Taking off the gloves

We're pleased to introduce a new feature on the Mountain Xpress Web site: regular blog posts by staff members, written from their own unique point of view. Although they're steeped in local news, these writers and editors report on it more than they get to sound off about it.

But that will shift a bit in the staff blogs, which open the door for staffers to muse a little, to probe in new directions. They choose their own topics — and seek to start a dialogue with you about what's on their minds.

To follow and join the conversation, go to http://mountainx.com/staffblogs. Here's a sampling of what's appeared there thus far:

Will Shuler suffer? (Probably not)

From a post by staff writer David Forbes:

When Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler bucked his party and voted against sweeping health care legislation Sunday night, he certainly set off a backlash. But will anything come of it?

Xpress' reporting on the topic … has set off a torrent of comments, many calling Shuler a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) or other epithets and many asserting that he just lost their vote. Shuler, who received more contributions from health-insurance companies than any other member of the Democratic delegation, is being painted by many as a corporate shill. …

Now the question, however, is if anger at Shuler will hurt his chances for re-election, especially in the upcoming Democratic primary. Probably not.

If the 11th Congressional District was limited to Asheville or even Buncombe, I wouldn't give Shuler very good odds of going back to Washington next year. It doesn't, however — instead, it stretches all the way to the Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina state lines. … As it stands now, however repugnant many liberals may find Shuler's vote, there seems little possibility of their frustration unseating him.

Getting to know the Downtown Market

From a post by food coordinator Mackensy Lunsford:

On the way out of Amazing Savings, I ran into Chad Oliphant and Sarah Yancey, who make a fantastic tempeh — Smiling Hara — which they were selling out of a cooler. Their tempeh will also soon be available at the Asheville City Market, by the way, and is currently used by both Luella's BBQ and Rosetta's.

The couple is expecting a baby sometime this month, so I casually asked exactly when the due date was. If this isn't Asheville, I don't know what is: She apparently was having mild contractions even as she offered potential customers tastes of the tempeh hummus she'd whipped up that very morning. (Good luck to Sarah and Chad and the little one).

Is there ever too much sunshine on government?

From a post by managing editor Jon Elliston:

As much as we're an avid disseminator of public information, there does arise the occasional story that poses questions about how much we should reveal. These are the anomalies that make us ponder extra-hard questions.

One case in point might offer lessons. Last year, one of our editors pitched a story on salaries for city of Asheville employees, and obtained a spreadsheet from the city of said pay during the prior year. Ultimately … we chose to tell the story of overtime pay as opposed to listing everyone's pay. …

In the end, we told a good story. Our reporters highlighted what might be the real excesses when it comes to overtime pay, while taking note of the real benefits of judiciously planned overtime.

At the same time, part of me wishes we'd gone all in and published the salary of every single city employee. City government is running a deficit, and public money funds almost everything official Asheville does.

It left me wondering how much sunshine on government is too much — or could there ever be enough?

What grass roots?

From a post by staff writer David Forbes:

In November 2009, 12,648 voters decided who would lead the city of Asheville.

To put those numbers in perspective, that's 19.6 percent of the city's registered voters, or roughly one in five. To put it in starker terms: This was the lowest turnout ever in a municipal election, beating 2007's City Council elections for that dubious honor. Despite economic difficulties, a mayoral race (albeit a rather one-sided one) and two of the victors pinning their hopes on large volunteer operations, four out of five Asheville voters chose to stay home. …

However, you wouldn't have known it by the rhetoric.

"We rocked this city tonight!" newly elected Council member Cecil Bothwell proclaimed at his victory celebration.

"I think the voters are a true reflection of Asheville," said Esther Manheimer, adding, "I think the people have given City Council a mandate." …

This is not to speak for or against the policies of anyone elected that night, but four months on, the victory talk needs to be tempered by some cold facts that tell a far different story: It is absolutely absurd to pretend that a large drop in voter turnout represents a triumph of popular activism.

CIBO: Chicken biscuits and familiar faces

From a post by associate editor Margaret Williams:

The faces seem to stay the same at the Council of Independent Business Owners. They're just older than they were almost 10 years ago — which is about the last time I attended one of their monthly 7 a.m. breakfast meetings.

On March 12, as members and guests (including me and fellow Xpress staffer David Forbes) chowed down on Chick Fil-A biscuits, yogurt and coffee, I spied Jerry VeHaun, Buncombe County's Emergency Services director and the mayor of Woodfin. There were former Buncombe Commissioner Jesse Ledbetter and CIBO Director Mike Plemmons, who (as always) played amiable host while folks arrived, grabbed some grub and sat down; as the speakers geared up, he stepped into the background (that's standard too).

Another familiar face — longtime member Mac Swicegood — played master of ceremonies, harassing the speakers with friendly jabs (though I've seen CIBO members grill speakers till they were burnt toast).

To follow these and other discussions, go to http://mountainx.com/staffblogs.

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2 thoughts on “Taking off the gloves

  1. skiplunch

    Wow, another opportunity for us all to read the comments of the same people we are reading the comments of each week. There is some diversity for you. Given the number of good writers that I know in this town (some who have applied for the openings at Mtn Xpress) one would think that you might be interested in including other viewpoints from some folks who have lived and worked all over the world, not just in downtown Asheville.

  2. Asheville Dweller

    Shhhh Skip these folks don’t like to think outside the box thats dangerous talk, all they know is the sun rises and sets in Downtown Asheville the rest of the city, area and WNC doesnt exist in their eyes.

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