Policy. Advocacy. Change.

2022 Asheville/Buncombe County General Election – Forums & Candidate Questionnaires

On October 20, 2022, the ABFPC partnered with local organizations Poder Emma, CIMA, Just Economics, Racial Justice Coalition, Asheville Buncombe Community Land Trust, and our fiscal sponsor Bountiful Cities, to host our first virtual Bilingual Candidates Forum for City of Asheville and Buncombe County candidates. Leading up to the forum, we asked candidates to complete questionnaires with nine questions related to food security as well as affordable housing, racial justice, immigrant justice, transit, and living wage.

Only some of the candidates submitted questionnaires, although all were invited to do so. Their responses are below. You can also view the recordings of the City and County forums by clicking the appropriate buttons below.

Click below for the Spanish version of the questionnaire.

City of Asheville – Mayoral and City Council Candidates

Question 1: What strategies would you work to implement for preventing displacement caused by the gentrification of neighborhoods that have historically been home to the Black and Latino communities?

Esther Manheimer (Mayor): As mayor, I have supported the formation of our community’s first land trust which has a focus on legacy neighborhoods and communities, providing financial relief through grants to fund home repairs for lower-income residents, and partnering with the county on financial relief for income qualified homeowners seeking relief from property taxes (neither of which exclusively benefits Black and Latino communities but both of which could provide benefits). When first elected mayor in 2013, I approached the Housing Authority about the need to redevelop public housing neighborhoods in Asheville and how the city could support this effort. Together, with the county and the housing authority, and through an inclusive redevelopment process, we began with one of the oldest developments, which had a majority Black population dating to its creation during urban renewal / removal of Black neighborhoods. There is much more public housing in need of redevelopment. And when faced with no option to save residents’ homes, I negotiated for more money to be awarded to each resident of a South Asheville mobile home park to pay for moving and other expenses, when the landlord decided to sell the land.

Kim Roney (Mayor): I’m committed to listening, centering impacted people and groups. I remain committed to an outside equity audit of City Hall as outlined in This Moment by Cothinkk, and to mitigating harm while supporting civic and community processes towards Reparations. Strategy examples: I brought Neighborhood Resiliency to the table with support from Vice Mayor Smith. It’s now a Strategic Priority that guides Council’s work, and includes actions for stormwater mitigation, food systems/security, tree canopy restoration, resource mapping, and the Climate Justice Initiative. This is an operational tool designed with community support based on listening to organizers working to protect vulnerable neighborhoods facing historic/current harm caused by planning & development that’s focused on profit and rooted in systemic racism. I’ve also suggested that equity and sustainability impacts be added to all staff reports alongside financial impacts to start measuring the cost of doing things quickly, cheaply, or simply business as usual. A budget example: during the ARPA/COVID-19 relief funding decision, I supported applications from historic Black and Legacy neighborhoods working to invest in community safety and well-being, and advocated for participatory budgeting which might have disrupted the scarcity narrative perpetuated through our internal process.

Allison Scott (City Council): Continual funding to the Reparations Fund is one path. One of the many things I’ve heard put forth by the Reparations Committee is low interest loans to BIPOC community present and for people that have left. Until we invest in generational wealth created by home ownership we will continue to see our BIPOC community dwindle in Asheville City.

Nina Tovish (City Council): Although City Council doesn’t manage property assessments, I would join with community advocates and residents to demand that Buncombe County revise its property tax assessment process. Currently the property of Black and Latino owners in legacy neighborhoods is valued disproportionately highly, while the wealthiest residents pay proportionately much lower rates on their substantially undervalued real estate holdings. This system is deeply inequitable, placing tremendous financial pressures on those least able to bear them. Families struggle to keep up with their property taxes or face liens and foreclosure. Ultimately many sell and leave our city or lose property that has been in their families for generations. I’ve also repeatedly argued before County Commission and City Council that the current program of Homeowner Tax Grants—meant to mitigate some of the burden of rapidly increasing property valuations for homeowners of modest means—should be automatic rather than require a cumbersome application process. Using a formula based on length of ownership, percentage valuation increase, and current home value (data the County already has), people would automatically receive relief on their property tax bills. With appropriate values for those three variables, such a formula would ensure relief reaches those who need it most.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume (City Council): Community diversity is important to our vibrant culture in Asheville. We have such rich histories in our Black and Latino neighborhoods. On Council I will work to make sure we also have rich futures in these communities. As we know, leading progressive and creative change in North Carolina cities can be challenging due to the restrictive nature of our State Legislature. Many strategies we’ve seen work in other states are currently restricted here. But that won’t stop me from pursuing what is right. I will champion, partner, and advocate for fair housing. As a climate advocate who builds coalitions of non profits to row in the same direction, I will put my professional skills to work alongside organizations in our areas dedicated to this cause.

