Monday, March 19, 2018

"Low hanging fruit has all been picked" - Barbara Whitehorn, CFO, City of Asheville

Low Hanging Fruit... a course of action that can be undertaken quickly and easily as part of a wider range of changes or solutions to a problem: first pick the low-hanging fruit (

"The challenge lies in balancing the budget when the "low hanging fruit" has all been picked." 

Barbara Whitehorn, Chief Financial Officer, City of Asheville
March 20, 2018 Staff Report re: Operating Budget Worksession

And with that warning, the City kicks off this year's budget worksessions with the first session being held Tuesday, March 20th at 2pm. Why such a negative start? Because this year's budget has a deficit of almost $6 million, about 4 times the usual 1.5 million deficit.
"In total, the normal operating gap of about $1.5 million, combined with the unfunded and/or under-funded enhancements drives the $5.9 million budget gap"
Rose colored glasses
Why this warning when everything seemed so rosy last year? The City has seen unprecedented growth, an average of 30% higher property tax revaluations, continuously increasing fees and charges for stormwater, parking, building permits, and more.

Despite all of this it appears the City is preparing itself for a looming financial crisis - one that is set to increase year over year for the next five years, starting with the 2018-19 budget if cuts are not made.  If this keeps going, the 5 year forecast predicts a $28.5 million deficit if there is "sustained economic downturn" and at best a $2 million deficit if there is sustained economic boom.  Lacking any new sources of revenue, Ms. Whitehorn recommends...
"In the absence of new revenue, adding programs or projects to the operating budget requires an offsetting reduction which will require service reductions." 
In other words folks, you gotta cut something before you can add something.

The Cause 
According to the March 20th report the City implemented programs and projects last year for which it did NOT have full-year funding for and instead decided to kick that can down the road and address it in this year's budget.

Here's some of what is causing the problem:
  • Transit contract and additional transit service expansion
  • Additional FT benefitted employees and their ongoing costs 
  • The $500,000 paid out in February to employees in the City who were not making "market" rates.  (NOTE: we've asked for this list of employees, their names, titles and positions and amount of additional compensation and are waiting for the records to be produced). 
  • The new Office of Equity and Inclusion which costs $350,000 a year
  • The audit of police procedures and training which will cost between $200,000 and $400,000 plus ongoing costs to implement whatever they come up with.
  • AFD retirement city plan match
  • APD patrol improvements and realignment of districts
What is the City's low hanging fruit? 
In year's past the deficit is usually around 1.5 million.  The City is used to that and will then begin to identify efficiencies and savings.  Apparently, the City's budget department has exhausted all those efforts in this year's plan and is asking Council to go beyond the "easy effort" and make harder decisions.

Not mentioned but also contributing to the issue:
The City's 5 year capital improvement project budget has gone from $53 million to almost $200 million in FOUR short years. Much of those projects have been partially funded through City general funds and by debt for which the City will be paying for more than 30 years.

Remember RADTIP: And of course, there's RADTIP, the City's boondoggle on the River.  Just one week after last year's budget passed it was announced that the City was short $26 million - the shortage causing shock and awe by the City Council.

In short, this is a recession of the City's own making.  We haven't even considered the ongoing (and yet to be paid) cost of the properties taken for RADTIP or the lawsuit from the recent video leaked wherein Mr. Rush has now filed suit.  We haven't considered the ongoing maintenance costs of the City's $200 million development projects. We haven't considered the possibility of an economic downturn. Instead, we have created the perfect environment to lose our tenuous hold as we have to climb higher and higher than the low hanging fruit.

Cuts, changes or pretext?
Last year the "Million Dollar for the People" campaign began during the budget worksessions as Council struggled to find ways to cut the 1.5 million deficit.  In the end, a little was cut from each department while preserving certain additions such as the transit extension and money for APD. This year the City has to address a $6 million deficit.  What will it cut or is this simply pretext leading to a property tax rate increase on property owners?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Community Reactions, Concerns and Questions following Leaked Policy Bodycam Video

The City of Asheville held a community meeting Tuesday, March 6, 2018 to discuss the events surrounding the leaked video of the Asheville Police officer use of force against a jaywalker which was made public February 28, 2018.  Hundreds attended the event while it was also live streamed by local newstation, WLOS.  Since then the leaking of the video and the live stream community event, there have been numerous reactions across the community and nationally.

