I’m beginning to wonder if we, the people of Asheville and Buncombe County, are a bunch of dumbass incompetents. We seem to be mesmerized by the adage that an “expert” is a person with a briefcase who comes from more than 50 miles away.
We have several well-qualified headhunter firms right here in Asheville, but more often than not, local governments insist on contracting with far-off companies to help with hiring decisions. Meanwhile, police chiefs and school superintendents are turning over like hotcakes.
Why can’t we promote from within? We have many fine police officers who have worked their way up through the ranks and deserve consideration for the top job. The same goes for the local schools, which have many excellent teachers whose experience with our system and our area would undoubtedly qualify at least some of them to be outstanding administrators.
These folks know the situation on the ground and don’t require months of orientation to get into the swing of things. Meanwhile, putting employees in dead-end jobs is simply bad business. Maybe if we did more promotion from within, it would help recruitment as well as retention.
But it doesn’t stop there. Every time we have a problem, it seems, we go outside the county to recruit high-priced, self-styled consultants to conduct a study or a survey.
Traffic studies invariably seem to conclude that the proposed residential development will increase traffic. This is news? The NIMBYs then wave these studies in the air like battle flags to prove that this makes all such projects unacceptable.
And then there’s the elitist scourge known as “road diet.” I don’t know how many so-called consultants and tens of thousands of dollars City Council went through until they found one who would bless their desire to reduce Charlotte Street, one of the busier thoroughfares in town, from four lanes to three to enable the handful of bicyclists a week (zero in the winter) who actually use it to ride in a dedicated bike lane. The purported motive is to cram a healthy lifestyle down our throats by forcing people out of their cars and making them walk, ride a bicycle or take a bus. Does it really make sense to sacrifice traffic efficiency for the sake of such a tiny minority when so many people are pressed for time and have to get to work, get their kids to school, etc.
And how about the considerable sum of money the city paid four different consultants — none of them local — to plan the River Arts District. What the hell do they know about the French Broad River?
They don’t seem to grasp that periodic flooding causes horrific damage and we’re left to clean up mud and silt and repair affected property — not to mention the thousands of dollars it will take to restore those fancy new roads and parks. They don’t seem to understand that digging out the roadbed to enable those tall New Belgium Brewing trucks to pass under the railroad bridge is a terribly flawed idea. It will, however, increase the recreational possibilities, because when the river floods, the road there will be a swimming pool in summer and an ice rink in winter.
They also failed to mention that we were buying into the RAD project with Champagne taste and a beer pocketbook. While it is an exciting proposal designed to attract those now-unwanted tourists, it’s already shamefully over budget.
These outside experts are very clever: They know how to give the appearance of inviting citizen input. I’ve attended dozens of these meetings over the years, and they remind me of the Iowa caucuses. There are typically very few minorities, low-income folks, undereducated people or business owners in attendance. The consultant does the flip chart routine, and the hardcore participants jump up and down frantically like teenagers at an Elvis concert, hands in the air, almost wetting their pants in their eagerness to get their brilliant idea written on the chart. The result is a predetermined outcome masquerading as democracy.
The final straw for me came a few months ago when I read about yet another example of asking an outsider to tell us what to do.
The Chamber of Commerce brought “futurist” Rebeca Ryan all the way from Wisconsin to straighten out our problems, hiring her to manage the creation of two major long-term plans. The county commissioners then got on board, tapping Ryan to help produce their own strategic plan.
Her New Age public input sessions, however, merely ensured that the same old breakout groups got to broadcast their opinions. Like her many predecessors, she is ineptly predicting our area’s future while encouraging the setting of unattainable goals.
If Ms. Ryan really wants to be effective, she should start by peering into her crystal ball and revealing to us the ugly truths about our community.
Most local residents don’t give a damn about public housing, judging by the actions of the many heavily organized neighborhoods and the fact that housing densities in the city and county have tended to be pretty restricted. I’ve been involved for many years in local efforts to create more housing that low-income people could actually afford, and just to get politicians to talk to us, we had to call it “workforce housing.”
Most locals aren’t interested in enhanced bus service, either, which they think would mean standing around exposed to the elements while waiting for a bus, having no way to get their groceries home, and a lot of lost time.
If you don’t believe me, schedule a public referendum on spending $10 million to subsidize a proper bus service or build five new parking decks downtown.
Another thing most community members don’t seem to care about is our declining African American population. Other cities are far more attractive to educated, middle-class blacks because of the greater financial and social opportunities and overall level of acceptance they offer, but in Asheville, most folks can’t be bothered about that.
There are many other genuine concerns, but you get the idea.
Meanwhile, Ms. Ryan wants us to solve all these problems because she and her partner might want to move here. Doesn’t she realize that this will make her part of our overpopulation problem? It will also mean no more lucrative Asheville contracts, because we don’t hire dumbass locals for consulting jobs.
If we have to pay so many useless consultants, let’s at least keep the money here. BUY LOCAL!!!
Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, can be reached at email@example.com.