High and dry at CIBO’s Jan. 9 breakfast meeting

Asheville City Manager Gary Jackson speaks at the Council of Independent Business Owners meeting on Jan. 9

“If you can’t tell, I’m a little discombobulated,” said Asheville City Manager Gary Jackson. “I am dry, though. I’m in dry clothes.”

Jackson, along with Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Buncombe County’s new District Attorney, Todd Williams, spoke at the Council of Independent Business Owners’ Jan. 9 breakfast meeting at A-B Tech’s Enka Campus. The trio were updating those in attendance on the current state of recruiting a police chief and planning director, changes at the District Attorney’s office, and other topics.

But first, Jackson filled everyone in on City Hall getting flooded Jan. 8. The incident forced the closure of the building for two days. According to Jackson, a joint in the 85-year-old galvanized piping on the 7th floor burst, spewing 10,000 gallons of water in a matter of minutes.

“There was a flood line about this high,” he said, indicating the 3- or 4-foot high moulding along the window sills in the meeting room. City Hall’s 6th floor bore most of the damage, he says, though the 5th didn’t escape a soaking, either. Water also gushed down the elevator shafts, so as of Jan. 9, the building still had no elevator service.

“We already have contractors on the 6th floor ripping out carpet and the ceiling. … We anticipate it will be completely gutted, and it’ll be weeks before those employees are there.”

Jackson ensured that city business will continue, and somehow “all of our telecommunications are still up and operating.”

Jackson also provided updates on the hiring processes for a new Asheville police chief, as well as for a new Planning and Urban Design department director.

“We are in the process of casting the net for both those positions,” said Jackson. “The planning director search is a bit ahead of the police chief search.”

With interviews and assessments through March, city officials seek to bring on a new planning director by May 11. Jackson also said the search firm the city is contracting to administer the nationwide recruitment process has indicated there are “15 or 16 applicants.”

As for a new police chief, Jackson says the target date is June 1. “We always use a professional search firm to bring us the best pool. We want to make sure we know the waters.”

In response to a question about unrest and turmoil in the police department, and how it would impact the search for a police chief, Jackson said: “We want to figure out what’s really doing on. We don’t want to just listen to command staff, or 44 employees. We want to hear from all employees.”

Jackson said the city has “engaged Matrix Consulting,” a California consulting firm.

“They work with departments in far worse turmoil than ours is, frankly,” he said. “They’re coming in and doing focus group discussions, anonymous surveys, the opinion and input of all of our employees.”

Jackson referenced the turmoil that led to the departure of former Police Chief Will Anderson, saying, “We’re going to get to the bottom of those issues,” and recognize that there “are significant internal problems. We’re working on understanding those concerns, and that there are causes to that discontent.”

Newly elected DA Williams, on his “5th day on the job,” he said, also presented an overview of the direction the office will take, including a new Veteran’s Treatment Court.  Williams said it “is going to happen” in the coming year.

“You can have an individual that goes from zero to 60, where there’s a certain set of triggers that causes conduct that makes an otherwise law-abiding veteran of overseas conflict to get charged with very serious crimes. I’m exciting about getting Veteran’s Treatment Court online.”

Williams says the goal will be to funnel veterans through that court and divert them from criminal prosecution, citing the “wonderful resource we have in the [local] VA” as an instrumental component.

A child advocacy center, said Williams, is in the works as well.

“The purpose is to bring a child who has suffered from a crime or traumatic incident and sit them down with someone who can do a one-step, competent, fell-swoop interview … with law enforcement and psychological social workers to conduct the interview. So the child tells the story online once, and [is] not subjected to multiple interviews. I think it will engender an improved prosecution of child abuse cases.”

Williams also iterated a goal to create an advisory council where “issues can be presented on a quarterly or maybe biannually basis,” and mentioned that the office has also created a twitter feed at BuncombeCountyDA.

“I want to find new ways to reach out to our community,” he said.

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