Air-quality activists clustered in the courthouse hallway, expressing disbelief that the Buncombe County commissioners had voted on Aug. 17 to reappoint Doug Clark to a six-year term on the board of the Western North Carolina Regional Air Pollution Control Agency.
"Obviously, the good ol' boy network is a lot deeper and more powerful than the general public realizes," observed Susan Hutchinson, who narrowly failed in her bid for appointment, despite numerous endorsements from civic groups and the daily newspaper.
Western North Carolina Alliance community organizer Alyx Perry called Clark's reappointment "an obvious defeat for environmental and democratic interests."
Just before the commissioners voted, board Chairman Tom Sobol said commissioners had probably received more calls about the county's two pending appointments to the air-agency board than they had in connection with all previous board appointments combined.
Commissioners were nearly unanimous in selecting Buncombe County Medical Society Executive Director Alan McKenzie to fill one seat (Bill Stanley dissented). But after that, the board split. Clark garnered the necessary three votes for nomination from Sobol, David Young and Stanley. Clark failed to win support from David Gantt and Patsy Keever, who voted for Susan Hutchinson. Stanley cast his other vote for Kim Carlyle.
"It is [already] very difficult to get the board to work peacefully together," noted Hutchinson after the meeting. She went on to predict that the board's new makeup will likely turn the air-agency meetings into "a major battle ground."
Air-agency salaries raised
The Air Pollution Control Agency's current search for a new director may be more successful, thanks to commissioners' unanimous approval of the agency's request that staff salaries be increased -- including boosting the director's annual salary to $52,915.
Other salary increases include: engineering supervisor, to $40,639; inspections & enforcement supervisor, to $40,639; engineer II, to $37,204; engineer I, to $34,094; and environmental chemist to $31,845.
Saving Biltmore School
Graduates of the old Biltmore High School were on hand as commissioners -- led by a motion from Stanley, who reminisced about his first football game against Biltmore High -- voted unanimously to approve the sale of the 72-year-old South Asheville architectural gem to the Western North Carolina Historical Association, for the appraised value of $1.8 million.
Present at the meeting were Peggy Forrester Hare, Barbara Lowman, Barbara Settle and Jim Woody, members of the classes of 1950, '51 and '52. Executive Director Rebecca Land told commissioners, "Our goal is to preserve the historical structure and provide a cultural and historical center, as a true asset to the community."
The association has provided $35,000 in earnest money, according to Assistant County Attorney Stan Klontz, who presented the request to commissioners.
The property, which sits in the midst of rapidly encroaching commercial development along Hendersonville Road, will be deeded to the Historical Society with preservation easements to maintain its historical character, according to Klontz. The contract will be nonbinding until Jan. 31, 2000, to give the association time to raise funds to renovate the building, to bring it up to museum standards, at an estimated cost of $3 million to $3.5 million.
Hearing set for Agricultural Services Building
While presenting a request that the county buy a building at 94 Coxe Ave. in Asheville for use as an Agricultural Services Building, County Manager Wanda Greene pointed out to commissioners, "We do [currently] spend a lot of money on rent."
She called the $900,000 price tag "cost beneficial -- a positive cash flow." Commissioners scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Aug. 31 at 4 p.m.
"The agencies are scattered. The reality is, we have been mandated to become co-located, in order to have one-stop shopping," said U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Executive Director Chris West.
Agencies that would move to the proposed Agricultural Services Building include the Cooperative Extension Service, Rural Development, Soil Conservation, and other organizations serving the agricultural community.
Smart Start for Buncombe children
Commissioners unanimously approved three new grant-funded Smart Start staff positions. Fran Thigpen, who requested the approval, pointed out that the positions use "no direct county funds," since Child Care Services has already been awarded $1,516,000 in Smart Start Funds for fiscal year 2000.
Minority businesses not hired
Minority businesses were awarded only 1 percent of the county's contracts with private vendors during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30 -- a paltry $739,863, according to the first Annual Report of the Minority Business Program, which was presented to commissioners by Mamie W. Scott, the director of the Asheville-Buncombe Office of Minority Affairs.
"Though the 1 percent does not come close to the goals we set," Scott noted after the meeting, "these things are eye openers, so everyone will help resolve this problem."
The mission of the Office of Minority Affairs, according to the report, is to expand the minority-business vendor base, and to serve as a liaison between government agencies, purchasing agents, general contractors and minority-business owners, to ensure that the city and county make good-faith efforts to give equal consideration.
"All of us as citizens have to take responsibility," Scott said.
"In researching for the report, we have come up with several strategies," Scott noted. The organization has developed programs for certification, identification, referral, recruitment, formal/informal training, information and advocacy with minority businesses.
