Readers weren’t shy about expressing their views in 2021. From the pandemic to growth, the Vance Monument and more, Xpress readers offered up a raft of thought-provoking letters to the editor, commentaries and comments about local affairs. Here’s a look at what sparked opinion pieces over the past year.
Readers had plenty to say about the topic that’s dominated everyone’s lives — and livelihoods — for almost two years.
In January, when indoor dining capacity for Buncombe County establishments was reduced from 50% to 30%, local restaurateur Eric Scheffer penned one of the most widely read and discussed pieces this year, “Enough is Enough: Local Restaurants and Their Employees’ Lives Are Being Destroyed by Government Mandates.”
“Hospitality and culinary professionals are being mandated and regulated out of business for the sake of optics and at the senseless sacrifice of hardworking people and their families,” he wrote.
Throughout the year, readers reacted to the changing landscape of vaccine supply and demand, along with mask mandates.
“Rather than completing the vaccination of the most vulnerable population, the more than 40,000 seniors still on the COVID-19 vaccination waitlist, the commissioners decided to divert about 50% of the supply to their supporters under pressure from the teachers union,” wrote Gary Incorvia of Weaverville in the Feb. 24 letter “Vaccine Allocation Dooms Buncombe’s Seniors.”
Buncombe Commissioner Amanda Edwards responded in part, “Vaccinating school personnel is an important step to getting parents back to work and in school to complete their degrees and getting our local economy back on track, while ensuring we stop the spread of the virus that has been unrelenting in its attack on our elderly population.”
Some readers expressed support for local mask mandates (“Masks Should Be Required Indoors,” in the Aug. 18 issue) while another reader questioned them (“Amazed by Support for Mask Mandates,” in the Sept. 8 issue).
Meanwhile, Carl Mumpower, former Asheville City Council member and onetime chair of the Buncombe County GOP, offered up a widely read and discussed letter, “COVID-19 Vaccine Resistance Explained,” in the Oct. 6 issue.
“Diversity of thought will remain a hinderance — in Asheville and everywhere else — for those who self-righteously confuse legitimate public safety concerns with political control issues,” he wrote.
Countered online commenter bsummers: “Please drop the partisan political drapery around a public health emergency, Carl. You’re making things worse.”
Growth and development
In January, Asheville writer Bill Branyon was the first of many community members this year to offer his take on Pratt & Whitney’s plans to build an aircraft engine component factory in the area, with the help of Buncombe County economic development incentives (“High Anxiety: Welcome to Buncombe County’s New Mascot.”)
“Knowing that we have such brilliant skin in the game could boost Buncombe residents’ interest in and unquestioning support for any future wars America might fight — and perhaps also our contempt for those pesky peaceniks who clog Asheville’s streets whenever their thin skin gets rankled.”
But Asheville reader Derek Husar offered another perspective in a Sept. 15 letter, “Arguments Against Raytheon Plant Fall Flat”: “The cost of the podium from which the morally indignant denounce industry suitors is tremendous. The proposed factory is a $650 million investment in Buncombe County, which will provide approximately 800 new jobs.”
Readers also proclaimed their views on residential development — including the now scaled-back 101 Charlotte St. project in North Asheville and the still-pending Bluffs proposal for Woodfin.
Concerning the Asheville area’s overall growth, a letter by Asheville reader M. Branch in the June 2 issue seemed to strike a nerve, prompting letters and numerous comments.
“Asheville is ‘sold out,’ so go somewhere else to live,” wrote Branch. “There are other places, and I don’t know why we have to coddle everybody who wants to live here, destroying the very essence of why anybody wishes to live here.”
One response came from a prospective future resident, Gil Borrero of Charlotte, in the June 16 issue: “I hope Asheville is not sold out. I have been planning to move there from Charlotte for over 10 years. I love the area, and there is a great deal of room, just not necessarily ‘in Asheville,’ but all surrounding areas.”
The Vance Monument
In commentaries and letters to the editor, readers pondered what should be done with the Vance Monument, the 123-year-old obelisk honoring Civil War governor Zebulon Vance,
Asheville City Council member Sandra Kilgore offered her views in a Jan. 27 commentary, “Full Circle: Can Repurposing the Vance Monument Help Heal the Divide in Asheville?”
One of three Black Council members, Kilgore argued: “Asheville’s history could be told full circle as we address the dark stains of slavery and the impact of urban renewal and institutional racism in the once-robust Black community. Lifting the monument up and using the power of the obelisk could provide a new narrative that unites us all to create the desired results of unification, equity and inclusion. The obelisk would provide a platform to begin to have those difficult conversations that bring us together.”
Offering another perspective, former city resident Sequoya Waring wrote in a Feb. 3 letter, “Nothing to Salvage in Vance Monument”: “Please realize every day this statue remains intact is another day you’re not actively renouncing white supremacy.”
Ultimately, City Council voted 6-1 on March 23 (with Kilgore opposed) to take down the monument, though a subsequent court challenge has halted its full removal.
Not all of this year’s opinion pieces were driven by events, though all had a point to make. One of the most hopeful came Oct. 20 from UNC Asheville student Alexla Pérez Sánchez, who had just completed an internship at a WNC conservation nonprofit (“Vámonos Outside! Conserving Carolina Intern Shakes Change Into Spanish-speaking Community.”)
Recounting her own family’s difficulties in navigating trails, Pérez Sánchez explained her efforts to make the outdoors more welcoming to Spanish-speaking residents through a series of bilingual hikes.
“My Spanish-speaking community finally felt actively welcomed in the outdoors!” wrote Pérez Sánchez. “The progress made through this program was incredible and much needed, but the work is only beginning. I say to the individuals reading this article: Go outside today and do something that brings you joy and strength! And while you’re at it, take someone with you! Help them. Encourage them. Grow with them.”
As we wrap up 2021, this sounds like a good piece of advice for all of us to take into the new year.