Update January 11, 2024
It’s been almost a month since Community Reparations Commission (CRC) Chair Dr. Dwight Mullen and Vice-Chair Ms. Dewana Little made a compelling case before the Asheville City Council for an eight-month extension to the timeline for our local reparations process. City and County staff recommended that this extension be denied, and referred to a not-yet-disclosed “workable plan” they had for wrapping up the work of the CRC by June (which would necessitate only a two-month extension). It was up to the elected bodies – City Council and the Buncombe County Commission – to decide which vision to endorse. As of today, there has been no official response from either body. From the conversations we’ve had with folks inside both governments, it seems likely that the City and County both plan to reject the CRC’s extension request and endorse their staff’s plan instead. It’s unclear when this decision will become “official,” or when staff will share any details on their plan for wrapping up the work of reparations so rapidly.
Over the past six weeks or so, RJC supporters generated over 6,000 emails to members of the Asheville City Council, the Buncombe County Commission, and the City and County Managers. We deeply appreciate this effort, and at this point we don’t think it makes sense to continue reaching out to officials until we know more. We think there is a good chance that the CRC meeting on January 22, 2024 will bring some answers – perhaps a conclusive answer on the extension question and some articulation of the staff plan for wrapping the process up.
You can attend that meeting at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center from 6-8 pm (free parking through a validation ticket in the adjacent lot at 68 Rankin Street) or watch it (live or a recording afterwards) online here. We’ll be sure to send out another update once we have new information.
You can scroll down to read our earlier updates and background on the CRC extension situation.
Previous Update: December 18th, 2023
The Asheville City Council got a compelling presentation on the rationale for an eight-month extension of the timeline for local reparations recommendations from Community Reparations Commission (CRC) Chair Dr. Dwight Mullen and Vice-Chair Dewana Little on Tuesday, December 12, 2023. We hoped that the City would respond to this direct ask with a clear thumbs-up to the extension, but instead they offered no such approval, or even a clear response at all.
Both City and County staff are recommending that their respective governments reject the CRC’s extension request, and to instead support their still unarticulated “workable plan” to conclude the work with only two additional months of work. We feel strongly that this is a huge mistake, for reasons we’ve been sharing with our community for the past week. There is a long list of reasons why this extension request is deeply justified (we invite you to scroll down and read our summary below). Perhaps the simplest reason the City and County should agree to it is because doing so would demonstrate their ongoing confidence in the CRC, and their commitment to local reparations — and not doing so communicates the opposite. There is widespread agreement that more effort needs to go into inviting Black community members into this process. There is also an awareness that an obstacle to successful community engagement is the understandable skepticism that many Black folks have that the City and County will actually act on the recommendations being drafted. It’s worth asking: If the City and County aren’t going to follow the lead of the CRC now, why would anyone believe they’ll do so later when the stakes are higher?
We have more analysis of this political moment and the importance of honoring this extension request below, along with our earlier posts about this issue. (We also invite you to watch Dr. Mullen and Ms. Little’s presentation before the Asheville City Council here.) When you’re ready to join us in taking action, fill out the brief form below and click the “Start Writing” button to open up an email template you can use to communicate with the City Council and the County Commission. You can simply sign your name to our suggested content, or if you have the time and inclination, we encourage you to personalize your email or even write your own unique message.
We sent 2,464 emails for this campaign, which has now concluded.
Why is this Reparations Extension Different from Previous Ones?
During the discussion of the request by the Community Reparations Commission (CRC) for an eight-month extension of their timeline on Tuesday, December 12, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer admitted that the City is “making this up as we go.” She referenced the fact that there are few other models of local reparations, and therefore no tried and true template for the City to follow. This is a point the Mayor has often repeated in the past three years, and we agree with her. This process has few precedents and therefore has had to adapt and evolve over time. That’s still the case.
It’s important for people to realize that this is not the first time a reparations extension has been proposed; it’s just the first time that the CRC has asked for one, and the first time the answer wasn’t an immediate “yes.” The original resolutions, passed by the City and County in the summer of 2020, called for the CRC to be established within one year. In the first timeline laid out by Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell in early 2021, she predicted that the Commission would be formed by July of 2021, a small one-month extension of the original timeline. Repeated delays followed that announcement, and the Commission wasn’t formed until April of 2022, a nine-month extension of the already extended timeline.