At the meeting, Scott notified commissioners of two vacancies on the Minority Business Commission, and recommended Grace Dorn of the NAACP and Stephanie Coleman of the Mountain Micro-enterprise Fund to fill them. Commissioners will consider those appointments at a later meeting, according to Sobol.
Grant for new soccer complex
Director of Recreation Services Annette Wise announced the receipt of a $248,737 grant from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, to build a soccer complex on land leased from the BASF Corporation (see consent agenda, below). The grant is one of 42 awarded in North Carolina to distribute funds derived from state excise taxes on deed transfers.
Wise also applauded the work of county Recreation Services Development Coordinator Jan Turner, whom she said has raised about a half-million dollars in less than a year from corporations and grants, "to offset the tax burden of county taxpaying citizens."
Debunking Buncombe zoning "myths"
Commissioner Gantt, after thanking "the good Lord for the chance to represent the people of Buncombe County on the board," set about informing citizens about the county's proposed zoning ordinance, and debunking what he called prevailing zoning myths.
In a computer-assisted presentation on the proposed ordinance, complete with charts and maps, Gantt reviewed numerous aspects of the draft ordinance. Expressing particular concern about the impact of the 33,000 additional people expected to be living in the county by the year 2015, and the roughly 50 percent increase in water consumption over the past 10 years, Gantt warned listeners about the inevitable competition between individuals and businesses for available land and resources, which he said would contribute to problems with traffic, water, noise and pollution.
"Seventeen stand-alone ordinances are a shaky foundation on which to place the county's land-management plans," continued Gantt. "We might have stretched our right to use police power too thin," he said, referring to the authority that commissioners have invoked on different occasions, in enacting various land-use ordinances.
In response to Gantt's zoning presentation, a handful of citizens opposed to zoning addressed commissioners. Nathan Ramsey charged, "The county is paying for a propaganda campaign to gloss over the problems of zoning." Ramsey asked commissioners how much their formal presentation, made earlier this month at the Civic Center, had cost the county. Sobol said he didn't know.
County Planning Director Jon Creighton said later that he had recently paid a $16,000 bill to Land Design Inc., the company that developed the presentation, and that another bill was due. "Most of [their] work has to do with mapping and technical advice," he said.
Peggy Bennett asked commissioners to give equal time to those opposed to zoning. "I respectfully ask you to give people against zoning the same opportunity [to present their case]," she said. Commissioner Stanley was applauded when he replied, "I would make that a motion. I think you are absolutely right." Chairman Sobol did not ask for a second.
Gerald Dean, in a jocular mood, reminded Sobol, "We still break bread together over at the church," and then declared, "We don't want zoning. Have y'all figured that out yet?"
Gantt read a proclamation recognizing "Dispute Resolution Month" and honoring the Mediation Center for its "substantial contributions to improving the quality of life for citizens of Buncombe County."
Mediation Center Executive Director Barry Master told commissioners, "If we can be of help, please call on us. We would like to be called."
"Everybody's gonna eat, somebody better farm," quipped Commissioner Stanley after reading a proclamation designating Aug. 27 as Cooperative Extension Heritage Day. The state Cooperative Extension Service, with offices in all 100 North Carolina counties, was established 85 years ago, as a partnership of county, state and federal governments, according to the proclamation. The service "takes the research of North Carolina's two land-grant institutions -- North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University -- and develops educational resources based upon the needs of all North Carolinians."
Commissioners unanimously approved their consent agenda -- which, among other items, included:
• a resolution awarding a $799,389 contract to Carolina Mountain Construction, to build a new soccer complex in west Buncombe County on property leased from BASF. The resolution also accepts other bids and authorizes the execution of contracts and related documents for the construction of the soccer complex.
• a budget-amendment request to appropriate $62,000 from the fund balance, to be transferred to Capital Projects, to complete the purchase and installation of a Recreation Services maintenance building.
• a resolution setting a public hearing for Sept. 21 regarding a citizen petition to close Old U.S. 74 (known as Hickory Nut Gap Road) in the Reynolds section of the county.
• a resolution conveying, by nonwarranty deed, a parcel of real property to Riverfront Development Inc., calling the recipient the "only interested nonprofit corporation."
Board Chair Sobol announced that commissioners will maintain their regular schedule of public meetings at the courthouse in September and October, with community meetings to follow at 7 p.m. in various locations throughout the county.
He also announced, to warm applause, that Commissioner Stanley will be installed as the next president of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.
The commissioners then went into closed session to discuss two legal matters on which no action would be taken, according to County Attorney Joe Connolly. One item was the lawsuit brought against the county by Yelton, Dawes and Morgan of C&T News Services, regarding access to public records. (The court ruled against the county in a hearing held the next day.)