Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell

The city of Asheville will renew its contract with City Manager Debra Campbell, who has come under fire from critics for her low-key leadership style during tumultuous moments in the city’s recent history.

Mayor Esther Manheimer read a statement at the beginning of Tuesday’s city council meeting on behalf of the council announcing Campbell’s contract would be renewed come December.

“The council recognizes Manager Campbell’s strong leadership and strategic focus during historically challenging times and celebrates accomplishments and has identified ongoing city challenges,” Manheimer said in her statement, which was also sent out as a news release.

“The council looks forward to continuing our work with Manager Campbell and building upon our work to date and focusing on our ongoing efforts to address the needs of the community and the city. The council has worked together to set goals and priorities with the manager as we move into the two-year renewal period beginning December 2023.”

Council members met in closed session Tuesday before their regular meeting to discuss Campbell’s contract, part of an annual review of appointees, which include the city manager, city attorney, and the city clerk. Council members were not immediately available for comment.

Campbell’s contract was scheduled to expire in early December.

Campbell has been a low-key executive known for being reluctant to work in the spotlight, as Asheville Watchdog reported in May as part of its Down Town series.

Some residents have been frustrated with her seemingly lack of engagement at moments like the 2020 protests around the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis; the City Council-mandated removal of the Vance Monument downtown in 2021, and the prolonged city water outage over the 2022-2023 holiday season.

In addition, the city has wrestled with an increase in homelessness, drug use, and aggressive behaviors in downtown Asheville during her tenure.

Barry Bialik, a developer and past chairman of Asheville’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, said he was disappointed by the decision though he was not surprised.

“Hiring for a city manager job is complex, but it probably would have taken a year anyway,” he said. “I think whether she’s the best person for the job doesn’t matter now. Her performance has been mixed. One thing I’ve observed is that our city is not innovative. City leadership does not work out of innovation, it works out of fear.”

Michael Lewis, a North Asheville resident who has lived in the area for 44 years, said he was disappointed, too.

“I’m skeptical of it,” he said. “I think it was an opportunity to make some changes. Unless we remove the city council, I don’t think it’s going to make much difference. We need some leadership in this town because there’s a vacuum.”

Lewis said he hoped the city would eventually search inside its own ranks for a new city manager.

Campbell, 65, makes $242,694 a year, plus a $6,000 annual vehicle allowance. 

She receives an annual review, and her employment record from this year shows she has received raises each of the past three years from her initial salary of $220,000. Those salary increases were listed as “Pay increase – All employees.”

She came on in 2018, exiting her four-year role in Charlotte as an assistant city manager. She had been with Charlotte since 1988, where she held various positions including planning director.

Reporter John Boyle contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email To show your support for this vital public service go to

Join the Conversation


  1. I have to agree with some of the criticisms. The current state of the city of Asheville is very disappointing. I have live here over 25 years and we are now in a degraded state.
    The current state of the city’s police departments under staffing issues, the continuing homelessness and its negative effect on downtown tourism, crime,business and the general degradation of downtown’s cleanliness and safety are major issues that city management and city council does not have an effective solution for. If they do what are they waiting for. Now is the time to make your plan work.

  2. Having a “low key” style or being “introverted” isn’t the issue; that’s a personality quirk that has a small role in her job. What’s more concerning is the “strong leadership and strategic focus” statement. Wouldn’t you follow that up with an example? “We were really pleased with the way she….” for instance. But once again we have an empty word salad – it tells us nothing, shows us nothing and further underscores that we drift directionless without a plan about what we will become.

    1. Thank you for pointing out that “low key” or “introverted” isn’t the issue. One doesn’t have to be “high key” or extraverted to be good at one’s work. It’s best to focus on whether one is good at the work to be done.

    2. Agree with you Lee. So let’s take a look at our city council who are just as negatively impacting Asheville.

  3. Appalling, but not surprising. She hides from public view, which is as far from strong leadership as you can get. This council is a bunch of lightweights, clearly. Dithering and hiring consultants instead of stepping up to do the hard work of pushing improvement. Asheville residents deserve so much better.

    1. Residents don’t deserve being stuck with Campbell 2 more years. Two more years of nothing changing except more consultants while we circle the drain even faster. REMEMBER THIS when we vote for 3 city council members next year. None of them should be re-elected.

  4. The only task the city council has not hired a consultant for was this. Maybe next renewal.
    Any numerical goals for our City Manager?
    Is it just “Keep up the good work. Everything is so much better here now than it was five years ago.”

