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County makes legislative changes official

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By Leslee Kulba –

The Buncombe County Commissioners tackled a couple formalities required for recent actions of the General Assembly to take effect. One was a seemingly simple authorization for the creation of the “Regional Parks Authority,” more formally referred to as the Buncombe County Culture and Recreation Authority (CRA).

County Manager Dr. Wanda Greene explained the county libraries and parks and recreation and cultural arts activities had already been merged into a single department to facilitate the transition. Former Library Director Ed Sheary was in charge, assisted by former Parks, Greenways, and Recreation Director Fran Thigpen. Their new office was on the upper level of the Pack Memorial Library. As part of making the authority official, Greene asked that the commissioners approve making advisory committees report to their new boss, rather than the county commissioners.

Greene said the new arrangement would not impose any new expenses on county government, but she did not explain how that justified a new tax. The county had not as yet established a tax rate for the authority. Greene said this tax would be different. Fire and school district rates are approved by voters. This rate would be approved by the commissioners.

Chair David Gantt received assurance that county employees would not have their pay cut, and would not be denied any of their current employment benefits. Gantt promised their new situation would be “greater than or equal” to what they have enjoyed to date. Furthermore, the transition should be seamless, so consumers of public recreation would experience no interruptions in service.

There was, however, a project management glitch in need of attention. Due to state deadlines, the commissioners were in a bind. Paperwork signed by the CRA’s chair had to be submitted ASAP to state offices, or the board would suffer a three-month setback. If the commissioners moved fast, the CRA could be up and running no earlier than July 1, 2014. But first, a board had to be appointed to meet and name a chair.

The commissioners slipped into meetings about meetings mode. They wanted no delays, but they were not prepared to make appointments to such a powerful board. County Attorney Michael Frue spelled out limitations from the bylaws. The board was required to have seven members who could be unseated at any time, with or without cause. At least one member was to be a county commissioner. Frue credited Holly Jones with discovering a solution: The commissioners would appoint themselves, meet to name a chair, get the papers signed, and then “dump” several commissioner-members.

Gantt polled the board to see who would like to serve permanently, and then he moved to appoint Ellen Frost, Joe Belcher, and himself to serve three-year terms; Jones and Brownie Newman to serve two-year terms; and Mike Fryar and David King to serve one-year terms. The functional board will meet Friday at 1:00, the time representing the result of a squeeze play between state deadlines and open meetings noticing requirements for a quorum of county commissioners to meet.

All votes needed for the authority passed unanimously, but Fryar indicated he was somewhat hesitant. He had not voted for the budget, but he did not want to introduce a three-month delay. A single no vote would have required a second reading. Throughout the process, Newman kept his peers on their game, calling out violations of parliamentary procedure and possibly sparing decisions from nullification on technicalities.

The other piece of legislation addressed Sessions Law 2013-30, which dissolved Asheville’s ETJ. The Extraterritorial Jurisdiction was a no man’s land in which properties in the crosshairs for involuntary annexation became subject to municipal codes, including zoning, while residents remained unable to vote in city elections.

Planner Debbie Truempy told how staff had tried very hard to assign county zonings as similar as possible to those assigned by the city. 45 signs had been planted, news had been posted on the county web site, and a public hearing had been held in June. Members of staff were set up in the lobby outside the commissioners’ chambers to field personal questions.

Belcher didn’t believe there was adequate notice for the approximately 5000 affected parties, and Jones concurred. In the interest of transparency, it would only be fair to let people know of any changes to their property rights. Their concerns were corroborated by public comment that followed. Jerry Rice said he couldn’t read the tiny print on the 45 signs without taking a digital photo and zooming in or hopping out of his car. Wayne Marshall said there was insufficient detail on the prepared zoning maps for him to locate his property.

Belcher and Jones thought the price of a mass mailing would be well worth the avoidance of future surprises and claims of government mischief. Frost suggested enclosing the notices in the tax bills. The commissioners voted unanimously to direct staff to send the mass mailing in the most cost-effective manner.

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