Question 2: What do you think is the most important strategy local government can pursue to keep the city affordable to live in?

Esther Manheimer: Affordable housing is key to maintaining our identity and expanding equity. I approach this as a shared responsibility, with strategic partnerships as the most important strategy. Through them we embed action on affordability into interactions/transactions between nonprofits, governments, agencies, and businesses. I’ll expand upon my successful advocacy for: funding streams into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, grants from it to build affordable housing (Haywood Street Congregation, Habitat for Humanity, MHO), and incentives to for-profit developers to include affordable housing; partnering with the Housing Authority to rebuild public housing; siting affordable housing on city-owned property; funding home repairs for low-income residents.

Kim Roney: I have to start with asking: affordability for whom? To achieve equity, I think we have to name affordability for working, poor, and vulnerable populations explicitly or we’ll end up conserving resources for those who already have access to the most resources. A strategy: Instead of remaining complicit, the City of Asheville needs to lean in to ensure the Buncombe County tax assessment structure is addressed with measurable outcomes to mitigate the disproportionate impact of property taxes on historic Black and Legacy homeowners, renters, and businesses. Then we can mobilize for an affordability bond package that addresses the trifecta of housing, transportation, and utility costs while mitigating property taxes for our vulnerable neighbors and investing in land trust efforts. This work should be rooted in equity designed to address disparities in the social determinants of health since the City and County have declared a climate emergency and named racism as a public health emergency. This kind of work requires collaboration and a majority of support from our elected representatives. As mayor, I will use the sphere of influence of the office, schedule meetings with regional partners, and invite impacted people to the table for shared accountability and shared successes.

Allison Scott: Using the bonds to build generationally affordable multifamily apartments and housing. With supplies of current homes and apartments limited we are living in a scarcity model that will continue to price out the lowest economic class in our city.

Nina Tovish: Arguably we can’t “keep” Asheville affordable, because it’s already the most expensive place to rent or own in North Carolina. Helping to make it affordable will require a whole portfolio of strategies. We need to revisit our Unified Development Ordinance (UDO—the zoning code) from the ground up, with an eye toward smart, environmentally responsible, equitable growth that will serve all our residents. Some of the policy tools we can use: allowing infill housing development, facilitating multi-family construction, making our permitting and inspection processes more consistent, predictable, and timely, further incentivizing the creation of affordable housing in the private sector, and promoting the creation of community land trusts. But I also believe that city government should be more directly involved. If the city builds on its own property, it takes the ‘middleman’ out of the equation. Eliminating that profit margin makes an important difference in the ability to build housing that will deeply affordable in perpetuity. In Europe, and even in a few places now in the US, municipalities are using the ‘social housing’ model of mixed income government-funded housing, which avoids the segregation and stigma of exclusively low-income projects.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: Aggressively pursue affordable housing in the following ways: Increase funding: As a citizen, I will vote yes on the county housing bond referendum on the ballot in November. These resources will focus on homeownership for the missing middle as well as providing repairs to keep long-term residents in their current homes. On council, I’ll leverage the county bond resources with city funding, to best leverage these funds 2:1. Increase standards: All public incentives for affordable housing must help people most in need–people earning a living wage or less. Increase availability: I strategically support infill development on transit corridors, near jobs, and near parks to strengthen and diversify our neighborhoods.

Question 3: Would you commit to the City of Asheville keeping up with the living wage as the cost of living continues to increase? What are your thoughts on how to do this while budgets are tight?

