Letters to the editor

Full-time city deserves full-bore shakeup

When we vote for mayor and City Council members, we are voting for those who hire the city manager and appoint all volunteers to city commissions.

I sat in on the Transit Commission this winter, and asked for a show of hands of those present who depended on bus transportation at least once every two weeks: two out of 14. How could this commission represent those who cart groceries home, enduring long waits and spoilage; those who show up at appointments and work tardy and weather-beaten; those who live as shut-ins, deprived of Asheville evenings and weekends? This is economic discrimination and should be actionable.

I sat in on the Downtown Social Issues Task Force and had to plead for time to comment and question. How can a task force that proposes that victims of graffiti be penalized for tardy removal, and that panhandling be alleviated by cash boxes, manage a 10-year plan to end homelessness? The result of a cosmetic and mercenary mindset will be human warehousing, which is economic discrimination and should be actionable.

There was one shining moment nearly two years ago when hundreds of concerned citizens gathered at the Renaissance Hotel to question the Grove Park Inn (GPI)/Pack Square Conservancy (PSC) condo proposal. Bob Oast refused to answer a particular question, demurring that he was the attorney for the city. Spontaneously and almost unanimously, the citizenry responded, “We are the city!” — and shortly thereafter GPI withdrew [the proposal]. But we cannot afford to respond in two-year intervals. Recently PSC was consulted on the College Street office building. PSC should have immediately held a charette for public input. Council unanimously approved the building, a 10-story, poor relation to the monstrous BB&T. This is misrepresentation and should be actionable.

To the next City Council, I propose a complete revision of the Unified Development Ordinance, including building-height restrictions and a complete review of the hiring and appointment process of staff, commissions, task forces and ad hoc committees (and their respective powers). Further, I propose that certain positions, including director of planning and development and city attorney, be elected positions, accountable by ballot. Then our Council may be able to consider what makes a city a city rather than append these concerns to the rear end of big business. Finally, if we ever were, we are not now a part-time town. We deserve better than a part-time council. A lack of representation, or misrepresentation, is both cause and effect of economic discrimination and should be actionable at the polls on Oct. 11 and Nov. 8.

— Bradden D. Burns

Too close for comfort, or health

I recently moved to Asheville from New York, and have the privilege of living in one of Asheville’s oldest buildings and am a proud tenant. However, I was horrified to learn from the mayor that a huge, monstrous parking garage is going to be erected behind the Battery Park Apartments and will also wrap around one side. This project will be level with the sixth floor of our building and is to be 15 feet away from our walls and windows. It will forever change the skyline of Asheville.

In my short time here in Asheville, I have not seen much in the media concerning this huge parking garage. Why have the residents of Asheville not been fully informed as to what it taking place behind our beautiful historical building? Why all the secrecy over this monstrous project?

I have been led to believe that the mayor and his Council members made a commitment to improve air quality in Asheville. Is this garage considered in this commitment? Is this garage being erected because the tenants living in Battery Park Apartments are low-income people? I do know that if this were a luxury condominium building, no such garage would be erected behind or around it. So why should we suffer this indignity?

Is anyone in this town concerned about the disastrous results this building will have on the health of the tenants in our building? With the garage being only 15 feet, half of the tenants will no longer have any natural light or air. As you must know, people suffering from asthma, bronchial problems, lung problems, etc., rely on fresh air, and they will no longer be able to open their windows because of the fumes from the 650 cars expected to be parked in this garage. How many people will become ill from the constant carbon monoxide fumes from the starting up of cars, the revving up of engines, etc.?

— Patricia Norman

Bloggers, unite!

The Aug. 17 issue of Mountain Xpress included an excellent example of what makes Asheville truly unique [“Into the Blogosphere”]. Sure, I was aware of blogs; however, I was never really in them. Steve Shanafelt’s reporting on the local blog community was truly enlightening. I have visited and bookmarked many of the blogs presented in the article (in fact, I visit the AshVegas site daily for a hilarious look at our local news.)

I have visited the Matt Drudge site daily for several years and was not aware that I was keeping up with a blog until I read Shanafelt’s article. Every citizen has a passionate voice about something. Don’t rest on your hindquarters! Let your voice be heard! Bloggers, unite!

— Phillip Bullard

Actions speak louder than skepticism

While I read the reports of the Aug. 16 City Council and commissioners’ meetings, I couldn’t help but sense the skepticism over Vice Mayor Mumpower’s new drug commission. First of all, he’s running for re-election, and this might be a ploy to get votes. Secondly, the committee was not established in the conventional, official manner. We can add to this my own lack of confidence in any committee.

But let’s play devil’s advocate for a while. Who in their right mind would vote for a candidate who was not doing anything to get re-elected? Mumpower may or may not be pouring on extra steam as election time approaches, but he’s been a consistent hard-hitter in the community throughout his term of service. Next, suppose he had followed normal protocols for setting up a proper commission. I think he’d already been waiting for a year [or] two. Supposing, circa 2016 A.D., the mayor of Asheville got around to taking the initiative. Then we’d get bogged down in the appointment process. Rather than getting luminaries (reporter Cecil Bothwell’s word) onboard, we’d get — government appointments. Need I say more?

