Letters to the editor

Forum failed to fully inform public

I attended the Sept. 8 forum on the Asheville Civic Center, presented by the Civic Center Commission, the League of Women Voters, and the Mountain Xpress. I was impressed by the large number of people who turned up for the debate and the earlier tour conducted by Center Director David Pisha. Max Alexander, chairman of the Civic Center Commission, and Maxine Dalton, the evening’s moderator, presented a professional event for the public to hear three panelists express opinions about the future of the Civic Center. Unfortunately, the [discussion] was a disappointment. It failed to address the main areas of concern and gave the public only vague opinions and half-brained ideas. The audience was invited to “vote” on a set of broad statements about the Civic Center, but it was unclear how this collective sentiment would be used.

The panelists offered opinions to prepared questions, sometimes in an unnecessarily provocative manner, and there was some mild debate. But their advice came only from personal experiences with no facts or studies to support their views. Only former City Council member Ed Hay had any background in the actual planning and guidance of the Civic Center, and that was four years ago. During the tour prior to the forum, Mr. Pisha offered general information on the Center’s operation, but he did not highlight any specific current problems. It was clear that the Center continues to serve as a valuable venue for both public and private functions, and is not so dilapidated as to be totally unusable. Nor is it so antiquated that bookings are in decline; there seems to be considerable demand for dates in all of its different facilities.

So what’s wrong? Plenty. The building’s systems are so worn out they present a great hazard to performers and audience alike, and the aged design of the auditorium severely limits the quality of entertainment.

Earlier this year, the commission produced a “white paper” listing problems and making recommendations. That paper, which I read online at the Mountain Xpress Web site, was not discussed at this forum. Indeed, none of the issues identified by the commission were discussed in any practical way that would allow the public to understand the many options and difficult choices for repairing or changing the facility.

There have been plenty of formal studies from consulting groups. Perhaps the single area of agreement between all of them and the citizens present at this forum is that our community needs a better Civic Center. But what kind? How large? Where? Who will use it? The commission is charged with reviewing the Center’s management and operation, and developing objectives for programing and fees. They have a responsibility to catalog how the community uses the arena, auditorium and exhibit areas, and how best to improve the Center when there is a demand for better facilities. This forum was not a useful way to do that.

Instead of a panel of windy commentators, there should have been a representative from one of the major arts organizations who could speak to the facility’s deficiencies and the requirements of modern productions. There should have been someone with an engineering or architectural background to explain design and construction choices when remodeling or rebuilding. There should have been someone from the local hotel/tourism associations to present their interests in a more sophisticated Civic Center. And there should have been a representative of City Council who could explain the obstacles to financing major projects, and who could account for the delays in making previously recommended changes to the Center.

Public discussion should be about prioritizing problems, creating workable solutions, and weighing alternative ideas against available funds. Some conditions, like the worn carpet and uncomfortable seats, are cosmetic and have easily understood costs. Other issues, like the dangerously obsolete stage equipment or the limited concession facilities, have solutions but create new problems, such as scheduling time for construction. And still others, like the horrible acoustics in the auditorium or the inadequate loading-ramp space, may be fixed, but only with a new building or a new location.

Is there a demand for a better concert auditorium? Will fans support a larger sports arena? Would a modern conference center attract more business? Are there sufficient public funds to construct a new center, or only enough funds for repairs? These are big questions that need vigorous civic debate. The citizens of Asheville and Buncombe County deserve to hear clear answers and real vision on the best direction to take, and it should be from people who are informed and involved in the future for our community center.

— Michael Brubaker
Asheville

Opinions are still out

I appreciate that so many citizens attended the Community Forum on the Future of the Civic Center on Sept. 8. I also commend the Mountain Xpress for their support of the event, their excellent background and coverage of the event, and their continuing commitment to bring focus and clarity to the issues that concern us and our community.

