Mayor to Bothwell: Don’t interfere in work of Haywood Street task force

UNDER ATTACK: Haywood Street Advisory Team Chair Andrew Fletcher presents the preliminary vision of the task force on March 8. Later that evening, Fletcher and task force facilitator Chris Joyell of the Asheville Design Center received a blistering email from Council member Cecil Bothwell criticizing the results of the task force's nine-month-long effort. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Mayor Esther Manheimer — while appearing less than thrilled to be delivering a set-down to a fellow elected official — nonetheless chided Council member Cecil Bothwell for a strongly-worded email Bothwell sent to the chair and facilitator of a city task force. The mayor’s rebuke came at the end of a brief City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 14.

“I have a little bit of a concern about Council communication with our task force members and our consultant who is running that task force,” Manheimer said of the email, which Bothwell sent to Haywood Street Advisory Team facilitator Chris Joyell of the Asheville Design Center and task force Chair Andrew Fletcher after a presentation by the group on March 8.

The task force was approved by City Council on March 8, 2016 to develop a “community vision” for city-owned property on Haywood Street and Page Avenue facing the U.S. Cellular Center and the Basilica of St. Lawrence.

Bothwell used strong language in the email, which was critical of the work of the task force and, in the third paragraph, of the facilitator’s failure to curb what Bothwell characterized as the bullying behavior of one task force member toward another. Below is the text of the email, which is a public record under North Carolina law:

Subject: FAIL

What the hell? You promised people a “vision” and delivered a pile of crap. I suppose this will be recorded as another “public input” — but people I talked to tonight were walking out without posting the precious sticky notes. Because they were entirely, immensely let down.

This was really utter bullsh**t. Andrew, your representation of the calm, collegial atmosphere of meetings was an interesting fiction.

I was at the meeting pictured in your powerpoint. I watched Dean Pistor beating his fist on the table. I heard Dean whispering in my ear, “Why did you appoint that b***h?” Pointing at Julie Nelson. “She is f******g up everything.”

And yet it was all so agreeable and pleasant.

Basically, what I saw tonight is that you are going to present to Council exactly the same choices my fellow Council members decided to avoid a year ago. Hurrah. And I am well aware that many people invested a whole lot of time. But, in real life, no forward progress. Kumbaya to your heart’s content, but either-or is very real. You plant a tree or cut down a tree, there isn’t a meaningful middle ground.


Xpress spoke with task force member Julie Nelson on Feb. 1 and on March 8 before the task force presented its preliminary recommendations. Nelson confirmed on both occasions that she felt she had been the subject of personal attacks and bullying from at least one other task force member. She said she also endured significant pressure from other task force members to go along with the preferences of the majority of the group.

Manheimer continued that she was concerned “because we, as Council, are trying to allow this task force that we voted for and put in place and hired the Asheville Design Center to do this work. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to interfere with the task force in their work.”

“I hope that in the future we would all refrain from communicating with task force members in this way while they are trying to perform their work and their obligations to us,” Manheimer concluded.

“I appreciate the concern,” Bothwell responded. “The thing that triggered me on that, which got lost in the wash in news reporting, was that there was bullying occurring in the course of that task force.” He was also upset, Bothwell continued, that the process described to the Friends of St. Lawrence Green, of which he is a member, was not what was followed by the task force. The Friends of St. Lawrence Green donated $5,000 to the budget for the task force process, Bothwell said.

Despite his objections, Bothwell said, “I’ll try to refrain from interfering with task forces in future, and I will frankly vote against any task forces of this nature in the future.”

Consent agenda

Council approved its consent agenda unanimously and without discussion. No member of the public commented on the consent agenda.

Public hearing

McCray Coates, in his role as Interim Streets Division manager, reported on a request by abutting property owners to permanently close an unnamed alley between 7 and 19 Austin Ave. Coates said that the Multimodal Transportation Commission had reviewed the request and voted unanimously to recommend its approval. Melissa Cole Essig said she is an owner of 7 Austin Ave. and stated that she was available if Council had questions about the request. No other member of the public commented, and Council approved the request unanimously.

