Candidates for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman

Vote for one. The candidates are Ed Hay, Democrat, and Nathan Ramsey, Republican.

Ed Hay

Age: 55
Address: 210 Blake Mountain Circle, Asheville
Occupation: Attorney
Years in Buncombe County: 28
Education: Law degree, University of Georgia
Political party: Democrat
Political experience: Six years on Asheville City Council, two as vice mayor

1. What sets you apart from your opponent?

“I have more experience in local government, despite the fact that he is just finishing a four-year term. Also, I believe that local government can provide solutions for local problems.”

2. What’s the biggest problem facing the county? What would you do about it?

“As I have said before, the Water Agreement with Asheville is the main issue confronting the county right now, and resolving that will be job No. 1. Longer-term, the biggest challenge we face is land-use planning, to take control of how this county will develop in the future.”

3. What, if anything, needs to change about construction in floodplains?

“The problem is that we haven’t addressed land use outside of the municipalities, and development upstream is affecting downstream residents. This is part of the land-use-planning process that we need to adopt.”

4. Are you in favor of countywide zoning?

“I am in favor of countywide planning. We need to control growth, or growth will control us.”

5. How would you manage sprawl?

“Through countywide planning.”

6. What’s your position on the city of Asheville’s intention to dissolve the Regional Water Agreement?

“The Asheville-Buncombe Water Authority is distinct from the Regional Water Agreement, which is between the Water Authority and Henderson County. The Authority involves many things in addition to water: law enforcement, parks and so forth, and the Water Authority has agreements with other municipalities. There is no way that a 25-year agreement can be ended abruptly. The municipalities have made plans based on the agreements for hiring and spending. We can negotiate our way to a better agreement, but it won’t happen all at once.”

7. I-26 Connector: Six lanes or eight? Why?

“We can build six lanes in the existing right of way, whereas to build eight lanes requires acquisition of a lot of right of way. It will have a devastating effect on the West Asheville area — at a time [when] West Asheville is really beginning to come into its own and make some real progress. I think that the existence of an eight-lane running through our community is going to be something that we regret in retrospect once it goes in, and I think, costwise, there is just no need to build a bigger highway than we need.

“The most compelling argument in favor of the six-lane is that, generally speaking, it’s based on traffic projections for 25 years out [showing] increases in local traffic that are marginal at best, in terms of supporting the eight-lane project. I think that [the DOT] continues to review those numbers, and every time they review, [the numbers] come down. In light of that I think we should proceed with the six-lane option. If we find in 25 years that that is not sufficient, then we’ll have to go to eight lanes. I would rather err on the side of not building enough at this point — and, in turn, protect what we’ve got out in West Asheville.”

8. Is the county’s economic-development policy working? If so, what’s the proof? If not, what’s wrong with it?

“I think so. I think we can become smarter and more aggressive, but I think the county has been doing the right things. What I would like to see us do as a county government is to work on the issues that make this an even more appealing place for relocation and expansion, especially in regard to the creative economy, the media arts and those kind of things. I think the county government can do a better job of encouraging that kind of business enterprise, which I think builds on what is being done so far.”

9. Should the county’s electronic voting machines be required to provide a paper trail?

“I think we ought to do the best we can to address the concerns of the people who worry about that. I have faith in our Board of Elections when they tell us that there is a verifiable record, that that is satisfactory. But no voter ought to have to worry about whether his vote has been accurately counted.”

10. Do you think county government is open enough? If not, what would you change?

“I think there is a perception that county government is not as open as it could be. I think we can change that perception by opening meetings, by considering live TV, other things. I would want to talk to other commissioners about that, about ways to enhance the perception that county government is more open.

“The style of the present [Board of Commissioners] is to convey the impression not that the decisions have been made behind closed doors, but that they have been working on them. The meeting is more of a formal announcement of what they have decided after working on them. The [Asheville] City Council, especially since the Leni Sitnick days, has become more of an open forum for the discussion of things. I’m not sure that the county decision-making process is any different — it just appears to be different.”

