Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: I recently heard that members of the Asheville Reparations Commission are being paid up to $150 a month for their service. Is that the only city/county board or commission that pays participants? I served for several years on a city/county commission and never heard anything about pay. I thought that volunteering one’s time and expertise was part of public service. Should I ask for a check for my time? Inquiring minds want to know why one board in particular gets paid.
My answer: Well, I certainly can’t see a snarky rejoinder going awry in this situation…
Real answer: This commission is indeed paid, and the city and county both offered some solid reasons for why that’s the case.
City spokesperson Kim Miller provided some background, noting the city passed a resolution in July 2020 supporting community reparations for the Black community in Asheville. The city and Buncombe County jointly established the Community Reparations Commission, which was tasked with making recommendations on how to implement reparations.
“Members of this commission are expected to attend monthly meetings of the full commission, as well as additional meetings of subcommittees known as Impact Focus Area groups,” Miller said via email. “Although service upon each city board or commission requires an investment in time and effort, it was anticipated that members of the Reparations Commission would be required to expend an extraordinary amount of time and deal with highly complex issues.”
In June 2021, Asheville City Council voted to designate $2.1 million from the sale of city-owned land at 172 and 174 South Charlotte St. for reparations, which included stipends to the commission members and funding for the commission’s “planning and community engagement process.”
You can find more information about the commission on its webpage.
Buncombe County spokesperson Lillian Govus also responded via email. The county knows there are “economic barriers to participation” on boards and commissions, she said.
“I might remind your reader that not everyone works a 9-to-5 (job), not everyone just has one job, and not everyone gets paid leave,” Govus said. “Those economic barriers, combined with other barriers like transportation and childcare, can make it so that participation skews more toward a demographic of people who have the luxury of time and transportation.”
The larger issue of service on these boards is on the radar, too.
“We actually have a work group in Buncombe County that is looking at this holistically, to identify the budget impacts, barriers, legality, and feasibility to compensate board and commission members for their time,” Govus said. “Currently, members of the Safety and Justice Community Engagement Committee (not an official board or commission) receive a stipend through the grant for their work.”
No formal boards or commissions receive stipends, other than Reparations Commission.
“With regard to your reader’s question as to why that one board in particular receives a stipend and childcare, we recognize that the work associated with the commission is in-depth and long-term,” Govus said. “These members are identifying harms inflicted upon the Asheville and Buncombe County Black community in the areas of criminal justice, economic development, education, health and wellness, and housing while bringing forward recommendations to repair those harms. Failing to provide some form of compensation for this work would only serve to perpetuate harm.”
Question: All the water metering metal plate covers (previously known, I guess, as manhole covers) in my neighborhood have either been totally painted blue or at least marked in blue, and there are corresponding blue marks on the street next to them. Does the Water Department have some plan in mind? The last time they came through the neighborhood doing anything major they put in new metering and increased the pressure. Soon after the valve on my hot water tank blew, and when the plumbers were here they had to replace my main valve because it had gunk in it and they couldn’t regulate the pressure in my home. A few weeks later we noticed a reduction in water pressure – the pipe to my home on my side of the meter apparently developed a leak and then busted, dumping enough water to fill a large swimming pool. All repairs and water loss at my expense.
My answer: But otherwise, everything is going great with the water system, right? Smooth sailing, baby!
Real answer: City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller answered this one — before the post-Christmas water outage in much of South Asheville, I should note.
“The painted lids are related to the Advanced Metering Infrastructure Meter system project,” Miller said via email. “This project is designed to replace city of Asheville water department customers’ current meter systems which are reaching end of life.”
The good news, Miller said, “is the new AMI system will last up to 20 years, and allows customers to keep track of real-time water consumption through the new digital dashboard.
“This tool will also help customers monitor for any spike in personal consumption, which may indicate an undetected issue,” Miller said. “Staff believes this tool will help community members avoid unexpectedly high bills.”
Miller also said city staff are inspecting water meter enclosures and connection conditions throughout the system.
“This preparation will aid installation contractors during the meter change-out process,” she said. “The blue paint is a marker staff is using to indicate areas that have been prepared by the city.”
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 337-0941.