New business

Tony McDowell, budget manager for the city, reported on proposed fee increases for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Council approved the increases unanimously after a brief discussion. Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler requested that city staff provide an update after city-owned real estate at 14 Riverside Drive had been open to commercial tenants for a year or 18 months, and Bothwell requested additional information about the potential for extending the operating hours for city parking meters after new meters are installed this year.

Boards and commissions

Wisler presented the recommendation of Council’s Boards and Commissions Committee to appoint Randy Stout to the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee. Council approved the recommendation unanimously.

Public comment

Dee Williams, Amy Cantrell and Angel Archer urged Council to direct the $1 million requested by the city’s police department to create a new downtown unit to community needs instead.

Joe Pendergraft said he had witnessed teenage drug users obtaining needles from the Western North Carolina AIDS Project. He said he had also seen drug deals and drug use taking place in the nonprofit’s parking lot, and he demanded an investigation.

Council went into closed session at 5:26 p.m. and adjourned from closed session.

City Council’s next meeting will take place at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 28  in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville.

For more information on the March 14 meeting of City Council, see Council to meet, hold first 2017-18 budget work session, on March 14.

For more of the latest city and county news check out Xpress’ Buncombe Beat.

Editor’s note: this article was edited to add the full text of Bothwell’s email at 7:46 a.m. on March 15.


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49 thoughts on “Mayor to Bothwell: Don’t interfere in work of Haywood Street task force

  1. Lulz

    Bothwell if you really want to stir the pot, propose a 10 percent tax increase on businesses within the CBD for the park, their sidewalk maintenance via Rivertop, and all the other freebies they get.

    • Karen Ramshaw

      First, you might want to poll downtown businesses as many of the people I’ve spoken with would like to see a mixed-use project with a park as an important component because they do understand that taxpayer money isn’t infinite and the City has many needs – parks (and pools) in neighborhood centers, affordable housing, etc. Second, downtown gives back way more than it takes from the City in ‘freebies’. Local consulting firm Urban3 has a short video that might be helpful in understanding the way cities benefit from their urban centers – My company got the recent downtown property tax valuations and one small apartment building with workforce housing rents went up over 93%, another went up over 68% and a parcel of land went up 182% – the City and County are getting a very nice return from downtown.

      • Lulz

        LOL, really? Sure it is considering that the spending spree here along with a 35k tax raise for the country crony Greene on top of her 350K salary makes it seem that way. You want a park? Then fund it yourself. Downtown is no longer a local hangout. It’s strictly tourist based now and it’s way past the time to start funding things from those resources.

        Do you still get tax credits for downtown?

  2. Jonathan Wainscott

    I hope City Council will stop punting our problems to task forces and advisory committees. The short-them rental task force had the same problems.
    Dear Council, you are the task force. You promise to bring all manner of problem solving accumen to the table and you never demonstrate the ability to even identify problems let alone offer solutions.
    I don’t care about Cecil’s harsh language. Design professionals should be resilient enough to bear the rigors of a harsh critique and so should our leaders so gosh darnit, do your jobs and deliver on your promises.
    Thank you.

    • Lulz

      While I agree, it’s why we’ve seen the same windbags re-elected time and time again. They can always not pass the buck to a task force, but also enact more taxes and fees to pay for it. It’s like a bad feedback loop but it’s bad for those barely able to keep up with rising fees and taxes put on everything but they can charge.

    • luther blissett

      I’m sympathetic to the idea that there are too many task forces and working groups and so on, but that’s a structural flaw of the council-manager system. If you accept that no combination of seven people, most of them working part-time, will have the experience and expertise to cover every topic with the detail required to make fully informed decisions, then it’s a choice between delegating out to committees or boards or ad hoc groups, or having the work done behind the scenes by the city manager and city staff. There’s already friction there, as the annual retreat made clear.

      A thought experiment: what would Asheville look like with, say, a 25-member city council? That would better enable a district system that meets the demands of self-appointed King Chuck down in Hendersonville, and bring new faces and voices into the chamber. It would probably be much more explicitly partisan, with majority and minority groupings instead of the current bumpy consensus model, but perhaps that’s what’s needed. A key theme of David Forbes’s coverage at the Blade is that the city’s political culture has a “lack of necessary confrontation”: when differences on issues are fundamentally irreconcilable, the current system favors underbaked “compromises” or kicking the can down the road instead of making a decision and being willing to pay the price come election time if it doesn’t work out.

