Please tell us why you are running for Mayor or City Council.
I’m running for City Council because I believe that every challenge facing Asheville can only be successfully addressed if we have a City government that is responsive, inclusive, transparent, and accountable. Residents’ confidence in government and the decisions it makes depends upon their belief that their leaders are listening to what matters to them and including them in policy formation and decision-making from the earliest stages of the process. Their trust is government depends on their representatives doing the public’s work in public, not out of sight behind closed doors. Our leadership needs to be accountable: as a Councilmember, that means showing how you’ve arrived at your decisions and votes, and being prepared to be judged accordingly. Democracy depends on democratic processes.
I have taken A Pledge to Our City describing how I will conduct myself as a Councilmember. It outlines how I’ll interact with our neighborhood associations, community advocacy groups, and individual residents, and how I’ll invite them into the City’s decision-making processes. It is my promise to “show my work,” so that people will know who I’ve met with concerning business before Council, what we’ve discussed, and how my thinking evolves as I learn.
Please identify the top three issues you plan to address if elected.
In addition to the process-oriented values outlined above, I’ll be focusing on transportation, public safety, and housing affordability.
Housing Affordability—A home in Asheville, rental or owned, is now out of the reach of too many. People who work here too often can’t afford to live here. This challenge calls for bold new approaches to finance and build the housing our city needs.
Public Transportation—Our roads are burdened and our workforce struggles with a public system that doesn’t meet our needs. I envision a future for public transport that’s agile, electric, and reliable, with greater convenience and coverage. Technology offers better solutions, both for riders and for a healthier environment.
Public Safety—This time of turmoil for APD also holds great opportunity. We can reshape recruitment to appeal to candidates with the highest degree of personal integrity and commitment to civil rights & community engagement, and then help them live in the city they serve. A program like Denver’s STAR initiative, which sends social service providers to non-violent incidents, would ease the burden on police.
These three topics are all key elements in quality-of-life for our residents, and are especially important to those among us who are most vulnerable, and those who have been historically exploited, neglected, and excluded.
What specific experience do you have that translates to governing a city, particularly allocation of a large budget?
I am an engaged citizen—a person who has paid close attention to the role of politics in society and been active politically throughout my whole life. I have professional experience in project management and communications, and I know how to negotiate.
I don’t claim any special expertise in city management, or overseeing large, complex budgets. But I do know how to ask good questions and I’m a quick learner. I understand that making good decisions requires good information, derived from hard data and lived experience. Leadership means listening to needs, assessing and allocating resources fairly and equitably, devising creative and effective strategies, and including those who are affected by policy decisions in the process from the very beginning.
I also know that clear and compelling communication is essential to good leadership — and that has been a hallmark of my entire professional life: as a writer, designer, artist, new media producer, and real estate broker. I listen deeply, always seeking to understand; I value and seek out conversation and connection.
What strategies or initiatives would you consider to address homelessness in our community? We are aware of several long-term projects on the horizon (Days Inn, Ramada Inn, Buncombe County’s Affordable Housing Initiative), what short-term strategies would you employ to provide relief now?
I believe the City should initiate a range of short-term, limited-budget pilot programs to see what strategies are most effective in addressing the challenges facing our unhoused neighbors. A creative, agile approach will allow us to experiment in a lower-cost, lower-risk way—and give the City a change to learn what works, what doesn’t, and then iterate and improve.
For example: why not partner with a not-for-profit or faith-based organization to pilot a small sanctioned camping program, on temporarily donated property, for a modest number of participants, for a short period (maybe 4 months)? I envisage collaborating with community groups to provide wrap-around social support systems, provide sanitation (including showers and laundry), and security.
If we knew how to solve this complex societal problem, we’d already be doing it. We need to explore alternatives to find what works best for Asheville, and we should do it creatively and strategically, in partnership with every segment of our community.
Downtown businesses identified increasing criminal activity and decreased police presence as their top safety concerns. How would you address these concerns?
It’s no secret that the Asheville Police Department is stretched thin right now. A forty percent loss of personnel has inevitably meant fewer officers available for patrol downtown. The stresses of two years’ worth of pandemic have also contributed to upticks in criminal activity.
Conversations I’ve had with police personnel about recruitment have centered around the need to attract a handful of seasoned mid-career professionals who value personal integrity and have a record of community engagement and respect for civil liberties, and who will be sufficiently well-compensated so that they can live in the City they serve and protect. Those high-quality, mid-career officers will be able to train and guide the next cohort of young recruits.
Businesses also indicated support for alternatives to policing to address issues typically connected to homelessness, as well as issues connected to substance use and mental health. Do you support this approach and how would you prioritize it?
I do. Other municipalities have had significant success with diverting 911 crisis calls relating to poverty, mental health, homelessness, and substance abuse to a response team of emergency medical and social services personnel. As mentioned earlier, Denver’s STAR (Support Team Assisted Response) Program has successfully responded to nearly 2300 calls for service that would otherwise have required police to show up—and they have never had to call for police back up because of a safety issue.
This is another example where a pilot program could be spun up relatively quickly and relatively inexpensively. For example, Asheville could partner with Buncombe County to expand their Community Paramedicine program.
That way we can learn what does and doesn’t work for Asheville, and help our city develop solutions that address our specific needs.
What are your top concerns regarding cleanliness in downtown and how would you allocate resources to address these concerns?
