Nancy Nehls Nelson, Democrat
Place of residence: Weaverville
Occupation: Retired project manager
Political experience: Active in political campaigns lifelong. Never ran for public office personally until now
Endorsements: Sierra Club, Buncombe County Association of Educators, WNC Central Labor Council, Equality NC, Common Cause of North Carolina; Asheville Citizen-Times
Amount of money raised: $23,500
Top three donors and amount contributed: Sierra Club, $2,000; Ken Brame, $1,000; Bernard Arghiere, $1,000
Why are you running?
I am an engaged community advocate with the right experience to be a significant voice on the Buncombe County Commission. I will balance the needs of the individual with our greater community needs, which I believe is the heart of our democracy.
What is Buncombe County’s best path toward creating more jobs outside of the service and tourist industries? And how do you plan on making it happen?
I support offering incentives to businesses who want to join Buncombe County’s successful economic family and partnerships between educational institutions and employers to guarantee adequate skills for employment. We must also offer first-class education to all students, which builds the foundation for investing in our next generation of leaders. This indicates to businesses that we are committed to a strong economy, and it drives growth of well-paying jobs and expanding technologies throughout the county.
Are you in favor of using economic development incentives? If so, what kind? If not, why?
Yes, I do support the economic incentives program that the county has been working with over the last five years. It has brought us companies like Linamar, AVL Technologies and GE Aviation. Leveraging dollars through economic incentives is bringing jobs with salaries at a living wage or above, not only in high-tech careers, but in specialty manufacturing and related health care jobs. The requirements for investment and repayment are sound, and payback in three to five years continues to keep our county’s financial ledger balanced.
North Carolina law states footage from the Sheriff’s Department body cameras is not part of the public record. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? Why or why not?
The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office has set up specific guidelines for how body cameras are used. This includes the right for any citizen to view the tape of an incident that they are personally involved in. The tapes are retained under guidelines for lawyers of defendants and the Sheriff’s Office to review, if necessary, for ongoing legal proceedings. With overall crime reduced by 14 percent in the last eight years, I trust Sheriff Van Duncan and his department to use this information wisely for the benefit of the public.
As infrastructure needs grow, would you consider using bonds to fund projects? Why or why not? And, if so, what type of bond would you pursue?
Infrastructure growth is funded from many different sources. Currently, Buncombe County, with its sound financial programs, excellent credit, low debt and AAA bond rating, doesn’t seek funding from bonds. If that need arose, it would just be another tool in the toolkit for funding. I’m sure use would follow the School of Government’s Best Practices.
Does HB2 highlight the state overstepping its bounds in regard to legislating municipalities? Why or why not?
HB2 was a state-level Republican strategy that has made our state an embarrassment all over the country. It should be repealed as soon as possible. HB2 is another example of fixing a problem where no problem existed, very much like fixing “voter fraud” when none existed. It has cost our state millions of dollars in hard cash and good will. It has shown that our state government does not support equal care and opportunity for all people. Our state government, indeed, overstepped its bounds.
As development continues to boom, how can the county help ensure affordable housing for its residents?
County government continues to work with private builders and nonprofits on various projects to ensure affordable housing. Any destination city that relies as heavily on tourism and visitors as Asheville does faces this issue. Connecting areas by public transportation and providing local access to services will lessen the burden for those who have to live in one area and commute to jobs.
Are the current zoning policies adequate to deal with the pressures of increased development in the county?
Buncombe County has come a long way from the early 2000s, when development really began accelerating in WNC. Ordinances continue to be updated, and county municipalities have created some excellent land-use master plans to guide growth. Steep slope building and property lighting spillover have been addressed. Subdivision guidelines and water use restrictions are today under scrutiny. I believe more work needs to be done at the county level, and I want to play a significant role working with an excellent Planning Board.
What zoning designation that doesn’t currently exist would you like to see, or what is an existing, but underutilized zoning designation?
During the two years I served on Weaverville’s Planning & Zoning Board, an excellent Master Land Use Plan was passed by the Town Council. There is a designation of “Countryside Rural” that takes into consideration rural/agricultural areas. It is these kinds of plans, already on the books, that I would like to look at for the entire county. I would like to see open-use designation become a thing of the past.
What county-run service needs the most improvement, and how would you address it?
Support for our traditional public schools has been eroding since 2008. The commissioners need to work diligently with our state representatives to bring back funding for classroom supplies, textbooks and teaching assistants. This is the major expenditure of our county, and it needs attention.
What is the most important issue facing Buncombe County, and how do you plan on addressing it?
I believe that the most important issue is keeping our economy strong through reasonable and smart land use. We must not kill the goose that laid the golden egg, yet do not have an unlimited water supply, especially up here in northern Buncombe County, an area aptly named “Dry Ridge.” We need to carefully consider what we do with bottomland used for farms and ridgetops that continue to bring tourists and visitors to this area. These areas need to be protected.
How do you represent a constituency with varied political ideologies?
I grew up with parents who served in World War II. Starting in 1953, we watched national conventions and debates from both major parties. What I saw, back in those days, was value put on negotiation skills, consensus building, compromise and coming together for the common community good. Although those values seem diminished in today’s political climate, I will bring that strategy to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and work to make a significant impact of the lives of residents all over the county.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
I have a background in business and project management. My work at AT&T Bell Labs was with people from all over the world. I’ve worked hard to preserve the cultural heritage of our farmlands and the natural beauty of WNC by serving on the county Land Conservation Advisory Board. I serve our veterans by volunteering at the VA hospital. I teach at the UNC Asheville OLLI College for Seniors. Most of all, I know that at the heart of our democracy is a balance between the individual and community, and I want to bring that view to the County Commission by being the new commissioner in District 2.