Esther Manheimer: As mayor I have already done so. I have supported paying city employees a minimum of a living wage. I also voted to be one of the first cities to require city contractors to pay their employees a living wage (only to be preempted by the state legislature with legislation that bars cities from requiring contractors to pay their employees a living wage, legislation that I find an outrageous overreach of local control). I have met the challenge of paying city employees a living wage from a budgetary standpoint in a variety of ways. Some years, I supported prioritizing paying a living wage from natural revenue growth, but there have been some years where a tax increase was needed to meet the needs of paying employees a living wage. These are hard decisions, and take teamwork to work through the competing needs and priorities the council faces each budgetary cycle.

Kim Roney: Absolutely! When the City is among top employers ensuring competitive wages and benefits, the bar is raised in the region, which improves quality of life for workers citywide. It is also key to recruiting and retaining employees empowered to provide quality public services in our community. As a member of the Just Economics Policy Advocacy Committee since 2016, I have organized in solidarity with workers, and in my 2nd year on Council, I am on the record pushing the City to “lead not lag” on living wages. I am certain that our shared work was a driving factor in getting our firefighters paid living wages in the 2021 budget when previously more than 70 firefighters were making less than $12-hour. Staying current with living wage certification will require a combination of budget priorities, and I suggest starting with narrowing the scope of compression across pay grades. The across-the-board raises that have recently been used perpetuate a wealth gap in City Hall by providing large pay increases at the top while leaving the lowest paid workers struggling to make ends meet.

Allison Scott: The NCGA has limited cities from raising wages in the private sector but we can and should immediately review all city staff and emergency responders pay to make sure everyone is making above the minimum living wage for our area. We can get creative and find ways to reduce the cost of living for the people that are the backbone of our tourist town, the service workers. One way is to offset cost for service industry employees with things such as free parking downtown and free transit passes. Beyond these short term fixes I want to build a coalition of municipalities across North Carolina to put pressure on the NCGA to help with cost of living and low wages. This is not just an Asheville issue and we don’t have to stand alone.

Nina Tovish: Yes. Not only is it important for the City to lead by example, it’s also important to attract and retain the staff we need. Personnel costs are the biggest portion of the city budget. We should carefully review the curve of pay scales to ensure that those at the highest salaries are not being compensated at a rate that makes it impossible to pay everyone at least a living wage.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: Yes. I have been a member of Just Economics since my husband was an early chair of their board and we were bringing our then toddler to Just Economics community events. I will never forget a slide Vicki Meathe shared at an event showing the astronomical wealth gap. That presentation was 7 years ago. We still haven’t seen the state minimum wage increase while the living wage and housing expenses have ratcheted up higher and higher. We need to do better for workers! Budgets are always tight for the city, and for workers. I have direct experience identifying new funding sources from my time working in city hall as Asheville’s first Sustainability Director. During that time I started with a budget of $0, I identified $1M in energy savings each year and made a business plan to use those savings to fund new projects. My experience and knowledge of the city budget will be an asset on the City Council.

Question 4: How could the City support an increase in food security through private residential food production in addition to the public food production efforts already being supported through the Food Policy Action Plan?

Esther Manheimer: I would love to hear more about plans for private residential production of food to increase food security while ensuring that the food is high quality to safely meet nutritional needs and strategically aligned with existing efforts to avoid duplication and to advance a shared goal of ending food insecurity in our city, county, and region. This is another issue where working together can yield exponentially better outcomes for our residents.

Kim Roney: Lack of food access in historic Black neighborhoods and groups of displaced residents living in Housing Authority neighborhoods impacts the social determinants of health, but also represents former locations of Black-owned businesses and grocery stores undermined and stolen through Urban Renewal. I hear community members saying that a meaningful response must include Reparations of both land and money. The first recommendation of the Community Reparations Commission was to set aside a percentage of municipal budgets with policy to maintain and grow the fund alongside the City and County budgets. I believe Reparations are necessary and possible, and I will support this recommendation. Land reparations should be of equal or greater value to lots taken during Urban Renewal, not just the hard-to-develop parcels that remain today, and might include facilities like community centers and urban agriculture lots like the City-owned lot off of Azalea Road. Another area of support for food production could include looking at the cost of water. The City of Asheville sets the rates for the cost of water and should look at the impact of offering bulk discounts while the burden of system maintenance is falling on residents and small businesses.

Allison Scott: Local neighborhood farmers markets are leaders in what residential food production could be in Asheville and Buncombe. One way is City and County governments could support these efforts is to have Free Transit days to local farmers markets.

