Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Daring Daylight Pack Place Caper Of Two Thousand and Fourteen

How the city stole a public building in broad daylight
By Roger McCredie
Great Moments in Asheville Government
This is a lengthy article providing an example of how our City operates - what often looks legit is often questionable.  In this story, we write about the taking of Pack Place to benefit the Asheville Art Museum.
Article sections:
  • The Story of the Name Behind the Art Museum Sign
  • How Pack Place Came To Be
  • The Rise of the Imperial Art Museum
  • The Loophole
  • “Make your own damn list!”
  • The Art Museum Piles On; The Colburn Calls It Quits; Pack Place  Finally Reacts
  • The Caper: “Have we got a deal for you.”
  • A Lingering Death
The Story of the Name Behind the Art Museum Sign
Pack Place (former)
You know that red brick building on South Pack Square?  There’s a big sign above the front door that reads “Asheville Art Museum,” right?

Well, behind that sign is a slab of masonry into which is carved, in large Roman caps, “PACK PLACE.”

That’s becauseon a pleasant spring afternoon two years ago, the members of the board of directors of Pack Place, Asheville’s public art, science, and cultural center, sat around their conference table and numbly voted it out of existence.

For nearly three months prior, the board had watched, like a bird transfixed by a snake, while the city executed a series of maneuvers that prepared the way for its coup.  When the snake finally struck the board made no attempt to save the entity that existed to protect; it remained paralyzed while the city, bold as brass, swallowed it whole.

Moreover, even after it came to light that the city had no authority to do what it did at the time it did it, the action went unchallenged except for some grumbling.  And two weeks after the fact, City Council covered its own behind by authorizing the takeover retroactively.
Nearly two and a half years later, nobody has made a move to challenge the city’s actions, which in fact may no longer be challengeable depending upon how you cut the Statute of Limitations.

At this point you may be asking, “How could such a thing happen?”  Then again, you may not.  No matter.  Here’s how it did happen:

How Pack Place Came To Be

Pack Place – both the building itself and the confederacy of entities that moved into it – was essentially the brainchild of Roger McGuire, a retired advertising executive who moved to Asheville in the early 1980’s.  McGuire looked at the urban pockmarks on Pack Square and concluded the place could be revitalized if it had a sufficiently interesting new anchor that would jump start the process.  He put together a team of civic organizations and philanthropic individuals who fundraised a patchwork of sponsor contributions, taxpayer monies, public grants and private donations, and in 1992 the 90,000-square-foot Pack Place building was dedicated.  

The original Pack Place member/tenants were the Colburn Earth and Science Museum, The Health Adventure, Diana Wortham Theater and the Asheville Art Museum.  (The YMI Cultural Center is/was considered a Pack Place member organization, but it inhabits its own historic building around the corner.)  But the Health Adventure developed financial problems and had to vacate its space, which was promptly gobbled up by the Art Museum in what the historians like to call a Foreshadowing of Things to Come.

The Rise of the Imperial Art Museum
To understand everything that happened over the next few years, it’s essential to understand two points:  
  1.  The Pack Place Corporation owned the brick-and-mortar building, but the city owned the land on which the building stands.  Pack Place rented that land from the city for $10 a year, in much the same way that the owner of a mobile home pays lot rent in a trailer park.  (When the showdown, such as it was, came, the city would doggedly insist – and most local media would dutifully report – that the city owned the building.  That simply isn’t true.)
  2.  The organizations that “lived” in the Pack Place building all held leases of the Pack Place Corporation, their landlord.  Pack Place on one hand and the members on the other had the same basic rights and responsibilities towards each other that are found in most landlord/tenant arrangements.  If dealings with the city were necessary the Pack Place board, made up of representatives of each of the member organizations, handled them.  In fact, to facilitate communication with City Hall, the bylaws provided that the board should always include a member of City Council, who would act as City Hall liaison.
In 2006 the Art Museum announced it had big plans:  it intended to increase its exhibit space by 55% by remodeling and adding onto its existing square footage, and it was undertaking a years-long, all-out fundraising effort to raise $24 million for that purpose.  At the same time it began making noises about seceding from the Pack Place alliance and leasing its space directly from the city,

That would of course require approval from the rest of the Board, which was disinclined to give it for fear of undermining the entire Pack Place corporate structure.  So the Art Museum kicked off its funding drive and began cultivating friends at City Hall.

