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Woodfin Development Controversy 2.0

New Proposal Replaces Controversial Bluffs Project

By BARBARA DURR, Asheville Watchdog 

Just as the new reform-minded commissioners of the town of Woodfin — now a solid majority — have settled into governing, a fresh controversy is brewing. A new application for a housing development on the site of what was the highly contentious Bluffs proposal has been submitted by a different group of real estate investors. 

The application from Concept Companies of Gainesville, Fla., submitted to the town Aug. 5, proposes a smaller development of 672 multi-family apartments with three clubhouses called “Mountain Village.” The controversial Bluffs at Riverbend, with some 1,500 rental units, a 250-room hotel, and commercial space, was vehemently opposed by residents of Woodfin and the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Asheville.  

A coalition of neighbors from Asheville and Woodfin,


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Opinion | Looking a gift horse in the mouth? The Asheville Citizen Times drops a nonprofit’s investigative work

The paper says its focus on growing paid digital subscriptions is at odds with running the Asheville Watchdog's stories for free

Bob Gremillion, publisher of the the Asheville Watchdog, wrote a piece questioning the Citizen Times’ decision to stop publishing its stories. (Poynter illustration)

[Editor’s Note: This column appeared Aug. 17 on, the website for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit media institute and newsroom in St. Petersburg, FL that provides fact-checking, media literacy and journalism ethics training to citizens and journalists. It is reprinted here with permission. Rick Edmonds is media business analyst for the Poynter Institute where he has done research and writing for the last fifteen years.]

By: Rick Edmonds

August 17, 2022

The Asheville Watchdog has been a much-celebrated hit among digital news nonprofits. Founded two years ago by Pulitzer-winning retirees living in the gateway to the North Carolina mountains,


How Many Doctors Have Left Mission? HCA Won’t Say

Watchdog counts 223 departures since takeover in 2019

Two prominent physician groups quit the Mission Health system in the first two weeks of the year, the latest in an exodus from the hospital since its sale three years ago to for-profit HCA Healthcare.

The seven doctors at Asheville Ear, Nose & Throat “decided to no longer provide medical or surgical care at Mission Hospital or Asheville Surgery Center,” as of Jan. 1, they wrote in a letter to their patients.

Also on Jan. 1, the 10 surgeons at Carolina Spine & Neurosurgery Center parted ways with Mission and joined UNC Health’s Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital in Hendersonville. They retain privileges to practice at Mission.

HCA declined repeated requests for the number of doctors who have left the Mission system since it took over in February 2019 and refuses to say how many doctors are on staff today,


Cawthorn Pointedly Defies Laws Banning Weapons on School Property

In latest incident, a short dagger in his pants

Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaking Oct. 5 at Western Carolina University (photo: David Wheeler)

[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include yet another complaint, at end of story.]

For the second time in as many months, Rep. Madison Cawthorn faces a potential criminal complaint for carrying a weapon — in the latest incident, a “combat” automatic knife similar to a switchblade — in a public school building.  

The 26-year-old freshman Congressman was photographed Tuesday night at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee with the knife handle protruding from his pants pocket. 

Enlarged view of knife clip

It appeared to be a different knife than the one he was seen carrying three weeks ago during an appearance before the Henderson County Board of Education. That also prompted a citizen complaint to be filed with Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin. 

Griffin, a Republican,


Profits are up at HCA. Ratings are down at Mission.

For executive pay, earnings matter more than quality of care

HCA Mission Hospital in Asheville

HCA Healthcare, which owns and operates Mission Hospital in Asheville, reported this month that it made $1.4 billion in profits for the first three months of 2021, more than double the amount for the same period last year. 

The new figures follow HCA’s report in February that annual profits rose to a record $3.8 billion in 2020, despite the pandemic, based on what the company called “solid cost management.”

In a proxy statement filed last month with the Securities and Exchange Commission, HCA stated its primary objective is “providing the highest quality health care to our patients, while making a positive impact on the communities in which we operate.” But the document shows that the company rewards top executives far more for taking care of shareholders than it does for taking care of patients. 

A year after announcing that its senior leaders would take up to 30 percent pay cuts during the pandemic,


Nonprofit Mission Made Lots of Profits. Especially for Bosses.

Pay for top execs rose faster than for doctors, nurses

For a hospital system organized as a not-for-profit charity, Mission Health made a lot of profits.

The money left over after Asheville-based Mission subtracted its expenses from its revenue — what would be called profit at a for-profit hospital — grew year after year, right up to 2018, when Mission’s directors surprised nearly everyone by announcing plans to sell out to Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare, the nation’s biggest chain of for-profit hospitals.

Mission at the time was as strong financially as it had ever been, which Mission’s executives said made it the perfect time to sell. They cited trends and studies suggesting that the Mission system faced a bleak future of relentless cost-cutting.

The cost-cutting apparently didn’t include the paychecks of Mission executives, which grew for years untouched by the financial scalpel.

Tax records examined by Asheville Watchdog reveal that in the decade leading up to the $1.5 billion sale of Asheville’s community-owned hospital system,


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