[See the previous BPR Questionnaire here.]
On Election Day, I’ll have lived in Asheville exactly ten years and one week. Moving here — to this beautiful city nestled in magnificent mountains and filled with creative, competent, compassionate, and often quirky folk — was one of the best decisions of my life. And it is this glorious environment, these wonderful neighbors, and our unique city that I seek to serve as a City Councilmember.
I’m a Yankee by birth, a Boston-area progressive by upbringing, and a former resident of Washington, DC. I hold a B.A. in Literature from Yale, and an M.F.A. in Visual Studies from SUNY.
I’ve made my living with words, images, and software; I write business prose and poetry, and craft strategic communications. I’ve designed textiles, worked in mixed media, curated exhibitions, led workshops, and been a professional photographer. I began my working life as a writer/editor for management consulting firm Arthur D. Little. Later I was the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s first New Media Producer, coordinating the work of a large, multidisciplinary team. Mostly, however, I’ve been self-employed—with clients in government, business, and the not-for-profit sector.
As I fell in love with our city’s diverse neighborhoods during my own home search, I chose to add a real estate practice to my portfolio. Although it’s been several years since I’ve done a transaction, I still hold an active license and have seen first-hand how affordable housing has become an impossible dream for so many of us.
Last Spring, BPR asked you about your priorities as an Asheville City Council member and what steps would you take to achieve those goals. What have you learned about these priorities during the campaign season?
In an earlier response I wrote about the city’s ill-advised attempt to preemptively “realign” the citizens’ advisory Boards & Commissions. Since then, I’ve been an active participant in the Working Group of engaged citizens who called for a halt to the city’s initial misguided proposal. We demanded that the city do what they should have done from the beginning: survey current and past Board & Commission members to learn from their countless hours of experience—what works and doesn’t work, and what they recommend to improve these advisory bodies.
After a lively and sometimes contentious process, the Working Group has crafted a substantive survey which should be going out for responses in the next few weeks. We look forward to using the data we gather to make specific recommendations to Council about how City Boards & Commissions can work more inclusively, transparently, and effectively. I’m proud of the way this diverse group of engaged citizens came together to get this process onto a much better track.
This experience has reinforced my conviction that our city government serves us best when it does its work in dialog with residents; when it reaches out to include those who will be affected by city policies early in the process; and when it facilitates communication and coordination between residents, city staff, and Council.
Through many conversations throughout this campaign season, I’ve been inspired and heartened by the residents I’ve met who are doing the quiet, hard work of caring for their neighbors and building up our community. More than ever, I believe that Asheville has everything it needs—the talent, the resources, the environment—to be a shining example to our nation of how a small city can grow responsibly into an equitable future, one in which all our residents thrive and prosper. We just need a city government that is as creative and compassionate as the people who live here.
Is there a role City Council should play in countering misinformation and threats to democracy? If so, what?
Absolutely. The biggest threat to democracy is people’s increasing disconnect from and distrust of their government.
The first and most important step in reversing that trend is a commitment to real transparency. As I mentioned in my earlier response, City Council should adopt a robust open meetings policy and should direct the City Manager to ensure that city staff make all public documents available promptly and all meetings easily accessible (both in person and remotely).
The residents of Asheville deserve a clear, truthful, and ongoing account of what their public servants are doing and why. Council and city staff should welcome public scrutiny, and only conduct business behind closed doors when required by law or under very limited exigent circumstances. In a democracy, trust and accountability go hand in hand.
The second essential step is facilitating greater public participation in the development of public policy. If people don’t feel that their needs and concerns are being heard and taken seriously, their disconnect and distrust are reinforced.
Conversely, when we believe that our voices are heard, and we can see that our participation actually makes a difference, our faith in democracy grows.
This a key reason why effective Boards & Commissions are so important. It’s also why Councilmembers should spend as much or more time out in our community, talking with a broad spectrum of constituents, as they do consulting with city staff and deliberating among themselves.
Asheville City and Buncombe County filed a lawsuit against Mission Hospital alleging monopolization and inflating prices. What do you think are the most important steps City Council can take to improve healthcare in Western North Carolina?
City Council must lend its voice, through its legislative agenda and lobbying in Raleigh, to demand that the General Assembly expand Medicaid in North Carolina. Our state is foolishly leaving millions of federal dollars on the table, and cruelly leaving millions of North Carolinians without access to affordable healthcare. The dwindling availability of hospital care in rural areas of WNC is just one outcome of this choice.
City Council can use all the tools in its policy toolbox to help ensure that our residents have safe, habitable homes and access to nutritious food. (It’s hard to stay healthy if you don’t have a roof over your head and enough good quality food to eat.) To ensure we achieve these goals, the city must collaborate with Buncombe County government and coordinate with our local not-for-profit organizations who already do so much to serve residents’ basic needs for shelter, food, and healthcare.
When choosing between comparable healthcare providers, City Council should give preference to not-for-profit organizations that prioritize patient care over profit margin and support fair labor practices for their staff.