City - County Gov.Leslee KulbaLocal News: Asheville and Hendersonville

Politicians not always eager to throw money at children

The first vote authorized the SCFC to use $76,400 from its fund for a study that would assess needs and costs associated with modifying public schools to enable emergency responder radios to communicate through their outer walls. The shells of some schools render the signals impenetrable, and leadership wants to know how extensive the problem is and what remedies are recommended.

The commissioners were expected to approve the allocation, but Interim County Manager George Wood said there was one unresolved issue. The original ask had been $87,000; but that would cover 52 traditional schools and eight charter schools. Charter schools can enjoy tax revenues collected for operations, but not capital projects. Wood therefore suggested appropriating $10,600 from the county’s general fund to include the charter schools in a one-time study.

Wood defended a $10,600 transfer saying the parents of children in charter schools pay taxes to support public schools, while Chair Brownie Newman balked because charter schools already enjoyed many advantages, like liberties traditional public schools don’t have. In the end, the commissioners agreed, but only on the condition that it will be strongly impressed upon the charter schools that they will be responsible for acting on any recommendations from the study.

The second request from the SCFC that couldn’t wait for standard noticing requirements was for up to $400,000 for a study to recommend Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) modifications for each school campus in the city and county systems. Commissioner Joe Belcher said the measure would answer to public outcry that the commissioners do something about “a very hot topic.”

During public comment, Jerry Rice said schools are required to evaluate safety and follow their safety plans. He asked why the problems to be addressed by the study have never come up in the evaluations as year after year accolades are heaped on the extolled safety plans. He asked for some accountability before more megamillions are thrown at the schools.

Following Newman’s attempt to explain things in terms of “a new day,” Commissioner Robert Pressley said the moment anybody thinks they’re secure, they’re not. Crime prevention is always a game of cat and mouse. A tree line used to suffice for protection for first and second graders walking in the wide open between buildings. Now it does not. Just over two years ago, Johnston Elementary made national news in history that should never be repeated.

In other matters

A few weeks ago, Commissioner Mike Fryar wanted to discuss why the county received an invoice of $27,000 from Scott Jones, an attorney he complained the board had never voted to hire. Fryar was shut down, but the item made it to the commissioners’ agenda this week. Newman made a motion to pay the invoice and then communicate exclusively through Ron Payne for matters pertaining to the ongoing federal investigation of former county management. The motion was approved unanimously, but not without discussion.

Fryar contended the county had hired Heather Hockaday as attorney. He said the commissioners should confer with her and seek outside expertise when she says she needs it. Others on the board countered the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the federal investigation required extraordinary counsel. Payne, they said, was retained to sue for recovery of funds, and Jones was engaged for his extensive experience with federal investigations. Fryar countered the invoice showed he was reviewing economic development incentives and resolutions, though. Fryar added this to the list he’s compiling of actions the chair allegedly takes without following procedure.

As county leadership continues to develop policies and procedures to improve transparency, promote participation, and discourage extended networks of abused privilege from evolving; Business Officer Dustin Clark shared a draft of the county’s proposed procurement manual and policy. Under former management, the county had no uniform policy, and it sounded as if state guidelines may not have been followed. Clark often repeated that some of the actions should go without saying, and yet they’re making their debut in Buncombe. The new policies require more oversight than the state requires, and Wood wanted the commissioners to adopt the proposed changes as policy so they could not be altered without a vote before the public.

Lastly, using governmental powers to redistribute the wealth remains in fashion. This time, rather than paying megamillions to multinational corporate conglomerates, the commissioners unanimously approved giving $200,000 to the newly-created Mountain Community Capital Fund. The City of Asheville is contributing $250,000. Funds will go into a pot to serve as collateral for entrepreneurs unable to get traditional financing. It was argued the county was not going into the loan business, “therefore.”

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