Press "Enter" to skip to content

AVL Watchdog

Political Power in Asheville

Part 1 of 2

Asheville City Councilman Vijay Kapoor, who plans to resign this summer and move to Philadelphia, spoke in-depth to Asheville Watchdog founders Sally Kestin and Steve Keeble about who holds the power in local government, why the council isn’t serving the needs of many residents and what’s needed to prevent undue influence over politicians in development decisions. 

Q: What can you tell us about serving on the City Council that would perhaps surprise us the most? 

A:   We have a lot of incredibly passionate people for a city of 90,000. The kind of community interaction that I’ve experienced as a council member is something that I think is usually more reserved for cities that are much larger. And I think there are both positives and there are,

READ MORE

$5M TDA relief bill for small businesses helps hotels too

When the Rev. Tami Forte Logan learned that the Buncombe County Tourist Development Authority and allies won legislative approval to offer $5 million to small businesses crushed by the pandemic, she didn’t join the chorus of congratulations.

“This bill is making sure that the hoteliers don’t fall, making sure that they will be OK,” said Forte Logan, a leader in Faith 4 Justice Asheville, which advocates for racial equity. “But what about the people? I don’t see how this will trickle down to the workers who are being hit the hardest.”

The grant money is available to restaurants, retailers, breweries, art galleries and other small businesses that in the judgement of the TDA will “significantly increase patronage of lodging facilities in Buncombe County” when they reopen, the legislation says.

Mark Barrett

Area restaurants have been especially hard hit by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.READ MORE

Pandemic Put Pause On Mission’s Troubles

The biggest health crisis in a lifetime hit Asheville shortly after the one-year anniversary of the biggest upheaval in local healthcare: the $1.5 billion sale of the nonprofit Mission Health System to HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital management chain.

The transition from local nonprofit to profit-hungry behemoth has not gone smoothly, and not just because of the coronavirus. Now, as Mission Health begins to reopen for elective surgeries and procedures put on hold during the first wave of the ongoing pandemic, the unresolved question that roiled the community just three months ago remains: Was HCA’s purchase of Mission Health healthy for Asheville?

Three months now seems a very long time ago, but just before the pandemic arrived — before the lawns on Mission Health were decorated with “Heroes Work Here” signs and before citizens cheered the front-line health professionals risking everything on their behalf — hundreds of area residents and local officials said they did not think so.

READ MORE

The Fear of Re-Opening: Small Business Owners Opt Out

Asheville retailers finally received approval to reopen Friday after seven weeks of forced closure, but some are choosing to remain closed.

Their biggest fear: exposing themselves and their employees to the coronavirus. Patrons are advised to abide by social distancing, but wearing masks is not required under Buncombe’s order, and few downtown visitors appear to be complying.

Betsey-Rose Weiss, owner of American Folk Art & Framing at 64 Biltmore Ave., is choosing  to stay shut. Her fears went back to March 17, the day she temporarily closed. Gallery visitors “were touching things, even though I asked them not to,” she said. “People were trying to hand me cups for me to throw away for them.”

Biltmore Ave.

As re-opening neared, she emailed her concerns to Fletcher Tove, emergency preparedness coordinator for Buncombe County Health and Human Services,

READ MORE

Local Boutiques Struggle to Survive

While every small business is suffering due to the coronavirus lockdown, Asheville’s boutique apparel stores face their own financial and operational challenges. 

In an industry that relies on foot traffic, they must adapt to remote operations to weather the state-mandated closure of their brick-and-mortar locations.

The downtown area – the crown jewel of Asheville’s tourism industry – is not only feeling the financial ramifications; it’s facing an identity crisis as well. Its image is quirky, independent and small. Of the 222 businesses that responded to a 2018 survey of the Asheville Downtown Association, 116 said they employed fewer than 10 staff members, according to Meghan Rogers, executive director. 

“We are the foundation, we’re the image, we’re what you get, the mom and pop [shops],” said Judith Oster, the owner of Caravans on 1 Page Ave. in the Grove Arcade.

