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Asheville City Council: Closing the Loopholes

Leslee Kulba

Locals expect Asheville City Council to make uneconomic decisions. For 20 years, man-hours have been going down the drain as cars park on I-26 to save the bicycle. Developers of residential projects are expected to build at a loss while they finance council’s “strategic goals” instead. Graffiti is celebrated as public art, while the victims are made financially responsible for its removal. The legislature required Asheville to invest water revenues exclusively in repairing and maintaining the water system, so the city attempted rerouting the Swannanoa River and justifying as waterworks the replacement of Astroturf on soccer fields in the floodplain. 

The staff report prepared by City Attorney Brad Branham listed as “pros” arguments that, once again, used people of color as human shields to advance political agendas.
The staff report prepared by City Attorney Brad Branham listed as “pros” arguments that, once again, used people of color as human shields to advance political agendas.

The city does nothing to stop efforts to deal with the opioid epidemic by passing out free needles, making the orange-capped syringe a nominee for the official city flower. The city’s main priority is becoming carbon-neutral when it can’t keep a police chief. The city wants to provide affordable housing by amplifying the market distortions that caused the problem in the first place. And, as Wainscott complained, the city wants to cut Charlotte Street down to three lanes while the pavement on roads on Town Mountain is slumping as erosion undercuts the underlying cliffs. And so on.

Legislators in Raleigh cited giving the business interests in South Asheville a voice as a major reason behind efforts to replace at-large elections for members of Asheville City Council with district elections. The latest iteration, sponsored by Senator Chuck Edwards, modified the city’s charter and became law in 2018. The bill required Asheville City Council to take certain actions, which they refused to do, while instead meeting in closed session to develop a legal strategy of opposition.

Now – after members of the public have been stressing over whether those now serving were going to just rest on their laurels or ever give citizens a chance to vote them out of office – council has announced its strategy. It will amend the city’s charter to reinstate at-large elections and primary elections, which SB 813 also had eliminated. The staff report prepared by City Attorney Brad Branham listed as “pros” arguments that, once again, used people of color as human shields to advance political agendas. Those arguments have since been debunked with statistics. The “cons” were, “a charter amendment can be further amended by state action,” and what council was trying to pull, “may result in diminished goodwill and additional provocation from the General Assembly.”

Council’s action is within the law; that is, former City Attorney Robin Currin found a loophole. The problem is, the loophole sets off an infinite loop, with municipal government and state government each taking turns to amend the city’s charter, and this could become epidemic across the state. So, as they say Down Under, “Good on” Currin for uncovering the legislative flaw. The question now is, who among us will be smart enough to find a way to close the loophole and put an end to at least this facet of agitation, so lawyers paid with city taxes don’t have to exhaust the legal system fighting lawyers paid with state taxes. A public hearing on the matter will be held September 24. 

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