Each of these prior extensions was agreed to without any resistance by either the City or County. They recognized the fact that each iteration of the timeline was somewhat arbitrary and subject to change. That remains the case. We have to wonder: Why were the City and County so unconcerned about granting extensions to themselves, but are now so resistant to granting one to the CRC? According to Dr. Mullen (and our own assessment), the CRC’s process has built some real momentum. At the City Council meeting on December 12, Dr. Mullen vividly described the progress he saw in the work and the level of dialogue and cooperation developing on the CRC. We join him in asking: “Why shut it down?”
City Manager suggests: Wait until June to see if an extension is needed
Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell has suggested on several recent occasions that the City doesn’t need to endorse the CRC’s extension request because they could always do so later. She has cited the staff plan (once again, without offering any details) which asserts that the work could be completed by June, and noted that if that deadline proves premature, there could always be an extension offered at that point.
That might sound reasonable on the surface, but those of us who have worked under deadlines of any kind know that if and when a process is extended makes a vast difference in the quality and outcome of the work being done. For example, a reporter working on a story due tomorrow is going to limit how many interviews they do and how much research they conduct. If the story isn’t due until next week, the reporter’s approach to the process will be expanded and deeper, which would likely yield a significantly superior end result.
Similarly, the timeframe the CRC is allowed to operate under will make a huge difference to how their process plays out. If the City and County insist that the CRC operate with a June wrap-up date in mind, the CRC will have to structure all their work accordingly.
- If they need to make a data request, there may not be enough time to get a response.
- If they want to make substantive changes to their recommendations based on the Stop the Harm Audit once it is finalized in February, there may not be enough time to do this intentionally with consistency across the five different Impact Focus Area workgroups.
- If they want to solicit serious feedback on their recommendations from the Black community, there might not be enough time to meaningfully incorporate their input, which would be a waste of the community’s time. With so little time, it’s more likely that the focus of community engagement would shift to informing folks of what the recommendations are, rather than asking for their input and suggestions. We would question whether that kind of limited outreach should even be called “community engagement.”
This is why the CRC is advocating for a December 2024 extension now, as opposed to later. We are asking the City and County to embrace this request rather than suggesting, inaccurately, that there is no harm in “kicking the can” down the road.
Original Post: December 8th, 2023
City Council to hear from Reparations Commission Chair on Tuesday
It was announced at the December 7, 2023 Asheville City Council briefing that Dr. Dwight Mullen, Chairman of the Community Reparations Commission (CRC), will be addressing City Council at their next official meeting on Tuesday, December 12, 2023 at 5 pm. He will speak directly to the CRC’s need for an extension of their timeline from April to December of 2024.
At the briefing, City staff suggested that City Council only needed to approve a shorter extension through June 2024. They referenced a “workable plan” that they had developed to complete the work by that time, but provided no detail on what that plan was. We are skeptical that a short extension will allow the CRC time to integrate the results of the Stop the Harm audit, which won’t be finalized until February. We are very skeptical that the staff’s proposed timeline will allow for the deep community engagement that our reparations process requires, one that truly offers Black community members the opportunity to make meaningful input to the process and stay informed. (For a more complete explanation of why a longer extension is needed, see our original post below.)
City staff also made the argument that the timeline could always be updated later. This is true, but the CRC has asked for this extension so that they know how to pace their work. Do they need to rush to finish by April or June, or can they plan on having the time they think they’ll need to do the complicated and essential work they’ve been tasked with? They need assurances from City Council that they will have the City’s full support in doing the job right, which they predict will take them through December 2024.
Council Member Sandra Kilgore spoke out in favor of granting the December extension, agreeing that it was understandable given all the delays the CRC has had to contend with. Council Members Maggie Ullman and Kim Roney also spoke in favor of the extension, suggesting that the City would be wise to listen to the CRC and follow their leadership on the time needed for them to complete their work. We appreciate those comments and fully agree. (You can watch the portion of the briefing on reparations here.)
We suspect that the invitation to hear from Dr. Mullen at the next City Council meeting was at least partly induced by the advocacy of RJC supporters, who generated 880 emails to City leadership in just over eighteen hours, voicing support of the CRC’s request for this extension.
If you haven’t yet sent emails of your own, there is still time for your voice to be heard before the City Council takes this matter up on Tuesday, December 12th. (And if you have sent the emails, we encourage you to invite folks you know to do likewise.) Click below to open up an email template that you can adapt and send in just a few minutes. You can also use our email tool to write your own original email (and when you do, it gets added to our overall count). Scroll down to read more about the reasons why it’s so important that this extension request be approved.