READ MORE

Soaring Food Need

The main floor of Manna FoodBank’s warehouse in Asheville is a beehive of activity as scores of staff and volunteers pack, load and wrap food for distribution. Boxes, pallets, and forklifts still abound, but the vibe has changed.

In her office, Manna CEO Hannah Randall shifts in her chair. The data points she sees on her computer screen are staggering. The pandemic has amplified the scope of poverty and hunger in Western North Carolina like nothing before.

The data is also forcing a stark realization that both sourcing and logistics must be reimagined on the fly. 

Randall estimates that to meet the spike in demand for Asheville and Buncombe County in coming months, Manna will need to distribute at least 508,968 pounds of food each month representing over 424,140 meals. 

“What we are seeing is that the number of people showing up at the local Markets where we directly provide food has more than doubled from 1,932 in February to 4,380 in April,” she said.

READ MORE

Asheville’s Restaurant Newcomers: What’s Still Coming and When

Restaurateur and chef Meherwan Irani is no stranger to hard times. 

He opened Chai Pani Asheville in 2009 in the heart of the Great Recession. “I knew that it would actually work in an economy where people were looking for great food at a good value, something different from what else was out there.” 

Now, Irani faces a similar challenge – bringing to life his plans for two new additions to Asheville’s food scene, including the highly anticipated S&W Market and a still-under-wraps concept for the Grove Arcade’s “Restaurant Row.” Both are on hold for now.

Meherwan Irani

The coronavirus pandemic that crippled existing restaurants has caused delays and altered plans for new ones that had been scheduled to open in the spring and summer. The climate is tough for all businesses, let alone projects that were still in development.

READ MORE

‘We’ve proved that we can’
Pandemic speeds criminal justice reforms

Coronavirus has led to dramatic changes in crime and justice in Asheville from the courtroom to the cop on the street.

Reported crimes are down, police are making fewer arrests and inmates are being sprung from jail.

Criminal cases filed in Buncombe court have declined sharply since mid-March.
Source: North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts 

And the criminal justice system of the future may bear little resemblance to pre-Covid-19 with lawyers in masks, social distancing in the courtroom and an excuse to get out of jury duty that could apply to a sizable portion of the population. Pre-existing conditions and even age could be a legitimate reason not to serve.

The impact may last well past the pandemic and could finally achieve a long-heralded reform: converting the county jail from a holding pen for the poor to a lockup reserved for serious offenders.

READ MORE

‘We’ve proved that we can’ Pandemic speeds criminal justice reforms

Coronavirus has led to dramatic changes in crime and justice in Asheville from the courtroom to the cop on the street.

Reported crimes are down, police are making fewer arrests and inmates are being sprung from jail.

Criminal cases filed in Buncombe court have declined sharply since mid-March.
Source: North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts 

And the criminal justice system of the future may bear little resemblance to pre-Covid-19 with lawyers in masks, social distancing in the courtroom and an excuse to get out of jury duty that could apply to a sizable portion of the population. Pre-existing conditions and even age could be a legitimate reason not to serve.

The impact may last well past the pandemic and could finally achieve a long-heralded reform: converting the county jail from a holding pen for the poor to a lockup reserved for serious offenders.

READ MORE

Mark Meadows’ political protégé calls for reopening state’s economy despite health risks

Republican congressional-candidate Lynda Bennett, who hopes to win the District 11 seat recently vacated by her political patron Mark Meadows, is calling for an immediate end to North Carolina’s stay-home order, calling pandemic restrictions an infringement “on our rights and freedom.”

GOP congressional candidate Lynda Bennett is calling for an immediate end to North Carolina’s Covid-19 restrictions

In a radio interview with ultra-conservative Breitbart News last weekend and infrequent follow-up comments on her Twitter and Facebook feeds, Bennett has sharply criticized Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision to extend the restrictions through May 8, referring to them as “politics.”   Yet the governor’s policy is in alignment with guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and President Trump’s coronavirus task force, which set benchmarks to be met indicating the contagion is slowing and deaths are trending downward before lifting the restrictions. 

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows endorsed Republican Lynda Bennett to succeed him in congressional district 11.READ MORE