Differing views at downtown Asheville BID meeting

Photos by Max Cooper

A tense July 17 public-input session on the controversial downtown business improvement district underscored deep divisions among residents over the proposal.

About 60 people, ranging from condo owners to the homeless, showed up at the Asheville Civic Center ballroom to weigh in on the idea of establishing an independent nonprofit to provide extra services downtown, funded by a special tax district.

City Council delayed a vote on the contentious proposal June 12, citing concerns about the BID board’s accountability and the need for more clarity on the role of the proposed “ambassadors,” among other issues. City staff and the interim BID board subsequently scheduled the informal gathering to solicit opinions on those issues.

Four tables were set up at the meeting, each focusing on one key theme: board representation, board selection, the ambassadors’ role and the specific services the BID would provide. There was no formal mechanism for opposing the BID outright. People moved from table to table, making written suggestions and placing stickers next to favored items on big lists. Some also spoke with Council members, staff and BID board members.

“I started out adamantly against it because I felt it was fairly redundant,” Asheville resident Jeff McLarty told Xpress, adding, “I think I’ve changed to ambivalent.” He said he worries that the BID would divide downtown from the rest of the city and make some people feel unwelcome.

Downtown resident Buck Bragg, however, had no ambivalence whatsoever. “We experience the issues with cleanliness and safety every day,” he said. “What are the options to deal with them? Our takeaway is that the BID is the best option.”

Longtime Asheville resident Tracy Hyorth said she was involved in similar efforts in the 1980s that had stronger city backing. Now, however, she’s concerned that a particular group of downtown power brokers (“the same [ones who] come in Council time and time again”) is behind the BID push. She feels information kiosks would be more helpful to visitors than the proposed ambassadors, who might waste valuable police resources calling law enforcement over minor issues.

Local activist Matthew Burd said existing nonprofits could handle cleaning and street sweeping, which he called the BID’s only beneficial elements, at lower cost. Safety and security, he maintained, are the Police Department’s job.

City resident Faith Rhyne believes the BID would “reinforce the economic and cultural segregation we already have downtown. … It’s not representative of the surrounding communities; it’s going to benefit a few commercial interests.”

Some critics felt the whole public-input process was slanted toward BID proponents. One said he’d tried unsuccessfully to get a fifth table representing the opposition’s views.

“We feel so unheard, so unrepresented,” downtown resident Carol Brothers told Council member Chris Pelly, who advised the opposition to organize.

Firestorm Cafe worker/owner Sye agreed, saying, “It seems incredibly stacked. It’s all under the presumption that the BID will pass. It feels a little bit like a sham that we’ve been invited to a public forum, then asked how we want something to look … instead of being asked if we want it here at all.”

Council member Marc Hunt said his impression was that most downtown residents oppose the BID while most business owners support it. Pelly told some attendees that he felt support and opposition “ran about 50-50.”

Downtown resident Ann Snell said her car has been broken into twice recently; she believes a BID is necessary to improve the area. “I think downtown is deteriorating; I’m very worried about it,” she told Xpress, asserting, “People who don’t own property downtown shouldn’t be on the BID board.”

Snell added that she understands opponents’ concerns, saying some property owners should be exempted from the BID tax.

Pelly later told Xpress that he’d wanted to explore a two-tier tax system for the BID, with residents paying less, but this would violate state law.

Midway through the meeting, about 15 homeless people showed up wearing ambassador sashes. Some said local political operative Michael Muller had offered them packs of cigarettes in exchange for doing this. Others, however, said they wanted to highlight the role the homeless can and do play in helping improve downtown. One man, Midnight, said he’s organized a group to pick up trash near the A-HOPE shelter, adding that the homeless should not be excluded from downtown.

“I was involved in Occupy Asheville last year, and it made me feel like I needed to be part of the community and help others,” he explained. “We’re kind of a tight-knit group: We have eyes on the street; we see what’s going on. We have to live in this environment too.”

Council will reconsider a revised BID proposal in late September.

Below, we have curated Twitter dispatches by Xpress Senior Staff Reporter David Forbes.

11:54 a.m. RT @mxnews: City seeks input on downtown Asheville BID at tonight’s meeting http://t.co/IvHbKEcz

3:55 p.m. mxnews Towns, fire chiefs oppose Asheville BID due to loss of sales tax revenue http://t.co/cLG2I73w

5:13 p.m. mtg about to start in Civic Center. City staff setting up tables focusing on Board seats, Board selection, Ambassadors, BID Services

5:14 p.m. A number of my neighbors asked me about issue/mtg. Encouraged them to attend, but most are working tonight.

