“If you sit on your rump and do nothing, you get nothing.”
— Buncombe County resident John Payne
On the evening of the Buncombe County commissioners’ final community meeting of the year, the parking lots were filled to overflowing.
But almost everyone who gathered at T.C. Roberson High School on Oct. 28 was headed to a National Honor Society event — not a meeting with their elected officials.
In fact, only three southern Buncombe County residents –representing a whopping two households — turned out to talk to county officials that night. (Three dedicated county-government watchdogs who live elsewhere also showed up, effectively doubling the turnout.)
All told, about 60 people took advantage of the four community meetings (held on successive Tuesday evenings in October at various high-school cafeterias) to ask questions and voice their opinions. A round-robin format at most events enabled every attendee to talk informally with a commissioner, a county employee and an N.C. Department of Transportation staffer.
Citizens’ comments hopscotched around a variety of topics, including road projects, school budget cuts, economic development, district elections, growth management and more.
And despite the meager turnout, Commissioner David Gantt still managed to sound upbeat after the final meeting on Oct. 28, observing: “It’s always better when you have a lot of public interest and public participation in these community meetings. But it’s more important to have ’em and offer our time and our candor.
“There wasn’t a lot of interest this series,” he conceded. “But it doesn’t mean we won’t do it again, and I think we should do it more [regularly]. … I think the important thing is that we offer the opportunity.”
As for the cause of the sparse attendance, Gantt speculated after the meeting that it might have to do with a lack of “burning issues.” Longtime county watchdog Jerry Rice, on the other hand, suggested that people were too busy working to pay off their high tax bills. Then, too, county staffers had failed to wheel out the trusty portable yellow sign they’d posted by the highway in years past to successfully generate public interest in community meetings.
Jets and Sugar Jets
Here are some highlights from the first community meeting, held Oct. 7 at Enka High School:
School icon: Folks attending the meeting were greeted by the “Spirit of Enka,” a huge jet mounted on a pillar that stands guard at the entrance. The school is home to the Jets and the Sugar Jets athletic teams.
Attendance: About 22 residents plus all five commissioners, a handful of county staffers, and three media representatives.
Issues: The status of various road projects; concerns about the growing Biltmore Lake development; complaints about the way the Department of Social Services investigates cases of alleged child abuse; requests that the county commissioners be elected by district (instead of the current at-large method); worries about Asheville’s expanding city limits; and concern about a lack of economic development.
Quote of the night: “If one of the issues is alternative transportation, then walking ought to be the first alternative,” declared Enka High School teacher Geoff Koski.
Koski, who used to live in West Asheville, had asked a DOT representative about the lack of sidewalks in his new neighborhood (near Enka Middle School). He was disappointed to learn from Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Ramsey that county governments don’t build sidewalks — nor does the DOT maintain existing ones.
Raw and rainy weather set the tone for the Oct. 14 meeting, held at North Buncombe High School in Weaverville. Here’s a brief rundown:
School icon: A larger-than-life black hawk (the school mascot) perches on a pedestal at the front door of North Buncombe High, giving visitors a silent welcome. (The school is the home of the Blackhawks sports teams.)
Attendance: About 12 people plus four commissioners, assorted county staffers, a DOT representative and two or three newspaper reporters.
Issues: Worries about the potential dangers posed by logging trucks on narrow roads in the Woodfin watershed (if the proposed logging of the watershed goes forward); requests for district elections of commissioners; pleas to crack down on dangerous dogs; a request to televise all meetings of appointed county boards; and concerns that the Red Oak School Community Center doesn’t fully serve the community.
Quote of the night: “You gotta get involved if you want change,” observed John Payne, who told the commissioners he’s worried about the prospect of logging trucks driving on Blackberry Inn Road in the Woodfin watershed. “My thing: If you sit on your rump and do nothing, you get nothing.”
Warhorses and warlassies
Audience turnout rebounded somewhat for the Oct. 21 session at Owen High School in Swannanoa, thanks in part to the presence of several students. Here’s a snapshot of the evening’s meeting:
School icon: A white stallion rearing on its hind legs cuts a striking figure at the entrance to Owen High. The horse represents the school’s athletic teams (the Warhorses and Warlassies).
Attendance: About 20 people plus four commissioners, assorted county staffers, a DOT representative, two Black Mountain aldermen, several reps from Carolina First Bank (which owns the fire-ravaged Beacon property), and staffers from two newspapers.
Issues: Concern about county taxpayers having to foot the bill to extinguish the enormous fire at Beacon Manufacturing back in September (Carolina First Bank Senior Vice President David Frances said later that the bank would pay for cleaning up the debris and any environmental remediation at the site. Beyond paying their fire taxes, however, businesses don’t typically reimburse the county for putting out a fire — nor does the bank have any plans to do so, Frances said.)
Other issues included possible state budget cuts that threaten Owen Middle School’s seventh-grade Career Club; developing a closer relationship between the commissioners and Black Mountain town leaders; a request for extra funding for the Buckeye Cove Community Club; increased construction on ridgetops; and a request to move forward on cleaning up abandoned mobile homes.
Quote of the night: “It was my first experience in a leadership position,” said Owen High School junior Kaleb Blankenship, describing the value of the middle school’s Career Club, a vocational-education program.
Out like a ram
The final community meeting, on Oct. 28, was concluded in less than 40 minutes. Here’s the rundown:
School icon: A ram, reportedly stationed somewhere on T.C. Roberson’s sprawling campus off Long Shoals Road. The mascot spurs on the Rams and Lady Rams sports teams.
Attendance: Six members of the public, four commissioners, a few county staffers, a DOT representative and one newspaper reporter.
Issues: Increasing funding for the South Buncombe Library (expressed by retiree/library advocate Lee Storey) and low meeting turnout.
Quote of the night: When asked whether it was worth his while to show up for the sparsely attended meeting, Storey told Xpress: “Oh, sure. You have to do these things if you want people to remember the message you’re advocating.”