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Freedom of Speech, Religion Exercised at Commissioners’ Meeting


By Leslee Kulba-The highlight of the Buncombe County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday was a performance, demanded by Commissioners Holly Jones and Joe Belcher, by the Primitive Quartet. The Candler-based group has been around for forty years, and it now tours, performing at about 150 events a year. Having declared October 12 Primitive Quartet Day, the commissioners recognized the bluegrass gospel group for things like “boosting our economy,” “preserving the bluegrass gospel heritage,” and attracting tourists.

The resolution also acknowledged the six-part quartet’s true mission was “to see believers blessed and encouraged and to help lead souls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.” During the public comment portion of the meeting, Jerry Rice told the commissioners they need not honor the group. They were about God’s work, and they didn’t need the praise of man. The humility and devotion of the group shined through a soulful a capella number about the blood of Jesus that made spines tingle and eyes dewy. The proclamation even honored the group for “using their God-given talents for the betterment of this community.”

Following that, the commissioners honored Caleb McMahon and Baker Lawrimore. The two Reynolds students were among 1200 teens nationwide to audition for the US Army All-American Marching Band, and among the 125 who made the cut. The band will play at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio January 4.

Back to Politics –

During the public comment period, three pastors from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Asheville/Buncombe County voiced disapproval of Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger’s recent decision to accept applications for gay marriage and pass them along to Attorney General Roy Cooper. Keith Ogden of Hill Street Baptist Church, Ron Gates of Greater Works Church, and John Grant of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church argued public servants should not be putting personal agendas before the law. They did not call for his resignation, only a formal reprimand, an apology, and some kind of assurance this would not happen again.

Commissioner Joe Belcher wished to comment on the public commentary. He thanked the reverends for their courage. He said when he took his oath of office, he swore he would uphold the constitutions of the US and the State of North Carolina. It was unconstitutional to recognize gay marriage in a state that recently amended its constitution to define marriage as lawfully applying only to relationships between one man and one woman. Reisinger, however, has claimed the amendment, approved by a majority of voters, was unconstitutional.

Belcher inquired about how the county might change the way it seats registers of deeds, and Commissioner Ellen Frost said, “I’m very uncomfortable with this discussion. It isn’t on the agenda.” After County Manager Dr. Wanda Greene said the state requires registers of deeds to be elected, Chair David Gantt put a quick end to the conversation.

Another interesting moment occurred when the commissioners were to appoint the new county attorney. They were presented with a resolution supporting the appointment of Robert Deutsch. Commissioner Mike Fryar balked. He had supposed the appointment would proceed in a more democratic manner. Gantt responded, saying if the resolution were to fail, Fryar could at that point make a motion to support another candidate. The vote for Deutsch was 4-3, split along party lines. Speaking after the meeting, Fryar assured Deutsch was a fine choice. Some commissioners simply preferred other candidates, and they disapproved of the process.

Board Issues –

Several people expressed disappointment during public comment because funding had either been withdrawn, or was perceived to have been withdrawn, from community centers with the formation of the “regional” Culture and Recreation Authority (CRA). The board is not popular, as it transfers taxing power to an unelected authority. Rice shared fears that the 3.5-cent tax already imposed was too high and that the board would soon raise the rate to the full 7-cents allowed by law.

Gantt acknowledged the concerns and said any defunding was unintentional. As chair of the CRA, he said that body is still organizing itself, and it has made no decisions about appropriations to date. With genuine concern, he indicated the county should find funds somewhere in its budget for the community centers if the CRA fails to do so.

Lastly, Assistant County Manager Mandy Stone reviewed the state’s intention to consolidate Local Management Entities (LME’s) that oversee mental healthcare in the state. The Smoky Mountain Center just absorbed Western Highlands, creating a 23-county LME. Leaders in DHHS departments throughout Western North Carolina were upset because new legislation caps the number of seats on a board at 21. That meant some counties would not have representation.

As it turned out, Buncombe County had four representatives, including Stone, on the slate of proposed members. The commissioners approved the slate, but they still wanted to lobby for more seats at the table. Commissioner Holly Jones was concerned the board lacked racial diversity, and so the commissioners agreed to direct those in charge to strive to integrate future boards better.

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