Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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

The party’s almost over. This time next week, we’ll know the outcome of the season’s various elections—barring the dreadful prospect of a recount. In this week’s Hit List we’ll start with some local bits, then cut to the juice you’re really after—election buzz. Let’s roll.

Water woes

Asheville’s fight to retain its water system has caused the city to rack up legal fees in excess of half a million dollars in recent months—a bill which is being paid by water customers. In a Citizen-Times report, state Rep. Tim Moffitt said he thought city taxpayers ought to be footing the bill, since some water customers actually live outside city limits. Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer disagreed, saying that fees being solely absorbed by city residents was inappropriate because the issue was related to the system at-large. Manheimer also said the decision to charge customers for legal fees was a choice made at the city staff level.  According to a recent estimate, Asheville’s water system is valued at over $177 million, which Manheimer said justifies the cost of the city’s legal efforts.

APD woes

The Asheville Police Department now faces a serious review, as City Manager Gary Jackson announced plans for an investigation following weeks of turmoil within the department. The focus will come in two parts—with private contractors evaluating the department’s “efficiency and effectiveness,” and city Fire Chief Scott Burnette carrying out any recommended changes made by the consultants. Police Chief William Anderson said he welcomed the review, after a meeting of the Public Safety Committee Monday.

Back off

Meanwhile, some have begun to wonder if the controversies involving APD have been played out in favor of political gain. According to the Citizen-Times, the director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association said city Councilman Cecil Bothwell emailed the group and asked it to “back off” with it’s complaints against the department until after this week’s election. The group is considering taking legal action against the councilman. Speaking to the paper, Bothwell said he did, in fact, ask the association to back off, but added that he sensed a political tone in the allegations against the force.

SECU Plaza

“Meet me at SECU Plaza?” We can all text it to each other soon. Last week, city council members voted unanimously to approve the sale of naming rights of a Pack Square plaza to State Employees Credit Union, for a mere $1.5 million. Approval of the deal, which will be good for 30 years, came following a fair amount of pushback from the council, which voiced concerns about being left out of the process for arranging the sale. For a full rundown of the meeting, read this Mountain Xpress report from Jake Frankel.

Voter shaming

John Boyle over at the Citizen-Times took note today of a mailing that when out last week that appears to try to shame people into vote. The letter, which shows a bar graph comparing the number of times a person has voted to the average number of times that person’s “community” has voted, was signed by Patsy Keever of Asheville. Keever, a former Buncombe County commissioner, is now first vice chair of the state Democratic Party.

Some voters report that they’re offended by the letter and especially it’s final sentence:  “If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why you let your community down by failing to vote.” Keever, in response to Boyle, apologizes for the letter and says the goal was simply to have people get out and vote.

McCrory Medicaid

One week after Thom Tillis changed his tune on expanding Medicaid, Gov. Pat McCrory made headlines by re-emphasizing his willingness to consider the option. The Associated Press reported last week the governor is reassessing the possibility of expanding the program next year, and added that state DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos is preparing to present him with expansion options. Looks like it’ll be a big-ticket item for next year’s session.

Frost-Merrill debate

Candidates for Commission District 2 met at Warren Wilson last week. Mountain Xpress reporter Jake Frankel has a report detailing the meeting between Christina Merrill and Commissioner Ellen Frost, which took place at the epicenter of 2012’s controversial contest between the two. Last go-round, Frost was able to win by a mere 18 votes.

Final stretch in state Senate races

Spending in the battle for District 116 was on pace to top $1 million last week, the Citizen-Times reported. The race, which will be one of the most expensive on the state-level this year, has been garnering attention from political groups across North Carolina. While more than $200,000 of state Rep. Tim Moffitt’s funds has come from political action committees, his Democratic challenger Brian Turner has declined PAC money. For a helpful analysis of the most recent batch of ads from the Moffitt and Turner campaigns, see this Citizen-Times report by Mark Barrett. Meanwhile in District 113, the race between Democrat John Ager and Republican incumbent state Rep. Nathan Ramsey is turning out to be much closer than many would have predicted. Spending for that race so far is a nearly combined $700,000 between the candidates, with much of it being spent on advertising (like this new ad from Ager which was released last week). The amount is more than double what was spent in the district’s last race, in 2012.


Candidates for the state’s 10th Congressional District met for the final time last week, on the campus of UNCA. For a recap of the debate between U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry and his Democratic challenger Tate MacQueen, click here (long story short—they disagreed on just about everything). You can also watch the debate in full, here.

Early voting numbers

Numbers released Sunday by the State Board of Elections show more than 1.1 million North Carolinians took advantage of early voting last month—nearly 20 percent more than the last mid-term election in 2010. The numbers of early Democratic voters heavily outweighed the tally of Republicans who showed up, but does it indicate enough support to swing any races? Guess we’ll find out tomorrow. Meanwhile, the high turnout caught the attention of national scribes, with a report focusing heavily on North Carolina being featured in the New York Times (it includes a nice shot from a polling place in Asheville).

