Democratic Candidates For County Commission Debate in Woodfin


nc-buncombe.gifThe Woodfin Community Center was the location of one of the greatest acts of political backbone in recent Buncombe history. Last year the Woodfin Planning & Zoning Board denied Progress Energy the right to build their diesel power plant in Woodfin. It was a major blow to Commissioners, revealing two years of secret meetings and an embarrassment of ignorance regarding energy issues.

So it was fitting that at Monday’s Democratic Debate for County Commission, Carol Peterson and Bill Stanley had to be absent – Carol for a long-scheduled previous engagement, and Bill to cook at the Shrine Club like he does every Monday. Mountain Voices Alliance hosted the debate, which will be available on Google Video once the elves pour it into the tubes.

My “transcription” method is simple – type as fast as possible and try to get the meaning of what candidates are saying. Verifiably direct quotes are in quotation marks, and everything else is paraphrased. All mistakes are mine.

Opening Remarks

Bailey: I taught at Erwin High in the late sixties and fell in love with the Erwin community. Spent 41 years at A/B Tech, the last 17 as President. I retired last August. I’m a candidates because I want to help people and make a difference in people’s lives. I just came from a Mission Hospital Board meeting where we discussed the number of uninsured people. I live in Fairview and have four grown children. I’m going to be a granddad. I love living here, and I would look forward to serving you.

Bothwell: You’ll find a lot about me on my fliers and my website. I realized I haven’t addressed some of my larger views about the world. You should always leave the campsite cleaner than you find it. That’s why I was an organic farmer. I went off the grid and lived off solar energy for 21 years. I was a builder for 21 years, and I never left a scar on a mountain. If I live to be 75, I’d like to see these mountains preserved. Preserving the aquifer, the tourist economy (as long as it lasts).

Dover: Lifelong Buncombe resident. I was in volunteer fire dept. from age 16. I became Fire Chief. In 1982 & 1986 elected to County School Board. My first meeting showed me the schools weren’t very good, but now they’re a lot better. I will continue to support better schools. I retired last year from 40 years with Progress Energy. I’ve been involved with the Chamber of Commerce. I worked lots of volunteer jobs, never had a second paying job. Married my high school sweetheart. Two grown children and three grandchildren. Ray taught me in high school, so think about how old he must be.

Gantt: I’m running for Chairman against Nathan Ramsey. My son is getting married. Both son and daughter are Environmental Science majors. I’ve been worried about the mountains. When i first got into office there were no local rules at all. I have initiated and/or championed just about every environmental effort that’s in place. Carol Peterson is at a Folk Heritage meeting. She asked David to say that. We’ve passed zoning, steep slope, storm water, and environmental advisory Council

Hill: Retired telephone contractor. 32 years in top management of a multi-million dollar operation. It’s not easy taking care of a $250,000 payroll every week. I got the massage parlors moved out of Candler. “They rubbed me the wrong way”. Two time president of recreation park. I formed a committee to record the faults in our classrooms, and as a result we passed the bond referendum. There have 17 brand new schools since then.

Jones: I’m the executive director of the YWCA. Interface primarily with families that are struggling, to pay their light bills or the emergency room bills or affordable housing. Those stories are why I want to be on the Commission. The County has so much decision-making power that can affect those people’s life. I have a Master’s in Public Health. I served on the Buncombe Board of Health and learned what happens when folks partner. I’m in my second term on Asheville City Council. I can build true bridges between the City and the County.

Thomson: Graduated UNCA. Two kids in the public schools. I moved here in 1980. PTO volunteer and president, trying to raise achievement for all students. I’m a small business owner – computer networking. Help business people by leveraging technology. I’m honored to be among these good Democrats.

K. Ray fiddling with his pen again…

Would you support the use of performance bonds to insure that people that are damaged by poor development?

Bailey: I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t know what a performance bond is. I think that if you start doing what you just said, where does it stop? It could be in the billions of dollars. What we need is regulations to be sure we don’t get into those situations. Look at all the policies that are in there right now, and adjust them with everyone’s input.

