They want your vote — make ‘em earn it

On Oct. 9, Asheville voters will determine which six of the 15 candidates on the ballot will make the cut for the Nov. 6 general election, when three Council members will be elected. The week before the primary, Mountain Xpress will publish one of our election-season mainstays: a grid profiling the candidates and putting them all on record regarding the most important issues in the campaign.

Normally, Xpress staffers script all of the questions, but this year, we’re asking our readers to suggest questions they’d ask the candidates. So, how about it, Asheville? What do you most want to know about the folks who want to run your city? What issues matter most to you? What specific policies and planks do you want scrutinized?

It’s your vote they’re after — and now’s your chance to make them earn it.

Feel free to post your questions in the comment field below. And while you’re at it, have a gander at the profiles of all the candidates prepared by Xpress reporters and reprinted below.

— Jon Elliston, managing editor


Name: Donna Bateman
Age: 67
Occupation: Retired benefits manager, National Maritime Union
Party affiliation (if any): Democrat
Family: None
Education: “Year and a half of college.”
Civic experience: None
Web site/e-mail: “None. If people need to contact me, they can call 252-2988.”
Comments: “I hope to make a difference for the elderly, the handicapped, and the one-parent families. The streets have got to be safer for the elderly to walk on. The streets are in bad shape and we need ramps for the handicapped. I’m the only one running for Council [who’s] in a wheelchair.”

Name: Steve Bledsoe
Age: 54
Occupation: Retired from manufacturing, engineering and management
Party affiliation (if any): None
Family: Single
Education: B.S., Engineering, Auburn University; Master of Business Administration, University of South Carolina
Civic experience: None
Web site/e-mail: No campaign Web site
Comments: “Currently I do not see the leadership and actions from City Council that I think our city needs. Issues seem to be discussed more on an emotional basis and not on facts and details. There is a lot of talk but not a lot of true actions. I feel that with my background and experience as an engineer and a business manager, I can help move things in a more productive direction.

Some key areas of concern to me: We need to balance the needs to ensure a positive quality of life here in Asheville with the needs for future growth and development. We need to ensure that affordable housing is available to those who need it. We need to address the homelessness problems we have downtown. The water war with Buncombe County needs to be resolved and quit wasting tax money on lawyers. We need to look at consolidation where services are duplicated, such as two school districts.”

Name: Dwight Butner
Age: 54
Occupation: Restaurateur (Vincenzo’s Ristorante)
Party affiliation: Unaffiliated
Family: Married, four children (“fortunately all grown”)
Education: B.A. in history from Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Fla., trained paralegal
Civic experience: President, Asheville Downtown Association; Asheville Downtown Commission, board of directors Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce (Governmental Affairs Task Force), Downtown Social Issues Task Force (co-chair, panhandling subcommittee); first president and founding member, Asheville Independent Restaurant Association; Bele Chere board member (downtown liaison); former co-chair, Hospitality House (now Homeward Bound); former Merchant Action Committee board member (Parking Committee co-chair), Asheville Lyric Opera board member
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I was leaning against running for City Council this cycle because of personal business opportunities, satisfaction with the contributions I was making on a number of boards and commissions, as well as personal, family considerations. The events surrounding our local election over the last few months have caused me to reconsider and decide to seek office.

“I see three challenges and/or opportunities facing the community that will be addressed in this election. First, the citizens of Asheville will decide in this election how they want to be governed. Are we going to be governed from the top down, or are we going to govern ourselves from the bottom up? We have seen an upswell of democracy in action as the result of the Let Asheville Vote campaign. It was inspirational. … Second, the citizens of Asheville will decide over the next few years how we are going to capitalize on, receive and guide the influx of interest in our community as a place to live. … I want to participate with the community in those decisions.

“Lastly, how are we going to unite as a community to address our challenges? How are we going to treat one another? … Are we going to continue to be a tolerant, live-and-let-live community where everyone is allowed to pursue happiness as they see fit? Or not? I believe that those are the key questions we face. I have some things to say about them, and I want to be a part of creating real solutions for all of them.”

