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AVL Watchdog

Come Hell or High Water, Asheville Is Climate “Winner”

Influx of “climate refugees” expected to exacerbate challenges

By 2100 coastal communities could experience sea-levels up to 8 feet higher than in 2000. Some scholars predict 13 million people could be displaced and likely to migrate to “safe cities.”

Back in 2006, when Scott Shuford was Asheville’s planning director, he reluctantly accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a meeting about the impact of climate change on local governments. 

“I didn’t see how a two-degree temperature change could affect the community,” he recalled, referring to the predicted rise in earth temperatures in years to come. “But I agreed to attend, thinking it would only be about 15 minutes. 

“After about an hour-and-a-half I came out of the meeting drenched in sweat.”

All the plans he had drafted up to that day suddenly seemed to have overlooked an unsettled future fraught with unanticipated challenges. Those two degrees of temperature change meant greater threats of weather extremes — of torrential rains, devastating floods, and landslides, and of their opposites, extended drought and wildfire. 

“We weren’t ready,” Shuford said of Asheville’s infrastructure at the time.

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Cawthorn’s First 2 Months in Office

Under Attack, He Moves (Farther) Right

Congressman Madison says "left-wing elites" stole the election.

Since Madison Cawthorn took office two months ago, vowing to represent everyone in his Western North Carolina district, not just those who voted for him, nearly all of his votes in Congress on substantial issues have been against proposals supported by Democrats, an analysis of his record by Asheville Watchdog found. 

Records show that Rep. Cawthorn has not introduced any original legislation so far in the 117th Congress. He has, however, co-sponsored 52 bills and resolutions as of Thursday, nearly all in support of causes that are popular with what he calls his “patriot” base.

One of the bills Cawthorn co-sponsored, H.R. 450, would prohibit the use of federal funds “to propose, establish, implement, or enforce any requirement that an individual wear a mask or other face covering, or be vaccinated, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

He is also one of a handful of co-sponsors for H.R.

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Black Home Ownership and the Promise of Reparations

For many, Asheville's "urban renewal" ended the American Dream

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson surveys her childhood Southside neighborhood near New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Urban renewal "destroyed" a thriving community, she said.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson looked across the empty fields where her Southside neighborhood once thrived. “It’s all gone,” she said. “One thousand two hundred businesses and homes were lost.” 

The neighborhood, where approximately half of Asheville’s Black population lived, suffered major upheaval under Asheville’s urban renewal program in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the largest urban renewal projects in the Southeastern United States. 

Ndiaye Robinson’s memories of childhood delights — a neighbor’s cupcakes, playing with chickens, charging up the grassy hills — are tainted by sadness and umbrage at what happened. “It broke up a loving community. It tore up families,” she recalled.

Priscilla Ndiaye Robinson

For Asheville’s Black residents it, urban renewal also undercut the foundation of generational wealth and dashed a revered piece of the American Dream. Predominantly Black neighborhoods were razed to make way for proposed highways or real estate ventures,

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Cawthorn joins firebrand GOP colleagues on far-right media

"Censored" by U.S. platforms, QAnon and Trump coup backers flock to Congressman's new forum

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Madison Cawthorn work out in the House gym

Shortly after taking his seat in Congress last month, Madison Cawthorn emailed his Republican colleagues to tell them of his intended role. “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation,” he wrote, using the slang word for public relations.

An Esquire magazine headline offered this translation of the freshman congressman’s words: “It’s not about legislating, or fixing problems. It’s about the show.” If so, the show is not designed to appeal to Western North Carolina’s mainstream Republicans, independents or Democrats, despite Cawthorn’s post-election promise to be the congressman for all his constituents. 

[Editor’s note: This story has been modified since initial publication to remove references to handwritten notes that we erroneously said were made by Rep. Cawthorn. The notes were not written by the congressman, and were posted online as parody. The Watchdog regrets the errors.]

