“I think we chimed the bells, playing patriotic songs.”
City Manager Jim Westbrook, explaining how the city commemorated Veterans Day
The Asheville City Council’s Nov. 11 formal session proved to be a brief affair, clocking in at less than an hour. That seemed appropriate, considering that it was a federal holiday. But despite Council’s efforts to honor Veterans Day, some city residents appeared unappeased.
Before launching into the usual round of hearings, motions and votes, Council members took pains to underscore the solemnity of the occasion. Right off the bat, it was evident that the customary rituals — the pledge of allegiance and the opening prayer — would be ratcheted up a bit in honor of the day. Instead of having one graying vet lead the pledge, there were two; and instead of a single Council member reciting a prayer from their place behind the Council table, two city legislators stood at the lectern and recited a patriotic poem. Every veteran in the room was asked to stand during the reading, and nearly a dozen did so. Council members Joe Dunn and Carl Mumpower — both veterans themselves — gave a somber reading, followed by a moment of silent reflection.
Many of the vets in attendance seemed to appreciate the ceremony. But it also sparked some criticism during the public-comment portion of the meeting. Walter Plaue and Fred English — both veterans not only of the U.S. armed forces but of countless Council meetings — took issue with the way the city commemorated the day. English led the charge, bemoaning the fact that not a single elected official from either the city or county government had attended the annual Veterans Day service at the Asheville VA Hospital — a transgression that English found particularly galling at a time when “they’re dying over there at two or three a day.” English did note, however, that newly elected Council member Jan Davis was there.
Then it was Plaue’s turn. “I think it’s sadly indicative of a sense of priorities,” he declared — alluding to an earlier discussion about how much Council members had enjoyed attending the inaugural Asheville Film Festival, held the previous weekend — “that two days after [the festival], the veterans didn’t warrant your presence.” Plaue added: “There is a public perception that the municipal governments use a few choice words and pat vets on the back. … But if our leaders don’t show up at these functions, what message does that give our children?” He also reminded Council members that this was the second consecutive year this had happened.
Council member Carl Mumpower clearly took umbrage at the criticism. “This is my fourth City Council meeting today,” he said firmly, adding, “I never had any knowledge of this going on. We asked last year to be notified of [the service].” Mumpower also called it “terribly unfair to minimize the efforts of the Council.”
He then asked City Manager Jim Westbrook to detail how the city had commemorated the day. Westbrook replied, “I think we chimed the bells, playing patriotic songs.” The chiming, he explained, had to be done manually, as there was no mechanized way to play the selected songs.
Mumpower followed up that information by emphasizing, “We sought someone out; we made a purposeful effort.”
At that point, Plaue — who had returned to his seat — wheeled around and headed back to the microphone, reminding Council that next year’s service would be held at the same VA Hospital at 11 a.m. on Veterans Day. “Please put it in your calendars,” he urged.
Council member Dunn, meanwhile — apparently unwilling to let the discussion end on that note — explained that he’d been unable to attend the service because City Council was meeting with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. “[We] met at the same time, and I honestly didn’t know about it — and that’s the truth.”
Turning to more mundane matters, Council unanimously authorized a study to determine how the city will pay for federally mandated improvements in storm-water management. City Engineer Cathy Ball said it will cost $150,000 to $200,000 per year to get Asheville into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, which now requires new measures to control the quantity and quality of storm water (see “Go with the flow?”, Nov. 12 Xpress).
The money to pay for the “unfunded mandate” noted Ball, will have to come from the city. Council member Mumpower indicated his support for efforts to control storm-water runoff, but he took issue with “the ‘unfunded’ part — this is an increased burden on city taxpayers.”
Mayor Charles Worley agreed, concluding, “There’s no question this is a burden; one way or another, we’re going to have to find a way to collect the funds to do this.”