      Won’t happen, but worth thinking about. Better than the current live-action re-enactment of the first season of Parks & Rec.

      • Jonathan Wainscott

        It is interesting that our Mayor has created an image of herself as being a champion of municipal control of municipal issues. In a candidates’ forum in 2013, Esther Manheimer recalled giving a speech on the subject and receiving such a robust response that she felt like she was experiencing something out of the movie “Braveheart”- leading the charge into battle! Oddly, the position of Mayor in Asheville is for the most part that of a figurehead with true control of city affairs being handled by the City Manager (Gary Jackson). City Council is kind of front-of-house with direct engagement with the public, while the real operations go on in the back, behind closed doors that are for employees only (City Staff).
        The power that Council does have is to direct staff to do the things we the people have expressed need to be done. What happens though is that Council directs Staff based on the recommendations of Staff and other consultants that have been hired to validate the desires of staff. Council really is a puppet show that we watch as Staff pulls the strings. What is crazy is that Council members and the Mayor are handing over even more power to Staff and making engagement with the public even more difficult. See this article by David Forbes of The Asheville Blade regarding the recent retreat with Council and Staff-

        The salaries of Council and the Mayor are not grown-up, professional wages so they aren’t on-hand fulltime. The Mayor is a partner at Van Winkle Law and her day job is far more prosperous than getting paid to be the mayor. Gwen Wisler is retired and Cecil is publisher of his own musings and sometimes does carpentry which provides him a nice address. Julie Mayfield is busy being co-director at Mountain True and everyone else works fulltime gigs. It’s really too bad that we have a sense that these people are the true leaders of our town, working full time as such, but they aren’t. Staff is.

        We definitely need to have district elections for City Council, but a 25 seat council for a city of our size is unheard of and it would certainly be a train wreck from too many cooks in the dining car. Cecil and Mayor Manheimer continue to be data deniers and claim that Asheville is just too small for districts. Here’s how the top 20 most populous cities and towns in North Carolina structure their municipal elections wit (AL) representing “At-Large” elections like Asheville’s, and (D) for District elections:

        (D) Charlotte 731,424
        (D) Raleigh 403,892
        (D) Greensboro 269,666
        (D) Winston-Salem 229,617
        (D) Durham 228,330
        (D) Fayetteville 200,564
        (D) Cary 135,234
        (AL) Wilmington 106,476
        (D) High Point 104,371
        (D) Greenville 84,554

        (AL) Asheville 83,393

        (D) Concord 79,066
        (D) Gastonia 71,741
        (D)Jacksonville 70,145
        (D) Rocky Mount 57,477
        (AL) Chapel Hill 57,233
        (AL) Burlington 49,963
        (D) Wilson 49,167
        (AL) Huntersville 46,773

        • luther blissett

          “a 25 seat council for a city of our size is unheard of and it would certainly be a train wreck from too many cooks in the dining car.”

          If it were a 25-member “consensus” city-manager council, for sure. That’s why it’s a thought experiment on what structural changes would be necessary to re-center policy decisions under council authority, accountable to voters, instead of internal staff decisions and various task forces.

          The issue with districting (which I’m not going to relitigate at length) is where you draw the lines, especially when people typically think of “their part of Asheville” on a much smaller scale than “one-sixth of the city” and have an valid interest in the parts of the city where they work and spend free time, not just where they live.

  3. Big Al

    The initial description of Bothwell’s comments as “profanity-laden” were not supported by anything in the actual article, only “blistering” and “strongly worded”.

    If profanity was used, why has no one pointed out the obvious hypocrisy of using such language to respond to bullying? Isn’t profanity a tool of bullies? It certainly is not a diplomatic or dignified choice.

  4. John

    The Task Force is a joke that is not funny. They are another example of the way businesses control things and the wishes of the people are ignored. Huge numbers want a green space. Council candidates wanting other options were soundly defeated. And yet this task farce (spelling intentional) is ignoring these facts and the majority of people to kowtow to business. Stupid is as stupid dies.

