War on drugs, economic justice focus of unusual Council consent agenda discussions

Chief Tammy Hooper explained a DEA collaboration agreement that allows the APD to investigate drug cases beyond the city limits at the Sept. 6 meeting of City Council. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Since it generally deals with matters that are considered non-controversial or have been previously reviewed and advanced by Council committees, Asheville City Council’s consent agenda often passes without discussion. At Council’s Sept. 6 meeting, however, the board’s consideration of that portion of its agenda led to impassioned discussions about the wisdom of America’s 46-year war on drugs and the city’s role in promoting economic justice through its contracting arrangements.

Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper explained that an agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Asheville Police Department to enable collaboration with the Drug Enforcement Agency had been in place for many years. “We have one detective assigned to the DEA task force for Western North Carolina,” she said. The agreement gives the APD the ability to investigate drug cases and sources beyond its regular jurisdiction within the city limits. In its consent agenda, Council was asked to approve extending the agreement through Sept. 30, 2017.

Asked by Mayor Esther Manheimer what the impact of not continuing the agreement would be, Hooper replied that “It would mean that we would not be able to investigate cases for drug suppliers outside of Asheville and Buncombe County.”

Saying he was not commenting on the performance of local law enforcement, Councilman Brian Haynes read a statement in which he traced the history of the “war on drugs” launched by President Richard Nixon in 1971. The main casualties in that war, Haynes said, “have been people of color.” Haynes spoke of a critical need to reform the criminal justice system and the drug-related policies that have led to skyrocketing incarceration rates. “In 2013, there were 2,220,000 people incarcerated, and another 4,700,000 on probation or parole,” Haynes said. Though blacks and Latinos make up 25 percent of the total U.S. population, he continued, they account for over half of the country’s incarcerated population. The disproportionate impact of drug policies, and the policing that enforces them, on minority populations is a major contributor to the tensions that have developed between police and minority communities both nationally and here in Asheville, he said.

“I cannot in good conscience vote to reenter into this agreement,” Haynes concluded.

“The war on drugs has been an utter and complete failure by any measure,” said Councilman Cecil Bothwell. “The only thing I can do at the city level to reject that is to vote against this.”

Manheimer entered the fray to explain her reasons for supporting the joint agreement.  If polled, she said, the majority of city residents would favor legalizing marijuana. But that is only one of many drugs law enforcement is tasked with policing. “If anyone’s interested, you can actually sign up to participate in a police ride-along. And if you ever do that, what you’re going to find out is there’s a whole lot of meth out there, and there’s a whole lot of opioids out there and a lot of people that are shooting up all those things.”

“That is a real problem for our community,” she said. From a Council level, she continued, “I feel we need to support law enforcement efforts to handle drug enforcement in the city, and that’s going to sometimes mean looking at suppliers outside the city…I don’t feel I have the luxury to vote against it because I have concerns about the war on drugs, which I do.”

The 4-3 vote went in favor of continuing the arrangement, with Bothwell, Haynes and Councilman Keith Young voting against.

Three contract agreements with private businesses to provide services to the city on an hourly basis also came under Council scrutiny. One such agreement is with Guard-One Protective Services, which has held the contract for providing security guards at Asheville City Hall and other city buildings for several years. A second agreement concerns FIRST at Blue Ridge Inc., an agency which employs people transitioning from chronic substance abuse addiction to productive employment. FIRST employees perform cleanup activities such as graffiti and trash removal. The third contract is for maintenance of landscaping in city medians and sidewalk bump-outs. The low bidder on that contract was Pinnacle Landscaping LLC.

While city staffers couldn’t immediately address Council’s questions about the wages Guard-One pays its employees, Bothwell seemed to be satisfied by an assurance from Brad Stein, the city’s Risk Manager, that the guards do receive health insurance through their employer.

Public Works Director Greg Shuler clarified that FIRST employees are paid $9 per hour, but also receive housing, transportation and job and life skills training. Considering those benefits, commented Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, the total compensation far exceeds a living wage.

Council passed the contracts for those two companies unanimously.

The vote on the Pinnacle Landscaping contract played out differently. Haynes requested that Council be provided with the rates a contractor’s employees will earn while engaged in city projects when Council is asked to approve such contracts in the future. Bothwell went a step further, saying, “I’d like to know what the arguments are for using private contractor versus city employees?” City Manager Gary Jackson pledged to study the issue and to provide Council with an assessment of the budget impact of filling contracted functions with city employees earning a living wage. He also said he would research whether the city would be legally permitted to ask a non-binding question on contracting bids about whether the company does or does not pay a living wage.

Manheimer again provided context for current city policies. “We’re not allowed to make [paying a living wage] a requirement of our contractors yet we’re still subject to public bidding requirements. So we’re pretty hemmed in in terms of what…we’re fine to review it and take it into consideration, but we have these legal parameters that are unyielding.” Manheimer was referring to legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly that prevents municipalities from enacting ordinances that require contractors to pay living wages.

Speaking of a past Council decision to require city contractors to pay a living wage, Councilman Gordon Smith said, “This board stepped up and made that promise and they [the General Assembly] made it illegal for us to keep that promise.”