Name: Christopher Chiaromonte
Age: 52
Occupation: Street minister
Party affiliation: Yahweh and Cannabis Party
Family: Brother, John, 56
Education: “8 years of college, a year of seminary”
Civic experience: Frequent speaker at City Council meetings
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I am running a zero-finance campaign. I’m taking no money in—if people want to put signs up supporting me, they can. I believe that part of the problem in politics is money. I believe, in a city like Asheville, running a zero-finance campaign is possible.

“Secondly, I want to put back First Amendment freedoms, to give back to people what’s rightfully theirs. It does bother me that three times Mayor Bellamy has tried to censor me. She’s told me I can’t prophesy; then she told me I couldn’t preach; now she’s told me I can’t use a puppet. I’m a court jester—my purpose to deflate the egos of those who have gotten too prideful. The court jester’s job was to keep the king on an even keel and use comedy to do it. That’s me.

“If you want to know more about me or my campaign, watch URTV [Chanel 20].”

Name: Jan Davis (incumbent)
Age: 59
Occupation: Business owner (Jan Davis Tire Store)
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, Ann; son, Rich, 38
Education: Attended Western Carolina University
Civic experience: chair, city Planning and Economic Development Committee; member, city Public Safety Committee; member, city Boards and Commissions Committee; member, Downtown Commission; Council liaison, WNC Regional Air Quality Agency, Historic Resources Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, Civic Center Commission and Tree Commission
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I consider it a real honor and privilege to serve the community. I feel like the average person—the average businessperson, the average hard worker who gets up in the morning and pays taxes—needs representation, and I feel like I bring a level of consideration to the office that keeps that person in mind.

“As far as accomplishments … I was pretty instrumental in the work we’ve done in improving the pay of public-safety officers, both police and fire, because when I came on they were woefully underpaid. Also, the dissolution of the Water Agreement has been a major time-consumer, but I think as the end of that nears, the system has been much improved and the amenities that we’ve acquired from the dissolution have improved. Also, I’ve been very strong on cultural and sports amenities. One of my accomplishments personally was a lot of hard work on the Civic Center, and we are today actively funding it, which has not been done in the past. I’m also a big proponent of the [proposed] Performing Arts Center. That’s something the city needs in the long term, and I feel very strongly that that’s an important issue for the city, and I’ll continue to work on that. My latest passion is working on homeless issues. … That’s a driving issue for me. And I also think we are making great process in building better relationships with the county and our state legislators … and tackling our issues with drugs.”

Name: Bryan Freeborn (incumbent)
Age: 30
Occupation: Consultant (media relations, P.R., public policy)
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, Bridget O’Hara; daughter, Wild, 7; son, Emmett, 4
Education: B.A., history, Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash.; master’s candidate in Public Administration, Western Carolina University
Civic experience: Chairman, Asheville Regional Airport Authority; member, Young Democrats of Buncombe County; vice president, Haywood Road Market Board; member, International City-County Managers Association; city representative, French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I’m running again because young, working families deserve representation. We need to continue progress toward better planning practices that strengthen our neighborhoods and our city. We need to provide better economic support for local, small businesses and continue to provide support for innovation and economic development. We need to continue the good policies that have been implemented the last year and a half toward transportation policies for a healthier Asheville.

“And also, the citizens of Asheville have someone on Council in me that actually answers their phone and returns e-mails, and that’s really important to people. And I’m looking forward to knocking on doors.”

Name: Matthew Hebb
Age: 26
Occupation: Business owner (Caffiend coffee shop)
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Single
Education: B.A., Political Science/pre-law, University of Central Florida
Civic experience: None. Ran unsuccessfully for Council in 2005.
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I think we have a City Council right now that is completely out of touch with the will of the people. I think we don’t have a logical thought process in the way we’re doing things in our city. The first thing we have to do is get something that deals with fairness—where everyone is treated identically, regardless of whether they’re building a big development or renovating their house. … If elected, I’d do what I could to try to eliminate a lot of the more ludicrous things in terms of roads [such as traffic-calming devices and a city suggestion to reduce speed limits from 35 mph to 25 mph]; I’d make Asheville more business-friendly, so we can correct some of the underemployment problem in Asheville. Underemployment is a huge problem in this town—I’m tired of seeing friends with degrees in physics working at Best Buy.

