Buzzworm news briefs

Campaign Calendar

Rutherford is rallying: The Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce has invited all four candidates for Congress from the 11th District (two Republicans and two Democrats) to a “Meet the Candidates” forum on Monday, April 17 April, at 6 p.m. in the County Annex Building. After speeches and rebuttals by the candidates, questions from the audience will be allowed. “We will put up chairs for all the candidates with their names on them,” explains Bill Hall of the Chamber, “so everyone can see who has decided to come, and who has not.” Republican candidates are John Armor and (incumbent) Charles Taylor; Democratic candidates are Clyde Michael Morgan and Heath Shuler. For additional information, call (828) 287-3090.

All this, and candidates, too: It’s the 1st Annual Earth Day Music Festival and Old-Time Political Rally at Deerfields in Mills River on Saturday, April 22, when Congressional candidate Clyde Michael Morgan sponsors an early 1900s-era rally from noon to 7 p.m. The event includes live music, cornbread and beans, and a lot of political dialogue. Tuning up will be J.P. Delanoye, Woody Wood, Phunkle Sam, McTaggart Garrett and DeBruhl, The Loop, The Swills, Savannah Bob Nelson and others. Environmental organizations are welcome to table. All the area’s Democratic candidates are invited to speak — and to listen. Members of the public get to question and/or advise the politicians before the May 2 primary. There’s a $20 suggested donation accepted at the gate, but no one will be turned away. Additional information, tickets and a map will be available at Morgan’s Web site: www.CMMorgan4Congress.com.

Absentee ballot-request deadline: Registered voters who plan to vote by mail can request absentee ballots from the Buncombe County Board of Elections. The deadline for those requests is April 25, with exceptions for illness or disability.

Early voting: One-stop absentee voting (or “early” voting) begins April 13 and ends April 29. One-stop voting takes place at the Board of Elections office, 189 College St. in Asheville.

Your primary opportunity: Precinct workers are needed around the county for the May primary (and the November general election). To help out you must be a registered voter in Buncombe County and must be affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party. For additional information, contact the Board of Elections at 250-4200 or visit www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/Election.

Send us your campaign news: Candidates, organizations and citizens are encouraged to send campaign-event news — as far in advance as possible — to nholder@mountainx.com, (fax) 251-1311, or “Campaign Calendar,” Mountain Xpress, P.O. Box 144, Asheville, NC 28802.<$>

Cat-strations without malice

Has your tomcat begun his spring serenade? Worried that your felines might help overpopulate Buncombe County? Now’s your chance to do something about it — on the cheap.

In an effort to bring down the number of unwanted kittens and cats in the area, a special spay/neuter clinic is being held — by appointment and for county residents only — now through Friday, April 21, at the Humane Alliance Spay/Neuter Clinic.

Male cats will be neutered at a special rate of $20, and females will be spayed for $35. As a healthy bonus, rabies vaccinations are included with all such surgeries.

The clinic is co-sponsored by the Humane Alliance, the Asheville Humane Society, the Animal Compassion Network and the Mimi Paige Foundation.

With kitten season upon us, the number of cats coming into the animal shelter is already rising, but these organizations hope to neutralize — or better yet, reverse — the trend. More than 200 male cats were neutered during February’s Neuter-a-thon, and this month’s event includes the ladies, as well. The special programs are part of a year-long effort to give the county’s cats a break.

Call 252-2079 for an appointment or more information.

— Nelda Holder

Trading Civic Center futures

It’s got to be deja vu for former Asheville Mayor Charles Worley, a veteran of two task forces charged with helping determine the future of the Asheville Civic Center. The first group commissioned the 2001 Heery Report, but City Council took no action; the current Asheville Civic Center Task Force hopes to produce its final recommendations April 19.

The latter group made a slight detour March 15 when it became apparent that City Council wanted the group to supplement its two previously chosen recommendations with a third, low-cost option.

The task force had earlier endorsed plans calling for building a new arena off-site and transforming the current structure into a performing-arts center, or revamping the existing arena and building a new performing-arts facility behind it. They also unanimously rejected two other options: treading water by simply making basic repairs to the current facility, or taking no action. Those decisions must now be revisited. To further complicate matters, a fourth option is also on the April agenda: building a new performing-arts center adjacent to City/County Plaza and renovating the old arena.

“I think there is a clear consensus that we want to support a performing-arts center,” Worley told Xpress. “It’s become less clear [where] that would appear — whether in the [current] arena or … as part of an overall public/private development [at City/County Plaza]. All of that’s going to be up for discussion at the next meeting.

“I know what the low option is going to be,” he added. “Repair what we’ve got — and that’s probably, at this stage, [a cost of] around $15 million.”

