Democratic Candidates For Buncombe County Commission Debate in KenilworthBy
Bill Stanley ducked this debate. That makes four out of five debates that he avoided. He must think he’s entitled to his re-election, so don’t disappoint him, Hooligans! David Gantt, having admirably attended every other forum despite not having a primary opponent, was attending a fundraiser.
This debate transcript, like the others, was done on the fly. Anything in quotations is a direct quote, everything else can be considered paraphrase. I try to keep the tone and tenor of the candidate to allow for personality to come through. All mistakes are mine.
Buncombe County Democratic candidates’ debate for County Commission – April 28, 2008 – Kenilworth Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC
Cecil Bothwell: “I’ve lived here for 27 years.” 17 years as a reporter. I entered the race irked by bad decisions on the part of the County Commission. I covered it as part of my beat. The larger thing is that I realized that there is a possibility to really work on issues of sustainability. We need to get energy use down by half by the middle of the century. “Global Warming is a local problem.” I found that there are Realtors and a Duke energy executive and teachers supporting my candidacy – lots of diverse people who are concerned with sustainability.
Holly Jones: I came to Buncombe 12 years ago to be Executive Director of YWCA – Eliminate Racism, Empower Women. I share that because that’s my impetus to want to serve on the County Commission. I have a concern, career, and passion around Health and Human Services. The people I work with are struggling, paying child care bills, finding an affordable place to live. The second reason is that I feel that after serving on Asheville City Council, so many of the issues I’ve been passionate about in the city, have made me realize that we are ready for a regional plan. Citizens are hungry and ready and asking for it. Decide where to develop and what to preserve.
Keith Thomson: I have 2 children in Asheville City Schools. I volunteer at the school and own a small business that offers computer systems for small business. We built the original Buncombe County website. Continuous improvement is something I believe in, and I see the need for that in our City and County schools. I’ve been volunteering for decades. I served on the Buncombe County Energy Committee. Air quality, innovation, continuous improvement are all things that I can bring. It helps everyone to save energy. I think we’re all good people, and we’ll make a good team.
Carol Peterson: “I always say we have the best seat in the house”. Let me tell you about Carol Peterson. I was born and raised here. I was an educator here. My husband is Heath Shuler’s District Director. I’ve worked hard in the Party for years. Chaired the party, and I’m now a superdelegate to the National Convention. As a retired educator, I know how important it is. I worked with Ray Bailey to be the Chairman of the Board at A/B Tech. We have land and pets. I’m proud to be part of the Commission that instituted zoning, stormwater regs, and steep slope. We get what Buncombe is all about. I’d like to serve another term. There may be folks who are interested in one issue, I think there are a lot of different issues across the board.
K. Ray Bailey: I’ve lived in Buncombe County for 41 years. Taught and coached at Erwin High School. I was President of A/B Tech. Main purpose is to provide a trained work force. I retired last August, then I started having conversations with people who asked me to run for County Commission. All my life I’ve worked in situations where I’ve tried to improve peoples’ lives. My strengths: economic development – small business incubator: I person came and we helped him get started, now it’s a $50million business. Education. My real strength is in planning, getting all the info possible to put together the priorities for the County.
Vernon Dover: I’ve lived here my entire life. I married my high school sweetheart. Ray Bailey taught me in the 9th grade at Erwin High. Two children and two grandchildren. We love it here. I retired from Progress Energy after 40 years. I was involved in economic development. I got involved in the community at West Buncombe Fire Dept. I became Fire Chief. I then was the Chair of the School Board. Buncombe County was 8th worst in the nation in facility needs. We helped pass bond referendums and improved our schools.
Bob Hill: I’m a friend of the taxpayers. $240 million is a lot of money, and I want to make sure it’s spent well. I’m a businessman, worth with an electronics company for 39 years. Two time president of some Enka things. He did a lot of stuff out there while keeping the tax rate the lowest in Buncombe County. I’ll take credit for getting the ball rolling on improving the schools by recording the deteriorating schools and presenting it across the county. We’ve built seventeen brand new schools as a result. I’m an Airborne Ranger. I’ll be married 45 years this summer. I can spend your money wisely and maybe even give some of it back.
