Racial Justice Priorities for June 8th

The June 8th Asheville City Council meeting has a number of advocacy opportunities. You can read more about each of them below.

Click here for an email template that addresses each of these issues.

(If the link doesn’t work for you, you can copy and paste the message below and send it to AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov)

We invite you to personalize this and add any particular questions or proposed solutions that you feel are important for City Council to consider. You can also use these points to communicate with them over the phone. Scroll down for a full breakdown of this and other important issues that Council is deliberating on right now.

To call City Council Members:

  • Mayor Esther Manheimer – 828-259-5604
  • Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith – 704-401-9104
  • Sandra Kilgore – 954-540-5593
  • Antanette Mosley – phone number not provided
  • Kim Roney – 828-771-6265
  • Sage Turner – 828-423-0621
  • Gwen Wisler – 828-333-1767

Other Issues for Advocacy with City Council

On Reparations 

  • City Council has scheduled a vote for $2.1 million to seed the Reparations fund, and we strongly encourage all Council Members to vote for this funding.
  • Everyone agrees that it will take a lot more than $2 million to even begin to offer reasonable restitution and compensation to Black Asheville, and that those funds must specifically benefit Black community members. The City has declared on multiple occasions that its financial means are limited. City Attorney Brad Branham has also expressed the concern that trying to specifically support Black people with City funds could put the City on shaky Constitutional ground. There is a solution to both these problems, and it involves setting the Reparations Fund up as an independent legal and financial structure, like the One Buncombe Fund that was established to address the COVID crisis. Great care would have to go into the establishment of this new entity to make sure it stays accountable to the Black communities it must serve, but it is likely the only way that the Reparations Fund can pull in significant outside funding and create programs that specifically target the Black people who are owed Reparations. Why has the City not moved forward on establishing this structure?

On Reimagining Public Safety

  • Other cities have made great strides in establishing such programs. One example is the CAHOOTS program in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, where 911 calls are triaged by trained dispatchers who regularly send unarmed teams that rely on de-escalation, nonviolent resolution, and harm reduction. This program has not only led to a significant decrease in police call volume, but has also saved those cities millions of dollars. (You can read more about the CAHOOTS program below.) Why are we still “developing” plans for such programs here in Asheville, and not initiating pilot programs to see how they can work here? 
    • CAHOOTS is a 24/7 mobile crisis intervention service in the Eugene-Springfield, Oregon urban growth boundary. The program was started in 1989 as a community policing project and runs through the White Bird Clinic. The service is funded through United Way, the Human Services Commission, and annual sales of their “Help Book.” CAHOOTS provides medical stabilization, assessments, information, referrals, and advocacy for “next steps in treatment.” They list a broad range of services, including crisis counseling, suicide prevention, conflict resolution, housing crisis assistance, first aid and non-emergency medical care,  transportation, and related services. Senator Ron Wyden has announced plans to introduce a bill, the CAHOOTS Act, to establish a nationwide model for mental health services through increased Medicaid funding.
    • In Eugene and Springfield, 911 calls are triaged by trained dispatchers who recognize when there is a crisis of mental illness, homelessness, or addiction. Then, teams consisting of one medic and one mental health crisis worker are dispatched to the scene. They carry no weapons and rely on de-escalation, nonviolent resolution, and harm reduction. If weapons are present, the team will call in police; in case of medical emergency, they call Emergency Medical Services. In 2014, $5.7 million was saved from the Eugene police budget; in 2017, $12 million was saved, while CAHOOTS took 17% of the police department call volume. The CAHOOTS program budget was $2.1 million per year. CAHOOTS will consult with other communities wishing to establish a similar program.

On the Property Tax Hike

  • The current draft budget calls for a $5.7 million hike in property taxes. This comes on top of huge spikes in home appraisals by Buncombe County in the past year, and there is ample evidence that these appraisals were deeply inequitable. (Read more about the inequities within property taxation below.) The City must find a way to fund Council priorities without disproportionately targeting the same Black community members whom they are purporting to engage in healing and justice with Reparations
  • If the City insists on moving forward with a property tax hike, then it must take steps to ensure that it is an equitable one. The City Manager says she will be recommending that $150,000 be set aside to fund a property owner tax relief program. There is no way that such a small amount of money will be able to offset the inequitable outcomes of this proposed property tax. Such a plan will only work if it is broad in scope, easy to apply for, and contains provisions to support lower-income homeowners and renters. Will the City pledge to establish a much more robust and far-reaching tax relief program, one that protects tenants as well as homeowners, so that a tax hike won’t be devastating for many Black people in the city, and for all people of limited means?
  • Property taxes are notoriously inequitable. As the New York Times put it in a recent analysis, “flat-rate property taxation is a sham… wealthy homeowners get a big tax break, while less affluent homeowners are paying a higher price for the same public services.” A recent analysis by the Citizen-Times of property tax appraisals here in Asheville reflects this: It found that property appraisals went up the most in historically Black Southside, and went up the least in far more affluent Biltmore Forest. This means that Southside residents are already facing a huge increase in their tax bill – and now the City is proposing to raise that bill even higher.

On Public Comment

  • Over the past year, the City has developed a process for receiving public comment over the phone. While far from flawless, this process has enabled many people to make a live public comment and join our important civic conversations that would otherwise be locked out.
  • Now that in-person meetings are resuming, there is no reason to limit live public comment to those who are able to attend City Council meetings in person. It’s very possible – and far more equitable – to combine in-person comments with over-the-phone comments so that everyone is able to join the discussion.

Email Template

To: AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov

Subject: Opportunities for racial justice on June 8

Dear City Council Member,

I am writing today to urge you to address several issues on June 8th. 

  • I encourage you to vote for the $2.1 million in funding for Reparations.
  • Please work with the City Manager to set a timeline for the development of programs that divert non-violent crisis response away from the police.
  • If you intend to vote for a $5.7 million tax hike that will disproportionately impact Black people and all people with limited means, I urge you to pass a robust and far-reaching tax relief program that protects tenants as well as homeowners.
  • We need a public comment process that is equitable, and so I ask you to allow people to make a live comment over the phone at future meetings.