Rough financial estimates price the other three options from around $105 million to $130 million. Accordingly, Council has now asked for “low, medium and high” recommendations, said Worley, noting that he had no idea what the “medium” recommendation might be. But even the low, $15-million option would not be a done deal. “Council’s not ready to jump in and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do that,'” he said, speaking about all the options remaining on the table.

It will have to be a two-step process, Worley explained, with Council first determining which recommendation to follow, then hunting for the money. A likely place to look, he observed, would be “something coming out of the Legislature.”

Worley cited three possible new local-funding options: the hotel-and-room tax, which he said would have to be paired with other funding sources; a food-and-beverage tax, which would go a long way toward funding such a project; and a local-option sales tax, which might provide full funding. The latter, Worley noted, would have the “added benefit of generating funds for the county and other municipalities,” but it’s not an option he’s heard a lot of support for. In any case, he noted, it’s unclear whether the General Assembly would grant the needed approval.

“Our intent is to make a decision at the [April 19] meeting,” said Worley. “In terms of trying to ask the delegation for something, that has to be early to mid-May,” he pointed out, in order to have a chance of passing during the upcoming short session, which begins May 9.

The Civic Center Task Force meets Wednesday, April 19, at 5:30 p.m. in the Civic Center Banquet Hall. The public is invited.

— Nelda Holder

Whatcha want?

Here’s a problem: You need to find a used guitar, a band to play it in, a place for band practice, a venue to play at, and then, to top it all off, a some special somebody for a post-gig encounter. But where can you find all that without leaving your laptop? The answer is Craigslist, a classified-advertising Web site that, from a shopper’s/seeker’s viewpoint, just might be the best thing that ever happened on the Internet.

And the site’s not limited to secondhand goods, musical networking and casual sex. With an active message board, job listings and entries for people who share a range of interests, Craigslist can also just help you get a little more connected to your community. Oh, and just to irritate the newspapers that rely on classified ads to keep their staff marginally well-fed, Craigslist is also free.

Since its founding in 1995, Web-savvy netizens in big cities like New York, Seattle and Chicago have been using the site to locate the objects of their various desires, but it wasn’t until last June that Asheville residents finally got a Craigslist of their own. The San Francisco-based company decided to launch an Asheville page after receiving a flood of requests from locals, and the page now receives more than 3,000 new classified listings and 1.5 million page views per month.

Not surprisingly, the open-door attitude of Craigslist has also earned the site a reputation as a playground for people motivated by less-than-noble intentions. Message-board spammers are a constant nuisance, and rumors abound about the site’s role as a modern-day pirates’ cove for Internet predators. Still, if the idea of a free want-ads Web site with a community-spirit ethos gets you more excited than a LAN party and a flea market combined, you could do a lot worse than paying a visit to asheville.craigslist.com.

— Steve Shanafelt

Doorways of the imagination

Artistically speaking, doors seem like almost unfairly easy metaphors. What other Jungian symbol allows you to turn a knob and look onto strange new vistas, lock out the unwanted truth, hide away secrets in the dark, or provide a voyeur’s keyhole for peering into curious scenes? And more than all that, doors can also mean an entrance into a place many of us yearn for: home.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the “Doors of Asheville” art-auction fund-raiser aims to rub a little creative oil onto the creaky hinges of the local imagination.

“It’s a unique art auction, because we have local artists alter doors into ‘doors of art,'” says Sarah Brown, marketing manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Asheville. Now in its third year, the “Doors of Asheville” auction has become something of a showcase for local artists. In fact, so many artists have shown interest in participating that there’s not enough room for them all; a jury now selects the pieces that make the cut.

As novel as the initial idea was, it’s part of an artist’s nature to crave experimentation. What, exactly, is a “door of art,” and how can that definition be twisted into a statement of its own? Could a miniature door be considered? A hinged mailbox? A door be placed inside another object? Instead of balking at these upstart ideas, NHS embraced them, creating whole categories for new themes.

“I think that one of the reasons our event is so successful is that everything has been related to the theme of doors,” notes Brown of this year’s new category, “Doors Transformed.” “We wanted to expand it so that we could have more variety in the types of art that we have.”

So, what’s the hidden meaning behind a bit of hinged wood?

“NHS opens doors to affordable home ownership,” Brown responds. “We’ve tried to keep true to that original, and successful, point.”

Artists hoping to be included in this year’s auction are currently being considered; the deadline for applications is Thursday, April 27. Artists chosen for the Nov. 10 auction will receive a $100 honorarium, and an additional $300, should their works auction for more than $1,500. Contact the NHS at 251-5054, ext. 23, for more information.

