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City charged with reverse racism in suit
Monday, 15 November 2021 12:05

From Staff Reports

 

Citizens for Equality Inc. on Nov. 8 filed a lawsuit alleging that the City of Asheville violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by bestowing nearly $1 million on the Asheville City Schools Foundation and CoThinkk, two groups that award scholarships to high school students.

The action is a followup to a recently filed lawsuit by the CFE “against the city and others for using public dollars to fund a racially based scholarship,” the group noted in a press release.

Among CFE’s incorporators are former city council member Carl Mumpower, former city risk manager John Miall Jr. and attorney Ruth C. Smith, who also is acting as the group’s legal counsel. 

Listed as co-plaintiffs in the CFE’s lawsuit are three high school students, who, as minors, are not named. 

The students’ rights have been violated because they are white and therefore excluded from applying for scholarship money and thus are deprived of their 14th Amendment rights, the lawsuit contends.

Meanwhile, the Daily Planet emailed City Attorney Brad Branham on Nov. 9, seeking his comment — and he replied as follows:

“Thank you for reaching out. With regard to the first lawsuit, the City has no comment as it is our general policy to refrain from such during active litigation.As to the second suit, the City has not yet been served with such, and remains unfamiliar with its contents. However, we are aware of the public records request, and as pointed out by the requestor, documents have already been provided. Any additional records relevant to a subsequent request shall also be produced in a timely manner. The City strives to fulfill each request for public records as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, the sheer volume of requests received inevitably results in delays from time to time. North Carolina law places no specific deadline for responding to these requests, but the City always works diligently to provide the materials in a timely fashion. This service is provided in a fair and equitable fashion, meaning that requests will be addressed in the order they are received.”

The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause states: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Meanwhile, the following is the text of a higly detailed Nov. 9 press release from Citizens for Racial Equality — titled “Citizens for Racial Equality — 2nd lawsuit filed” — that was emailed to the Daily Planet on the same date:

“When a government gives away hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to a private organization, the public should expect input into the process and, at the very least, an explanation.  

“Not so in the City of Asheville, where the City Council gave away almost a million dollars in April 2021. Half of that money went to CoThinkk, a group founded by Asheville’s Vice Mayor, Sheneika Smith. Yet when asked for an explanation of how these funds ended up going to this group and how the funds are being spent, the City isn’t talking. 

“On April 13, 2021, the City found itself with $949,185.12 in funds left over from a class action lawsuit filed over the city’s water rate fees.  The City and the Plaintiffs in that lawsuit agreed that the City could donate the extra money to charity. 

“That might sound like good news to Asheville’s taxpayers and nonprofits, as many charities could benefit from additional funding. Unfortunately, neither Asheville’s taxpayers nor any of the hundred or so worthy charities in Western North Carolina ever heard the news: because City Council decided behind closed doors to what to do with the funds.

“At its April 13, 2021 City Council meeting, the council passed a resolution giving all that money away without any public notice or input. Half of the money went to the Asheville City Schools Foundation to establish scholarships for black persons only. (That use of funds is currently the subject of a nondiscrimination lawsuit pending in U.S. Federal Court) 

“The rest of the money, $474,592.56 ended up going to CoThinkk. CoThinkk is not a registered business, let alone a nonprofit business, in any state. CoThinkk describes itself as a ‘giving circle’ and ‘network of change agents’ on its website.  Because it is not a registered nonprofit or legal business, CoThinkk does not have to maintain any records of its finances, does not have to file tax returns, and can operate without financial oversight.   

  “So why did Asheville’s City Council ended up giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to a ‘giving circle’ instead of an actual nonprofit? It might have something to do with the persons (or in this case, person) affiliated with CoThinkk. Asheville’s Vice Mayor, Sheneika Smith is one of CoThinkk’s founders. 

“Even more curious is the almost free reign City Council gave to CoThinkk in regard to its use of the money. By comparison, the Asheville City Schools Foundation was strictly instructed to use its donation for only scholarships for Asheville city employees and students (although only black applicants qualified). No such strings attached to the money given to CoThinkk.  The City Council’s agreement with CoThinkk allows the group to use funds for any purpose that “creates structure/ fund that is anchored in equity.” That purpose can even include giving money to itself. 

“John Miall, vice president of WNC Citizens for Equality, finds the vagueness of the gift particularly troubling. ‘The City has basically provided a blank check  of almost half a million (dollars) of public funds to CoThinkk to use the funds however they like. And the public has no way to find out where its money went.’

“With questions about how CoThinkk is using public funds; and equally important, how CoThinkk was chosen by City Council above legally organized nonprofits, WNC Citizens for Equality made a public records request of the City. The request sought records, including emails, memos, and letters between CoThinkk and the City pertaining to the donation. It also sought records which would explain how City Council came to select CoThinkk as a recipient.   

“This request, made on July 13, 2021, was answered by the City a month later, with only four (4) documents being produced.   These documents, the donation agreements with CoThinkk and Asheville City Schools Foundation, did nothing to shed light on how CoThinkk was selected nor how the public’s money was being used.

“Frustrated, WNC Citizens for Equality sent a follow up request on October 25, 2021, reminding the City that the documents it sought were public records and were ‘property of the people’ pursuant to state law. The City never responded to this second request.

“After 119 days and the City still refusing to provide the public records, WNC Citizens for Equality realized the City was probably not going to comply with state law and voluntarily produce the public records.  As such, it retained an attorney and filed suit yesterday, November 8, 2021, to compel the City to turn over the public documents. 

“‘It shouldn’t have had to come to this,’ says Dr. Carl Mumpower, president of WNC Citizens for Equality. ‘Public records belong to the people and have to produced as “promptly as possible” under state law.  We don’t know if anything improper occurred in giving out this money. But we have the right to look in the window and see what is going on. Rather than allow us that look, the City has pulled the curtains shut.’

“John Miall, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit added, ‘Democracy dies in darkness. We intend to shine a light here on what happened. We hope that when it’s all said and done, we can see that nothing improper occurred. But shutting the public out of the process and then stalling a public records request is not a good look for City Council.’ 

“WNC Citizens for Equality calls on the City of Asheville to immediately release the documents subject to its public records request. 

“This action is a WNC Citizens for Equality follow-up to recently filing a federal lawsuit against the City and others for using public dollars to fund a racially based scholarship,” the press release concluded.


 



 


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