11. What responsibilities should be approached regionally? How would you build regional cooperation?

“Most of the issues that we face, to some degree or another, can be addressed regionally. Economic development is the obvious one. I think a new job in Madison County is very good for people who live in Buncombe County, and a regional approach is a good way to make efficient use of resources. Also it gives us an opportunity to focus on local efforts while still participating in wide-ranging efforts for development. Some efforts need to be more specific to our county; creating new investment in our county, as opposed to creating new jobs regionally, is the sort of thing we need to work on for ourselves.

“I think one problem with the Regional Water Agreement is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that different entities have different economic goals. For instance, when Henderson County wants the authority to run a new line to a plant in Henderson County to meet its economic-development goals, what that is doing, in a sense, is to ask ratepayers in Buncombe County to pay for that, and that is part of the conflict we have in the Regional Water Agreement. I think those conflicts can be ironed out, but I think that’s an example of how regionalism doesn’t work as well in fact as it does on paper.”

12. What does the county spend too much money on? What does it spend too little on?

“Too little on education. I can’t readily identify anything that it spends too much money on. I think that commissioners have an obligation to be as efficient in their use of tax dollars as they possibly can, and one thing I would want to do is to review each one of the spending options that the county has. But I would put education on top of the list of things that we don’t spend enough money on.”

13. How much money do you plan to spend in the general election?

“I don’t know; will know better after a fund-raiser next week.”

Nathan Ramsey

Age: 36
Address: 1877 Charlotte Hwy., Fairview
Occupation: Dairy farmer
Years in Buncombe County: 36
Education: B.S., UNCA; University of Tennessee law school
Political party: Republican
Political experience: One term as chairman, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners

1. What sets you apart from your opponent?

“Philosophical difference. I’m going to try to run a positive campaign and talk about what I’ve tried to work on. If you get down to the distinctions, I think there is just a different philosophical view of what government should and should not do.

“I think we both support education. I was fortunate enough that the Buncombe County Association of Educators endorsed me in this race, so I think that shows my commitment to the schools.

“I think I’ve been very agressive for economic development. I perhaps have some differences of opinion there. You know when [Ed Hay] was on City Council, he voted to annex some of the large manufacturers in the south, and this current Council has rescinded part of that annexation because of economic-development concerns.

“We have a tremendous difference about what county government should do from the regulatory standpoint. At the CIBO forum, [Hay] stated that he was in support of countywide zoning. [And] you take, there, just asking a straight-up question: [Hay] said we don’t need the UDO in Barnardsville. But apparently, when he was on Council, they voted to put the UDO in Candler and Reynolds and Avery’s Creek. And, now, I’m for planning — I think we need to do more, and we’ve worked to preserve our open space and conservation through appointments to committees. We’ve changed our community planning ordinance to where it better addresses local concerns. A lot of it is driven by infrastructure, highway improvements, water-and-sewer expansions. But Ed was up front; he said that was the biggest difference that he saw.

“The other things are perhaps more a distinction. I don’t know where Ed would have voted, but if you compare me with Commissioner Gantt or Commissioner Keever, you know when we did the budget, you know they wanted a 69-and-a-half-cent tax rate. I voted for two tax increases, but the fact was, it’s certainly more moderate than what some of our other board members wanted. I think that’s something.

“County government has to find the money to do adequate services and fund our schools and do other things, but I don’t think our citizens could bear a $20 million tax increase upon the tax increases they’ve already faced when we had [revaluation]. And that’s what two votes on our board wanted to do. You can read about it; that was in the public record. How would Ed have voted? That’s something I don’t know.

“I’ve got a record, and I’ve showed folks what I would do.”

2. What’s the biggest problem facing the county? What would you do about it?

“The biggest long-term challenge is how we can have a diversified economic base to provide opportunities for our citizens that can support growing needs from our population, from our aging population, from an educational standpoint and social-services needs.”

3. What, if anything, needs to change about construction in floodplains?

“No. 1, we currently have regulations. Buncombe County is in the national flood-insurance program, and someone has to obtain flood insurance if they are going to construct in certain places.

“The problem we see after these two storms is that we have a lot of historical development where that wasn’t necessarily the case. But I don’t think anyone has ever said that Biltmore, which is over a century old, should be changed. That’s historically been subject to flooding, so business owners and property owners understand and know that risk. They ought to obtain insurance, if they can afford to do so. They are taking a gamble without it.”

