For the first time in 20 years, Buncombe has a new county attorney.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously appointed Michael Frue, formerly the associate county attorney, to the job occupied for 20 years by Joe Connolly. Chair David Gantt praised Frue’s professionalism, and in some brief remarks, the newly appointed county attorney told the board that “I promise you and the citizens of this county that I’ll do my level best.”
Frue has served as the county’s staff attorney since 2005. Unlike Connolly, who also has a private practice, Frue will continue as a full-time county employee, along with a new full-time associate attorney, which the county expects to hire by October.
Connolly first offered to retire in April due to his wife’s ill health, though the county has also suffered a number of legal reverses in recent years, including an N.C. Court of Appeals judge striking down the county’s zoning ordinance and a Superior Court judge ruling the county’s controversial sale of public parkland to Parkside developer Stewart Coleman illegal (a case which Frue argued).
In other developments at the meeting:
• The board unanimously approved a $2 million design contract for a “life safety tower” on the courthouse, which would open up the top five floors — currently used as storage space due to the lack of modern fire exits and access in that part of the 1920s-era building.
The design contract is just the beginning: Building the tower is estimated to cost $24 million, and that’s just the first part of a three-phase expansion and renovation of the courthouse, expected to total around $80 million.
The project is necessary, the commissioners and county staff agreed, due to the needs of the court system — which can order the county to find it more space — and to the difficulty of insuring the courthouse without more modern facilities. The quest for new space has already resulted in the commissioners moving their chambers out of the courthouse.
Gantt said that the step will help ensure that the courthouse remains viable for “our lifetime.”
“This has been a sore subject for 20 years or more,” Gantt said. “We do not have an adequate facility as far as the access and safety issues. It’s been by the grace of God and some good negotiations that we weren’t shut down.”
— David Forbes, staff writer