Asheville’s Community Reparations Commission wants the city and Buncombe County to stop harming Black residents. And its members want outside assurance that those harms — which they say have been tied to “institutional processes” in both governments — have actually stopped.
To that end, the reparations commission has recommended an independent audit of the city of Asheville and Buncombe County. Commission Chair Dwight Mullen and Vice Chair Dewana Little presented that recommendation to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners during a Jan. 17 briefing.
The proposed audit would look at whether the city and county are complying with “federal and state laws, regulatory bodies, codes of conduct, court orders and consent degrees,” with a focus on damage caused to the Black community by noncompliance.
Gathering and consolidating data is a primary goal of the recommended audit, said Mullen. Little added that the reparations commission’s focus groups, which examine specific areas such as housing, criminal justice and education, have faced challenges in getting needed information from city and county staff.
Data is being received months after first being requested, Little explained, often because it isn’t readily available as public records. She gave the example of medical records, which she said often weren’t sorted by race in the past. Reparations project manager Christine Edwards said that, because such data isn’t easily located, government staffers have to spend a lot of extra time obtaining information from less formal sources.
“The data that we’re using are data sources that aren’t official, ranging from student papers that compose the state of Black Asheville to a variety of consultancy reports that may or may not be particularly germane to what we are studying,” explained Mullen. “Rather than the subcommittees asking for an array of data, taking a shotgun approach, [the audit] would actually home in on the needs of the subcommittees using official sources of data before we offer recommendations for policy adoption.”
The exact scope of the audit would be determined by the reparations commission in tandem with city and county staff. Assistant County Manager DK Wesley suggested that the work outlined thus far could be breaking new ground.
“We’re doing research, but we haven’t found a specific audit like this being done anywhere in the United States,” Wesley said. She noted that, while compliance audits are very common, they typically don’t include the array of information that the reparations commission is seeking.
Mullen said that he was confident that the reparations commission, in conjunction with the city and county, would be able to find a consultant interested in conducting the type of audit the commission is seeking.
“What we are looking at doing has not been done before. But I believe we are anticipating what’s happening on the forefront of other reparations movements,” he said. “Rather than politics or ideology driving it, we are looking at data-based solutions.”
The county commissioners are tentatively scheduled to vote on approving the audit during their meeting Tuesday, Feb. 7. If approved, a request for proposals to carry out the work would be advertised in the spring. No cost estimate for the audit was provided; the expense would be covered by previously allocated city and county reparations funds.