Here’s more of what’s going around, including a spat between Buncombe commissioners and the Buncombe County sheriff:
-There’s a change in leadership at Gannett, the corporate parent of the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper, a change that will elevate the profile of Citizen-Times news director Katie Wadington. The big change is that Tom Claybaugh, the publisher of the Citizen-Times for the past two years, is taking a new job with Gannett. It appears that his job will go unfilled for now, while Wadington will “pick up where Claybaugh leaves off in interacting with Asheville and its surrounding community,” according to a Citizen-Times story about the change. “I’ll be working to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones around the region,” she says in the story. Meanwhile, a Gannett advertising executive who had been focused just on North and South Carolina (Gannett owns the Greenville News in S.C.) has been moved up to regional vice president of sales and will over see seven Gannett properties in Mississippi, Arkansas and Virginia, as well as the Carolinas.
-The search for a new chancellor at UNC Asheville continues, and lots of folks on campus have their fingers crossed for a solid new leader. UNCA Chancellor Mary K. Grant announced last September that she was leaving her post to take a new job.Some observers have worry that changes to the leadership governing the university system, made by the Republican leadership in the North Carolina General Assembly, might influence the decision at UNCA. UNC system President Margaret Spellings is a former George W. Bush-era education reformer, and the UNC Board of Governors has been stacked with conservative members. Spellings first big appointment was to name a former Georgia Republican politician as East Carolina University’s new chancellor. This N.C. Policy Watch story has the background on ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton.
-Buncombe County commissioners are butting heads with Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan. Three Buncombe County commissioners — Ellen Frost, Al Whitesides and Jasmine Beach-Ferrara — issued a statement proposing to build on efforts initiated by Asheville City Council in the wake of the publication of police body cam video showing an Asheville Police Department officer beating, choking and using a Taser on a resident in August 2017. Those Asheville City Council changes are extensive, and call for everything from more stringent reviews of police body cam video to the creation of a Human Rights Commission.
The three commissioners, in their statement, proposed going beyond that and have called for all law enforcement agencies in the county to review current use of force and de-escalation policies and to revise them, with community input, to reflect current best practices. The commissioners also propose funding use of force, de-escalation and implicit bias trainings for any law enforcement agency within the county. They also say they want to pay for proposals to create trauma-informed responses to use of force incidents by law enforcement agencies and community stakeholders “to recognize how these incidents injure not just individuals but the communities they are part of.”
Duncan, himself an elected official and a Democrat just like the three commissioners, didn’t like that statement and issued on of his own. The three commissioners “basically told their Sheriff and their Sheriff’s Office that the hard work we have done over the past twelve years has counted for nothing,” Duncan wrote in his statement, adding that the three commissioners’ proposal “comes as a slap in the face.” Duncan condemned the police beating, and added that “some in elected office are taking advantage of this situation to drive a very anti-law enforcement agenda that I can promise you will impact your public safety and the safety of those that serve.” He goes on:
Instead of addressing the very serious issue and making sure justice is served, they are applying what they see as the solution to agencies and officers who had absolutely nothing to do with the Johnny Rush incident. They are also proposing actions that they do not statutorily have the ability to enforce. What I think shows the intent of these commissioners the most is they did not communicate with anyone at the Sheriff’s Office or to my knowledge any other municipality or their law enforcement agencies before releasing this statement.
This is the latest clash between Duncan and commissioners. Last year, Duncan and commissioners clashed over Duncan’s proposal to build a new jail. Duncan needs commissioners’ support to pay for it, but commissioners have turned Duncan down on that front, instead focusing their funding efforts on “diversion” programs aimed at helping people stay out of jail. Those programs offer a variety of treatments and social services. Last November, commissioners funded a new diversion program and opened a new facility called the Justice Resource Center to serve as a home for that program.
-A new ASAP report shows that many Asheville area farms have successfully transitioned from growing tobacco to growing local foods.
-A new running race in Asheville is set for April 14. The Ville to Ville Craft Brew Relay will include teams of runners covering 73 miles of scenic byways between Asheville and Greenville, S.C. Some 1,500 runners are expected to participate.
-The Biltmore/Kiwanis 15k/5k Classic running race, now in its 21st year, returns to the Biltmore Estate on May 20.
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