Bothwell: I would support requiring performance bonds on large developments. When there’s going to be land disturbance uphill from people. It puts the downhill people in the position of having to file suit. I say yes let’s do it now.

Dover: A performance bond is basically an insurance policy in case people’s property are damaged. The cost might raise housing prices. I’d like to stick to regulations, tweak them if necessary.

To what extent would you support electoral reform regarding public financing?

Gantt: I would support that. I spent almost $50,000 dollars last time I ran. Bellamy vs. Worley was six figures too. This takes it out of the range of a lot of people. I think it’s phenomenal that Obama can raise $50 million dollars per month. One reason we have a late primary is in order to save money for candidates. We want everyone who’s qualified feel like they can afford to run.

Hill: It costs a lot to run an election. I’m for limiting the amount of money that would be spent. Just because a man has a million dollars doesn’t mean he has any business on Commission.

Jones: I’m supportive of public financing on local elections. I voted for it early in my Council days. We’re going to need citizens educating everyone. It can be a real heady issue and people don’t understand how it affects their lives. It would be complicating to smaller municipalities, but it worth it. Look at Chapel Hill model.

How can we ensure that development construction projects employ local people?

Thompson: The unemployment rate was really high when I moved here in the eighties. We had affordable housing in Montford. I don’t know the answer to that. We have federal and state laws.

Bailey asks if the questioner is solo or in a crew. Lindsey explains that development doesn’t bring jobs for local people.

Bailey: At A/B Tech we have a lot of different trades. The problem have been that there haven’t been enough people to fill the jobs. I don’t think there’s a way to build a barrier.

Bothwell: One of my proposals – Something the County can control – Contracts should be given preferentially to local businesses who pay a living wage. The County can make rules about who it contracts with. Get small businesses to come up with a list of things that they buy from outside the county and distribute that among local businesses. Source our products here.

Hill: This is right down my alley. We trained 400 apprentice cable splicers down in Florida. In more skilled jobs a super has to have his people ready to work. He can’t train people. If we could train people the better off this is gonna work.

Gantt: I don’t want you to think we don’t consider this on the Commission. We always look for local people. There are laws that keep us from doing that, and I don’t think you’d want us to. Some contracts require the County to give the bid to the lowest cost. We’re pretty much bound to take the lowest bidder because we’re using taxpayer money. Stanley will ask, “Can’t we use somebody local?” The lawyer says no. Federal government needs to sort out the immigration issue.

Jones: At least when large developments come before City Council we find out how many jobs and income will be created. I hear a lot about how there are jobs that we don’t have the skilled people to match. I want to know how to match them. How do we get it together. It sounds like there’s a disconnect there.

Hill (again): This goes to training in our schools. Train them to be carpenters, telephone men. Have people ready to go on the job.

Gas prices are high and staying high. What thoughts do you have about public transportation?

Bailey: I just came back from Spruce Pine and I calculated it cost me 22 or 23 dollars to make the trip. It’s almost sickening. I also know that A/B Tech has its Enka campus, so we made arrangements to provide bus service to that campus. Every day one or two people ride that bus. It’s a matter of educating the public as to what we can do. We have to develop routes and educate people to participate in what’s available.

Bothwell: Part of it is a price point question – at what point do gas prices affect people’s behavior? The other piece of this that we have to look at in addition to adding bus lines is that we need to be ready to do this very quickly. We are far exceeding the load for carbon in our atmosphere. We’re talking about climate change so radical that a lot of people are going to be in really deep trouble. The solution has to be local. My hub-and-spoke development ideas speak to that.

Dover: Public transportation isn’t reinventing the wheel. Maybe we should privatize and invite folks to do that for us. The key is gonna be ridership.

Gantt: We are stewards of the people’s money, so we’ve got to get riders if we’re going to do it. We need to get back out into the public for hearings. We have a Mountain Mobility, but we need to revisit it.

Jones: Three points: There is incredible potential for City/County partnerships here. There are ways to promote ridership, for example the ride-for-free promotion. Ridership rose and has stayed up. This isn’t a money-making operation. Part of what we have to do is plan regionally. People have to be able to afford to live near where they work.

