Asheville – Asheville City Councilwoman Kim Roney requested to remove a request from the consent agenda to accept federal funding in the amount of $275,416. Funds would come from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the form of a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) grant. The purpose of the HIDTA program is to reduce drug trafficking and its devastations in key areas.
During public comment, a few members of the public spoke against accepting the grant as contradictory to the mandate Roney and adherents had given the council to defund the police. However, when Mayor Esther Manheimer asked for a motion to approve or deny accepting the grant, nobody said a word. Without a motion, the proposal was rejected.
Councilwoman Gwen Wisler said she would like more information about the grant, like how it fits into reimagining the police and Police Chief David Zack’s commitment to de-emphasize low-level interdiction in the local illicit drug market. Staff attempted to patch Zack into the meeting, to no avail. So, the council agreed to remand the matter to its Finance and Public Safety subcommittees for vetting.
Councilwoman Sheneika Smith said, “I think it is for us to be cautious … I have read several of the comments that were sent to us around perpetuating the War on Drugs, and I think that is the right thing to say. But I also think that we have to think about strategies to attack the drug problem.
“I think the mothers of individuals who were caught in the crossfire these last few years would push for us to pay special attention to the enormous amount of drug volume and value in this community. This community is a passthrough, and drugs are destroying our community. So, I don’t want to get caught up in rhetoric and what is right to say, because there are things that seem right, but the end is destruction.”
Smith said deciding between swift interdiction and nurturing communities was a false dichotomy, “Because we do have a problem.”
The staff report was, understandably, short on detail. It reiterated that Asheville was eligible for the grant because it is an official HIDTA. It washed the police department’s hands of expanding its budget by saying the check would be written to HIDTA and managed by a federal agent; also, the HIDTA board is regional, with DEA officers and representatives from local sheriffs’ offices as well as one member of the Asheville Police Department (APD).
Funding would reimburse overtime, travel, services, and supplies expenditures incurred in carrying out HIDTA business. To receive funding, APD officers would file a claim subject to DEA approval. The purpose of bringing the federal government into the picture is to share intelligence and coordinate efforts across state lines. City Manager Debra Campbell said she had more information that she would share later, but the funds were not for interdicting low-level dealing, but for protecting innocents more than punishing lawbreakers. Furthermore, the other partners in the HIDTA would be missing out should the council reject the grant.
Later, during general public comment, Grant Millin spoke in favor of the grant, saying it would be used to take fentanyl off the streets. Fentanyl is described as being 50-100 times more potent than morphine, inducing stronger cravings, worse withdrawal, and therefore more incentive to commit normally unconscionable acts to get more.
Millin described its physical and social impact as “really unpleasant.” As for claims the grant targeted low-level dealers, Millin said the fentanyl hitting the streets in other parts of the world is not prescription, but manufactured by transnational organized crime rings. Because it is so potent, synthetic fentanyl is often mixed into other street drugs, some with relative contraindications, for a super-big high. Millin said, depending on how the grant is managed, it could support a police mission appreciated by all sectors of society, and this is what reimagining the police should accomplish.
In Other Matters –
The city passed its Nondiscrimination Ordinance (NDO). Contrary to claims made during public comment, it was almost verbatim what the county passed. Changes included adaptions for application to the city instead of the county, groupings, orderings, or selections of protected classes in lists, and “housekeeping” alterations.
Even public comment was similar, with many calling in to both city and county hearings. Only Superintendent Ronald Gates of the Greater Works Church of God in Christ spoke against the ordinance, saying it “undermines fairness and freedom,” endangers women in gender-specific facilities, and chills freedom of religion and speech.
Some who spoke did so in defense of children threatened by laws that set legal ages or require parental consent for gender-changing medical procedures. Others shared more statistics on suicide and suicide ideation among trans youth. One caller expressed resentment about having to keep body parts hidden, and others chalked the opposition up to ignorance, hatred, and privilege.
Roney wanted stiffer fines, equating $100 a day to issuing traffic tickets for egregiously worse behavior. To that, City Attorney Brad Branham replied staff looked at what other municipalities were charging and felt $100 to be ballpark. He added the NDO intended to educate, not punish. Roney explained the ordinance was needed because, “our religious freedoms are protected by the First Amendment, but protection against discrimination in employment and public accommodations is not.”