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‘Recall’ Asheville council (except Kilgore), activist says... Sheriff urged to take over city law enforcement... to (finally) clean up Asheville crime, panhandling
Wednesday, 13 September 2023 21:37


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The very idea of the City of Asheville rewriting its panhandling ordinance and City Council approving it causes Asheville native and civic activist H.K. Edgerton to break out into a belly laugh.

Indeed, Edgerton thinks just about everything that council does is laughable, albeit in a tragic way, he told the Daily Planet in a Sept. 8 telephone interview that focused on — or attempted to focus on — panhandling in general in Asheville, and the proposed ordinance rewrite in particular.

“Let’s put it like this, first of all, I have to agree with Michael Holcombe (the retired city water system director) who said that the City Council is incompetent” during a recent meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners.

However, Edgerton slightly revised Holcombe’s opinion of council, stating that, “with the exception of the new vice mayor (Sandra Kilgore), they all should be recalled.”

So why does he think Kilgore should be spared from a potential recall of council? the Daily Planet asked.

“Because Ms. Kilgore has talked about the impact of the bicycle lanes on Merrimon, asking, ‘What’re you doing?’ She talked about moving the Vance Monument (from Pack Square in the heart of downtown Asheville) to the Vance Homeplace (near Weaverville). She has made some astute comments, but Esther (Manheimer) controls the council. She (Kilgore) is the only one who seems to have an independent mind...

“I believe in my heart that Ms. Kilgore wants to be mayor. She’s not stupid and she knows that there’s a boat loaded with Democrats who have a great deal of loyalty to Esther. Sandra understands what she’s up against. I think she’s biding her time, so that she can become Sandra Kilgore again. It’s very difficult for her, as the people (of Asheville) need to wake up and ‘recall’ the council. The people know what a good job Sandra Kilgore has done on council.” 

In noting that Edgerton also is a Southern heritage activist, the Daily Planet asked: Why does he think that Zebulon B. Vance (1830-1894), who is known to have made several anti-black comments that are considered racist by today’s standards, should continue to be honored with a 75-foot granite obelisk (the Vance Monument) in the center of downtown? 

“Zeb Vance?” Edgerton, who is black, responded enthusiastically. "Nobody on council or the (county) commissioners is worthy of carrying his dirty underwear.

“This man (Vance) was the most-decorated citizen ever to come out of the state of North Carolina.”

Next, the Daily Planet pressed Edgerton on how he assesses the silence of the Asheville Jewish community, regarding the Vance Monument, inasmuch as, during his life, Vance was one of the United States’ top speakers and writers — and the top speaker-author from the South — to publicly oppose anti-semitism. 

You go ask them,” Edgerton answered, succintly. “My supposition is, it’s (all about) people who stay in the shadows — and not get involved in controversy.”

He added, “They (the Asheville Jewish community) are the ones who said they’d never give a ‘no’ vote of any kind to Zebulon Vance,” but now, “They’re saving themselves.” 

As for the attitude of blacks in Asheville toward Vance throughout Edgerton’s lifetime in the city, the activist noted, “When they (the city) took up donations to refurbish the Vance Monument, black churches donated,” too.

In returning to the topic of Asheville panhandling, he said, “Panhandling is a crime. Panhandling is part of the whole deal. If you shoplift, it’s a crime. Crime is crime...

“Here we have a sitting congressman (Rep. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson County) coming to Asheville, trying his best to help with crime in Asheville and Buncombe County” — and, in Edgerton’s view, he received a rude reception from Asheville’s mayor, who, at one point during an anti-crime summit, snatched the microphone out of the congressman’s hand as he was speaking.

Returning to the topic of panhandling, he said, “When I was coming up as a kid, the Red Cross panhandled, the Salvation Army panhandled, Santa panhandled … People were very proud to give to honorable causes” that the aforementioned represented.

Edgerton said panhandling hurts tourism and that, contrary to a recent figure of a 2.4 percent drop in tourism in Asheville in July (following other declines), he has talked to what he termed even more reliable sources who say that Asheville’s “tourist trade (actually) has gone down 46 percent (this year) because of crime (concerns).” 