A new and featured attraction of Cawthorn’s “comms” is his own channel on a Dubai-based social-media platform,

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Reparations, Six Months Later: So Far, Empty Promises

Asheville’s Dwindling Black Population Remains Skeptical

Valley Street, ca. 1949. Photo by Juanita Wilson

Six months ago, as part of a reckoning on racial injustice, the City of Asheville and Buncombe County both passed resolutions to consider reparations to the Black community as a way to begin making amends for slavery and generations of systemic discrimination. The votes were hailed as “historic” by The Asheville Citizen Times, and ABC News asked, “Is Asheville a national model?”

Since then, local officials concede, little has been done. Some in the Black community see zero progress.

“From my understanding, they’ve done nothing,” said Rob Thomas, community liaison for the Racial Justice Coalition. 

Despite the fanfare they received at the time, the reparations resolutions are in limbo, still as lacking in specific remedies as they are in financial commitment or engagement with the Black community. The Asheville resolution called for the creation of a Community Reparations Commission to begin drafting recommendations.

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Cawthorn Falsely Says Democrats Paid Capitol Rioters

Calls Intensify for Congressman to Resign

Madison Cawthorn speaks to protesters Jan. 6

In the middle of the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, while a mob of insurrectionists still roamed the halls and ransacked offices, leaving five dead and dozens injured, Madison Cawthorn called a friendly conservative radio host and blamed the violence on left-wing agitators sent by “the Democratic machine” to make President Trump look bad. 

“I believe that this was agitators strategically placed inside of this group — you can call them antifa, you can call them people paid by the Democratic machine — but to make the Trump campaign, the Trump movement, look bad. And to make this look like it was a violent outrage, when really the battle was being fought by people like myself and other great patriots who are standing up against the establishment and standing up against this tyranny that we see in our country.”

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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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Billy Graham’s Legacy Threatened by Family Split

Evangelist’s grandchildren say his son’s pro-Trump politics brings ‘shame’

Franklin Graham offered a prayer at President Trump's inauguration in 2017.

For the Rev. Franklin Graham, the scathing editorial in Christianity Today last year calling his friend Donald Trump “a leader of grossly immoral character” and urging that Trump be “removed from office” was heretical.

To Graham, it was bad enough to read such an attack on Trump. But the insult was compounded by the fact that Christianity Today had been founded by his recently deceased father, Billy Graham, the revered evangelist often called America’s Pastor. So Franklin fired back at the magazine with a powerful riposte to his millions of social-media followers:

I hadn’t shared who my father @BillyGraham voted for in 2016 but because of @CTMagazine’s article, I felt it necessary share now. My father knew [Trump], believed in him & voted for him. He believed Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in the history for our nation.

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Mission sale: Good for WNC, or just HCA?

Smaller, less-profitable hospital nets twice the price

Years from now, the decision in 2018 by the directors of Mission Health to sell to HCA Healthcare might be seen as a brilliant strategic maneuver, one that guaranteed affordable, high-quality healthcare for future generations of western North Carolinians. This was, and still is, the position of the directors and executives who pushed the deal.

In return for giving up its independence, local control, and century-long legacy as a nonprofit providing quality care for the benefit of local residents, Mission accepted a $1.5 billion offer from HCA, the biggest hospital chain in the country. As a public company, HCA is required by law to prioritize profit-making for its shareholders.

The money from the sale was designated to fund a new nonprofit, the Asheville-based Dogwood Health Trust. Based on the relatively small population of the 18-county mountain region it serves, Dogwood overnight became not just the richest per capita health-related endowment in North Carolina,

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Attack by Madison Cawthorn’s schoolmates goes viral

Online letter alleges misbehavior, sexual misconduct as student

A scathing public letter signed by more than 150 of Madison Cawthorn’s former schoolmates at Patrick Henry College alleges that the Republican candidate engaged in “sexually predatory behavior,” vandalism and lying as a student and is unfit for congress or as a representative of the conservative Christian school.

The letter, in the form of an online petition, was posted over the weekend by alumni who said they knew Cawthorn during the 2016-2017 academic year. He dropped out before the end of his second semester and didn’t return.  

Within hours of the letter’s release October 17, the number of Patrick Henry College alumni signers exploded, from 10 to 150 by midweek.  Many of the signers also recounted on social media their personal experiences with Cawthorn during that period, including several who alleged that they were victims of his sexual misconduct or had learned of it from other alleged victims at the time.

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