Says ex-mayor’s old “extortion” remark “makes council race look bad”
By Roger McCredie- Political newcomer Grant Millin decided to fire the opening volley in this year’s municipal election battle by accusing fellow candidate Ken Michalove of libel and demanding his withdrawal from the race.
Millin made his demand in a rambling e-mail that began as a response to a personal e-mail from Michalove to Vice Mayor Mark Hunt regarding media coverage of Hunt’s recent remarks on the problem of people urinating in public parking decks. In an August 14 e-mail to Hunt, Michalove complained that Hunt, a candidate for reelection, was unfairly using his official position to stump for himself.
Michalove forwarded a copy of his e-mail to WLOS and the Asheville Citizen-Times, both of which had covered Hunt’s remarks. His forward included an entire thread of e-mail exchanges with Hunt and Mayor Esther Manheimer, going back more than a year. Embedded in the thread near its end was another remark Michalove had made directly to Hunt, this one regarding the city’s 2014 takeover of the Pack Place property, in which Hunt played a leading role. In the 13- month-old post, Michalove said to Hunt:
“The action of the Asheville City Council, being pushed by you, Mayor Manheimer and City Manager Jackson, is plain and simple extortion (the unlawful extraction of property through intimidation or undue exercise of authority). That is the effect your action has had on the Colburn moving and the demise of Pack Place.”
It was this old remark, which was made public but went largely unremarked at the time, that Millin seized upon. Treating Michalove’s accusation as though it were a recent development, Millin told Michalove:
“ … you are now using the term extortion apparently against Vice Mayor Hunt, Mayor Manheimer and City Manager Jackson in the following email you sent to other council candidates this morning as a charge of some kind concerning Pack Place issues, Ken. Since there is no legal case I am aware of with extortion mentioned against these otherwise untarnished public officials (untarnished meaning an active or past ethics or legal charge in their records) you have committed libel in this campaign, Ken.” Millin said.
. “Try taking all this to the DA and maybe I’ll be proving (sic) wrong, Ken. But from what I’ve see (sic) you blew it and you are now making this council race look bad, Ken. As you are a former mayor you have acted in a manner that disparages the good political judgement needed today. I personally disqualify you, Ken, based on this senseless activity of yours. It lowers the bar and I suggest you bow out of the race immediately, Ken,” Millin continued
“Whether you stay in the race or not I suggest focusing on new ways to raise voter turnout and that shifts the powyou’r [sic] of incumbents and their political machines in new ways that really make a difference. Especially if you stay in the race you are someone I actively oppose now, Ken,” Millin concluded.
Michalove has not responded. He has been commuting to and from Spartanburg, where his grandson was critically injured in a car wreck last weekend, and has not been available for comment.
Millin, meanwhile, took his assault on Michalove to social media, writing on the Asheville Politics Facebook page:
“On [sic] other campaign news Ken Michalove seems to be having a really hard time when it comes to Pack Place issues and how messed up Reaganomics are at this point. (By Reaganomics I mean the trickle down economics of cities relying on local fees, fines, property taxes, and sales taxes while the larger state and national economic pie is mismanaged by the GOP.)
“His passion on these matters is causing him to make some hard but poorly evidenced allegations. Ken sent out an email just to other candidates this morning talking about extortion and the ethics of the current city leadership. I didn’t see his case and say he’s gotten into a libel situation. He needs to get out of the race,” Millin said, drawing a caution from fellow candidate Rich Lee.
“I’m not in favor of candidates calling for other candidates to quit,” Lee said. “There’ll be few enough, soon enough.”
“Okay,” Millin replied, “I don’t see Ken’s use of extortion charges as making him legitimate. Other folks can let Ken slide. I’m happy to draw the line.”
“Let’s let voters decide who is or isn’t legitimate,” Lee countered.
“Obviously, Rich Lee, and I’m a voter,” Millin shot back.
Millin resumed: “It had to be said that throwing around unproven extortion charges is not the performance bar level city voters should want …I felt something should be done to share these charges Ken made …
“I expected everyone else to skip past what Ken is saying, including news media,” Millin said. “Or maybe the problem will get harder to sidestep. Either way I am comfortable with trying to make it known I think Ken’s use of the term extortion with no grounds make [sic] him an extremely poor candidate and he might as well hang it up right now.”
Local politics-watchers expressed surprise that Millin would brush aside Lee’s brotherly counsel, given that Lee is presently running a strong campaign financed in part by a hefty contribution from the 2013 war chest of his mentor, councilman Cecil Bothwell.
Michalove was retained by Pack Place as a consultant in 2012 but resigned in order to “speak freely” about irregularities he said he had discovered regarding private lease arrangements between the city and the Asheville Art Museum, which were taking place, he said, behind the board’s back. His extortion remark, which was made directly to council in an open meeting, referred to the means by which the city had used a bogus maintenance default charge and an ex post facto resolution to wrest control of Pack Place away from its board.
Though it has had to vacate the building, the Pack Place board is still in operation, fulfilling its fiduciary obligations. Board members say a $5 million lawsuit against the city over its allegedly illegal takeover is still on the table, and the city has even budgeted funds to defend against such a suit.
The Tribune asked Millin if he was aware of these events as the context in which Michalove had used the word “extortion,” and whether he (Millin) was familiar with the legal definitions of both extortion and libel and would like to comment on them
Millin replied, “No. I’ll let the current city hall folks defend themselves, Roger. Clearly city hall is where you need to go for quotes.”
Millin did not explain what city hall had to do with his accusing Michalove of libel. It was also not clear whether, in citing Michalove’s 2014 remark, he was looking for a campaign issue or had simply gotten lost in the chronology of the thread he posted.