Nina Tovish Speaking at City Council

What the what???

I was baffled by item K in this week’s consent agenda at City Council. It read:

“Resolution approving in principle the issuance by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville of up to $20,000,000 of multifamily housing revenue bonds for the acquisition and rehabilitation of Battery Park Apartments.”

How, I wondered, could $20M in bonds be passed with no fanfare, via a consent agenda, without extensive public discussion? The HACA was going to buy Battery Park? And renovations?

So, when the consent agenda came up for public comment, I asked.

The answer was reassuring, as far as I could understand it: some arcane process involving the actual owner (Nation Church Residences) raising funds for renovation through issuing bonds, under authority of HACA but imputing no liability to HACA or the City of Asheville.

I was surprised that I was the only person who actually sought clarification on this, especially since it was the only thing of its kind I’ve ever seen in a consent agenda. Anyway, the moral of the story is: ask. Always ask.

Measuring, Tracking, and Reporting Outcomes

Wouldn’t it be great if every item that came up for a vote in City Council also included a list of specified desired outcomes, relevant items to be tracked, and had subsequent periodic reports on the results of those measurable?

This is the essence of my request to City Council and the City Manager. Citizens deserve to know the effects and results of decisions by their government. Without that transparency and accountability, government is opaque and democracy is powerless.

Criminalizing First Amendment Speech & Feeding the Homeless

The City has decided to double down on the “felony littering” charges levied against a group who were protesting and aiding the unhoused in Aston Park on Christmas Day last year.

This is an egregious legal overreach.

My remarks:

Until this year, felony littering was charged exactly once in the past decade in Buncombe County.

I would be interested to know the process by which APD arrived upon this charge as the most appropriate one for a handful of people — no wait, six months later, it’s now 15 people — who arguably were feeding the hungry and exercising their First Amendment rights. Who came up with this creative legal strategy? I can’t imagine it was top-of-mind for APD in the heat of the moment on Christmas Day. Do we owe this innovative approach to a city attorney?

Am I in favor of people dumping trash in public parks? I am not.

Do I prefer that protestors refrain from making a mess? Yes.

Do I think that charging folks as felons is reasonable in this case? I do not.

Do I think that this prosecution will cost the city more than it’s worth, both financially and in reputation? Yes, I do.

Do I think the city will succeed in getting convictions with this prosecution? I’m skeptical.

One likely outcome is misdemeanor pleas. Another is a protracted and expensive litigation around first amendment issues. Outright dismissal is another plausible result. No matter how it plays out, it makes for an ugly picture for Asheville and I’d expect headlines nationally just as favorable as those we were graced with for the infamous Aid Station raid during the George Floyd demonstrations.

Is this the best use of city resources? Not to my mind.

Neither in the policing effort nor in any subsequent prosecution of charges. I won’t even go into the questionable claims about the quantity of so-called trash or the merits of the ‘art projects.’ For a department that’s short-staffed, investigating and pursuing the arrest of 16 citizens for their politically-motivated speech and humanitarian efforts seems an absurd and possibly unconstitutional overreach.

I urge City Council to ask that these charges be dropped. I likewise call upon District Attorney Williams to dismiss them.