The Loophole

As noted, Pack Place owned its building and leased the ground under it from the city. Moreover, the lease provided, if the city should ever want to acquire the Pack Place building it would have to do what any outside party would have to do and make Pack Place an offer at a fair market price, which Pack Place was under no obligation to accept.

But imbedded in the language of the lease was a glaring exception:  if it should ever become evident that Pack Place was not properly maintaining its physical plant, then the city had the right to exercise eminent domain and seize possession without having to pay Pack Place any compensation at all.

Thus it was that on January 31, 2014, Pack Place, without any prior warning, received a letter from City Manager Gary Jackson.  Pack Place, it said, had failed miserably, over the course of years, to take care of its own building.  It now owed the city approximately $800,000 for past and necessary future repairs; pay up within 60 days, the city said, or be considered in default of your lease, in which case we will take over the building.  Attached was a list of repairs that, according to Jackson, needed to be made to the building at once.

The Pack Place administration and the members were dumbfounded.  Well, except for the Art Museum, which licked the canary feathers off its nose and waited.  

“Make your own damn list!”

Two weeks later Mayor Esther Manheimer and Jackson came over for what was billed as an “unstructured, informal” meeting to discuss Jackson’s ultimatum. The sitting Pack Place city liaison board member was Vice Mayor Mark Hunt and it became immediately apparent that he and Manheimer were going to play good cop-bad cop. Manheimer said the city was willing to be “flexible” about Pack Place’s being able to pay up and salvage its lease; Hunt said the repair list and other terms were “non-negotiable.”

That was when board member Barbara Field fired a point-blank volley into the city’s position. Field had been the managing architect for the building of Pack Place and was serving on the board’s building committee, which had charge of maintenance, and her response to Manheimer and Hunt was an explosion of anger and contempt.

Jackson’s list of defaulted repairs, Field said, was no such thing.  On the contrary it was, verbatim, a memo that had been drawn up by Field herself.  “This is a document that I authored and that I presented. It belongs to me. It is part of a drawing that is copyrighted. It does not belong to the city. The list is not a list of deferred maintenance. It is a wish list of things we would like [to see done].

“You have basically stolen that from me and attached it to a document you are using to blackmail Pack Place,” Field declared, glaring across the table at Hunt. I’m really, really angry. Make your own damn list,” she snapped.

“I cannot see how you can find Pack Place in default for deferred maintenance, which is what you’re saying,” Field added. “Find another excuse to put us in default. That [the demand letter] doesn’t count and doesn’t matter and is complete fantasy on the part of City Council.”

The meeting broke up shortly thereafter.  Manheimer and Jackson, with Hunt trailing, beat a strategic retreat after saying the city’s position was unchanged:  Pack Place had until March 31 to pay up or be gone.

There were a couple of subsequent revelations: first, that Jackson and Hunt stated in e-mails that the default gambit was in fact part of the city’s “strategy” for assuming direct ownership of the Pack Place building; and, second, that the Art Museum had received a draft of its very own direct lease with the city back in January – before Jackson’s demand letter had even gone out – and had in fact been discussing a direct lease with the city as far back as January of 2013.

The Art Museum Piles On; The Colburn Calls It Quits; Pack Place Finally Reacts

With its draft city lease in hand and its own future secure, the Art Museum now piled on, telling its fellow Pack Place organizations that if they wanted to play ball with the city they needed to get on board at once because the Art Museum needed to go forward with its expansion plans.  That’s when the penny dropped and it became plain that the Art Museum, incredibly, was going to call the shots about what became of Pack Place – up to and including taking it over.

