Sustaining community: A conversation with Asheville City Council candidate Tod Leaven

Tod Leaven

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.

“I have a profound appreciation for our current unhoused crisis, as my twin sister died on the streets of Asheville, being unhoused for years,” Tod Leaven told Xpress during the March primary. Leaven, an attorney and a combat veteran of the U.S. Army, placed fifth, earning 12% 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?

Leaven: A great analogy is that Asheville City Council is similar to the board of directors of a $240 million company. Because Asheville has such a large number of nonprofits, it may be easy to use a nonprofit company as an example. Many community members believe City Council’s role is similar to the role of an executive director — in charge of the company’s employees and the daily running of the organization. This would be the role of our city manager.

Another misconception is that a Council member changing their position on any given issue is a sign of weakness or selling out. As with a company’s board member, a City Council member has a duty to the betterment of the city over the betterment of themselves. Even when what is best for the city contradicts a Council member’s own envisioned goals, that Council member must go with what is best for the city.

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?

A sustainable community needs to trust that its leaders are neither myopic nor rigid. When leaders believe that they alone have all of the answers, the community will be less apt to engage in thoughtful dialogue. To combat this, local leaders should get outside of their comfort zones and ideological bubbles and promote open and honest engagement, even across party lines, and then be open and empathetic to the community responses. To build trust, local leaders need to own their mistakes and be willing to adapt and change; the typical blame game rarely leads to solutions, and it often fans resentment. Where some consultants can be necessary, spending substantial funds on out-of-town consultants and ignoring our local talent not only cuts against thoughtful community dialogue, but it also wastes a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere.

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

There are a host of things the city and county could do to help small businesses thrive, but for a start, the city and county can simply do their jobs. If the city could take a breath, refocus upon its core services (such as public safety, infrastructure, water, public transportation, etc.) and make it easier to build affordable housing, then small businesses would be free to focus on doing their own jobs instead of having to worry about crime, cleanliness, workforce housing, water, parking, etc. An integral part of sustaining community is for everyone to be trusted to do their part — in order for us all to thrive, we have to be able to trust that our local government will uphold their end of the bargain.

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

Unfortunately, this question can pit city departments against each other. I can say that I would absolutely not call for City Council to get raises, especially when so many city employees are underpaid. I understand that City Council is discussing giving itself a raise, but I do not support this.

To learn more about Leaven, visit


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2 thoughts on “Sustaining community: A conversation with Asheville City Council candidate Tod Leaven

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    How do we overcome the shame of living in a city named for a slave owner ? What is your solution ?

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