    • Not sure where you live John, but a significant % of folks for more green space aren’t even Asheville taxpayers so I don’t care what those sponges think. Park upkeep is very expensive. Prichard has been supported with tons of volunteer hours and $ for years. At least some of that has dried up as the city refuses to provide support and now wants to build another park 3 blocks away. It will turn into a dump as well in time.

      • bsummers

        a significant % of folks for more green space aren’t even Asheville taxpayers

        I’m curious where you got this from.

        • You got that right, Barry. There has only been one reasonably random poll on the issue. Every other source of public opinion has been self-selecting, meaning that answers were only elicited from people who decided to participate. In Sept. 2015 I conducted an automated poll of every Asheville voter who had voted in the previous two Council elections and for whom the BOE had a landline phone number. (Automated polls of cell phones are prohibited.) So my sample presumably skewed older, but it was truly random. We dialed 5,000+ numbers and 86 percent opted for a park over commercial development. I think that pretty well demonstrates a majority of Asheville taxpayers- particularly given the skew toward older folks.

          • Gary Woods

            Cecil, There you go again with your “poll” nonsense. Give me a break. Of course you’re going to say that most people supported a park because it aligns with your objective. How about someone conducting a poll that does not have a financial interest in the outcome?

          • NFB

            “In Sept. 2015 I conducted an automated poll of every Asheville voter who had voted in the previous two Council elections and for whom the BOE had a landline phone number. (Automated polls of cell phones are prohibited.) ”

            That poll did not include “ever voter who had voted in the previous two “Council elections for whom the BOE had a landline phone number.” My household received a call for that poll but guess what? There is more than one registered voter in my household who voted in the previous two City Council election but only one person got to take part in the poll because the robocall did not make any attempt to determine who had answered the call and who responded.

            This polls was also “self selecting” in that I also know people who got the call but hung up because it was a robocall.

            And sure, ask people what they think about parks and you’ll get numbers up there with mom and apple pie. But this polls mentioned nothing about the costs of ongoing maintenance and upkeep etc.

            The poll may or may not show that a significant plurality, or even a majority of city residents want a park on that site but to make claims that this poll was scientific simply because it was more random than other surveys is off the mark and to claim it was a poll of “n Sept. 2015 I conducted an automated poll of every Asheville voter who had voted in the previous two Council elections and for whom the BOE had a landline phone number” is inaccurate.

          • Alan Ditmore

            Skewing older is a major problem since the average homeowner is far older than the average tenant and it is homeowners who have a financial interest in limiting the supply of rental housing with things like parks.

  5. The Real World

    Oh man, we are truly in the twilight zone when SOOOOOO much time, effort and blather gets wasted on one little parcel of uneven land.

    Where is the leadership on council? Where is their spine? Oh right, it’s soft because they cower to the loudest voices…..many of whom got so emotionally invested and boxed themselves in with their strident viewpoints that they had to double and triple down trying to “prove” that their feelings were “right”. Sigh…..fairyland.

    From Karen Ramshaw above — “many of the people I’ve spoken with would like to see a mixed-use project with a park as an important component because they do understand that taxpayer money isn’t infinite and the City has many needs.” — Yes, that is EXACTLY what I was saying about that silly lot two years ago. It’s not rocket science; it just takes leadership.

  6. Deplorable Infidel

    There is NO leadership. Asheville has NOT had any leadership for many decades and it shows everywhere you look…Everytime I talk to anyone within city govco, I always remind them it’s ‘the most pathetically run city on the east coast’ and has been for decades.

    Green space downtown ? We have PLENTY of greenspace everywhere around here…turn that block into something prosperous for a change! Forget about a freakin’ ‘park’ …we don’t need another place for bums to gather and waste time…

    • luther blissett

      “Asheville has NOT had any leadership for many decades and it shows everywhere you look…”

      Filing deadline is July; filing fee is $75. It really is that simple.

      • Alan Ditmore

        There’s no point shelling out $75 until you do well in a $5 race within Asheville, and within Asheville that is mostly Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor, since Buncombe Board of Education doesn’t cover the Asheville School District. That $75 is a loosing bet without a decent ruturn on your $5.