“In addition, I’d like to see us have a fiscally responsible Council. I think we need to prioritize our spending. Our police officers need to be given more resources. I’d like to see a Council that does respect the environment around Asheville—I don’t agree with ridgeline development. I continue to support a retail- and restaurant-chain ban in a portion of downtown—that’s part of protecting the character of Asheville. However, I don’t think every development is a bad development. And I want to see a Council that listens to people and doesn’t fetter public comment. I want to see more openness.”

Name: Bobby L. Johnston
Age: 53
Occupation: Donations center assistant, Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Wife, Judy; son, Nick, 27
Education: Did not attend college
Civic experience: None
Web site/e-mail: Web site under construction
Comments: “I’m running because I’ve talked to many, many people, and everybody has said they think City Council needs a common man on Council, like the people of Asheville. [I told one woman] I was as common as pinto beans and collard greens. I’d like to run to be a voice for the people of Asheville. They can call me and express their concerns, and I can take it to the proper people and see if we can get something done about their concerns.

“What would I like to accomplish? I’d like to see us get a little more aggressive on trying to do something for the homeless, to try and help them and get them off the streets … and back on the right track.”

Name: Elaine Lite
Age: 58
Occupation: Publisher and Editor, Critter Magazine
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Daughter, Rachael Fisher, 19
Education: A.A. Paralegal Studies, Cecils College; attended University of Southern Florida
Civic experience: Member, People Advocating Real Conservancy; board member, Hope for Horses; member, Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County; founding board member, Mountain Voices Alliance
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “I think we’ve reached a crossroads in Asheville and Buncombe County, and I would hope the city takes a path that ensures protecting and preserving Asheville for the many and not the few. It just seems development has spiraled out of control. I just think citizens deserve a Council that will make decisions that are in the best interest of the community and not a handful of well-funded stakeholders or the developers. And I think Council needs to be held accountable for its actions.

“I also feel it’s important not to make decisions that meet short-term goals but have long-term consequences. If we don’t control growth or have a plan for growth, no matter what we may think we gain in the short term, we will suffer in the long term.”

Name: William C. Meredith
Age: 38
Occupation: Contractor
Party affiliation (if any): Libertarian
Family: 13-year-old daughter, Michaela
Education: Environmental Studies and Civil Engineering, UNCA; Army Corps of Engineers
Civic experience: Four years, Libertarian Executive Committee; member, libertarian reform caucus; long-time advocate for alternative energy
Web site/e-mail: No campaign Web site
Comments: “I joined the army in 1987 and served three years as a combat engineer. When I got out, I went to UNCA to study civil engineering. I spent several years as a welder, working both in factories and as a small-business owner. I currently own a labor-providing service, Beau Co., in Asheville for the last 10 years.

I’m running as a Libertarian. I feel that the sovereignty of the individual’s rights needs to be the first and foremost consideration of any governing body. Asheville needs greater transparency in its government and greater access to the individual so that we can make our government work for us instead of us working for the government.

We have serious issues with our water and power. City Council has failed over the last 20 years to address these issues. As a small-business owner, I know how it’s getting tougher and tougher to make a living in Asheville.”

Name: Brownie Newman (incumbent)
Age: 35
Occupation: Director, Political Outreach & Education, Conservation Council of North Carolina
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, Beth; daughters, Tess, 3, and Lizzy, 2 months old
Education: B.A. History/Political Science, Warren Wilson College
Civic experience: Chairman, city Finance Committee; member, city Housing and Community Development Committee; city liaison, Asheville Transit Commission; past President, Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “Over the last four years, we have made a lot of progress on issues that are critical challenges facing the community. In terms of growth and development, we’ve enacted the strongest rules for protection of steep slopes in WNC. We’ve significantly increased funding for sidewalks and greenways, and preservation (including creation of [the future Beaucatcher Overlook Park]). We’ve created a lot more innovative and effective transit system. When I was elected to Council, we didn’t have transit service in the evening; now we do. The ridership on the transit system has grown more than 30 percent in just two years.