MODERATOR: (Keeping it informal, opening the floor to questions. Homeboy’s not prepared.) All questions below come from the audience without any intermediary.
How would you promote a living wage in the County?
Jones: I was supportive of the City taking a step for Living Wage for the City Employees. We are creating incentives for contractors to pay a Living Wage.
Thomson: Explains his understanding of Living Wage. Our County workers are doing important work and ought to be compensated fairly.
Peterson: County jobs are very important, have great wages and great benefits. We need to look at what Holly is doing in the City.
Bailey: I would certainly support Living Wage. We did that with all the employees at A/B Tech. You want to attract businesses and lndustries that pay more than the living wage if you want to keep people here.
Dover: Keeping kids here is important. I’m for it.
Hill (sitting under Stanley’s sign): I’m for it.
Bothwell: I would support incentivizing and then go beyond to require them to pay minimum wage. Three strikes law for businesses regarding workers’ rights, environmental law, etc. “We shouldn’t do business with criminals.”
How do you stand on the Parkside Condo Project?
Thomson: Parkside is a City zoning issue. That’s an issue that Gantt has taken the lead on since realizing he made a mistake. We can’t rescind it without going through eminent domain. Whether the City approves it, the County might be able to repurchase.
Peterson: “This question is on a lot of folks minds.” “I want to clear things up.” “This was on the consent agenda. It was then pulled up to the regular agenda.” If I had it to do over again, the vote would be different. The County has offered to buy the land back, but Coleman has turned it down. You sometimes think you make mistakes, but that question has yet to be answered.
Bailey: I hope the County succeeds in negotiations.
Dover: I agree and want it done fast.
Hill: More study should’ve gone into it. We could have bought the property and used it to add to County justice infrastructure. Coleman wants a million and a half more than he paid for it.
Bothwell: I was in the front row of the meeting where Parkside was sold, but I didn’t know the significance. I think the County ought to join the Pack Family lawsuit. We could use eminent domain to reclaim the land. Coleman is pitching the deal because he expects to lose the vote before City Council. “I hold Bill Stanley responsible.”
Jones: This is frustrating because I’m on City Council and this will be a quasi-judicial hearing, so I can’t talk about it without having my future vote possibly be discounted.
The Democratic Party voted in favor of rescinding the sale. Leni Sitnick thinks there ought to be a new Zoning designation for permanent parkland. Would y’all support that in the county?
Peterson: Conservation easements and farmland preservation have opened the citizenry to this type of discussion. I’ve never thought about this, but the mood of the folks is to “do what we can to preserve what we have”. We’ve worked with the city, passed parks and greenways.
Bailey: I would agree with what you’re saying. Carrier Park can’t be sold for example.
Dover: If someone wants to donate property and make it permanent parkland – that’s a win-win situation.
Hill: That could be handled through Buncombe County Schools Foundation.
Jones: A lot of our zoning designations allow for public parks. I think it’s a good conversation to have.
Thomson: Perpetuity is a difficult issue, but I think that we should always protect the watersheds perhaps under that kind of zoning.
Buncombe County Planning Board has done a terrible job. What do you think?
Bailey: All I know is what I’ve heard in these sessions. Cecil is pretty adamant that people’s terms are up and need to be replaced. No one needs to be on any Board in perpetuity. You need fresh blood and new people.
And also, if I may, why can’t we get some regular citizens?
Bailey: You need diversity.
Dover: I’ve not kept up with this. I need more information. It’s come up. You do need a cross-section of folks on any committee you have.
Hill: I’ve heard these comments. I think the taxpayers ought to have a say when enough’s enough. We need cross-sectional representation.
How would you do that? It’s now tilted toward developers.
Hill: Let people apply.
How are people selected? There is enormous conflict of interest. Their terms have expired.
Bothwell: “The Boards are self-selecting.” In the past it’s been particularly developers. Now there are people activated and concerned about this. It’s ludicrous that folks are on there two years over their terms – the Commission has failed here. The Planning Board is now planning to undercut the steep slope law. We’ve got to get rid of them. Their terms are expired.
Jones: This is one of the most important boards in the county. Everyone needs to have faith in the appointees. Their process needs to be rejuvenated. Commissioners decide who to appoint. Diversity not just of vocation but of gender for instance.