Nina Tovish: I’d start with a program of free public education about growing food, together with providing access to tools, seeds, seedlings, and compost, as well as individual gardening guidance— with volunteers, if possible. (And the City should offer a composting service; I’ve been using CompostNow for years.) For folks without their own garden space, I’d look to provide community garden access near where they live, and perhaps invest in rooftop vegetable beds or indoor hydroponics if it can done sustainably. I’d seek to create collaborations between City programs and not-for-profits wherever possible. One successful example I’ve seen is Bountiful Cities working with students in our public schools to help them learn about growing and enjoying nutritious food.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: I am proud our city has worked with community leaders to grow more food on public lands. In the last month or so, I’ve personally gathered figs in Montford, pawpaws near UNCA, and black walnuts in east Asheville all on public land. City leadership and the leadership of many individual urban farmers has demonstrated this city can be a cornucopia that provides for ourselves and our neighbors. With so many people making hard choices between food and bills we can ask more for the use of our land. The biggest opportunity I see to increase food security through private residential food production is through the upcoming leadership of our Urban Forester. This new role is an opportunity for us to look at how our forests and open space can support an even healthier and resilient Asheville.

Question 5: How can City officials ensure that food security for its most vulnerable residents is not negatively impacted by disruptions in food distribution services due to encampment clearings and anti-littering enforcement policies?

Esther Manheimer: Housing first policies, pursued and implemented strategically and in unified fashion by nonprofits, governments, agencies, and individuals, have the best track record for meeting the emergency housing and food needs of our most vulnerable residents. I support housing first policies. Strategic partnerships would enable food distribution services to partner with housing providers to meet the whole-person needs for shelter and the sustenance we get from food and sharing meals and being in the company of people who care about each other.

Kim Roney: We are dealing with complex, societal issues, and need all hands on deck to work towards taking better care of each other as we recover from overlapping crises. The first thing the City can do is support community partners and mutual aid groups by asking what support looks like instead of getting in the way. The previous actions disrupting food and resource sharing have ranged from disparaging to downright harmful. If litter is indeed the main outcome that needs to be addressed, City staff need instruction from Council to ensure facilities and services to support capacity for groups to clean up after food and resources are shared alongside proactive communication around expectations for clean up after events. It is my understanding that guidelines for food sharing are currently being drafted with community partners and mutual aid groups at the table. I look forward to reviewing and hope to support that endeavor.

Allison Scott: By including food distribution in a notification when encampment clearings are imminent. This doesn’t just end with the city sense most encampment clearings start with the DOT. City officials need to work closely with DOT to ensure the people have access to all the resources they need, including food, water, other shelter options, mental health and substance abuse counselors are just a few. At the end of the day we can’t keep moving people an expect the issue to go away, we need to get serious about housing and services for people most deeply in crisis.

Nina Tovish: Step one would be to stop arbitrarily clearing encampments. Step two would be to cease characterizing food distribution as littering. I’m going to be as generous as possible in my interpretation and assume that the City’s main challenge is a failure of communication. (I’m not saying that the evidence justifies that assumption.) There should be a dedicated liaison staff person to coordinate with community food distribution services to ensure that those in need can reliably receive assistance from those groups at scheduled times. Sending the police to clear out an area (like the Lexington Ave. underpass) when people are gathered there awaiting a food distribution is both cruel and counterproductive. Cooperation and coordination between community food distribution groups and the City for these events would allow for sanitation services to be deployed (available trash receptacles and timely pick-up) to ensure that the location remains tidy. I’ll add: the City should absolutely stop prosecuting the Aston Park defendants. History will not look kindly on the City’s choice to pursue this litigation against neighbors helping neighbors and citizens exercising their right to free speech.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: These encampments are manifestations of people seeking survival, people failed by inadequate support systems (health, mental health, education) and a winners-take-all economy. We need statewide and federal policy to ensure an effective social safety net. In the meantime, we must work collaboratively–residents, organizations, funders, governments–to meet immediate housing and food security needs. We will see more houselessness as a result of climate change– just look at the displacement of families in Canton due to the recent flood. I will advocate for coalition building for supportive low-barrier housing, long term housing, and wraparound services that enable people to be housed and remain housed. Doing so will increase safety for all and ensure Asheville is an even better place to live, work, and raise children.

