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