Letters to the editor

Please, please clean our downtown streets

A short while ago, there was a real push to clean the notices off city utility poles. That is an important concern, but what about our sidewalks? I am a local Ashevillean with strong roots in this community, and proud of it. But as a member of this community — which hosts street festivals and has been named in the top 10 desirable cities to live in — I’m embarrassed: We have a dirty downtown!

I work in sales and spend much time downtown. Our sidewalks are filthy! I’m always careful to watch were I step. Trash, food scraps, clothing and dog feces are often in my path … not to mention the sleeping homeless or a panhandling street character.

After the Bele Chere festival last weekend, with its food vendors located around town, we are in desperate need of a pressure washing. Doesn’t Asheville own a street sweeper? If not, we need to put that high on our priority list!

It takes a conscious effort from all residents to keep a town free of litter. But we also need more effort from our local government to provide the equipment and crews to clean our sidewalks and streets. Let’s keep Asheville beautiful! I want to proudly say I’m from Asheville.

— Johanna Wolfe

Cloudy vision, Mr. P?

Mark Pompilio confirmed my worst fears about North Carolina’s educational system [Commentary, “The enduring marvel of Bele Chere,” July 22]. The cloud usually associated with Hiroshima is not a funnel cloud. Too long on a local beat, Mr. P?

— Irma Max
Black Mountain

Health care is just all right with me

Tom McCurry [Letters, July 22] seems stuck on the idea that nature and its laws allow him certain rights and absolve him of certain responsibilities. He speaks as if being productive is some obvious event to which we must all adhere, and yet, he ignores the fact that we define what productivity is.

In modern America, it would seem like some of the most productive people are athletes and CEOs. What exactly does Michael Jordan produce, aside from an amazing jump shot? According to Tom, orphans, the mentally handicapped, the disabled and the unfortunate need to ask for charity in order to receive decent treatment. If these people are not able to be “productive,” they don’t deserve health care. On the other hand, someone who lives off their inheritance, because they are lucky enough to be born a Rockefeller or a Kennedy, can afford the best health care anywhere, whether they are productive or not.

We are a society defining its priorities. Somehow, teaching is a low priority, and basketball and movies are high. When we reward these, with the obvious inequities involved, we distribute wealth in certain ways that allow access to health care for certain individuals and deny it to others. We are governed by laws of our own making, within the limits of nature.

We even define what is stealing. When is it OK to take from another? Should we eliminate taxes altogether — and then set up toll booths on all roads to pay for them? How would we defend our collective [selves] when need be? How would we deal with the environmental mess that we collectively create … [unless by] taxes on our produced wealth?

Is it OK for companies to make profits and keep them for the owners, or are the owners stealing from the workers who produced the goods or services to begin with (and thus generated the profits)? We seem to reward profit-[makers] more than labor, but this is a social decision on how to run our economic relations. Is it OK for the GM union to strike and take away potential earnings from the owners, or should workers have to work at whatever wages and conditions demanded of them? We seem to have established the right of people to organize to affect these situations — since before that right was established, you had child labor and the kind of sweat shops everyone so abhors in El Salvador and China nowadays.

Is it stealing a person’s possibilities to deny them health care? By denying health care to all, we steal not only people’s personal potential, but also what they potentially may contribute to us all.

We continually define what are social and what are personal problems and rights. It would seem that Tom would be among those who argue against Head Start programs — and then demand more prisons to house those who never got enough training to find a legal livelihood. Is taking taxes for prisons less of a theft than taking them for education? Is it stealing a child’s potential to sell them crack, even though the sale produces a large profit, with which one could pay for his/her health care?

There is a continuum of personal and collective responsibilities, which we are constantly [redefining] as our situation changes. Inheritance is something that helps perpetuate the gap between rich and poor. It is the clearest form of unearned income — much clearer to me than welfare or food stamps. We don’t get it by being productive, we get it by being lucky — and then we can buy good health care.

The social setup may not be “rocket science,” as Tom says, but it is much more complicated than he assumes, with his simplistic ideas of stealing and productivity. The fact is, there are a lot of people who don’t “just sit and make excuses,” who [still] can’t afford decent health care. Productive people can get hit by a tornado or a layoff as easy as the lazy ones Tom is so worried about.