— Steve Shanafelt

Fixing the fix

The Western North Carolina Leadership Symposium on Mental Health and Substance Abuse hosted some 150 health-care workers, administrators and state legislators at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, April 3. Titled “A System in Crisis,” the event took a hard look at a mental-health-care system that has splintered in the wake of state-mandated reforms.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt set the tone for the gathering when he said: “We had a system that was failing for lack of money, and we reformed it without providing any more money. For five years we’ve been sitting and waiting and almost going backwards.” Both the system and its problems are complicated, said Nesbitt, noting, “I’ve been working on this for two years, and I’m only just now beginning to get my arms around it to begin to understand it.” The longtime state legislator, who co-chairs the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, also promised that the Legislature would address the funding gap in the upcoming short session, which begins May 9. But Nesbitt emphasized that any help provided would be only a beginning, saying, “We can’t fix this overnight.”

A panel discussion featuring six stakeholders representing widely different perspectives on mental-health issues offered snapshots of current problems. Lisbeth Riis-Cooper described her daughter’s difficulties with the mental-health system, which spurred her and her husband, Don Cooper, to create CoopeRiis, A Healing Farm Community. The nonprofit residential program treats people suffering from mental illness and emotional distress. Pat Whalen, who chairs Asheville’s Downtown Social Issues Task Force, summarized the group’s findings on homelessness, panhandling and substance abuse. And Tom Covington, the former director of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division and a board member for two treatment centers, suggested that offering comprehensive counseling in grades seven through 12 would be a huge help in breaking the cycle of addiction.

Parental advocate Eve Mills described her daughter’s struggles working with a system in which she’s had seven case managers in a year-and-a-half, and Mills’ own ongoing attempts to obtain accurate information about changes in the rules. Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation described improvements to the mental-health-care system implemented during his tenure. One of the biggest lessons he’s learned, said Hicks, is how important it is to work with local care providers. Finally, CEO Will Callison of New Vistas-Mt. Laurel Inc. — a private, nonprofit community health service — described the financial ramifications of the new rules. He read from a daily diary written by one of his care providers, which continually referred to whether each treatment step would be billable, irrespective of clients’ real human needs. Partly as a result, said Callison, “We’ve had a 30 percent turnover in personnel in the last year-and-a-half. The changes were intended to reduce administrative overhead, but the new rules entail more administrative costs.”

Afternoon breakout sessions focused on various specific aspects of the mental-health system; participants reconvened at 4:30 p.m. for closing comments. The final speaker, news anchor Michael Cogdill of WYFF-TV, told the story of his Weaverville childhood with an alcoholic father and a lack of community support, making a moving case for the urgent need for effective, widely available intervention and treatment programs.

Although no specific strategies emerged, the symposium concluded with organizer Jim Van Hecke‘s call for continued cooperation among care providers across the region. “Almost everything happens after we leave here, when we go back to our counties,” he stressed. “Seventeen counties together can make a big difference.”

— Cecil Bothwell

Chainsawing Charlie

Some political observers say U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, who represents a hefty slice of Western North Carolina, is facing quite a battle to retain his seat this year — and a wicked digital doppelgaenger is doing his bit to send the seven-term Republican congressman back to the hills.

A parody “Taylor for Congress” Web site, Taylorsucks.org, is the creation of an anonymous virtual ninja who goes by the name “Lyle C. Rashorta” (an anagram of Taylor’s name), with help from a handful of politically like-minded friends. The site mimics Taylor’s actual 2004 campaign site, and the results aren’t pretty — at least not for Taylor. Lampooning the congressman’s record, his questionable business dealings and his stature as one of the wealthiest members of Congress, the fictional “Taylor” on the attack site sees his constituents as just so many rubes.

The very first paragraph on the home page gives visitors an immediate taste of the satirical buffet that lies within. “Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your contributions and your willingness to ignore my ethical problems,” says the faux congressman. “You are the backbone of my campaign, and without a backbone of my own, I want you to know that your support keeps me sitting upright. You’ve been voting for me against your own best interests for 15 years now, and your ignorance encourages me to soldier on even though I despise you.”

Ouch. (At press time, the Taylor camp had not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment.)

But gleaning insights into the site creator’s mind isn’t easy. In an e-mail exchange with Xpress, he elected to stay in character for the most part rather than answering straightforward questions. Asked about his operation, for example, he replied: “I’m proud to say that aside from the code-monkey caged in my basement and that amazing spell check button, I’m going it alone. I’m an army of one; a lone ranger of sorts, like the last swaying poplar on a ridge top after the clear cut.”

As for reaction to the site, the congressional pretender stated: “Everyone LOVES it! People come up to me on the street and say ‘Congressman, we’re so happy that you’ve finally decided to start telling the truth!’ It warms the heart.”

Attempts to suss out how much time and money the creator has invested in Taylorsucks.org didn’t fare much better.

“You mean this Internet thing costs money? Our broadband connection in the Cannon [House Office Building] is free! So are haircuts, travel and postage! Time is money, and since I’m one of the richest people in the House, I have more time than most people, so I’m able to make sure that people know the truth before the liberal media can distort it.”

— Hal Millard

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