Buzzworm news briefs

The red-pen special

There was a time when development “master plans” submitted to the Buncombe County Planning Department received consideration whether or not they merited a first glance from the department’s staff. With a shy grin and a shrug of the shoulders, a developer could hand over a blueprint for a project that failed to meet local and/or state specifications with the assurance that it nevertheless would be passed up to the Planning Board for a vote.

If those were the good old days, they appear to be numbered, in part because of citizen outcry. Earlier this month, Buncombe County Assistant Attorney Mike Frue gave the Board of Commissioners a list of proposed changes to the planning board’s bylaws, including a provision that the county planning staff be permitted to reject outright any plans that fail to meet standards.

Another provision requires developers to submit plans to the Planning Department a minimum of 30 days prior to consideration by the board. Beyond the heavy-hitters, the draft rules also include a number of procedural changes for the board.

Citizen activists have been on the Planning Board’s case for some months now, alleging lax enforcement of slope and density rules by the nine-member panel, and, when it comes to master plans, a less-than-discriminating eye. The criticism has grown in part from the torrent of new subdivision master plans turned in before the county tightened up its slope-development ordinance on July 1. Many of the new plans, say representatives of groups like the Mountain Voices Alliance and Friends of Town Mountain, are shoddy and strain at legality.

The draft changes to Planning Board bylaws, as well as a number of proposed amendments to the Buncombe County Subdivision Ordinance, are posted at the county Web site, www.buncombe.org.

– Kent Priestley

Call me Madame President

Woman for President Logo

We may have lost Gena Davis as our fictional commander in chief (on ABC-TV), but on Thursday, Nov. 30, a group of local supporters of putting a woman in the Oval Office will meet in Asheville.

“Woman for President 2008,” a statewide, nonpartisan movement that already has buttons making the rounds and a Web site under construction (www.womanforpresident2008.org), is inviting interested area residents to join the discussion that started conversationally with a handful of Charlotte women some eight months ago.

“This is N.C.-based — a grassroots effort in part to create a vision and support for the idea that a woman can be president,” says Mary Klenz, one of the original organizers, “and [to] get rid of all those old cultural stereotypes.”

The group has held meetings and pulled together “Kitchen Cabinets” in Gastonia, Greensboro, Goldsboro and elsewhere around the state to be the “eyes and ears,” says Klenz, and to talk about “why has it taken so long [to elect a female president] and what’s next.”

The meetings are strictly nonpartisan, with no candidates being touted. Indeed, one of the few negative remarks Klenz says they have repeatedly received is: “I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton or Condi Rice!” The response: Asking why someone feels that way and steering them toward a larger discussion about women in leadership roles.

Leadership is not foreign to Klenz, who is retired from her own real-estate firm in Charlotte and is a former co-president of the N.C. League of Women Voters, among other civic roles.

At the meetings, she shares some heartening news, such as the fact that Chile, Germany and Liberia elected women to top leadership spots just this year. (And France now has a strong female presidential contender.) And according to the fact sheet Klenz hands out, polls show that a majority of U.S. voters support the idea of a woman in the presidency.

The group expects that a woman, after 43 male presidents, could help fill the still-too-empty pipeline of women running for office. In Buncombe County, for instance, there is only one woman (Carol Peterson) on the five-member Board of Commissioners, and one woman (Rep. Susan Fisher) representing the county in the N.C. General Assembly.

Roughly 51 percent of the state’s residents are women, but according to the unofficial results of the 2006 election, women won in only 31 of 120 N.C. House districts, constituting a 25.8 percent female representation. In the N.C. Senate, women took eight of the 50 seats for a whopping 16 percent representation.

The Woman for President 2008 discussion is open to the public and will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at T.K. Tripps Restaurant (311 College St., Asheville). Reservations are not required, but would be appreciated; contact Klenz at klenzm@bellsouth.net.

– Nelda Holder

Political fireworks in Madison

Word got out that County Manager Ricky McDevitt might lose his job at the Nov. 13 meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners, so the meeting was packed with his backers. But the popular support was to no avail.

“I’m speechless,” were the first words uttered by McDevitt in response to the 3-2 vote that ended his employment by the county.

A second shoe dropped immediately afterward when County Attorney Larry Leake resigned. “I am placed in an awkward position,” he said, citing his long friendship with McDevitt. He went on to assure the commissioners that he would complete any ongoing legal work for the county before leaving office.

