Jeff Messer Show March 21, 2017: Districting Bill


This interview has been edited lightly for clarity. Listen to the whole show (starting at the 42-minute mark) on iHeart Radio.


Jeff Messer: We're not here necessarily to talk about the 2017 Asheville City council race, but my next guest has declared and he is running. And let me just throw this out there for you: Campaign slogan for you, if you want it?

Rich Lee: "Rich Lee Works for Me." Best rhyming campaign slogan in Asheville City history, I'm going to go ahead and say it.

JM: Here's another one for you I'll throw out there: "The Candidate You Richlee Deserve."


JM: I don't know, whatever. Good to see you, man! How are you?

RL: I'm doing great. How are you? (cont. below)

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New Video: Asheville Districts

A state senator from Hendersonville has filed a bill forcing Asheville city elections into districts. Instead of getting to vote for everyone on council, voters would only be able to vote for (or against) their own member. Here's a video about why that's wrong. Share far and wide, and email your legislators using to say NO to district-only elections being imposed on the city. (Read Rich's coverage here.)


New Video: Asheville People



Want to contribute? Send a letter here!

Asheville is at a key inflection point, as multiple critical issues are converging that will affect residents for years, maybe decades, to come. Now is the time to put the right people in office to ensure that future includes a thriving, sustainable and fair city that benefits all citizens, rather than only a select few.

As hotels are being erected left and right, catering to tourists and large corporate hoteliers who pay notoriously low wages with little or no benefits, and as our infrastructure deteriorates from overuse and underfunding, we desperately need to diversify our economy in ways that provide the most benefit to citizens across the socioeconomic spectrum.

We need someone on Council to advocate for citizens with a vested interest in creating a livable, workable community, not for developers with only a short-term interest in profit. Some Council members have had their chance, and they are not getting the job done.

So now that voters have picked the final six candidates to compete in the upcoming general election, it’s time to get serious about electing Rich Lee to City Council. Not only does Rich have a solid history of grassroots organizing at the neighborhood level here in West Asheville, as well as a background in finance, he also has a comprehensive understanding of the most pressing issues affecting this city.

Rich is exceptionally bright, fair-minded, genuine, and most importantly, he has integrity. Electing someone as honest, hardworking and knowledgeable as Rich would be a win for the city of Asheville — a win we desperately need right now.

- Tom, Mountain Xpress 10/18/15

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GUEST WONK: Participatory Budgeting

This is a regular dive into policy and arcana. This week, we're reprinting with permission a video and 2011 article in the Christian Science Monitor by Daniel Altschuler and Josh Lerner, Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. Thanks to Val Warren, Community Engagement Coordinator for PBP in Greensboro, for material in this post.

"Government can’t solve budget battles? Let citizens do it."

Daniel Altschuler & Josh Warren, CS Monitor April 2011

As states and cities across the country confront staggering budget shortfalls, they face a double whammy: Voters are already disillusioned with government, and now elected officials have fewer resources to address citizens’ concerns. Recent polls show that Americans are as disgruntled as ever with Congress and both major parties. Meanwhile, the economic crisis has left federal, state, and city legislators short of funds for public goods like education and health care.

Faced with such daunting budget dilemmas, what are politicians to do? Two words: Look south! “Participatory budgeting” (PB), a model popular throughout Latin America, may offer a way to do more with less, and to reconnect citizens with government.

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WONK TODAY: District elections for city council

A weekly deep dive into city policy and arcana. Today's question: "Should city council go to district elections, and what would they look like?"

UPDATE #1: Mayor Manheimer reads an email from Sen. Apodaca's replacement, Senator Chuck Edwards, declaring his intent to file a bill splitting Asheville into six districts, in the next legislative session. Unlike Apodaca's bill, Edwards's bill seems to give Asheville some leeway to draw its own districts, but it would still set the number at six. Edwards says he's "confident" the measure will pass. Council votes to proceed with gauging public support for districts, albeit on an accelerated timeline. (Asheville Citizen-Times)

UPDATE #2: Asheville Chamber Legislative Affairs Director Corey Atkins, a 2015 council candidate and South Asheville resident, writes on behalf of the Chamber: "Regardless of the plan put forward, let’s not waste time or taxpayer money on figuring out if. That decision ostensibly has been made for us. Let’s now focus on how to go forward fairly and effectively." Unlike Apodaca's and Edwards's bill, the Chamber supports a potentially lower number of districts ("4 or 6") and citywide final vote. (Chamber E-News)

ORIGINAL POST: In June 2016, retiring state Senator Tom Apodaca lobbed a parting bombshell in Asheville's direction: a bill requiring that Asheville city elections, currently held at-large with a citywide vote, be broken into six council districts each holding their own elections, plus a citywide mayoral race. "Bottom line is the people of South Asheville need better representation," Senator Apodaca said, explaining the move.

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WONK TODAY: Grow the School Board

A semi-regular deep dive into city policy and arcana. Today's question: "Can the Asheville City School Board be expanded to include more diverse voices? What other changes could the city make?"

(Rich's boy, doing his thing)

Thirty-seven people applied for three open seats on the Asheville City School Board last week. (Well, thirty-eight, but that's another story.) In coming weeks, city council will select candidates from the pool to interview; then sometime in late February or March, they'll pick three of them to join the two remaining board members. Together, the five will have broad authority over hiring the next superintendent and new administrators at Asheville Middle and Asheville High to how to handle upcoming school reorganizations, what to do about SILSA and the middle school in Montford, and much more.

Which made us wonder: Why are there only five people on the board? Other city boards with (ahem) considerably less power have a dozen or more members. What would be different if the school board were bigger?

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EVENT ALERT: Peace Vigil to Support Muslim Community *tonight*

Tonight at 7pm, community members are hosting a flashlight Peace Vigil in Pack Place in solidarity with local Muslims. Rich will one of the speakers, talking about his two years' experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Middle East.

From the event page:

"Please come join us to show our Muslim friends and community that they are welcome here. This event is open to everyone and will have speakers of many faiths (as well as those without a specific religion) who will join us to share in our love of our diverse community.

Please bring a flashlight (phone flashlights are fine) as it will be dark. Note that candles are NOT allowed (no open flames). Children are welcome and encouraged to attend."




Rich Lee Announces Second Council Bid with New Website, Proposals

For Immediate Release

ASHEVILLE, NC (2/7/17) – 2015 Asheville City Council candidate Rich Lee announced a second bid for the office Tuesday. In a letter on a new campaign website, Rich writes, “the city still struggles to be an affordable and sustaining home to many. The character of the community is more threatened than ever by traffic, a weak job market, adverse legislation and the impacts of being a highly-commodified tourism economy.”

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Police Racial Disparity: "How do we make sure everyone is treated equally?"

There's a good Citizen-Times article out on police data showing black drivers are more likely to be stopped and searched in Asheville than white drivers. Rich was interviewed along with activists from NAACP and local "hacking for good" group Code for Asheville.


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