Buncombe County Commission

Short and to the point: That’s the best way to characterize the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ Oct. 10 meeting, which lasted all of 22 minutes.

That description could also apply to Chairman Tom Sobol‘s admonition at the beginning of the meeting’s public-comment section — a clear attempt to head off the contentiousness that marked the previous week’s meeting.

“Public comment is a policy we want to continue with this board,” Sobol said as opposition candidate Gerald Dean walked to the lectern to speak.

However, continued Sobol, the board won’t tolerate personal attacks against county staff members, commissioners or members of the public.

“We’re here to conduct the county’s business,” he concluded.

Sobol was referring to Dean’s comments the previous week, when he repeated vague rumors he’d heard about the personal conduct of Sobol, Commissioner Bill Stanley and a county staff member. At the conclusion of that meeting, Dean and Stanley traded angry words (see the Oct. 11 Xpress).

Sobol’s warning apparently worked.

Although Dean (a Reform Party candidate for a seat on the Board of Commissioners) complained that his freedom of speech was being curtailed, he aimed his criticism at the board’s official actions in connection with Biltmore School project, zoning, county contracts and other topics.

After the meeting, however, Dean again complained that he had been censored. “What is public comment?” Dean wondered aloud, adding, “I don’t know anymore.”

Legal questions

County watchdog Jerry Rice told the board that he had a copy of a lawsuit filed against the county commissioners by BIS Computer Solutions and asked how much damage it will do to Buncombe County.

County Attorney Joe Connolly replied that he hadn’t had an opportunity to read the complaint, which had been filed two business days earlier, on Oct. 6.

“This is not going to affect Buncombe County’s ability to conduct our business,” Connolly told the board.

Connolly noted that two or three months earlier, the county had determined that BIS had not fulfilled the terms of its contract to provide computer software and services. The county and the company are going through arbitration to resolve the issue, he said.

The county has budgeted money for another system, County Manager Wanda Greene told the board.

In the lawsuit, BIS Computer Solutions claims that the county defaulted on its licensing agreement by failing to pay maintenance fees. The company is seeking $44,039 for the alleged breach of contract plus interest, the return of magnetic tapes and other materials, an order prohibiting the county from using the software, and another one terminating its agreements with the county.

Eyeballing Work First

The commissioners also got a look at the Department of Social Services’ draft of its Work First plan, which will guide the program from 2001 to 2003. The plan contains no major changes from the current one, Work First Supervisor Barbara Wall told the board.

“Why fix something that’s not broken?” she said.

But Wall did note that the plan calls for more-intensive case management in difficult cases.

She also mentioned that the number of cash-assistance cases in Buncombe County has dropped 71.2 percent since January 1995. The goal for the new plan, said Wall, is a further 10-percent reduction.

The public can review the plan until Nov. 21 at the Department of Social Services, the county manager’s office and the board clerk’s office.

In other business, Sobol congratulated Finance Director Nancy Brooks on the county’s having received a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting for two decades straight.

“For the 20th time, congratulations,” Sobol told Brooks. The award came from the Government Finance Officers Association.

The board’s next meeting, an informational session on mental-health issues, will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, in the commissioners’ meeting room on the second floor of the Buncombe County Courthouse. The next business meeting (a continuation of the Oct. 10 meeting) will be held Oct. 31.

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