The City should provide more trash receptacles downtown and empty them more frequently. Areas that get a lot of foot traffic need more attention from sanitation services. Permanently accessible and well-maintained public restroom facilities are an essential amenity for residents, visitors, and those who are unsheltered alike.
A clean and unlittered downtown is in everyone’s best interest, and can be achieved if all the stakeholders collaborate with the City to maintain it.
What steps would you take to advance racial equity in Asheville? How would you enact reparations for the Black community?
As a Council Member, I will listen to and be guided by the recommendations of the Reparations Commission. Buncombe County and Asheville have entrusted these 25 members (and their alternates) to work through the painful and difficult issues of our history and propose meaningful steps toward Reparations. I’ll ensure they get the City Staff support they need to do their work effectively and facilitate, to the best of my ability, their community engagement and communication.
Every decision that comes before City Council needs to be considered through a lens that focuses on equity, in terms of accessibility, administration, and outcomes. That lens needs to make inclusion a priority from the beginning, and ensure measurable accountability for an equitable outcome. Everything from the budget to zoning, housing, policing, public transportation, and business development—all need to be considered in this light.
Many of our neighbors whose voices have been historically ignored, excluded, or actively silenced have—for good reason—little trust in the institutions of power, including government. It’s our job on City Council to give them good reasons to change their minds, to invite them to share their wisdom and lived experience in the formulation of our city’s policy-making, and to demonstrate that government can and will act to improve their lives. Without intentional action, for example, Asheville will continue to see its legacy African American communities dwindle, as young people who see no meaningful future for themselves here look elsewhere to make their way in life.
What improvements to our parking, transit system and multi-model transportation options would you advocate for to ease pressure on the parking system?
Asheville needs to take a bold step into the future when it comes to public transportation and the future of cars in our downtown environment. The hub-and-spoke model of public transportation doesn’t serve our workforce well. And flooding downtown with ever more private vehicles is a recipe for gridlock and frustration for residents and visitors alike.
I envision a future of public transportation in Asheville with a fleet of smaller electric buses that arrive on demand during off-hours and run regularly at peak ridership times (at least to start). This flexible, agile, low-carbon alternative wouldn’t be restricted to the current sparse schedule and limited routes, and would serve both residents and visitors. Think publicly funded and operated ride-sharing — the technology exists! (Maybe even someday with self-driving vehicles.) Wouldn’t it be great if we could reclaim some of the valuable central real estate currently devoted to parking structures?
There may also be real benefit in turning some portion of downtown into a pedestrian and public-transport only zone (with obvious exceptions for service and delivery vehicles).
Identify your top three downtown infrastructure needs. How would you prioritize funding for these projects and how do you feel infrastructure impacts business success?
We need to taking a ground-up look at the UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) which has, over the years, accumulated a patchwork of ad hoc overlays and modifications. It’s time to revisit city zoning with smart, sustainable growth in mind, prioritizing residential construction in locations that can be well-served by an agile, electric public transportation system, promoting walkable communities with local commercial amenities, retaining the historic character that makes Asheville such a great place to live, and ensuring environmental sustainability with open spaces and a healthy tree canopy.
Asheville needs to invest heavily in upgrading every aspect of our infrastructure to support the growth that sees us nearly doubling in size in ten years. (I hope that some of the recent federal infrastructure bill’s funds will be available to municipalities like ours.) That includes the basics that every business depends on like our water/sewer system and stormwater management and flooding mitigation. Sidewalk maintenance (and more sidewalks) and pedestrian safety need special attention. As mentioned above, clean, always-accessible, well-maintained public restroom facilities are a basic amenity the City should be providing to residents and visitors alike.
What strategies would you like to see our city develop to expand housing affordability downtown?
The fundamental constraint for housing downtown is simply the availability of buildable land that can be acquired and developed at a price that makes “affordability” possible.
The model put forward in the recently-approved collaboration between the Haywood St. Congregation, Dogwood Trust, and the City of Asheville, which will bring 45 units of deeply affordable housing to the city, is a good start. We should explore similar projects on city-owned property, perhaps even building city-owned residential units so that a profit motive doesn’t constrain affordability. In Europe, government sponsored “social housing”—a form of self-subsidizing, cross-income-level housing—successfully increases housing availability for people at all income levels. Asheville could pilot a social housing initiative using funds (perhaps from bonds) that would ultimately be repaid in full and available to redeploy for the next construction project.
What strategies would you employ to make downtown Asheville more attractive to a diverse workforce?
I believe nothing makes a city more attractive to a diverse workforce than a thriving, diverse, eclectic, creative local economy fueled by local businesses that employ a local workforce, and pay at least a living wage that allows employees to live where they work.
I am open to exploring ways the City can incentivize, incubate, and support local start-ups and enterprises that show promise in helping to train and hire workers from every segment of our community. We need to nurture the businesses that keep profits circulating here, where their customers and clients live.
How would you engage with the Asheville Downtown Association on downtown issues?
In keeping with my Pledge, I will show up and listen. When policy matters and ordinances are being developed that will affect the Association’s members, I’ll be sure that your voices are heard early in the decision-making process.
Any further comments you’d like to include concerning Downtown Asheville?
For Downtown Asheville to continue to prosper and thrive, City and business interests need to work together to ensure that residents continue to feel they are both essential contributors to the life of Downtown, and welcome guests and participants in Downtown’s pleasures and amenities. Together, we can ensure that our city serves its residents with the all the best of the hospitality, commerce, and culture that make Asheville a wonderful place to live.