Home City - County Gov. The water system – it’s haunted!

The water system – it’s haunted!

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By Leslle Kulba-

Asheville City Council voted unanimously to hold a binding referendum on the question: Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale of its water treatment system? Whereas General Statute 160A-321 authorizes the city to hold a referendum, the purpose of council’s action is not evident. The municipality has no power to trump the state legislature. Its decisions can only govern its own options. City Attorney Bob Oast described the referendum as having authorizing power only. That is, if the majority votes “yes,” then the city would have the citizens’ blessing to sell the system, but it wouldn’t have to. If the majority votes “no,” then the city would not be able to sell the system. Read more…

Mayor Terry Bellamy asked what would happen in the latter scenario should the General Assembly say the city cannot retain the system. Oast affirmed her suspicion that the referendum would in that case effectively prevent the city from collecting compensation for the surrender of its assets. Perhaps, then, the purpose of the referendum is to compel more citizens to get engaged in the political process. Once again, Barry Summers was the only citizen to show up for council’s discussion, and he did not comment when the opportunity was provided. Only citizens of Asheville will be able to vote. Council also considered whether or not they should cancel the special meeting they had intended to hold August 27. Only two of five members of the legislative delegation were going to be available. Council had first suggested the idea to confirm with Representative Tim Moffitt that they were living up to his connotations of “negotiating in good faith.” That language came from the legislature. Moffitt had initially introduced a bill to take the city’s water system outright. The bill was watered-down to only mandate a study of the appropriateness of such a seizure. The study committee, then, determined that the city could retain the water system so long as they “negotiated in good faith” with entities lining up to take over the system. Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer said Moffitt told her he could not attend due to a scheduling conflict, and she guessed he would be open to meeting another time. Cecil Bothwell, however, read Moffitt differently, as he had not even responded to the mayor’s inquiry into his availability for meeting. Either way, if Moffitt does not negotiate, he effectively prevents the city from doing so. An invitation sent out to other local leaders fell on deaf ears. Members of council speculated the recipients were afraid to meddle in the imbroglio. Adding to the city’s misfortune is the most recent piece of legislation, which would allow the legislature to require Asheville to forfeit the water system without any input from the governor. The last two city council meeting agendas have been shock-full of requests for approval for water system upgrades. Among other things, the city will be investing $2.7 million in a high-tech evaluation of approximately nineteen miles of the mainline pumping water from the reservoir to the city. Only one firm in the country has the capability to conduct the subterranean photography the city claims is necessary to determine the location and condition of pipe buried decades ago with no surveying records. In addition to the whirlwind of water projects, City Manager Gary Jackson let it slip, while giving out employee awards, that water system workers were highly prone to accident. By way of the consent agenda, council approved a budget amendment for its contract to assess the structural integrity of the North Fork Dam. According to the staff report, the contractor “discovered unexpected conditions regarding the stability of the dam that need to be addressed before continuing with the evaluation.” Rather than a deathbed repentance, the milieu was beginning to look like the episode of “The Brady Bunch,” when the kids haunted the house because they didn’t want Mike and Carol to sell it. Members of council took gracefully other recent anti-Asheville legislation that caused the city to forfeit its interests in the Asheville Regional Airport Authority. The taxpayers of Asheville had invested heavily through the years in laying tarmac, even when other regional governments thought it was a bad idea. Those assets were taken from the city and bestowed upon a regional authority. The same bill, HB 552, banned holders of elective office from serving on the airport board; exceptions being grandfathered-in for the duration of their terms. Complications arose when Manheimer resigned and was replaced by Bellamy as the city’s representative, and the bill was amended in such a way that the mayor felt it purposefully unseated her. Oast questioned the timing of the amendment and advised the mayor to attend the meeting even though she will not be seated at the table. Bellamy was incensed that, as the signatory for airport board transactions, she was allowed no more voice than the average citizen. She spoke as though sparks could fly at the meeting Friday.

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