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AVL Watchdog

‘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.

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

The Maggie Valley businesswoman's hopes to inherit the congressional seat held by Mark Meadows may be jeopardized by the upstart newcomer Madison Cawthorn.

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. 

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The COVID-19 campaign: Political candidates are staying home, too

Morris “Moe” Davis had hoped to spend this spring roaming Western North Carolina, meeting voters one on one and building a campaign organization able to flip to the Democratic Party the congressional seat recently vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows.

Retired Air Force colonel Moe Davis is the Democratic nominee for Congress in District 11.

Instead, the Democratic nominee in the 11th Congressional District is stuck tweeting regularly and spending some time conversing with mountain residents on Facebook, plus keeping track of the bears he often sees near his home in Asheville’s Chunns Cove neighborhood.

“Not a replacement for traditional campaigning,” Davis readily admitted in a telephone interview, “but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.”

With baby kissing, hand shaking and door knocking out of the question, candidates in key races from Congress to the County Commission are sidelined and struggling to connect —

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Scared of Losing Everything

Asheville’s celebrity chef Katie Button describes the challenges and stark realities facing her industry and business since closing her renowned restaurants Cúrate and Button & Co. Bagels on March 16.

Asheville’s celebrity chef Katie Button describes the challenges and stark realities facing her industry and business since closing her renowned restaurants Cúrate and Button & Co. Bagels on March 16.

It’s really surreal, and I think that on a day-to-day basis I feel differently about it, whether that’s sadness or anger or hope. We have spent the past nine years working really hard to create a restaurant and hospitality group that functioned, that was able to support a team of 140 employees, was able to offer that team unprecedented benefits like novel ideas around health insurance and direct primary care and paid time off and sick days and wages that were a living wage to everybody. It felt so good to be able to have a business that was operating, that was generating enough revenue that allowed us to explore other new businesses like the bagel shop and an events space.

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The Long Road Back

A post-pandemic Asheville faces a daunting return

Asheville’s thrumming downtown, a darling of the “best of” list makers and an economic hub for Western North Carolina, stands quiet as its once harried restaurant owners, beer-thirsty tourists and Millennial workers hunker down to avoid the health threat posed by a deadly coronavirus.

Boarded-up storefronts warn off patrons in scenes reminiscent of the 1970s and ’80s. Visitors who just a few weeks ago poured into town by the thousands have vanished, and gleaming new hotels stand empty. But talk is gradually shifting toward a restart.

Asheville’s storefronts remain boarded up in scenes reminiscent of downtown in the 1970s and ’80s.
Photo credit: Jason Sandford

What might a post-pandemic Asheville look like? AVL Watchdog asked nearly two dozen elected officials, business owners and leaders in the arts,

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Hello Asheville!

Welcome to AVL Watchdog – a free, local and nonprofit news service. 

We’re here because of you, our friends and neighbors, who told us that you want thoughtful and explanatory journalism to stay abreast of the issues and challenges facing Asheville and Buncombe County.  

Our Mission: We are dedicated to providing news and analysis that promotes civic understanding and participation. 

Founded and run by volunteer, national award-winning journalists and media executives who live here, AVL Watchdog will produce stories covering local government, institutions, issues and people that are fair, factual and reliable. 

Why now? Local news is in crisis. One in five American newspapers have closed, and that was before the coronavirus slashed advertising revenue. That means more layoffs and cuts to newsrooms and fewer reporters to keep watch over government and dig deep into the issues.

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