Thomson: “Due process of the law is something we all have a stake in.” We have to have good rules that are fairly implemented in a transparent process. You have to keep new people coming in for the administration of justice.
Peterson: The process of being appointed to a Board is a very regimented process. When there are openings, applicants will be notified. Usually there are more slots available than there are applicants. That’s the situation for a number of Boards. Regarding the Planning Board – we were going through the zoning process and needed the continuity on the Board. We have 5 or 6 applications, and the interviews will be set up soon.
Can you give me a grade for the County Planning Department?
Peterson: I give it an “A”.
Bailey: I can’t because I don’t know.
Dover: When I was working, folks felt they were very effective.
Bailey: I worked with the City Planners.
Thomson: They’ve done a good job, but they’re being overwhelmed. We’ll see if there’s less land speculation in the near future. We should have had better planning
Bothwell: The Department’s been very uneven. Zoning is a good start. The Cliffs is an abomination. Golf courses are one of the chief contributors to water pollution. The staff has failed in the Progress Energy lease and the Parkside deal. Planning Department had to know. I give them a “C”
Hill: I give it a “C” because they don’t help the builders enough.
Where are we in energy policy planning and what about our energy future?
Thomson: High prices are an opportunity to create good jobs. Blue-Green algae is a feed stock for bio-diesel that can be highly productive and create jobs. It could also provide fuel for our County emergency vehicles. The County can use the Progress Energy land to do it.
Bailey: We need to help these businesses that will have to create ways to conserve energy while providing good jobs. The County should set an example.
Peterson: Buncombe is setting the standard for running the businesses – new windows in the Courthouse, CFLs. We’re keeping energy savings in mind.
Bothwell: A core piece of my platform that we’re not doing near enough. The County has made some motions but not enough. This is the best way to protect our people is to retrofit buncombe homes for energy efficiency, cut bills, keep housing more affordable, and keep dollars in the County. Within four years I would guarantee we could save 5-10% of the energy in the County. 30% of people’s income goes to energy bills. We can make it better.
Dover: Government can be the leader, but at the end of the day it boils down to individuals. You have to use CFLs, off-peak usage, recycling.
Jones: One, we owe a great big thanks to the citizens of this community. It’s thrilling when people can regroup and set a new agenda. Asheville has led the way in energy efficiency.
Hill: I’ve been to energy management school in Dallas, TX. I reduced Bob Ingles’ freezers into the computer and figured out how to make them less cool when the door is closed.
The City School Board needs more oversight. Homeboy talks a long time. The County needs to give oversight for City Schools.
Thomson: I think it’s the local supplemental funding that allows the City Schools to become a leader and narrow the achievement gap. Fewer dropouts now.
Hill: When we did the bond referendum to do new schools, Raleigh attached an Asheville benefit to that referendum.
Peterson: I have taught in most school systems here. There’s so much to say about what you’re talking about. The Commissioners don’t have a responsibility there. The supplemental school tax is at 16 cents for the City. There’s discussion about consolidation for the school systems. Asheville High has a very special population. The County schools also have a lot of special populations. I think each schol system is doing a great job.
Bailey: That school board needs to be responsible to report to somebody.
Hill: Our Enka advisory council was appointed by the School Board to supervise the spending of the Enka money.
Dover: There needs to be oversight. The supplemental tax is very important to the school.
Hill: (I totally stopped paying attention for a while here. Sorry, Bob.)
Thomson: We ought to have an education forum. We need innovation to create the industries and jobs of the future and to care for each other as neighbors. We need people ready to be citizens of the 21st Century. The children need to receive the highest quality education. Local supplemental funding is what goes beyond NCLB and teaching to the test.
How do you feel about whether you would encourage consolidating the City and County school systems?
Jones: I have we have two excellent systems. There’s no data to support consolidation. It’s not a cost-saving.
Bailey: This raises its head every two or three years and then goes away. Eventually the state may mandate it, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Dover: Talks about how the state might address it. It’s not going to save money, and it will create a lot of division.
Thomson: Thanks Martin Nesbitt for helping to kill any bills to consolidate. The bill that comes into committee in Raleigh is to pay for only one administrator per county.
ABRUPT ENDING FOLLOWED BY COMPLIMENTS FROM THE MODERATOR.