Government Accountability Project Asheville

The Community Reparations Commission meets online TONIGHT, Monday, May 6th from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. Meeting materials are available here. The meeting will be recorded and streamed at the City’s YouTube page. They will also meet next Monday, May 13th 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 also be recorded and streamed at the City’s YouTube page.

The Buncombe County Commission meets this Tuesday, May 7th, 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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Use our prepared email template to take action on this week’s item.

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Things that seem problematic

Asheville and Buncombe County Non-Discrimination Ordinances

In March of 2021, both the City of Asheville and Buncombe County passed non-discrimination ordinances, making it unlawful to “discriminate against employees or individuals in public spaces on the basis of race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, age, or disability.” The Buncombe County ordinance called for “a comprehensive process for receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints pertaining to alleged violations.” The Asheville ordinance also spelled out a process for investigation and enforcement.

In the three years since the ordinances were each adopted unanimously, there have been 55 complaints, but so far none has led to a finding of discrimination, according to reporting from the Asheville Watchdog.

The Watchdog article includes responses to the lack of discrimination findings by both City and County staff and elected officials. They express no concerns, but we have some. While it’s possible that most of the complaints were “unreal” or “don’t even apply to Buncombe County,” as suggested by County Commissioner Al Whitesides, we think it’s also very possible that the systems set up by the City and County for investigating and following up on allegations are flawed. We were glad to read that Dr. Noreal Armstrong, the County’s Chief Equity Officer, is working on addressing one barrier, which is that the process is overly complicated. We wonder what other barriers there are, and why the City and County haven’t done a thorough investigation into what complainants’ experience was in making a report. Why did so many choose not to follow up? Was it because the enforcement mechanism – a $100 fine – is so weak? The article notes that Charlotte, which set up a similar ordinance in 2021, has since then had multiple discrimination findings and $47,900 in total compensation. Shouldn’t we explore the possibility of modeling our system after theirs?

While the staff of both the City and County are called upon to enforce these ordinances, only the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Commission can revise them. We’d like to see them investigate why we’re getting such poor results, and consider amending our ordinances so that they can be as effective as those being implemented elsewhere.

Things to do

Write to the Asheville City Council the Buncombe County Commission and encourage them to investigate whether our local non-discrimination ordinances are effective and how they might be improved.

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

Outcomes

Read the Report Back here.

EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT

You can send an email to the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Commission 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, brownie.newman@buncombecounty.org, jasmine.beach-ferrara@buncombecounty.org, alfred.whitesides@buncombecounty.org, amanda.edwards@buncombecounty.org, terri.wells@buncombecounty.org, martin.moore@buncombecounty.org, parker.sloan@buncombecounty.org

CC or BCC: info@gapavl.org

Subject: Are the non-discrimination ordinances working?

Dear Members of the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Commission,

I’m writing out of concern that the non-discrimination ordinances you passed in 2021 are not working as intended. I’ve read that while there have been 55 complaints filed, none of them has led to a finding of discrimination, with most complainants dropping out of the process. It seems worthwhile to investigate why this is happening, and if there are ways the ordinances might be improved. Other North Carolina cities that passed similar ordinances a few years ago, such as Charlotte, appear to be having some success in delivering justice to those encountering discrimination, and I wonder what we might learn from their example.

Thanks for your leadership,