Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy during a July 24 presentation on the state of the evidence room, a situation she called “horrendous.” Photo by Max Cooper
In an Aug. 6 update on the ongoing evidence room situation, Xpress reported that Mayor Terry Bellamy had not responded to requests to talk about the issue, especially concerning when she became aware of a clause in the contract the requires the city of Asheville to get a redacted copy of the still-unreleased audit. Following that post, Bellamy responded to Xpress and discussed the evidence room situation, as well as city government’s approach going forward.
Xpress: You had mentioned to the [Asheville Citizen-Times] that you had become aware of this clause [requiring the city to get a redacted copy of the evidence room audit] in the contract fairly recently: about two or three weeks ago. Were you all [Council] not informed about that clause earlier?
Mayor Terry Bellamy: Councilman [Gordon] Smith sent out an email about the redacted version we’re supposed to get. I hope you remember that when we approved it, we didn’t see the actual contract, we saw a budget amendment. I asked for a copy of the actual findings to be sent to the DA and then us to get updated. As mayor, I never saw the actual contract. I knew that we would get updated, but didn’t know we were entitled to an actual version of the report.
It was part of the lawsuit [filed by Xpress and other local media seeking the audit’s release], did City Attorney [Bob] Oast not mention that at some point before?
We were told that we were being sued for a copy of the [evidence room audit] report, and our legal counsel hadn’t even gotten the report.
Some of the questions we’ve been getting from the public as we’ve been covering this issue — and something I think a lot of people are wondering about from Council — is: how did this go unnoticed, and what confidence can they have that this won’t happen again? And not just from who’s managing the evidence room, but that the people above them will keep an eye on this so it doesn’t happen again.
It’s an operational issue. It’s important that we, as a Council, continue to talk to our city manager about the operation that he’s in charge of. We set policy, and our policy is to be one of the safest cities in America for a city of our size and that we want to make sure we’re reducing the crime rate. So it’s incumbent upon us and the city manager to ensure that each department is operating in the most efficient and effective manner. So it’s incumbent upon City Council to hold the city manager accountable for the operations of our city and he in turn has to do that with the chief of the [police] department.
Do you think there are improvements to be made in the chain of command from City Manager [Gary] Jackson on down to the Captain and the manager that oversees the evidence room? Where did the failures here come from and how are they going to be corrected?
The failure would have been in the oversight that first started with the evidence room supervisor [at the time William Lee Smith, who’s since resigned] and then the supervisor of that person. [when he resigned, Smith was supervised by Capt. Sarah Benson and then-APD Chief Bill Hogan]. Unfortunately, t’s one of those things that while I can’t speak to why it didn’t happen in the past, I can speak to what will happen in the future and that’s getting updates on the progress that’s being made as well as ensuring that on a regular basis, Council gets a close check on what’s happening in that department, in that particular area, and that could come through the Public Safety Committee
[Evidence room auditor Mike] Wright has mentioned that it’s going to take eight to 12 staff members: four to six for the old evidence room and four to six for the new. I know the city has had some fairly serious budget constraints in the past few years. Is it going to be an issue to get funding for that or is it something that’s going to get done one way or the other?
You gave us Mr. Wright’s assessment, but you didn’t speak to the chief about his assessment [editor’s note: APD Chief William Anderson has refused to speak to Xpress about the evidence room situation]. I think that’s important to take into consideration. Council’s going to be looking to Chief Anderson to give us his request in the budget process. If he needs more before then, he’ll let it be known through the city manager’s office.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about this issue?