Government Accountability Project Asheville

The Community Reparations Commission meets TONIGHT, Monday, June 17th at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Banquet Hall at 87 Haywood Street in Asheville. The public is welcome to attend. Meeting materials are available here. This meeting will also be recorded and streamed at the City’s YouTube page.

The Buncombe County Commission meets this Tuesday, June 18th, 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.

EMAIL TEMPLATE

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

q

2 RED:

Things that seem problematic

Buncombe County Commission Agenda – New Business: Authorizing the Reallocations of COVID Recovery Funds (staff memo, presentation)

The County received almost $51 million in COVID Recovery Funds from the federal government in 2021 “to invest toward recovery from COVID-19 and its negative economic impacts.” County staff are reviewing how these funds have been spent so far, and recommending several shifts in future funding.

This summary of past funding and recommendations for new reallocations contains no racial demographic data, and therefore no analysis of how these funds have impacted long standing racial inequities in the County. This is not unusual; the County routinely omits racial equity data when reviewing its programs, despite the fact that racial equity is described as a “foundational focus area” in its 2025 Strategic Plan and is regularly asserted as a core value. We wonder: when will the County start routinely tracking data, which would demonstrate a greater commitment to this value?

This issue was named as a prominent “key harm” in the Cease The Harm Audit the County received earlier this year: “County and City departments inconsistently collect racial demographic data across their programs, services, pathways, and resources to comprehensively determine the quality of opportunity, knowledge-base, representation, and access to African Americans. The lack of racial demographics prevents a targeted understanding of service delivery and program effectiveness [emphasis added].”

In an audit with over a hundred recommendations, it’s significant that this challenge was elevated to such prominence. To put it simply: if Buncombe County is not tracking data on racial inequities in how their programs are performing, there is no way to assess whether they are making any progress on addressing those inequities.

We’ve flagged this many times (see last year’s end-of-year report for a summary of all the times we mentioned it in 2023 alone). When we received no response from the County Commission or key County staff members to these publicly aired concerns, we approached them privately: all to no avail. We still see no evidence that the County has a real intention to address this issue, and we think it’s time they heard from the community that this is unacceptable.

Things to do

Email the Buncombe County Commission and the Equity and Human Rights Office and urge them to make a clear public commitment to track and disclose racial data on all County programs.

We have prepared an email template below that addresses this issue and the very similar one that follows.

Report Back

Read our Report Back here.

Buncombe County Commission Agenda – Board Appointments to Mountain Area Workforce Development Board and Strategic Partnership Grants Committee

The County will be interviewing two candidates for an opening on the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board and five candidates for an opening on the Strategic Partnership Grants Committee.

As is their practice, the County has only shared the names of these candidates, and no other information about them, such as their racial identity. (The City of Asheville, in contrast, publishes the application of each candidate for a Board or Commission, which includes what racial identities that candidate self-selects.) In their 2025 Racial Equity Action Plan, the County set a goal to “increase diversity” on these overwhelmingly white Boards. However, we can’t find anyplace on the County website that gives either a historical or current account of the racial demographics of these Boards, and the County refuses to consistently share any information about potential incoming Board members.

We have raised this issue many times in the past, both through prior public GAP Reports, and then through a long series of private communications with individual County Commissioners. We were repeatedly assured that the omission of racial identity (and any other) information about candidates for Boards and Commissions was a simple oversight and would be remedied, but it’s been more than a year now, and nothing has changed. More recently, a GAP volunteer made repeated attempts to engage the Equity and Human Rights Office on this issue; they got no response.

As with the issue above, we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Buncombe County, despite its stated goals and priorities, has no significant intention or motivation to remedy the disparities that exist on their Boards and Commissions. This is unacceptable and we think they need to hear from their constituents.

Things to do

Email the Buncombe County Commission and the Equity and Human Rights Office and urge them to make a clear public commitment to track and disclose racial data on the composition of their Boards and Commissions.

We have prepared an email template below that addresses this issue and the very similar one above.

COUNTY COMMISSION EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT

You can send an email to 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: 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, Noreal.Armstrong@buncombecounty.org

CC: or BCC: info@gapavl.org

Subject: When will Buncombe County start tracking and sharing racial equity data?

Dear Members of the Buncombe County Commission and Dr. Armstrong,

At your meeting this week you will consider the future of COVID Recovery Funds, but the presentation that summarizes how these funds have been used includes no racial demographic data, making it impossible for you (or the community) to evaluate whether these funds are impacting long standing racial inequities. In addition, while the County has named increasing the racial diversity of its Boards and Commissions a priority, you will consider candidates for seats on two County Boards and Commissions at this week’s meeting without sharing any information publicly about these candidates, such as their racial identities.

It’s because of routine omissions like this that the Cease The Harm Audit described the County’s failure to track racial data as a “key harm.” I want to believe in the sincerity of your commitment to racial equity, but have to wonder: When will the County start routinely tracking and sharing racial equity data, so that we can all evaluate where and how progress has been made and where work remains to be done?

Thanks for your leadership,