Thomson: Not enough time to give a great answer. We need good planning. We need to sit down as neighbors to plan to do the best for our citizens. Cooperation benefits all. We need to look at going beyond our County boundaries. On energy – I was appointed to serve on Buncombe Energy Commission and Clean Air Community Trust. Ride-sharing system was successful.

Jones: We do the ride-sharing system in the city

Hill: I used to ride Jack Snow’ bus from Oakley up to the ballpark. I think it cost me a quarter to ride. Higher gas prices will change people behavior. Too many cars with just the driver in it. We need education, cut back on consumption, and we might lower prices. The oil companies are ripping us off.

Would you support a study on water availability, and how will you protect our water supply?

Bothwell: More than half the citizens are on municipal supplies. All of those systems exist on the rates that are paid. There are fixed costs no matter how much they sell. I think the County ought to step in get the other companies to use a conservation rate system. People up to 4,000 would pay a lower rate and people who use over 4,000 would pay more. This would encourage conservation. Voluntary well-metering program with a tax incentive.

Dover: Yes, I would support a study. I keep a rain gauge at home. I know we had a drought, and I know that our reservoirs are full. I’d like to know how much water we have and how many that aquifer can support.

Gantt: This goes to the big issue of stewardship. We have a moral obligation to take care of what the Lord’s given us. We need to have information to make good decisions. An MVA forum opened my eyes on water issues. We need lots of public comment because the idea of metering wells scares people to death. We have to deal with stormwater, streams and underground.

What policies will you implement to coordinate regional planning to concentrate development in the city in order to preserve other areas?

Gantt: I was Chairman of Land of the Sky Regional Council. That’s a perfect place to talk about the regional.

Thomson: The key thing is planning and how we plan. We plan by being good neighbors to those who are from here and those here by choice. Use business oriented strategic planning and encourage the municipalities to plan. Put the plans on the internet for maximum transparency. They’re expecting 60,000 new people in Buncombe in the next 25 years. We need planning for those people.

Bailey: Land conservation is vital to our quality of life in this community. There has to be planning. The Land of the Sky Council is the perfect place to do this regional planning. I’d like to see a greenway around the city, that’s undisturbed.

Bothwell: The County should work cooperatively with the City. Developers say “better up than out, but they never protect the out”. The imposition of a “height tax”, a surcharge, would create a conservation fund, so the County can buy more land to protect.

Hill: I think our tax base is forcing our farmers to sell a lot of acreage. I know a lot of my friends are moving to Tennessee because they don’t want to spend their retirement on taxes. We need to give landowners tax breaks to keep them here on their land. This keeps land in the hands of the locals, not developers.

Jones: One of the mechanisms I’ve been excited about is called Transfer Development Rights – the idea is that the community would decide which areas they want to preserve, then the County would purchase the Right to Develop. Energy efficient, green building, affordable housing would be preferred. We want growth to happen in the right place, on our corridors. Developers would have to purchase the right to do these larger developments. Regional planning is my number one priority. Buncombe should be leading.

Please elaborate on measures you would take to create energy sustainability in Buncombe.

Thomson: Energy efficiency – lighting systems, improved heating and cooling systems. Go to my website’s FAQ page! Use the old landfill here in Woodfin and use that land with new technologies (blue-green algae for food and fuel) and end up with cleaner water, cleaner air, and carbon sequestration.

Jones: I’m excited that the divide between economic stewardship and environmental stewardship is narrowing. We have set some of the most far-reaching goals in nation to reduce carbon emissions in Asheville. We adopted an ordinance that new City building must be LEED certified. The first batch of recommendations from our community committee has saved us $200k.

Hill: I’ve been to an energy management institution. We’re using a third of this room but lighting the whole room. We could save 66% of the cost right now. The institute taught me everything.

Gantt: I think there are three parts – First part: The County has an obligation to be an example. I like the City’s LEED designation. If you do that, it’s smart business. So why not do it? CFL recycling program. Give incentives to people to reduce energy consumption. The third thing is that this is a huge business. Green jobs, green everything is a huge part of economy in the future.

