Sustaining community: A conversation with local candidate Bruce O’Connell

Bruce O'Connell

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. These conversations will appear throughout our four April issues.

Bruce O’Connell, owner of the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway, previously ran for office in April 2022. At that time, he and a handful of other Republican hopefuls were attempting to dislodge then-incumbent Madison Cawthorn for the U.S. House of Representatives District 11 seat. Rep. Chuck Edwards won the primary and went on to win the November race.

O’Connell is currently running as an unaffiliated candidate for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners District 2 open seat. He’ll be facing Commissioner Terri Wells.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Commissioners vote on policies related to property taxes, zoning, education and more.

Xpress: What misconceptions do community members have about the role of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners?

O’Connell: A common misconception about the Board of Commissioners is that their powers are more extensive than they actually are, particularly regarding state and federal mandates. The board’s primary roles involve setting local policies, managing the county budget and making decisions on land use and local services. As a 44-plus-year resident of the county, I understand that the power of the board is limited (as it should be) and it is not infallible. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners can only do what the law and the statutes permit. The commission can establish direction and set a vision for the county. Then by using its power to budget, it can influence the future direction of the county.

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 an unaffiliated commissioner, I believe partisan politics should be kept out of discussions regarding the welfare of our community. The discussion of challenges and issues that we face should not be distracted by partisanship. I would suggest creating inclusive forums and task forces that bring together diverse community voices, experts and affected stakeholders. Thoughtful community dialogue requires a calm, measured and commonsense approach. I would emphasize collaboration over confrontation. Finally, I would not be shy about asking questions. I would continue asking questions until satisfactory answers are obtained.

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

The city and the county have a profound impact on small businesses and their ability to succeed or fail, especially in today’s challenging business climate. I have run a small business in this area for over four decades and understand the challenges that overregulation can have on small businesses’s ability to thrive. Burdensome taxation, overregulation and bureaucratic red tape can hinder any business from succeeding. Equally important, city and county governments must make infrastructure a priority. Water, sewer, power and internet must be reliable and affordable. Law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services must be top-notch. The city and county must be more responsive and timelier when dealing with the business community. Customer service is not only what small businesses provide to customers but also what government provides to small businesses.

In your opinion, is it sustainable to operate two school districts? Why or why not?

The topic of a merger has been going on since the early 1960s. Yes, it is sustainable to operate two school districts, provided there is efficient management, equitable funding and collaboration between the districts to ensure all students receive a high-quality education, regardless of their district. Separate districts may also allow for more localized and responsive education policies that better meet the diverse needs of students.

The reality, however, is that operating two school districts within a single county presents challenges in terms of resource allocation and consistency in educational standards. In short, to merge or not to merge is a complex topic requiring answers to questions such as: What happens to the city school tax? How are the buses allocated? Would county salaries and city school salaries be equitable (presently they are not)? Why is the public school student population declining and where? Why is there an achievement gap between students? Could city schools become a district within Buncombe County? There are many questions to be asked and answered. But one thing is for certain: The expense of yet another study is not the answer.

To learn more about O’Connell, visit


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One thought on “Sustaining community: A conversation with local candidate Bruce O’Connell

  1. Voirdire

    I don’t know, is this the new thing… Republicans running as unaffiliated in order to have some semblance of a chance to be elected to a Buncombe County Commissioner seat? Anyway, most of it sounds okay .. well, pretty boilerplate actually/ of course …including “burdensome taxation, over-regulation”. Like what business doesn’t want to pay less taxes? …and follow less regulations that don’t necessarily contribute to their bottom line but help ensure compliance with regs that make for a safer workplace for employees and clients/customers? Well, whatever… kudos for running for something that makes a difference.

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