The Mountain Xpress was born in a decade — the 1990s — that produced major challenges new to Asheville and Buncombe County.
First challenge: Two large construction projects — a new jail and landfill — had been neglected because of their cost and unpopularity.
Second challenge: A new source of drinking water was needed to meet increasing domestic demand and to attract industry. The existing unified water system, agreed to by city and county, had to be protected and enlarged. John and Hazel Fobes, the parents of Xpress publisher Jeff Fobes, were leaders in meeting this challenge.
Other challenges: Funds had to be raised for smaller projects: replacement of McCormick Stadium and the Recreation Park swimming pool, additional space for the Social Services and Health departments, and improvements to the Municipal golf course and Aston Park tennis courts.
Solutions to the challenges. While the county commissioners’ public hearings generated heated discussions, the Mountain Xpress provided a forum for citizens to offer new solutions that the hearings did not generate.
New challenges. As the 1990s drew to a close, three new challenges appeared.
(1) Almost one-fifth of the Asheville-Buncombe population went to bed hungry every day.
(2) The homeless population had grown and needed housing.
(3) Youth gangs appeared. The Asheville Police reported to the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council that 15-18 youth gangs existed. Safe youth centers were needed, as well as employment and training for school dropouts and young people on probation or parole.
Unfortunately, politics became more and more uncivil as the decade of the 1990s wore on. Solving political problems was satisfying (and fun) when negotiating for Aristotle’s “golden mean” — the middle ground of compromise — where people of good will could work together. Finding solutions became difficult as “left” and “right” political sides became more extreme. Personally, the 1990s uncivil scene made it easy to leave behind 12 years of political battles and focus on helping the hungry, the homeless and young people. These challenges were harder to solve (and haven’t been solved yet), but they have been much more satisfying to tackle.
Mountain Xpress’ platform for citizens to propose new, fresh ideas is still very much needed as the city and county face even more challenges in the 21st century.
Gene Rainey served as Chairman of the Buncombe Board of Commissioners (1988-1996) and the first chairman of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. He was also a professor of political science at UNC Asheville. He and his wife, Dorma, established a nonprofit corporation to train youths on probation or parole in construction skills while building low-cost housing. He currently is a master gardener raising vegetables for his church to feed approximately 150 hungry people every week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.