Question 6: There are vast equity gaps among Black and Latino residents and white people living in Asheville and Buncombe County in criminal justice, economic development, education, health, and housing. What is your understanding of the root causes of these inequities?

Esther Manheimer: Centuries of systemic racism, resulting in generations of inequitable nationwide policies and practices is the root cause of today’s systemic inequity. As mayor, I have supported and pushed for institutional changes to dismantle the city’s role in these inequities, through housing policies, the creation of an Equity and Inclusion Office, making equity a strategic priority, the creation of a Reparations Commission to recommend ways to repair past harms committed by the city, changes to policing policies and functions, reimagining public safety, suing HCA to address pricing practices that affect access to healthcare, funding healthcare providers working in Black and Latino communities, hiring and supporting minority owned businesses, selecting the first African American-owned development company to build affordable housing on city-owned land, investing resources in historically Black neighborhoods by rebuilding and building parks and recreation facilities, building safer streets, sidewalks and adding greenways, planting trees, and working to make our most vulnerable neighborhoods more resilient in the face of climate change, supporting minority youth in schools by working to close the opportunity gap through funding organizations that work with students, as well as creating opportunities for youth work internships, after-school and summer activities, and childcare, and more.

Kim Roney: Institutionalized racism and white supremacy are the root cause of racial disparities, and the outcomes continue to cause harm today. For example: I hear students saying this city has “no love” for them–no housing, no good paying jobs, no opportunity to succeed, and no place to just be yourself. Yet when community-led solutions are brought to the table for funding, the City uses systems that put groups in competition against each other. We need a systemic change to address systemic problems. Many in Asheville are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living rises while unchecked tourism and for-profit development strain our natural resources, burden our infrastructure, and displace our most vulnerable neighbors. I have hope for our future because I know we have caring neighbors ready to shift the narrative. Through coalition, we can change how resources like our hotel occupancy taxes are allocated and our property taxes are structured, and that is a start to simultaneously stopping the harm while resourcing solutions.

Allison Scott: These are large scale systemic issues that until we have Federal support and funding can only be addressed by stop gap solutions on local levels. Our country needs to atone for the atrocities we have committed and begin Reparations payments to the Black community. Our city funding Reparations and committing to continue that while making sure Black leadership is fully impowered to implement solutions could help address the loss of generational wealth by restoring housing to that community. I feel our city should formally say we will not honor ICE warrants same as the Sherriff department. I grew up in Oakley and Emma in deep poverty, I know many of our communities will not trust us until we deliver the first steps and keep showing up.

Nina Tovish: The root cause is white supremacy and the systematic racism that encoded white supremacy into social, economic, and judicial practices—from before the foundation of our nation to this very day. White supremacy has had its hand on all the levers of power and has not hesitated to use them: through violence, through economic exploitation, through neglect, segregation, silencing, and exclusion, and by maintaining its own willful ignorance and obliviousness.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: The root cause is racism: interpersonal, institutional, and structural. This has manifested in many ways in our local community and in our local government such as urban renewal which displaced economic and residential centers within Asheville Black neighborhoods dismantling wealth and wealth building opportunities.

Question 7: If you had to pick one area of inequity only (criminal justice, economic development, education, health, and housing), which would you say the City is in the best position to address? How should the City address that inequity?

Esther Manheimer: I continue to lead our city’s efforts on each of these issues (see previous response) while acknowledging that if Asheville or any other city in North Carolina could control and reset the conditions for any of those inequities, Asheville would have already done so because as a community we have taken a stand against inequity and we’ve pushed for corrective policies. I’ll continue being committed and innovative, as when I voted to create our Equity Office, our Reparations Fund, to reimagine public safety, to elect our school board, to enable bonds for affordable housing, and more.

