Although Chicago-based 21CP Solutions finished its report on Asheville’s response to a police beating scandal in August, the city isn’t done hiring consultants to assess its policing approach. That’s one of the key takeaways from interim City Manager Cathy Ball’s memo discussing action items from the report, to be presented at Asheville City Council’s upcoming regular meeting in council chambers on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
In the memo, Ball notes that the city will “engage outside resources” to develop standard operating procedures for “high-profile issues” arising from the Asheville Police Department. Those SOPs will include how to inform City Council about potential policing problems and how to divide crisis communications between the APD and other city staff. The city will also consider retaining an outside crisis response firm “as a priority in the current budget process.”
Regarding police operations, Ball writes that the APD has finished revising its Field Training Officer program and established new guidelines for its early intervention system. The latter is a “proactive, nondisciplinary system” meant to review “specific, significant events” related to problematic conduct or performance. The memo does not specify a threshold for the severity of events that would fall under these guidelines.
Many of the items discussed in Council’s second presentation for the night, an update on a March 20 work session about equity and transparency, also involve the police. As described in a memo by Joey Robison, assistant to the city manager, the APD has implemented a policy of immediate criminal review for all excessive use-of-force complaints, and it now plans to notify the district attorney in all such cases.
Body camera footage will now be retained for 90 days, up from a previous length of 60 days. However, as noted by departing City Attorney Robin Currin, staff from the city’s Equity and Inclusion Department will still be unable to review that video under state law.
In new business
Council is slated to approve a new Burton Street Neighborhood Plan, which considers the possible impacts of the I-26 Connector project on the historically African-American neighborhood in West Asheville. Based on the area’s repeated disruption by road building, it qualifies for “environmental justice” designation and additional help from the N.C. Department of Transportation.
The plan lists 10 specific steps the NCDOT will take “to address and remedy the anticipated impacts” of the I-26 project. These include installing bus shelters and other improvements at neighborhood transit stops, constructing a new park at Smith Mill Creek with future greenway access, improving sidewalk connections within the community and incorporating a history mural on a proposed highway sound wall.
The Burton Street community in general plans to focus on housing stability, public safety and historic preservation. During the public planning process, community members ranked their top priorities as upgrading infrastructure at the Burton Street Community Center, making sidewalks ADA accessible and supporting design policies “to preserve or enhance neighborhood character.”
As that plan nears adoption, the process will just be getting started for Tunnel Road. Council will be asked to sign off on a pilot corridor study along the heavily trafficked East Asheville thoroughfare. The French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization will underwrite the majority of the work, with an allocation of $157,000, while the city will contribute $25,593 of its own funds.
The end goal of the study, described by city urban planner Vaidila Satvika, will be a comprehensive review meant to “enhance safety, multimodal transportation and to recommend zoning changes to guide development that aligns with Living Asheville, the city’s comprehensive plan.”
Finally, Council will consider items on its consent agenda. Unless specifically singled out for separate discussion, these items are typically approved as a package. Highlights include the following:
- Resolution authorizing the issuance of a Water Revenue Bond Anticipation Note of up to $40 million, which will provide interim financing for water system capital projects eventually to be funded by longer-term bonds. The initial draw on this note will be approximately $10.2 million.
- Resolution accepting an additional $55,639.69 from the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the High Intensity Drug Traffic Area grant. The extra funds come as the city agrees to serve as the fiduciary for all program expenses in the Asheville area. These cost include investigations of high-volume, high-value drug trafficking and associated expenses such as employee overtime, mobile phones and “miscellaneous supplies.”
- Budget amendment of $232,438.25 to continue the DWI task force partnership between the APD and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. Asheville’s adopted budget for the fiscal year already included this money in the APD’s allocation; this amendment allows the city to accept grant funding from the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.