Asheville City Council

Influential appointments to Asheville’s boards and commissions have always been political, a fact that Asheville City Council made perfectly clear, twice, on Sept 28.

In a surprise move, Council defrocked Regional Water Authority Chairman Charles Worley, denying him what had seemed a guaranteed reappointment. Worley’s politics may have been his undoing: A two-time Council member, he is currently running for one of three seats on Council, against three sitting Council members (two of whom rejected his bid for reappointment).

Winning the appointment by a 4-3 margin was board novice Ted Patton, a retired engineer, who is active in the city’s Water Efficiency Task Force and experienced in water-systems technology. Other political themes possibly playing into the decision: Council member Tommy Sellers, who works for a company owned by Worley and two associates, supported his boss’ bid; Mayor Leni Sitnick who defeated Worley in the last election, did not.

In the other contested appointment, real-estate developer Hedy Fischer won Council’s assignment to the Planning and Zoning Commission — after longwinded haggling amongst Council members split between her nomination and that of the more board-savvy (and well-known) candidates Barber Melton and Benson Slosman.

Council’s only easy decision in the three-hour meeting was the reappointment of Planning and Zoning Commission members Lionel Williams and Max Haner to new three-year terms. It’s Council’s standard-but-unwritten policy to reappoint members who’ve served only one full term with good attendance, Vice Mayor Ed Hay mentioned.

This was the policy that led, finally, to Fisher’s appointment, to fill the seat of two-time board member (and chair) Jane Mathews. Leading up to that decision, as usual, Council members insisted they had several “terrific applicants.” On Sept. 14, they had interviewed Anne Campbell, Fisher, Melton, Slosman and Jan Howard. Hay went down the line of Council members assembled at the dais, asking each for their pick.

Pitching for Fisher were Sitnick, Council member Chuck Cloninger and Council member O.T. Tomes. Cloninger pointed out that Council should reappoint a woman to fill the vacancy left by Mathews (only one other woman, Billie Buie, serves on the commission). He also noted the importance of adding “new voices, new faces” to city boards and commissions — pointing out that the other applicants for the job either already serve on a city board or have in the past.

Arguing for Melton — who is current president of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, and a former P&Z member, to boot — were Council member Earl Cobb and Hay. Cobb (up for reelection and pitching himself as the neighborhood-friendly candidate) said he favored Melton for her experience.

Backing Slosman were Council members Barbara Field and Sellers. Field explained she was looking for balance: P&Z already has several strong neighborhood advocates on board (Fischer has been active in CAN), and Slosman — a developer — had been active in the development of the Unified Development Ordinance, and currently serves on the city’s Sustainable Economic Development Task Force.

Hay remarked that he saw no clear majority, with three Council members pushing Fisher, and two each for Slosman and Melton. It’s Council’s policy to require at least four votes for an appointment. After a brief discussion, it was clear that no one was going to change their vote — Council members simply repeated their reasons for picking who they did.

So Hay suggested that Council members note their first- and second-choice picks: Two points going to each first-choice candidate, and one point going to each second-choice (an entirely new selection method). But that method yielded eight points apiece for Fisher and Melton, and five for Slosman.

“Why don’t we vote for the top two?” Hay suggested.

This vote gave the appointment to Fisher (supported by Cloninger, Sitnick, Tomes and Sellers).

After all this, it was time for the Water Authority appointment.

Sitnick nominated Patton, Field nominated Worley.

Technical knowledge will be crucial for Water Authority members, Sitnick argued, noting her candidate’s expertise.

Worley brings continuity and experience, having been instrumental in the regionalization of the Authority, declared Hay.

Cobb tossed in that he had heard at a recent forum that “we don’t have new blood [on boards and commissions]. We tend to recycle the same people.” With that, Cobb said he was voting for Patton, “not because I’m against [Worley], but because … we need a change.”

Sellers, a longtime friend of Worley and a recently appointed Water Authority member, pitched his vote for Worley.

And Cloninger said not a word until Hay asked for a vote.

Worley received votes from Hay, Field and Sellers. But Sitnick, Cobb, Tomes and Cloninger voted for Patton, who carried the day.

All in a sign at Haw Creek

Signs can’t be all bad, since longtime billboard opponent Frank Martin supported this one: a 24-square-foot community sign that will welcome folks to Haw Creek and point the way to six area churches.

But Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved only a 16-square-foot sign — the same size allowed for apartment buildings and other noncommercial uses — city staff told Asheville Council members, before they made the final decision on the Haw Creek sign request.

Said Martin, “A small sign with two-inch [-high] lettering won’t do the job.” P&Z’s recommendation would limit the top section of the sign — the part saying “Haw Creek” — to eight square feet, and the panels identifying each church to two square feet, for a total size not to exceed 16 square feet.

With little discussion, Council agreed with Martin. On a motion by Chuck Cloninger, seconded by O.T. Tomes, Council approved the larger 24-square-foot option.

As part of Cloninger’s motion, Council members also decided to allow some leeway on the sign’s height. Current sign-ordinance restrictions limit it to six feet in height. But, as Council member Barbara Field pointed out, “With our topography, six feet is sometimes not enough and … sometimes too much. Isn’t there a better way [to manage height than with an arbitrary limit]?”

New Planning Director Scott Shuford suggested a wording that would set height limits, as measured from the highest point of the road toward which a sign is oriented.

Assistant City Attorney Patsy Meldrum — filling in for City Attorney Bob Oast — suggested Council leave city staff some discretion on the Haw Creek-sign height, setting a range of six to nine feet.

Council members consented to this.

In a related issue, Council members unanimously approved an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance, adding the definitions of “community-identification signs” and “community facilities.” (The Haw Creek sign is considered to be a community-identification sign, a distinction not previously addressed in the UDO.) Barbara Field made the motion, which was seconded by Cloninger.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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