Haugh comes clean

Political watchers across North Carolina were first introduced to Sean Haugh as the craft-beer loving pizza delivery guy who might swing the Senate race. But after a video interview of Haugh was released online this week, the Libertarian candidate from Durham will likely be remembered as the marijuana-smoking, craft-beer loving pizza delivery guy who might swing the Senate race. In an interview with the web series Bills and Brews, Haugh admitted to smoking weed, and played a round of skee ball with the host.

Hagan-Tillis final showdown

Congrats guys, we did it. Or to be more accurate, they did it—the individuals and groups who have sunk more than $100,000,000 into the North Carolina Senate race between U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and state House Speaker Thom Tillis. Let that sink in for a second or two: one hundred million dollars. The most expensive U.S. Senate campaign on record. According to this report from the Associated Press, roughly 70 cents of every dollar spent has come from outside groups hoping to swing the race (and remember, those groups are not allowed to coordinate in any way, shape or form with campaigns, wink). Some of those ads continue to catch national attention down the stretch—particularly one sponsored by a Democratic PAC that Republicans have labeled as “race baiting.” No matter to Tillis, who in one of his final ads, attempts to strike a sincere and honest tone with undecided voters. “It’s been a long campaign, and a rough one,” he says. Aw, shucks. Both Hagan and Tillis were in Asheville last week, with the Senator making a stop at Edna’s on Merrimon Avenue, and Tillis swinging by his local campaign office.

Stop being mean

The final bit in this week’s Hit List comes courtesy of a third grade student in Wake County, who may have written the best takeaway from this year’s most grueling, uninspiring campaign. The Raleigh News and Observer published a letter written to Hagan and Tillis by Carson Park, a student at Vance Elementary school in Garner, N.C., who invited the candidates to be more respectful in their tones. “Seeing the ads on TV makes me sad and I don’t want to vote,” Park wrote. Too bad he’s too young to be on the ballot.

James Harrison recently returned to Asheville after working as a government reporter for, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter at @jharrisonAVL.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. luther blissett November 4, 2014

    I keep refreshing Asheville Craigslist’s for sale notices for “used Mouthpiece, one less than careful owner, $3.50 or best offer. Will throw in unused ‘Mr Speaker’ nameplate for free.”

    Only a matter of time.

  2. Davyne Dial November 4, 2014

    Asheville continues to be informed by the Citizen Times and other media outlets, of yet more troubling news regarding our local police. The low morale, the intimidation tactics to get people to keep quiet, the blind eye of City Council, the full faith in then all of a sudden the APD issue is in “triage, and the highly inappropriate comments of a certain Council member discussing personnel issues over which they are responsible all result in one thing, loss of trust in our leadership.
    Interference with an SBI investigation involving the Chief’s son, the failure to calibrate radar guns, lack of security of evidence storage (which is not rocket science), 44 brave officers signing a petition asking for help from the powers that be, the illegal violation of Federal Labor Laws, reports from many sources that after expensive training, newly trained officers quickly depart to other Cities with better reputations for leadership.
    Public trust in the ability of City Council and the Police Chiefs ability to lead effectively is at rock bottom for anyone not blinded by partisan leanings. The cavalier responses to valid concerns reeks of condescension. Trust is a two way sentiment,and once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain.

    1. Barry Summers November 4, 2014

      And there you have it, ladies and gents – the rimshot at the end of Election Day.

  3. Harry November 3, 2014

    Lately, Cecil seems wackier than usual. Maybe the DUI arrest had an effect on him.

  4. Big Al November 3, 2014

    “…City Manager Gary Jackson announced plans for an investigation …and city Fire Chief Scott Burnette carrying out any recommended changes made by the consultants.”

    What role does (or should) the Fire Chief have over matters concerning the Police Department?

    “…Cecil Bothwell emailed the group and asked it to “back off” with it’s complaints against the department until after this week’s election. The group is considering taking legal action against the councilman.”

    What legal action can the Police Benevolent Association bring against Bothwell? Is a public official making a request somehow slander or a threat?

  5. Tim Peck November 3, 2014

    “Asheville’s water system is valued at over $177 million”

    Asheville does not own a water system.

    1. Barry Summers November 3, 2014

      “For over a century, Asheville has owned, operated, managed, and maintained a system for the supply, treatment, distribution of water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning purposes… (etc.) Asheville owns, operates and maintains it’s water system as a public enterprise under NC Gen. Stat. G.160A-311 through G.160A-326″

      Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, June 9th, 2014 (drag & drop)

      Disinformation much?

      1. Tim Peck November 3, 2014

        Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee’s Final Report

        “Comparison to other Cities in North Carolina unnecessarily confuses the issue. The other cities completely own their distribution systems. However, the City of Asheville does not.” (drag & drop)

        1. Barry Summers November 3, 2014

          And as we all know, a study by an out-of-state consultant paid for by Buncombe County’s MSD supercedes all judicial rulings.


        2. Dmitri November 3, 2014


          I’m going to go with the Superior Court Judge over the stacked rethuglican “committee” on this one.

          1. Tim Peck November 3, 2014

            I’ll go with an appeals judge. Ruling still pending.

