Buncombe County Commission

After a series of afternoon interviews, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners did their part last week to flesh out the newly constituted WNC Air Quality Agency.

At the commissioners’ July 11 meeting, they appointed Asheville physician Dr. Lewis E. Patrie to a four-year term on the agency’s board. They also appointed Alan McKenzie to a six-year term and Doug Clark to a two-year term; both were members of the previous air board before Haywood County pulled out, forcing the city of Asheville and Buncombe County to draw up a new agreement reconstituting the agency.

The votes, however, weren’t unanimous. Chairman Tom Sobol, Vice Chair Patsy Keever and Commissioner Bill Stanley all voted for the three who won. Commissioner David Gantt voted for Patrie, Susan Hutchinson and McKenzie, while Commissioner David Young cast his vote for Dr. Betsy Coward Phillips, Clark and McKenzie.

William Cecil Jr. withdrew his name before the meeting, and Bill Newman, a Taylor & Murphy Construction Co. vice president (who had never served on a county board before) didn’t receive any support.

In other air-quality news, County Attorney Joe Connolly told the commissioners about a lawsuit filed by the Council of Independent Business Owners, seeking to block the formation of the new Air Quality Agency’s proposed Clean Air Community Trust Fund. CIBO had also challenged the legitimacy of the agency itself (see the July 12 Mountain Xpress). Connolly also told commissioners that county staff members would attend a July 12 committee meeting of the state Environmental Management Commission in Raleigh, which will consider whether to approve the creation of the new Air Quality Agency.

[Editor’s note: On July 13, the EMC unanimously approved the new local agency.]

The lawsuit was filed by CIBO activist Betty Donoho and attorney Albert Sneed; Connolly said he expected another to be filed by Chris Peterson on the legality of allowing the air agency to give its excess revenues to the nonprofit Clean Air Community Trust Fund, rather than to the school system.

The board later discussed the lawsuit in a closed session at the end of the public meeting.

Pack Square update

Carol L. King and architect Jim Samsel updated the board on plans for redesigning Pack Square, all of which can be found on the Web at www.packsquare.com.

The next step is raising $250,000 to finalize the design and move toward construction, King told the board. Although King didn’t ask the board for any money, she told them that redesign proponents would like to raise the money in the next nine months.

Board members asked several questions about the design; Gantt jokingly asked about what would be done with the “petrified rubber band” sculpture in the plaza facing the Buncombe County Courthouse and City Hall.

“I’m sure we’ll find a home for it,” King quipped.

Information sessions

County Manager Wanda Greene proposed that the board start conducting information sessions on various topics of concern to the commissioners, including mental health, e-government, economic development in a competitive environment, and the Civic Center.

The sessions would be planned for the second or fourth Tuesday of the month, with three or four invited guests from around the state offering their expertise on various topics in a panel setting.

In order to “ensure appropriate behavior in the boardroom,” She proposed that citizen questions be submitted to the county manager in writing. Written questions would be accepted through the end of the presentations, and the chairman would ask the panel the questions. The first two proposed information sessions, addressing human-service departments and changes in mental-health services, would be held between August and November.

Foreclosing with compassion

The county Tax Department’s “Foreclosure with Compassion” program has won two national achievement awards, Tax Director C. Jerome Jones told the board. The National Association of Counties gave the county a 2000 Achievement Award and, further, designated the program “Best of Category” in the County Administration and Management category, one of only 15 such awards given nationwide.

Buncombe’s program puts people who can’t pay their property taxes in touch with the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling agency, which can help them work out a payment schedule to avoid foreclosure, Jones told the board.

Limestone Township zoning change

The board unanimously approved a zoning change, recommended by the Limestone Community Council, to amend the township’s zoning to include the requirements for operating a bed-and-breakfast inn in the township.

Other appointments

The board made the following other appointments: Bill McElrath, Social Services Board; Judith Hamill and Kerry Forrest, Historic Resources Commission; Michael Kirstein and Emily Boyce, Library Board of Trustees.

Public comment

Hope Herrick told the board she was dismayed that “every Tom, Dick and Harry” who asks for funding gets it, while at the same time people are losing their jobs and can’t find affordable housing.

“I am very concerned about the people losing their jobs,” said Herrick.

Instead of courting the tourist industry, there ought to be more attention paid to recruiting other industry, she told commissioners.

Among other comments, Gerald Dean asked the board to switch from advertising foreclosures in the Black Mountain News to placing the ads in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

County watchdog Jerry Rice told the board he wanted to draw their attention to the situation of Budget Director Ken Goble, who he understood had been fired.

“Mr. Ken Goble is a very fine gentleman,” said Rice. “He is always giving us the information we requested.”

Amid several comments, Don Yelton agreed with Rice, suggesting to the board that perhaps Goble’s willingness to provide requested information was the reason he was fired. Goble’s last day was July 3, Personnel Director Rob Thornberry said after the meeting. Goble, who worked for the county for eight years, declined to comment.

Hazel Fobes told the board that air-quality advocates had been taken aback by CIBO’s legal action against the new Air Quality Agency.

“It shocked us. It made us angry,” Fobes told commissioners. “We didn’t think it was fair.”

Although the CIBO representative who attended the commissioners’ meeting had already left, Fobes addressed her comments to CIBO anyway, with the following admonition: “If you want to say something, you should say it [publicly]. You shouldn’t go behind closed doors.”

After a short closed session to discuss a personnel matter and the CIBO lawsuit, the board adjourned.

The board’s next meeting will be held July 25 at 4 p.m. in the county commissioners’ chambers (room 204 of the Buncombe County Courthouse).

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