5:19 p.m. If you can’t make tonight’s meeting, here’s how to let Council know your opinion http://t.co/JMnwPdy2

5:32 p.m. Council members Marc Hunt and Chris Pelly are here

5:52 p.m. Avl resident Jeff McLarty: Gone from ardently opposed to to ambiguous, still concerned will divide downtown from rest of city.

5:54 p.m. Downtown resident Buck Bragg: See problems every day w litter, safety. best way to solve.

5:55 p.m. Matthew Burd: Only beneficial things offers (like cleaning) could be better handled by local non-profits like Asheville Greenworks.

5:56 p.m. Faith Rhyne: will “reinforce existing economic/cultural segregation” in downtown Asheville.

5:59 p.m. Tracy Hyorth: Involved in similiar proposals to in ‘80s, city more involved then, now seems more just one group pressing this.

6:00 p.m. About 15 local homeless, protesters have entered wearing Ambassador sashes

6:00 p.m. Number of ppl have concerns over role of “ambassadors,” esp security function

6:03 p.m. One of the homeless, Bro Blu: Wearing sashes because more sections of community need to be involved in this issue

6:29 p.m. Group of downtown residents who oppose gathered around Council mem Chris Pelly, say they feel unrepresented, unheard in process

6:35 p.m. Some of the residents say tried to get table at for opposition, feel process slanted. Pelly advises them to get organized

6:36 p.m. Pelly to Xpress: Understand concerns of residents about, may look at 2-tier tax (more for biz, less for residents)

6:42 p.m. Downtown resident Ann Snell: Car broken into twice recently, “downtown is deteriorating” need, but understand tax concerns.

6:43 p.m. Libertie Valance, Firestorm worker/owner: Feel like mtg is about how we’d like to look, rather than input about if one shld exist.

6:44 p.m. Sye, Firestorm worker/owner: This meeting “seems incredibly stacked” in favor of, more geared to input about details.

6:45 p.m. Midnight, one of the homeless protesters who showed up: Started group to pick up trash near AHOPE. Many of us care about area

6:50 p.m. Pelly: Found out state law doesn’t allow two-tier tax for, tax increase has to be same across the board.

6:56 p.m. Official options for ambassador duties on left, additions from attendees on right http://t.co/XWXqDYGY

6:59 p.m. Of the unofficial options for ambassador roles, “none” got the most votes (37).

6:59 p.m. Attendees to meeting voting for ambassador duties w stickers.Of the official options, reporting cleaning needs has most (17).

7:02 p.m. Crowd dying down at meeting. About 60 people here at height, though that included a fair number of staff, BID board

7:14 p.m. Council mem Marc Hunt talking w some attendees, telling them he’s heard more downtown residents against, more biz owners for

7:21 p.m. meeting wrapping up.

8:44 p.m. RT @mxnews: Differing views at downtown Asheville BID meeting http://t.co/fPRk5yWl

8:44 p.m. mxnews Differing views at downtown Asheville BID meeting http://t.co/xNJCSU20


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34 thoughts on “Differing views at downtown Asheville BID meeting

  1. bsummers

    Moderator – question: is it over the line to suggest that bribing homeless people with cigarettes to show up at a political event they otherwise wouldn’t have is a classless and tacky act, and that the person responsible should be ashamed of himself?

    • “bribing homeless people with cigarettes…is a classless and tacky act”

      Muller is only following the grand progressive tradition.

      “According to an Occupy Wall Street activist identified only as Channing, the group formerly known as ACORN is paying homeless people up to $100 a day to participate in the protest that has been ongoing since mid-September.”

    • Bill&Suzi

      Tim: Do two wrongs make a right? Plus, ACORN wasn’t practicing in Asheville, nor were they managing campaigns for several candidates for office in WNC. Seems like those campaign managers should have a better idea of what their campaign manager is up to. Unless, perhaps, they have equal disrespect for the public process and feel that the homeless should be manipulated.

      FYI for the voters out there, Muller works with Moffitt, Ramsey, Belcher, King, and Fryar.

    • bsummers

      Besides, that ACORN “story” was based solely on a third-hand account in an Andrew Breitbart video. ‘Nuff said.

  2. Unaffiliated Voter

    ewww, kinda makes ya NOT want to go downtown at all!