He added, “There’s trash all over the place (the city). They (the homeless) defecate and urinate anywhere they can..."

Further, Edgerton asserted, “The drug-traffickers control panhandling” around Asheville as a cartel, as APD leaders have said. “They’re just keeping something going that they shouldn’t be doing.

“The thing that is very important to me is, two (Asheville) police leaders came into the CIBO (meeting recently) and they talked about legalized crime — and they talked about people coming into Lowes, etc., and filling their shopping carts up to $999 —  and they won’t be arrested” because of the understanding that they will not be prosecuted for stealing less than $1,000 in merchandise” per store visit.

After a pause, Edgerton continued, “It’s a farce. You can’t say they (the homeless) can’t find a job... It comes down to one of two things… I have not doubt in my mind… ‘Posse Comitatus’ — that means the sheriff is the highest-ranking law enforcement official in the city and the county.

“I have no doubt in my mind that (Buncombe Sheriff) Quentin Miller has the capability of cleaning up the crime in Asheville and Buncombe County. He is a real honorable, nice guy, but he probably doesn’t want to overstep the Asheville police chief (David Zack).”

During the CIBO meeting referred to earlier, “The (police) chief said he gets anything the APD wants from City Council — that they never say ‘no.’ I think the chief just threw his department under the bus,” with what Edgerton called “double-talk.”The truth is that “the former vice mayor (Sheneika Smith) and the mayor (Esther Manheimer) talked about ‘Defunding the Police,’ so something isn’t right here,” Edgerton said.

At first, “I was really down on this thing (Asheville’s anti-crime summit) that Rep. Edwards put together — because here I’ve got a mayor who doesn’t care about the law” by allowing the deconstruction of the Vance Monument — down to its base.

“I can’t go past the Zeb Vance Monument without thinking about her (Manheimer’s lack of respect for the law),” as he contended, the city, by law, has to go through the state Monument Protection Act to change or remove the obelisk.

“So Esther (the mayor) comes to his (Edwards’) anti-crime summit and snatches the microphone out of his hands — and I say, ‘Who are you, Esther?’” contending that she is a lawbreaker because of the monument take-down and did not deserve the honor of being invited by Edwards to sit next to him during the panel discussion at his anti-crime summit.

Pointing to the hypocrisy that Asheville’s mayor represents, at least in his view, Edgerton said, “If you go to a City Council meeting and snatch the microphone out of her (Maheimer’s) hand, she would have you put in jail.”

As for Asheville’s panhandlers, he said, “If the mayor can get away with breaking the law, why shouldn’t they? Look what she did to the monument. Look at how she snatched the microphone out of the congressman’s hands...

“Nobody’s above the law. This lady (Manheimer) believes in her heart she is above the law. Nothing this mayor has done has been for the good of the city...”

He reiterated, “It was Mike Holcombe who told the CIBO that the City Council is incompetent. They don’t even have an engineer in the water department” — and according to Holcombe, the city “closed down the ‘key’ to the water system — its East Asheville Booster Pump Station — for no discernable reason. (Holcombe claims that if the EABPS had been operational, the holiday water crisis across Buncombe County — from four to 15 days — would have been averted.)

So what does Edgerton think is the solution to Asheville’s panhandling crisis? the Daily Planet asked.

“If the (city) police chief can’t handle it, give him his pension — and send him on his way,” Edgerton replied. “‘A crime is a crime’ — as Quentin Miller always says.”

He recalled a time, decades ago, when Miller was “a buck private” at the APD, and “Eagle-Market Street (a traditionally black business district in downtown Asheville) was worse than Dodge City at its peak, in terms of crime. It made Dodge City look like ‘a picnic with the pope.’ Quentin Miller came down to Eagle-Market Street and they (he, with the assistance of other officers) cleaned it up.“I see (city) police all the time… There’s no way in the world that you could drive by and not see these people (panhandlers) with their signs…” I have no faith in these people (city and APD leaders). They ‘talk’ a good game...