  7. Dade murphy

    Just another day in Asheville… I tried to hire a lawyer but they said Asheville already owned them…
    *face palm*

  8. Gary Woods, I have tried and tried to get Council to do a “real” poll. A majority have not cared to find out what the people want. I make no representation for the poll I conducted, beyond the fact that it was reasonably random. When the City polled the Bond issue last August, as we discussed whether to put the Referendum on the Nov. ballot, the company phoned about 400 people “scientifically” selected. It was quite accurate as we saw in November 2016.
    My September poll asked three questions, one of which was disposition of the City Water System, which appeared on the Nov. 2015 ballot. My results were within 2 points of the voters’ expressed preference. It suggests, though does not prove, that my poll was reasonably accurate.
    But by all means! Let’s conduct a poll. Let’s not have 1,100 people fill out an online survey that was then tossed. Let’s not have people vote with as many sticky notes as they like and then tabulate them as if they are a fair representation of what the people of Asheville want.
    I have never pretended that my poll was the best possible, simply that it is the ONLY reasonably random one conducted to date.

  9. NFB, I have made no pretense that it was the best possible poll. It is simply the “only reasonably random” one yet conducted. Please don’t suggest that I have made any other claim. But I spent $350 doing that poll, how much are you willing to spend to better determine the will of the people here? A poll conducted by live operators runs about $5,000-$7,000. I gave it the best shot I could afford.

    • Grant Millin

      Do something collaborative citywide to increase COA election turnout. This city council and ones over the past several years at least are in no way backed by a majority mandate. Once city election gets off the floor 10 to 20 points from the benchmark its at right now, then the folks on council can talk about representing at least MORE Asheville residents.

      Obviously party and candidate GOTV efforts are getting the job done alone. Have no idea what A-B League of Women Voters plans to do differently but I did call Van Duyn, Ager, and Turner to see what they think of city turnout in context to NGOP districting hysteria.

    • Lulz

      LOL and yet we needed bonds for repairs. Make those corporate hotel bigwigs pay for it Bothwell. Cause while you’ve been on office, they’ve made mucho bank here. And people like me are paying for it.

      • luther blissett

        “Cause while you’ve been on office, they’ve made mucho bank here. And people like me are paying for it.”

        Yeah, that $300,000+ increase in your property value over the past four years is just killing you.

    • Alan Ditmore

      20 respondents should get you within your margin of error caused by landline owners and multiple voter landlines; what would that cost live? Also why must you vote twice to count? once should be plenty and there are plenty of nonvoting residents to poll, who’s opinions count no less than municipal voters.

  10. Lulz, we’ve tried, and I’ve personally argued for diverting some of the room tax to City needs. No dice. Meanwhile, while I am no fan of the explosion of hotels, they also pay property taxes, so you aren’t funding the streets on your own. BTW, Council didn’t approve the rash of hotels in recent years. That was Planning & Zoning. The two that came to us recently were McKibbon’s remake of the BB&T, which most people I know think is long overdue, and the project at Haywood and Montford, which we rejected.

    • Lulz

      LOL yes Bothwell they do pay taxes. But they also charge 200-400 a night. And the people that stay affect the traffic, landfill, water, and air. My services have gone down during your tenure but my taxes and fees haven’t buddy. The traffic here is MAINLY the result of tourist. It’s about time the money they spend here it put back into the area and the resources THEY CONSUME.

      You can start by defunding the TDA.

    • Gary Woods

      “McKibbon’s remake of the BB&T, which most people I know think is long overdue, and the project at Haywood and Montford, which we rejected.”

      Cecil, We all know now why council rejected the Haywood and Montford project. So much for the seven standards. As I have said before, that review was a complete farce. They did not give in to your demands completely unrelated to those seven standards and as a result, you rejected the project. While the council’s cause for donations to Affordable Housing Trust and living wages are certainly admirable, the illegal manner in which you sought to obtain them is dishonorable. I applaud the developer for bringing what could be perceived as “extortion” to light via the courts. Council attempts to circumvent their own policy, rules and state statutes, further demonstrates the urgent need for immediate change. I hope Asheville voters remember this unethical behavior come November.

