Government Accountability Project Asheville

The Buncombe County Commission meets this Tuesday, June 4th, 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.

The Community Reparations Commission will meet for a virtual session on Monday, June 10th, from 6:30 to 8 pm. Meeting materials will be available here. This meeting will also be recorded and streamed at the City’s YouTube page.

URGENT

  • 0 Items

PROBLEMATIC

  • 0 Items

CONCERNS

  • 2 Items

POSITIVE

  • #2 Items

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

Buncombe County Commission Agenda – Presentation: Community Child Protection Teams (CCPT)/Child Fatality Prevention Team (CFPT) (Team Report, Team Presentation)

These teams review and analyze child fatalities and come up with strategies for how to reduce childhood mortality. For the past year, those strategies included gun safety measures, increased substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, better child abuse reporting, sharing more information on unsafe sleep practices, and suicide prevention.

The report documents that Black children are dying in Buncombe County at a disproportionate rate: “In Buncombe County, Black infants are 2.36 times more likely to die before their first birthday than white infants.”

We wonder why these teams haven’t given more priority to strategies that investigate and address the fact that Black children are more at risk in Buncombe County. The data on causes of death isn’t disaggregated by race, so we don’t know what led to the deaths of these Black children. However, we note that the most common cause of death in infants was perinatal conditions, and wonder about the connection between that and the longstanding racial disparities (nationally and locally) in health outcomes for both babies and the people birthing them. While gun safety, suicide prevention, and the other strategies prioritized by this team all have merit, we wonder why a strategy focused on the impact of race and racism on childhood mortality isn’t included here.

Things to do

Email the Buncombe County Commission and suggest that they ask an important question at this presentation: since the data indicates that Black children are at a much greater risk, why aren’t the CCPT and CFPT implementing any strategies that will address this deeply troubling disparity?

We have prepared an email template below that addresses both this issue and the County’s proposed attention to the critical need for affordable housing, for which we have a “green” item below.

Asheville City School Board consideration of an easement to facilitate a bike trail adjacent to Asheville Middle School (easement draft)

AVL Unpaved, a partnership between Asheville on Bikes, Pisgah Area SORBA, and Connect Buncombe, is petitioning for an easement from Asheville City Schools on some property adjacent to the Middle School. They want to build bike trails near the school, as explained in this memo: “These trails will provide access to nature and recreation opportunities for our residents and will be especially beneficial to the Asheville Middle School after-school bike program. Having natural surface trails close to campus provides an opportunity that is otherwise infeasible, as the transport of students and bikes to other trails in the afternoons has proven to be too difficult.” You can see the proposed bike trail map here.

Local community members have some concerns about this plan, and especially the parts of the proposed trail that extend behind the houses on Charles Street, which is a predominantly Black neighborhood. They worry that building these trails so close to their homes will lead to a greater risk of gentrification and displacement.

We think their concerns are valid. The Charles Street area has been designated as vulnerable to gentrification in the City’s Missing Middle housing study, and there is a lot of evidence from other parts of the country that links the building of bike trails and other urban greenways to increased gentrification. (You can read more about this phenomenon in these two articles: Why Greenway Parks Cause Greater Gentrification and What Bike Lanes Taught Me About Racism.)

We wonder why it’s necessary to build this path adjacent to these houses. It would seem possible to modify the map so that this area is excluded, while still providing a bike path that could be available to Asheville Middle School students.

Things to do

Email the Asheville City School Board and ask them to consider the concerns of local residents in their deliberations over whether to grant this easement to AVL Unpaved. It seems possible to build bike trails that the children can use without extending them into the Charles Street area, which could put that neighborhood at greater risk of gentrification.

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

GREEN:

Things that sound like a step in the right direction

Buncombe County Commission Agenda – Old Business: Determination of Critical Need for Capital Improvement Project (resolution draft)

County staff want to move forward with a public/private partnership to establish an equitable, unified, mixed income residential community on County-owned property around the Ferry Road property, and are asking the Commissioners to declare a “critical need” for affordable housing in the County (which is a necessary step according to North Carolina law).

We were pleased to see this proposed resolution that acknowledges the critical need for affordable housing in the County. We also see positive dimensions to the proposed Ferry Road project, with its promise of 55 units available to rent at 30% or less of Area Median Income. While we wonder if that number couldn’t be increased, this still feels like a step in the right direction.

We want to point out the connection between this issue and the one we flagged about around Black childhood mortality above. There is a well-documented connection between affordable housing and health, according to the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency: “Children raised in affordable, safe housing experience fewer health issues, such as asthma or exposure to lead- based paint, and fewer traumatic experiences associated with evictions and homelessness.”

