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Downtown activists ask city to handle crime, safety
Wednesday, 02 October 2019 22:12
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Two women said they are organizing downtown Asheville residents and property-owners to address concerns about danger lurking (ever increasingly, in their view) in the city’s core urban area  — and that something needs to be done about about it pronto — during a presentation at a breakfast meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners on Sept. 6.

About 70 people — including several elected officials — attended the monthly CIBO issues meeting in UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

CIBO President N.E. “Buzzy” Cannady III, who also serves as its emcee, opened the meeting by noting that, “initially, we invited (new Asheville Police Chief) Chris Bailey to introduce himself” at the meeting, “but he had a last-minute appointment, so we will have him next month.” (However, a few days later, on Sept. 11, the City of Asheville announced that Bailey was resigning “for personal reasons,” effective Sept. 27.)

Instead of introducing Bailey as the featured speaker, Cannady then introduced Sheila Surrett and Kristie Quinn,who are both downtown Asheville residents and property owners who are spearheading an effort to clean up the area. Their presentation — as noted on CIBO’s agenda — was on “crime, safety, cleanliness, drugs, and homeless issues facing downtown – Is downtown at a tipping point and, if so, what can be done about it?”

Quinn, who spoke first, said, “As the town grows, it’s gotten to the point where it needs our attention. As we’ve all heard ‘stories,’ we’ve heard from everyone.... Drugs... A lot of crimes... The homeless issue... These are problems that need to be tackled as a group. 

“The City of Asheville can do things, but they can’t do it all by themselves…. The police dep artment really needs our support, but a lot of times they don’t have have the authority to do” what needs to be done to resolve the problems, Quinn lamented.

Next, Surrett asserted, “The crime (in Asheville) is not at an eight-year-high, but it’s at a 10-year high” — and that concerns her and many of her fellow property-owners and businesses downtown. 

Surrett also told of “a lady” who she knows who “bought a $250 taser” after an incident with a stranger downtown.

“Those (downtown Asheville crime) statistics are very high,” she said. But “I’m not knocking our police ... because there aren’t enough police officers in downtown Asheville.”

The city’s emergency responders are overburdened, Surrett contended, and even “our (Asheville) fire department is going out daily, rescuing transients” on opioids.

At that point, she recited the general telephone number for the Asheville Police Department — “252-1110 ... if you call the police, they will not pick up (the phone to answer) because they don’t have the manpower.”

Surrett also said that “(www.)asheville2c is the crime site for APD,” but that a number of crimes that occur are not listed.”

Speaking for herself, Quinn and others in her newly formed activist downtown anti-crime group, she said, “We started this … because I’m so sad to see my (native) town turn out the way it has....

“The thing is, what’s gone on with these people…. I don’t know why they’re stealing cars and taking out the back seats. I don’t know why,” Surrett continued, as a few in the CIBO audience chuckled at the irony.

She added, “We called this meeting because crime is bad” in downtown Asheville.
“Town leaders, wake up! County leaders, wake up!

“The true homeless, we take care of. It’s the transients who we are having the problem with... If we don’t do anything about this, it’s going to be too late,” Surrett concluded.

During a brief question-and-answer period that followed, a unidentified woman asked, “Why don’t you encourage people to report to police” crimes and problems?

Surrett replied, “They (her female friends and acquaintances) don’t want their name reported” for safety reasons — and names are required when making a police report.

Quinn added, “And people who have (made reports to the APD) have been have been threatened” by suspects.

Further, Surrett reiterated, “The Asheville Police Department will not answer their phone. I called for for 15 minutes (recently) — and no one (at the APD) picked up” the phone.

CIBO member Mac Swicegood told the two women, “The problem you’re recounting, we’ve had for 20 years. If you go back, the problem starts at City Hall. You (only) have 15 officers (stationed) from downtown to the airport....

