Buzzworm news briefs

A monumental task

Sometime this summer, the long-awaited face-lift of Asheville’s Pack Square and City/County Plaza will begin — a process that will involve massive recontouring of the green space, rerouting of roads, elimination of parking areas and construction of new amenities. A stage, a small visitors’ center and other structures will grace the city’s new central park, along with a memorial to those who have served in the military.

While the Pack Square Conservancy has been the principal organization soliciting funds as well as public input on what the new park should look like, another nonprofit group, WNC Veterans Memorial, has led an independent effort to raise money and design a monument. The group has collected more than $180,000 (including pledges of $25,000 each from the city and county governments). However, their plans have not yet been approved by the Conservancy’s Art Board and may also have run afoul of nationally accepted safety guidelines promulgated by law enforcement, according to Conservancy spokesperson Donna Clark.

The Conservancy will hold two design charettes to elicit public input and discussion of the proposed memorial at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 16, and Tuesday, May 17, at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel.

— Cecil Bothwell

@buzzheadline:Empowering women in business

Honoring and empowering women in business is the theme of It’s All About Doing Business, the first of what organizers say will be an annual event. Sponsored by the Asheville-Buncombe Office of Minority Affairs, the A-B Tech Small Business Center, the Bank of Asheville and the Mountain Microenterprise Fund Women’s Business Center, the half-day event will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18, on A-B Tech’s Enka Campus.

The featured speaker will be Liz Mills, founder of Liz Mills Ltd. The firm, established in 1993, provides professional consultation, project-support services and training for corporations and public agencies attempting to meet federal, state and local-government Compliance Programs requirements. Other speakers include Elisa A. Boots (Phoenix Coaching), Denise Hedges (Life Work Coaching), Jackie Hallum (MAHEC director of diversity management), Sharon Renfroe (Effective Strategic Management) and Elaine Robinson (Empowerment! Consulting).

RSVP required. The $10 cost includes lunch. To reserve a seat, contact Andrea at andrea@mtnmicro.org or call 253-2834.

— Cecil Bothwell

Eat more chocolate, save the world

Here’s a thought: Shop, snack and dance your way to a better world. It sounds too good to be true, but on Saturday, May 14, Pritchard Park will be transformed into Asheville’s first World Fair Trade Day Celebration, complete with tasty treats, African drummers, poetry, storytelling and handicrafts.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., local retailers who support fair-trade producers will offer a colorful array of items, ranging from personal-care products and food to musical instruments and textiles. Think shae butter from Ghana, henna from Rajasthan, and root tonics, herbal drinks and fruit juices from family-owned farms.

Fair-trade markets ensure that farmers, artisans and their families living in the world’s poverty-stricken regions receive a just price for their products. Sixty to 70 percent of these craftspeople are women, many of them the sole breadwinners in their homes. Fair-trade principles empower them while supporting indigenous craft traditions. The benefits for communities increase further as small-scale producers develop financial independence and reinvest in their local economies. Want to learn more? Listen for festival MC Mark Gibney, a UNCA political science professor who specializes in international law and human rights.

Other highlights of the festival, which is sponsored by Ten Thousand Villages, include a children’s area, the creation of a miniature Global Village, and the unveiling of a new global population map. Oh, and don’t forget the organic chocolate truffles.

Admission is free; for more information, call 350-7757 (e-mail: ashevillefairtradefestival@hotmail.com).

— Alli Marshall

Second educational leader announces departure

Five months after UNCA Chancellor Jim Mullen announced that he’ll be stepping down at the end of this academic year, Warren Wilson College President Doug Orr has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the 2005-06 academic year.

President since 1991, the 66-year-old Orr will have the second-longest tenure among the 36 member presidents of N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, of which he is the current board chair. He has already served longer than any current president or chancellor of a four-year institution in Western North Carolina.

