Sustaining community: A conversation with local candidate Van Duncan

Van Duncan

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.

In February, former Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan surpassed the 8,295 signatures required to get on this year’s ballot for chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Duncan, a one-time Democrat who served as sheriff from 2006-18, is running as an unaffiliated candidate. He faces Commissioner Amanda Edwards.

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. The chair presides over these meetings.

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

Duncan: It will be the chair’s responsibility to outline not just their responsibility but the responsibilities of the commission as a whole. Clearly outlining the commission’s duties may help to avoid any misconceptions the public may have. There are certain issues facing Buncombe County that are not the direct responsibility of the commission but directly affect the well-being of the citizens of the county. One example would be Mission Hospital. Even though it is not a direct duty of the commission to regulate the hospital, that does not mean that the commissioners should not communicate with those regulating bodies to make sure that Mission offers the best patient care possible.

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? 

Creating thoughtful, effective dialogue in a divided community can be a major task for any leader. My goal would be to address all these issues through transparent and open conversations around available options, what their cost and effectiveness would be and the best outcomes for the community and the individuals who are directly involved. All four issues evoke strong emotions within our community. Because these are very emotionally charged issues, elected leaders and county staff would have to be skilled as effective facilitators in drilling down on community concerns and possible solutions they may offer. Being able to create that environment where thoughtful dialogue can be freely expressed could then be applied to other issues that the county will face in the future. After these conversations, the leaders would have the responsibility to apply resources to solutions that are effective and reflect the communities’ concerns.

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

I believe that the most impactful thing a county commission can do to support all local businesses is to make sure efficient and effective infrastructure is in place. This would include water, sewer and trash pickup at a basic level, as well as core services such as fire, EMS and law enforcement. These not only impact public safety but can also affect the insurance rates that businesses pay. By identifying the best core services, the county would not only better support all our current businesses but would provide a pathway for sustainable business growth in our community.

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

Merging the city and county school systems is a complicated issue, and that is why it has been debated for many years. While there would be cost savings by having only one administration, there would be other hidden costs that would quickly negate these savings. It is my understanding that there is a school tax that requires Asheville City to spend more per student on average than the county currently spends. The county would have to bring the average cost per student up to the current level the city spends if the schools merged. The total cost of matching the per-student expenditure would be enormous. Buncombe County is currently using a consultant to evaluate the cost of a possible merger. After we thoroughly understand what the possible savings and cost would be from a merger, we could then make the best decisions around sustainability and success of all Buncombe County schools.

To learn more about Duncan, visit


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7 thoughts on “Sustaining community: A conversation with local candidate Van Duncan

  1. Nostupid people

    We all know the power in numbers and what they can do. Van Duncan would have the support from businesses, communities , and people of services! we are in dire need of change in Buncombe county we must rise for a better tomorrow, our children’s future depends on it. Van represents family something that our present politicians seem to have forget about and the values, and morals. Once again, Van has proven that he cannot be blinded by money, nor persuaded by the tainted hands of the businesses from out of state, like with previous employees! Take a stand for Van to regain our values!

  2. Voirdire

    Well, it does all sound so reasonable with/from Van Duncan here ….but I think it’s disingenuous word salad in order for a known MAGA Republican ( who disingenuousness extends to not running as such on the ballot) to get elected as a County Commissioner …the chair no less. And yes, I’m quite sure Van Duncan has his constituency here in Buncombe County …the very ones you definitely don’t want in charge of anything basically.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      Unaffiliated voters are the largest voting block in NC now, so there’s that … it’s a republic if we can keep it.

  3. John

    Let’s not forget that Van Duncan took a $124,000 retention bonus from Wanda Greene. Elected officials do not qualify for retention bonuses. Accepting a lump sum payout of a retention bonus proves that Van Duncan can be blinded and tainted by money. Electing Duncan sets Buncombe County back to the years of corruption.

    • Jack Van Duncan

      I took my county early retirement. It was the same retirement that hundreds of county employee’s received. The word retention means I would not have retired. there was a very thorough investigation of all the Buncombe County government during this time, and I was never implicated in any wrongdoing.,

      • John

        You are not comparing apples to apples, Van. The fact is you took the money and could have returned it when you realized what Wanda was doing. You didn’t. You kept it despite the controversy. Just because you weren’t implicated in any wrong doing doesn’t mean you were right. You cannot be trusted. It’s time to accept that you are irrelevant and no longer beloved in Buncombe County.
        Here’s a reminder to everyone that you
        have been on the defensive for years:

  4. Gene Loflin

    We certainly need a change from our current tax and spend commissioners as they can support their pet projects and ignore others in the County.

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