Affirmation or discrimination? Council rejects Amendment One

No on Amendment One: Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith led the 6-0 vote on a resolution opposing Amendment One. Max Cooper

Asheville City Council April 10, 2012 meeting

  • Manheimer proposes hiring Council liaisons
  • City schedules April 24 public hearing on water system

There were no presentations, no public hearings and no protests before Asheville City Council members unanimously approved an anti-Amendment One resolution April 10 (Mayor Terry Bellamy was absent).

For Council member Gordon Smith, the public silence amounted to a loud vote by city residents concerning the proposed amendment to the state constitution, whose fate will be decided by the May 8 primary. Among other things, Amendment One would ban legal recognition of same-sex couples (see “Battle Lines Being Drawn,” April 11 Xpress).

"What I want all the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans citizens of the state of North Carolina, Buncombe County and the city of Asheville to know is that we care about you and that we value equality, and we recognize the need for it," Smith told a mostly empty Council chamber. "Come May 9, we will continue to care, and we will continue to fight for equality no matter what happens on May 8. Should this amendment go down in flames, which I hope it will, that does not even begin to end this fight. We still have miles to go, and I for one as a member of Council want everyone to know in North Carolina that we as a body will continue to stand for equality."

When Smith proposed the idea of benefits for city employees’ same-sex domestic partners in 2010, about 25 people weighed in on the issue. Most were in favor, though several raised religious and other objections (see “Same-sex RX,” Feb. 17, 2010 Xpress). Smith recalled that meeting on April 10, after the Amendment One resolution had been approved. In contrast, on this occasion, the lone public comment before the resolution passed was a thank-you from Tyler McCall, a regional field officer for The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families.

"I think what we're seeing here tonight is a city that has made its decision about where it stands on the topic of equality," Smith observed.

Council members also briefly turned their attention to another contentious issue, scheduling an April 24 public hearing on the fate of Asheville’s water system. The state Legislature’s Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee is due to hold its final hearing April 19 in Raleigh, before making a recommendation to the General Assembly on whether to leave the system in the city’s hands or transfer it to an independent water authority or other entity, such as the Metropolitan Sewerage District.

"It will be refreshing to hear from the people who are directly affected by this, instead of only hearing from legislators down east," said Council member Cecil Bothwell. Of the five committee members, only the chairman, Rep. Tim Moffitt, is from Asheville.

But it appears that the committee may have already made up its mind: On April 13, the committee posted a draft report on its website that recommends “merging the … Water System with the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County.” (The committee invites public comment on the draft at the ncleg.net homepage.)

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer, citing water-system concerns as an example, proposed hiring a liaison to the state Legislature. "It's important that we have someone there to be able to follow that issue as well as any other issues," she said.

Council member Jan Davis agreed, noting that he’s resisted the idea in the past. And Council member Marc Hunt said there’s money in the current budget that could cover the cost.

Bothwell, however, voiced reservations. Rather than hiring a liaison, he argued, “We need to press our delegation to be more informative with us. They're the ones there through the whole session talking to representatives: That's why they're elected."

Manheimer, meanwhile, went further, suggesting a liaison in Washington as well, who could help identify and secure financial support for things that are typically federally funded, such as transportation projects. "We feel we're missing out on some opportunities," she explained.

On a 6-0 vote, Council members agreed in principle to proceed with the process of hiring two liaisons.

In other business, Council issued proclamations designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month and Parkinson's Awareness Month, and April 15-21 as National Volunteer Week.

— Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140, or at cbyrd@mountainx.com.

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