By Leslee Kulba-Last Tuesday, the Buncombe County Commissioners presented former Commissioner Bill Stanley with a proclamation honoring Korean War Veterans. The proclamation spoke of the struggles and sacrifices, including the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers, endured so that the people of Korea, who were total strangers, could live freer and safer lives. The proclamation approved by Asheville City Council, which sprang from the same initiative of the Buncombe County Republican Men’s Club, read almost as if the Korean War had been fought to ward off an invasion of US territory. The heartfelt and fact-based rendering prepared for the commissioners was indeed a service to honor those who fought in the Forgotten War.
In public comment prior to the formal portion of the meeting, regular Jerry Rice questioned a recent resolution passed by the commissioners. Citing the authority of NCGS 153A-169, the commissioners approved by way of their consent agenda restrictions on recording and broadcasting from the county’s Health and Human Services office. On the surface, the measure seemed fair. One would not want their image to be captured for posterity while they were sicker than a dog and too poor to pay a conventional practitioner. Worse, one would not want to get attention for being hauled in under influence.
The ordinance was made applicable to “all Health and Human Services locations, including but not limited to, offices in the Buncombe County Courthouse, and other Buncombe County buildings and offices as determined by the County Manager, . . .” Rice asked why the county manager’s office was located on the same floor in the same building as the HHS board offices, and such that it was only accessible by way of the HHS department. He said the county manager, Dr. Wanda Greene, needed to move her office to where the commissioners’ offices were located so she could be accessible to the public.
A quick visit to 200 College Street revealed the county manager had indeed relocated her office from the third floor to the fourth floor. She now shares the same lobby and receptionist as the AV-proof HHS department. To add insult to injury, visitors to the TD Bank building, which houses the county’s administrative offices, are greeted with a sign asking them to smile because they are under surveillance.
Perhaps thickening the plot, later in the meeting, Chair David Gantt addressed an item added for consideration after publication of the agenda. County Attorney Michael Frue will henceforth be working as the county’s Senior Staff Legal Counsel. His new job description has him advising department heads and managers rather than the commissioners. Early news releases highlighted his role in supporting, of all things, the HHS department; but Gantt emphasized the role he would be playing in economic development projects. The county is now seeking to fill the vacant county attorney position, which will be temporary and part-time.
Also added to the agenda was a discussion about commissioners’ salaries. Commissioner Mike Fryar was shamed for telling the press he would not accept a pay raise. Greene explained the commissioners’ pay has traditionally been treated as all other employees’ pay in budget discussions. The 1.7 percent consumer price index adjustment amounted to $450/year per commissioner. At $3367, the total change was a “minuscule portion,” only 0.003 percent, of the budget.
Now that the board is bipartisan, it seems the lot always falls to the Republicans to explain to the public decisions favoring government largesse. This time, David King told how he regretted the “inordinate amount of time” the commissioners had spent discussing the commissioners’ raises. He said had it been clear they were voting themselves a raise, he would not have supported the measure, and he believed all his peers would have opposed it also. King said some would oppose the raise on principle, but the principle he felt was at stake was preventing the media from “setting the agenda.”
Greene said anybody not wanting the raise could send her an email to initiate the submission of a personnel action form to the human resources department for processing. She added that for future budget presentations she would bifurcate consideration of commissioner and staff raises. Fryar, who appeared to be the only commissioner interested in declining the raise, said he had run on a platform, and he intended to remain committed to it for four years, for the sake of those who voted him into office.
In Other Matters –
General Services Director Greg Israel told the commissioners the county’s ongoing energy audit had been flatlining, so he met with representatives from the state and federal departments of energy. They only reinforced what he already knew: the county had plucked all the low-hanging fruit. The county subsequently sought to contract with a firm to get some more ideas. It received fourteen responses to an RFQ, but about ten were eliminated when Israel made it known the county wanted a ten-year plan with a year-by-year implementation schedule.
The contract was awarded to the Charlotte-based Shaw Environmental Group. Shaw is in the process of performing a level 3 energy audit on 728,000 sq. ft. in ten county buildings. The going rate is $111,000, but Shaw produced $45,000 in incentives from Duke Energy. The commissioners can expect to see the final report in November or December. Well aware of the tendency of good intentions to fall by the wayside in the green energy field, Israel and Commissioner Brownie Newman shared expectations that the plan would be a viable roadmap for bringing hopes, wishes, and dreams to fruition. Chairman David Gantt added his praise for the soft-spoken Israel who always seems to be ahead of the acclaimed experts in identifying and implementing energy efficiency strategies.