Things to do

Email the Buncombe County Commission and encourage them to vote in favor of this resolution, declaring affordable housing a “critical need” and proposing a plan of action to address this issue.

We have prepared an email template below that addresses both this issue and the need for childhood mortality strategies that address the impact of race (for which we have a “yellow” item above) .

Follow Up: Asheville Business Inclusion (ABI) Office’s Plan to Implement the 2023 Disparity Study Recommendations

In the 4/8/24 and 5/13/24 GAP Reports, we brought up the 2023 Disparity Study and its findings that Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) receive disproportionately fewer contracts offered by the City of Asheville. The Disparity Study offered 41 recommendations for how to address these disparities. We were concerned that the current resources dedicated to the Asheville Business Inclusion (ABI) office will be a barrier to implementing any of these recommendations.

On Friday, May 31st, members of the GAP Strategy Team met with Marcus Kirkman, the new Business Inclusion Manager, and Rachel Taylor, the Economic Development Division Manager. They offered us an in-depth overview of their Disparity Study implementation plan. (They also presented their plan to the Equity and Engagement Committee a few weeks ago – you can review the slides here.)

We were impressed by many elements of the plan, and pleased that there will be publicly shared milestones and regular public reports on progress. We still have some of our original concerns – that timely and complete implementation of these recommendations will require more staff resources than the City is allocating. However, we want to extend some grace to Mr. Kirkman and Ms. Taylor as they begin to move forward with their plan and understand that they will need to determine what resources will be needed to carry out their plan. We are encouraged by their commitment and look forward to hearing their progress reports, which will begin this Fall.

Things to do

Email Asheville Business Inclusion Manager Marcus Kirkman and Economic Development Division Manager Rachel Taylor to thank them for meeting with GAP Strategy Team members and to encourage them in moving their plan for decreasing racial disparities in City contracts.

We have prepared an email template below that you can use to contact the Asheville Business Inclusion Office.

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

CC: or BCC: info@gapavl.org

Subject: Protecting Black children

Dear Members of the Buncombe County Commission,

I’m writing to encourage you to support the proposed resolution on your June 4th agenda declaring affordable housing a “critical need.” The lack of affordable housing in the County has reached a crisis-point, and I appreciate your efforts to address it.

I’m also concerned with another item on your agenda: two teams concerned with child protection and fatalities will be making a presentation, which includes important data about Black children, who are more than twice as likely to die than their white counterparts in their first year of life. These teams have a list of strategies they have undertaken, but I don’t see one that is designed to address these deadly racial disparities. Will you please ask them why and suggest that they explore that option?

Of course, these issues are all connected: the lack of affordable housing for so many Black households is strongly related to racial health disparities. I hope we can move forward with new strategies for deeply affordable housing and other strategies for reducing Black childhood mortality.

Thanks for your leadership,

ASHEVILLE CITY SCHOOL BOARD EMAIL TEMPLATE TEXT

You can send an email to the Asheville City School Board 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: george.sieburg@acsgmail.net, amy.ray@acsgmail.net, james.carter@acsgmail.net, liza.kelly@acsgmail.net, rebecca.strimer@acsgmail.net, sarah.thornburg@acsgmail.net, jesse.warren@acsgmail.net

CC: or BCC: info@gapavl.org

Subject: Neighborhood concerns about Bacoate easement

Dear Members of the Asheville City School Board,

I’m writing out of concern regarding the proposed construction of bike paths adjacent to the Charles Street neighborhood, which is tied to the easement request you’ve received from AVL Unpaved for land adjacent to Asheville Middle School. There is evidence that establishing bike paths and other greenways can lead to greater gentrification and displacement in vulnerable areas, which is an understandable concern for this predominantly Black community. I encourage you to propose that these developers put together a new bike path plan – one that doesn’t put this neighborhood at risk.

Thanks for your leadership,

ASHEVILLE BUSINESS INCLUSION 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: mkirkman@ashevillenc.gov, rtaylor@ashevillenc.gov

CC: or BCC: info@gapavl.org

Subject: Thanks for moving forward on the Disparity Study recommendations

Dear Mr. Kirkman and Ms. Taylor,

I want to thank you for meeting last week with members of the GAP Strategy Team, and for putting together a thorough plan for implementing the 2023 Disparity Study in your efforts to ensure equity in government contract awards for Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBE). While I have some lingering concerns about the likely pace of change, I want you to know that folks like me who care about racial justice in our City are cheering you on as you undertake this critical work.

Thanks for your leadership,