Democratic primary

In Xpress‘ 2004 primary-election coverage, our reporters asked the candidates a number of questions. For our print edition, we used a grid format and chose the five questions and their condensed answers that we thought would be most helpful to voters in sorting through the field.

Here are the expanded responses from the three candidates vying in the Democratic primary for a chance to unseat Republican incumbent Chairman Nathan Ramsey in the November election:

Ed Hay

Age: 55
Address: 210 Blake Mountain Circle, Asheville
Occupation: Attorney
Years in Buncombe County: 28
Education: Law degree, University of Georgia
Political party: Democrat
Political experience: Six years on Asheville City Council
Plans to spend in primary: $10,000

Q&A

1. Apart from its people, what is Buncombe County’s No. 1 asset?

“Well, the easy answer is quality of life, which is a combination of the geographic and the economic infrastructure and all of the variety of things we do here. Trying to answer the question directly. … Our No. 1 sales point, for sure, for economic development (that is, attracting new industry) … is the quality of life, which includes the climate and the rest of it.”

2. If elected, what’s the first thing you want to actively work to accomplish?

“The first order of business, all of a sudden, is rethinking the Water Agreement. That has come up; it has been a lingering issue for a long time, but the City Council has drawn a line in the sand on it now, and I think it is going to be the issue in local government for the next year.”

3. Are you in favor of district elections for the Board of Commissioners?

“Not at this time.”

Why or why not?

“I looked at that a couple of different times when we were on City Council and came to the conclusion then that at-large seats really better serve the public and the voters than district elections, where each individual Council member was really accountable only to those in his district. It really needs to be a countywide, at-large point of view.”

4. What, if anything, would you do to make the county’s bookkeeping and accounting more transparent?

“They’ve made some progress with an improved Web site, and I think that’s the place to start, really. I think to make sure that as much information as possible is available on the county Web site. That’s an ongoing project of the county manager, and I think it’s a good idea.”

5. What does the county spend too much money on, and what does it spend too little on?

“Spends too little on education. I don’t know that I could identify anything that it spends too much money on; it’s a question of priorities and where you put your priorities. There are surely things we could spend less on, but it’s really a matter of choosing your priorities.”

6. What single step would make the most difference in boosting wages in Buncombe County?

“I think it would be an aggressive approach to work-force development, to making sure that people who are willing to work are trained to do the jobs that represent the future of our economic development.”

7. What should the county do to increase the amount of affordable housing?

“I think the county could take a lesson from the city in how we invest for new housing; the city has had the benefit of CDBG money over the years that represented the largest portion of what the city was doing. But while I was on Council, we created and funded the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which was designed to give alternatives to developers who wanted to meet affordable-housing goals. The county has recently created an affordable-housing trust fund, but I think the funding could be much better.”

8. Are you in favor of countywide zoning?

“I think we need to address growth issues, and I think they have been on the back burner for the last four years. That is the issue that needs to be revisited right away.”

9. What do you think the county should do to preserve green space and farmland?

“Well I think there are a number of programs available to people who want to dedicate their property to farmland preservation, and we ought to do everything we can at the county level to encourage people to participate in that. I think greenway creation is more of a parks-and-recreation effort; that’s something the county has not done a lot of, and I think we could do more.”

10. How would you manage sprawl?

“Well that gets back to that growth management. We need to make decisions about how we are going to manage growth or the growth will manage us.”

11. Do you agree or disagree with the policy of not airing public comment as part of the video coverage of county commissioners’ meetings?

“Depends.”

Why?

“As chair, I would want to sit down with the experienced commissioners and see why it is that they felt like that’s the best way to go. I think we had good results on City Council when we went to live TV. People felt that they were participating and were being heard by a wider audience. They have a different level of participation at county commission meetings. I’d want to learn from the other commissioners before I took a position on it. I think what we did at City Council was a positive move, and I’d like to see us learn from that.”

12. What, if any, are your concerns about the current Water Agreement and its possible dissolution?

“This is one of those short grid answers? (laughs) This one is awfully hard to put in a sentence. The biggest concern is simply that the 1981 agreement is a fundamental part of the way the city and county government operate around one of the most fundamental issues, which is how we deliver water to people. So to have the city declare that they are withdrawing from the agreement creates terrific problems in how we move forward for city and county government. It also presents us with an opportunity to do what city and county elected officials have all been saying for a long time needed doing, which is that the agreement needs to be revised and revisited. But it is going to be the issue for the next year for local government.”