“I think the central challenge facing Asheville is growth and development. I think we’ve made a good start in developing alternatives to the kind of sprawl development that has hurt so many communities, but there is a lot more to be done, and I want to be part of the City Council that takes on those challenges. … One of the things I can point to as an accomplishment is that we’ve enacted policies that make Asheville a model for environmental sustainability through green-building strategies and by committing to reduce Asheville’s energy use and carbon emissions by 80 percent. I think people want leadership that’s not only going to be beneficial to our community but also provides an example of what a community that really cares about environmental sustainability can do. And I think we’ve started providing that kind of leadership.”

Name: Bill Russell
Age: 37
Occupation: Business owner (State Farm insurance agency)
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Wife, Alison; son, Xan, 3; daughter, Kayson, 1
Education: B.A. Business and Marketing, Marshall University, Huntington, W.Va.
Civic experience: Volunteer, Habitat for Humanity; volunteer, Asheville High School
Web site/e-mail: Web site under construction
Comments: “I feel City Council needs representation from local business owners and families. I’m a very hard worker and I’ve been successful in the private sector and feel City Council is not getting a lot of things done due to lack of teamwork. My success in business is a direct result of just working together with employees and my team and listening to consumers and what they need. I think I can transfer those skills over to the city level, and hopefully get this team of seven working together.

“We need a new look, an outsider to politics coming in and taking a business-owner’s look. A $130 million city budget is pretty serious, so I think experience in business would certainly benefit the city.”

Name: Lindsey Simerly
Age: 23
Occupation: Massage therapist, nanny
Party affiliation: “Absolutely none”
Family: Girlfriend, Laura Friederich
Education: Currently enrolled at A-B Tech
Civic experience: Works with Food Not Bombs, Tranzmission and other nonprofits
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “The three major issues that I want to focus on as a City Council person are development, public transportation and diversity. With each of these issues, I take a stand of “No compromise in defense of our communities and our land,” meaning that I firmly believe there is no need to sacrifice the very substance of Asheville to satisfy the needs of big business and development. It is time to stop thinking in terms of compromise—to start thinking in terms of the integrity of this place that we love.

“For too long, Asheville has been under attack by big-money developers who do not respect the environment or community members. Because of large, high-priced development, our city is rapidly gentrifying. Housing costs are rising beyond the standard of living, and there is widespread disparity of housing costs and a lack of affordable-housing developments. For the protection of the mountains, density is a better option than sprawl; however the new housing needs to be for our working-class community, not rich people looking for a vacation home. We need a moratorium on large development, so our city has time to come up with a holistic plan for growth in Asheville—including incorporating many aspects of the existing 2025 Plan. Because of our growing population, we need to begin improving our public transit and make biking a safer and easier alternative. We need to seriously examine the effects of racism, homophobia, sexism, classism, ageism and ableism on our housing and job opportunities in Asheville. It is important to open dialogue with the city about confronting social issues and expanding representation of Asheville’s diverse community.

“My ‘no-compromise’ stance is evident in the way that I am running this campaign. Campaign spending is one of the most wasteful uses of money there is, so from the beginning we set a budget of $250 maximum. … I want the way we are running this campaign to reflect how I would act as a Council member.”

Name: Selina D. Sullivan
Age: 40
Occupation: Accountant, Biltmore Farms
Party affiliation: Republican
Family: Divorced; no children
Education: B.S., Business Administration & Management, Shaw University
Civic experience: Former Planning and Zoning commissioner; board member, Children First; founding member and board director of the Hillcrest Enrichment Program; community-relations director, Knowledge is Power
Web site/e-mail: Web site under construction
Comments: “I’m concerned about the direction we’re going regarding our community. I’m a native, born and raised here. I’m concerned about taxes, which are too high. People cannot afford to live here—young professionals who want to be in this community cannot afford to. We’re losing a lot of people to Charlotte, to Raleigh, to Atlanta.

