Robert Pressley, Republican
Place of residence: Bent Creek
Occupation: Small-business owner
Political experience: None
Endorsements: Asheville Citizen-Times
Amount of money raised: DNA
Top three donors and amount contributed: DNA
Why are you running?
I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve raised my family here. And while I’ve seen many positive changes, I think we’ve lost something in terms of good-paying jobs and long-term opportunities for our children. In many cases, our best and brightest are moving away because they can’t find work. I want to help guarantee that my children and grandchildren — and all the families of Buncombe County — have the same opportunities I had when I was growing up here.
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?
More jobs are created when the cost of doing business goes down. To a large extent, that means keeping taxes low and doing our best to get rid of costly regulations. We already live in one of the most beautiful places in the country — we need to do our part to help businesses thrive by getting out of the way. The citizens of Buncombe County have a right to earn an honest living, and as elected officials, we have an obligation to make that as easy as possible.
Are you in favor of using economic development incentives? If so, what kind? If not, why?
You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis. In a larger sense, the reality of modern economic development is that tax incentives have to be part of the mix in attracting business to expand or relocate here. But I do think it’s important that any incentives we do offer have “clawback” provisions, meaning that if the company doesn’t meet certain performance criteria, that money is returned to the county. Personally, I’m not fond of incentives, but if we want to get those companies and jobs into Buncombe County — and I do — then we need to play by the rules that are in place, otherwise we’ll find ourselves at a disadvantage.
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?
As I understand it, that was the situation until the General Assembly passed a new law, which became effective on Oct. 1. The new law establishes, for the first time, a legal process for releasing these videos through the court system. Until now, it’s been up to politicians and individual law enforcement agencies. I think it’s a good change and I support it, because it balances the needs of investigations by law enforcement, privacy and the public’s right to know.
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?
Yes, but they must be very specific and very targeted. Too often, the language of a bond referendum is very vague and open-ended, which allows politicians to use taxpayer money on projects that have little or nothing to do with what the bond was intended for. In some cases, I think you’ve seen that on the state level, and now with the bonds on the ballot this fall in Asheville. It’s a shell game as old as the hills. I believe in being honest and upfront with taxpayers on how we spend their money. I would not propose any debt financing until we can retire at least 40 percent of our current debt. That’s just prudent housekeeping.
Does HB2 highlight the state overstepping its bounds in regard to legislating municipalities? Why or why not?
I think HB2 highlights just the opposite — the Charlotte City Council clearly overstepped its bounds when it mandated that the thousands of private businesses within the city limits could no longer have gender-segregated bathrooms, showers and changing rooms — even at places like the YWCA. That’s just plain nuts, I don’t care what the politically correct opinion of the day is. And North Carolina is not a “home rule state” — meaning that city and county governments only have the authority granted to them by the legislature. Charlotte didn’t have the authority to do what they did, so they needed to be reined in.
As development continues to boom, how can the county help ensure affordable housing for its residents?
Although I don’t think that it’s necessarily up to government to ensure that housing (or anything else) is affordable — I’m a big believer in the free market — as policymakers, we can take a good, hard look at how the county itself can often make the affordable housing situation worse. That can come in the form of costly, unnecessary regulations on businesses that drive up the cost of development and lower wages. Government needs to get out of the way by keeping taxes low and cutting red tape. When it does, wages go up, and prices come down.
Are the current zoning policies adequate to deal with the pressures of increased development in the county?
Yes. There is a process for handling complicated growth and development trends, and much of what the county board does is make adjustments to existing zoning regulations. Our zoning policies are not ideal, but they are adequate to manage the short-term stress of growth. If I could, I would repeal zoning in the county and let communities manage their own lives.
What zoning designation that doesn’t currently exist would you like to see, or what is an existing, but underutilized, zoning designation?
I think the Neighborhood Service District is somewhat underused. The NSD allows homes and community-oriented businesses to coexist in a unified zoning designation. A harmonious mix of business and residential land use can also help startups and home-based businesses thrive. We should also look at maximizing the Open Use District, which is basically “no zoning.”
What county-run service needs the most improvement, and how would you address it?
The county board itself could use some improvement — and I’d try to address that by getting elected in November. But I need help to get there, so I’m asking for everyone on District 3 to vote for me.
What is the most important issue facing Buncombe County, and how do you plan on addressing it?
We need to retire the county’s debt of over $500 million. Until we do, the taxpayers are on the hook for every penny, and I’m just not comfortable with that. We have to take a fresh look at our priorities and how we are spending your money. I believe I can help to provide that much-needed fresh perspective.
How do you represent a constituency with varied political ideologies?
By not being an ideologue. No one party has a monopoly on the truth, and good ideas can come from anywhere. And in reality, I’m more of a businessman than a politician. As the owner of a small business, I am dealing with the nuts and bolts of finance and management on a daily basis. I will bring my nonideological expertise to the table as I consider what’s best for the every citizen of Buncombe County, regardless of party affiliation, income or station in life. Besides, I’m a great listener. Just ask my wife.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
I don’t have a political ax to grind or a political agenda to implement. I’ve made a career in NASCAR, and now I run a small business both serving and employing the good folks here in Buncombe County. I know what matters most to ordinary folks who are just trying to earn a living, raise a family and live a decent and rewarding life.