After a fairly uneventful meeting July 23, Asheville City Council had a brief ruckus at the end, as former Asheville Mayor Ken Michalove accused Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer, City Manager Gary Jackson and Council member Marc Hunt of “multiple violations of the city council Code of Ethics” in granting $2 million to the Asheville Art Museum for renovations. (Photo by Max Cooper)
Michalove claimed that Manheimer and Jackson are friends of Asheville Art Museum Director Pam Myers. This connection is one reason the city approved $2 million for renovations to the museum’s city-owned building, he claimed. He also asserted that Manheimer’s law firm, Van Winkle, “has represented the … museum in the past and only in the past year turned that representation over to another attorney.” Manheimer should have recused herself from Council’s vote on the matter, he said.
The museum funding was controversial at the time of the vote — several residents, including mayoral candidate and former city Risk Management Director John Miall, criticized it as too much for a nonprofit at a time when the city faces more essential concerns. Asheville staff and museum supporters said the $2 million will cover essential improvements and help attract tourism due to an improved facility.
Michalove also accused Hunt of acting improperly in his role on the Pack Place Board, saying that the Council member had represented the Art Museum’s interests rather than the city’s as a whole.
Council’s code of ethics doesn’t require members to recuse themselves due to friendships, only if a measure might benefit themselves, their immediate family, their employer, or their business interests. The same policies allow Council members to express their opinions or advocate for positions, and doesn’t preclude from doing so when appointed to a board.
Michalove also said that an April 26 fundraiser for Manheimer’s mayoral campaign at the art museum did “not meet the fundamental non-profit rental requirements of ‘Education, Art, and Science’ as required by the Pack Place legal documents.” However, Pack Place managing director Heather Nelson tells Xpress that political events don’t violate the venue’s policies, as long as the organizers rent the space under the same terms any other organization would.
Mayor Terry Bellamy thanked Michalove for sharing his thoughts and what he described as nearly “14.8 pounds of evidence,” such as CDs of recorded Pack Place Board and committee meetings. But Council did not respond to the accusations.
Questioned by reporters after the meeting, Michalove said that he was against the $2 million renovation funding because he feels the museum’s free rent and maintenance are already enough of a subsidy.
His comments came at the end of the public-comment portion of the meeting. Earlier, supporters of the Colburn Earth Science Museum said they wanted Council to keep the welfare of their institution in mind while renovations and changes occur at Pack Place.
In other actions:
• Council, in response to complaints from East End residents, agreed that this will be the last year the Brewgrass festival will take place in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. However, Council didn’t agree on where the festival should go; Bellamy objected to moving it to the nearby Memorial Stadium. Council delayed a vote until Aug. 13.
• Voted 6-0 to extend downtown’s zoning rules to a piece of property on Asheland Avenue currently occupied by Keller Williams real estate offices. Council member Chris Pelly, who works as a Realtor there, was recused from the decision.