McDevitt’s two-year contract was up for renewal at the end of December, but Commissioner Elsberry Wyatt, who made a motion to renew his contract, said “it’s unfair to keep him hanging.” Wyatt offered a long list of McDevitt’s accomplishments during the past two years, including improved employee policies, his activism with advisory boards, his calling of a first-ever county economic summit, initiation and completion of several capital projects including a new jail and health center, and his work on the annual Marshall festival. Furthermore, he said the manager had improved communication with commissioners, kept his work well-organized and instituted an open-door policy in his office.

Commissioner Dyatt Smathers seconded the motion, saying that while he is a Republican and McDevitt is a Democrat, “the Republicans, at least this Republican, can work with Mr. McDevitt.”

Commissioner Hall Moore voiced his preference for putting off the decision, and Commissioner Eddie Fox questioned why the manager even had a contract. “County manager is the only job in the county with a contract,” Fox said. “I think the job should not be contractual.”

When the vote came, only Wyatt and Smathers voted to renew. Many in the standing-room-only crowd reacted with anger. When McDevitt stepped up to speak, there was pandemonium, with cheering, whistles and shouts of support. But the ousted manager said he understood politics and that, frankly, he wouldn’t miss the 50- to 60-hour weeks and would love to see the entirety of one of his son’s ball games. In the only indication during the proceedings that the move was not unexpected, he added, “My son even told me he would have voted for Mr. Fox last week,” he said, “just so he could see more of me.”

Fox, Wyatt and Chairman Vernon Ponder were re-elected Nov. 7 (terms of commissioners are four years, with staggered terms of office). All three had voted with former Commissioner Reese Steen to hire McDevitt at the board’s Nov. 8, 2004 meeting. Fox cast the sole opposing vote to McDevitt’s hiring.

In the public-comment period that followed the meeting, Sandy Mush resident Tom Coulson voiced support for a managerial contract. “Times are changing in Madison County,” he said. “We can’t make it work by doing business with our cronies, no matter which party is in power. … There is a perception that the county manager is about to be replaced with an old friend.”

Marshall resident Bob Johnson was more direct, mentioning the name of the man rumored to be up for the manager’s job. “Ronnie Ledford is the dirt on the shoe of this man,” he said, gesturing at McDevitt. “You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” he said, addressing the three naysayers, a statement that elicited another round of shouts and applause from the crowd.

(Ledford, a former Madison County building inspector, has worked for B&E Ventures, developers of the Wolf Ridge home sites and jetport that have been the object of some local opposition and lawsuits in recent months.)

Smathers later downplayed that suggestion, telling Xpress: “The county is ripe with rumors at this point … and it’s purely speculation.” Moore concurred. “There is no one at this time who has applied for the position,” he said. “We’ll talk about that at our organizational meeting in December.”

– Cecil Bothwell

Making change

Zero Tolerance image

Over the past 10 years, Asheville area residents have grown accustomed to ubiquitous “Shop for Change” advertisements and storefront signs, encouraging gift-buying on the premises of businesses that give a portion of their proceeds to Interlace, the domestic-violence assistance program operated through the Affordable Housing Coalition.

Well, the times, and the signs, are changing.

“Everything is different this year,” says Betsy Warren of Interlace, the former benefactor of “Shop for Change.” After interviewing key business participants, Warren says, “We found out the event probably had lived its life. It’s time to reinvent the whole thing.”

Thus was born the new “Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence” campaign, which held its kickoff Nov. 15. Purple window signs and bumper stickers displaying the new logo have begun to spread, and Warren feels that the concept may do much more to help reduce domestic violence than just fund-raising for victims has done in the past.

“What I know is we will never create real solutions … by leaving it up to domestic-violence organizations [that] provide essential services for victims. The only way we can really have a prayer of making changes … is if all sectors [in] the entire community come together and say, ‘No, we won’t have this anymore.’

“We do need money,” Warren admits, “[but] we’re asking [the businesses] to take a stand — even if it’s just to display a ‘Zero Tolerance’ sign.”

Kathleen Balogh, director of the western regional office of the N.C. Council for Women Domestic Violence Commission, agrees that it “makes sense to change the focus a little bit,” noting that awareness of domestic violence at a business level has been growing recently because of an educational focus on the problem in the workplace. And although there has been little change in local domestic-violence statistics, Balogh says, awareness has brought about major change in state legislation in areas of education, judicial training, legal enforcement and social services.

