Boy, where to begin? More than one month has passed since the last installment of the Hit List—enough time for Asheville to make a dozen new “best” lists and a dozen more hotels to be announced for downtown (not really, but you get the idea). So without further ado, here’s a rundown of some recent happenings across the political spectrum.
Running? Not running? Might run?
That’s the question these days, as the field arranges itself for this year’s Asheville City Council elections. It’s gonna be an interesting few months. First, those bowing out—both Councilman Jan Davis and Councilman Chris Pelly recently announced their intentions to not seek re-election. In an interview with the Asheville Citizen-Times (conducted while he was fishing on the French Broad), Davis, a three-term councilman, indicated he’d had a good run, but is ready to move on. Meanwhile, Pelly, who will have only served one term, penned an op-ed reflecting on lessons he’s learned over his four years on council. So who are the new hopefuls? One is Lindsey Simerly, an affordable housing and LGBT advocate, who you can read about here. Another is Jonathan Wainscott, an East West Asheville resident who launched his campaign with an off-color video mocking the New Belgium Brewery. Lavonda Nicole Payne, a 22-year-old, long-haul truck driver, announced her candidacy last week. And rounding out the group is Vice Mayor Marc Hunt, who is seeking a second term. Along with those previously mentioned, attorney Corey Atkins, East West Asheville neighborhood activist Rich Lee, environmental non-profit director Julie Mayfield, green energy advocate Grant Millin and social activist Keith Young have announced bids. Forgive us if we’ve missed anyone. Mark your calendar—the primary is Oct. 6.
Buskers seek harmony
Among the issues sure to be debated by council candidates in coming months is busking—especially after Asheville’s dynamic scene (and the challenges it faces) were the focus of a profile in the New York Times. Discussion and debate on how to cultivate the best arrangement for artists across town has been simmering for months, with a group called the Asheville Buskers Collective pitching a number of ideas for refining city policy for performers.
Budget brings tax increase
Meanwhile, sitting members of the council gave their approval to next year’s proposed budget this week, sending it to a public hearing and further review. Among the items in the $103 million plan—a 1.5 percent property tax increase, and a 1 percent pay raise for city workers. Hearings on the budget are scheduled for later next month. For additional review on the budget and other items addressed at the meeting, see Mark Barrett’s report in the Asheville Citizen-Times. And to find out if you stand to “win” or “lose” from the tax hike, there’s another report from Barrett on that here.
Buncombe buying beetles
Take a trip up the Parkway, and it won’t take you long to notice skeletal groves of trees in the valleys below—remnants of towering hemlocks brought to ruin by the invasive wooly adelgid. Earlier this month, Buncombe County Commissioners unanimously approved a measure to support the purchase of 5,000 Lari beetles, the wooly adelgid’s natural predator and perhaps the key to preventing the trees from going extinct. Here’s a cool report on the project from Mountain Xpress reporter Hayley Benton. And while we’re on environmental measures, it’s worth noting commissioners also unanimously approved a resolution earlier this month to protect the viewshed of the Blue Ridge Parkway from unsightly development, further enshrining the pristine landscapes that draw millions of tourists and locals to the winding road each year.
Contraband complication continues
One year after a city-commissioned audit on police evidence handling was released, the department has adopted a more stringent approach to monitoring items seized by cops. Still, a few items still go missing, a new report from Carolina Public Press’ Jon Elliston shows.
Photo-ops go both ways
You’ve seen the commercials—some lawmaker in a suit dons a hard hat and surveys a factory, nodding his head knowingly as music swells in the background. But as it turns out, politicians aren’t the only ones who stand to gain from visiting a local business—it’s often business owners themselves who do the inviting. Asheville Citizen-Times reporter Caitlin Byrd reported last month on the boost companies can receive after getting some precious facetime with lawmakers.
You may have thought to file a public records request, but have you ever thought to file a public records request on public records requests? Carolina Public Press did just that last month, examining just who takes the time to seek public information from the City of Asheville. The findings offer an interesting melange—from the usual reporters and attorneys to less-obvious organizations and companies, some from far outside the state. Check the list here.
McCrory on the go
Speaking of public record, Raleigh paper Indy Week recently attempted to get details on the travels of Gov. Pat McCrory, both in and out of state. They were met with 16 months of stonewalling from the governor’s office, and ultimately received a less-than-clear picture of where the governor goes, the reasons why he goes, and how much it costs for him to go. Meanwhile, McCrory took an unannounced trip to Los Angeles last month, to speak at a conference on governy-types of things, according to this Raleigh News & Observer report.
Governor gearing up
With the days counting down toward 2016, just how is McCrory doing, exactly? The governor’s agenda, relations with the legislature and re-election aspirations are all intertwined, and this recent Raleigh News & Observer report does a fine job taking a stab at what his thought processes must be as he jockeys to appeal himself to voters—many of whom seem less than thrilled with him. Still, McCrory’s ratings are on the upswing, according to the latest Civitas poll.
Taxes proving profitable
One item the governor will be sure to tout is the state’s expected surplus at the end of the fiscal year. The latest revenue projections show North Carolina anticipating a $400 million cushion on hand, a sum McCrory said he thinks should go toward pay raises for state employees.
It may not be as obvious when he makes a visit to the mountains, but U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry’s star is quickly rising on Capitol Hill. McHenry, who represents the majority of Asheville, was the focus of a recent profile by the Wall Street Journal for his role as chief deputy whip—the highest appointed position in the House GOP conference. According to the piece, McHenry is a “savvy backroom operator” who grasps the nuances of what it takes to pass a bill.
Meadows seeks hot tips
Do you work for the government? Are you looking for a proverbial whistle to blow? You’re in luck. With the intent of offering government employees and outlet for airing grievances anonymously, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows has created an email account for federal workers to chime in—TellMark@mail.house.gov. Or you could just send your hot tips to Ashvegas.
Return of Hagan
The rumor mill is churning—will former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan return? Hill watchers are already speculating that the one-term senator, defeated by Thom Tillis last fall, is seriously weighing a challenge against GOP U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in 2016. This week, National Journal reported soon-to-be new Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer encouraged Hagan to run in a recent sit-down meeting. And the Washington Post suggests that if power swing patterns are any indication, Hagan may actually have a decent shot. Perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Hagan. But should Burr be worried? Washington paper The Hill says we shouldn’t underestimate him.
Poet acclimating to title
Before throwing a few final links for truly voracious Hit Listers, we’ll end this installment on a poetic note, hearkening back to a controversy from last winter. After Gov. Pat McCrory’s hasty pick for poet laureate was met with indignation from academics, new Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson has had time to ease into his new role. Stephenson, a farmer who has suddenly become a literary figure of sorts, offered some insightful comments on his newfound stature in an interview with the NC State student newspaper, Technician. Read it here.
Other items to watch
AirBnB will begin collecting taxes in Buncombe County June 1
Buncombe commissioners are debating the length of meeting times
A bill to help Duke Energy dismantle its plant is moving fast at General Assembly
State House members have submitted their draft of a budget for next year
Former Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy has joined the Housing Authority
The Zeunger Center pool will stay open for at least two more years
Republicans may weaken more state environmental rules
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr recently made headlines for supporting NSA data collection McHenry behind the scenes