Some people do “become wealthy by serving others,” and some by taking advantage of them. By denying health care to people who can’t afford it, I would think one would be in the latter category.

The world is not one that we observe and obey, but one that we participate in and affect. Health care should be a right because it can be, and like Head Start programs and public education and public highways, it is a wise investment that will more than pay for itself.

— Boone Guyton

Boone Guyton is a productive contractor with lousy health-care coverage.

Belligerent cops mar Bele Chere

Last weekend’s Bele Chere arts and music festival was a wonderfully organized and planned event. The musicians and other performers were top caliber, and [their booking] showed much thought and intelligence on [the part] of the festival organizers. Bele Chere is a wonderful opportunity for Asheville to show off some of its most talented musicians and artists. Asheville has a thriving creative and artistic community, and what better place to put it on display than Bele Chere.

Early Saturday evening, the Asheville Police Department embarrassed itself and the entire city by trying to break up a beautiful display of this creativity. Around 5 p.m., a group of young Asheville residents came into town marching with a huge papier-mache dragon. The dragon had been constructed with the idea of livening up an already enthusiastic Bele Chere crowd. It was an endeavor that clearly involved much time and thought by the free-thinking individuals who created it. It was the kind of undertaking that makes Asheville a unique and interesting place.

Unfortunately, the Asheville Police Department felt that this type of expression could not be tolerated. The police turned a harmless display of creativity into a standoff between themselves and the marchers, the whole thing in front of a bewildered crowd of festivalgoers.

Upon reaching the Vance Monument downtown, the six people carrying the dragon and the entourage of onlookers, which they had picked up along the way, were confronted by a group of angry police officers. The police handled the situation in what appeared to be the worst possible way. They acted as if they were a gang of school-yard bullies. The police attempted to confiscate the dragon, needlessly escalating a harmless situation into what appeared to be near-riot circumstances, as a crowd gathered around them and chanted, “Let the dragon go.” One officer found it necessary to pull out his can of mace as a threatening gesture toward one of the dragon carriers, and several other officers began pushing the marchers around. The standoff ended with the officers on the scene ripping the dragon apart in a childish but very scary attempt to destroy not only a work of art, but an expression of freedom.

The officers involved in the incident acted inappropriately and in an unnecessary, belligerent manner. This is not the way such a situation should be handled by our police force. The police should be on hand to prevent and react to festival-related problems, not to create them with the mean-spirited and antagonistic behavior they displayed on Saturday.

— Isaac Stanford

Community councils can work

In your July 22 issue, Ray Anders [Letters] writes dubiously about the community-council movement, expressing the fear shared by others that the councils will become — chiefly — agencies for zoning.

He may be right, but I suggest that the councils could become agents of zoning control, rather than promoters. It depends on whether people like Mr. Anders, who care what happens in their communities, take part in these organizations.

The pending petition for the East Reynolds Community Council is based on two premises:

1) To preserve property values in the area between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Minehole Gap, as well as the mountains to the north and south; and

2) To control the commercial development along Route 74A, recently designated a Scenic Byway, and to preserve the rural landscape as an attractive approach to the city of Asheville.

A board of directors will review community affairs brought before it and, after holding public hearings, will make appropriate recommendations — reflecting the majority opinion of the community — to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Judging from viewpoints expressed in recent meetings, there can be little doubt that the issues of annexation and zoning will be brought before the board, but the board will have no initiative authority.

How such a board will conduct itself depends entirely on the active interest taken by the citizens of the area. If they take part and serve on the board and [related] committees, they will be able to control what happens in their community and keep developments from becoming political issues. The county Planning Department has expressed its willingness to provide whatever background information will be helpful.

Without this type of democratic operation, I am prone to agree with Mr. Anders that the community councils would be useless — even a hazard — to the intelligent handling of community affairs.

It need not be “neighbor against neighbor,” but rather neighbors in cooperation. The Limestone and Beaverdam councils have worked successfully for about 15 years. There is no reason why a Fairview or a Reynolds council can’t do the same, given a chance to organize and the support of the community to operate.

— Norman C. Smith

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