“Yes, we don’t have enough officers — we don’t even have enough firemen. And we don’t have enough (police) officers. The DA (District Attorney Todd Williams) is trying to keep a lid on everything. The problem starts with City Council....” Swicegood asserted.

Nodding in agreement, Surrett said, “I mean, we’re stuck here. The question is: What is our mayor (Esther Manheimer) going to do? She’s the leader of the pack.”

(Manheimer, along with City Manager Debra Campbell, originally had been scheduled to introduce Chris Bailey, the new APD chief, to CIBO, but neither the mayor nor Campbell attended the meeting when Bailey postponed his appearance under the pretext of some unspecified last-minute development that required his presences elsewhere.)

At that point, Todd Williams, the district attorney, who was at the CIBO meeting, told Surrett during the Q&A, “The case you mentioned — someone getting ‘horse-collared’ — that’s a common-law robbery. That sounds like a felony. That should be reported” to the police.

Williams added, “In terms of Raleigh (and the state General Assembly), … in regard to the nuissance crime you’re talking about…. the focus of that is to put people on probation....”

Asheville Assistant City Manager Cathy Ball, who also was in attendance at the meeting, then interjected, “By January 2020, we (the APD) will be fully staffed downtown, as well as in the (adjoining) River Arts District… “

After a pause, she told the Surrett and Quinn, “We (the city) look forward to partnering with you” to resolve issues in downtown Asheville.

In a third and separate presentation, Brownie Newman, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, gave an update on a number of ex-county employees and one private contractor (Joe Wiseman, who worked with the county), who were sentenced the previous week.

“So last week, U.S. District Judge Joseph Conrad sentenced all the county employees who had been charged,” said Newman, who reviewed the sentences of former County Manager Wanda Greene, former County Manager Mandy Stone, former Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton and former county Business Intelligence Manager Michael Greene.

He noted that all of the county employees pled guilty, although “they initially didn’t... The county had sued each of these former employees and settled with them. It has not settled with Wiseman.

Newman also reviewed the amounts of the settlements

“The county also recouped the full $2 million (in insurance policies) that Greene purchased for herself and other top employees,” Newman said.

In all, he noted, the county has recouped about $3.2 million. “We hope to settle with Wiseman” soon, Newman noted.

During a Q&A session, Swicegood asked, “Do you have any more indictments coming down?”

“That’s kind of in the court” of others to consider, Newman said.

An unidentified man said, “So Jon Creighton was running the landfill. In recent years, I’ve learned that Waste Management has developed a volume discount....”

“There’s no requirement that waste generated in Buncombe County be disposed of in Buncombe County,” Newman said.

To that, the man said, “I’d say the citizens of Buncombe County don’t want to build a new landflll for as long in the future as possible.”

“Well, that’s true,” Newman replied. “We’re trying to cover operating costs.”

The man then said he had “heard about a (certain) file cabinet that was found buried out there.”

“ I’ve heard that rumor as well — and I can’t validate it,” Newman answered.

A man asked, “When did the Wanda (Greene) corruption start — and why was it not found sooner?”

“In the last years, she was county manager (she served for 20 years), but most of these things happened in her last years in office,” Newman replied.

“What provisions have been made” to avoid having a repeat of the Greene corruption case in county government?” a man asked.

“I look back on this,” Newman answered. “I think a lot of people in the county knew what was going on, but they were afraid they’d have their heads cut off” if they said anything.

In response, Newman said, “We’ve put processes in place where the employees can address” issues without fear of reprisals.”

A man said that he wanted to “thank Newman for giving the report on the county being ‘made whole.’” 

Yet, he wondered, if that is the case, then “why are you (the county) suing her (Greene) again?”

Newman said the action deals with “the (county) payments to the Tryon Equestrian Center… We haven’t made a determination on that. Some of the funds approved for the Tryon Equestrian Center ... the commission never OK’d. Our previous settlements do not bar us from going after them on other charges that might arise.”


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