At a March 23 meeting, just a week before the deadline, finance chairman Michael Andry challenged Art Museum board chair Lyn Andrews by stating the obvious. “Pack Place does have the ability to just say no,” he pointed out, “and that would throw a big curve ball into everything – “

“Well,” Andrews shot back, “If you [the Board and other Pack Place partners] said no, then we would have to react to that.” Andrews did not elaborate as to what “react” might mean.

Meanwhile the oldest, smallest and most vulnerable of the Pack Place organizations, the Colburn, said it would not be able to meet the financial demands associated with a direct city lease and would have to relocate.  It requested $580,000 in relocation reimbursement from the city, which responded with a don’t-make-us-laugh letter.

Finally, on March 27, Mary Robinson, Pack Place’s attorney, sent a strongly worded letter to Fred Barbour, whom the city had hired as outside counsel for this matter, calling the city’s claims “completely groundless” and demanding that it retract Jackson’s letter or face a lawsuit.

Then things got quiet.  March 31 came and went.

The Caper: “Have we got a deal for you.”

On April 9, Hunt, wearing his city council rather than his Pack Place hat, told the board that the city, of its goodness and mercy, was prepared to cut a deal.  If the tenants, including Colburn, were willing to sign direct leases with the city then and there, Gary Jackson – who was present at Hunt’s behest – could sign off for the city and all would be well.  Otherwise, everybody had until July 21 to vacate the premises. (It was as though the Pack Place board didn’t even exist.)

Hunt demanded an up-or-down vote on this proposal then and there.  Where was the resolution giving him that authority?  Hunt said he didn’t need one.  Then could the board members see a copy of the city’s proposal?  No, Hunt said, it was verbal.  What was the vote breakdown?  There was none because there was no vote, Hunt said, it was a verbal agreement in an informal meeting. What exactly was the wording of it?  “I can’t remember any particular phrase,” Hunt said.

And that, people said later, was the cue for board chairman Edward Hay to tell Hunt and Jackson, “You don’t have a legal leg to stand on and you’re probably lying as well; get out of here and we’ll see you in court.”

But that wasn’t what happened.  Instead, the Pack Place board voted to accept the city’s 60-day extension as presented, though it vowed to use the time to organize its lawsuit.  That, in the end, didn’t happen either.  And as icing on the cake, two full weeks after Hunt said he needed no resolution to enforce the Pack Place takeover, city council gave him one … retroactively.

So the employees got pink slips, the furniture was auctioned off, and twenty-two years after moving into its new building Pack Place, Inc., moved out.  Diana Wortham Theater stayed in place, its ticket office moved to a side entrance.  The Art Museum promptly expanded into all the vacated space and plastered a life-size scrim of the architect’s rendering of its expansion on the building’s front fa├žade, and placed its own signage over the Pack Place inscription.

A Lingering Death

Two years later the corpse of the Pack Place corporation is still twitching.  It has not been dissolved and its executive committee still meets from time to time.  No lawsuit has ever been filed; instead the corporation still dangles the possibility of one before the city as the statute of limitations ticks away. A reliable source reports that Pack Place, Inc., is using endowment money to pay past and present legal bills.  The appropriateness of that might be questionable but nobody seems disposed to question it.

Except, perhaps, the restless ghost of Roger McGuire.

(In-depth article to follow on Asheville Art Museum)
# # # # #
RogerMROGER McCREDIE is a well-known Asheville-based journalist. His investigative reporting for the Asheville Tribune on such topics as New Belgium Beer, the “Bruingate” bear hunting sting and the city’s takeover of Pack Place earned national attention.  His feature writing appears regularly in Capital at Play magazine and he contributes to several blogs including the recently launched “Tavern Voices.”