Here's a roundup of the events, reactions, questions and concerns so far:

APD were asked by City Council to take action against jaywalkers
Chad Nesbitt and reporter for Leicester Leader raises the issue that the APD were requested by Council and the Mayor back in 2014 to start taking action against jaywalkers due to the high number of pedestrian accidents in the City.  You can see the post below.  Does this justify the actions? Has the APD equally enforced this law? How many citations has it written for this?

Resign Resign Resign

Although City Police Chief has offered to resign if that's what the community wants, others feel that the City Manager, Gary Jackson, City Mayor Esther Manheimer, and the ADP Supervisor should also resign.   Some comments were wondering why Rush stayed quiet for so long. 

You can read the City Letter written and distributed by former councilman, Chris Peterson, on this website and the reactions there:

NextDoor Community chimes in

On the NextDoor community app, members also chimed in to the question posted, "Should the Mayor and Police Chief step down for the continued excuses? What does the community think and/or feel about the situation?"  Reactions went both ways with some saying the community shouldn't judge yet without all the details while others say the details have been released. 

Release of information - proper or improper? What are the boundaries?

Public but private personal information
March 8, 2018 - Joel Burgess, The Citizen-Times reporter who initially released the video incident also was at the jail when APD officer Chris Hickman, was released on March 8th  He obtained copies of the warrant and published those on the Citizen-Times website without redacting his personal information, including his address and social security number. Though the warrants are public information, should he have released those personal details?

Necessary but illegal release of Police Video 
March 9, 2018 - Carolina Public Press wrote an article addressing the concerns and legal issues surrounding the leaked policy bodycam video, noting it requires a court order to release such videos. You can read the article here: Restricted access to police beating video raises concerns about NC law

National Not-So-Positive Attention

While Asheville is known for its many accolades and top 10 listings in tourism publications, this is one story the City isn't proud of at it makes its way through national media.  Here are some of the headlines:

New York Times, "Outrage over footage of a police officer beating a black man in North Carolina."
CNN, "North Carolina police officer faces charges after beating, choking and tasing suspected jaywalker."
New York Daily News, "FBI now investigating North Carolina officer in jaywalking beating."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

City Letter #11

The Big Cover Up

For the last four years we have been reporting that our City Manager and current council have been steadily bankrupting our city. With this group leading our city we are headed for a train wreck on June 1, 2018. This is an important date to remember because the City budget will be presented and show that we are up to $40 million dollars in debt. Due to the bad council decisions RADTIP, Art Museum, Eagle Street, Transit System, Greenways, bike paths, stormwater, New Belgium, lawsuits, salaries and outside consultants.

We also reported that Gary Jackson ($280,000 salary) would be retiring in December which he did. What we did not know was that for the last six months our City Manager, the Mayor and his elitist staff have been covering up the brutal beating that took place in late August 2017 by a few police officers. It is our opinion that after the beating occurred the police chief alerted Gary Jackson knowing how explosive this issue would be. It is also our belief that within a few days Manheimer was also made aware. Jackson knew that he had to preserve his hefty retirement and passed the chief onto Assistant City Manager Dundas ($230,000 salary) knowing this could cost him his job. The Mayor ($55,000 salary) was also in the beginning of the re-election campaign and knew it would damage her chances and her candidates chances in the upcoming election. All the Mayor and Gary wanted was the issue to go away quietly and it was all about keeping their jobs and getting re-elected. After the incident Gary was going to do everything he could to keep his hefty retirement package. If this incident would have come out in August he would have been fired by Council.