We collectively sent out 1,856 emails in the first round of this campaign.
Original Post: December 6th, 2023
Asheville City Council needs to approve extension request
In October, the Community Reparations Commission (CRC) voted to formally ask the City and County for an eight-month extension: instead of trying to rush to complete their work by April of 2024, they asked for the deadline for their final recommendations to be moved back to December of next year. The Asheville City Council will be discussing this request at their Thursday, December 7, briefing that starts at 11 am. No public comment is permitted at these briefings, so we’re suggesting that people email the City Council and the City Manager and ask them to support this request from the Reparations Commission for the time needed to complete their work successfully. Click below to open up an email template that you can adapt and send in just a few minutes. Read on to learn more about the reasons why it’s so important that this extension request be approved.
There is a long list of reasons why the Reparations Commission needs more time than was originally suggested. Here are just a few of them:
- Delayed Data: The Commission made dozens of requests for data from the City and County over the past year and a half, and the response rate was extremely slow. This past summer, over a year after the Commission’s work began, Buncombe County hired one additional staffer in their Special Collections Library Department, and that has indeed helped to clear the logjam. City and County staff reported at the last CRC meeting that 98% of the data requests have gotten a response of some kind. This is good news, but the fact that it took so long for the City and County to provide the requested data delayed the work of the CRC considerably.
- Project Management and Staff Support Problems: The work of the CRC has also been significantly slowed by a lack of continuity of project management and staff support.
- Project Managers: The original project manager, Debra Clark Jones, was awarded a City contract in September of 2021, but had already accepted a high profile and demanding position at Duke University a few weeks before. With her attention split, she wasn’t able to provide the level of leadership needed, but it took the City over a year to reassign the contract to Christine Edwards in November of 2022. (It’s worth noting that the Reparations Commission was not consulted on this decision. You can read more about the process in this Citizen-Times article.) Ms. Edwards provided project management for the next eleven months, but formally stepped back in October of this year. Rather than bring in another Project Manager, several people are attempting to cover the various aspects of Ms. Edwards’ vacated role.
- Staff leadership. When the process began, the County’s Chief Equity Officer was Rachel Edens, who had been hired in November of 2021. She left within a year, and her replacement Dr. Noreal Armstrong wasn’t hired until March 2023. The City hired Brenda Mills to be its Equity and Inclusion Director in November of 2021. Ms. Mills has been a part of the entire CRC process, but she is retiring in January and no replacement has been announced. It’s unclear who will be the primary City staff support person for the process once she leaves.
- In sum: The CRC has had to deal with two different project managers in the span of just 18 months, and the work is now being shared by several people without a lead Project Manager. The CRC has also had to work with two different County lead staff people and will be undergoing a change in the City lead staff person with whom they work, if the City even hires one in a timely manner. All of these shifts have slowed the process.
- The Stop the Harm Audit won’t be complete until February 2024. In late 2022, the CRC passed an immediate recommendation called “Stop the Harm,” calling on the City and County to perform an audit to assess what ongoing harm they were responsible for. One of the primary conditions of reparations is the cessation of harm, on the simple theory that you cannot offer meaningful repair when the harm is ongoing. The purpose of the audit is to study where the City and County are, and are not, in compliance with existing federal, state, and local laws around the protection of Black lives. The company hired to perform this audit is still working on it, with a due date of February for finalization. Only then can the CRC begin unpacking its data and recommendations and figuring out how to incorporate them into their own work. To do this effectively, they’ll need more than a few months.
- Lack of Black Community Engagement So Far: The most significant rationale for an extension is to allow time for the deep community engagement required for a reparations process that truly offers healing and repair to the Black community.
- Reparations can’t be reparative if the harmed community isn’t centered in the process. Back in early 2021, the RJC met with the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Commission, as well as with senior leaders in both governments. We invited them to join us in launching a massive community engagement campaign to ensure that Black people in Buncombe County were centered in our local reparations process. We argued then, and still believe, that repair cannot be done to or for those who have been harmed; it must be done with them. Black people’s stories need to be heard and their input is indispensable to the process of formulating recommendations for repair. No matter how well-intentioned or well-connected the members of the Community Reparations Commission might be, they cannot and should not be asked to speak for the entire Black community. The City and County leaders we met with didn’t dispute any of this, but they ultimately declined to work with us to engage Black people in the process in a meaningful way.
