In light of recent events, how are we to address the accountability and responsibility police officers have in our community?
I’m encouraged by the Chief acknowledging the history of bias in the department and committing to ongoing anti-bias training. Recent events such as the shooting of Georgia Tech student leader Scout Schultz show that decisions about when to use force don’t only apply to people of color, but also to overlapping populations, including LGBTQ youth and people with mental illness. Obviously, I would have preferred for the department to suspend non-safety traffic stops and searches until we had a real plan to address disparity. One encouraging outcome of the debate: speakers from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice pointed out that in one NC city with a particularly high level of disparity, around half the disparity was attributable to one problem pair of officers. We need to support Chief Hooper in reassigning and removing any problem officers and making good qualified hires, for the sake of the city’s reputation and the integrity of the whole department.
Affordable housing has long been a hot topic of discussion but not something that has been addressed with action. How will approach this issue?
It’s unfair to say the city hasn’t taken action. In fact, the UNC School of Government rated Asheville’s affordable housing program the best in the entire state. The problem is our market is unlike any other city in the state and getting worse. To me, the big issue is making sure a limited pool of affordable housing funds produce the most truly affordable units possible. If that means directing incentives to small landlords and regular homeowners (to finance basement and backyard apartments, for instance,) instead of to big commercial developers, then we should pursue those options. But I think it’s going to take even more than that, which is why I’m supporting requiring single-story commercial buildings on main corridors to include housing above, like Chapel Hill and Cary do, and identifying threatened neighborhoods like Shiloh and Southside to do a pilot inclusionary zoning project.
3. Asheville is represented as one of the greenest cities in the country, even though we are not even close to being one of the movement’s leaders. Are there active talks in implementing these green technologies? Where do you stand on this? Would you be in favor of initiatives?
Asheville was already one of about fifty cities that immediately committed to honoring the Paris Climate Treaty after the Trump Administration announced it would pull out, and is about one-fifth of the way to a goal of eliminating carbon emissions in the next few decades, converting to LED streetlights and upgrading the police and transit fleets to more efficient vehicles. But we need to do more. The next most obvious steps are to reduce our reliance on local fossil-fuel-based energy by implementing a free home insulation program, as recommended by the city’s Sustainability Committee, pushing Duke Energy to add more renewable capacity, and pushing the state to allow competition via a local renewable- powered electric co-op.
Asheville is surrounded by beautiful natural spaces. However, in light of this sudden influx of growth, these spaces are in danger of being trampled on? New developments are not slowing down so do you propose to strike the right balance?
There’s two parts to this: first, Asheville is indeed surrounded by amazing natural spaces, and they need to be protected by limiting suburban-type sprawl out into the areas around town. But Asheville needs natural places inside the city, too. Many lack easy access to Bent Creek or the Parkway – people without cars and disabled seniors, for instance, but also kids in public housing or workers pulling doubles in our service economy. Having natural preserved places in city limits is an important part of protecting habitat for wildlife, capturing or slowing stormwater, and giving people easy, daily ways to experience nature. It’s for this reason that I’ve been involved in protecting areas along Swannanoa River, on Beaucatcher Mountain and the French Broad as long, connected trail systems, as vice chair of the city’s Greenway Committee, and I’ve been moving a policy through the legal hurdles to require builders on future greenway paths to spare natural space from development. It’s also for this reason that I support the city’s Downtown Master Plan, which proposes a park on the corner across from St. Lawrence Basilica.
Where is the conversation on extending our public transit to a 24 hour public service? Are you in favor of extending hours?
24-hour service is a long-term goal, but right now we’re just trying to add hours at the beginnings and ends of current runs, to make sure service is available for late-shift workers. Some of that has already happened, but each extension is a six-figure increase in operating costs that needs to be balanced against other budget concerns, so it’s a slow process. I’m for extending service and making it more convenient, with 15-minute loops on the busiest routes, as fast as is fiscally possible.
As symbols from the confederacy draw considerable public outcry, do you favor re-dedications, displacements or complete erasure of America’s dark historical truth? What approach do you propose that strikes a balance between humility and evolving the symbols our national character?
Each monument should be considered on its own terms (and it’s important to note, state law bans cities and counties from doing anything about monuments on their own property without approval from a state commission.) For Asheville’s monuments, I support removing or renaming them after a public conversation. Throughout the South, monuments were raised around the turn of the 20th century, as part of the backlash that brought Jim Crow and the KKK into prominence, and during the 1950s and ‘60s backlash against Civil Rights. They are mostly not innocent symbols but flags planted for white supremacy, to show black citizens who was running the town, and we have to be aware they carry that context for many of our citizens today. We need to also be aware that, however white Southerners have come to value them as innocuous or sentimental local landmarks, the KKK and Neo-Nazis see them differently. If my mailbox became a gathering spot for literal Nazis, I would take it down. Let’s not create an environment that attracts or fosters them.
The service industry is the backbone to Asheville’s success. However the disparity between wages and costs of living has ranked 4th in the country as one of the top worse places to achieve the “American Dream.” Can we count on your support to alleviate this issue?
Yes. We need to tackle this two ways: one, reduce costs of living by creating low-cost housing and ways to get around. But two, we need to diversify the economy and raise wages. I have four kids, ages five through seven. They all want to be different things when they grow up, but none of them dreams of being a hotel manager. We need to make sure the jobs are here that will sustain them through entire careers, whatever turns their interests take.
There was a public access channel that permitted our community to have an outlet for expression, protest and celebration within our locality. Are you in favor in bringing proper funding for this program?
I would support such an effort with a partnership grant, like the previous channel was, I believe. With the internet and strong social media communities (including the Facebook group I co-founded and run, Asheville Politics, with 6,200 local members) opportunities to put public programming in front of residents. I do think the city needs to step up its outreach and transparency efforts, putting more public meetings on air and online. Right now, too few people are being reached on city matters. Public-access type broadcast would help us reach people being left out on decisions.