      • The newspaper story is the first I’ve heard of those allegations. I knew nothing about that project before the meeting. My vote against it was specifically because the traffic study appeared deeply flawed to me. The traffic expert said the hotel would not cause queuing at the intersection with N. French Broad, which already has queuing that backs up traffic over the bridge at times. And the traffic study was only done on paper, apparently no site visit, and he admitted they hadn’t done a line of sight study at the outlet of the proposed deck onto N. French Broad. Exiting traffic would go right out into a lane where people are coming over the hill headed south, accelerating. So, no Gary, we don’t all “know” anything about your allegation or those of others. At least I don’t.

        • Gary Woods

          Cecil, Of course one would expect a denial. Nonetheless, let’s just see how it plays out in court. This action should put council on notice to follow the rules.

    • Alan Ditmore

      “No dice” with who? the state? or is there any sort of local control here?

  11. Oh, and per the bonds for street repairs. Optimum schedule is repaving every 30 years. We were on a 70 year schedule thanks to past Councils which were afraid to raise taxes to do the work that needed to be done. Few of us are thrilled to pay taxes, or to vote to raise taxes, but it is the price we pay for living in a civilized society. I am willing to vote for projects and the taxes that pay for projects that improve life for people in the City, and willing to pay my share. Just as I’m willing to and have voted against tax breaks for businesses that I don’t believe warrant incentives. It is a fact of political life, dating back to the first democratic experiments in Athens, that the longer a person holds office the more people find fault with one or another or perhaps many of their decisions. Meanwhile the results of those decisions often don’t become clear for many years. Low tax Councils twenty years ago may have been popular for their stance, but they handed us an infrastructure in poor repair. So it goes.

    • Lulz

      LOL, all you’ve done is raise taxes. During your entire time in office. Who are you kidding? Did property taxes go down during the recession when values plummeted? No. So you can start being honest and ADMIT it’s a tax increase.

      • luther blissett

        “Did property taxes go down during the recession when values plummeted? No.”

        Were cops and firefighters asked to take a pay cut during the recession? No. Fixed dollar costs don’t change.

        Will you ADMIT that you’re a huge personal beneficiary from the property boom, even though you hate everything about it?

        City council has two main revenue streams: property taxes and fees. You seem to object to both of them. It cannot magically divert money from developers’ bank accounts. This unending sniping is tedious, because it assumes magic. Come up with an actual plan for how the city should raise and spend its budget in a way reflects your priorities. And if nobody has a similar plan to yours, run for city council on it.

    • Alan Ditmore

      Frost heaves make free speed humps and are nearly ideal on Bearden Ave. just 2 blocks North of Haywood St. Repaving on schedules is a waste and causes speeding.

  12. Deplorable Infidel

    Yes, street repairs….had a conversation with a city streets mgr and we talked about State St in W. Avl that is like driving in a 3rd world country…we should all be INCENSED that CITY now intends to use bond scam money to redo State St, a heavy cut thru street for many people…they repaved Hanover first 3-4 yrs ago for reasons unknown. Then Riverview Dr got speedbumps, er traffic slowing humps which are WAY more needed on State St and have been for years. CITY should be redoing State St and MANY others from existing revenues, NOT borried bondscam money!!!

    • Alan Ditmore

      State St. already has nearly ideal traffic slowing humps, which are free. paying bond interest to smooth out free humps and then build expensive new humps to replace them would be a huge and irresponsible waste 3 times over.

  13. Eric Laurila

    Hi everyone! I have been a resident of Asheville for about ten years and spent most of those years on the streets as a spiritual pilgrim. It has been a wonderful. And rewarding experience. Mr. Bothwell, I had the privilege of meeting, as I visited with the folks during the Occupy movement at the encampment under the Lex street bridge. I found Mr. Bothwell to be very open and welcoming to the people there as well as having seriousness in addressing the concerns of the group. One thing that I have enjoyed about Asheville is the progressive willingness to include everyone who is willing to join in community. I have an idea for the so-called Pit of despair. For starters Palace of Design might be more encouraging. A park and United Nations of Asheville conference center would work. Christo style triangular sails embracing a Buckminster Fuller glass and steel dome would be a perfect botanical garden setting for public gathering. Perhaps a prayer wall ala the Western Wall could be included as well. Love you all. Thanks for. Your time. Eric

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