At Tuesday’s meeting, Asheville City Council member Bill Russell voted against accepting federal grants, annexations and additional spending. Most of these measures passed 6-1, with only him dissenting. Why does all of this seem so familiar?
Russell voted against accepting federal stimulus funds to put new security systems into the public works building and to plan for fuel shortages. He also voted against grants for bus-route furniture. These initiatives didn’t cost the city any funds, but Russell reasoned that “we’ve got to start saying ‘no’ to some things.” He voted against endorsing MAIN’s pursuit of a cloud computing grant. He voted against moving forward on 12 annexations, stating that, on principle, he’s opposed to involuntarily bringing properties into the city. In a pre-meeting work session, he stated his opposition to raising property taxes, a move some Council members are considering in an effort to ease the city’s budget woes. To be fair, Mayor Terry Bellamy, concerned about the cost of providing services, voted against one of the annexations as well, and Vice Mayor Brownie Newman has also announced his commitment to not raising property taxes.
Still, observers of city politics may see shades of Council member Carl Mumpower — who lost his bid for a third term last fall — in Russell’s recent actions. Those 6-1 votes, with Mumpower dissenting, were common during the local psychologist’s eight years on Council, on many of the same issues Russell’s voting against now. Mumpower was (and still is, in his role as a columnist) a very polarizing figure. Depending on who you believe, he’s an extreme right-wing ideologue with delusions of grandeur, or a lonely crusader for integrity and fiscal responsibility. Like Russell is now, Mumpower was, for a time, the sole Republican on the city’s governing body.
Of course, there are substantial differences between the two men’s rhetorical styles — Russell tends to be more reserved — and as the new Council members are just now getting into their business, it remains to be seen if Russell’s oppositional streak is a fluke or a trend. Still, it appears that those who predicted the end of 6-1 votes with Mumpower’s departure were mistaken.
— David Forbes