"With Rep. Edwards, they had the right people sitting at the table” for his anti-crime summit, “except for the mayor (Manheimer).“Instead of snatching the microphone — he (the congressman) got ‘dogged on.’ She (the mayor) should have presented him (Edwards) with two dozen roses and a plaque of appreciation... and she should have asked when the next (Asheville anti-crime summit) meeting would be. Instead, she ‘dogged’ on him...

“Here is also what I was critical of... You’ve got a mayor (Mondale Robinson in Enfield, N.C., in August 2022) bulldozing a Confederate monument (without state approval) — and nothing ever happened. Then you bring the SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) head (R.E. “Chip” Hawley) to Edwards’ meeting (anti-crime summit) to talk about Asheville crime — and he hasn’t even done his job with the Confederate monument” that was, in Edgerton’s view, illegally destroyed in Enfield. 

As for Edwards, Edgerton said, “Here’s a man who had his heart in the right place, wanting to do the right thing for his constituents,” who constantly were expressing their concerns about the crisis in crime in Asheville.“Last time I saw him (at a recent CIBO meeting), he looked so broken-hearted when the Asheville police chief was double-talking and saying council was giving them everything they asked for, as Esther was sitting there, listening.

In reality, council has given them (the APD) nothing, but a lot of double-talk, beaten up on them and defunded the police.”

Regarding Edwards’ critics, he said, “They lie on Edwards most of the time. Edwards is a good man — and I know how badly he must be feeling now,” given the behavior of Asheville’s mayor and the APD leaders. 

And what does he think of Miller? the Daily Planet asked.

“Give the police chief (David Zack) a bouquet of flowers, a retirement check and send him on his way,” Edgerton answered. “And he (Miller) should use his power as head law enforcement officer — and take over the Asheville Police Department and put all the men over to him… along with the sheriffs office” — and then clean up crime and the panhandlers in downtown Asheville and around the city.

“Clean it up, Quentin! You know what to do. Use the power that you have to run both the APD and the Buncombe Sheriff’s office. Thank the APD chief for coming in here.“He (Miller) knows what to do…. And he can get the help of the citizens. They will come (to his aid) if he asks them to,” Edgerton said, before quipping, “And I’ll come too… with my pencils, my ink pen, my signs and my flags!”

So what would Edgerton say to Asheville’s many motorists who appear delighted — and virtuous —  to give cash to panhandlers eagerly seeking handouts from them at many of the city’s intersections? the Daily Planet asked.

“It’s twisted logic,” Edgerton replied. “The police said most of these people are working for drug-dealers. Most of these people are not as poor and ragged as they say. The police said the drug cartel runs the panhandling.”

Further, he said before the homeless panhandlers arrived in Asheville en masse during the pandemic, the city (his hometown) — known widely as “The Paris of the South,” — was a city where “it used to be all that pretty stuff. Now they call it ‘Trashville.’”

Indeed, he described the Asheville of today as “crime-ridden, trashy” and crowded with homeless people everywhere. 

“It breaks my heart to know I can’t go (safely) to downtown Asheville,” Edgerton lamented. “It breaks my heart to see these people (the homeless) laying around on the streets” of Asheville — night and day.”

So is Edgerton optimistic about the future of Asheville — or does he think the city is “gone?” the Daily Planet asked.

“It’s not gone yet, but it’s on the way,” he answered, with a note of sadness.

To bring back Asheville as “The Paris of the South” in all of its past glory, Edgerton said, “Quentin Miller needs to take over all (local) law enforcement and Sandra Kilgore needs to be the mayor” of Ashevlle.

With a chuckle, he said of Kilgore, “I know what a good man her Daddy was — and how proud her Daddy was of her because of her accomplishments.”

In ending the interview, Edgerton added, “Mac Swicegood would make a great mayor, as well. I know that because I am very close to Mac — and we have many conversations. We agree about a lot of things that are happening here. And he has the courage, as he was a Vietnam veteran in the infantry, and he is a very kind man....”



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