Thursday, August 11, 2016

He’s baaack! Peterson tells audience why Bond issue will result in $180MM city debt

Atty. Bach says money will become “a slush fund”
By Roger McCredie

Peterson is back, "Ponzi scheme" is reality
In Shakespeare’s 
Macbeth the ghost of Banquo – whom Macbeth has just had murdered - - appears seated among the guests at dinner, causing severe indigestion and a general cessation of merriment.  If any members of Asheville City Council ever read the play, they may have recalled that particular scene on August 9, when Chris Peterson came to the public comment podium.

The last time Peterson addressed Council, on May 17, he was forcibly ejected from the council chamber while calling the city’s 2016-17 budget “a Ponzi scheme” and accusing Council and city administrators of “feathering your nest” on the backs of city taxpayers.

$74 Million Bond
This time the subject under discussion was a package of three general obligation bonds, totaling $74 million, that Council during the meeting voted unanimously to put before the public on the November 8 general election ballot.  The bond issues to be voted on include $32 million for transportation and infrastructure improvements, $25 million for affordable housing and $17 million for parks and recreation.  Voters will be able to vote yea or nay on each issue separately.  The three-bond total is the most money to be sought from taxpayers by the city since the 1980’s.

Attorney, Sidney Bach "this is window dressing'
And before Peterson even put in his appearance, local attorney Sidney Bach, speaking against the bond issue during public comment, was quick to point out that the $74 million advertised price tag conspicuously ignores the $36 million in interest that the bond indebtedness will generate.  The total cost involved, he said, will therefore be $110 million.
“In reality,” Bach told council members, I believe all this [inviting public input] is merely window dressing by the City Council.”  He said there is a “collaboration with the city and certain unelected city staff to foist a fully planned and unnecessary pie-in-the-sky $110 financial burden upon the city and its residents for years and years to come.”

Property tax increases will hit renters harder
Bach said the resulting property tax increases will ultimately be passed along from landlords to tenants, working an additional hardship on renters who are already struggling to meet their housing costs.  

“Ironically, under the guise of spending taxpayers’ money for affordable housing, you will in fact be creating more unaffordable housing for those already paying high rents in order to live in Asheville.

“In the meantime, those private contractors and private equity interests who will be using the money to construct so-called affordable housing will be laughing all the way to the bank,” he added.

Bach then began to list things the bond money should include but which, he said, it does not.

Bond does not, police, emergency services, schoolteachers... 
“There is not a single penny that you have provided for fire, for police, for emergency services or equipment.  Not one cent for schoolteachers, not one cent for public schools,” Bach said.  “Where, one must ask, are your priorities?

Then he dropped the bomb.

$74 Million slush fund“There can be no doubt,” Bach said, “that for the unelected staff at City Hall [the bond money] will become a $74 million slush fund to use as they please.”

Bach added he feels the bond issue is being “railroaded” through the approval process “under the cover of so-called public information, a biased public poll that failed to mention fundamental facts and now this so-called hearing.”

Bach’s public poll reference was to an opinion sample of 400 likely city voters conducted in early July by Campaign Research and Strategy, a Columbia, S.C.-based political polling firm.  The city paid CRS $8,000 to conduct the poll, which CRS said showed that 80 per cent of those interviewed favored the bond issue.  Critics called the poll sample too small for a city of 83,000 and said it could easily be skewed towards those who would favor the bonds anyway.  In an interview with the Asheville Tribune  CRS executive Tige Watts said interviewees’ names were culled from 2012 voter records and then filtered through several layers of screening until 400 names were chosen.  He admitted the poll’s margin of error – 4.9 per cent – was wider than industry averages and said the latitude was in fact due to the small polling sample.

Only three members of the public, after Bach, participated in the hearing per se.  Resident Bettie Council urged the city to “unlock” up to 20% of the bond proceeds, should the issues pass, and focus it on the betterment of the African-American community.  Greg Borom of Buncombe County Children First, asked Council to explore ways to “direct funding towards deeply affordable housing” for households with incomes more than 30% below average area income.  Resident Timothy Sadler told Council the bond proceeds would provide “a great opportunity” for city government to exercise “creative thinking” in funding projects to promote racial equity.

