Buncombe County Commission Candidate Debate – The Short Form


speed_typing.jpgI walked into the Carver Center in Black Mountain just in time to hear David Gantt deliver the first of the opening remarks. Somewhere around fifty people turned out to hear the candidates and to ask them unscripted questions. Bill Stanley skipped the debate, and Carol Peterson apologized for him. She said he had to attend a Shrine Club meeting instead. If anyone asks, Bill Stanley was the big loser tonight for having his priorities out of whack. Everyone else came across as thoughtful and making a real run at the Commission. Incumbent Stanley’s absence spoke volumes.

The event was hosted by a group in Black Mountain called Democrats On The Move. They’re an independent group who put on a great forum. Thanks!

This “transcript” is rough as hell. My fingers were a-flyin’, but there’s only so much a brother can do. Direct quotes are in quotation marks. Everything else is an impression or paraphrased. Any mistakes are mine. I’ll probably follow up in the next little while with my personal take on the event, but this is as close to reportage as you’ll get here at ScruHoo.

Questions from the audience are in bold. Candidates names are in allcaps, and paragraphs following a candidate’s name are a paraphrase of their words.

Opening Statements

Why he’s running (though folks fear he’ll lose his seat altogether) – We need strong leadership – on development, greenways, health dept., affordable houses, jobs – if we don’t do it all we’re letting you down. You can look at my 12 year record. – it’s all there – working people, people who want to see community improve and grow in a positive way and also to take care of people who don’t have as much as we do.


Lives in Fairview – Public education record – 41 years at A/B Tech. Education – the public schools in Buncombe County can be the best they can be. Economic Developments – established business incubator – provide jobs for the young people. Changing the Environment – We’ve got green programs at AB Tech.


Lived in Buncombe 27 years, 21 in a house he built in Black Mountain – mason and carpenter, “none of the development I did took the tops off of mountains.”

Everyone loves the mountains, everyone’s paying too much in taxes.

Difference in candidates – Water shortages, Land-use Planning, Oil is going into short supply, local self sustainable energy here, self-reliant economy. Wants alternative energies to provide 10% of power in Buncombe by 2020. Green Collar jobs, conservation, energy production, biofuels are parts of that.


Lived here my whole life in Newfound, Leicester. Volunteer Fire Dept. 18 years, ran for school board, elected to two 4 year terms on Board of Education. Great school system though it sucked once. We need good jobs. Every one who wants a job has a job, but we need good-paying jobs. Supporting Sherriff Duncan.


Lives in Candler on Hooker’s Gap Road, married 44 years. 1 daughter, 3 granchildren. Grandson in Tae Kwon Do won some trophies

Reading from Biltmore Beacon – Why should the people there vote for Bob Hill? – represent fair and equal taxation – property tax commission for real valuation. annexation is no-go. Get every taxpayer in Buncombe County to register and vote. We can make a difference if we stand together. I’m 39 years a telephone contractor, Hominy Recreation Park, Lots of civic groups.


Motivation – the people:

Executive Dir. of YWCA – sees struggling families, elderly folks with fixed income suffering, she’ll carry their voices to Commission.

Motivation – The mountains:

Been here 12 years – I want the mountains intact for my daughter. The mountains are in danger. We must preserve what is irreplaceable.

Motivation – Our future:

Clean water, fresh air, solid education, good jobs


Ray Bailey works for her? (I couldn’t hear her joke) Laughter, mentions her husband, Bruce.

Thanks to Democrats on the Move! I’ve been a Democrat on the move for decades – I’ve been a part of the generation of Democrats that’s brought the the party of the 1960s to the 21st century. Worked inside the party in all sorts of ways. I’m a superdelegate. I appreciate activist Democrats.

Accomplishment – conservation, (right, David?), 3 million dollars into preserving acreage, Top County in the state. Land use, storm water, slope development and countywide zoning.

Animal shelter work. decreased the tax rate 2 years running. High collection rates.

7 tiered parking deck by courthouse.

Services out in the county

Libraries – $250k into Black Mountain library.

KEITH THOMSON – Wasn’t born here, “but I got here as quick as I could”. Owner of small technology business -created the County website back in ’97 – Mentions transparency. Finding the low hanging fruit to cut budgets. Renewed dedication to conservation and creating new technology jobs.

Want good schools!

Watch out for kids during educational transitions. Good jobs have gone away. New industry, new small business development

We want services in Swannanoa – Health Department, I’ve sent emails – I haven’t heard anything. Our Sisters of Mercy left out here, we have nothing.