  5. An administrator, not a manager or a leader. How can you lead if you don’t like to go to meetings and avoid confrontation at all costs.

  6. I certainly didn’t expect this. Particularly after the “Christmas water” event. There have been reports of Ms. Campbell’s introverted personality. I sincerely hope for the best.

  7. Did this decision really surprise anyone? Why would an incompetent council want anything more than a substandard city manager?

    1. Campbell is the puppet of the gaggle called council and mayor. Asheville became the armpit of NC under this “leadership”.

  8. No way! Is this some kind of communication error between this excellent news outlet and the city council? I am going for an error on the city’s part: surely they have not renewed this contract.

  9. The blind renewing the contract of the blind. Is anyone surprised that the feckless and hopeless Manheimer and company would do anything else? It would be interesting to know how the Council voted on this. Did the usually sensible Sandra Kilgore go along with it? The only word is DISASTER.

    1. Kilgore probably did not support renewing the contract. She’s the only council member that actually listens to residents. The rest stay on their own agendas.

  10. What a sad day. Our Council rewards mediocracy with a renewed contract. But, then again, it is substandard management doing the renewing.

    1. This is firing up the movers, shakers, and everyone in between into making sure the pathetic members of council and mayor are voted out over the next two elections. We need innovative leaders in every position at the top and instead we have women with their own agendas that do not represent the wishes of the very residents that elected them. That’s one thing Debra Campbell just accomplished.

  11. I agree with Barry. We need innovation to solve all the problems we have going on. And we certainly need a more engaging City Manager, especially for the money she makes.

  12. Sadly, The city of Asheville is retaining this manager only for the reason that politicians do not like to admit they made a mistake. The citizens of Asheville deserve better than this. As Jimmie said earlier, this is a big FU to all of the citizens. I am shocked but not surprised at this poor decision.

  13. Ms. Campbell isn’t the best manager in the world, but as I have mentioned earlier, she is not the worst of the problem. The worst problem is the congress of morons who make up the city council.

    H.L. Mencken famously said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”.

    He was correct. The voters of Asheville vote for these knaves and they deserve to reap the results.

  14. I can’t even comment on this. I am currently experiencing the 5 stages of grief. I don’t think I will ever get to acceptance though. This is a hard one to swallow.

    1. I’m right there with you, Joe. Many of my colleagues and I have been in a stupor all day. And Wednesday was the annual Employee Fun Day. Joke’s on us.

  15. What’s that they say about insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over and continuing to fail. Maybe that could be applied to the City Manager…or City Council. There is a vacuum of leadership in City Hall. How do you define leadership? Well, you might draw on Justice Stewart’s definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” I don’t see any downtown, at least where it most counts. We can’t even pull the weeds from the cracks in the streets and sidewalks much less get water to the citizens or repair our municipal auditorium. But our property taxes continue to increase. Where’s that money going? Certainly not to pay the $50 million we’re behind on school maintenance!

    1. Commenters on AVL watch dog can’t do better. They’d rather throw stones and complain at anyone else than be the change they want to see. So tired of the negativity…

      1. So you’re okay to happy to extremely pleased with Buncombe and Asheville? I don’t live in Buncombe but did enjoy meeting friends in Asheville. I can’t run for an office but can appreciate this site for allowing complaints and kudos from anyone. And I feel that if kudos were deserved they’d be here as well.

  16. Assuming the City Council took a formal vote on retaining Campbell, was it recorded and will it be reported? This was not just a routine personnel decision. This decision reveals a great deal about each individual council member’s own orientations about how the city should be governed and what the general direction of policy should be. In the face of so many citizens’ calls for change in both leadership and policy direction, the public deserves to know who voted to maintain the status quo.

    1. I do not think Esther Manheimer will let it be public. This is her way of doing the cup game. Every single resident needs to see how Council knows what the residents want – and then ignores it.

    2. Totally agree with the previous remarks, we need to know how each council member voted ! As has been stated, this is a disastrous decision that will give us two more years of incompetence.

  17. Me thinks we should thank Debra Campbell for tipping the scale from concerned disapproval of Esther and the whole city council gang to outright hatred and a strong desire to get them all out of office. Thank you!