Kim Roney: They’re so entwined! I am grateful that the Community Reparations Commission is preparing to make recommendations on these five focus areas. My answer: housing with a focus on ownership. Housing stability through personal, cooperative, and community ownership models is a way to build economic stability and restore generational wealth, which can open education opportunities and impact the social determinants of health. From personal experience growing up in deep poverty in the rural South, I appreciate and believe the realities of people who suffer from housing insecurity, which threatens personal safety for the individual and includes ripple effects seen in our community. As mayor, I’m committed to scheduling public Council meetings on these issues, and as Chair of the Governance/Policy Committee, I’ll bring housing policy like Source of Income/Funds protection to protect against discrimination when renters are denied the ability to pay rent with subsidies like vouchers and child support. The mayor also single-handedly appoints the Housing Authority board, which hires the Executive Director of HACA and approves the Housing Authority budget and policies. In the mayor’s role on the Economic Development Coalition, I will continue to advocate for quality of life for the people who live and work here through living wage jobs, deeply-affordable housing, early childhood education, and a Buncombe-Asheville Transit System as a package of affordability solutions while we work towards housing as a human right.

Allison Scott: I believe housing is something that is in our control and we can start to fix with different solutions. We need to team up with the County government to use City and County land to build multifamily housing that will be generationally affordable. Without this need met people can’t make the leap to other kinds of housing if they are barely able to keep a roof over their heads. We also need to explore working with banking to create low interest loans available to minority communities. This can be accomplished with backing from local governments and funding to help people start to rebuild and create the generational wealth that comes along with home ownership.

Nina Tovish: They are all interrelated, it seems to me. If I had to pick one, first of all I’d seek to be guided by the experience and wisdom of those who experience the inequity. If, however, that guidance were unavailable to me, I’d probably pick economic development (which, in my view, likely requires at least an element of education). Why? Because (for better or worse) in a capitalist society, economic success brings power and commands attention. Because it empowers people to shape their own destiny and widens their options. Because economic success is a counterweight to the high cost of living, and because it enables access to more and better housing, education, and healthcare. The City should be reaching out to our communities of color and identifying where its resources can best be invested to help residents achieve success with small business and professional development: perhaps through apprenticeship programs, educational scholarships, grants and no/low-interest loans, and helping businesses and entrepreneurs apply for City contracts, among others.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: The City can be in an advocacy role on each of these issues, making clear our values and calling for replacing inequity with equity. Operationalizing our values into measurable, tangible actions is the greater challenge because there is so much that is controlled at a state and federal level, from minimum wages and housing policies to expanding Medicaid. The City can continue to lead on reducing health disparities through funding and maintaining recreation areas and safe sidewalks, greenways, and multimodal transportation options with a focus on ensuring these core city amenities serve historically marginalized residents and are responsive to resident input.

Question 8: Do you support ensuring language access in all official communications and proceedings? If so, what steps would you take to implement this?

Esther Manheimer: Yes. As we work together to plan a future for our city, I have advocated for the city to recognize the value and importance in bringing all voices to the table, and with this goal it is vital to communicate with residents in community languages. The city has worked hard to shape a robust community engagement program to meet people where they are. In addition to the translation services already offered by the city, I have encouraged city administration to consider additional input from the Latino Migration Project’s Local Government Language Access Collaborative to learn from their work and develop additional partnerships in community.

Kim Roney: A long-time advocate for Open Meetings Policy, I am committed to implementation within the Mayor’s office. Ensuring language access will include setting Council agendas, convening with regional leaders, and supporting policies as Chair of the Governance/Policy Committee. I will end the private check in meetings happening behind the scenes now and schedule public pre-meetings of Council. As a Council member the past 2 years, I have advocated for increased access to public documents. One example of a solution is getting staff to transition to searchable PDF documents, which makes them more accessible for translation and for low-no vision readers. I also supported advancing policy that is meant to make documents available at least 72 hours before meetings. Before my two years on Council, I was in City Hall as an advocate for six years and served on advisory boards. I know what it’s like to be taking a picture of a document to send to someone on the other side of the room who can’t see a presentation. While Open Meetings Policy is designed to remove barriers to participation and secure participatory democracy, I will rely on input to ensure public engagement is accessible and meaningful as we work to make improvements.

Allison Scott: I absolutely support language access for EVERY government document and meeting. In my work here in Asheville I have always prioritized hiring translation services and documents for outreach and I will continue to champion this work on the city council by working with local groups who provide these services.