The reason that Gary and the Mayor’s story make no sense is that our City government is run strictly by the City Manager. He hires, he fires, he’s over the police and he has complete control over our 190 million dollar budget. The only person he answers to is council and if 4 members vote to fire, you are gone unless you elect to retire on your own. When I served on Council protocol on an event as explosive as this would have been that the police chief would call Gary first and make him aware. She knew full well if she had not done this she would have been immediately fired. Next Gary would have immediately alerted the City Attorney Robin Currin. Then he would have called the Mayor. The Mayor would have then called for a special closed session for council on personnel matters. The matter would have been discussed in closed session and Jackson and Currin would then have advised council which legal direction they should take and when they should alert media and the community. Gary and the Mayor are trying to say the chief went to Dundas, the Assistant City Manager. There is no way that Dundas, newly placed on the job a few months as assistant city manager would not have told Jackson. We feel this was a massive coverup to protect jobs and get re-elected (and if not, then this was complete gross negligence and mismanagement). And when Gary moves far away the Mayor was going to blame the beating and the high deficit all on him.

Dundas says that when he heard about it he went to City Attorney Currin’s office and reported it. By the way Curren ($230,000 salary) was brought to Asheville by Mayor Manheimer. With Currin and Manheimer being such good friends it’s hard to believe she didn’t tell her friend the Mayor. Then you may ask where was Cathy Ball, Assistant City Manager #2 ($220,000 salary). Do you really think the public believes that these people didn’t know especially with Gary’s reputation of being a micro-manager.

There is no doubt that this was a massive cover up and we feel that the City Manager, Dundas, Cathy Ball, Robin Curren and the police chief and the City Mayor should all be fired. If we the voters are fouled accepting this political hogwash then shame on us. It’s time to clean our house.

Chris Peterson


LASTFIRSTPOSITIONSALARY (pre2017 Increase)Salary (after FY2017-18 Increase)Est'd FY2017-18 Fringe BenefitsTOTAL FY2017-18 COMPENSATION
JACKSON,GARYCity Manager190,452.78195,214.0065,153.00260,367.00
CURRIN,ROBINCity Attorney177,700.14182,142.0058,809.00240,951.00
BALL,CATHYAssistant City Manager165,099.05169,226.0049,952.00219,178.00
HOOPER,TAMARAPolice Chief160,463.75164,475.0047,104.00211,579.00
ROWE,MARGARETHuman Resources Director – started Jan 4, 2017137,500.00140,937.0041,941.00182,878.00
DUNDAS,JADEInterim Assistant City Manager134,582.50164,226.0049,552.00219,178.00
WHITEHORN,BARBARAFinance Director129,654.71132,896.0041,638.00174,534.00
FELDMAN,JONATHANChief Information Officer127,576.51130,765.0043,522.00174,287.00
PUTNAM,KENNETHTransportation Director126,224.15129,379.0035,772.00165,151.00
BURNETTE,SCOTTFire Chief121,050.82124,077.0030,164.00154,241.00
POWERS,SAMUELComm & Econ Dev Director118,481.59121,433.0033,387.00154,820.00
BAUMSTARK,JAMESDeputy Police Chief113,877.50116,724.0047,583.00164,307.00
SHULER,GREGORYPublic Works Director112,276.44115,083.0043,109.00158,192.00
AYERS,JAMESGeneral Services Director111,807.00114,602.0033,518.00148,120.00
WOOD,WADEDeputy Police Chief110,428.79116,724.0039,445.00156,169.00
SIMMONS,RODERICKParks & Rec Director110,272.11113,028.0050,353.00163,381.00
OKOLICHANY,TODDPlanning & Urban Design Director108,701.25111,418.0042,425.00153,843.00
WHITLOCK,KELLYDeputy Attorney102,489.75105,052.0027,659.00132,711.00
BUDZINSKI,CHRISTOPHERDeputy Fire Chief98,695.63101,163.0026,474.00127,637.00
MELTON,DAVIDWater Resources – Assistant Director98,348.75100,807.0030,246.00131,053.00

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