The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners had its last meeting with current members on Tuesday, Nov. 15. Outgoing Commissioners Holly Jones, Tim Moffitt and Chair David Gantt did not seek re-election.
Earlier in the day, the newly elected and continuing commissioners had an orientation session. Commissioners discussed meeting and retreat logistics, and you can read more about the orientation session here.
During the open-ended public comment session, Rondell Lance, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Asheville Lodge 1, voiced concerns about a Facebook post by a commissioner he did not specifically identify. On Nov. 2, two Iowa police officers were killed while on duty, and the suspect in the shooting is a white male. Lance said he saw a post on his Facebook feed from a commissioner referencing the shooting. “I’ve been waiting all day for my Facebook to highlight this tragedy. If the suspect had been an African-American male, and not a white guy mad about his Confederate flag, there would have been outrage,” said Lance, reading from what he said was part of the post. “For a Buncombe County commissioner to suggest families of the two murdered officers are not outraged because the killer was not African-American is the height of disrespect for these officers and their families. Furthermore, such disparaging statements serve to further divide our community and are patently false,” he said.
“I’m not here to ask for an apology. … I am here to warn the community not to listen to, nor believe or follow, such divisive rhetoric that perpetrates pure lies. Also, I’m here to warn the rest of the commissioners there is one who sits among you who views law enforcement and their families negatively,” said Lance.
Lance said the friend that shared the post deleted it after he expressed frustration about it. The original post was not deleted.
Lance’s comments received some applause from the nearly full chambers.
Jones then admitted she was the commissioner in question. “I appreciate you being gracious and not naming the commissioner. I heard you loud and clear that you are not asking for an apology. With that said, I deeply apologize if I was offensive to a profession I hold in the highest regard,” she said.
“You brave men and women run to danger, you leave your houses every day not knowing the future. It is with a sincere heart that I apologize if that post offended you,” she said.
“I’m happy to talk more about that, and there’s clearly a lot of conversations that need to happen in this community. We’ve got some very serious challenges. I want to be an advocate for law enforcement and I want to be an advocate for communities of color that have legitimate concerns,” said Jones. “I will say that if you read deeper into [the post], and it doesn’t change the post at all, I articulate the crime as murder and a crime of the utmost disgust.”
It’s your day
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and other members of City Council used the public comment session to read proclamations naming Nov. 15 as Holly Jones Day and David Gantt Day.
“We need to retire more often; this is fun,” remarked Gantt.
Moffitt served a six-month term and did not get a proclamation, but the city did present him with a gift for his service.
Commissioners unanimously approved $10,000 for the African-American Heritage Commission. The money will go toward planning art installations at the new county courthouse. At its last meeting, the board tabled selecting art projects due to lack of minority involvement.
The African-American Heritage Commission’s chair penned a letter to county commissioners asking for the funding that you can read here.
Tim Flora, the county’s finance planner, gave commissioners a brief presentation on debt policy revisions. He noted the county revisits its policy every five years and that the current policy is “very sound.” Flora said the changes will make it easier for the public to understand and track debt while being more in line with what ratings agencies look for.
The four proposed changes are:
- Define “Net Direct Debt” to eliminate ambiguity and bring policy in line
with peer and ratings agency standards.
- Remove obsolete Debt per Capita ratio, as it is no longer used by ratings
- Consolidate Debt Service to Total Governmental Funds and Debt
Service to General Fund debt measures into one.
- Change 10-year payout ratio from Total Outstanding Debt to Net Direct
Debt and update target range.
Commissioners unanimously approved the changes. You can read more about the revisions here.
Seal the deal
Commissioners unanimously approved allocating $9,300 for state seals in 10 courtrooms in the new county courthouse. When the new facility was originally built, the seals were overlooked.
Fare thee well
For the last new business item of the agenda Gantt, Jones and Moffitt said goodbye to fellow commissioners, staff and the community.
Moffitt said he didn’t know what to expect after being appointed to fill a six-month term. “My experience has been incredible. Relationships I’ve made are ones I will keep forever. It’s been a wonderful six months. I could never have hoped for a warmer welcome. ” he said.
“[David] Gantt, if I say too much, I’ll start tearing up. You’ve served with passion, dedication, courage … our meetings have been an incredible personal experience for me. I have grown because of it, and I thank you for that,” Moffitt said while addressing Gantt.
Jones will be stepping down after eight years of service with the county. She noted that when she was elected, the relationship between the city and county was not great, but now it’s an asset. “This has made a difference in economic development proposals, infrastructure projects … and I hope the future board will see the value of this relationship,” said Jones.
She also remarked that her first election was countywide, before it was divided into three districts. “These districts took shape, and I always tried to think of the entirety of the county and its citizens as my constituency,” she said.
“At this particular moment, in our community, there are people hurting and despondent. To these folks I say I understand and I’m right there with you,” said Jones. “But I want to hold up county government as a beacon of hope … so keep bringing your good ideas, concerns, constructive input and feel sure you will be greeted with open minds and open hearts. Also know Buncombe County is a safe place for everyone and all are welcome.”
“I must close in thanking my sweet family. You’ve sacrificed a lot. There are times when we were apart I would have liked to have been together. And you never questioned it,” said Jones.
Lastly, Gantt, who is stepping down after 20 years of service to the county, addressed the room. “It’s been half my adult life. One-third of my life I’ve been in office,” he said. “None of this is done by yourself. It doesn’t matter what great ideas you have; you need people that will listen and put them into action.”
“We’ve got the best manager [Wanda Greene] in the country here … our staff doesn’t toot their horn enough,” he said.
“There are three things I think you have to look at to see how you did: Did you keep your promises; did you leave the county in better position than when you got here; and did you treat people fair along the way?” said Gantt.
He touted the county’s triple-A bond rating, the opening of new schools, health care, the Family Justice Center, environmental preservation, domestic partner benefits for county employees and more.
“We spent $812 million in infrastructure on a courthouse, libraries, schools, a safety center. We tried to fix things and improve your quality of life. It’s the most money that’s ever been spent in Buncombe County to improve constituent services,” Gantt noted.
“The last folks I want to talk about is my family. The good news is we’ll have more time together. The bad news is we’ll have more time together,” he joked.
“We need to hear each other. Whether we agree or not. When you don’t you lose the fabric of our society, which is compromise,” remarked Gantt. “We are blessed with good leadership. You’ve got some good people coming on. Let’s just keep moving forward and work together on the county, state and federal levels and see what we can do. I thank you for the opportunity.”
After Gantt’s comments, Newman announced the plaza adjacent to the county’s administrative building will be permanently named David Gantt Plaza.
Newly elected members Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Robert Pressley will be sworn in Dec. 5 and attend their first meeting as commissioners the next day. Chair-elect Brownie Newman will then helm board, and the District 1 seat he is vacating will be appointed by county Democrat leadership, although no timeline has yet been provided.