Asheville City Council’s consent agenda typically consists of noncontroversial business that is approved with little discussion. That wasn’t the case Dec. 13.
At the request of Council member Kim Roney, six consent agenda items pertaining to the Asheville Police Department were singled out for discussion and separate votes. Over an hour of deliberation and public comment followed, with 23 residents speaking during the normally swift portion of the meeting.
Those items included four resolutions that would authorize City Manager Debra Campbell to seek over $100,000 in federal grant funding for bulletproof vests and crime investigation technology; a renewal of a more than $111,000 contract with data analytics company LexisNexis; and a three-year contract renewal for $54,000 annually with Cole Pro Media for “police transparency engagement advising services.” Roney voted no on each item, citing transparency issues within the APD’s budget; the only other Council member to oppose any item was Sheneika Smith, who voted with Roney against the Cole Pro Media contract.
“Bulletproof vests are an absolutely necessary tool for the role we assigned to our APD staff, and there is funding in the budget for this resource,” Roney said. “Until we have updates on our budget, my ‘no’ vote is directed not at approving an increase to the budgets that lack transparency because these items would otherwise and are literally named as being funded in our existing budget, of which 47% of our general fund balance is allocated to public safety.”
Simmering beneath the discussion was Mayor Esther Manheimer’s decision earlier in the month not to reappoint Roney to the Council committee that oversees the APD. In a Dec. 9 Facebook post, Roney said the mayor had denied her request to sit on the city’s Environment and Safety Committee “at request of APD ‘command staff.’”
According to a Dec. 13 report from the Asheville Citizen Times, Asheville Police Chief David Zack acknowledged that he and other department leaders had expressed concern over Roney being on the committee. But during the Council meeting, Manheimer pushed back against the notion that her choice had been determined by Zack.
“I’ve got to say, I am a little ruffled at the idea that I need a chief of police telling me what to do because that’s not how this works,” Manheimer said. “I can make my own decisions and I do make my own decisions.”
The Environment and Safety Committee, which also handles climate change, climate justice and other environmental issues, will now be chaired by newly elected Council member Maggie Ullman. (Ullman, who works as a climate change consultant and was Asheville’s first sustainability officer, also donated $150 to Manheimer’s reelection campaign; Roney was Manheimer’s electoral opponent.) Rounding out the group are Council members Sandra Kilgore and Smith; both served on the committee with Roney last term.
“When we look at the data of who is most impacted by violence, and by climate change, we see that women of color are our most vulnerable,” Ullman said of her appointment. “To me, the proposed committee centers two of our three women of color, and in my case, [someone] with the most professional experience on the environment, to serve for the next two years. I think this is a good makeup.”
Roney added that she respected Manheimer’s decision but that she planned to continue asking questions regarding APD’s budget requests.
“In addition to my moral and social obligations as a taxpayer and a neighbor, my fiscal obligations and duty to ensure human and civil rights of the people of Asheville as a Council member compel me to continue to ask hard questions,” she said. “Though I may not be seated on the Environment and Safety Committee, I am committed to the work of oversight and ensuring quality equitable service outcomes.”
Black residents want Juneteenth celebration to remain “in community”
Community members Paul Howell and Daniel Suber raised concern during public comment about the city’s efforts to host a celebration for Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. Both men, who are Black, said that since Asheville held its first city-funded Juneteenth observance in 2021, celebrations have been taken out of the hands of local community organizers who have managed a Juneteenth event for over a decade.
In October, the city released a request for proposals to identify “qualified nonprofit organizations” to manage the 2023 Juneteenth event in partnership with the city, potentially excluding community members with more informal leadership backgrounds.
“We’ve been celebrating this on and off since 2011 in the Hillcrest community,” Suber said. “It’s something that’s really, really important to the Black community here, and we want to make sure that it stays in the community. We always appreciate city efforts to make things equitable and include people and things like that. I think it’s important to look at those processes very carefully and well and think long term about how we can engage in that.”