Government Accountability Project Asheville

The Community Reparations Commission will meet for a retreat session this Saturday, June 1st, from 9 am to 5 pm, 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. This meeting will not be recorded or streamed.

The Asheville City Council meets this Tuesday, May 28th, at 5 pm. You can attend the meeting on the 2nd Floor of City Hall, 70 Court Plaza in downtown Asheville. This meeting will be recorded and streamed at the City’s YouTube page. The full agenda for the formal meeting is here.

URGENT

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PROBLEMATIC

  • 0 Items

CONCERNS

  • 1 Item

POSITIVE

  • 1 Item

EMAIL TEMPLATES

Use our prepared email templates to take action on this week’s items.

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YELLOW:

Things of concern, more information needed

Asheville City Council Agenda – New Business A. Initial Actions Related to a November 2024 General Obligation (GO) Bond Referendum (staff memo)

The City is preparing a November 2024 General Obligation (GO) Bond referendum. The proposal is for $75 million in bonds directed at the following issues:

  • Affordable Housing ($25 million)
  • Transportation ($20 million)
  • Parks and Recreation ($15 million)
  • Public Safety ($15 million)

We are generally in favor of the City’s proposed GO Bond referendum, but find the spending categories too vague. More specifically, the term “affordable housing” can be applied to projects that only offer a small reduction in costs, targeted at those making 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). As we’ve repeatedly cited, Thrive Asheville’s analysis (which you can read in its entirety here) demonstrates that this kind of minimally-affordable housing “actually (increases) the disparity of available homes to those most in need…” Affordable housing that might address the needs of most Black and Latine families would need to be targeted at 50% AMI or less. Is that kind of deeply-affordable housing what the GO Bond resources will target? Similarly, we wonder what approach to “public safety” the $15 million in the proposed bond will fund. Is this to finance traditional law enforcement or to expand the Community Responder program or other alternative approaches to public safety? We’d like to see the City define the goals for this bond funding more explicitly.

Things to do

Write to the Asheville City Manager and City Council and ask them to share more details on the intentions for the GO Bond referendum.

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

Outcomes

Check back later this week for a report back on this issue.

GREEN:

Things that sound like a step in the right direction

Asheville City Council Agenda – Unfinished Business: Boosting the Block Community Facilitator Contract (staff memo)

The City received a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation for various elements of the Pack Square Vision Plan. One of the elements of this plan is: “engineering and construction to better connect The Block and enhance its cultural character (‘Boosting the Block’); and programming and education around more inclusive storytelling and history efforts in our community.” The first step in Boosting the Block is the hiring of a Community Facilitator “to lead engagement and support all aspects of community organizing, planning, design and implementation of the project deliverables.” The City set up a selection process and team, made up of representatives from the City, County, and community members from The Block. The result of that process was the recommendation in March of this year to hire Illumined Leadership Solutions, a Black-owned firm based in Durham, North Carolina. City Council expressed concerns about how this decision was reached and asked staff to explore various options for moving forward. Staff are now recommending that the City move forward with the originally proposed contractor.

When this issue came up two months ago, we expressed several concerns about both the process and the result. We were troubled by the fact that local Black applicants for this contract hadn’t been selected, and wondered whether the City was truly listening to the stakeholders from The Block. Based on our conversations with those stakeholders, we concluded in March that the best available path forward was 1) to approve the contract, because restarting the selection process would likely take too much time, and 2) to revise the way the City engages in Request for Proposal (RFP) processes in the future so that local knowledge could be given appropriate value. Two months later, we still think this is the right direction for the City to take, and we are pleased to report that the City appears poised to move forward accordingly.

The Block stakeholders we have spoken to want to move forward with Illumined Leadership Solutions at this point, and all signs point to City Council approval of this contract.