Haynes commented, “If our contractors are not being paid a living wage, then we should hire more city employees.” Bothwell agreed.

The vote on the Pinnacle Landscaping contract passed 5-2, with Bothwell and Haynes voting against it.


Up next: Ingles withdraws sign request in face of Council opposition; officials approve affordable housing, Bouchon in Haw Creek



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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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13 thoughts on “War on drugs, economic justice focus of unusual Council consent agenda discussions

  1. boatrocker

    “Mannheimer entered the fray to explain the reasons for her reasons for supporting the joint agreement”
    huh huh huh (Beavis voice), she said joint.

    Good for you Haynes, for parting the curtains to explain the drug war and voting as you did.

  2. John R Penley

    I have been following crime stats in the Asheville Citizen Times and can tell you that very often drug arrests with absolutely no violence involved [many times people with drug addiction] are often having much higher bails set than people who are arrested for crimes involving violence. This is an issue that needs to be researched and addressed by the Mayor and the City Council because it makes no rational sense and keeping drug addicted people who are arrested for crime that does not involve violence in jail with high bail costs the taxpayers a lot of money every year.

  3. John R Penley

    Funny that no one at all mentioned access to drug treatment programs in the drug war discussion. Jail instead of access to drug treatment is a big part of the failure of the so call drug war so next time please talk about this and that includes the police chief who should be pushing for alternatives to jail.

    • John, while it isn’t reported here, I did talk about treatment. I offered the example of Portugal which has legalized all drug use (but not sales) and stepped up treatment programs. Drug use has fallen over the several years of this program, as (obviously) have policing costs, and incarceration.

  4. BMacAVL

    I thought this article about the Swiss drug policy on Heroin has lots of great points to add forreform! Why not set up a clinic on a back street near the bus stop for the addicts in our town to access from all parts of Buncombe Country. For me it would be much better then addicts kickin’ it at the Bus Stop and Gas Up waiting on dealers to come and drop off product. Then once they get the morning fix put them to work doing the jobs no one else wants. For example they could be picking up trash around the county after the morning fix, then Rat Hunting at Pritchard Park all night after the nightly fix?!?! http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-02-12/us-can-learn-lot-zurich-about-how-fight-its-heroin-crisis http://ashvegas.com/rat-infestation-at-downtown-asheville-park

  5. Big Al

    When city councilmen stop driving drunk, I will listen to what they have to say about addressing substance abuse.

    • boatrocker

      The real ‘War on Drugs’?
      Cops on steroids, HGH, goodness only knows what kind of prescriptions their therapists prescribed when they washed out of the service for ‘battle rattle’ and were convicted of beating up on the wife, drunk on duty, drugs nicked from the evidence room, etc.
      Literally conducting a ‘war’ on citizens while on drugs.

      It takes a criminal to catch one.

    • BMacAVL

      @Big Al – rather than pointing out mistakes made by individual humans…let us contemplate the reasons we have a problem with substance abuse(which includes no only alcohol but caffeine & nicotine which are legal and just as addictive if not more…). I understand how easy it is to be stuck living in your own little world and feel for you…I’m truly jealous of those able to embrace and share in the ignorance is bliss mentality but also understand that forgiveness and working to better this world we all share is a much more proactive & health approach.

      Rather than “call out” others, lets examine why modern society has a massive substance abuse problem in this town, state, country & worldwide? You may answer; because they are so easy to get or everyone is on them so it’s normalized…and you would be right but also look at the profits being made humans in position of power exploiting others with factors such as predisposed genetic build up or environment they have been brought up within which one does not choose but still are major contributing factors. These two human developmental zones are the largest contributing factors to each and every human but yet these factors not chosen or have power over for any of us. “Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.” -1925, H. L. Mencken aka “Sage of Baltimore”

      Join us on a quest for knowledge and thirst for reform rather than simply playing the online debbie downer role over one man’s mistake when our society driven by corporate/government greed and man’s thirst for power to control others who do not walk the exact path in life or hold the same convictions as you:) God Bless!

      • Big Al

        I will ALWAYS call out our political leaders when they are both self-righteous and hypocritical in the same breath.

        • BMacAVL

          @Big Al – So…I’m glad to hear you will “Join us on a quest for knowledge and thirst for reform…”!!!!!! Hopefully the “self-righteous and hypocritical” folks you have address have discovered the UBER app:)

          At least he apologized publicly; “As I noted last summer, I take full responsibility for my mistake. I’d love to see more public officials do the same.” -CB

        • boatrocker

          “Calling out” someone for a DUI? Like George W. didn’t ever have 2 of those?
          A DUI vs. Reagan’s failed War on Drugs? Hypocrisy?

          You social crusader, you. Let’s buy you a cape.

  6. BMacAVL

    Lest we forget the “War on Terror” that has allowed our government to control 90% of the worlds heroin production and distribution….”opium cultivation, measured by area, has grown nearly 23-fold, from an estimated 8,000 hectares (about 31 square miles) in 2001 to 183,000 (about 707 square miles) last year, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, D.C.”

    @Big All – How do such figures rate on your social crusader scale of “self-righteous and hypocritical?!?” Just curious…


    “How does 415,000 kilograms (913,000 pounds) of heroin from US-occupied Afghanistan get to US each year?”


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