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Asheville sued for (reverse) racial discrimination in picking Human Relations Commission members
Saturday, 16 September 2023 14:04

From Staff Reports

Five individuals living in and around Asheville, all of whom are white, have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Asheville after the city refused —based on their race — to appoint them to its all-volunteer Human Relations Commission, the group WNC Citizens for Equality contended in a Sept 6 press release. 

On its website, WNCCE bills itself as “a citizen watchdog organization that promotes racial equality and defends the civil rights of persons living in Western North Carolina. WNCCE believes that all persons should be entitled to equal protection under the law, regardless of race.”

In the lawsuit, “Asheville attorney Ruth Smith is representing John Miall, Robyn Hite, David Shaw, Danie Johnson and Willa Grant, who applied but were not chosen to fill any of the commission’s four open slots in 2023,” Asheville television station WLOS (News 13) reported on Sept. 7. 

“If the city is putting quotas, saying, ‘We’re going to advantage all of these people based on skin color,’ it’s important to note they’re disadvantaging over 80 percent” of the city population,” the TV station quoted Smith as saying.

“The 15-member board sets aside eight seats based on racial classifications, as well other spots based on LGBTQ status, age and public housing residence,” the Raleigh-based Carolina Journal noted, adding that “the group WNC Citizens for Equality settled an earlier lawsuit with Asheville over a ‘racially discriminatory’ scholarship program.”

Specifically, “In 2022, the city backtracked and settled a lawsuit with local watchdog organization WNC Citizens for Equality after it sued the city for establishing scholarships for city high school students and teachers which were racially discriminatory,” News 13 noted.

In a separate legal move on Aug. 2, the WCCE filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Board of Education against PEAK Academy, a West Asheville-based charter school, over what it alleges are racist admissions of students and racist hiring of faculty and staff. The complaint alleges reverse discrimination, favoring blacks over whites.

In its press release sent to the Daily Planet, the WCCE stated the following:

“The Human Relations Commission is an advisory board established in 2019 by the city to ‘promote and improve human relations and achieveequity among all citizens in the city,’ according to the city’s website. The city explains on its website that boards and commissions like the Human Relations Commission offer participants ‘a voice in the city’s growth and future’ and an opportunity to be responsible for ‘making decisions regarding policy, service and education.

“In establishing the Human Relations Commission, the city established rules regarding who could serve. Applicants who are non-white are automatically qualified to serve on the commission.

“However, white persons must meet additional criteria to serve: be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, live in public housing, have a disability, be under age 25, or be a ‘community leader.’ Even if a white applicant does meet this additional criteria, the city’s rules state that no more than seven of the 15 members of the commission can be white. (The City of Asheville is over 81 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)

In March, 2023, the city advertised that it had four openings on the commission and invited persons to apply for the positions. The five plaintiffs, who are all white, all applied. But rather than appoint the white applicants, the city chose instead to leave two of the positions vacant and readvertise the positions. 

“The city never bothered to interview the five candidates or otherwise make any inquiry into their qualifications. 

“‘They never asked me a thing,’ says John Miall, one of the plaintiffs. ‘They just took one look at my skin color and rejected me. I have a lot to offer, but that doesn’t matter, I guess.’

“‘The city’s actions here are absolutely unconstitutional,’ says local attorney Ruth Smith, who is representing the five plaintiffs. ‘The city cannot offer civic opportunities to some persons, and deny it to others, based on race. What’s more, the city is well aware that their actions are illegal.’ Their own lawyer told them as much last year, but the city ignored her. 

“Ms. Smith refers to a meeting of the commission on June 16, 2022, where Asheville City Attorney Aairn Miles met with the Human Relations Commission and advised them to change the racial requirements for service, as these requirements were unconstitutional. 

“Chairperson Tanya Rodriguez, who is black, rejected this advice. Ms. Rodriguez stated that she did not want ‘our color …diluted out of the commission...’”

Further, the WCCE’s release quoted Smith as saying the following, 

“The city’s leadership knows what they are doing is illegal. They do it because they think no one would dare challenge them. 

“I am just so proud of my five clients for being willing to stand up for their rights, and the rights of all persons in Asheville to be free from racial discrimination. 

“Without them, the City of Asheville would continue to be a place where you are excluded from city benefits just because of your skin color. None of us should live in such a place — and the Constitution says we don’t have to.”

Meanwhile, WNCCE President Carl Mumpower (who also is a long-time columnist for the Daily Planet) offered the following summation of a series of unprecedented challenges now faced by local government and community agencies in concluding the release:

“We have people in Asheville, either through naïveté or malice, who feel liberated to ignore the hard-won progress of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as they openly advocate racial discrimination. 

“As a nation and community, we have worked too hard to achieve commendable progress on eliminating race as a measurement of eligibility for anything. 

“It is our honor to support constructive, creative, legal ways to challenge those who would recklessly attempt to take us back in time.”

Notwithstanding, in its Sept. 7 report on the lawsuit, News 13 reported that a city spokesperson noted — in a statement — that the city has been served and its attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit. 

The TV station also noted that Smith, the WNCCE attorney, said the lawsuit also named Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell and Mayor Esther Manheimer “as defendants in the case because they are the city’s top leaders.”



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