Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Who Put That Great Big Target On Councilor Keith Young’s Back?

Reactions to Incognito “tip” make for tantalizing speculation
By Roger McCredie

Somebody really wants Keith Young gone.  Off Asheville City Council.  Now.

Over New Year’s weekend, person or persons unknown (Incognito) sent to the Buncombe County Board of Elections (BOE) a packet of documents that showed alleged discrepancies about his place of residence -- discrepancies that could possibly affect his relationship with his mortgage lender on one hand and his standing as an Asheville City Council member on the other.

And a few weeks later, when the BOE did not respond, Incognito sent duplicate packages to a number of other people, including city officials and an interesting choice of private citizens.

But so far there’s been no official reaction to Incognito’s mailings, Young himself has shrugged the matter off and is quiet, and the only entity to take Incognito’s bait has been the Asheville Citizen-Times, which has run two stories on the subject, drawing fire from critics who are calling the coverage “fake news.”

Meanwhile city watchers and mystery fans are speculating about what they say is the real story:  Who wants Young kicked off the council, why, and why right now?

How It All Began

Incognito’s documents arrived at BOE in a plain white 9” x 12” envelope with a standard computer-fed address label and no return address.  On top was a cover letter addressed to BOE Director Trena Parker and dated December 30, 2016.  The letter reads:

Ms Parker:
Please investigate the validity of William Keith Young’s residency.  Attached you will find Mr Young’s voting record, samples of his signature on various candidate forms and a deed of trust dated July 29, 2016 signed by a William K. Young.  The deed of trust in Section 6 on Page 6 of 16 indicates that the property located in Arden will be the principal residence of the borrower.  The candidate forms and the deed of trust appear to be signed by the same person.
As you may know, William Keith Young currently serves on Asheville City Council.  Obviously a Councilman needs to be able to vote in the voting district in which he serves.  Is he eligible to vote in the City of Asheville?
A Concerned Citizen

The rest of the package consisted of:

  • A copy of Young’s State BOE voter information, showing his address as 18 Martin Luther King Drive, Asheville 28801;
  • A copy of the State BOE Financial Account Information for the Keith Young for City Council Committee, filed May 26, 2015, showing Young’s address as 18 Martin Luther King Dr.;
  • A copy of State BOE Candidate Designation of Committee Funds dated January 30, 2012, the year Young ran for Buncombe County Commission;
  • A copy of the Asheville Citizen-Times’ record of property transfers dated August 7, 2016, showing transfer of a house and lot at 7 Somerset Drive, Arden, from Shannon P. Riley to William K. Young during the week of July 25 – 29, 2016;
  • A copy of a warranty deed executed by Shannon P. Riley and William K. Young on July 29, 2016, giving the property in question as Young’s address;
  • A copy of a deed of trust between William K. Young and State Employees’ Credit Union, also dated July 29, 2016  (The section cited by PPU specifies that the borrower must occupy the named premises for at least a year “unless Lender otherwise agrees in writing” (emphasis added);
  • A sheet showing scans of Young’s signature as both W. K. Young and as William K. Young, taken from the above documents and apparently intended to show that the signer in all cases is the same person.

Keith Young's New Home in Question
The county BOE has said it cannot take any action in matters of this sort unless a formal complaint is lodged, and apparently Incognito packages, no matter how professionally presented, don’t count.  So in late January Incognito decided to cast a wider net.

A new wrinkle

Perhaps frustrated, Incognito on January 24 sent out some more packages.  One of them went to former Asheville Mayor and City Manager Ken Michalove, at his home address.  Another was sent to former city risk management head John Miall, also at home.  

The only known links between Miall and Michalove are their past city employment, runs for City Council and their open criticism, in recent years, of various city operations and policies.

Those packages, in addition to the documents, contained a copy of Incognito’s cover letter to Parker and a new item:  a one-page flyer listing the points to which Incognito wanted to call attention.  The flyer reads:

Is it Bank Fraud or Voter Fraud or a City Council Cover-Up?
William KeithYoung, Asheville City Council Member and William K. Young, Owner and Borrower for Property located at 7 Someset Drive in Arden are one in the same person.  Compare the signatures on the Candidate’s Forms in 2015 and 2012 and on the Deed of Trust dated 7/29/16 and the ARM Rider dated 7/29/16.  All of the documents are signed by the same person.
William Keith Young alleges he lives in the City Limits.  William K. Young does not live in the City limits.
Bank Fraud?
On page 6 of the Deed of Trust, the borrower agrees to maintain the property as his principal place of residence.  If Mr. Young does not occupy the property as his principal place of residence, he is defrauding State Employees’ Credit Union.
Voter Fraud?
Mr. Young’s voter record indicates his address as 18 Martin Luther King Drive.  If he does not live there, his voting record is fraudulent.  If he lives in Arden, he is not entitled to vote in the City of Asheville and certainly not entitled to hold public office in the City of Asheville.
City Council Cover-Up?
Does the Council know about this?  What are they doing?  They talk about transparency but where is it?

