Campbell takes charge responding to criticism of city

Asheville’s City Manager Debra Campbell.

Asheville – Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell took the blame for the city failing to communicate at the council’s last meeting. She had received a lot of emails complaining that Asheville’s Police Chief David Zack had moved forward and unilaterally reimagined policing for the city.

Truth be told, Zack’s plan, presented in PowerPoint form, used phrases like, “work with the community,” “community conversations,” and, “initiate conversations.” But that didn’t fit the narrative that so many repeated in public comment, that Zack and Mayor Manheimer must be fired. Other demands are the same ones sweeping the nation, that the police must be defunded and demilitarized, taxes should be collected to pay for rents and mortgages instead of public safety, the police need to implement the recommendations of the #8CantWait program, statues should come down, streets should be renamed, the city should hire and contract with more people of color, etc.

Campbell repeated what the chief had said about the city already having implemented a lot of what the protesters had been demanding before he even came on board, and other demands, if not fully-implemented, were in process. Campbell said nobody intended to convey that community conversations for reimagining policing weren’t going to be held. Campbell reiterated government was by the people and for the people, and all communities need to be tapped for input. She stressed the word “all.”

Campbell continued, saying the community had been left with the impression that the limited number of bullet points on the chief’s brief overview represented his entire set of reforms. She clarified the city is just beginning to have conversations, hobbled somewhat by current requirements for social distancing, and there would be much more to do; in some cases, years more.

Campbell made frequent reference to Black AVL Demands, a group that self-describes as, “an intergenerational collective of black leaders.” In addition to providing scripts for public comment at Asheville City Council meetings, which some people actually read at the Buncombe County Commissioner meetings without adaptation, the group has three demands: (1) The city should invest 50% of its police force’s budget in black businesses, eliminating the achievement gap in Asheville City Schools, and creating an all-civilian police oversight committee; (2) It should replace the monuments to Confederate heroes in the public square with monuments honoring Asheville’s black founders and rename streets now honoring former slaveholders after historic black leaders; and (3) The police department must end the War on Black People, with special attention given to three gender identities. The only contacts listed are Rob Thomas and David Greenson.

Campbell spoke calmly, without airs, setting the tone for the whole city when she said the city had heard the demands. She said it is the city’s intention to work with the community to move forward together. Citizens needed to put divisiveness behind and work together for healing. She said she had had “things done to me” because she was an African-American, but she wasn’t going to let it define her; now was a time for everyone to, “come together, overcome, and move forward.”

The time had come to reimagine all of city government (because recent events showed citizens neither respect nor trust it). Campbell’s words asked Ashevillians to put their thinking caps to achieve “sustained, systemic, impactful” change, she said, we would need “all hands on deck,” for “long-term heavy lifting.”

Moving Right Along

Also during the evening, the council unanimously approved entering into an agreement with Buncombe County to accept a donation of six 18-gallon bins for hypodermic needle disposal. Amy Upham, Buncombe County’s Opioid Response Coordinator, said each bin could hold enough needles to cover a football field. The bins will be installed at the new county health department offices, Haywood Street Congregation, State Street near Haywood Road, Hominy Creek Park, Pisgah View Apartments, and Harrah’s [sic.] Cherokee Center.

Needle litter is now commonplace in the city. The county continues to receive “multiple complaints” about syringes left on public property alone, not to mention all the needles and caps along roadsides, parking lots, and walking trails. Upham told how residents at Pisgah View Apartments had complained about children getting stuck by syringes thrown on the ground. She also said the transfer station’s collection station for medical waste was overwhelmed by needles.

Asheville Greenworks had previously installed empty fire extinguishers for needle collection in different parts of town, but Upham said they were too small, and emptying them became too burdensome. The county, therefore, purchased the larger bins with part of a $24,364 grant from the Dogwood Health Trust, the organization formed with the acquisition of Mission Health by HCA to address social determinants of health.

The county will donate the bins to the city, the city will install and maintain them, and the county will contract with Sunrise Community for Recovery and Wellness for emptying them. The portion of the grant not used for bins will be used to pay a part-time Sunrise employee and cover his training and insurance.

Upham expects the program will grow. The $24,364 was only for 2021, Upham made frequent reference to the needle collection system in Buffalo, New York. Their program, she said, had launched to help with diabetic needle litter. Now, Eerie County has installed 70 units like the ones the city will be getting.

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