How to lobby your local government

Timothy Sadler speaks with Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer at a City Council meeting. Photo by Jesse Farthing

Government is so pervasive and omnipresent that it may be easy to think that an individual voice will not be heard. But local activist Timothy Sadler doesn’t think that’s the case — in fact, he says, getting involved in local government is just a matter of learning the ropes.

Learn the structure: Most people know of City Council or the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners — but there’s a lot more to local government. “Once an issue gets before the Council, it’s almost a done deal,” Sadler says. “By the time staff and board approves, it’s difficult for Council to object.”

Boards and commissions conduct much of the local government’s affairs but are much less in the public eye. So how do you track them down?

Do your research: Sadler recommends the city’s website (, particularly the calendar section. Both the city and Buncombe County (at list all sanctioned boards and commissions and offer meeting calendars.

“A whole new world opened up when I saw there were all these categories of meetings, and the opportunity to give public input,” Sadler says.

Those without Internet access can call the county clerk (250-4105) or the city clerk (259-5601) for information.  With rare exceptions, all board meetings are open to the public, and many have scheduled time for public comment.

Don’t get discouraged: Sadler says one of the skills he had to learn when faced with the often molasses-like speed of government was patience. “It was frustrating to want to see things differently and not quite know how to go about it. What I would emphasize is to be patient. And meet people where they’re at.”

Sadler believes that one person can make a difference, but “not right off the bat. You have to learn the dynamics. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.”

He adds that his perseverance has brought unexpected results. “I’ve made an unbelievable amount of contacts and developed relationships with people who I never would have been involved with,” he says.
And, he says, it really does pay off. “Ultimately, it’s the people who show up who have influence.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.