When and how city council became aware of Incognito’s activity is not known, but it appears that one package recipient was City Attorney Robin Currin, who subsequently discussed its contents with council members.  That happened on or about January 25, when, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times (see below), Mayor Esther Manheimer directed Currin to draft a memorandum of possible legal issues raised by Incognito’s allegations.

But speaking for herself Manheimer was quoted as saying, "The only thing I can work with here is satisfying myself that Keith is a resident of Asheville and I did that by asking him."

To date, however, no official action based on Incognito’s documents has taken place.

The Citizen-Times Factor

Nearly three weeks later, on February 13, Citizen-Times reporter Joel Burgess filed a story titled “Mortgage Raises Questions About Where Asheville Councilman Lives.”  Burgess’ report followed Incognito’s outline in laying out Young’s financial arrangements for purchasing the Arden House as well as details of his city voting record.

The article quoted Young as saying his residence “is and continues to remain” the MLK Drive house, which is owned by his parents.  He said he “might rent” the Arden house.  He has refused further comment.

But on February 18 Burgess filed a second article titled “Did Asheville councilman get a pass on mortgage rules?” in which he explored several what-ifs concerning Young’s banking arrangements, including what it would take to make SECU act on a false residency claim.

Burgess interviewed law professors at Chapel Hill and the University of Alabama, finally eliciting a response that, yes, intentional misrepresentation of occupancy could constitute fraud and result in the calling of the loan.  But he was also told that “No state or federal regulation would compel the credit union to take action.” And a SECU lending officer said it was unlikely his bank would investigate on its own.

The pair of articles generated little public comment though one AC-T reader said Young’s  “equivocation regarding his residency status is not acceptable” and that “. If Mayor Manheimer does not quickly resolve the issue, she risks having her own integrity damaged.”  Another called the coverage “borderline fake news” on social media.

An AU reader asked, “Why is a regional newspaper writing a story that will only serve to raise suspicion about a sitting City Council member when they clearly do not have their full proof?” And another AC-T reader commented that Young was due an apology.

Culling the progressive herd?

City government observers say the real story in all the intrigue is: who would stand to gain by bringing about Young’s ouster?

The most likely beneficiary, some are saying, is the super-progressive wing of city government, who may see Young’s performance on council to date as tepid and may be looking at ways of installing one of their own without having to go through an election.

Asheville’s city charter states that “Any vacancy in the office of Mayor or Council shall be filled by the Council for the remainder of the unexpired term from the qualified electors of the City of Asheville.”

In 2008, when Holly Jones departed council for a seat on county commission, the city advertised for candidate applications.  Council has also filled interim vacancies by appointing the fourth-highest vote getter – the first runner-up -- in the latest council election.  In the present case that would be Rich Lee, who has already announced his 2017 council candidacy and is actively campaigning.

In fact, Lee has already taken notice of the Young situation, coming to Young’s defense while staking out an early campaign position.  “This is the story of the affordability crisis and longtime black families being squeezed out of city limits.  Don’t you think a single father with two government jobs [Young is a deputy clerk of Superior Court] would have bought in Asheville if he could have?  … It breaks my heart … that someone would have the gall to go after him on this of all things.”

Lee, in other words, appeared to be accepting (some would say reinforcing) the idea that Young’s legal address was now Arden, despite Young’s own declaration to the contrary.

Another unsuccessful candidate, Grant Millin, called on Young to address the controversy.  “It is at the very least unwise for Asheville city council member Keith Young to make no detailed written public statement …” Millin said.

“[It] will be sad if Keith just sits back and stays quiet longer. This makes city council look like a free for all,” he added.

So …who is/are Incognito anyway?

Tied to the question of “Who benefits?” is “Who threw the bomb?”.  Was the gathering and mailing of the documents done alone, or is Incognito a team?

The types of materials used suggest ready access to office supplies and equipment.  (Clerical staff?) The choice of documents shows a grasp of personal finance law and city government, as well as a talent for research.  (A paralegal?  A city employee?)  The cover letter and the flyer are highly articulate and contain flawless grammar and punctuation (An attorney?  A journalist?  A former English major?)

The choice of recipients indicates a familiarity with both city council matters and local politics in general as well as possibly, an internal City employee who doesn’t seem to favor Mr. Young.

It’s a tantalizing puzzle, but only for now.  Unsolved puzzles can grow stale and be forgotten unless someone makes a deliberate effort to keep them fresh.  That’s why, observers say, it will be interesting to see whether anyone, makes an effort to keep the controversy alive.

Or whether Incognito’s bomb will simply fizzle out.
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