Old business littered the thoughts of a packed house at the county commissioners’ Feb. 16 meeting, leaving little time for new business.
The proceedings began with a warm proclamation by Commissioner Bill Stanley, honoring retired Asheville Citizen-Times writer Henry Robinson, the first African-American reporter in western North Carolina. But things soon got stickier, as attention turned to adult-entertainment establishments and junkyards.
County Attorney Joe Connolly invoked the U.S. Constitution in his appraisal of proposed amendments to an ordinance regulating adult-entertainment businesses — amendments which he viewed as self-defeatingly harsh. “Our right to freedom of speech will not allow the Board … to absolutely prohibit this kind of activity,” was his practical assessment.
Both citizens and commissioners challenged even relatively minor aspects of the proposed ordinance, such as a requirement that adult-entertainment establishments post highly visible signs informing the public of the questionable doings within.
“I see a huge sign as an advertisement in itself,” said Commissioner Patsy Keever. “We’re trying to make these places as difficult as possible to be there at all.”
More fiercely debated was a proposal to prohibit any new adult-entertainment business within 500 feet of a private residence, or within 1,000 feet of a school, church, library, day-care center or recreation park. Already-existing adult-entertainment businesses would have three years to comply with this provision, presumably by moving to a new location.
“These are not easy requirements, [and] they would not stand up in court,” insisted Connolly.
But his opinion didn’t deter Peggy Davis, owner of Shepherd’s Door Christian Bookstore. “Let’s try it [anyway],” she muttered, before standing to deliver an impassioned statement against Bedtime Stories, an adult bookstore on Hendersonville Road.
Davis’ main beef was with the store’s lavishly painted sign. While several Bedtime Stories proponents later termed the sign’s artwork “beautiful,” Davis expressed disgust at its seemingly child-inspired, fairy-tale imagery, hissing pointedly, “What it [really says] is, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.'”
The outcome, she continued soberly, “is victimization.”
Taking severe issue with Davis was Bedtimes Stories investor MacKenzie Davis. (“No relation, either physically or spiritually,” declared Peggy Davis during a break, by way of clarification.) Despite his introductory apologies for being a poor orator, Mr. Davis used his status as an armed-forces veteran to audience-rousing effect, as he championed the right of every American to operate a constitutionally recognized business unmolested. Citing a recent incident in which he was forced to bar two enlisted men from his law-abiding establishment because they were under 21, Davis said, “I felt like an idiot [telling] them, ‘You can fight and die for your country, but you can’t watch a dirty movie.'”
Excavating other volatile old business, County Manager Wanda Greene took the stand in defense of several longstanding local junkyard owners who claimed not to have known about new county junkyard codes and, therefore, had not applied to be grandfathered in under the stricter ordinance, which requires, among other things, that junkyards be at least 500 yards from structures on neighboring properties.
Eddie Crawford, who operates a junkyard near Weaverville, used his cane and charisma to pound out some valid points about making an honest living. He concluded his speech by addressing Greene, thanking the county manager for touring the backroads of Buncombe in an effort to confirm that most of these veteran junk-traders were already complying with the codes. “She [gave us] time she could have spent somewhere better,” Crawford said.
Having addressed these contentious issues, the commissioners turned to new business, starting with an announcement postponing until March a report from the Blue Ridge Area Authority for Mental Health.
Following an investment report by Matt Dotson-Smith, Buncombe County Social Services Director Calvin Underwood reported on the county’s efforts to collect delinquent child-support payments. Last July, the county privatized its efforts, contracting with Service Design Associates. Collections are up 11 percent over the same six-month period in 1997, said Underwood, noting that the state collection average is up 8 percent. Underwood said he expected SDA’s collection rate in Buncombe to improve more in the future, explaining that the company had spent the first couple of months of the contract period retraining staff and organizing the caseload. After the meeting, Underwood added, “If the state [collections] average is a ‘C’, I would say [SDA gets] a ‘C+’ at this point. I think they will be a solid ‘B’ by the end of the year, and then we move into excellence. But a lot of groundwork — training and infrastructure — has to be laid to build toward that.”
After listening attentively to Underwood’s report, Chairman Tom Sobol requested that an additional report be provided before commissioners consider renewing the county’s one-year contract with SDA.
Cover up or pay up
Buncombe County residents are the luckiest people in America, according to General Services Director Bob Hunter.
“We live in the most beautiful county in the state, in the most beautiful state in the country,” he began smoothly, eliciting pleased murmurs from the crowd.
But the county’s economy is driven by nonresidents, Hunter went on — and that fact must be considered when confronting the issue of litter reduction.
“Tourists are our number-one industry, and a landfill … is not a part of that,” he declared. With that in mind, he asked Commissioners to approve an ordinance requiring open vehicles carrying trash to the landfill to keep their cargo covered with a tarp, in order to eliminate the threat of spillage. (After the meeting Hunter explained that, in the past, the landfill has required but not officially enforced a tarp rule.) Starting March 6, said Hunter, free tarps would be issued at the county landfill. By April 5, warnings would be issued to those not securing their load, and by May 3, a civil penalty of $50 would be imposed on those not complying with the new rule.
The proposal provoked some animated discussion among the commissioners.
“People will forget,” predicted Commissioner David Young, advising Hunter to implement further strategies to inform landfill users of the tarp requirement.
Keever, mentioning her own truck, wanted to know whether the county-issued tarp would be the only acceptable trash-masker.
“Could [you use] a blanket held down with rocks?”
Assured that this would be adequate, Keever pronounced the proposal “a great idea.” Commissioners approved the ordinance, which also increases landfill “tipping fees.” The increase is necessary to pay for developing a new “cell,” or section, of the landfill, said Hunter.
Commissioner David Gantt worried that higher fees might pose an environmental hazard, arguing that some residents might figure that it’s “cheaper to dump [their trash] off the side of the mountain.”
But Hunter reminded him that the most often-dumped items, such as tires, have always been accepted at the landfill free of charge, and pointed out that people harboring the “need” to litter will find always find a way to indulge their negligence.
Cynthia Eller and Gerald Stevenson were appointed to the county Board of Equalization and Review.