Council approves bond package anyway
Council approved the three bond packages one by one, with members offering some comments of their own. Councilor Gordon Smith said the city has been “doing its level best” to meet citizens’ needs, but “what the bond questions allow is for the people of Asheville to decide whether to accelerate towards those aspirations they have communicated to us.  And if they choose to do so, we’ll be right there with ‘em.”  He did not elaborate as to what those aspirations are, or how the city plans to accelerate to meet them.

Less floridly, Councilor Cecil Bothwell observed that “there are arguments on both sides” of each of the bond issues.  But, he said, “the point is to let us have a debate about it between now and then [election day].  So … whether people support it tonight or not is not the question; the question is, can we have a discussion about this going forward.”  He did not indicate how opinions about the bonds were not relevant in what was supposed to be a public hearing about them.  

Earlier Bothwell noted the city estimates that funding the bonds will cost the owner of a $275,000 home – which is said to be the average price of an Asheville house – about an additional $10 per month.  “That’s not a big hit,” he said.

General comments on the bond
The meeting headed down the home stretch, having consumed only about half an hour, when it reached the time for  general public comment.  A couple of speakers briefly addressed topics unrelated to bond money.  Then Mayor Esther Manheimer glanced around and asked if there were anyone else …

And a familiar figure approached the lectern.  “Hello, Council,” it said.  “Chris Peterson.”

In comes Peterson
“I’m not going to talk to the Council, I’m going to talk to the people looking at me on TV,” Peterson said, although addressing the audience, as opposed to speaking to Council directly, was one of the tactics that got him thrown out of the May 17 meeting.  But there was no reaction from the dais and he continued.

“I named this the $75 million Ponzi Bond,” Peterson said, “because of all the mistakes the council has made the last eight years.  You have taxed and taxed and fee-ed us to death.”
Peterson said, “You’re not telling the people the truth.  You’ve got [another] $36 million in interest [on top of $74 million].  You already owe $80 million.  Do the numbers.

“You sit there and proclaim that you’re for poor people?” Peterson asked.  “That’s just bull.  This affects poor people worse than rich people,” he said, echoing Bach’s earlier comment.  “If rich people get taxed, they can afford it.  You’ve got people up here [with] salaries over $200,000 a year.  The average person in Asheville makes $28,000.  That’s wrong.

“Anybody out there that votes for this, you are going to be taxed according to $180 million … for the next 10 years,” Peterson said.  

Numbers don't lie. Politicians Lie.
“You,” he told Council members, “have nothing in your savings account.  You’ve depleted it.  You are down to only what the state makes you keep by law.  You people don’t know anything about budgets.  I’m sorry.  You need to look at the numbers.  Politicians lie.  Numbers don’t.”  And the former Vice Mayor of Asheville returned to his seat.

Bothwell fired a parting shot at Peterson.  “As a long-time independent business owner … and as a person who now makes less than $29,000 a year, I think our taxes are an amazing bargain,” he said.  

Bothwell’s Wikipedia page identifies him as “an American politician, writer, artist, musician and builder.”

In an interview earlier this year, Peterson told a reporter, “[City Manager] Gary Jackson, if he’s a praying man, must be praying hard this bond package goes through.  If it doesn’t, his whole house of cards collapses.”
# # # # #
To Watch and Hear Sidney Bach:
To Watch and Hear Chris Peterson:

RogerMROGER McCREDIE is a well-known Asheville-based journalist. His investigative reporting for the Asheville Tribune on such topics as New Belgium Beer, the "Bruingate" bear hunting sting and the city's takeover of Pack Place earned national attention.  His feature writing appears regularly in Capital at Play magazine and he contributes to several blogs including the recently launched "Tavern Voices."