        3. roo November 3, 2014

          You guys can have the pipes, Tim. We’ll keep the 22,000 acre watershed that we paid for and sell you the water.

    2. luther blissett November 3, 2014

      Mouthpiece does not own his own mouth. Poor Mouthpiece.

      1. roo November 4, 2014

        Are there retraining programs or unemployment programs for dispossessed propaganda flacks?

        1. luther blissett November 4, 2014

          I believe ALEC HQ is looking for a trainee toilet scrubber at $2.95/hr plus tips (it’s technically a waitstaff position thanks to some nifty model legislation). Must supply own brushes or use tongue.

  6. Barry Summers November 3, 2014

    Last Thursday, after ignoring repeated invitations to come talk to the Asheville Tea Party, Rep. Tim Moffitt showed up unannounced (with posse. cue the posse 1.. 2.. 3..).

    Among other things, he was asked about the possibility of toll projects coming elsewhere in the state, after the very controversial I-77 privatized toll lane project. Folks out here are concerned that this same type of deal may be forced on us on the I-26 widening project. Here’s what he said about the status of the I-77 project:

    “It’s just conversations that are happening. No commitments have been made.”

    When I pointed out that the contracts with the Spanish company Cintra had already been signed with the NCDOT, he said this:

    “Those can be cancelled out.”

    When I expressed further skepticism about the likelihood that the legislature can simply cancel the project at this stage, he said this:

    “Any executive branch or agency can sign any contracts they want, but it’s up to the General Assembly to provide the funding to allow it to go forward… The legislature has not made a commitment.” (drag & drop)

    This morning, I received this from Amna Cameron, a Transportation sector staffer at the NCGA’s Fiscal Research Division, in response to a general question as to whether the NCGA can stop the project once the contracts are signed, and whether they need to approve specific funding for it to go forward:

    State law requires every contract to include a provision that contracts can be cancelled based on the availability of funds. Theoretically, the legislature has the authority when it’s in session to pass a bill that removes funding for a project.

    That being said, doing so sends shock waves through the bond market. That’s why you never hear about such an aggressive move by states unless there is a quick and hard economic downturn.

    DOT does not need further legislative authority to sign the contract. DOT has met all of the legislative requirements, including LGC approval of the debt issuance.

    Members think financial close will happen by the end of the year, well before the next session.

    The legislature does not need to appropriate additional funds. All legislative requirements have been met.

    In other words, Rep. Moffitt is either severely misinformed about the I-77 toll lane project and the process whereby it is happening, or he was, er… deliberately misinforming his conservative constituents about it.

    1. Tim Peck November 3, 2014

      Moffitt says I-77 toll contracts “can be cancelled out”
      by Brant Clifton • Daily Haymaker • November 3, 2014

      “Contracts?,’ says Moffitt.” With the DOT? Those can be cancelled out.”

      The legislator continues: “What does that matter? We control the purse strings. Any executive branch agency can sign any contract they want. It’s up to the General Assembly to provide the funding for it to allow it to go forward. The legislature has not made a commitment.”

      Um, BOOM.


      1. Barry Summers November 3, 2014

        Um, Posse: the Haymaker is only reprinting what I sent them earlier today.

        The statements from the Fiscal Research Division staff still stand. It’s not possible to “cancel out” the contracts on the I-77 toll project, even if we believed that Tim Moffitt would want to do that, or actually attempt that.

        It’s the first major P3 project in the state, and it was shepherded by his allies Thom Tillis, William Brawley, and Nathan Ramsey, and it’s a cornerstone issue at ALEC. He’ll chew his own leg off before trying to kill it.

        He was saying whatever he thought he had to in front of a hostile crowd, which we’ve seen before…

        1. Tim Peck November 3, 2014

          Um, shill,

          The crowd was indeed hostile: to you and painfully phoney Brian Turner. That was the laughter you heard in the background. It was for you. LOL.

          “Um, BOOM.”

          1. roo November 3, 2014

            You’re ugly like you’re losing.

          2. luther blissett November 4, 2014

            BOOM. Almost as if Mouthpiece knows that he’s going to be tossed in the trash come January. Not much of a resale market for soiled spokesbots with less than careful owners.

          3. Barry Summers November 4, 2014

            Tim ought to have acknowledged by now that he relayed incorrect information on the I-77 issue.

    2. Tim Peck November 4, 2014

      I guess you got schooled by Brawley too. Not that the truth will have the least effect on you, Barry. You’re impervious.

      A mind is a terrible thing to waste. But progressives do it anyway.

      1. Barry Summers November 4, 2014

        “Schooled”? Actually, Rep. Brawley confirmed that what Tim Moffitt told the Tea Party last Thursday about I-77 was not correct: the state funding for the HOT lanes project is already in place – the NCGA does not need to specifically “approve” or “allow” it to go forward. Furthermore, Tim’s suggestion that they could “cancel out” the contracts with Cintra, months after financial close, is simply not going to happen. Even if you could get the House, Senate, and Governor to go along, it would be “like dropping a bomb on the state’s reputation with the bond market.”

        Your vitriol doesn’t change the facts – when asked an important question from conservative constituents, Tim gave them incorrect info.


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