I also want to report on the responses from the audience to questions about the Civic Center, as recorded from the forum. Seventy to 80 percent of the responses indicated that the Center should be greatly enhanced and updated to allow for a full range of performances, events and other uses. Eighty percent felt that the Center should remain in its current location. Forty to 50 percent felt that funding for the Center should be provided by the city or county or the state. Parenthetically, 41 percent felt that none of these entities, nor private organizations, should provide funding. Eighty-four percent felt that private management contracts should be considered for the Center, and finally, 100 percent of the respondents felt that the Civic Center is a valuable resource that should continue to be available to the citizens of the region.

The Asheville Civic Center Commission plans to make this data available to our elected representatives. I’d also like to ask Xpress readers to log onto the Web site, www.mountainx.com, and take the survey with questions similar to those posed to the audience at the forum. Make your views known! We also plan on conducting, in conjunction with the Management Department at UNCA, an additional survey on similar issues.

As with the audience responses, all of this empirical data will be made available to our elected officials to use in making decisions about the future of the Civic Center.

— Max Alexander, Chair
Asheville Civic Center Commission
Asheville

Appreciating Hair

All the people who worked on and supported the performance of Hair at the Diana Wortham Theatre (Sept. 9 and 10) deserve a thank you — for the reminder.

— Michael Harney Jr.
Asheville

Educating with artificial turf

As a teacher in our county schools, I enter my classroom each day ready to teach and glad to have a great job with bright children. However, each day I also face dilapidated walkways, cracked cement floors, ancient plumbing, a classroom with holes in the floor, creatures living in the walls, no Internet connection and an old blackboard, and severe overcrowding throughout the school.

I look from my classroom window directly across the field at the construction crew laying the rubber and artificial grass for one of this county’s three new football stadiums. It would be impossible to overlook the irony between what our politicians say our priorities are and the issues that receive immediate funding from a crunched budget. Though researchers find that small class size is the one intervention that yields results in reading and math improvement, education money is channeled elsewhere.

How transparent and valiant is the talk that conceals the underlying values of our society. Children are not rewarded for attaining academic excellence, but for competence in football, popular music or acting. It’s not hard to understand why many young students choose to drop out of school or work only hard enough to stay on the team. When our young people watch teachers drive up in 12-year-old clunkers, wearing 10-year-old clothes and worn-out expressions, they can clearly see that working hard at education doesn’t really pay off. Contrast that with the shiny and brand-new, artificial green turf outside, and the glamour of TV football.

It is not had to surmise, from the improvement of three existing football stadiums at our county high schools, where the priorities of our school administrators truly lie. These stadiums serve the few students who are big and tough enough to make the football team through — not academic excellence, but size, weight and/or ferocity. It’s hard to understand a society that will ignore education research and will endorse building new football stadiums costing over $15 million, when our schools remain sub-par. I believe we, as a society, need to show our young people what we value by putting our tax dollars to work building new schools or updating our old schools, while we encourage our children to work hard and shine in education, not flashy football.

— Name withheld by request
Weaverville

Opening hearts and closets

Like many Americans, I have been glued to the television watching the horrible Hurricane Katrina unfold, then the awful situation at the Super Dome and Convention Center, which sickened me. Sitting on my couch watching the images, driving to work listening to the radio, and searching the Web, I felt powerless. I gave what little money I could because that’s what the news is saying people really need. My heart broke seeing the children being separated from their parents, and wives from their husbands; I cried watching the pets being left behind, and all the dead bodies great and small floating in the rancid water.

Finally, my heart grew warm when I saw the people being taken in by Houston, then Denver, then Georgia, West Virginia and even right here in North and South Carolina. Then, walking out of my house this morning, I felt the brisk chill in the air, and I thought of this coat I received for Christmas one year but haven’t worn. It is warm, new and sitting in the back of my closet not being used. I wondered how many people who fled the Gulf Coast do not have clothes, much less coats. Then “Coats for Katrina” came to me.

