UPDATE (December 15th, 2022)
Mayor Esther Manheimer stood firm in her decision not to appoint Council Member Kim Roney to the Environment and Safety Committee. “I’m a little ruffled at the idea that I need a chief of police to tell me what to do,” she said at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting, “Because that’s not how this works.” However, she didn’t elaborate on what went into her decision, either at the meeting or in comments to the Asheville Citizen-Times. In the absence of another explanation, it certainly looks like pressure from Asheville Police Department (APD) Chief David Zack played a major role. Chief Zack, in another piece by the Citizen-Times, admitted he had “raised concerns” about Roney as someone “adversely affecting public safety.”
These are serious charges to throw around casually. If Chief Zack (or Mayor Manheimer for that matter) believes that Council Member Roney is a threat to public safety, they should be specific about what that threat is. Absent that, they are implying that Roney’s tendency to ask tough questions is the perceived threat. The clear takeaway for the newly appointed members of the Environment and Safety Committee is that they better be careful not to make the police leadership too uncomfortable, or they’ll find themselves similarly silenced.
We hope they aren’t swayed by that kind of intimidation. Either way, we’ll keep tracking this situation and keeping you posted moving forward.
One final note: we want to acknowledge that we misunderstood the process for the appointment to this committee. Because all of the appointments to various committees were included in the documentation with the agenda, we assumed that City Council would be voting on all of them. We encouraged you to reach out to Council Members and urge them not to support the Mayor’s proposal to exclude Roney from Environment and Safety. In actuality, only a few of these kinds of appointments are voted on by Council; the Environment and Safety Committee is not one of them. Those appointments are solely at the discretion of the Mayor. This underscores our larger point: consequential decisions by our elected officials should be made as transparently as possible, especially if they rest entirely with one person
Below is our original call to action for reference. The time for the actions we suggested has passed, but we’ll be back in touch as other action opportunities arise.
Background: Public Safety Already Getting Diminished Oversight
In November, the Asheville City Council voted to dissolve the Public Safety Committee and replace it with the “Environment and Safety Committee.” From the staff report, the vision is that this new committee would address the following issues: Green Building, Facility Upgrades and Retrofits, Fleet and Carbon Reduction, Green Infrastructure, Flooding and Erosion, Stormwater Management, Trees and Urban Forestry, Climate Change, Adaptation & Resilience, Renewable & Alternative Energy, Food Systems Security, Water Use & Sanitation, Parks and Recreation Operations and Planning, Climate Justice, Emergency Preparedness, and Public Safety.
In short, Asheville will shift from having a committee exclusively focused on public safety issues to a new structure where those issues are only one of fifteen different areas of oversight. We wonder: How does this square with the City’s named priority of reimagining public safety? How will this committee be able to do an adequate job of police oversight and accountability?
Why Blocking Roney From Committee Role Is Important
Now, on top of this shrinking of Council attention to matters of public safety and police accountability, comes the news that Council Member Kim Roney is being blocked from serving on the new committee by the Command Staff of the Asheville Police Department. It’s clear why they have singled her out. Over the past two years, she has repeatedly questioned them and pushed for deeper accountability.
Most recently, she has been pressing for more detailed information on the police budget, which is roughly 45% of the total budget. The police have consistently refused to offer more information, but it hasn’t mattered. All of their money requests moved through the Public Safety Committee by a 2-1 vote, with Roney the lone dissenter, and then proceeded on to a full Council vote.
There’s a good example of this on Tuesday’s Consent agenda. Back in November, The APD came to the Public Safety Committee requesting approval of a “transparency engagement” consultant, Cole Pro Media. Some context: The City hired a consultant in 2018 “to review the arrest, the tactics, policies, and procedures involved in an excessive force incident” (the assault on Johnny Rush). One of the recommendations offered was for the City to “consider retaining a firm to provide crisis response services to the APD and the City of Asheville in the future.” Cole Pro Media is the company that the Asheville Police Department (APD) is proposing to continue working with in this capacity.
This is a highly problematic request from APD. The company they want to retain for a three-year $162,000 contract does not engage in transparency, as the staff report implies and the firm claims. Instead, this company encourages police departments to bury bad news and excuse bad behavior, as detailed in this article that reviews their work with dozens of municipalities and this recent article in the Citizen-Times. Investing in a company with this track record would be counter to the City’s commitment to “reimagining public safety,” which would be better served if they encouraged APD to prioritize rebuilding trust with the community through substantive change in policies and behavior, rather than seeking assistance from a firm that specializes in hiding or obscuring the truth.
Kim Roney was the only member of Public Safety to raise concerns about this direction, but she was outvoted and now it sits on Tuesday’s Consent agenda, which means that our City’s government doesn’t think it even needs a public discussion.
Blocking Roney from the new Environment and Safety Committee sends a clear message that raising important questions and concerns about police priorities and tactics will get you chased out of the room. This is not the way democracy is supposed to work.
- We’re calling on Mayor Esther Manheimer to resist this attempt by the police to dictate who holds them accountable.
- We’re asking newly elected Council Member Maggie Ullman, who has been assigned to chair the Environment and Safety Committee, to demonstrate a commitment to deep police accountability by calling for Council Member Roney to be named to that committee.
- We’re asking all members of City Council to vote to remove this item from the Consent Agenda, (which is reserved for items that require no public conversation or analysis), and deliver the clear message that they believe that police accountability deserves more discussion.
We invite you to join us in reaching out to these folks via email right now, and then showing up at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, December 13, at 5 pm at City Hall (more information below).
Here is a template you can use to email the Mayor, Council Member Ullman, and the rest of City Council:
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: APD shouldn’t cherry-pick which Council Members oversee them
Dear Mayor Manheimer, Council Member Ullman, and other City Council Members,
I was alarmed to hear that Council Member Roney’s request to serve on the new Environment and Safety Committee was being refused because of a request from the Command Staff at the Asheville Police Department. It’s no surprise that the APD is intent on blocking Roney from this role. Over the past two years, she has consistently questioned them about their priorities and budget, and pressed them on how they are carrying out the City’s stated intention to “Reimagine Public Safety.” But I hope you will agree with me that those in positions of power should not have the right to stifle those who would question them. No department of the Asheville government should get to cherry-pick which elected officials oversee their work.
Mayor Manheimer, I urge you to resist this attempt by the police to dictate who holds them accountable. Council Member Ullman, I invite you to demonstrate a commitment to deep police accountability by calling for Council Member Roney to be named to the new Environment and Safety Committee you will chair. Other City Council Members, I ask you to remove this item from the consent agenda, so that it can be discussed at your meeting on Tuesday. I hope you will rethink this plan. We need more attention and scrutiny on our police department, not less.
Thanks for your leadership,
Here are the instructions for making a public comment to the City Council: On December 13, City Council will meet in person in Council Chambers, second floor of City Hall, 70 Court Plaza, Asheville, N.C.
Persons wishing to speak live at the meeting will be required to attend in person, and are required to sign up at the door.