Asheville City Council

Of Asheville’s 878 full-time city employees, a mere 114 are minorities. Nearly two-thirds of those (70) are African-American males, most of whom work in service and maintenance.

The major obstacle to the hiring and advancement of minority employees, according to Council member O.T. Tomes, is the Rule of Three — a hiring process implemented in 1953 as part of the city’s civil-service law. The rule — used by no other North Carolina city — requires city administrators to hire one of the top three scorers on tests or other evaluations for any city staff position.

Judging by the numbers, however, the rule has kept minorities from being hired, argued Tomes. Citing the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance’s promise of liberty and justice for all, he declared, “Forty-six years ago, the Civil Service law was good medicine. … But [it] has become poison to the system. … Remove [this] obstacle.”

“Amen!” Council member Barbara Field called out, when Tomes had concluded his speech. Removing the Rule of Three and giving administrators more flexibility in recruitment and hiring “is something we’ve needed to do for a long time,” she said. Field urged quick action on Tomes’ request: Changing the city’s Civil Service law requires action by the North Carolina General Assembly, and the deadline for drafting bills for the upcoming session is at hand.

But Council member Earl Cobb asked that Council hold a public meeting on the issue, because some city employees, notably the Firefighters Association, object to any change in the Civil Service law. “If it’s the right thing to do, it’ll withstand a public hearing,” said Cobb.

Assistant Human Resources Director Kevin Wilson pointed out that deleting the Rule of Three (as well as other provisions, such as those addressing political activity by employees) would not eliminate the Civil Service Board’s role in hearing and reviewing employee disciplinary or grievance cases. The equal-employment opportunities that the Rule of Three was intended to ensure, Wilson added, are well protected by federal laws (which wasn’t the case when the civil-service law was implemented).

Council members agreed to request the removal of the Rule of Three, directing staff to schedule a public discussion of the issue for the April 27 session.

Signs of towing

City Council can’t keep your car from being towed out of a private lot, but they can make sure lot owners uniformly and clearly display warning signs, City Attorney Bob Oast reported on April 20.

At the urging of Council (primarily, Vice Mayor Ed Hay), Oast has been preparing a resolution to that effect. He suggested that Council enact sign standards for private lots and fine owners $50 if they fail to post a sign before having someone towed.

As for specific complaints about the business practices of some local towing companies — which several Council members have reported hearing regularly — Oast said there’s not much Council can do.. He said he’s been referring such concerns to the state attorney general’s office, which has a section dedicated to towing complaints.

Sitnick suggested that Council schedule its vote on the proposed regulation for May 11, when Hay will be back in town (he was absent from the April 20 meeting and will miss the April 27 session, as well).

Give old buildings a break

Nearly 400 buildings in Asheville don’t meet a state building-code mandate requiring second fire exits, Council member Field mentioned at the end of Council’s April 20 work session. That can be a big expense for building owners in a city that, more than many in the state, has preserved its older structures, she said, noting that the law makes almost all the two-story shops in Biltmore Village noncompliant.

To give building owners more time to comply — and more options for meeting the second-exit mandate — the city’s Downtown Commission has recommended asking state legislators for a break, reported Field. She noted that the state code will be tossed out within the next year or so, anyway, when an international building code is adopted around the country. That code gives owners of older buildings more (and usually cheaper) options than merely installing a second, fire-rated elevator or stairwell.

After a brief discussion, Council members agreed to solicit relief from state legislators.

Said Field, “We don’t want people to die in fires [for lack of a second exit]. We want to encourage them. … But we need to give [owners] time to develop options and use modern technology.”

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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