Some might consider a bit of meandering dialogue “healthy.” Others might call it “wasted verbiage.”
But after three-and-a-half hours, almost anyone might call it butt-numbing.
“I’ve been to a lot of City Council meetings, and I’ve never heard so much wasted verbiage,” local financial planner Walter Plaue told Council members at the end of their April 23 formal session. He had waited all that time simply to invite Council members to a joint city/county Memorial Day celebration; once he was finally at the lectern (during the public-comment period), however, Plaue said he just couldn’t hold back anymore.
During the protracted meeting, Plaue complained, Council members had strayed from a lengthy annexation-services report to quiz staff about bike racks. Later, they’d quibbled over who had received notice that staff was working up a report on cuts in after-school care. As he prepared to leave, an obviously frustrated Plaue branded the meandering discussions “immature.”
But Council member Carl Mumpower, telling Plaue to wait a minute, launched into what amounted to a defense: Council members get together only once a week, and if it sometimes seems they’re “airing dirty laundry,” the discussion is healthy and not at all immature.
Council member Brian Peterson said he felt that the previous Council hadn’t been communicative enough and that the newer Council members would quite naturally have to ask staff a lot of questions (it’s the first time through the annexation process for Mumpower, Jones, Joe Dunn and Jim Ellis). “We do go on a bit, but I think it’s healthy,” said Peterson.
Plaue started moving toward the lectern to rebut the rebuttals, but Mayor Charles Worley, pleading “No more,” wouldn’t let him speak.
Then Dunn put in his 2 cents’ worth, agreeing with Peterson and Mumpower while acknowledging, “Here we go talking again.”
Lengthy meetings are nothing new, however. Between 1994 and 1998 — a period that covers the terms of former mayors Russ Martin and Leni Sitnick — the average Council formal session lasted about three-and-a-half hours (and work sessions averaged almost four hours).
Annexing we will go
Here’s the bottom line: Annexing seven urbanized areas that border the city limits would pump about $655,000 into Asheville’s coffers. It would cost about $81,000 a year to provide services such as fire protection to the seven areas — Sherwood Heights, Huntington Chase, a portion of Bell Road, Forest Lake, Mill Stone, Kensington-Windsor and a section of Leicester Highway. And it would take more than $400,000 in up-front capital expenditures over the next two years to bring water-and-sewer services to those areas not already tied into the system, Asheville Planner Paul Benson told Council members on April 23.
That’s the short version of a 75-page report on providing city services to the seven areas, which Council members may annex this summer.
Benson’s 20-minute summary was a step toward getting Council approval of the plans for providing services to those areas. The next step is holding an informational meeting for the affected property owners and residents in June. Council will then conduct a public hearing and perhaps annex some or all of the areas, effective June 30, 2003. The majority of city services would have to be provided to the annexed areas by that date; the city has two years to provide water-and-sewer connections, if needed, Benson explained.
Council’s devil-in-the-details review of the report took more than an hour.
Council member Mumpower asked a series of questions about such city services as street lighting and garbage pickup, quizzed staff about the steps involved in annexation, then meandered off-topic to ask about how bike racks around town get funded and installed.
Council member Dunn asked if the quality of services ever declines for residents of annexed areas.
Public Works Director Mark Combs replied that condominium owners and apartment complexes must negotiate for such services as garbage pickup, which is not typically provided by the city. Sensing where Dunn was going with his question, Combs added that some residents don’t want the city’s new rollout-garbage-can service, which uses a new garbage truck that can be manned by a single employee and whose motorized arm can pick up those special containers automatically). Combs emphasized that those residents live on a street that’s too narrow and steep for the city’s regular garbage trucks to navigate.
Dunn retorted that 37 residents along Hollybrook Road are too elderly or disabled to handle rolling out the large garbage cans. He asserted that the city owes it to annexees to at least provide a level of service that’s comparable to what they had before.
Mumpower asked staff if the Hollybrook situation is an isolated problem or part of a pattern of not providing services to annexed residents.
Combs said it’s an isolated problem, the kind the city has typically been able to work out with residents.
Mayor Worley pointed out that Hollybrook was not one of the areas under discussion.
Putting Dunn’s concern into perspective, Council member Jones asked Combs how many garbage pickups the city does each week.
About 24,000 households, Combs replied (garbage pickup isn’t provided to multifamily units or commercial properties).
Jones nodded. “We’ll work on those 37,” she said.
Other Council members had questions about fire-protection issues and recycling. Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy, for instance, said the city also needs to consider the cost of building and staffing new fire stations to serve areas annexed in the future.
A West Asheville fire station is in the long-range plans, responded Fire Chief Greg Grayson.
Later in the discussion, Dunn tossed in another point: Asheville has about 400 residents per police officer; the state average is about 300. He argued against stretching police protection any further.
Accordingly, Dunn voted against all seven resolutions to adopt the service plans. But he was outnumbered 6-1, as Council members voted to adopt the plans.
After the vote, he remarked: “I’m not against annexation. … I could have voted yes for this if we weren’t as stretched as we are. I’m not convinced this is the right time and the right place.”
A public-information meeting on the proposed annexations is scheduled for June 3.
A memorial for veterans?
The pending renovation of Pack Square and City/County Plaza could be the last chance to get a veterans’ memorial built in Asheville for the next century or so, veteran Tuck Gudger told Asheville City Council members April 23. Gudger and an informal group of veterans asked Council to persuade the Pack Square Renaissance group — a task force charged with coming up with both the funds and the redesign plans for downtown’s historic common areas — to include a memorial in the plans. And the veterans asked that Asheville split the estimated $100,000 price tag 50/50 with Buncombe County.
Gudger and two other veterans presented Council with a petition to that effect signed by about 650 local residents. Acknowledging the city’s and county’s current budget woes, Gudger noted that the memorial wouldn’t have to be funded this year or even within the next three — it’s just a matter of getting the idea onto the drawing board.
Council members agreed to discuss the idea further at an upcoming work session.
Jordan appointed to school board
On April 23, the Asheville City Council named a replacement to serve out the remainder of former board member Mark Gordon‘s four-year term. Council members Ellis and Dunn and Mayor Worley nominated Allison Jordan. Council members Jones, Mumpower and Peterson favored Marsha Bate. The 3-3 tie left Vice Mayor Bellamy wielding the deciding vote; instead, she named yet another candidate, Roxie Wynn.
Bellamy said she’d picked Wynn because the one thing missing from the city school board was the perspective of a single parent. Lacking the votes to elect Wynn, however, the vice mayor recast her vote, tapping Jordan (who serves as projects and communications coordinator for Children First, a local nonprofit).
At their April 23 formal session, Asheville City Council members took the following actions:
• proclaimed May as Motorcyle Awareness Month;
• dropped from the agenda a resolution authorizing the city manager to accept a $10,000 bid for city-owned property at 17 Kendall St. in West Asheville after city staff reported that an upset bid has been received;
• approved the subdivision of a 5.47-acre lot that accesses Ballantree Drive in south Asheville. Council approval is required for any proposed single-family home that would be more than 500 feet from the nearest fire hydrant and have an access road longer than 250 feet. Ballantree residents — including Council member Joe Dunn — pressed city officials to make sure that erosion-control measures are strictly enforced during construction (to avoid a repetition of the extensive flooding and mud problems during that occurred in a nearby development during a heavy rain while construction was under way).