By Leslee Kulba-Prior to the regularly-scheduled business meeting Tuesday, Asheville City Council held its Organizational Meeting. That was the pomp and circumstance during which newly-elected representatives take their oaths of office. Article VI, Section 7 of the North Carolina Constitution states:
“Before entering upon the duties of an office, a person elected or appointed to the office shall take and subscribe the following oath:
‘I, _______________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of North Carolina not inconsistent therewith, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of my office as _______________, so help me God.’”
Avowed post-theist Cecil Bothwell got a waiver on the last four words, as he did last year. Bothwell is on record for stating four years ago, “I don’t find any need in my day-to-day life for God to explain things to me.” Despite nationwide furor raised the last time Bothwell was elected, Article VI, Section 8 continues to state:
“The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”
In 1961, the US Supreme Court ruled that religious tests for office are un-Constitutional. In spite of it all, the clause remains in the document. Also flying in the face of the Supreme Law of the Land would be all the votes in favor of extra-Constitutional government council members will be making during the next four years.
Only weeks ago, the previous council considered a gun control issue. Members, believing neither that the best defense is self defense nor that the Second Amendment to the Constitution was anything more than words flapping in the wind, redefined terms in local ordinances in order to get guns banned from playgrounds. Only Bothwell mentioned the Constitution. He said it was his belief that the right to keep and bear arms pertained only to the context of a well-regulated militia.
Members of council are also expected to hold fast to Mayor Esther Manheimer’s vision shared in her Swearing In Address. To her credit, Manheimer spoke with concrete nouns instead of glittering generalities. Unfortunately, she claimed common goals for the city included, among other things, more land-use planning, more efforts by government to retain and recruit jobs, public support for local artists, and increasing affordable housing stock.
These activities are not viewed as violating the US Constitution. Fifty years ago, however, citizens would have raised Cain. This was a free country, and people had property rights. Telling them what to do with their land was not an acceptable practice, and redistributing the wealth for purposes favored by government would have raised hairs and been labeled a Communist threat. Since the Tenth Amendment leaves local governments out of the loop in reserving for states or the people all powers not delegated in the Constitution, the argument devolves to an interpretation of the spirit of the law.
It is also expected that members of council will continue to balance the city’s budget with “free” money from the state and federal government. The free money – which elected officials claim has no origin if tax-generated, no debt service if borrowed, and no inflationary impact if printed – often represents an extra-Constitutional intrusion of the federal government into local affairs. The state is merely the pass-through agency.
Manheimer also mentioned in her speech a recent college seminar for new mayors she had attended at Harvard. She said Asheville was fortunate not to have the problems faced by many municipalities. Several, in spite of losing half their populations, still suffer widespread joblessness.
The other newly-elected officials took a few minutes at the podium. Bothwell, noting a greater share of votes going toward progressive candidates, took that as a mandate for more of the same. He did not mention that local Republicans refused to run a candidate for a seat at the table. Bothwell told citizens they could expect more advocacy for energy independence, the local economy, sustainability, and civil rights.
Gordon Smith was brief in his comments. Gwen Wisler was near-instantaneous.
Outgoing Mayor Terry Bellamy received an emotional sendoff. Councilman Jan Davis had the honors of presenting her various mementos he said were from “The Vault,” which was guarded by the hard-to-appease superhuman powers of City Clerk Maggie Burleson. Following that, Bellamy explained she had sat through too many meetings over the past fourteen years, and she bolted for the door. It was all in good humor.
Marc Hunt was chosen to serve as the next vice mayor. It was no surprise, as the new seating chart already placed him in the vice mayoral seat.
Another frill of the evening was the Pledge of Allegiance. Two members of what the printed agenda termed the “Marine Corp JROTC” of Asheville High School led the roomful of movers and shakers in the local Democrat Party. All bound themselves allegiant to the flag “and the Republic for which it stands . . .”