Nina Tovish: Official public communications and proceedings should be translated into the languages of those who will be affected by them and interpreters should be available for public meetings—preferably in real time, but certainly with closed captions or transcripts eventually. (The City website should have a Spanish-language version, for example.) I don’t know what staff the City currently has to support this service, or whether there are any contracts in place to provide it. If there are none, this is something that should be built into the next City budget.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: Yes. For democracy to work all citizens need access to their government in whichever languages they need to participate. Currently access to needed language services is inconsistently available depending on the city department. On City Council I will advocate that language access is a right for all Ashevillians and keep the pressure on City Management to ensure consistent availability of language services across all departments.

Question 9: As a locally elected official, what strategies would you propose to address the impacts on the local undocumented immigrant community of the structural barriers created by state and federal legislation, such as lack of access to a real ID, drivers license, work authorization, etc.?

Esther Manheimer: One way is to help people trust our local government by removing the criminal threat of reporting them to ICE. Until people trust you I believe its impossible to work to solve problems. I also want to build coalitions of cities to push our NCGA to remove racist and bigoted laws restricting voting and ID documents. Cities across NC feel their hands are tied and by coming together we can show up to make change in way that takes the burden off individual cities.

Kim Roney: I am familiar with community-based ID cards like the Faith Action ID card, and would be open to learning more about what next steps look like. I rely on collaboration and strategy from impacted communities, and will work in solidarity with you to address barriers. I will note that the mayor’s office oversees emergency declaration procedures, including curfews. During the uprising of 2020, I wasn’t on Council yet, but I questioned the potential harm of the Mayor’s curfew because we know Black, Brown, and Indigenous drivers are disproportionately impacted by traffic stops. Though our local Sheriff’s office does not have a 287-G agreement with ICE, the regional law enforcement organizations that we brought in to increase staffing levels do. As mayor, I’m committed to working with neighborhoods to identify emergency response systems as part of our Neighborhood Resiliency priority. This way, if an emergency declaration is needed, we have communication plans to ensure everyone in our community is safe.

Allison Scott: One way is to help people trust our local government by removing the criminal threat of reporting them to ICE. Until people trust you I believe its impossible to work to solve problems. I also want to build coalitions of cities to push our NCGA to remove racist and bigoted laws restricting voting and ID documents. Cities across NC feel their hands are tied and by coming together we can show up to make change in way that takes the burden off individual cities.

Nina Tovish: I don’t have a good answer to this question; I welcome the opportunity to learn what might be most helpful. The only thing I can suggest would be for City Council to publish a policy for city staff and law enforcement to not seek or pursue prosecutions related to these barriers. I will confess that I don’t know enough about the legal issues to be confident that this idea has any merit.

Maggie Ullman Berthiaume: The role of city council officials is to support and serve our residents, many of whom are people who happen to be undocumented. Despite not having direct policy or budget authority access to real ID, drivers license, work authorizations, etc, on City Council I will advocate for priorities of our undocumented neighbors in the City’s legislative agenda to the state and federal government and elected officials.

Buncombe County – Commissioner Candidates

NOTE: Amanda Edwards was the only candidate to submit questionnaire responses.

Question 1: What strategies would you work to implement for preventing displacement caused by the gentrification of neighborhoods that have historically been home to the Black and Latino communities?

Amanda Edwards:

1. The most important step we can take together is for each of us to vote yes on the affordable housing bond that is on every ballot in Buncombe County this fall. This bond is a game-changer. It can slow or prevent gentrification in legacy neighborhoods by relieving market pressure. It will provide funds for repairs to keep long-term lower-income residents in their affordable homes. 2. As a Commissioner I advocated to put the affordable housing bond on the ballot, created accountability measures for the bond (annual independent audit, a citizens oversight board, public review of all accounting), and set measurable goals: 2,165 new long-term affordable homes–a mix of homeownership and rentals–and 500 repairs (as stated above), all available by 2030. Passing the bond is the first step — transparently managing the bonds is the necessary follow-up through 2030. 3. To increase the likelihood that people can afford to stay in their homes, I propose pursuing fairness in our valuation and tax system by rallying to effectively change the state laws governing valuation. (The state controls key aspects of property tax law.) To read about this issue see https://mountainx.com/news/reappraisal-committee-to-bring-recommendations-to-commissioners/ 4. Partnerships with organizations seeking to prevent displacement so that there can be a shared understanding and shared goals centered around what at-risk neighborhoods need and want.