Bond Analysis: South Asheville gets left out again

1.1% of $74 Million Bond will benefit South Asheville

Bond Analysis
According to the City of Asheville's projected plans for the $74 million bond it wants taxpayers to approve in November, only $825,000 will directly benefit South Asheville taxpayers and voters and it will all go toward a park, the Jake Rush Park.
None of the $32 million transportation portion is allocated for improvements in South Asheville.
None of the $25 million affordable housing portion will go to South Asheville. Actually, half of that goes to private developers ($12 million) and the other half goes to the City to buy land or houses with the intention of keeping them affordable but the developers nor the properties have been identified.
Only $825,000 of the $17 million parks and rec portion will directly benefit South Asheville residents.
To see a detailed list of proposed projects for each area of the bond, see the article in the Citizen-Times dates July 11, 2016, "What would $74M buy for Asheville?"

South Asheville left out again
In recent months South Asheville has come up in the news when a districting bill was introduced that would have given voice to South Asheville residents who feel they have none.  Now, it looks like they're left out again but they're expected to help pay for it.

The Bond's financial burden: $36.2 Million in Interest
The $74 million bond will cost $36.2 million in interest payments.  Those interest payments will be paid for by taxpayers through a property tax increase.  So, South Asheville residents and businesses will be looking at an increase of 5 to 10% more in property taxes in order to pay for the bond.  Plus, South Asheville residents will see an additional increase when Buncombe County does their reassessment.

PS. South Asheville residents should voice their concern at the City Council meeting August 9th where residents can make public comments.

Where does it go?
More analysis coming but most of it goes to Central Downtown, parts of Biltmore Village, a little to West Asheville and North Asheville.  A portion goes to East Asheville, mostly to connect the City to Warren Wilson College students, the alma mater of several of our City Council members (past and present).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How many City Attorneys does it take to change a light bulb?

Probably one.  For everything else, a staff of seven.

And a $1M budget.

By Roger McCredie

In 2005, Asheville had a population of just over 73,000. In 2016 the population is reckoned at just under 83,400, representing an increase of 14.2 per cent.

And over the same 11 years the city attorney’s office has grown from five employees to a full-time staff of seven, an increase of 35.7 per cent.

The total 2005 budget for the city’s legal department, including its five-employee payroll, was $569,567. Its projected 2016-2017 budget, including its seven-person staff’s compensation, is $982,182, a 47 per cent increase over 2005.

In the not-all-that-distant past, the City Attorney was a lawyer in private practice who was simply paid a retainer by the city to offer legal opinions, and handle or supervise such matters requiring an attorney’s services, as might from time to time be necessary.

These days the city’s in-house legal team occupies spacious digs on the second floor of City Hall. Five of its seven employees are attorneys who work for the city full-time and two of those five – four if you include the city’s comprehensive benefit packages – are paid more than $100,000 dollars a year. In fact, head City Attorney Robin Currin’s annual compensation, including benefits, comes to more than twice that.

Asheville Unreported obtained comparison figures for city attorneys in several cities of comparable size to Asheville statewide and found that Currin is the highest paid city attorney among those municipalities examined. Currin’s annual base salary of $177,700 outstrips those of Fayetteville ($165,185.20), Wilmington ($158,331), Gastonia ($139,502) and Hickory ($102,192).

The actual breakdown of the city’s legal staff’s compensation is shown below. The left hand column shows base salaries; the figures at right are estimated total compensation values obtained by taking the total department fringe benefits amount budgeted ($176,213), dividing it by seven ($25,173) and adding it to each base salary figure to obtain an estimated package amount:

AttorneyBase SalaryEstimated w/ Benefits
Robin Currin, City Attorney$177,700$202,873
Jannice Ashley$  83,648$108,821
Kelly Whitlock, Deputy CA$102,489$127,662*
John Maddux$  78,575$103,748
Catherine Hoffman$  67,611$  92,874
Charlotte Hutchison (Researcher)$  60,189$  85,362
Sarah Terwilliger (Exec. Asst.)$  34,164$  59,340

*According to the city budget, “The Deputy City Attorney position is not covered by the Civil Service Law. The vacancy [since filled] was created by the retirement of the incumbent in the position.

