On March 11, Asheville City Council members Joe Dunn and Carl Mumpower voted to block a proposed relocation and expansion of the Flynn Christian Community Home — despite the facility’s 40-year track record of helping make Asheville a better place by housing and caring for homeless, recovering addicts.
Dunn’s and Mumpower’s actions are puzzling in light of their own stated positions. The two men were among the strongest supporters of the controversial prohibition on panhandling, loitering and public urination/defecation. Yet in this instance, they have undercut their own efforts by voting against a program that helps reduce those unwanted behaviors.
What exactly is going on here?
The March 11 public hearing on the Flynn Home’s rezoning request — which would have enabled the facility to relocate from Montford to Oakley — marked a low point in recent local public discourse. Oakley residents who asserted that the group home would jeopardize their property values and safety offered scant evidence to support those claims. One disgruntled neighbor went so far as to refer to the human beings who live at the Flynn Home as “junk.” Yet even this vicious rhetoric drew no rebuke from Mayor Charles Worley. And in backing those residents, Dunn and Mumpower cast their votes for fearmongering rather than reasoned argument.
Adding to the irony is the fact that both men have, in recent weeks, enthusiastically beaten the support-our-soldiers drum. It was at Dunn’s suggestion that Council began inviting elderly veterans (including one in a wheelchair) to lead the pledge of allegiance at Council meetings. Yet given an opportunity to provide meaningful help to their fellow veterans (Flynn Home Director Laurie Tollman estimates that fully 50 percent of their residents are vets), Dunn and Mumpower balked.
Right governance requires more than a series of unrelated actions. Public officeholders’ voting records need to show consistency, reflecting their own underlying values (as Dunn himself noted in his rambling attempt to justify his “no” vote). When east Asheville residents argued against the approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter for their neighborhood last summer — citing safety and property-value concerns and providing evidence to support those claims — Dunn and Mumpower disregarded those arguments, voting in favor of the project. In the case of the Flynn Home, however, similar but largely unsubstantiated arguments suddenly became persuasive.
This isn’t the first time Dunn has vetoed a proposal meant to benefit this city’s less prosperous citizens. Last year, he single-handedly blocked an affordable-housing development proposed for Chunn’s Cove, calling it inappropriate and out of character for that neighborhood. And during Dunn’s explanation of his vote on the Flynn Home request, he maintained that other parts of town are “more appropriate” for a group home. Vice Mayor Terry Bellamy, however, noted that few areas of the city are zoned to permit group homes — leading us to wonder which neighborhoods Dunn has in mind.
Mumpower’s vote against the Flynn Home, meanwhile, flies in the face of his own reasoned, thought-provoking commentary that recently ran in this paper (“Fighting our way to a better place?” Feb. 19 Xpress). In that piece, he wrote, “Most concerned neighbors, however, recognize the limits of NIMBYism and take a more genuine interest in understanding the facts and trying to make sure that whatever change does come is as positive and helpful as possible.”
But what does Mumpower’s vote in the Flynn case support if not NIMBYism?
Writing about the ongoing struggle between developers and neighborhoods, Mumpower stated firmly that “Trumping, vilification, arrogance and misinformation are temptations we might all do well to avoid as ways to approach the neighbors/developers conflict. … Sensationalizing, magnifying, ignoring or otherwise distorting the facts can temporarily firm up an advocacy position. In the process, however, trust, goodwill and truth are sacrificed to a limited short-term gain.”
Yet this is precisely what happened in the current case. Oakley residents presented many sensationalized arguments and magnified stereotypes that medical professionals such as Mumpower and Dunn must know run counter to the medical establishment’s recognition of addiction as a disease. The two Council members, meanwhile, ignored the testimony of people living near the Flynn Home in Montford who praised the facility as a good neighbor. And though both men asked about police calls to the home, neither city staffers nor project opponents could provide any statistical evidence that the Flynn Home has ever been a nuisance to its neighbors.
Requests for conditional-use permits are often controversial, pitting neighbor against neighbor. But for this very reason, they shine the spotlight on those public officials charged with making these difficult decisions. And in this instance, Dunn and Mumpower have fallen far short of the kind of balanced, consistent and humane governance the people of Asheville deserve.