Dover: We need to educate people. Buncombe needs to lead the nation. We need to set an example. Government can’t, however, do it all. Individuals need to conserve. I have all CFLs in my house. We bluebag our trash and dry our clothes after hours. We’re retired and on a fixed income. We try to only make one trip for errands.

Bothwell: Education is important. Energy conservation takes money. Low interest loans to do energy retrofits. This year the County will spend four million dollars to lure business here. I paid $50/year for electricity when I had my home powered with solar. We could put solar cells on roofs all over this County instead of four million to lure business.

Bailey: I hate following Cecil. (laughter) My thing is education. We put Green and LEED into the school. David, Vernon and I are on the Eblen Foundation. We insisted their new buildling be LEED certified.

How would you deal with the Republicans calling your ideas radical, extreme, or Big Government?

Bailey: Some of those folks are pretty radical themselves. We’ll let the voters decide.

Bothwell: Reagan revolution has failed. We can run solidly as Democrats. Government is for the common good. We can run on the Constitution and beat them right back into a corner. Their time is gone.

Dover: As Democrats we try to help people.

Gantt: Big ticket, tax and spend, you’re wasting our money. People are way ahead of government on things like government, conservation, health care. We don’t have to do hardly anything on health care, but we take all comers to our health department. I think every American has right to health care. Cutting health care isn’t going to happen on our watch. We’ve spent about $4 million on conservation easements, so people are ahead of us.

Hill: I’m for the taxpayers of Buncombe County.

Jones: Four points – Our public is ahead of government; Educate people, there are a lot of Republican folks who are “seeing the light”; I would like to show them the money – the dollars saved; Some people aren’t going to like anyone on our side. Some people are ugly and nasty. There is some harsh criticism and a lot of it is unfair – but you just have to accept it’s out there and that they’re human.

Thomson: Green is the new Red, White, and Blue. The jobs of the future are going to be about conservation, construction, engineers, planning to stop the leaks in our energy systems. We can develop the jobs we need right here in Buncombe County.

Would you prioritize televising public comment and planning board meetings?

Jones: I support it. I’d need two other people to help me pass that.

Thomson: I support public involvement, even though it means longer meetings. I think that we need to be patient and listen to people. It would benefit the planning board. The cost should be negligible. Transparency is something I’ve been involved in. Gantt got the Buncombe County site up and running.

Hill: I would be for letting the public see how our elected officials are treated.

Gantt: As far as other boards, I think that all of them should be televised. I was on the negotiating team with the cable companies. I made sure that any municipality that wants to be televised could be. About the public comment – we have to balance it.

Dover: Yes, I would favor it. There has to be a respect. People just can’t constantly get up there and berate the elected officials. When I was Chairman of the School Board we often had one a.m., two a.m. meetings. It’s hard to come to a meeting, so it’s important for folks to be able to see it on TV.

Bothwell: To give credit to the Commissioners who decided not to televise, the public comment was being abused. Use City Council rules for public comment. Yes, televise everything.

Bailey: We don’t have cable where I live, so I haven’t seen any of these meetings. I’m for televising all of it. Why not let ’em televise it?

What is your vision for Buncombe County over the next twenty years?

Bailey: We need a great deal of planning -strategic. What are our community goals? Are we going to have a smart growth plan. What are we going to do about jobs and economic development?

Bothwell: I’d like to see future development concentrated on transportation corridors, something like Portland, OR has achieved. One proposal is to ban septic tanks on multifamily and big development. That’ll concentrate development near the corridors. Cap building permits. There’s no reason why we HAVE to grow. We could stop advertising Asheville – I think we’ve got the message across. Spend that promotion money on the County.

Dover: I understand why people want to move here. It’s a great place, and I want to make it a great place for our children and grandchildren. There’s too much division now – let’s bring everyone together. There are still plenty of ideas left, plenty of thoughts in the community. There’s going to be good debate between Republicans and Democrats. I want to make things better, not worse.

