nationally and statewide that, on the one hand, are disgusting, but on the other hand are a window of opportunity,” says Tom Coulson, a Madison County resident who serves as coordinator of the local chapter of public-interest group Common Cause/North Carolina.

Acting on that opportunity, Common Cause has joined two other nonprofit civic groups, the League of Women Voters and Democracy North Carolina, in a coalition called North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections

“Together, we’ll seek [public] opinion on steps to make our democracy work,” Coulson says. “We’ll also report on the climate for reform in Raleigh and the direction we propose to have reform efforts take. A third topic will be how … citizens can have a meaningful input into these proposed changes.”

Lobbying reform and public financing of elections will be at the top of the meeting’s agenda. “This is kind of a kickoff of a tour of the state to raise awareness of the ‘check-off’ problems again,” Coulson says, referencing North Carolina’s relatively new program of public funding for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judicial elections. That program was successful in 2004, its first year of operation, and a major source of such financing comes from an income-tax form check-off box that the groups want to make the public more aware of.

During the last round of judicial elections, Coulson says, “We raised enough money to fund the races that qualified, but we exhausted the fund because there were so many races.”

The check-off system funnels $3 of an individual’s tax payment into the judicial-elections fund, which supports both the campaigns of participating candidates and the distribution of a statewide guide about candidates for higher judicial office. The check-off costs the taxpayer nothing because it is deducted from the total taxes he or she is paying, but according to Coulson, some of the software used for filing taxes incorrectly identifies the check-off amount as a “donation.” The new coalition hopes to help dispel such confusion.

Looking toward the future, Coulson says that the coalition wants to “move, also, to public funding for the Council of State [candidates], and same-day registration — all of which we think will promote the idea of one vote for each person counting equally.”

Kathleen Balogh, president of the Asheville-Buncombe County League of Women Voters, will moderate the evening’s discussion. Adam Sotak, director of organizing for the Carrboro-based Democracy North Carolina, will be on hand to speak for that organization and its statewide work.

The N.C. Voters for Clean Elections meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16, in the community room of the West Asheville Library (924 Haywood Road).

— Nelda Holder

Reval blues

Most Buncombe County property owners received revaluation notices during the first week of February, and for many, the jump in appraised values has come as a shock. In a real-estate market where sales and prices have climbed nearly every month since the last reassessment in 2002, some areas in the county have rocketed in valuation.

“Residential values have increased by 25 to 40 percent, depending on the market, while the average [for all properties] county-wide is a little over 45 percent,” explains Buncombe County Tax Administrator Gary Roberts. In addition, some downtown commercial property has nearly doubled during this period.

Owners who believe that the new estimates are too high or too low have a few weeks left to challenge the figures. (Roberts told Xpress that, perhaps surprisingly, there are some people who want to see their valuation increased.) Attached to the revaluation notices is an “Informal Appeal Form”; those seeking to challenge the county’s appraisal must complete the form, attach any supporting documentation such as photos, sales information or other appraisals, and return it to the Tax Department by the first week of March.

In an effort to make the tax-value appeal process as easy as possible, the county has produced a video with step-by-step instructions. The “Property Revaluation Appeal Form Guide” is airing regularly on Buncombe County TV (Channel 2 on Charter Cable), and can also be viewed on the county Web site, www.buncombecounty.org.

For more information, contact the Buncombe County Tax Office at 250-4940.

— Cecil Bothwell

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