Readers, you had a lot to say about local politics and civic goings-on in the region this year. From tourism and development to bears and the county government scandal, here’s a look back at some of the hot topics that sparked your opinions.
• Among the letters to the editor we received on the environment, a March 14 one from MountainTrue rep Eliza Stokes, “Local Government Should Better Fund Public Transit,” made the case for allocating dollars to public transportation from both a social justice and environmental sustainability standpoint. It was both widely viewed and commented on — with both supporters and detractors of the idea.
“Lulz,” commenting on mountainx.com, offered in part: “The original transit system in the city was funded by private entities. Maybe we should look at that instead because [government-run] failures are getting stale.” Countered “Jay Reese”: “Are you kidding? The automobile and its infrastructure has been heavily subsidized since the beginning. The government has rammed roads down our throats destroying neighborhoods and the environment. The time [has] come for drivers to pay their way.”
• Letters about immigration set the Xpress website afire with comments, including those in response to a May 23 letter by Charlie Flynn, “Effect of ICE Raids Is Shocking,” which generated 40 comments as readers expressed both sympathy toward the plight of immigrants and support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
• A June 6 commentary on the need for diversity in public green spaces by UNC Asheville student Tamia Dame, “Green and Diverse: The Importance of Integrating Our Public Lands” proved to be one the most well-read and debated opinion pieces this year.
Through 65 online comments on the Xpress website, some of which debated the fundamental premise of her piece, there arrived some apparent flashes of understanding. Wrote “luther blissett”: “As Rahawa Haile noted in her piece for Outside on thru-hiking the AT, the issue for people of color isn’t the trail itself, which creates solidarity, but the treatment in the towns along the way.” “Boatrocker,” who had initially declared the whole topic a nonissue, replied: “Yea, I’d buy that assertion.”
• Starting in June with John Chapman’s letter “Urge Change in Airport Parking Choices,” and continuing throughout the summer, readers blasted the Greater Asheville Regional Airport for “the heavy-handed manner in which our airport authority has coerced more people to park in the new parking deck” — which is more expensive than the surface lots — and posting confusing signage about the parking options to boot. The executive director of the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority, Lew S. Bleiweis, responded with his own letter, explaining how the authority added a new deck and revamped the other parking options to manage the airport’s growth. The brouhaha even inspired a Bee City-themed Brent Brown cartoon, “Terminal Atrocity.”
• Meanwhile, the topic of tourism stirred up opinions from locals and potential tourists alike. Adrienne Fortune, of Montpelier, Vt., penned “Will I Be Welcome in Asheville?” for the July 11 issue — which generated some of the largest numbers of comments and post views this year. She wrote: “Am I welcome in your town? Almost daily, I see another jab at ‘the tourists.’ We seem to be the bane of your existence.” Responses were all over the map, including one from “Big Al,” who replied on the Xpress website: “Answer: Yes, if: A) You bring lots of money to spend. B) You promise to leave when you run out of money.”
• Readers couldn’t get enough of discussing bears, with North Asheville resident Allison Frank getting the ball rolling in her Aug. 1 letter, “Sounding the Alarm About Town Bears,” complaining about government inaction in the face of the prolific local bear population. A cluster of letters and cartoons, two commentaries and numerous online comments later, the issue seemed to go into hibernation with Gary Simonds’ Nov. 28 letter “A Species More Dangerous Than Bears,” which made the point: “I would move that we should focus our concerns and our containment efforts on a spectacularly more dangerous and indiscriminately violent local species, Homo sapiens.”
• The county government scandal, in which two former Buncombe County managers and an assistant county manager were indicted on federal charges — including fraud, conspiracy and receipt of bribes and kickbacks —prompted an Oct. 10 commentary by Teddy Jordan, “At a Crossroads: County Scandal Offers Choices, Opportunity,” a raft of comments throughout the year and one of Molton’s most popular cartoons, “Ideal County Manager.”
• Xpress readers also proved a prolific bunch during the spring primary and fall election seasons, writing no fewer than 45 letters throughout the year on behalf of specific candidates or just urging people to vote, period.
• In this boom town, development spurred letters and longer opinion pieces, including the Sept. 26 “NIMBY Town: Conservative Progressives Hold Asheville Back,” by Adam Rosen, who argued that established progressives opposed to new multifamily development were trying to close the door on Asheville becoming a more inclusive community. Offered Rosen: “But if this obstructionism continues, the results will be predictable. Asheville can become a gilded city, where locals drink from gold-plated reusable straws and feel good about themselves, or it can strive toward a more inclusive vision.”
• And a topic that seemed to appear out of nowhere proved to be a late-fall boon for letter writers and commenters. Anthony E. Ponder’s Oct. 10 letter, “Changes Forced on Civic Clubs Yield Leadership Decline” — which questioned the 1984 Supreme Court decision allowing women to be admitted to civic clubs — kicked off a flurry of letters in opposition, his response to a response, as well as some wry online comments. Wrote “bsummers” on the Xpress website: “And it’s even worse than you think — did you know that some damn fool gave the fillies the right to vote? Soon, she’ll want one of those new ‘double beds.’ And before you know it, she’ll be going off to work, while you stay home to cook.”
• The conflict over what activities should be allowed at 610 Haywood Road in West Asheville — the site of a needle exchange and free-food cafe — sparked supporters and critics of the endeavors to write letters and a commentary, as well as debate the issue in online comments on the Xpress website. The Rev. Shannon Spencer, executive director of the Asheville Poverty Initiative, which operates 12 Baskets Cafe, pleaded for greater understanding of people who are homeless in a Nov. 21 opinion piece. In the same issue, nearby resident and business owner John Root pointed out the problems that had popped up (including discarded needles throughout the neighborhood), while asking for civil discourse about it: “I hope that we all can become better neighbors and find acceptable resolutions to the issues we have.”
No matter what your views may be on any of the topics this year, it’s hard to argue with that sentiment.