The Gospel According to Jerry

I recently read an article by Jim Buchanan in the Asheville Citizen-Times about the Arizona Voter Reward Act — which, if approved by voters in November, would offer people a chance to win $1 million just for showing up at the polls and casting their vote. I was reminded of a wonderful story about an experience I had with the late, great Julian Price.

We were eating breakfast one morning at the Battery Park Cafe, and in the course of our usual discussion of local politics, we both expressed concern about the anticipated dismal turnout for an off-year primary election.

We came up with the idea of jointly putting up a cash prize — not $1 million, but enough to make people think about registering and voting. We felt that since we were from opposite ends of the political spectrum, our motive in stimulating a serious turnout (beyond the usual white, upper-middle-class participants) would not be suspect.

We were going to join forces with the Mountain Xpress to publicize and promote the idea. Publisher Jeff Fobes shared our enthusiasm for what we thought was a unique approach.

An informal poll of local political activists found that the conservatives thought it was a terrible idea (because they did not think uninformed people should be encouraged to vote), and the liberals thought it was a wonderful idea (because it would get new people involved in the political process).

We worked on the idea for a couple of weeks, getting more excited by the day. But on the morning before we were going to approve the whole plan and give Jeff the OK to put it in Xpress, someone suggested that it might be a good idea to check on the legality of the plan.

One phone call to the county attorney’s office convinced us that we might better change our minds, as any material incentive to get out the vote could land the perpetrators in jail for a year.

Busted again. Oh, well.

Doin’ the CAN-can

In the continuing saga of the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods versus Staples et al., Mayor Bellamy asked the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill to review the supposedly illegal rulings by the Asheville Planning & Development Department in three recent cases. CAN alleged that these rulings — including the much-maligned Staples building on Merrimon Avenue — violated the Unified Develoment Ordinance. UNC professor David Owens examined in depth the department’s interpretations of the UDO in regard to these projects.

Among the prestigious professor’s conclusions was that it’s not easy to understand the UDO’s bewildering language. He did conclude, however, that the Planning Department had made some errors and mistaken interpretations.

This sent the CAN people racing out into Merrimon Avenue, dancing the can-can, cheering and high-fiving one another. They could be heard chanting the words of the late President Reagan: “Mr. Staples, tear down that wall!”

This only leads me to wonder whether Mayor Bellamy will also request the good professor’s services the next time the Planning Department rules illegally against a lowlife, bottom-feeding developer?

Sticker shock

We are now told that the project to make a park out of a park in City/County Plaza has run into some serious delays due to minor misjudgments by the Pack Square Conservancy. The cost has climbed from $12 million to $17 million and is still escalating. It could be another two or three years before the project is completed.

This must come as terrible news for those who work or have business in the municipal buildings or the surrounding area, all of whom have demonstrated amazing patience.

And given this project’s apparent semipermanence, it seems to me that an attractive fence should be erected to replace the orange police-crime-scene barrier, which is a blatant eyesore even to an inartistic Philistine like me. I am sure it looks like a bombed-out crater in downtown Baghdad to our tourists and visitors.

Where is the Chamber of Commerce on this one?

And the winner is…

City Council has seen fit to establish an award of $10,000 of taxpayers’ money to be given to the “artist of the year.” There is already controversy over how this person is to be selected.

In all fairness, I think the city should appropriate an additional $10,000 to be given to the “greedy developer of the year.” I am sure the selection process would be much simpler.

OK, that’s enough gospel wisdom for one week.

[Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years. He can be reached at]


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