PETERSON – That is one thing we’re very interested in doing. We’ve secured space in the old Sand Hill school area and on Leicester highway for services. County govt. needs to go to the people.

THOMSON – Kids need health care, identify needs for services, bring that spirit of government helping the people – we’re looking at that.

BAILEY – Is there nothing here as far as health care? – I’m on the Mission Hospital Board, I’ll look into it.

HILL – asks if there’s any care here in Black Mountain.

They moved into west Asheville and we have nothing. It was always busy, so I never understood why they moved it.

New Question – How many Commissioners are there, who’s on the Commission?

PETERSON jumps in to explain, saying there are nine folks in the race.

BOTHWELL tells here there are nine. An organizer explains that J. Ray Elingburg has dropped out of the race. Carol was right.

Medical care costs – use of emergency facilities which are less efficient and less useful. What do you plan to do about distributing medical care and also about preventive?

PETERSON jumps in again – “I don’t want to dominate this”.

DOVER – we need more satellite health centers.

BAILEY – have primary care doctor situated here (Black Mountain) on a permanent basis

Did it work in Candler?

HILL – it started slow but it’s picking up speed.

GANTT – We’ve got a legacy of good care, we need to build it. The best ideas don’t come from the politicians. Government’s too important to leave to politicians. We try to be holistic because the need is overwhelming.

JONES – I’m willing to leave City Council to do important things like providing health and human services – The County has a great director for health… The current service model is about consolidation. We (the city) combined social services with health dept. Going to satellites will move us away from this, and that’s a good thing. Dealing with the youngest among us. We’ve got a crisis for our kids and ourselves. How do we feed them differently? How do we build a community that builds wellness?

THOMSON – Brought electronic medical records to lower costs in medical practices. 2 offices in Fairview, one of which I helped set up. They do good work, much better in Fairview now with their presence. Doctors there feel they can be with people for more than 15 minutes. Innovation and technology makes providing service more affordable.

HILL – “Let’s get one thing straight. The Board is the custodian of your tax money.” If you bring it to me, I’ll say it’s our responsibility to give you the money. You own the property, you own the courthouse. You know what I’m sayin’? Need to get together with Swannanoa.

I like what I hear about protecting environment, steepslope ordinances – big improvement too little too late – right around the mountain a developer came in on the old permit process. New Cliffs development in Swannonoa – it’ll spin off some nice benefits, it’s not all rosy – property taxes will go up. At the rate we’re going, this vally out here will become Aspen, nobody but Rockstars and Wall Street Business will be able to live here.


Reappraise properties when they’re sold. Create a new system. We’re taxing people out of their homes. That’s crazy! It’s still your home. We shouldn’t be reappraising every four years. Forcing people out, “it just ain’t fair”.

JONES – We’re not doomed, there are places we can still do right by. We have to get together. Get off the defense. How do we want to develop? Here’s where we’ll say things like get more dense in corridors. Protect farms, protect mountains. If I could do one thing, I would want to put together a cooperative regional plan.

PETERSON – The way taxes are levied is a state decision. Smacking Cecil down.

STRANGE ANNOUNCEMENT… “Mr and Mrs Donan – Your car is parked in the middle of the street”

HILL – if a man builds a mansion on the mountain it ought not affect the farmer down the mountain.

THOMSON – we need planning. Everyone plans for the future. “I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me who planned for me to have a better future” No Aspen! We have to be able to welcome new folks but honor who have been here a while. Mountain people, whether by birth or by choice, are naturally good neighbors.

DOVER – only 2 dairy barns left in his area. People have had to move away. Thank goodness for zoning. No one likes to pay taxes.

BOTHWELL – Rebuttal to Peterson – Yes, the state says we have to reassess every four years, but it doesn’t say how we reassess. We can change the way we do that to keep people from being taxed out of their homes
About growth – If you’ve got enough customers, why keep advertising? Why keep advertising the county to outsiders? You can’t grow your way out of your problems. Grow local jobs instead of having out of town construction crews and service jobs paying minimum wage.

Grant Millin in the howze – Disappointed by Progress Energy deal. I wrote about energy solutions. We should look outward for great ideas. Climate Change – we have to get to zero emissions. That technological change…

They try to get a question out of him, but Grant’s a steamroller – wants to talk about how we don’t get our taxes back. Do y’all have anything to say about these issues?

THOMSON – I was one of the founding board members in Clean Air Trust. I renovated older homes. Those are good jobs. Talking about light bulbs. Good jobs, healthy growth, rapidly healthy growth.