In an e-mail message to the campus community, Orr wrote on behalf of his wife Darcy and himself: “We both are filled with deep-felt sentiment and gratitude about this special place, and [our] many wonderful friends and colleagues. … Summer 2006 will conclude for me 15 years at Warren Wilson, and 38 years in higher education, as a faculty member and administrator. That is a lot of years, and now our time has come.”

The Orrs will reside in Black Mountain after his retirement. In the coming months, the board of trustees will launch a search for a new president.

Back in January, UNCA established its own 15-member search committee and held four public meetings to collect comments from the UNCA community on the criteria that should be used in choosing the next chancellor.

“We are very pleased to report that we have a large, strong and diverse pool of candidates,” says Sue McClinton, chair of the search committee. “The committee is well along in its work of reviewing applications and nominations and is currently narrowing the pool to a smaller number of candidates who we believe possess the skills, talents and experience that will serve us best [in] the next chancellor.”

— Lisa Watters

The question of the United Nations

With the United Nations battling a series of allegations, including mismanagement of the Iraq Oil-for-Food program and reports of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo, a talk about the international organization and its future couldn’t be more timely.

Ambassador William H. Luers, president and CEO of the United Nations Association of the United States of America, will present the John E. Fobes Memorial Lecture on at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18,

at UNCA’s Reuter Center. The WNC United Nations Association and the N.C. Center for Creative Retirement are hosting the event, which is free to association members and $5 for members of the general public.

“Luers is going to be talking about the plans to reform the U.N. and the issues surrounding the organization at this time,” notes Tom Coulson, president of the WNC United Nations Association. “I hope that people from the general public … will come to this event and engage him in the question period that will follow his presentation. It’s important to all of us what happens, and people should get all the education about it they can.”

Luers will also be interviewed by David Hurand on the WCQS-FM call-in program Conversations at 6 p.m. the same day.

The WNC United Nations Association has always presented some kind of program in the spring, explains Coulson, but with the passing of John E. “Jack” Fobes, one of the chapter’s founders, in January, “We decided that from now on, we would make our spring event a lecture in memoriam to him.”

Fobes’ accomplishments were many, including helping administer the Marshall Plan after World War II, serving as deputy director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization from 1971-77, and as chairman of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO from 1979-81.

When the United States left UNESCO in 1984, he founded Americans for the Universality of UNESCO, leading it until 2002, when the U.S. government rejoined the organization. Fobes and his wife, Hazel, moved to Asheville in the mid-1980s. His son, Jeff Fobes, is editor/publisher of Mountain Xpress.

“Jack Fobes was very closely associated with the United Nations throughout his working career,” says Coulson. “And he was a much-respected and revered community activist.”

For more information, call Coulson at 683-9354 or Dave Johnson at 277-5792.

— Lisa Watters

Following the paper trail

Want a paper trail of your picks the next time you cast a ballot on an electronic voting machine? Rather than waiting any longer for a slow-moving U.S. Congress to act on national voting standards, North Carolina is developing its own verifiable system, Buncombe County Board of Elections Director Trena Parker reports.

“North Carolina is absolutely one of the most progressive states in election law,” Parker told an April 28 meeting of the Buncombe County Democratic Party, explaining how the state is jockeying to keep that reputation. In February, a bill titled “Public Confidence in Elections” was introduced in the General Assembly (HB 238, co-sponsored by Buncombe County Rep. Susan Fisher, and SB 223, with local Sens. Tom Apodaca and Martin Nesbitt co-sponsoring). The Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform is currently hashing out the details, but Parker says she expects “the highest standards possible.”

And even though the legislation is still in committee, Parker calls it a “done deal.” “Republicans and Democrats want this to pass,” she declared. The bill, she said, would permit all voters to verify their choices on paper (to be kept in the voting machine and viewed under glass), and would add additional safety features such as multi-party review of source codes for electronic voting machines, and post-election testing of machines and paper-count alignment.

