Call it the calm before the storm: With marathon sessions looming in the coming weeks (due to public hearings on such controversial issues as the super Wal-Mart proposed for the old Sayles Bleachery site), Asheville City Council members whisked through their July 18 work session in less than an hour-and-a-half.
But even that wasn’t short enough for a pair of Boy Scouts who attended the session for a merit-badge requirement: They left before Council members could finish a meandering discussion on who to reappoint and who to interview for vacancies on various city boards and commissions.
As usual, the discussion grew a bit political.
When Council members reached a consensus on appointing Debra Holmes-Young to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Vice Mayor Chuck Cloninger noted that Council “got in trouble once” for approving appointments in a work session. Such formal actions are normally reserved for formal meetings. Being a lawyer, Cloninger clarified, “All we’re saying is … we don’t need to interview anyone [for this vacancy].”
Nonetheless, the consensus was to appoint Holmes-Young, who was nominated by Council member Terry Bellamy.
In similar unofficial fashion, Council members moved through their list of vacancies and possible reappointments. City Clerk Maggie Burleson pointed out that any interviews would be scheduled in the hours before the July 25 formal session. “If you have 19 [or fewer to interview], you can eat lunch first,” she said.
Council members ended up with 16 candidates to interview. There was a moment of dissension when Bellamy questioned the automatic reappointments of Thomas McMahon, Frank Fishburne and Thomas House, and the rationale for considering only two new candidates — James Grant and Jim Drummond — to fill the vacancy left by African-American appointee Samuel Camp on the Recreation Board. “The board needs to be diversified, in my opinion,” stated Bellamy.
Cloninger emphasized that it’s the council’s policy to reappoint board members who have served just one term and have good attendance. He urged reappointing the three and considering Drummond and Grant for the vacancy.
Council member Brian Peterson added Susan Sparboe to the list of Recreation Board candidates.
But Bellamy insisted, “It’s [as if] there can only be one African-American [on the board].”
For other boards and commissions, Council members came to informal consensus on the following actions:
• Reappoint Robert Turner to the Airport Authority.
• Interview Robert Dungan, Michael Kryzanek, Peter Crosa, Lisa Michie, Kent Wolfe and “Doc” Halliday for four vacancies on the Civic Center Commission.
• Appoint Sophie Dixon to the Civil Service Board, on Bellamy’s recommendation.
• Interview Clara Jeter, Kent Fulford, the Rev. Maureen Killoran, Deborah Vingle and Michael Burkhead for one vacancy on the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council.
• Reappoint Stephanie Cooper, Michael Keleher and James Lewis to the Disability Review Board.
• Reappoint Joe Enderle, Harold Garland, Ronnie McAbee, Terry Onder and Eugene Presley to the Board of Electrical Examiners.
• Re-advertise for two vacancies on the Fair Housing Commission, although Bellamy asked that Christina Tugman be considered for one of them.
• At the request of current Historic Resources Commission members, consider Keith Hargrove, Scott Riviere, Frank Thomson and Curtis Walk for three vacancies. Council member Brian Peterson added John Best to the list of candidates. All will likely be interviewed on July 25.
• Appoint Kenn Kotara and Tina McGuire to the Public Art Board. Council member Barbara Field remarked that Chairman Tucker Cooke — the lone male on the Public Art Board — “said it would be really nice if there were another man.”
• Re-advertise the vacancies on the Tree Commission.
In a mayoral appointment that does not require Council approval, Mayor Leni Sitnick also reappointed Helen Branson to the Asheville Housing Authority.
Late air-quality appointments?
A day after the new WNC Regional Air Quality Agency Board held its first meeting and elected a Buncombe County appointee as chair, Asheville City Council members officially named Arlis Queen and Nelda Holder as the city’s appointees.
The new agency was officially recognized by the state Environmental Management Commission on July 13, City Attorney Bob Oast noted. On July 11, Council members had voted to appoint Queen and Holder — contingent upon the state’s approval of the new agency. Both Queen and Holder served on the previous board. But because of what Oast called the “state of flux” that existed in the days before the state recognized the new agency, he suggested that Council confirm those appointments.
Council member Charles Worley then moved that Council waive its usual work-session rule prohibiting formal votes. His motion passed, and he followed it with a motion to “ratify,” as he put it, those appointments. That motion passed 7-0. Holder was given a four-year term, Queen a two-year term.
Mayor Sitnick noted that at the July 17 meeting of the air-agency’s board, Buncombe County appointee Alan McKenzie was voted chair, and Queen was named vice chair (Holder chaired the previous board).
Keep mum on proposed super Wal-Mart
At their July 18 work session, Council members received a briefing on the do’s and don’ts of hearings for conditional-use permits, such as the upcoming one on the proposed Wal-Mart superstore on the old Sayles Bleachery property.
“What can we tell folks?” asked City Attorney Bob Oast rhetorically, summing up Council members’ concerns about such often-testy hearings. “You need to base your decision on [information] that comes up in the public hearing,” he emphasized. And there are certain things Council members shouldn’t say or do: “Do not discuss details of the project with the developer or with citizens. If you must … please do so in a generic fashion,” reads the handout Oast gave Council members. He urged them to visit the site but to “decline invitations for site visits or on-site meetings with the developer or citizens.” Any observations about such site visits should be reported at the hearing, Oast explained.
Planning Director Scott Shuford also recommended a more informal, less time-consuming way of questioning “witnesses” in such public hearings without creating what he called “such a dramatic courtroom setting,” as was evident in the contentious Crowell Farms hearing some weeks ago.
And that was it. Said Shuford of the unusually short presentation, “Sorry for the big buildup.”
Stop for Pack Square pedestrians
At the end of Council’s July 25 work session, Asheville resident Mickey Mahaffey asked that city staff evaluate the pedestrian crosswalk at Pack Square. Motorists regularly run the red lights there, he remarked, saying, “Someone’s going to get flattened.”
City Manager Jim Westbrook responded that staff is considering installing cameras that would record the license-plate numbers of motorists who run the lights and endanger pedestrians.
More space for super Wal-Mart hearing
The Aug. 8 hearing on the super Wal-Mart proposed for the Sayles Bleachery property will likely take place in the Civic Center banquet room — if city staff can supply enough cushions to make Council member Ed Hay more comfortable through the potentially lengthy hearing.
Hay asked that the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium be considered as a hearing site, but Council member Barbara Field complained that it’s just as uncomfortable to be up on stage.
City Manager Jim Westbrook noted that wherever the hearing is held, the city must be able to videotape it.
The cost of using the banquet room is $500, up from $350 last year, Mayor Sitnick revealed.
And Hay griped that there’s “just something about those seats.”