  3. “For us, we experience the issues with cleanliness and safety every day. What are the options to deal with them? Our takeaway is that the BID is the best option.”

    What, specifically, are the options?

  4. “Council will consider the BID again, with possible revisions to the proposal, in late September.”

    Will a vote be taken at that time or will this be a public hearing with a vote at a later date?

    • Matthew Burd

      So, according to the so called “public input meeting” the Council is scheduled to vote on the issue in September. They had a flow chart showing the timeline for enacting the BID. One of the first offshoots was that Council votes against in September and nothing further happens. The other route was that the Council votes for the revisions and moves forward, so unless there is another meeting before the September vote your voice won’t be heard. I think this little show they put on last night was their excuse for a public hearing. It’s likely the supposed revisions will be made beforehand behind closed doors and the public won’t get any further input.

    • David Forbes

      As the BID proposal will have changes from the one delayed in June, Council will have to hold public comment at the September meeting before they vote on the issue.

    • “[Due to changes,] Council will have to hold public comment at the September meeting before they vote on the issue.”

      Yes, of course. But will the vote take place at the same meeting or at a later date?

  5. bsummers

    Seriously, a light-hearted joke about Tim Peck’s sandals gets deleted now? Are you guys in danger of totally losing your sense of humor?

  6. My reading of the legal authority for a BID tells me that the BID is entirely a creature of government and should be subject to open meetings laws and public comment, similar to the now-defunct URTV.


    NC Constitution
    Article 2, Section 2
    (4) Special tax areas.
    “…the General Assembly may enact general laws authorizing the governing body of any county, city, or town to define territorial areas and to levy taxes within those areas, in addition to those levied throughout the county, city, or town, in order to finance, provide, or maintain services, facilities, and functions in addition to or to a greater extent than those financed, provided, or maintained for the entire county, city, or town.”


    North Carolina General Statute
    Chapter 160A, Article 23
    Municipal Service Districts

    • bsummers

      Ha ha. You wear sandals. Hahahahaha.

      Lighten up – I wear sandals & I promise you that my feet are grosser than Mr. Pecks’s.

      All that being said, I am not a huge fan of the BID as it’s being discussed, for any number of reasons…

    • “Lighten up – I wear sandals & I promise you that my feet are grosser than Mr. Pecks’s.”

      Thanks for making me the subject of this thread. I am much more interesting than the BID proposal.

  7. What are the key objections to the voluntary association of stakeholders for creating an independent organization with the same mission and purview as the BID?

    1. Free riding
    2. ?
    3. ?
    4. ?
    5. ?


    • Bill&Suzi

      2. Hasn’t worked in Asheville (talk to the Downtown Association).
      3. Can’t raise enough capital to accomplish services with partial buy-in of funders.
      4. There is (overwhelmingly) more precedence in successful funding through BID than voluntarily funding for the services recommended in the Master Plan.
      5. Do you have an example of a successful voluntary funding program that has worked for downtown management that you’d recommend?

    • “5. Do you have an example of a successful voluntary funding program that has worked for downtown management that you’d recommend?”

      I don’t have examples. I’m just trying to understand what barriers stakeholders have identified in implementing a voluntary solution versus resorting to wholesale coercion.

      I’d be interested to know what specifically “hasn’t worked.” I’ll look into that further.

      The problem of full funding you mention might indicate that stakeholders fail to see sufficient benefit, if any. This could be due to the problems that come with the use of persuasion, or it simply could be an accurate perception of a negative cost-benefit ratio.

      The issue of the “free rider” is a non-starter and easily refuted as compelling argument for resorting to coercion to supply a public good. That an unsolicited and non-excludable positive externality for non-participants exists is not a justification for resorting to coercion.

  8. glolady

    Michael Muller solicited me on twitter:
    Michael F. Muller ?@michaelfmuller

    If you can help me get 15 homeless people wearing Ambassador sashes to attend the BID hearing, @GLoLady, I’ll donate $50 to your campaign.

    I have a campaign to raise money to acquire video equipment to get the people’s voice back in Asheville. http://www.indiegogo.com/TheGLoLady?c=home&a=846541 As you can see the funds promised were Not Delivered.

    Michael F. Muller ?@michaelfmuller

    If they speak at the BID public meeting on Tuesday July 17 at 5:30 they’ll get TWO packs of free smokes, @GLoLady. One if they just show up!

