Zoinks! It’s time for another roundup of the week in politics.
Mayor Terry Bellamy bade her position adieu this week, in a ceremony at Asheville City Hall. Bellamy, who served two terms as mayor, delivered a half-hour speech, saying she had not one, not two, but “no regrets” during her tenure. A portrait of Bellamy was also hung on a wall featuring former mayors. The event marked the end of Bellamy’s 13-years of service as a member of City Council, during which she became the first African American mayor in Asheville history.
The city gets a new leader Tuesday. Mayor-elect Esther Manheimer will succeed Bellamy, taking the oath of office to become Asheville’s 47th mayor. Three council members are also being sworn into respective four-year terms of service. Gwen Wisler, who is filling the council seat left vacant by Manheimer, will be the group’s only newcomer, while both Councilmen Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith are returning to City Hall for second go-rounds. After the swearing-in ceremony, the new council will conduct official city business for the first time together. After that? Who knows. You can scan over the agenda for the meeting here, and stream it live here.
Commissioners set a lofty goal this week, vowing Tuesday to reduce Buncombe County’s carbon footprint by 2 percent a year. Ultimately, the group is aiming to eliminate 80 percent of the county’s carbon use, somehow. The measure, backed by Commissioner Brownie Newman, was approved in a 5-2 vote. Commissioners Mike Fryar and Joe Belcher cast dissenting nays, arguing the plan was too “political.” No monies are allocated for the initiative yet, although future budgets are expected to reflect the plans. The first phase of the strategy will be rolled out over five years. More details in this Mountain Xpress report.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s week began with a Sunday op-ed in the Charlotte Observer, his hometown paper. And what an op-ed it was. Taylor Batten, editorial page editor for the Observer, scored a nearly two-hour one-on-one with the governor, who’s ratings of disapproval among North Carolina voters have ascended to new heights since his election to office. The article offers multiple quotes of McCrory expressing disappointment his portrayal in news reports, and finds him defending controversial decisions such as not expanding Medicaid, funding strategies for public education, and administration hires. “This is a man obsessed with his image and how he’s portrayed,” Batten wrote, in the opening paragraph. What followed was less than complimentary. Naturally, the editorial triggered a response from the governor, who began by saying he covered “many issues” during his interview with Batten that weren’t mentioned in the op-ed. He then touted his economic policies, making zero mention of his coverage in the media.
The governor had several other items on his plate this week, besides responding to op-eds. While details are unclear, McCrory acknowledged increasing teacher pay would be a top priority for his administration in the upcoming legislative session. He also traveled to Washington, D.C., where he lobbied Pentagon officials and met with North Carolina’s congressional delegation regarding funding for the state’s military facilities, which account for the state having the third-highest active duty military presence in the nation.
Yikes. This week it was revealed that the state Department of Health and Human Services awarded up to $1.2 million of contracts without providing any written justification for the work, according to a Charlotte Observer report. The contracts, approved by McCrory-appointee Sec. Aldona Wos, include a $312,000-a-year deal offered to a former state auditor, along with a $310,000 contract between DHHS and the vice president of a company owned by Wos’ husband. Recently, Wos has been at the center of a separate controversy regarding the hiring of two former McCrory campaign staffers, who were able to land well-paying positions in the department that were never publicly posted.
Any news from North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Richard Burr, is being drowned out in the continuing hubbub over Democrat Kay Hagan’s bid for re-election. This week the North Carolina Republican Party unleashed another set of attacks on the senator, continuing to tie her performance to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Hagan’s campaign has yet to respond, so in the meantime, deep-pocketed political action committees are doing it for her. This week, Senate Majority PAC lobbed a $750,000 ad buy Hagan’s way, praising the senator for “protecting” Medicare and Social Security (and never mentioning the health law by name). Notably, the ad name-checks state Rep. Thom Tillis, one of five Republicans jockeying for the chance to challenge Hagan in next year’s election. Take a deep breath, you’re going to be reading these kind of reports for the next 11 months.