BOTHWELL – Recently wind energy research showed that Buncombe had some of the best wind sites in the world. Ridgetop mills can be pretty. Get 10% of our energy from wind. Photovoltaic retrofits. I was off the grid for 21 years. We don’t need more coal, nuclear, oil power. Local sustainable energy is the answer to the question.

JONES – Asheville adopted most far-reaching policy by agreeing to lower emissions by 80%. Most progressive policies around LEED building. Gotta work together.

PETERSON – County facilities is partnered with Progress Energy.

Bragging on Carol and David. They’ve boldly had the most proactive animal services. 1/3 fewer animals in the landfill as a result. When the voting took place for zoning, did the delay allow other things to get in? Whoever is elected, what ideas do you have about bringing ideas together?

GANTT – Transparency gets in the way of moving faster. I’ve got the scars to prove I took the right position on zoning. Must keep having public hearings about it. I didn’t know about the hospital problem here in Black Mountain.

The homeless, the elderly. How do you work with the City of Asheville re: homelessness? What does the Commission do about this?

PETERSON – We did adopt the homeless 10-year plan as the City did. We also are in charge of health and human services. Great director in Mandy Stone. Outstanding as assistant county manager. She’s on top of everyone who needs help. We are award winning. Tell us what we don’t know about. Mandy will take care of it.

How much money do you spend (on homelessness)?

THOMSON – not everyone who’s homeless is mentally ill, but mental health reform turned out badly – more people staying in the woods, the jails, the emergency room. We need mental health care that is community based. We need services in small towns. Hospital expanding. Jail is too expensive, ineffective. It’s the right thing to do, and we’ve got to do because it’s cost effective.

BAILEY – accuses Keith of stealing his lines. Our campus started looking at what’s going on. Used Memphis model – Crisis Intervention program, partnered with APD, Health Dept., Sherriff’s Dept. It saves tons of money.

BOTHWELL – Carolina Homeless I.D. network. It’s an i.d. system. 3 levels – anonymous, give a little info, or totally enroll. They get i.d. numbers. Track the real problems. Provide continuity of service. It’s working in other counties.

JONES – Housing and Community Development. On this we’ve got to be together. We’re doing a good job collaborating, direct funding comes through the city. Mandy Stone’s going to Chattanooga to check out a model.

We’ve got to start thinking more like that model. The policymakers have to hold hands working together.

I’m a spiritual progressive, living here for 12 years, NC for 25. The one word we’d use to describe this valley is “humane”. Disturbed by the way immigration is discussed inhumanely. I work with refugees. How do you stand on the subject of comprehensive immigration reform?

BOTHWELL – Organized amnesty program for those living here. We put them in a terrible bind. Our economy depends on cheap labor. While they’re ilegal they can’t complain about labor environment. Big business likes that. We’re wrecking their economy, so they come here. Let them get citizenship. My family’s been here since the Revolution. My later-arriving relatives were all welcome here. It’s been systematic. They’re not criminals, they’re human beings (biggest applause line of the night).

I respect you all for taking on the job. Developers get their own rules, mow down the trees, demand water, sewer, and they like to destroy the community. It’s an emergency. Face this issue. It’s tearing apart Black Mountain and affecting Swannanoa. We beg you to please face this issue right now.

BOTHWELL – Ban septic tanks on multifamily developments. This forces developers to create their own waste treatment or build closer to treatment centers.

THOMSON – When we allow Asheville “Any Way You Like It”, this will obligate public expenditure. We’re paying for the water, the emergency services, your taxes go up. Your tax rate for the fire district is going up. (because of new development)

They need to stop cutting down the trees before it’s too late. Planning keeps getting postponed. Stop this now, before – you can’t replace a hundred year old tree overnight, and when you do it, and what’s below it’s ruined.

JONES – “yes, ma’am”. You’re asking for leadership. You are asking people who will use all the data, absolutely use the people’s info. Leadership that integrates best practices and takes a hard stand if they need to. If you’ve done the right thing and can look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘I did the right vote’.

HILL – taxes have a lot to do with it. When folks are taxed out, who’s buying? Outside developers. Homeboy is all about some lowerin’ taxes.

Organizer gives thanks to former County Commission Chairman Tom Sobol for his work, for doing the right thing about zoning. Folks clap for Sobol.

Two minute closing statements.

GANTT – We have to put ourselves out there, then do the right thing. If I can be a Chairman like Tom Sobol, I will rock! Bring people together. I’ve been calling for planning for 10 years. We’ve got to keep health care moving the right direction. Social services. Moral obligation to ensure there’s a safety net. Education – “we’re goin’ alright”. We got to work out budgets. We need good jobs. Balance and people skills. Gotta work together.

