Even though it was an unusually short meeting, it wound up being quite the cliffhanger. Just before the end of their Dec. 2 formal session, Asheville City Council members narrowed the field of 47 applicants to fill Holly Jones’ vacant Council seat down to just five finalists—one of whom will soon be taking a place at the table.
Each Council member in turn made anywhere from four to six nominations (see box, “How They Got to Five”). Council member Bill Russell, who was absent, had his list read into the record by Bellamy. And once the numbers were tallied, the following finalists had been pegged to advance to the next round:
Charles W. (Chuck) Archerd of the Archerd-Bell Investment Group; Sylvia E. Farrington, a disaster-assistance expert; Charlie Hume, an engineer; Esther Elizabeth Manheimer, an attorney; and Kelly Miller, executive vice president, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Archerd’s name appeared on three Council members’ lists; each of the others cropped up on four short lists. (To learn more about the applicants, see “47 Hats in the Ring,” Dec. 3 Xpress.)
Council members had originally envisioned six nominees, and they briefly flirted with the idea of taking a second pass on what City Clerk Maggie Burleson called “a lot of twos” (i.e. people named on two Council members’ lists). But after a short discussion, it was decided that five was enough.
“Thank you so much for all the people who submitted applications. We had some outstanding individuals,” said Mayor Terry Bellamy. “We really appreciate you taking this seriously.”
Council member Robin Cape agreed, adding, “I’d like to say how thrilled I was to see the quality of people who applied.” And Vice Mayor Jan Davis, who first proposed this approach to filling Jones’ seat, sounded a similar note.
Bellamy also emphasized the city’s efforts to conduct the selection process in full view of the public. “We held nothing back; we have tried to be transparent. There was no collusion,” she asserted. Even the final interviews on Dec. 9, she noted, will be open to the public and broadcast on the city’s television channel.
Only one member of the public spoke before the nominees were named. William Meredith, himself an applicant to fill the vacancy, said he would have preferred to have seen Jones’ position filled by a special election. Meredith also asked if Council planned to make a rule barring its members from abandoning their seats in favor of some higher office.
“Once you are on Council, you need to perform the job you were elected to do,” he declared. But Meredith added that he was “very serious about my application.”
Among the many applicants not making the cut was former Council member Bryan Freeborn, who was appointed in 2005 to fill Bellamy’s seat after she was elected mayor. At that time, Council’s unofficial policy for filling vacancies was to choose the unsuccessful candidate who’d collected the most votes in the previous City Council election. If Council had stuck to that approach, Freeborn would have been offered the position again, having narrowly lost his 2007 election bid (he was edged out by Russell).
After naming the five finalists, Bellamy previewed the next steps: Council interviews with all five candidates, beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 9, followed by a vote during that day’s regularly scheduled meeting. (Due to Xpress’ publication schedule, the final selection will already have been made by the time this issue hits the stands. For an update, go to www.mountainx.com.)
Meanwhile, noted Bellamy, whoever ends up becoming Council’s seventh member for at least the next year will face what looks to be a rocky road. The city is anticipating some $6 million in budget shortfalls between now and June 30, 2010, she said, adding, “I have never seen a gaping hole like that.”
A pet issue
Asheville may soon make it easier to bury Fluffy or Fido in an established pet cemetery, but some holes in the proposed change prompted Council to send it back for further work.
The amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance would allow legally incorporated pet cemeteries and crematoriums in specified zoning districts throughout the city, though the latter would be more restricted. The impetus, noted Urban Planner Julia Cogburn, was a request by an entrepreneur wanting to establish such a facility. “Our ordinance is silent on these issues,” she reported.
Currently, the UDO allows such businesses only in the River District (and then only because that district is open to any use not specifically prohibited). The change would allow pet cemeteries in any zoning designation that allows human burial grounds. Crematoriums would be somewhat more limited due to concerns about emissions.
But some on Council felt the proposal lacked essential language. State regulations, noted Davis, protect interred human remains in case the property is sold, but those regulations don’t apply to animal cemeteries. “This seems pretty benign when you first read it,” he observed. “With human remains, the regulations are pretty strict. And incorporation does not mean permanence: At some point, [the business] could very easily leave. … It opens up a door that might be very hard to close at some point.”
Cape agreed, saying that the city’s desire for infill development makes it important to nip such issues in the bud. She also wondered how the UDO rule might affect city residents, asking, “Does this mean if you bury your guinea pig in the backyard, you have a pet cemetery?”
“I don’t know if there’s any Health Department regulations,” Cogburn replied. “But the Planning Department, as far as zoning issues, does not [regulate it].”
Cogburn said she would tinker with the proposal to address those concerns and bring it back to Council for approval in January.