Asheville City Council moved on Tuesday night to begin the process of addressing issues of deep-seated institutional racism in the city by establishing a new Human Relations Commission.

Council voted to establish a blue ribbon committee that would define the new commission’s scope and mission. Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler led the discussion, saying: “There are a lot of issues in this community and a lot of them stem from historic racism that has caused a lot of pain in the past and that continue to cause a lot of pain.” She said the Human Relations Commission would address those issues in a broad way.

City Council then voted to appoint the following the first five residents to the 15-member blue ribbon committee: J. Hackett, executive director of the nonprofit Green Opportunities; Dr. Dwight Mullen, a UNC Asheville political science professor; Dr. Darin Waters, a UNC Asheville assistant professor of history; Marta Alcala-Williams, a parent and family engagement coordinator at Asheville City Schools; and Patrick Conant, a software developer and open government activist. The citizens were all nominated by City Council members and went on to fill out a boards-and-commissions application form. 

There are 10 more slots to fill on the blue ribbon committee, Wisler said in urging those interested to apply by the July 19 deadline. (For more information or an application form, visit of City’s Boards and Commissions webpage or contact the City Clerk’s office at 828-259-5839 or sterwilliger@ashevillenc.gov.)

In terms of how the blue ribbon committee will operate, Councilman Cecil Bothwell offered a motion that committee members be allowed to vote by paper ballot. Some citizens not used to public scrutiny may be swayed by pressure to take public stand, Bothwell offered. A city attorney spoke up, saying that was not allowed under the state’s open meetings laws. Bothwell retracted his motion.

Councilwoman Julie Mayfield asked if the blue ribbon committee could look at examples of other groups around the country that have taken on larger conversations about race in their communities and ask the committee to make a recommendation on the issue. After some discussion, City Council decided that would be the work of the official Human Relations Commission.

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