    This was the deal. I delivered Michael Muller DID NOT. He showed up an hour late with No Cigarettes or enough cash to buy for everyone, what was promised. I had to use the last of my money to buy 3 packs of cigarettes for them to split. My word is my Honor no matter who I speak to.

    This is just another example of how badly the homeless are treated in Asheville. Some of them are Willing to work, even if it is just for a pack of cigarettes. Let one of them ask someone for money and they get a few days in jail. Kick them while they are down why don’t you? What feeling of Justice is that?

    Where is the Humanity in the World today? These people are People too. You could be the next to be homeless person to walk the streets. How would You Like To Be Treated?

    My suggestion is to interview the homeless who want to work, and then hire them to pick up trash. Not All who are Homeless Look Homeless. These people could be hired to be Ambassadors. Give people purpose and they flourish. Ask them why they are homeless and if they want to be. Several of homeless spoke to the reporters and officials at the event. They gave solutions to problems that hopefully will not be overlooked and considered viable. They Want to be Involved in their Community but feel they have no voice. Does anyone go to the shelters with information about what affects them too?

    If you don

    • bill smith

      Lol. So you took a clearly tongue in cheek tweet seriously, and people believed you. And you admit to bribing people with cigarettes. Classy.

    • bsummers

      “Lol. So you took a clearly tongue in cheek tweet seriously…”

      I don’t think it’s clearly that at all. Look at the extended conversation with MM on GloLady’s twitter page (Mr. Muller has his page blocked – can’t read it there). This was not “tongue in cheek”.

    • bill smith

      Nonetheless, barry, Ms Lady was the one who actually went downtown and bribed people with cigarettes. And admits to it online, repeatedly. She now calls them ‘donations’.

  9. bsummers

    What’s worse than promising cigarettes to homeless people for political theater? Failing to pay them.

    “This was the deal. I delivered Michael Muller DID NOT. He showed up an hour late with No Cigarettes or enough cash to buy for everyone, what was promised.”

    Wow, if true, that is genuinely a new low.

    • bill smith

      “What’s worse than promising cigarettes to homeless people for political theater?”

      Isn’t that what GloLAdy did (albeit at someone’s urging, but still, GloLady was the one who actually made the promise to these people. And followed through on it!)

  10. bill smith

    Is bribing people to attend a political rally against any rules or laws? And is admitting to doing it repeatedly online a bad idea?

  11. bsummers

    More to the point, is it bad PR for Mr. Muller’s candidate clients to be associated with this kind of shenanigans? Given his high public profile, and history of weird acting-out, these candidates must have known what they were getting into. This stunt could be linked to their campaign(s).

    Which campaign(s) is he working on this time around?

    • bill smith

      Dude. Have you read his twitter feed? *IF* clients are going to be embarrassed, there is WAY more than this. It’s clear you dislike the guy.

  12. Margaret Williams

    Hmm, isn’t the topic… the BID and not Muller… or Peck… or Glolady?

    • bsummers

      Umm – “Michael Muller” and his antics are featured in this article. If you don’t want us to comment about him, don’t give him ink.

      And Tim Peck wears sandals.

  13. glolady

    When Michael Muller solicited me to do a job for him, I thought Great. I was planning to attend the meeting and to bring homeless to a meeting that will effect them also, even better. I have taken other homeless to many City & County meetings before. They are not notified in a fashion they have access to and those who have temporary shelter have to be in too early to attend most meetings.

    The Homeless are treated worse than animals, because there are laws against such abuse. They were not bribed they were offered to earn cigarettes. I am not sure where the fine line between bribe and paid for work comes in?

    The Homeless Are Viable people. They need a hand up not a slap for asking for what they need. This BID Could Employ Them. If nothing more than to pick up trash. They Want to Work even if it is just for a pack of Cigarettes. We came to the BID with solutions that hopefully will be considered and Not Outsourced.

    For someone who holds such a position in Society as Muller to intentionally deceive someone, just reinforces my disdain for Politics and Political maneuvers. Elected Officials are in office to serve the people. I have previously worked on campaigns where I was paid to knock on doors and give information about the candidate. Were they bribing me too?

    Michael F. Muller ?@michaelfmuller
    Relax @GLoLady. I got ya covered.

    Yes, Covered in what, is what I want to know?

    • bill smith

      When one finds one’s self in a hole, one might be wise to tell one’s self to stop digging if they want to exit said hole.

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