“This is not a friendly business environment. We do not provide the structure for small business. We’ve been talking about this [Unified Development Ordinance] and the red tape that’s involved. … There’s just things I want to do and be a part of to make our city better.”

Name: Dee Williams
Age: 54
Occupation: Small-business owner (real estate; concessions)
Party affiliation: Unaffiliated
Family: Husband, David; daughter, DeLores, 28
Education: B.A., public administration; B.S. accounting; B.S. business administration, Winston-Salem State University
Civic experience: Former chair, Women’s Involvement Council of Buncombe County; founding member, Asheville/Buncombe County Minority and Women’s Business Commission; commissioner, Asheville Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission
Web site/e-mail:
Comments: “There seems to be a lack of people who have a long-range vision for the area, coupled with an appreciation of what makes Asheville a unique place.

“There are several compelling issues: The first is, I want to develop a coherent regional water-management plan for Asheville and Buncombe and, hopefully, for Henderson County. Secondly, I want to take a more balanced approach to land development so we can preserve our unique way of life and our beauty, so future generations can sustain it as a future tourist attraction and a healthy place to live. The third thing is, taxes are too high in the city of Asheville. It puts a strain on homeownership and especially working families and people on fixed incomes. Number four, the Asheville City Schools board needs to be elected and [held] accountable to the taxpayers who fund it. And number five, I want to address the needs of public housing. It needs to be retooled and rebuilt so the people who live there can be brought into the social and cultural and economic mainstream of Asheville.”


About Jon Elliston
Former Mountain Xpress managing editor Jon Elliston is the senior editor at WNC magazine.

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6 thoughts on “They want your vote — make ‘em earn it

  1. Marsha Hammond, PhD

    The members of the Asheville City Council are dependent on the guidance of the city’s attorney, Mr. Oast, as associated with his legal expertise and knowledge about the UDO and laws that impact that matter. In that the rules associated with the UDO require that the ‘most restrictive’ interpretation (favoring the status quo of neighborhoods in place) be utilized, what is your overview of what has taken place as regards Greenlife Grocery and the destruction of the status quo (community which has been in place fo deacdes) and how might this be a guide to other development in Asheville? Do you believe that the Asheville City Council received adequate guidance from Mr. Oast?

  2. Marion May

    Do you think the public should be involved in the budget process at the same time it is informally discussed in Council?

  3. Charlie Hume

    With regard to City Council’s decision on June 12th to adopt a Partisan Election System, ‘conflict of interest’ questions were raised on whether it was appropriate for council members seeking reelection to approve a change in the way they are elected fives months prior to Election Day.

    Currently the State Goverment Ethics Act (GS 138A) outlines standards of ethical conduct which ensures that elected officials exercise their authority honestly, fairly, free from impropriety, threats, favoritism, and undue influence.

    Would you support the creation of a Municipal Goverment Ethics Act for the City of Asheville?

  4. sonjia johnson

    what do you plan to do to punish local law enforcement officials who break the law? like former sheriff medford and current deputy scarborough?

  5. Danny Lack

    Given that property values have skyrocketed in recent years many people are finding their property taxes unaffordable. Would you support lowering the tax rate on a primary residence if the owner lived in the home for an extended period? For example, over 5 years? Over 10 years? Over 20 years?

  6. Marion May

    “Open, transparent government is good government. Taxpayers and citizens deserve to know how their elected officials arrive at their decisions. The public’s business should be conducted in public.”

    Do you think attorney-client privilege is used too much for the justification of closed session

    If elected to city council would you vote against and sit out of closed session discussion you believed were improper and/or unnecessary?

    If open,transparent government would be better served by disclosing what happened in a closed session, would you be willing to do so?

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