It’s envisioned that the State Board of Elections will control testing and selection of acceptable voting machines and will handle purchases centrally, offering counties approved options instead of leaving it to them to individually research and buy machines.

“We’re going to have paper-audit machines,” Parker says confidently. “The voting public has been heard. Our legislators are taking a very serious look at voting procedures.”

Parker further expects that the legislation will take effect by July 1, the first day of filing for the Oct. 14 primary. Getting the paper-trail machinery in place will cost an estimated $80 million, she said, but $50 million of that is “sitting in a pot waiting for these decisions.” (That sizable nest egg came from the federal Help America Vote Act.)

Parker also encouraged those people still concerned about their vote’s integrity to continue telling lawmakers their concerns.

“Talk to your legislator,” she urged. “It’s a statewide system, outlined by law.”

To check the current status of legislative bills, go to the General Assembly’s home Web page (www.ncga.state.nc.us) and type in the bill number.

— Nelda Holder

Air agency honored for protecting children

After medical experts linked a sharp regional rise in childhood asthma and other lung disorders to Western North Carolina’s polluted air, the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency launched a program in 2003 to reduce kids’ exposure to harmful diesel emissions from their schoolbuses. Agency staffer Justin Greuel obtained grant money to retrofit schoolbuses in Buncombe, Haywood, Madison and Transylvania counties with clean-diesel technology that cuts particulates, carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons by 20 to 40 percent. The agency also helped schools implement policies discouraging bus drivers from idling their engines while their buses filled up with children — and with noxious fumes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the success of the project — the largest of its kind in the region — with the Children’s Environmental Health Excellence Award. One of 15 given nationwide, it “recognizes individuals, communities and organizations who are leaders in making our environment healthier for our children,” according to the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection. No other agency in the Southeast received the honor, which was announced at the local agency’s May 2 board meeting.

A surprise announcement at the same meeting revealed that agency Director Bob Camby has decided to accept an early-retirement offer from Buncombe County, which administers the independent agency’s employees, effective June 30. A former agency staffer who had gone to work for the Skyland coal-fired power plant owned by Carolina Power & Light (now Progress Energy), Camby was greeted with skepticism by local environmentalists when he was appointed in 1999 to direct an agency then wracked by scandals over allegedly lax enforcement of air- pollution rules and budgetary impropriety. But he evenhandedly helped steer the agency to its current course of financial and administrative stability, winning widespread praise for his clean-air outreach and education efforts to businesses, organizations and schools.

Board Chairman Bill Church designated Engineering Supervisor Melanie Pitrolo as interim director. The board will meet on June 20 to take up the business of searching for a new director.

— Steve Rasmussen

Council to interview city manager hopefuls

The selection process for Asheville’s most powerful unelected official will take another step forward on May 19, when City Council members interview seven applicants seeking to take retiring City Manager Jim Westbrook‘s place. The list is being whittled down from the 18 whom management consultant Bob Slavin culled from an unexpectedly large pool of 92 applicants.

“We will get that list shortened to a smaller number — two, three, four, somewhere like that that we feel very comfortable with it,” Council man Jan Davis told Xpress, “and then the public will come into the process as far as being able to meet with those people.”

Council members have promised that the selection process — which has been closed to public scrutiny so far — will include an opportunity for the public to meet and question the finalists. At press time, however, no date or format for this event had been set, and Council members hadn’t indicated whether they will take public input on the finalists before voting on a final choice, as the city manager did last year before hiring a new police chief.

“I feel pretty good about the quality of applicants we’ve got,” Davis assured Xpress, though he said he couldn’t comment on whether any of the candidates were current residents.

Asked about the qualities he would be looking for in a city manager, Davis replied: “Well, I like Westbrook’s management style — he has very good abilities to hire good department heads, and I like that in a manager. … I would like to have probably a manager that is open to public process; not that Westbrook isn’t, just that Westbrook is a good, strong leader.”

— Steve Rasmussen

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