A countywide culture and recreation authority could save local governments millions and result in a major change in how local parks, libraries and community centers are managed. But since its inception, the motives and changes to state legislation authorizing a CRA for Buncombe County and its municipalities has been unclear and subject to little public discussion.
There have been allegations that the bill (and its potential savings) were withheld from the city of Asheville due to its lawsuit against the state, and much of the debate took place in behind-the-scenes conversations or emails. In this timeline, Xpress details the players, the sometimes contradictory explanations and the secret fights over this potentially important bill.
• 2004-06 The idea of consolidating the Asheville and Buncombe County parks and recreation departments is first discussed as a way to compensate the city for joining a regional water authority. Current Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt and former Chair Nathan Ramsey both participate in those negotiations.
• March 21 State Reps. Ramsey and Tim Moffitt sponsor HB 418, allowing Asheville and Buncombe County to merge their parks and recreation departments into a new Parks and Recreation Authority
• May 2 "I have always believed a consolidated parks/rec system would be positive for our community, and for over a decade have believed that water/sewer consolidation would benefit the city of Asheville, our smaller towns and Buncombe County." (email from Ramsey to other state legislators)
• May 6 House approves HB 418 on 112-3 vote (supported by both Ramsey and Moffitt)
• May 7 Asheville City Council votes to sue the state over the water system legislation; Wake County judge grants delay in the law
• May 14 Gantt reports that the county is already preparing for possible consolidation. "It could save the city up to $8 million [per year],” he says, offsetting the financial impact of losing its water system
• June 6 “Folks in the Legislature are tying together the water system with parks and rec or any bill that might benefit the city. Who knows what the hell is really going on, but what appears to be happening is that we're being told to settle the water lawsuit or else.” (Asheville Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer to Xpress)
• June 18 Senate Committee on State and Local Government edits the bill to exclude municipalities from joining the new Authority for two years
• June 21 "These are separate, distinct issues that stand on their own. … This is just one more step in my move to consolidate as much city and county government as possible." (Moffitt on the water lawsuit and HB 418 in an interview with Xpress)
• June 25 Committee on State and Local Government edits the bill to exclude municipalities indefinitely
• June 25 Buncombe County Commissioner David King tells Xpress he asked Moffitt to exclude municipalities for two years but was surprised by the move to exclude them completely. Although he’d previously claimed that a majority of the board supported the change, King admits that he’d spoken to only two of his six colleagues before going to Moffitt. A majority of commissioners say they didn’t request any change in the bill.
• July 16 State Legislature ratifies the version of HB 418 indefinitely barring municipalities from participating
• Aug. 5 "You filed your lawsuit, OK, so we’re not going to let you file the lawsuit on this side and sue the state and charge your taxpayers money but at the same time be the benefactor of this, because it’s going to cost people outside the city some of their hard-earned money. So until the lawsuit is settled, we took the Authority away from the city." (Moffitt, responding to a question from Asheville City Council member Chris Pelly at a meeting of the local Board of Realtors asking if the final version of HB 418 allowed the city to join the Authority)
• Aug. 11 Ramsey tweets, "Majority of commissioners wanted H418 as it passed."
• Aug. 12 Moffitt tells WWNC radio host Pete Kaliner that his Aug. 5 response to Pelly was a joke. "That was me having fun with Chris Pelly," he says, claiming that the commissioners didn't want to allow municipalities to join. "This is something they said they didn't want at the very beginning."