Candidate Questionnaire: Asheville Chamber of Commerce

Rank these city priorities 1-5:

1.) Bringing in high-paying jobs, 2.) Affordable Housing, 3.) Improved Transportation, 4.) Public Safety, 5.) Creating more parks, bike lanes, and greenways

Briefly explain your reasons for your first priority choice in the previous question.

As much as we need to tackle the affordability crisis by growing the supply of affordable housing, it's more important to get Asheville workers better access to middle- and high-income, career-track jobs, so more can afford housing at the prices we have. We are not going to close the affordability gap only by controlling rents, but by boosting incomes at the other end, as well. That's a typically underutilized, reactive city function: city governments wait for a business (or outside EDC) to approach them with a proposal, usually one calculated to benefit the relocating business more than the government or local workforce. Ideally, I think, we would see the city proactively working to grow high-potential, career-track businesses that are native to the area, with an eye to growth we could achieve with less (in incentive terms) and sustain over the long term.

If not listed above, what do you consider to be the most pressing or critical issue facing Asheville at this time?

The category I would add is government transparency and accountability. The city has made strides on this front in recent years, but there's still obviously a long way to go. Each of the categories listed above will matter little if not acted on in an open, inclusive fashion that brings in as many community voices as possible. I'm in favor of a wide-ranging, open process, even including direct participatory democracy, and trusting our citizens to handle information and decisions responsibly, even when the results seem -- inevitably -- messy. Increasingly, that's what an engaged, opinionated city is demanding.

If elected, would you support increased funding for the Economic and Workforce Development initiatives?

Yes. I'll be blunt that I'm not in favor of courting out-of-area businesses with tax incentives and infrastructure perks. The city needs to be conscious of the taxpayer trust and keep an eye on long-term sustainable growth. Local initiatives to grow businesses that are already here seem like the way to go, and I applaud them.

What is your vision for the development of Asheville in the next 15 years?

I'm invested in Asheville being a place where my kids, now 6 and 7, can do meaningful, career-spanning work in whatever field they choose. Asheville's justified reputation is that you have to move away to start a career or expect to toil in the low end of the service industry. We need to change that. On the physical infrastructure front, we need to keep the look and feel of a small, accessible mountain city, and that means tackling traffic, transit, and other deficiencies that make getting around the city increasingly feel like a drag. We need to protect a place in the community for working artists and bohemians and local independent businesses so they don't decamp with our culture and quirkiness. If we can hold onto that, I don't think we'll worry so much if there are 90,000 or 190,000 people here. But lose any of them, and we'll soon feel like we've lost the city.

Do you support the I- 26 connector as currently designed?

Yes.

What do you want to happen with the Haywood Street property, better known as the “pit of despair”?

I want it to be a well-designed public space, a city park. Due to the height difference between Page St in the back of the property and Haywood St in the front, I think there should be a building, maybe restrooms and concessions or a small gift shop, in front of that retaining wall, but I would ask that any building have an open roof accessible from the back. I think the city should undertake to realign the four-way intersection at the corner of the property, squaring off Page St. to produce a better, safer space and intersections. This seems to be the direction indicated by the planning process so far.

Do you believe in the use of incentives to help local businesses expand and to attract new businesses to our City?

Yes to the first part of the question, no to the second. I think cities end up the losers of a system of bidding against other governments for out-of-area businesses. Major employers with the resources to shop municipalities are going to take the deal that offers the most in exchange for the least. Additionally, they'll expect to bring many of their professionalized positions (e.g., engineers) from out-of-area, with little benefit to the local workforce. The costs of incentives, in a city with rapidly rising taxes, are poorly accounted by local governments. It seems like strategically growing companies that already have an investment in the area is a better use of resources, and I support that wholeheartedly.

Read all candidates' responses here.