To many activists, including outgoing Asheville City Council member Brian Haynes, the city’s Sept. 22 move to reallocate $770,000 from the $30.1 million Asheville Police Department was a token gesture that “perpetuates systemic racism.” N.C. Senator Chuck Edwards, who represents parts of South Asheville and Henderson County, similarly believes that the move was “an absolute travesty” — for quite different reasons.
Addressing the Council of Independent Business Owners, an Asheville-based trade group, on Oct. 23, the Republican argued that City Council was “bowing to the radicals that are asking for police departments to be defunded.” To ensure law and order, Edwards continued, he is developing legislation that would strip state funds from cities that make cuts to law enforcement.
Edwards did not provide any details about his proposal at the CIBO meeting, although previous reporting in the Hendersonville Times News has indicated he wants a “dollar for dollar reduction” from state sources such as alcohol revenue distributions and Powell Bill street maintenance funds. Instead, he focused on the wave of recent APD resignations, noting that 38 officers (nearly 16% of sworn personnel) have left the force since June.
“There’s a huge fear that the 38 police officer positions and budgets might not be funded in the next fiscal year,” Edwards said of his conversations with constituents about public safety. “I believe the state has the responsibility to insist a city takes actions to protect the citizens and property of the municipality it governs.”
Xpress repeatedly submitted a question during the meeting, which was held over Zoom, asking why cities should be penalized for maintaining public safety in the way they believe is best suited to local needs. Neither the CIBO moderator nor Edwards acknowledged the query but took multiple other questions from the online audience.
Asked whether counties who reallocate funds from their sheriffs’ departments would be included in his bill, Edwards said he hadn’t considered the possibility. “I haven’t heard of counties doing it,” he added.
Fittingly, Edwards’ presentation was followed by an address from Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller. The county’s top law enforcement authority, a Democrat, said that his office hadn’t seen recent resignations or retirements beyond expected levels of turnover.
Miller noted that the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners had recently funded a career ladder program to increase deputy pay and approved additional money to hire three new detectives. He said the Sheriff’s Office would continue to build up its strength so at least 20 deputies could patrol the county at any given time, up from the current level of 17.
“Instead of defunding, we’ll be asking to increase the force,” Miller concluded.