In addition, there appears to be movement toward revising the RFP process to assign greater value to local knowledge in the future. In March, when City Council members wondered whether locally based firms couldn’t get extra consideration for contracts, City Attorney Brad Branham warned that the location of a firm wasn’t a legally permissible criterion. We suggested a different approach in our March 11 GAP Report: “we wonder why the City can’t simply give the possession of ‘local knowledge’ more weight in these processes, which speaks to qualifications, not zip codes. One could imagine a Charlotte-based firm led by someone who grew up in Asheville scoring higher on ‘local knowledge’ than an Asheville-based firm led by someone who just arrived in the City last year.”

In the most recent City Council Briefing on May 20th, Council Member Antanette Mosley used a similar example in questioning Mr. Branham, and he agreed that this was a legally permissible approach. Council Members Kim Roney and Sage Turner joined Ms. Mosley in suggesting that City staff revise their RFP process, and staff agreed to work on that and present a new approach at a forthcoming Policy, Finance, and Human Resources Committee meeting.

We are proud to have played whatever part in achieving these outcomes, and also appreciative of the leadership of City Council Members Mosley, Roney, and Turner in pushing this forward.

Things to do

Write to City Council Members Antanette Mosley, Kim Roney, and Sage Turner to thank them for listening to the concerns of The Block and for pushing for important revisions to the City’s RFP process so that local knowledge is appropriately valued.

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

Outcomes

Check back later this week for a report back on this issue.

GRAY:

Updates on previous items

Asheville City Council Agenda – Public Hearing A. Public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2025 Annual Operating & Capital Budget. (staff memo, Manager’s proposed budget, presentation)

A primary focus of the proposed budget is “employee compensation and benefits, which includes a 4.11% salary increase for all permanent employees.”

We aren’t flagging this as a racial justice issue, but believe that a flat dollar amount salary increase would be more economically equitable than the percentage-based one the City is proposing. We don’t see why those making the most at the City need such a significant raise, when those making the lowest wages will still be below the living wage level. We suggest that folks review the Just Economics Call to Action on this issue.

Asheville Housing Authority evicts Southside Community Farm

At their meeting last week, the Housing Authority for the City of Asheville (HACA) voted to evict the Southside Community Farm (SCF). You can read more about the history of this issue in our original GAP Report for 4/15/24 and the Report Back here.

We were saddened to receive this news, and aren’t sure what support the SCF is seeking at this time. We will update you once we get more information.

BOOSTING THE BLOCK EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT

You can send an email to the three Council Members by filling out the form below. Our email tool will send an individually addressed email to each recipient, and enable us to track how many emails were sent overall in the campaign. If you prefer to write your own email, you can copy and paste (and adapt) our template text. We ask that you send us a copy (cc or bcc, your choice) at info@gapavl.org so we can better track how many emails were sent.

To: antanettemosley@avlcouncil.com, kimroney@avlcouncil.com, sageturner@avlcouncil.com

CC or BCC: info@gapavl.org

Subject: Thank you for supporting The Block and improving the RFP process

Dear Council Members Mosley, Roney, and Turner

I appreciate the support you voiced in the May 20th City Council Briefing for the proposed hiring of a Community Facilitator for the Boosting The Block initiative, following the wishes of stakeholders from The Block who want to move the process forward. I also appreciate the proposed revisions to the RFP process that you suggested, so that local knowledge can be appropriately factored into future selection processes.

Thanks for your leadership,

GO BOND EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT

You can send an email to the Asheville City Council and City Manager by filling out the form below. Our email tool will send an individually addressed email to each recipient, and enable us to track how many emails were sent overall in the campaign. If you prefer to write your own email, you can copy and paste (and adapt) our template text. We ask that you send us a copy (cc or bcc, your choice) at info@gapavl.org so we can better track how many emails were sent.

To: AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov, dcampbell@ashevillenc.gov
CC or BCC: info@gapavl.org
Subject: Can you offer more detail on the goals of the GO Bond referendum?

Dear City Council Members and City Manager Campbell,

I’d like more information about the proposed General Obligation (GO) Bond Referendum – the funding categories seem vague. Will the $25 million for “affordable housing” prioritize deeply-affordable housing? Will the $15 million for “public safety” prioritize alternatives to traditional policing such as the Community Responder program? Any clarity you can offer would be appreciated.

Thanks for your leadership,