So now comes the part that involves you. I wonder how many coats you might have that you either do not need or want and just haven’t made time to take to the thrift store. Here is your chance to literally warm the hearts of as many people as we can. Go to your closet, [collect] your unwanted coats, and take them to Hearts with Hands, the Salvation Army or ABCCM. Tell them (or tag the article) it’s for the Katrina people. Please make sure the coats are clean and in good shape. I know right here in our little town of Asheville, we are processing 60 evacuees per day. Coats for Katrina can help warm your heart and theirs.

— Tanya Britton
Fairview

Environmental, political limits are being tested

Katrina was a climatic event with political repercussions that should include our local elections. Aside from the obvious inflammation of the sores already festering from this Republican administration and their priorities for the rich and funding cuts for the collective good, Katrina connects government policy with our environment and oil. Whether this was a hurricane spawned from globally warmed waters or from a natural cycle, global warming is happening and is affecting the severity of our weather patterns. The lack of environmental attention over a long time is catching up with us.

The lack of natural wetlands caused by altering the Mississippi caused more flooding because there was no buffer area. The Bush administration has cut funding for wetlands preservation.

Trying to engineer a better route for the Mississippi, rather than working with the natural tendencies of the river, causes unforeseen problems. Just as we are now undoing the damage we did to the Everglades in Florida, we face the same problems in New Orleans.

The temporary shortage of oil is a glimpse of things to come. With supply stretched to the max, any disruptions — either natural or manmade — send the oil market in a spin. Supply is limited. Demand will continue to rise unless we take significant steps to curb our consumption. Lots of technological choices are out there, and more are on the way: biofuels, mass transportation, green building, Smart Growth, alternative energy, etc. The recent energy bill by our federal government gave the lion’s share of the benefit to the oil companies that are making record profits, keeping us tied to undemocratic governments for supply [of an energy source] which contributes to global warming. There are some conservation and renewable tax credits that should be taken advantage of, but the benefits were extremely tilted away from windmills.

In our local elections, we have candidates that care about fostering an environmentally sustainable system. Robin Cape and Chris Pelly are up for City Council positions and deserve our support. Other local governments have implemented sustainable strategies ranging from government procurement policies of recyled products to purchasing hybrid and biodiesel vehicles to mandating green-building practices for residential and commercial buildings. A new local government is needed that understands the changes that the new energy and environmental realties require.

— Boone Guyton
Asheville

Death and politics join forces

I know some of you are already aware, but for those of you who are not, the contracts to rebuild New Orleans are all going to no-bid contractors, just like in Iraq. It’s ultimately in corporate Bush supporters’ best interest for the administration to reduce our overall preparedness by hiring political buddies to run agencies they don’t know the first thing about. That just guarantees something will go wrong and ensures one of many private contractors can step in and profit off of the mess that is created. [The plan’s] simplicity is brilliant.

Now there is talk of creating another agency to oversee all of the passing out of contracts, in order to stop corruption (not to mention a committee to investigate who to blame). Well, that just leads to bigger government, which Bush has never seemed to frown on when it creates jobs for his buddies.

I think that politics will be the death of us all if nuclear war doesn’t get us first. Oh, wait — the cause of a nuclear war will be politics. Never mind, I guess politics will be the death of us all after all.

— Trey Carland
Candler

New Orleans? See y’all there!

For the past couple of years, I have been making an effort to simplify my life. During biannual purges, I let go of old birthday cards, ticket stubs and sometimes even photos. My latest effort to empty my drawers was in July. As sentimental as the process is, this one was different, especially in retrospect. I came across a bumper sticker I’ve been holding on to for years. We all had one — on our car, refrigerator, guitar, or stashed in a drawer somewhere. “New Orleans … Proud to call it home.” The sticker, though faded and worn, made the cut. I just couldn’t part with it. I put it back into the drawer along with other things salvaged for a possible six more months.