The most recent statistics available through Balogh’s state office are for 2004-05, indicating some 50,726 clients statewide with Buncombe County’s total at 2,400 — roughly averaging 46 clients a week, or more than six per day.

According to Balogh, front-line services for victims are provided locally by Helpmate, which offers emergency housing, court advocacy and other crisis support. Interlace provides longer-term assistance with transitional housing and counseling. And OurVoice, which serves Buncombe and Madison counties, works closely with the other two organizations through its services for victims of sexual assault.

To contact these organizations for services, call Helpmate’s crisis line, 254-0516; Interlace, 259-9216; or the OurVoice 24-hour crisis line, 255-7576. To contribute or volunteer, contact Christy Price at Helpmate, 254-2968; Betsy Warren at Interlace, 259-9216; or OurVoice in Buncombe County, 252-0562, or in Madison County, 649-3912.

– Nelda Holder

Political fireworks in Madison

Word got out that County Manager Ricky McDevitt might lose his job at the Nov. 13 meeting of the county’s Board of Commissioners, so the meeting was packed with his backers. But the popular support was to no avail.

“I’m speechless,” were the first words uttered by McDevitt in response to the 3-2 vote that ended his employment by the county.

A second shoe dropped immediately afterward when County Attorney Larry Leake resigned. “I am placed in an awkward position,” he said, citing his long friendship with McDevitt. He went on to assure the commissioners that he would complete any ongoing legal work for the county before leaving office.

McDevitt’s two-year contract was up for renewal at the end of December, but Commissioner Elsberry Wyatt, who made a motion to renew his contract, said “it’s unfair to keep him hanging.” Wyatt offered a long list of McDevitt’s accomplishments during the past two years, including improved employee policies, his activism with advisory boards, his calling of a first-ever county economic summit, initiation and completion of several capital projects including a new jail and health center, and his work on the annual Marshall festival. Furthermore, he said the manager had improved communication with commissioners, kept his work well-organized and instituted an open-door policy in his office.

Commissioner Dyatt Smathers seconded the motion, saying that while he is a Republican and McDevitt is a Democrat, “the Republicans, at least this Republican, can work with Mr. McDevitt.”

Commissioner Hall Moore voiced his preference for putting off the decision, and Commissioner Eddie Fox questioned why the manager even had a contract. “County manager is the only job in the county with a contract,” Fox said. “I think the job should not be contractual.”

When the vote came, only Wyatt and Smathers voted to renew. Many in the standing-room-only crowd reacted with anger. When McDevitt stepped up to speak, there was pandemonium, with cheering, whistles and shouts of support. But the ousted manager said he understood politics and that, frankly, he wouldn’t miss the 50- to 60-hour weeks and would love to see the entirety of one of his son’s ball games. In the only indication during the proceedings that the move was not unexpected, he added, “My son even told me he would have voted for Mr. Fox last week,” he said, “Just so he could see more of me.”

Fox, Wyatt and Chairman Vernon Ponder were re-elected Nov. 7 (terms of commissioners are four years, with staggered terms of office). All three had voted with former Commissioner Reese Steen to hire McDevitt at the board’s Nov. 8, 2004 meeting. Fox cast the sole opposing vote to McDevitt’s hiring.

In the public-comment period that followed the meeting, Sandy Mush resident Tom Coulson voiced support for a managerial contract. “Times are changing in Madison County,” he said. “We can’t make it work by doing business with our cronies, no matter which party is in power. … There is a perception that the county manager is about to be replaced with an old friend.”

Marshall resident Bob Johnson was more direct, mentioning the name of the man rumored to be up for the manager’s job. “Ronnie Ledford is the dirt on the shoe of this man,” he said, gesturing at McDevitt. “You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” he said, addressing the three naysayers, a statement that elicited another round of shouts and applause from the crowd.

(Ledford, a former Madison County building inspector, has worked for B&E Ventures, developers of the Wolf Ridge home sites and jetport that have been the object of some local opposition and lawsuits in recent months.)

Smathers later downplayed that suggestion, telling Xpress: “The county is ripe with rumors at this point … and it’s purely speculation.” Moore concurred. “There is no one at this time who has applied for the position,” he said. “We’ll talk about that at our organizational meeting in December.”

– Cecil Bothwell

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