In addition to staff compensation, the legal department’s budget has allocated $176,213 for “operating expenses.” In the budget document, that figure is accompanied by a footnote that reads:

“Contracted funding with an outside legal firm for representation at the North Carolina General Assembly was moved from the non-departmental section of the budget to the City Attorney budget after adoption of the FY 2015-2016 and is reflected in the 2016-2017 budget under operating cost.”

There is no further breakdown of the department’s “operating costs” category, nor any elaboration as to what “representation at the North Carolina General Assembly” by an outside law firm includes. There is also no allusion to fees for outside legal preparation and appearance on the city’s behalf in the upcoming State Supreme Court appeal hearing on the city’s lawsuit against the General Assembly over the Asheville Water System. Presumably those monies are included in the city’s $46.3 million “operating costs” category.

The city’s taxpayer-funded litigation in that case has already cost about $700,000 and the Supreme Court hearing is expected to push that figure well past a million dollars. (Some observers say that taking the water case to the high court level is a costly exercise in futility. Others think Asheville has no choice but to give a Supreme Court appeal its best shot, if only for the sake of being able to say it has exhausted all its possibilities. The court heard oral arguments in May and is expected to rule in November.)

The present city attorney is Robin Currin, who assumed the position in May of 2014. She was recruited from the Raleigh firm of Currin & Currin, which she co-founded with her husband. Prior to forming that partnership, she was a partner at Poyner & Spruill, where, according to her bio, she was “recognized as one of the state’s top zoning/land use attorneys.” Her legal background is remarkably similar to that of Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, an attorney with the Van Winkle Law Firm. Manheimer’s areas of concentration is commercial litigation, especially with regard to creditors’ rights, land disputes and foreclosures.

An early eyebrow-raiser in Currin’s tenure was her ruling about a possible conflict of interest in the city’s Eagle/Market Street Project which touched both a sitting member of City Council and Currin’s predecessor, Martha Walker-McGlohon, who served as interim city attorney from July of 2013 until Currin’s appointment.

In October, 2013, work on the 90,000-square-foot, multi-use Eagle/Market Street building ceased abruptly when massive cracks appeared in a second-story concrete floor slab only days after the concrete had been poured. The damage was laid at the feet of the project supervisor, Chris Bauer, who is the brother-in-law of Councilman Gordon Smith. When the family connection between Bauer and Smith – who had voted for Bauer’s appointment – became public knowledge, McGlohon was asked for her opinion. She replied that there had been no conflict of interest in Smith’s promoting Bauer.

It later developed that the estate of McGlohon’s late husband, Howard, was a partner in Eagle Market Street Development Company, the owner of the property.

So, given that state-level representation and super-important stuff are contracted out to commercial law firms, what do the denizens of the second floor at city hall do all day?
According to the city’s website, the city attorney’s staff members, perform the following functions:
  • Implement city goals and objectives through appropriate legal processes.
  • Assist in the development and presentation of legislative programs.
  • Initiate or defend legal action as necessary in support of city goals and objectives.
  • Provide research and advice to City Council in support of Council initiatives.
  • Provide continued high quality legal service to internal as well as external customers.
  • Provide or arrange for effective legal representation for all lawsuits.
And how does that translate into a million-dollar operating budget?

“It’s the managerial style,” said one former city employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. “For one thing, the city manager’s office refers every little thing over to the city attorney’s office. I’m sure there’s enough paper shuffling to keep them occupied.”
As for light bulb changing, it is not mentioned among staffers’ job descriptions.

RogerMROGER McCREDIE is a well-known Asheville-based journalist. His investigative reporting for the Asheville Tribune on such topics as New Belgium Beer, the "Bruingate" bear hunting sting and the city's takeover of Pack Place earned national attention.  His feature writing appears regularly in Capital at Play magazine and he contributes to several blogs including the recently launched "Tavern Voices."

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