BAILEY – When I was a school teacher and coach, I had to have a summer job. Seasonal park ranger, 1964 – sitting at an overlook, “why would i ever want to live anywhere else?” I could have left, but I stayed. Love of the region, common sense approach, has exhibited leadership with 1,500 employees and a ton of students. He will listen to you. Develop a plan. Education and Economic development are my strong suits.

BOTHWELL – I get excited. I’m an investigative reporter. If you’ve been reading my work, you weren’t surprised about Bobby Medford. I understand public corruption. The Commission has done some good things, they’ve also done stupid things. Regarding the Progress Energy deal – Progress Energy wrote the lease – there was no negotiation. 80 years at 1$ a year for any use. The Commissioners sold park property downtown and said they didn’t know what was being sold. Bill Stanley owned that land, he “certainly knew”. This Commission sold it to Stewart Coleman. “I’ve never sold a piece of property in my life without knowing where the corners were.”

I will shake things up. People could afford their homes if the tax rate was smarter. We can have alternative energy. It can happen, I’ve lived it myself already.

DOVER – I want to be able to serve. You have to listen and work together. People need to stay here, schools are great, we want to keep the kids here.

HILL – I know how to get things done. I brought a company back from bankruptcy, rags to riches. We passed a school bond referendum making all Buncombe County Schools better. I know how to get things done.

JONES – Tom Sobol was impressive in his partnership work. I want to work with Gantt to bring some of that problem solving and collaboration back to Commission.

I’m sharing a vision. How are we going to grow? Working families. Child care costs. Build on primary care access. Move toward community norm of wellness. Let’s be the leader in the state on energy and environment. I build the bridge between city and county. Voting starts April 17th, primary on May 6th.

PETERSON – I really think I’ve had the best seat in the house. Looking at your faces, I see the hope and the promise you have for this group up here. There’s some enthusiasm up here. Creativity and great thinking folks up here. We’re all very interested in serving you. That’s my strong suit, I’m a quiet leader, consensus builder, I know this county. My family has been here for five generations. It’s a calling (being on commission), solving problems. Buncombe County people are beautiful. I’m enthused. I hope we have a thousand people at the next forum.

THOMSON – It’s an honor to be here with these folks. My Grandma’s 97. Mom’s living. 2 brothers, 2 kids, 3 nephews. I’ve been around. Use innovation and technology to make government better. Watch out for kids who are getting lost in the system.


Categories : Local


  1. Doug Gibson says:

    Kudos to Democrats on the Move. They do some great stuff.

  2. Great coverage, Gordon!

    This was a good kickoff to the campaign.

    Everyone is invited to my Fish Fry this Thursday night 5:00-7:30 in the school cafeteria at Randolph Learning Center, 90 Montford Ave, 2 blocks north of 3 Brothers Restaurant, next to the Asheville Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center. map link follows:

    and please visit my campaign website:

    See you all on the campaign trail!

    Yours for Buncombe!
    Keith Thomson

  3. bobaloo says:

    OK, I said in the post above this one that Cecil could win me over by blatantly calling out the Commissioners secretive ways and deals, but I’ve got a little advice.
    You may want to leave illegal aliens out of this one because 1) local governments can’t control immigration policy, 2) blaming Americans for the illegal alien issue is not a great way to endear yourself to voters and 3) comparing a mass influx of 12 to 20 million illegal aliens to your ancestors is intellectually dishonest.
    Yes, they are human beings and should be treated as such, but they are here illegally.

  4. Gordon Smith says:

    Many of my people came illegally, too. How many people came here illegally before the 12-20 million you mention? More? Fewer? Local governments can’t control it, but they can set the tone for treatment of people.

  5. I agree that immigration is not, per se, a local issue. But when a citizen asked, I was the only candidate willing to speak my mind.

    The reason working class people in this country are so easily inflamed over immigration is because of competition for jobs. The only reason illegal immigrants can’t demand equal pay is because of fear of deportation. If they were naturalized, they’d demand similar wages, and the “unfair” competition for jobs would evaporate.

    To the extent that this is a local issue, I would never support using our county sheriff’s department to enforce federal rules.

  6. bobaloo says:

    Many of the ancestors open border folk always refer to came here legally. Citing the fact that there were illegal aliens here before doesn’t help in solving the problems we face now, especially considering that the influx wasn’t on such an unmanageable scale and worsening by the day.
    Nor did these previously illegal aliens become citizens by the waving of a magic wand. (Or maybe they did, via the Reagan amnesty bill in ’86, but that was still only appx 3 million.)
    Not to mention the fact that amnesty only encourages more illegal aliens to cross the borders.

