Government Accountability Project Asheville

The Community Reparations Commission has its next regularly scheduled meeting, Monday, April 22nd, 2024 from 6 pm to 8:00 pm. The meeting will be held at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Banquet Hall at 87 Haywood Street in Asheville. The public is welcome to attend. Meeting materials will be available here. You can watch the meeting live (or a recording of it later) online at the City’s YouTube page.

The Buncombe County Commission meets this Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 5 pm. You can attend the meeting at 200 College Street, Room 326 in downtown Asheville. You can watch the meeting online via Buncombe County’s Facebook page. The full agenda is here.

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EMAIL TEMPLATES

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Things that seem problematic

Asheville Housing Authority proposes closure of Southside Community Garden

At their next meeting on April 24th, the Housing Authority for the City of Asheville (HACA) will be considering a resolution to close the Southside Community Garden (SCG), which sits behind the Arthur R. Edington Education and Career Center. According to the resolution, the land is needed for a children’s playground, the farm does not offer significant benefit to Housing Authority residents, and the farm creates rodent issues for the Edington Center.

The Managers of SCG claim that there is room for a playground without closing the garden, and that neighborhood youth benefit from access to it. Bountiful Cities, a nonprofit that works closely with SCG, claim in an open letter that the garden is diligently maintained in a sanitary manner, and that “gardens do not attract rodents dangerous to human health like rats and roaches.”

We are unpersuaded by the reasons offered by HACA for closing this garden. SCG’s mission is to promote Black food sovereignty in Asheville and is valuable for many Black community members and its surrounding community. We wonder if there isn’t some hidden agenda here, some other reason they are eager to shut it down. We support the community effort to save it in the interests of preserving Black community resources in Asheville. and we encourage you to do likewise.

Things to do

Sign the Protect Southside Community Farm and its Vital Services petition here, and go to the Southside Community Garden website, where you can read more about this issue and guidance for writing a letter of support, among other advocacy steps.

Report Back

To see the latest report back on this issue, click here.

Follow Up: Asheville 2024-2025 Budget – 2023 Asheville Disparity Study – Business Inclusion Office Funding

We raised this issue in our last GAP Report, and are bumping it up again since public officials have yet to respond to the questions we raised. Below are the same details as last week, please read on if you haven’t taken action with us on this yet. The next step in the City’s Budget process is a presentation of the draft budget at the City Council Meeting on May 14th.

Here are all the details:

On October 24th, 2023, the Asheville City Council unanimously accepted the Asheville Disparity Study, prepared by contractor Miller 3 Consulting. The 523-page study, which you can review in full here, was a follow-up to the original 2018 Disparity Study, which showed that Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) were not getting contracts with the City at an equitable rate. This demonstration of disparities gave the City the legal pathway to establishing an Office of Business Inclusion to target those populations for future contracts, in an attempt to reduce these disparities.

The 2023 follow-up report showed that these disparities persist five years later. It also included 27 recommendations for how the City could reduce these disparities and more effectively increase the number of MWBE firms successfully bidding on contracts. (We have summarized each of these recommendations below.) The basic recommendations were as follows:

  • The City needs to set annual goals for addressing disparities in contracting with WMBE, and then consistently collect data and report on progress toward those goals.
  • The City needs to look at improving its record on more inclusive contracting as a city-wide organizational challenge. These problems cannot be addressed in a piecemeal manner, but require buy-in across the government.
  • The City needs to invest in expanding the pipeline of available firms, rather than just focusing on those firms that are already in the pipeline.
  • Finally, there are various ways that the City could expand the scope of Business Inclusion.

We were pleased in October when the City Council accepted the report with a unanimous vote, especially because the scope and depth of the recommendations is so impressive. We believe that implementing them would go a long way toward truly leveling the playing field, especially for Black-owned businesses, who had the worst disparities in both 2018 and 2023.

We’re flagging this issue now because we’re concerned that the City may not be devoting the necessary resources to addressing these critical problems. Historically, the Office of Business Inclusion has been a one-person department, and it’s hard for us to imagine how one employee, no matter how skilled and committed, could implement a significant portion of these recommendations. If addressing these disparities is indeed a priority, we think this department will have to grow in size and scope. (We understand that a new Business Inclusion Manager has just been hired, and look forward to hearing their perspective on how the recommendations can be implemented, and whether the current budget for Business Inclusion is sufficient for that task.)

This winter and spring, the City has been engaging in the annual process of developing a budget. We’ve yet to hear any mention of the 2023 Disparity Study recommendations or a possible expansion of the Office of Business Inclusion in any of the City’s budget work sessions or documents, or at the Council retreat. (It’s of course possible that we missed it, given the many hours of meetings.) We think the City Manager and City Council should publicly discuss what priority they plan to give to the 2023 Disparity Study recommendations and whether the current budget and size and scope of the Office of Business Inclusion is sufficient.

Things to do

Write to the Asheville City Council and City Manager and ask them how the 2023-2024 budget will address the recommendations in the 2023 Disparity Study, and whether they think a one-person department is sufficient to accomplish these critical equity goals.

We have prepared an email template below that you can use to contact the Asheville City Council.

Report Back

To see the latest report back on this issue, click here.

EMAIL TOOL

Fill out the form below and click the “start writing” button to open up our email tool. By using the tool, you will enable us to track how many emails were sent overall in the campaign. You will be able to edit, adapt, and/or personalize the content in the tool, and then it will send individual emails to each of the designated recipients. The email tool will automatically include a greeting at the top (e.g. “Mayor Manheimer”) and will also include your name, email address, and city at the bottom.

If you prefer not to use our tool, you can send an email to the addresses below. We ask that you send us a copy at info@gapavl.org so we can add your email to the tally of emails sent.

EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT

To: AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov, dcampbell@ashevillenc.gov
CC or BCC: info@gapavl.org
Subject: Addressing disparities in business inclusion in this year’s budget

Dear City Council Members and City Manager Campbell,

Last October, you unanimously accepted the 2023 Disparity Report, which included 27 thoughtful and substantive recommendations for addressing serious disparities in Minority and Women Business Enterprise contracts with the City. I know that you share my conviction that shifting these persistent inequities is a top City priority. I’m writing today to ask if you have considered expanding the Office of Business Inclusion, which is tasked with implementing all of these recommendations, and which currently consists of a single person. I hope you will ask staff whether they need more resources to be able to do so effectively, and will incorporate their needs into your ongoing budget deliberations.

Thanks for your leadership,