4. Are you in favor of countywide zoning?


5. How would you manage sprawl?

“No. 1, check my Web site ( We talk about growth and development, we talk about sprawl, zoning and many other issues.

“The reality is that it takes a very heavy-handed regulatory structure to control sprawl. And you see this in Maryland, you see it in other places. If you just go with a traditional type of zoning, you look at Mecklenburg [and] Lake County, North Carolina, they have what people classify as sprawl and they have a very strong regulatory structure there. I don’t think that’s something that’s going to be solved by zoning regulations.

“The reality in Buncombe County is that we only have certain lands that we can develop, and these are in our valley corridors. And a lot of our land from the topography standpoint cannot be developed.

“You can stop sprawl if you mandate large lot sizes in certain areas and high density in others, but it is a very draconian, heavy-handed type of regulation. We’re working from conservation easements and voluntary land-management methods to encourage folks to see that it’s possible that they have choice that they don’t want to develop their property.”

6. What’s your position on the city of Asheville’s intention to dissolve the Regional Water Agreement?

“If terminating the Water Agreement means that the city wants to go it alone, I think that’s bad policy.”

7. I-26 Connector: Six lanes or eight? Why?

“I personally spoke for eight lanes at the public hearing the MPO had before they voted the last time. So I’ve been on the record in support of eight lanes. I think that’s an engineering decision and the reality is that [based on former Asheville Traffic Engineer] Michael Moule’s presentation, there is a tremendous amount of agreement as far as traffic numbers, in gross numbers. Basically, what Michael is proposing is that the highway at a certain point in time in the next 20-30 years, the level of service will be a lower level than what the DOT projects under the eight-lane proposal, if you go with six.

“I think this is a project that we’ve got to design for a generation. I don’t think that necessarily does that. Now there are many things we can do to tighten up the footprint from a design standpoint. I think that all those type of issues should be on the table.

“The bottom line — if you look at the difference between six and eight lanes as far as the feet required, the additional land required, homes and businesses displaced — it is infinitesimally small. It’s not small if it’s your business. But it’s just a couple of homes and one or two businesses, and bottom line you’re talking about not significantly greater than 30 feet.

“This whole debate, in my opinion, is overblown.”

8. Is the county’s economic-development policy working? If so, what’s the proof? If not, what’s wrong with it?

“I would contend that the economic-development policy for our entire region has not been working for the last several years. We have not — this area, along with many other regions that have experienced tremendous loss of our traditional, high-paying manufacturing jobs.

“The reality is that there are only certain things we can do, and I think we try to be very aggressive when we address those things. That’s incentives for new companies, for work-skill improvements. You know, Jacob Holmes [a Swiss woven-goods manufacturer recently awarded a $1.25 million tax-abatement incentive to build a new plant here] … is the latest in line. Other companies haven’t relocated here, but it’s not because we haven’t gone to the mat. … Buncombe County has been fortunate in that our unemployment rate, I think the last month from the EOC is about 3 percent. Our unemployment rate is lower than Greenville/Spartanburg, Hickory, a lot of our areas in our peer group.

“The challenge we face is [that] average wage per job has not kept up with our state and national averages, and that’s a tough nut to crack. I hope we have somebody on the Board of Commissioners who will fight for people’s jobs. We had companies representing over 10,000 employees in Buncombe County [that] requested us to support a resolution in support of the Employers Coalition of North Carolina. It included Mission Hospital, Volvo, Ingles Markets, some of our larger employers, and we had two board members who turned their backs on them.

“You’re not going to create jobs unless we do what’s necessary for the private sector to do that. Government cannot provide the economic engine by ourselves, and I have a clear disagreement with Commissioner Keever and Commissioner Gantt, who voted against that. We have our hospital (average wage is $20 per hour, excluding the doctors) and the plant manager from Volvo begged us to support that, and they turned their back on him. You know, the same thing happened when [Eaton] Cutler-Hammer went to the last Council that Ed served on in 2001, when they chose to annex them. They begged them not to do it, and they annexed them anyway. And Cutler-Hammer has almost 900 employees in Buncombe County.

“Everybody talks about jobs, jobs, jobs, but not everybody supports policies that will improve our economic situation.”

9. Should the county’s electronic voting machines be required to provide a paper trail?

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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