Question 2: If the bond referendum passes in November, how would you ensure that the process for allocating those funds is equitable?

Amanda Edwards: As a Commissioner, I joined our bipartisan commission supporting putting a Housing Bond on the ballot because we need an effective plan to increase equity in our community and this bond is a leap forward in that direction. I joined in unanimously creating accountability measures for the upcoming Housing Bond. Accountability measures include annual independent audit, a citizens oversight board, and public review of all accounting. More about the committee and how to serve on it: The committee will contain people with five different professional backgrounds: One person with an accounting background; One person with a banking background; One representative of the affordable housing community; One representative from the conservation/greenways community, appointed by Board of Commissioners; One member to be appointed by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. To apply, visit: https://www.buncombecounty.org/countycenter/news-detail.aspx?id=20232

Question 3: Would you commit to Buncombe County keeping up with the living wage as the cost of living continues to increase? What are your thoughts on how to do this while budgets are tight?

Amanda Edwards: Yes, I have and I have followed through. I voted yes when Commissioners recently approved a multi-year compensation study at the May 19 regular meeting. The largest impact of the compensation study is directed at the lowest-graded positions and I support increased compensation for 649 Buncombe County employees. As a result, more than 75% of employees assigned to positions in the four lowest salary grades received pay changes based on their qualifications above the minimum job requirements. I am committed to continually reviewing compensation to ensure pay equity and a living wage.

Question 4: As Buncombe County’s population grows, do you have a vision for public transportation and potentially working with the City of Asheville’s bus system to provide more and better transportation options to County residents?

Amanda Edwards: Yes. Ideally, we’ll have a city-county partnership to provide transit that reduces transportation costs for families and individuals, reduces pollution and carbon emissions, reduces congestion, and expands access to schools, healthcare, jobs, and civic participation. To move in that direction, I’ve supported our county’s work with leaders in the Reynolds district to create a pilot project to help parents get to school functions at Reynolds Middle and Reynolds High and supported convening United Way and Buncombe County Schools to develop a transportation plan. I’m on board to be creative and collaborative in how we address transportation challenges and utilize our community partners and resources.

Question 5: Do you support the development of a County Food Policy Action Plan? If so, how would you go about making this happen?

Amanda Edwards: I support a true county-wide food plan that includes municipal and county governments and community organizations. County government is just one stakeholder. I’m always interested in building upon working models and best practices so we can benefit from the experience of others and adapt to local needs.

Question 6: There are vast equity gaps among Black and Latino residents and white people living in Asheville and Buncombe County in criminal justice, economic development, education, health, and housing. What is your understanding of the root causes of these inequities?

Amanda Edwards: Systemic racism and implicit bias are the root causes of the inequities that residents of color face every day in our community.

Question 7: If you had to pick one area of inequity only (criminal justice, economic development, education, health, and housing), which would you say the County is in the best position to address? How should the County address that inequity?

Amanda Edwards: I’ll answer this from the perspective of the County government. As a Commissioner I voted to declare racism a public health and safety crisis and adopted a Racial Equity Action Plan which sets goals to address the priority areas identified in the Resolution to Support Community Reparations for Black People in Buncombe County. It also upholds our commitment to creating a safe and equitable community that is outlined in our Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Our follow-up will include an ongoing assessment of how the quality of life has or hasn’t improved for historically marginalized people in health, safety, educational attainment, wages, job attainment, and homeownership and problem-solving to reverse negative trends and accelerate positive changes.

Question 8: Do you support ensuring language access in all official communications and proceedings? If so, what steps would you take to implement this?

Amanda Edwards: Yes. I think it is important to continue ensuring language access for Buncombe County residents. Buncombe County currently provides communications in Spanish and Russian, and Covid-19 press events and updates to the Commissioners include a sign language interpreter.

Question 9: As a locally elected official, what strategies would you propose to address the impacts on the local undocumented immigrant community of the structural barriers created by state and federal legislation, such as lack of access to a real ID, drivers license, work authorization, etc.?

Amanda Edwards: I support working with existing organizations that are working effectively on these issues so that the County can amplify their message and increase participation in their programs. The County could potentially partner with organizations that are taking the lead in their areas of expertise.

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