Last, while many of the committees on which I’ve served have been nothing more than a group of people sitting around a table trying to feel important, Mumpower has a way of translating the self-hypnotic symbolism for which government is famous into action with impact. He likes to quote Hemingway, “Never mistake motion for action,” and one of his slogans for his volunteer group that provides opportunities to kids in public housing is, “Find a need, find a way.”

By actually doing things, Mumpower serves as an example to all of us, illustrating that most of our barriers are only figments of our own imaginations.

Yeah, I’m voting for him.

— Leslee Kulba

Water war produces eerie echoes

There’s a weird link between the war in Iraq and the “water war” in Asheville. Like President Bush’s administration, the Asheville City Council has made a strategic error. Our president apparently spent way too much time planning the war while ignoring the reconstruction effort. As a result, Iraq is suffering from a lack of basic necessities like electricity and water, while insurgent operations continue to disrupt daily life.

Likewise, our City Council apparently spent too much time planning to withdraw from the water agreement with the county while ignoring what comes next. As a result, the city and county residents are threatened with higher water rates, legal costs and an uncertain future. Meanwhile, the water infrastructure continues to deteriorate.

Now, I’ve been a resident of Asheville for only two years, and I’ve seen the City Council do some good in that time (Wal-Mart notwithstanding), but I can’t believe that they agreed to dissolve something as rife with potential political and real consequences as the water agreement without planning for every contingency. Instead, it appears that they stumbled into negotiations with the county without a clear plan of action. Meetings with county officials reached a fever pitch as the deadline loomed, but in the end, nothing came of them.

I can’t blame the county government. They didn’t take that first step. So what were the reasons for the city breaking the water agreement? I can’t even remember the original reasons, if indeed they were even clearly stated. It’s another eerie similarity to the war in Iraq.

So now we, the citizens of Asheville-Buncombe, are stuck with a mess created by our political leaders, and we’re going to have to pay to clean it up. Court costs (wasted money, in my opinion) seem likely, and to what end? So the city can outright own a crumbling water resource? So the city can force annexation on new development?

Does anyone have the answers? I’d like to know why we’re going to spend all those tax dollars. Who’s idea was it? What was the City Council thinking? And most importantly, as we head into election season, is it time for a change?

— Mark H. Bloom

Blind faith is not patriotism

I expect that this letter is just one of many written in response to Richard Rice’s letter in your Aug. 24 issue [“Sheehan Needs to Change Her Target”].

Mr. Rice asks and answers the question: “What did she think the military does? They fight and risk being killed.” However, when somebody joins the military, they also enter an explicit agreement that they will only be asked to fight and risk being killed if necessary to defend their country or its interests. Ms. Sheehan’s complaint is not that her son was killed, but that he was killed in a war that has done nothing to defend his country and has succeeded only in fueling further anti-American sentiment in the Middle East — an opinion which, if polls are to be believed, is shared by a majority of Americans and, more critically, by 61 percent of servicemen who have returned from Iraq.

This said, that is not my main criticism of Mr. Rice’s letter; that plaudit is saved for the suggestion that protesting the war or President Bush’s leadership only serves to “endanger the lives of the brave men and women involved in the conflict,” and the insinuation that it is therefore in some way unpatriotic. Patriotism is, by definition, “the love of and devotion to one’s country, its laws and traditions.” It is not an American tradition to start wars or authorize the torture of enemy combatants. However, it is an American tradition to speak out against people or ideas one disagrees with and to hold one’s elected representatives to account. There is nothing patriotic about blindly following the actions of a leader who has done nothing but harm the country, its interests and reputation.

By protesting in Texas, thousands of miles from Iraq, Ms. Sheehan is doing nothing to endanger the lives of servicemen fighting overseas. However, if she was to follow Mr. Rice’s absurd suggestion to travel to Iraq to protest there, she would cause considerable further loss of blood — to herself, Iraqi civilians and the American servicemen who would be required to protect her.

With that exception, I agree with Mr. Rice’s suggestion that the families of war victims ought to protest directly to those who have caused the loss of their relatives. With that in mind, perhaps he will join me in helping to transport to Washington the families of those thousands of Iraqis who have died of American guns and bombs.

— Daniel Day

Thirteen years of practice should be enough

The voting for CAFTA is over. The connection between Congressman Taylor and CAFTA is now moot. He doesn’t worry about holding his seat in Congress — he has what is termed a “safe seat,” and his vote for or against this bill doesn’t matter to his constituents. Many of them may not even know or care what the bill was about.

It strains the credibility of the average person, however, to hear that Rep. Taylor, now in his seventh term, was confused or cast a vote that didn’t get counted. Congressional procedure allows for such errors to be rectified. On the last two pay increases Congress voted itself, did the Congressman’s vote not count? And in this current session of Congress, he was able to figure out how to register his vote against a marker to honor Dr. Martin Luther King.

Clearly a man doesn’t earn the title “one of the wealthiest men in Congress” by sloppy voting or having his vote not count. If he is confused or doesn’t understand how to get his vote registered, he should leave office.

— Allen Thomas

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