Sustaining community: A conversation with Asheville City Council candidate Roberto ‘Bo’ Hess

Roberto "Bo" Hess

Editor’s note: As part of Xpress’ monthlong Sustainability Series, we reached out to all candidates running for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners as well as Asheville City Council. Conversations with those who participated will appear throughout our four April issues.

“My background as a social worker, mental health clinician, community advocate, addiction specialist, law enforcement trainer and professor at WCU equips me with expertise into Asheville’s critical social issues,” Roberto “Bo” Hess told Xpress during the March primary. Hess placed fourth, earning 14% of the overall vote. Come November, this first-time Asheville City Council candidate will be vying for one of three open seats.

Asheville City Council meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. in the Council chambers located on the second floor of City Hall. The elected body approves the city’s annual budget and determines the tax rate, among other responsibilities. To learn more about Council’s role and authority, visit

Xpress: What misconceptions do community members have about the role of Asheville City Council?

Hess: A common misconception about Asheville City Council is that members are distant from everyday community concerns. In truth, Council members are community members too, deeply invested in Asheville’s well-being. My commitment is to guide constituents to the right resources, addressing their needs effectively. With my background as a social worker and therapist, I possess unique skills to navigate various systems and advocate for solutions. I pledge to be a proactive, empathetic link between the city and its people, ensuring that every voice is heard and every concern is addressed. Electing me means choosing a Council member who not only understands the official duties but also prioritizes the real-life needs of our community, striving to make Asheville a place where everyone can thrive.

What can local leaders do to promote thoughtful community dialogue about complex and difficult topics such as the opioid crisis, crime, housing and health care?

As a leader, I am committed to engaging our community in meaningful dialogue on vital issues like the opioid crisis, crime, housing, and health care. I believe in the power of an engaged community to drive progress and change. Here’s my action plan:

  • Support local journalism: Advocate for in-depth local reporting to inform and educate.
  • Mobile storytelling and listening events: Facilitate shared stories and perspectives across Asheville.
  • Community art initiatives: Promote art as a tool for expression and discussion on complex issues.
  • Accessible town hall meetings: Hold regular, inclusive meetings in person and online.
  • Online engagement portal: Host a space for community feedback and ideas, like the one on my campaign website.

I believe that leaders should be advocates who promote opportunities for a connected community. A leader should empower others to share their stories so that we know who we’re working for each and every day.

What can the city and county do to help small businesses thrive?

To champion the success of small businesses in Asheville, city and county efforts must ensure safe, vibrant communities and robust support systems. Encouraging safe streets creates an environment where businesses, residents and visitors thrive. By actively promoting minority business ownership and simplifying bureaucratic processes, we can create a dynamic business landscape.

Maintaining cleanliness in our streets and public areas enhances Asheville’s charm, making it more inviting for everyone. Addressing homelessness, addiction and mental health with empathy and effectiveness not only aids our most vulnerable but also stabilizes the community for business growth.

Crucially, affordable housing for workers is essential to sustaining our local economy. Ensuring that employees can live in the city where they work increases their quality of life and supports business retention and growth. The city and county must work together to increase housing affordability, making Asheville a place where small businesses and their employees can flourish.

If you could give raises to one city department, which department would you like to see receive it and why?

I would prioritize our first responders, in particular the Asheville Fire Department. These individuals have their boots on the ground in our community every single day, providing essential services to our most vulnerable populations. The value these firefighters provide for our community and the risks they are assuming should be reflected by a living wage that keeps up with the standards in 2024. Adequate compensation helps in recruiting and retaining the best professionals, which directly contributes to the well-being and safety of Asheville.

Moreover, reevaluating benefits, post-employment benefits and prioritizing health and safety is essential. We know that firefighters face disproportionate rates of cancer, and yet currently members hired after 2012 are left in limbo without postemployment benefits between the age of retirement (around 50) and the age they qualify for Medicare (65). Our firefighters, like all city employees, deserve to live comfortably in the city they serve and protect.

To learn more about Hess, visit


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4 thoughts on “Sustaining community: A conversation with Asheville City Council candidate Roberto ‘Bo’ Hess

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    nice goals but after election and you attend the Govco Institute, you will be trained to never answer constituent emails. totally avoid any complaints that way…

  2. jenie

    Why no questions about his criminal past? How did a convicted felon become a licensed social worker? As usual, this article misses the REAL story and is why Asheville is failing – just a bunch of criminals

    • WAVL

      I don’t have any insight into Bo’s experience but it seems like the simplest explanation to your question would be that someone recovered and decided to give back to others who are currently struggling. Best kind of social workers!

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