- Very few Black people in this region have been engaged to date. City and County staff made a presentation at the November CRC meeting, listing the various attempts they have made at community engagement. One thing the presentation revealed was how little community engagement has happened that specifically and successfully targeted the Black community. In fact, the City and County appear not to have collected any data on how many of the 16,000 Black people in Buncombe County they have connected with over the past few years around reparations. After the City and County rejected our invitation to work together, we embarked on our own Every Black Voice campaign independently, reaching as many Black Buncombe community members as we could. We’re proud of that work, and are excited to share the results of our outreach soon. However, our resources and our reach are much smaller than that of the City and County, and so we were only able to connect with a small percentage of the people who need to be invited into the process.
- More time is needed to implement the deep community engagement required. At the request of the CRC, we put together a proposal for deeper community engagement of the Black community. It was shared with the full Commission in October. It’s not nearly as complete or comprehensive as what we proposed three years ago, but it would represent a significant step in the right direction. There is no way it could be implemented by April (the original CRC deadline) or June (the small extension favored by the County). Of course, granting the extension the CRC is asking for is no guarantee that the City and County will get serious about Black community engagement. With your help, we’ll have to keep advocating for that. But granting the extension makes our plan – or any serious plan for Black community engagement – a possibility.
This extension shouldn’t be controversial. The City of Asheville should trust the judgment of the Commission they appointed and approve the extension. Will you join us in reaching out to the Asheville City Council and City Manager today, asking them to approve the CRC’s request? Click here to access an email template you can adapt and send in just a few minutes.
You might be wondering: what about the County? The County Commissioners were informed of the CRC request for an extension on November 21. County staff also presented their proposal for a shorter two-month extension. When County Commissioner Martin Moore asked if they could hear from members of the CRC about the reasons for a longer extension, it was implied that the CRC was not interested in interacting with the County Commission, or in explaining their reasons for making this request. This simply isn’t true. Informed after the fact of the briefing, CRC members asked if they could be added to a future County agenda to discuss the matter, and were told they’d have to wait and see. It’s true that in asking for this extension, the CRC didn’t lay out a long list of reasons, as we have done above. We think that’s because they assumed, as did we, that the reasons were obvious to anyone who has been following the process, which we presume members of the County Commission have done. Since that’s apparently not true, we hope the County Commission will review what we’ve shared, and more importantly, will engage with the Reparations Commission directly to learn more.
In the near future, we will be sending you updates on how you can encourage the County Commission to do just that. For now, we encourage you to reach out to the City Council today in advance of their briefing on Thursday, December 7. To access our template, click here.
RESOLUTION TO EXTEND THE COMMUNITY REPARATIONS COMMISSION FOR ADDITIONAL TWO YEARS
WHEREAS, on March 8, 2022 the City Council of the City of Asheville established a Community Reparations Commission to address the historical and present injustices faced by Black People in the community; and
WHEREAS, the Community Reparations Commission was tasked with researching and implementing measures to repair the damage caused by public and private systemic racism in the areas of housing, healthcare, employment, economic development, and criminal justice; and
WHEREAS, the Commission has made significant progress in its initial two-year term but requires additional time to fully develop and implement comprehensive measures to address the deep-rooted impacts of systemic racism; and
WHEREAS, the extension of the Commission’s term aligns with the City and Counties commitment to addressing the historical injustices faced by the Black community and advancing towards genuine equity and inclusivity;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ASHEVILLE AND COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF BUNCOMBE THAT:
(1) The Community Reparations Commission, originally established on March 8, 2022, is hereby extended for an additional eight months, commencing on April 30, 2024 and ending on December 31, 2024.
(2) The Commission’s mandate during this extended period shall remain the same as outlined in the original resolution, with a focus on developing and implementing measures to address generational wealth creation, housing, healthcare, employment, economic development, and criminal justice disparities within the Black community.
(3) The Commission shall continue to work in collaboration with the City’s Equity Department AND County and other relevant stakeholders to ensure the effective implementation of reparative measures.
(4) The City Manager is directed to provide ongoing support to the Community Reparations Commission In conjunction with the County and facilitate the necessary resources to accomplish its objectives.
(5) The Commission shall provide bi-annual updates to the City Council on the progress of their work, and a final comprehensive report shall be submitted at the end of the extended term.