Meet the new leaders of the Culture and Recreation Authority

Pictured here: Eleanor Johnson, a retired librarian and former member of the Buncombe County Board of Library Trustees, being interviewed by commissioners for a seat on the new CRA board.

Buncombe Commissioners appointed four community leaders to help head the powerful new Culture and Recreation Authority, charged with managing the county’s libraries, parks and recreation facilities.

Eleanor Johnson, a retired librarian and former member of the Buncombe County Board of Library Trustees, earned the unanimous support of the seven commissioners Oct. 1, gaining a two-year term. In her application for the volunteer position, Johnson noted that she’s “especially concerned with preserving our public library systems crucial services to the community.”

In the months leading to the creation of the authority this summer, members of the library board raised concerns that it could result in a drop in pay and benefits for library employees and reduced services for citizens. Commissioners have been adamant that no such changes will take place and have frequently expressed support for local libraries.

Garnering five votes, commissioners awarded Karen Tessier with a two-year term on the authority’s board. The founder of Market Connections, an Asheville marketing, public relations and advertising firm, Tessier has long been involved in local civic affairs. She previously served on the boards of the Pack Square Conservancy, the Asheville Downtown Association and many others; she currently serves on the board of directors of Handmade in America.

“I understand how critically important our libraries, parks and cultural amenities are to our way of life. These valuable assets define us and offer the opportunities for each child, each adult, and each family to realize enlightenment and wellness on an individual and community level,” she wrote in her application. “I would like to contribute my long history of expertise in arts, education, and community development to the successful operation and potential growth of these assets for all of our citizens.”

Commissioners also elected George Briggs and Matthew Kern to one-year terms, garnering five votes each.

Briggs has served as the executive director of the North Carolina Arboretum in South Asheville since 1987, guiding it through $35 million in capital development and growing it to serve nearly 400,000 annual visitors.

“My hope would be to assist in growing our cultural and recreational entities as a unified ‘collective’ of quality assets that, through diverse but complimentary missions, brings diverse health and wellness opportunities for the citizens of our community,” he wrote in his application.

Kern, the owner of a local contracting business, previously served on the Asheville Greenway Commission, and currently serves as vice president of Friends of the WNC Nature Center and sits on the Asheville Parks and Greenways Foundation Board. He stressed the need for more greenways in his interview with the commissioners, and noted in his application that he wants to “earn the trust of current county employees affected by the creation of the CRA.”

The four appointees were picked out of 26 applicants. Commissioners first narrowed the field down to six, interviewing those top contenders earlier on Oct. 1. In addition to the successful appointees, former Asheville City Council member Bill Russell and former Asheville Cultural Arts Supervisor Leslie Andersion were interviewed.

Watch those interviews here to learn more about the appointees backgrounds and what they hope to do on the new board:

Video embedded hère via YouTube courtesy of Jerry Rice

Download a PDF copy of the application materials completed by the top six contenders: CRAApplications.pdf

In addition, the board of commissioners named three of its own members to serve on the CRA: Chairman David Gantt, as well as commissioners Joe Belcher and Ellen Frost. Read more about those contentious deliberations here.


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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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