By Dasha Morgan
At the Leadership Asheville Forum final luncheon for the year on November 20th, County Manager, Avril Pinder, presented a powerpoint on her strategic plans for the County, Having walked into a difficult situation in the wake of the Wanda Greene and company scandal, she spoke about the need for a good eraser of the past and her plans to move forward.
Her two most important points are the need for core values of integrity and accountability. She put it simply, “what do we want to be when we grow up?” There is a strong need to restore public trust. In order to do that the county must be transparent. Meetings need to be open and no longer in private. “The conversations, for and by the people, must be open and not held behind closed doors.” So let’s talk about a plan, a plan that includes 1) Respect, 2) Integrity, 3) Collaboration, and 4) Honesty. Additionally the Commissioners would like to be known for “Restoring public trust through honest and ethical decision making, making transparency, fiscal responsibility, impactful policy making and good governance.”
Avril Pinder was unanimously appointed County Manager by the Board of Commissioners on Feb. 5, 2019, and sworn in on March 5, 2019. Prior to Buncombe County, Pinder served New Hanover County, NC, for 13 years as Finance Director, Assistant Manager, and most recently, Deputy County Manager. Prior to that, she spent 10 years in service to the City of Jacksonville, NC, as Community Development Director and Assistant Finance Director. Pinder is a Certified Public Accountant. She holds an MBA from Delaware State University and is an International City/County Management Association credentialed manager.
In addition to carrying out the day-to-day administration of County government, the County Manager is responsible for implementing policies established by the Board of Commissioners, coordinating the work of all County agencies, and representing the County in dealings with other governmental units and agencies.
Pinder then went on to discuss the focus areas and foundations of the Commissioner-driven strategic planning process. The County hired a consultant to guide that process, and through a series of workshops Commissioners, along with staff and public input, have identified the following priorities:
- Educated & Capable Community— a county where all people thrive and demonstrate resilience throughout their lives
- Environmental Stewardship — high quality air, water, farmland and renewable energy for future generations
- Vibrant Economy — a robust and sustainable economy that builds on homegrown industries/talent and provides economic mobility for all.
- Resident Well-Being. – a county where residents are safe, healthy and engaged in their community.
Pinder then talked about the need for public input and awareness. Many planning and public input sessions have already taken place, but five additional sessions will be taking place, beginning December 2nd. They will take place in Barnardsville, Black Mountain, Asheville, Candler and Skyland. Angelyn Johnson is the person to get in touch with about this. RSVP to Angelyn.Johnson@buncombecounty.org.
The next steps are planned: There is a December 17 Commissioner Workshop. In January, Strategic Plan Adopted by the Commissions; from January through June the Action Plan is developed around the Focus Areas and then in July 2020, the launch of the strategic Plan takes plan.
At this point, Pinder opened the meeting to question from those present, and there were many questions. One of the most interesting concerned the changes made to “whistleblowers.” Shockingly it was pointed out that in the past ultimately any “whistleblower” reported to Ms. Greene. Asking for a clarification, I was told: “while the hotline calls have always gone to a third party over the years, the reports from that third party that manages our whistleblower hotline were sent to various County personnel assigned by Ms. Greene, and who ultimately reported to her.
Currently our whistleblower hotline number and online reporting system allows employees to report concerns anonymously and stay anonymous. Anonymous reports are directed to the Internal Auditor to investigate and ensure appropriate follow up action. The Internal Auditor reports to the Board of Commissioners and an external Audit Committee whereas, in the past that position also reported to the County Manager.
Additionally, the County added an employee protection and no-retaliation policy that became effective in October, 2017.
The public can make anonymous complaints or reports via our Let’s Talk hotline at 828-250-4066 and website. Those complaints are also handled by the Internal Auditor.”
Other questions were asked of transportation, housing, the homeless, zoning, the relationship between the city and the county, her relationship with the sheriff, and other areas of concern. Pinder emphasized how important it is to speak with employees and tell them what is going on. She plans to be transparent. She feels strongly that she has a top notch, capable staff who are ready to move on past the county’s difficulties and pull together as a team, a team that takes care of each other. She sees her most difficult challenge ahead to be the rebuilding of public trust and the need for fiscal responsibility. The county’s money must be spent “the right way.”