A plan to buy up guns from city residents sparked controversy at the Asheville City Council’s Nov. 13 meeting and ended with a Council member’s resignation from the committee he chairs. A discussion of tactics culminated in an exchange between Mayor Terry Bellamy and Council member Carl Mumpower, prompting Mumpower to resign from the Public Safety Committee.
Council’s approval of the gun buy-up—a response to growing fears of local gang activity—clears the way for the next steps, including securing private matching funds. According to a report by police Chief William Hogan, the idea is to set up stations at the city’s community centers throughout December to buy up guns brought in by city residents. The going price: $50 for handguns and rifles, $100 for assault weapons. Similar programs have been undertaken in cities across the United States since the mid-1990s. The resulting intake of weapons is the topic of much debate, with supporters trumpeting them as a success and critics saying the results are misleading. The price range is typical for many of the programs.
“I’m a little concerned that there hasn’t been enough input from the African-American community,” said resident Jesse Junior. “Before it is approved, that kind of information should be disseminated. … They may have some input that may be helpful.”
But Alphonso McGlen, a pastor at St. James A.M.E. Church, urged Council to move forward. “I am standing in support of the initiative,” he declared. “If it means getting at least one gun off the street, I’m standing asking you to give great consideration to this initiative.”
Bellamy pointed out that the idea for the program, which is only part of a larger anti-gang initiative, originated in the African-American community. “There’s not one silver bullet—no pun intended—for this issue,” she noted, emphasizing that other programs in the works will provide jobs and activities for youth. “By no means is this the only item Council is approving.”
But it was a procedural issue that confounded Mumpower. City Council, he said, typically runs ideas by the appropriate committee—in this case, the Public Safety Committee, which he chairs—to get their recommendations. Bellamy explained that the timeliness and urgency of the issue led her to bring it straight to Council.
But if Council was willing to skip that step, responded Mumpower, then maybe the committee should simply be dissolved.
That was OK with Bellamy. “I am definitely going to recommend it be disbanded,” she said, adding that the 7 a.m. meeting time makes the group “noninclusive,” and that she wasn’t happy about how the committee’s agendas are set. Mumpower then tendered his resignation from the committee—which the mayor promptly accepted.
The gun buy-up passed on a 5-1 vote, with Mumpower opposed (Council member Robin Cape is on a council-related trip).
Later that evening, Mumpower circulated an e-mail announcing his resignation from both the Public Safety Committee and the Revenue and Finance Committee.
“In view of the selective application of our policies and procedures by the Council majority,” the e-mail states, “I no longer see constructive purpose in participating in the Council committee structure. Effective immediately, I respectfully tender my resignation as chair of the Public Safety Committee and [member of] the Finance Committee.”
Council members juggled quite a few dollars during their shorter-than-average meeting. The biggest blow was a move to funnel millions into long-neglected water-system repairs. On a 5-1 vote, Council approved a $40 million bond issue for upgrading the water system, the biggest repair investment in years. “We are known across the state to have an old system,” said Bellamy. “By making this investment, we will have one of the newest systems.”
Water revenues will pay off the bonds, according to a staff report. Mumpower said he voted “no” because Asheville is still in litigation over the General Assembly’s passage of Sullivan Acts II and III, which restrict the city’s ability to charge for water services.
Council members also approved a $599,200 economic-development incentive for Volvo Construction Equipment in connection with an expansion at its Skyland plant. The agreement, said Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson, will secure a $20 million capital investment by the company. The expansion, said Vice President of Volvo Construction Equipment Dave Million, will create 250 to 300 new jobs over the next three years. The grant will be paid out in seven annual installments.
“This is our way of saying thank you for choosing Asheville when you could have gone anywhere in the world,” said Bellamy.
But Mumpower objected to what he called “corporate welfare.” Council member Brownie Newman observed that, while he’s inclined to agree with Mumpower, if Asheville stops awarding such grants, it will fall behind in the hunt to recruit businesses.
“If our community single-handedly stops giving incentives and nobody else does, we are going to lose jobs in our community,” predicted Newman.
Both the grant and an $85,600 budget amendment to cover the first payment passed in 5-1 votes, with Mumpower once again opposed.
Council members also approved a $1.2 million capital-improvements plan involving several parks-and-recreation projects, including repairs to the Reid Center, Memorial Stadium and Aston Park, as well as city swimming pools and the Municipal Golf Course’s irrigation system.