The Asheville City Council has failed a crucial litmus test of leadership and, in so doing, has dealt dishonestly with the voters.
Whether or not you approve of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s idea of building an eight-lane highway through the heart of West Asheville, the fact is that six out of seven current members of City Council ran for office with clearly stated positions opposing an eight-lane highway through town — but when the time came to vote their position, three refused, hiding behind procedural objections and claims that their positions on the highway-widening are only personal.
During City Council’s June 18 work session, when three Council members called for an 11th-hour vote to provide DOT with Council’s position on the road-widening, Carl Mumpower, Joe Dunn and Jim Ellis blocked the vote.
Consider this refusal to take a stand on the highway-widening in light of the following public statements, made by Mumpower, Dunn and Ellis while campaigning for office:
• Joe Dunn: “DOT’s … cookie-cutter, eight-lane idea through West Asheville was not good. I would have listened to the experts first, then gone to the community to get consensus. … We’ve got to move the traffic out and avoid, I hope, increasing air pollution.”
• Jim Ellis: “Eight lanes was not appropriate for West Asheville. There are new proposals now that are acceptable.”
• Carl Mumpower: “It’s very hard to visualize eight-lanes through West Asheville. I don’t support that plan. I’m going to be supportive of whatever option we can achieve the quickest consensus on and funding for. … [O]ur city, our time, our people require a little more sophistication than the traditional ‘build it bigger, build it faster’ approach.”
Every member of Council has publicly stated their opposition to limiting the design phase of the project to eight lanes. Moreover, during their run for office, six of the seven positioned themselves firmly in the six-lane camp — and in so doing, secured the votes of people who trusted them to keep their promise.
Those voters appear to have been double-crossed.
During Council’s June 18 work session, less than 48 hours before the TAC was to vote on the eight-lane proposal, Council member Brian Peterson made an 11th-hour stand on the issue. But his call for a resolution on the matter was too little, too late.
Council members Mumpower, Dunn and Ellis thwarted Peterson’s efforts by opposing a vote on the issue during the work session — and in so doing, added dishonor to an already embattled American tradition: Honor your campaign promises.
Mumpower, Dunn and Ellis may argue that they never voted for an eight-lane road — but their opposition to taking a vote betrayed the trust of voters, who expected them to stand up for their stated campaign positions.
This bruising about-face comes at a time when faith in the Franchise is at an all-time low — its reputation tainted for many by the meteoric rise in campaign spending and the specter of influence-peddling by well-financed special interests.
Perhaps Mumpower, Dunn and Ellis have changed their earlier positions opposing an eight-lane highway without publicly discussing it. If so, as leaders, they owe it to the voters to explain their thinking.
The eight-lane debate has been simmering for years, yet Council has refused to address the issue and stake a position as the governing body representing the city.
Push must now come to shove. Our young and elderly are being pushed indoors by chronic air pollution, but our city has yet to shove back. All the while, advocates for the eight lanes harp on the need to accommodate traffic volumes — as if driving unimpeded down mega-highways is a God-given right. It isn’t. Clean air, arguably, is.
The long hours of citizen input at numerous public-planning sessions held by the DOT demonstrated local citizens’ willingness to stand up for their right of self-determination — to define who and what we are as a community.
Council’s refusal to say a word on the matter is arguably an insult to this active and caring community.
At issue is not a loop highway to divert thousands of trucks around our fair city. We’re preparing to put up a giant “green light” to interstate traffic and the forces of urban sprawl, which will send ever-increasing volumes of traffic through our town.
If an eight-lane highway is built through Asheville, history will someday make it clear that the decision was made not by citizens, but by special-interests, including an influence-peddling DOT, short-sighted local business people and a few scurrilous politicians.
We regret having to write such harsh criticism of Council members, but we do so in the hopes of convincing them to take a public stand, and not hide behind petty excuses. If they need to change their positions, so be it — but voters are entitled to explanations.
It’s not too late yet for Council to vote on what kind of superhighway we want passing through our town.