13. What pros or cons would you see in a city/county merger?

“The pros certainly are obvious: We would have a more efficient delivery of services. City/county government has always (at least as long as I have been involved) worked together at the staff level to identify those areas where working together would save money on both ends. I think they have done a pretty good job of that, though we can always be open to new ways to do it. A countywide government would certainly be more efficient.

On the cons, you do have different interests and different vested interests between city government, all the municipalities (such as Woodfin and Montreat and Biltmore Forest, as well as the city of Asheville), and for city government to be able to decide how it wants to proceed in light of its particular goals is worth preserving, so a con would be basically diluting the ability of all the municipalities to make their own decisions.”

14. Should the county immediately begin to replace its fleet with hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles?

“I think that’s a terrific idea, I think that’s a great idea, but I know that it is extremely expensive. And I know that when we tried to do that — and we made some progress — when we tried to do that with the Transit Authority, we learned that there are some issues there that you don’t see from the outside. For instance, the size of buses dictates the kind of bus that you have, which dictates the kind of engines you have, federal-government financing factors in, and there are any number of factors. So I think it’s a terrific idea in concept, and I’d want to do that — move forward with it.”

15. How much money do you plan to spend in the primary?

“I doubt that I will spend more than $10,000 in the primary.”

16. What sets you apart from your opponents?

“The main thing is the experience. I’ve been actively involved in boards, commissions and organizations for all of my adult life here in Asheville, and more to the point, I served six years on City Council, including two years as vice mayor. I know local government — it’s a special interest of mine — and I bring a lot of experience to the job.”

Krishna Murphy

Age: 50
Address: 69 Carrion Lane, Candler
Occupation: Help-desk coordinator, local nonprofit Internet provider
Years in Buncombe County: Seven
Education: B.S., Michigan Technological University
Political party: Democrat
Political experience: None
Plans to spend in primary: Under $1,000

Q&A

1. Apart from its people, what is Buncombe County’s No. 1 asset?

“The scenic beauty; the quality of the environment.”

2. If elected, what’s the first thing you want to actively work to accomplish?

“We need to protect the quality of our environment. We’re close to being in nonattainment status with the air quality. There is an agreement between the county and the EPA that we have to work toward achieving progress toward the identified goals, so I think that’s the top priority, but there are a number of others.”

3. Are you in favor of district elections for the Board of Commissioners?

“Don’t know.”

Why or why not?

“In short, it makes good sense on the surface, but there are a lot of logistical details that need to be specified before I could say, ‘Yes, I would back this’ or ‘No, that’s not viable.'”

4. What, if anything, would you do to make the county’s bookkeeping and accounting more transparent?

“That I don’t know. There’s a lot of detail to know about accounting practice that is not part of my background, so I would consult with professionals before I made any kind of recommendation on that.”

5. What does the county spend too much money on, and what does it spend too little on?

“I would say we probably spend too little on taking care of our people, especially our children and schools. But at the same time, we also need to work toward using what we do spend in a much better way. I’m not aware of any great excess in spending, but I would certainly review all of those things and look for ways to reapportion funding.”

6. What single step would make the most difference in boosting wages in Buncombe County?

“Having more jobs available, more employers coming to the area.”

7. What should the county do to increase the amount of affordable housing?

“We need to work creatively with the city and the state and other government entities to come up with creative solutions so that we increase the stock of affordable housing without having to levy new taxes or put an unfair burden on any one sector.”

8. Are you in favor of countywide zoning?

“I don’t believe zoning per se will be helpful. However there was a land-use plan that was developed with a great deal of citizen input a few years ago that sounded to me like it was pretty good. I haven’t studied it in detail, but it needs to be reviewed. Property owners need protection on both sides of the property line.”

9. What do you think the county should do to preserve green space and farmland?

“We need to adopt sensible growth planning to make sure that the development that we do to accommodate both business and people will not have a negative impact on the green space and other natural scenic beauties, etc.”

10. How would you manage sprawl?

“Again, we need to carefully study and make sure that what we’re doing in terms of growth planning is going to meet the needs of everyone who is involved.”

11. Do you agree or disagree with the policy of not airing public comment as part of the video coverage of county commissioners’ meetings?

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