Smith: “I think we have some difficult months ahead.”
The county GOP Executive Committee cited Moffitt’s legislative experience and his ability to “hit the ground running” as major factors in his appointment to fill the vacancy created by the unexpected departure of Debruhl last month. Debruhl, who was also a candidate for Commission Chairman, said she was resigning in order to take advantage of a business opportunity.
It is not yet known whether Moffitt will seek a full two-year term in the November general election, though GOP leaders have hinted that such a move would be logical. County GOP Chairman Nathan West has said he hopes to have candidates lined up for both the District 3 seat and the Commission’s chairmanship position, which is being vacated by David Gantt, by the end of this month.
Moffitt was chosen from a short list of seven candidates that also included Chuck Archerd, Pat Cothran, Tim Hyatt, Chad Nesbitt, Robert Pressley, and Jerry Rice.
Even with Moffitt on board, the Commission still retains a 4-3 Democratic majority. Moffitt and fellow Republicans Mike Fryar and Joe Belcher are presently outnumbered by Brownie Newman, Holly Jones, Ellen Frost and recently elected Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. Newman will be running for chairman in November.
Even as a member of the minority, who may or may not run for a full term at that, Moffitt casts a long shadow. He was accounted one of the “most effective” legislators during his term in Raleigh, with a zest for confrontation and a talent for finding or creating controversy. Word that he would be stepping unopposed onto Commission produced what one politico called “shock and awe” among local Democrats.
“I think we have some difficult months ahead,” said city councilman Gordon Smith, who lost his own bid for a commission seat to Beach-Ferrara.
And Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who has crossed swords with Moffitt frequently, reportedly sniffed that he didn’t know why Moffitt was bothering to run for a position in county government when he had demonstrated such a low opinion of it.
Bothwell’s remark alluded to the controversy for which Moffitt is perhaps best known: his part in engineering the takeover by the General Assembly of the Asheville Water System, on grounds that it was being mismanaged by the city. That action drew fierce criticism by Council and many private citizens, and resulted in a lawsuit by the city to prevent the transfer of water department operations to the Metropolitan Sewerage District. The State Supreme Court has already heard arguments in the case and is expected to rule on it before the end of the year.
Moffitt was also instrumental in the enactment of the law that removed Asheville Regional Airport from city control. That move also met with a firestorm of criticism, mostly on grounds that the city, through its taxpayers, had originally purchased the property.
In 2011, the year after his election, Moffitt also sponsored legislation that had the effect of rewriting the county commission’s election procedures, a move which many say resulted in breaking what had been a Democratic monopoly on county government.
So when it was announced that Moffitt would be sliding into Debruhl’s empty chair, even for a relatively short time, Democratic reaction was swift and heated.
“Memory lane never looked so foreboding,” Councilman Smith said.
Some social media contributors immediately seized on Moffitt’s ownership of multiple properties to claim that he does not reside in District 3 and was therefore ineligible to represent it. Moffitt lists his home address as Sweeten Creek Road, which is well within District 3.
Others were less specific but more proactive in their opposition. “Someone needs to get the Voter Integrity Project on him,” local attorney Eileen McMinn said.
And the Asheville Citizen-Times characterized Moffitt as “a polarizing former state lawmaker.”
Others believe Moffitt’s presence, even in a minority capacity, can only have a beneficial effect on a County Commission they say has for too long been forced to follow the agenda of its liberal majority.
Former Buncombe GOP Chairman Robert Malt said Moffitt’s being on commission will deter county residents from being “scammed” by a city-county liberal axis. “The city is putting people on the county board so they can steal their money,” Malt was quoted as saying. “They are going to use county taxpayer money to subsidize the city.
“I think the biggest reason they don’t like him is that they fear what he may uncover,” Malt told the Tribune. “My sense is that Tim is motivated by seeking out the truth, no matter how ugly or embarrassing for some people. This is what the good people of Buncombe desperately need — someone who will expose the shady deals going on. If that means turning over a few tables in the process, so be it.”