Gantt: One thing – Take care of people who don’t have as much as we do. My religious beliefs are that when you have a lot you have to give a lot back. We have to be good stewards of our mountains. Good education for people. Anyone that works in Buncombe County ought to be able to buy a house. The County spends money only on tourism promotion, not to get folks to move here.

Hill: In order to have growth, you’ve got to have water. I’d like to study having a water treatment plant on the French Broad River.

Jones: This is the best question that I’ve heard. People want vision. My vision would be people that work here can afford to live here. We retain our quality of life, which includes the beauty of the place we live and the earth we’ve been given. I’d like to see more of our children graduating and getting living wage, green collar jobs. There are so many good things happening in this community, and we need to share that energy with Commission.

: I missed the Ox Creek debate because I was at a family birthday party with my elders. I got to see my great uncles and great aunts’ great-great grandchildren. We are part of something greater than ourselves, and we are stewards of these mountains. We have to plan and be good neighbors. Healthy Growth, Successful Schools, and Livable Neighborhoods.

Heather Rayburn asks if she can ask a fun question before we go.

What’s the last book you read and the last movie you saw in the theater?

Bailey: Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons. Charlie Wilson’s War.

Bothwell: A Team of Rivals (bio of Abraham Lincoln). I don’t go to the theater much.

Dover: I can’t remember the last time we went out to a movie. What God Wants Christians To Know is the book I’m reading.

Gantt: Biography of John Adams. Charlie Wilson’s War.

Hill: O’Reilly’s Children Are Human Also. I Read the Bible to try to keep my soul clean. I don’t remember the last movie but it was a comedy.

Jones: Horton Hears a Who. My husband is in charge of Poetry Alive! The last book I read was Eat, Pray, Love.

Thomson: In 1968 I saw Planet of the Apes, and I watched it again on DVD recently when Heston dies. Go see Soylent Green! I have a history degree, and I continue to study history. I’m reading a History of the Third Reich in Power.

Categories : Democrats, Local


  1. New light bulbs that give the same light for less cost are a bright idea. They are the tip of the iceberg of countless economic opportunities to create jobs, income and greater national security, through growing energy efficiency and domestic renewable resources.

    Green is the new red, white and blue!

    Please check out my proposal for a Green Energy Park/Business Incubator on county owned land in Woodfin at the old landfill.

  2. It is a great credit to Gordon Smith that he is the only reporter covering the county commissioner race in any depth whatsoever.

    It is also worth noting that the efforts of a couple of individuals are getting footage of some of the forums up on URTV.

    Local print and broadcast media are roundly ignoring the race, which can only signal tacit support for the incumbents in a year when there is an apparent groundswell of discontent with the incumbent commissioners across the political spectrum. It’s no wonder more and more people are turning to the Web for news, and particularly to clear-eyed bloggers who actually show up to be the eyes and ears of the people.

    Congrats to Screwy Hoolie. And thanks.

  3. xty says:

    Thanks Gordon.

  4. James Atkinson says:

    I spent the day researching the entire Primary ballot and had intended to go Early Vote before I picked the kids up from school.

    However, the Buncombe Commissioner race has stymied my plans. The lack of in depth local coverage (except for Gordon) is a problem, as is my unwillingness to support any of the incumbents on the Commission.

    The brazen backroom shenanigans surrounding the proposed Progress Energy Woodfin power plant left me deeply angry with the Commission, and the Pack land sale does not help restore my faith.

    I will use my vote to help bring the Commission to heel. Incumbents out. End of story.

    This also means no to Dover, whose long association with Progress Energy makes me think “shill” in the context of Woodfin. Bailey’s apparent ties to Peterson and Stanley give me pause. Hill sounds almost completely unqualified to me, and Elingburg is out of the race for family reasons.

    That leaves Bothwell, Thomson, and Jones, all of whom I am comfortable with. But we vote for FOUR, not THREE.

    What to do?

    Thanks for blogging the debate Gordon. Very helpful.


  5. Gordon Smith says:


    My fourth vote is going to K. Ray Bailey. You can read all my picks for the primary here: