At a realtors’ luncheon on Aug. 5, Rep. Tim Moffitt admitted that state legislators changed a recreation authority bill to stop the city of Asheville from joining and saving money. The change was retaliation for the city’s lawsuit over the forcible transfer of its water system, said Moffitt: “Until the lawsuit is settled, we took the authority away from the city.”
This contradicts public statements Moffitt and other state legislators have previously made, saying that the two matters were unrelated. Earlier this summer, city officials claimed that they were under increasing pressure from Moffitt and other legislators to settle the water lawsuit or be excluded from the recreation authority — which could have saved city government about $5 million a year. Moffitt had also drafted a new district election system. Emails obtained by Xpress showed state legislators and city officials discussing settling the water lawsuit, the recreation authority and a new election system.
A video clip sent to Xpress by activist Barry Summers, an opponent of the water legislation, shows an exchange between Asheville City Council member Chris Pelly and Moffitt at the event. Pelly asks Moffitt that if the city wanted to join the recreation authority, “Does the current legislation allow that to occur?”
“No, we took that away from you,” Moffitt replied. “You filed your lawsuit, OK, so we’re not going to let you file the lawsuit on this side and sue the state and charge your taxpayers money but at the same time be the benefactor of this, because it’s going to cost people outside the city some of their hard-earned money. So until the lawsuit is settled, we took the authority away from the city.”
Moffitt had previously told Xpress during an interview that the lawsuit and the recreation bill, as well as the bill he’d drafted to force the city to switch to district elections, were “separate, distinct issues that stand on their own.” He also said that it was “disappointing, though not unexpected, that City Council wants to link all these things together for political convenience.” He added that the recreation authority was “just one more step in my move to consolidate as much city and county government as possible.”
Ramsey claimed that the changes to the recreation authority bill, including not allowing Asheville or other Buncombe municipalities to join, came at the request of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners (who had their own behind-the-scenes debate over the issue). Commissioner David King reported that he’d worked with Moffitt on the bill changes, and also said that the changes weren’t tied to the water lawsuit.
Buncombe County is currently in the process of creating the authority without including municipality participation.