By Leslee Kulba- During public comment at the last Buncombe County Commissioners’ meeting, Colin Van Etten, with the title Communications Specialist in the county’s IT Department, announced his retirement. He said the county had not heeded his requests to remove illegal signs in county parks. He reported the problem three years ago to the county’s Parks & Recreation director, and that was followed with a verbal and written reprimand and email labeling his concern an abuse of “funds, supplies, or equipment for political or partisan purposes.”
When the county recently revised its personnel ordinance to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, he tried to voice concerns again, but has not heard anything for four months. He read, “I can no longer sit idly by and be part of an organization that both refuses to comply with statutory law and reprimands employees for bringing forth such concerns when it is in the administration’s best interest to follow the law.” No comment followed; but after the meeting, it was learned Van Etten, a licensed concealed-carry instructor, was talking about signs prohibiting concealed carry in parks.
Even though the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land, states “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” activist lawyers have wrested that to interpret “the people” as meaning the aforementioned “well-regulated militia.” That definition was accepted even though the Bill of Rights was drafted to protect personal – not government – liberties.
The NC General Statutes were searched to try to find out if Van Etten was correct. A search on “concealed carry” returned 22 laws abridging that government-granted privilege; for a sense of scale, a search on “firearms” returned 70 abridging laws. Nothing was found refuting Van Etten in the concealed carry statutes.
Following a rash of mass shootings, local governments in the state began posting signs prohibiting concealed carry in public parks. Then, effective October 1, 2013, the General Assembly enacted legislation saying local governments must allow properly-permitted persons to carry concealed on park properties. No law post-dating that act with a severance clause was discovered; the City of Asheville even added weight to Van Etten’s argument by taping over a prohibition on signs at Carrier Park. The tape has since worn off.
In Other Matters –
Commissioner Joe Belcher requested more information on a consent agenda item about capital improvements to A-B Tech. Greg Israel, who retired as the county’s general services manager, fielded the question. Israel has been retained under contract to help with the AB Tech capital plan because Commissioner Mike Fryar, in particular, wanted somebody with his skills and integrity to oversee the undertaking. The initial plan had been riddled with mismanagement, which led to county senior leadership seizing control of a process that had formerly been run by the school and likely played heavily into the resignation of its former president.
Israel said the request for $150,000 was to address water issues at the Elm Building. The money would be used for roof repairs, sealing, and other humidity controls to get rid of an unmistakable, pervasive odor until the county makes a decision about whether or not the building is worth salvaging. The other, $2.48 million request, was for a list of capital improvements at the college that the county had assumed would cost $1.5 million. When the county put the list out to bid, the best estimate returned at $3.9 million. Fryar said he hopes to organize a meeting soon to share the “awesome” plans for “building A-B Tech to a great standard.”
On another subject, the commissioners gave Emergency Services Director Jerry VeHaun the go-ahead to increase ambulance fees by $100. They also approved increasing the mileage rate billed from $8.75 to $10 per mile and increase the costs of paying a call without transporting a patient from $200 to $375. VeHaun said the last time the county raised rates was in 2011, and he was requesting the increase now because there had been no point in doing so while Medicare was holding reimbursement rates flat. Now, Medicare, the county’s primary provider of reimbursements, has approved a 2% rate increase.
Fryar thought a $100 increase on current rates of $410 and $510 wasn’t commensurate with the 2% increase, and Belcher asked how high the county could raise rates. VeHaun said the county was only restricted by the amount of money it wanted to write off. In 2017, the county received no payment for about 30% of ambulance calls and collected, on average, only about 50% on the other calls. That said, VeHaun hoped the rate increase would garner $160,000 more for the county this year. County Manager Mandy Stone settled any debate saying if the county didn’t adopt a rate increase, it would not be able to bill Medicare at its new rates.