Ashvegas: The City You Love. The News You Want.By James Harrison

Looking for your junkie fix of the past two weeks in Asheville politics? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll give it another shot at getting you up to speed—get ready for another Hit List.

Raring up for retreat

“Behind a very general agenda, two meals and lots of debate over wording, Asheville’s leaders are about to make some big decisions for the year.” Intrigued? Asheville Blade editor David Forbes has a preview here of the City Council retreat, which begins Friday morning.

Apartments added

Despite objections of neighborhood residents, Asheville City Council members approved construction of 477 apartments in two developments this week. Community members from the Oakley neighborhood came out to oppose one of the developments, citing concerns over added traffic and a sub-par offering of affordable units. Some members appeared swayed by a developer’s promise of $200,000 worth of sidewalks. The approval comes as focus continues to be placed on the city’s housing challenges. More in Mountain Xpress.

Council backs beer

City Council members also did their part to ensure Asheville’s “Beer City” reputation stays healthy. The group backed a $60,000 incentive grant to Highland Brewing Company, which plans to invest $3.8 million in its taproom and brewing facility and hire 15 new workers. Also, the council also approved a major incentives package for White Labs, a provider of yeasts to the craft brewing and wine industries. In exchange for investing $8.1 million over the next five years and creating 65 new jobs, White Labs gets a five-year lease on the city-owned, 26,000 square foot building at 172 Charlotte Street for $1 a year. They also get an option to buy, and the exclusive right to purchase 1.67 acres of surrounding property. Think it’s a fair deal?

Not certified

Asheville’s new interim police chief is not certified to be a sworn law enforcement officer in North Carolina, but he’s looking into it. Citizen-Times reporter Jon Ostendorff revealed last week that Chief Steve Belcher, who is expected to helm the department for “about six months,” will focus primarily on his administrative role. He will not carry a badge or wear a police uniform during his tenure. While the status might cause some to raise eyebrows, quotes in the article offer perspectives on the potential benefits of having a civilian chief.

Board of commissioners champions construction

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners backed a massive expansion of its social services building downtown, approving a $48.1 million project that will transform the existing facility on Coxe Avenue. Plans include a parking deck and seven-story building, and will be the county’s single-biggest taxpayer expenditure on construction for this year. Citizen-Times reporter Joel Burgess has a full rundown of the vote, which passed on a 6-1 roll call.

Vocal VanDuyn

Speaking out against a bill geared at protecting “religious freedom,” state Sen. Terry VanDuyn took a stand on behalf of same-sex couples across the state this week. The senator, who was elected last fall after being appointed to fill the late Martin Nesbitt’s seat, spoke out against the first Senate bill of the new legislative session, filed by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. In the wake of last year’s rejection of North Carolina’s constitutional ban of same-sex marriage, the bill would allow magistrates and employees of county register of deeds offices to opt out of performing same-sex marriages because of religious objections. Hearkening to same-sex couples in her district, VanDuyn called the legislation “wrong” and stifling. To hear Van Duyn’s remarks, see this post on WCQS.

McCrory’s brother-partner

It’s been a family affair for Gov. Pat McCrory the past couple weeks, as new allegations have risen regarding his serving as a partner at his brother’s consulting firm. McCrory, who recently had a complaint filed against him over questionable payouts accepted after he took office, was described as a partner on the company’s website, but listed as a “consultant and contractor” in financial disclosures. His brother, Phil McCrory, rose to the governor’s defense in a Charlotte Observer op-ed, saying the term “partner” was used in a familial sense.

What happened in Buncombe?

That’s the question asked this week on Politics North Carolina. The state political blog takes an in-depth look at the results of last November’s election, which ran counter to generally every other election in the state—even the nation on many levels. In case you forgot, both Republican state incumbents, Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey, were defeated by Democratic challengers with no political experience. Very interesting breakdown, check it out.

Manheimer witnesses history

Did you watch the State of the Union? Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer did—in person. Manheimer, a Democrat, was invited to President Barack Obama’s annual speech as the guest of U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican who represents a portion of the city. In an interview with the Citizen-Times, Manheimer said McHenry asked her after “trying to think of a constituent who would appreciate the message.” Manheimer was already in D.C. for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, so here SOTU experience was an added bonus.

Lawmakers lament SOTU

As for Western North Carolina’s contingent of Republican lawmakers, the takes on Obama’s speech were less than kind. Reps. Mark Meadows, Patrick McHenry and Virginia Foxx all issued critical responses to the president’s address, as did U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. For a full recap on what they didn’t like, see this report at Carolina Public Press.

McHenry at Davos

What’s a congressman from Western North Carolina doing at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland? We’re not sure, but U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry was there, according to this Raleigh News & Observer report from last week. McHenry, who serves as House Chief Deputy Whip, is also vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. The congressman has attended past editions of the annual policy making conference.

Mysterious Meadows

As the focus of a Washington Post report this week, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows is described as “a difficult man to predict.” The coverage comes as Meadows takes the helm of a House subcommittee on workplace and employee issues, and offers indication that he’ll be open to the concerns of federal workers. That comes as a surprise to Hill watchers, who recall Meadows’ far-right votes to oppose the Speaker of the House, opposition to House-passed spending bills, and involvement with the 2013 shutdown of the federal government.

 

Burr blasts off

No matter the current session of Congress, U.S. Sen. Burr already has the next term on his mind. At least he did Thursday, hosting a D.C. fundraiser that netted more than $1 million for his campaign. The party was held at the Washington office of Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris USA—known to many for its Marlboro, Copenhagen and Black & Mild brands. Earlier in the week, the senator announced staff for his re-election campaign, a race analysts anticipate will match or exceed last year’s $116 million slugfest between Kay Hagan and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Enjoy the relative peace and quiet while you can, a storm is brewing.

 

Tillis speaks

In his first speech from the Senate floor, new U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis made the case for offshore drilling in North Carolina. The issue stands to gain traction, with President Barack Obama signaling support for exploring options for oil and gas along the eastern seaboard. The prospect is controversial across the state, and is backed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

 

Other notables

– Mayor Esther Manheimer granted the Asheville Blade a “year in review “ interview.

– Could a subset of city employees stand to see a raise this year? The Blade looks into it.

– A new website seeks to give online viewers a voice at City Council meetings. Check it out.

No word on how much this month’s pipe burst at Asheville City Hall will cost.

– Icy relations between City Council and General Assembly lawmakers appear to be thawing.

– State lawmakers from WNC have been appointed to key committees in Raleigh.

Gavels a plenty for WNC House lawmakers

– Film productions have all but dried up with the loss of a state tax credit.

– Mark your calendars: Gov. Pat McCrory’s state of the state address is Feb. 4.

– Have you heard? State Attorney General Roy Cooper is planning a gubernatorial bid.

– When it comes to the GOP presidential field, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry digs Rand Paul.

– McHenry recently talked with Luke Russert on his new role of “herding cats” in the House.

– U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows is a founding member of a new conservative group.

– U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is hunting for office space in Hendersonville.

– U.S. Sen. Richard Burr recently chastised American allies in the Middle East on CNN.

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