  18. I am very disappointed that Council took the easy less confrontation way out. It is such a wimpy move, Council and Mayor’s style of ‘do not rock the boat’ under any circumstances shows their weak courage and how out of touch they are with their own City. They fell over themselves to hire this person, circumventing their own guidelines to get in front of another city in their rush to hire an administrator. Problem is, you do not hire a secretary to do a Managers job.
    You need leadership and ‘big issues’ people running your city. You do not need people who are constantly apologizing for forgetting to provide you, the Council with information. You need a strong confident voice, capable of making decisions, getting out of the office, looking at the issues yourself and leading your extremely large and capable staff base. Ducking behind yet another consultant, who will take another 2 years to produce a document, which then takes the city another 2 years to implement. By that time, the issue is completely out of hand and another 4 have taken its place. And nothing gets to its end goal.
    I realise that hiring a new manager is equally difficult, but maybe they should start their search right now so there is a smoother tranisition when Ms. Campbell fades into obscuritity, with most projects still sitting out there still unfinished and unaddressed.

    1. Amen to every word you said, Gordon. Perhaps you’ll consider running for office (again)? You have a better handle on the issues than the whole lot combined.

  19. The reporters quoted only residents who are dissatisfied with Campbell. Were they not able to find anyone who had positive comments? Were they not able to interview any council members? Watchdog readers expect more in-depth coverage.

  20. They fired Gary Jackson who was doing a good job but was a scapegoat. We keep someone who only recommends consultants and there are questions if she actually is doing a good job. I personally do not see Asheville heading in a positive direction.

  21. We live in an imperfect world. Do I wish we had a City Manager who had the vision to lead on issues like riverfront redevelopment like Gary Jackson provided? Sure, as today we enjoy the payoff in greenways and bike lanes. Do I wish it hasn’t taken nearly a decade to bring expanded sidewalks–and still not there–to New Haw Creek Rd? Absolutely.
    Leadership is essential. But anyone hiring these days knows how difficult it is to find and keep talent, including the City. To Ms. Campbell I’d say: We gave you permission to lead. Take the reins and go for it. Make us proud.

    1. If she “takes the reins and makes us proud” after years of demonstrating she is incapable of doing anything except kissing Esther’s hiney and staying well hidden, we will witness hell freeze over.

  22. Look on the bright side 😉 The council could have fired Campbell and replaced her with Wanda Green or her son Michael.

  23. FOR SHAME. I audibly gasped when I heard the news. I have long worked for the City of Asheville and must say that I am absolutely stunned and, frankly, disgusted that we will suffer yet another 2 years under such incompetence. It’s been nothing but laziness, complacency, and cowardice cloaked in buseyness and PR bullshittery throughout her reign of regression. In addition to Debra, I vote NO CONFIDENCE in our City Council. They think it’s best for our fragile City and our collapsing morale (among all else) to allow Debra to ride out her pre-retirement days with more of the same brand of insanity we have already suffered? The citizens of Asheville will pay dearly for this costly decision… We already have been FOR YEARS. It’s worse on the inside than you can even imagine. I hung my head even lower when I walked into City Hall yesterday. This is an abomination.

  24. Without weighing in on this particular manager, I find it incredibly troublesome that such a decision is made in September with a potential December turnover. December isn’t an ideal start time for a variety of reasons (including holidays and winter weather), and 3 months may not be long enough to find the right person and handle relocation if necessary. The start date for any new future city manager should be July 1, the start of a new fiscal year. There should be 6 months of lead time. And so they should have given Ms. Campbell an 18-month extension at most, rather than 2 years. Just another example of pitiful org planning skills, lack of foresight and dearth of critical thinking skills.

  25. Someone mentioned above not rocking the boat. For years if not decades the management philosophy in this city has been: “Don’t rock the boat; Good enough is OK; and We don’t have the money anyway.”

  26. Bad idea to continue the relationship of Ms. Campbell in any sort of leadership for our city. The citizens will not forget the water debacle, nor the destruction of our lovely downtown allowed by our leaders backing down to out of state troublemakers that protested our fair city, resulting to civil discontent, property damage, and a corrupt city that has one of the highest crime rates, based on size, of any city in NC. We went from a peaceable and beautiful historical city to one the people don’t recognize. Independent small shop owners have left and tourists have left too. Locals avoid going into Asheville like the plague. Poor leadership has been the cause that made Asheville a cesspool. The folks hired to help our city made our city just like the ones they came from. Tourists used to love the walking tours an appreciated the historical monuments and interesting places, what it left looks like a slum.

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