The citizens of Asheville count on City Council, and the people they appoint to boards and commissions, to serve the public interest with fairness and objectivity. While Council members are vetted through the grueling electoral process, members of commissions like Planning and Zoning go through a relatively light screening and merely need four votes to land a seat on a very powerful government body.
This process broke down last month, and Council appointed a person to Planning and Zoning who was later found to have a major conflict of interest that she did not disclose. This conflict involves her husband being a principle investor in the Deal Buick site, a development in north Asheville, that has been and will likely again be a very contentious issue. The Planning and Zoning Commission will play a major role in the zoning and/or review of any future development on that site, as it has in the past. Unfortunately, this applicant failed to disclose this past or current involvement to Council, either in her application or during the interviews.
Even assuming that this was an innocent mistake, it still represents a disturbing turn from the premise that people who have major financial interests hinging on government approvals simply shouldn't be on the very government bodies that do the approving. Planning and Zoning, especially, will likely gain even more authority in development decisions as the Downtown Master Plan is implemented later this year. Given the history of controversial development issues that have divided Asheville, one would hope that City Council would strive to create an atmosphere of trust and accountability on this very important Commission.
City Council can and should revisit this appointment before it takes effect in early April.
— Barry Summers