This is the fourth in a series of interviews with this year's Asheville City Council candidates. Xpress will run the interviews both here and use them for our upcoming voter guide, and all candidates were asked the same five questions. This interview is with Council member Cecil Bothwell, who's running for a second term.
1) Do you have confidence in City Manager Gary Jackson and the overall city administration? Why or why not? What would you change?
Yes, I have confidence. I think Gary Jackson is the best city manager I've been aware of in the last 20 years. I'm very happy with how he's running the city.
I think he's been implementing gradual change to move the city and the bureaucracy in a better direction. Big government, even big at the city level, with 1,000 employees, does not change quickly or easily. I think the changes in the permitting department, the changes in the police department, the changes in the fire department, the changes in the structure of the administration have all been really good under him.
At the state level, I'd love to see a change in the municipal rules so there was more transparency with the department heads. I believe that the personnel files of the city manager, the city attorney, the city clerk, the heads of departments like the police chief and fire chief should be public record.
I think that would settle some of the questions—say the ones this year about the police chief— and that's buried because it's personnel, that should be public record. But that's at least a state level personnel thing, and it may be federal, that's nothing I can change.
It seems a shame to me that we hide the records of those senior officials. It diminishes public trust. If people could have seen the investigation of the police chief that was going on this year, if all the charges that had been made were public and all of the investigation was public, I believe it would have really diminished the distrust that was going on. Instead we had the [Asheville Citizen-Times] putting out front page articles saying that Council is abrogating its responsibility, they're not doing anything about the police chief.
Sorry, but bullshit, we were. We were doing everything we could do under the law, but it was hidden.
2) What's the city's most underserved population? What would you do to help them?
The most underserved population are the people who work downtown but live outside of town because it's cheaper, that's where it's affordable. That would be downtown service workers principally, and the main thing I'm trying to do is advocating for a downtown circulator transit at 2:30 in the morning.
This would help those downtown workers get at least near to their homes. We can't provide full bus service in the middle of the night, but it would be great for the downtown service workers if they could get within some blocks of their home.
I've actually heard of one person, and I bet they're not alone, who sleeps in an alley outside of his bar because he can't get a ride home after work. They close at two, so he cleans up the bar and there's no ride, so he sleeps overnight and then takes the bus home in the morning. That doesn't seem right to me, so I want Sunday service and a downtown late night circulator.
3) Are the city's development policies too loose, too restrictive, or just right? What would you change?
I think the development policies are mostly about right, but I would eliminate tax incentive policies. I don't think that they're working. For instance, the Linamar management said that the city incentives didn't make any difference, that they would have come here anyway. My impression from my interaction with New Belgium's people is that they would have come here anyway.
I don't think that shifting costs to current taxpayers to attract businesses is working. I don't believe that the businesses that have come to Asheville have come here because of city incentives. I would much prefer to put that money into improving the city: more greenways, more sidewwalks, better transit, cleaner streets and all that. Then let the businesses that want to come here.
4) Do you favor increasing funding for mass transit? If so, what other expenditures would you cut, or what taxes and fees would you increase, to raise the money?
Yes, I do, I think transit's huge. But the answer to this is kind of amorphous, because you have to look at the entire budget.
I would be totally willing to shave expenditures on parks and rec in order to put more money into transit, bike lanes, sidewalks. That's one place we have money that could be carved into.
The energy saving's we're accumulating are another. The new streetlights are going to be about $360,000 a year in savings on power bills. I'd love to see that put towards transit.
5) Do you favor a bond referendum to address Asheville's infrastructure needs? If so, what specific projects should the money be used for?
Yes, I absolutely would advocate for that. To my mind, the big money issues should be decided by the voters. I can get all the emails, and I get a lot, but that's just the people who happen to care enough to email me. I don't really believe I'm getting a cross-section. To me, a referendum is a great way to go.
I'd like a bond referendum on greenways, sidewalks, and probably even repaving to increase the frequency that we go back to streets. Last year we were on a 75-year cycle for repaving, and our current budget attempts to get down to a 35-year cycle. If taxpayers are willing to go quicker, we should go quicker, see if people are willing to pay a couple more cents a year on their taxes.