Though I have lived in Asheville for over four years now, New Orleans is still and always will be home to me. Jazz Fest, crawfish boils, Tippitina’s, Saints games with my dad, hurricaine parties, my historic St. Charles Avenue high school are all things I hold dear to my heart. However, it is the people, most of all, that make that great city what it is and always will be, [and] a home to many that may not have walked the French Quarter streets in years. [We are] now safe in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and in many other places around our world, [but] New Orleans is still, for many, a place we are all proud to call home. The people of New Orleans will make it through this. And we will all continue to do all that we can to help them. I’m looking forward to Jazz Fest, 2006. See y’all there.

— Fairleigh Cook
Asheville

It’s only an experiment

Marx drove himself crazy thinking about it. It was staring him right in the face. And as they clear the bodies from New Orleans, it stares America in the face. Here, the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith usually does its dirty work in the shadows, under a veil of opportunity and equity. Avoided exit ramps and straight-ahead glances give the average American an out. It’s as simple as changing the channel.

Most of America is immune from the ills of the Third World. Our borders and guns protect against warlords, dictators, militias, insurgents, terrorists and communists. But what about hurricanes, looters, corporate CEO’s, inept presidents and career politicians? Well, they only threaten those of us without good jobs, insurance or credit. There’s always democratic recourse, right? The working poor can vote. It gives them access to the democratic process but, customarily, not the decision-making process. That costs $2,000 a plate.

The history of America can be divided into two groups: freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, hurricane survivors and refugees.

So, how is this experiment called America going?

— Andrew D’Onofrio
Asheville

Day of reckoning

As a new mother, I am afraid for my family in today’s America. We have left our own to drown and die, homeless with no food, aged with no medicine. Hurricane Katrina stripped us of many homes and some lives, but the government has recklessly let many more lives slip away! There is no excuse for the lack of response to this national emergency, and more — the lack of preparation. What is our Homeland Security for again? It appears that if a “foreigner” damages the great USA, we are quick to fix everything, but if old Mother Nature does it, we sit back and watch and wait for a new beach? Is the response to a tragedy really determined by the source of the damage? Or, are people in New York just that much more important than people in New Orleans?

We need serious help for our citizens in the South, and accountability for the people who have worsened this situation through neglect. The government and the media need to tell the real story and send help now! We need an independent investigation of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

If we don’t do something, and fast, we will lose more and more of our own to this disaster, future tragedies, and mass exodus of our brightest minds. We are a better country than this. Where is the “love thy neighbor” in leaving people to drown and starve? Is anybody listening?

We need change, and we need it now.

— Meredith Law
Weaverville

Beyond the blue horizon

The recent event that turned New Orleans on her ear, Hurricane Katrina, had far-reaching and some unexpected ripple effects here in WNC.

The interrupted flow of petroleum to this area caused a brief panic for supply and now has a more lasting effect on price. For two days after that initial panic, however, there was perhaps a 50 percent reduction in the cars and trucks on the road. Did anyone notice that for the first time in years, you could actually see the horizon again? The sky was so clear of smog, the mountain tops were vivid in their clarity. The blue sky went all the way down to the trees, not just visible by looking straight up. This was an immediate effect of our changed behavior.

For me, this speaks so loudly of the argument of power plant versus vehicle emissions regarding our source of pollution. Environmental conservation in our cars (and homes) is still a necessity, but what a conclusive argument for the damage just our cars and trucks do to our air quality.

Now that we are back on the road and smog is lingering once again, please try and be conscious of the effect we all have on the air we breathe. Think about every trip to town, share a ride, ride a bike, and turn your engine off when you go into a store. It is sad that it took a catastrophe to jog our complacency, and that many people in the [Gulf Coast area] were so dramatically affected — but what an opportunity for us to do things differently.

— Mark Dulken
Mills River

Make it independent

We must have an independent investigation into the response given by the federal government. Enough has been covered up by this administration. As Americans we need to know that we will not have another fiasco like this ever again. They have dropped the ball again and again, and we have let them get by with it. Now we need to unite and demand an independent panel to investigate this matter.

— Denise Russo
Asheville

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