    I could go on, but it wasn’t my intention to hijack the thread. That was the only thing that stuck out at me as far as Bothwell is concerned.

    Yes, local governments can set a tone, but they must also follow the law.

  7. Gordon Smith says:

    I’d like to see a fully funded INS, so people coming legally wouldn’t have to wait so long. The current deliberate underfunding is a major contributor to illegal immigration. Strong labor laws would also encourage folks to get legal as companies would have to negotiate with labor.

    Unless you’re in the “Deport ’em all” crowd, then you must be in favor of some path to citizenship.

  8. as per my folks coming here “legally” … that is kind of a joke

    my pre-Revolution kin just sailed in and set up shop, don’t know as the natives had any laws about immigration at the time … and we had guns

    then my early 1800s kin escaping the potato blight in Ireland, hmmm, were there rules about immigration, or, more importantly, enforced rules about it? probably, no.

    then my late 1800s kin,escaping the wars in Russia. Rules? maybe. That crowd had a few rubles to spend though and were fast-tracked.

    All the crap about which of us arrived here legally and which didn’t, in a historical sense, is imaginary.

    What we have now is one planet. One humanity. The rest is myopia.

  9. Alan Ditmore says:

    More proof zoning is racist. The biggesed unzoned city in the USA, Houston TX, won the best quality of life for African Americans!

    Houston won the African American quality of life and Houson is also the largest city in the country with NO ZONING!!!!!!! not a coincidence!!

    RM 4.118

    The University of Texas at Austin, Community &
    Regional Planning program welcomes Dr. David A.
    Padgett, Associate Professor, Department of History,
    Geography, and Political Science, Tennessee State
    University to City Forum. He will be presenting his
    findings of a recent study “An Index for Ranking
    African American Quality of Life in U.S. Cities

    What is the relevance of this for the City of Austin?

    As growing numbers of U.S. citizens have migrated to
    cities in recent decades, urban quality of life issues
    have been increasingly measured and analyzed. In
    particular, several popular business-oriented
    magazines, such as Forbes, Kiplinger, and Money
    publish annual rankings of cities based upon a variety
    of social, economic, environmental and other criteria.
    The Places Rated Almanac and Cities Ranked and Rated,
    two widely disturbed publications, assemble dozens of
    quality of life variables which are used to
    quantitatively rank the more than 370 U.S.
    Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). It has been
    noted that the “best” places determined by the methods
    employed to date are often those with relatively small
    percentages of people of color, especially African
    Americans. Cities such as Rochester, Minnesota;
    Providence, Rhode Island; and San Francisco,
    California have consistently landed at or near the top
    of the ranking lists.

    In 2001, Black Enterprise Magazine, with the
    author/presenter serving as the Project Manager,
    combined readers’ responses to an online survey along
    with a variety of urban quality of life criteria of
    interest to African Americans, published the “10 Best
    Cities for African Americans.” The top 10 places were
    dramatically different from those considered most
    livable by the aforementioned publications. Cities
    such as Detroit, Michigan and Memphis, Tennessee rated
    highly, with Houston, Texas being ranked number one.
    The result came largely due to the demographics of
    Black Enterprises’ readership, and the wording of the
    online questionnaire.

    For example, one of the questions pertained to
    children’s day care issues. With approximately 70
    percent of Black children being raised by single
    females, most of whom are in the workforce, concerns
    about the quality of day care loom largely. Other
    questions were focused upon the quality of public
    schools and the status of racial relations with local
    law enforcement. In the 2007 ranking Black
    Enterprise, for the first time an “African American
    quality of life index” was applied, effectively
    weighting online survey respondents’ answers with MSA
    data including crime rates, cost of housing, Black
    home ownership rates and many others. The index was
    applied in order to temper residents’
    possibly biased subjective opinions about their cities
    with quantitative data. The results included several
    consistently high-ranking places such as Atlanta,
    Houston, and Washington, DC. Urban areas such as
    Raleigh-Durham, NC; Indianapolis, IN; and
    Jacksonville, FL wound up among the top 10 after not
    having made the two previous rankings. Memphis and
    Baltimore dropped out, falling victim to their
    relatively high crime rates.

    The index produced somewhat of a regional shift with
    two non-southern or east coast cities, Indianapolis
    and Columbus performing strongly. This presentation
    reveals the results of the Black Enterprise rankings
    with the index applied to the 2001 and 2004 data.

    For more information please contact Anna Glover at

    We look forward to having you join us for this

    It may be that those who do most, dream most.

    -Stephen Leacock