Welcome to “& More This Week,” The Asheville Free Press’ weekly(ish) newsletter, where I round up a few headlines that stood out to me over the week and share them with some opinion and context. If you’re not already, sign up to get these and all of our articles straight to your inbox.
The State of the Reparations Commission.
This week, the Buncombe County government appointed the five representatives allotted to them as part of the Reparations Commission, completing the appointment process and bringing the total number to twenty-five.
The process of creating this commission has not been a smooth one. It began with the City of Asheville passing a resolution on July 14th, 2020 — during the uprising in the wake of Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd. The resolution, which gained prominence in national media shortly after a photograph of an Asheville cop went viral for destroying water bottles during a protest, prompted immediate criticism from some Black Ashevillians who saw it as little more than a public relations stunt.
The very next month, in August 2020, the person in charge of leading the process — Kimberlee Archie, director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion — resigned, citing “an unsupportive and/or hostile work environment.”
“There is [a] culture of lack of accountability within Asheville city government,” Archie said.
Several more staffers quit the department Archie was in charge of, leaving it empty for a while. The deadline for creating the Reparations Commission, initially set one year from the resolution, quietly passed in July 2021.
In September 2021, a document attributed to Rob Thomas of the Racial Justice Coalition circulated on social media. It outlines many issues with the process, and concludes that the process as outlined by the city is “Sluggish,” “Rushed,” “Top-Down,” and “Shallow.”
But now, seven months after the self-appointed deadline passed, we have a commission. Twenty-five locals have been appointed, and the commission will now begin its work, cutting millions of dollars in checks for Black locals!
Except, no, not really. The commission will do vague things such as “lead the charge” and “make suggestions.” (We all know how amenable our local government is to “suggestions.") While reparations are typically understood as direct cash payments to Black people, the City’s resolution calls for funding to programs that would increase “minority” (not specifically Black) homeownership, business ownership, and improving education and neighborhoods instead.
I want to be clear; these are good things. Economic measures that will transfer wealth into Black communities are absolutely necessary, as a stopgap as nothing else. But is this really “reparations?” I share some locals’ feelings that these measures don’t go far enough. And given our City’s affinity for over-promising and under-delivering, the fact that the budget is a mere 7% of the annual police budget, and the process’ rocky start, I’m skeptical. I’d love to be wrong.
Activists Disrupt City Council Retreat; Demand Sanctuary Camping and Climate Justice.
In case you missed it, a group of local activists held a protest this week, organized by the Sunrise Movement Asheville Hub, which stopped City Council’s annual “retreat” in its tracks moments after it began.
City Council’s “retreat” is the time when they publicly set priorities for their upcoming fiscal year. These protesters wanted to see two things as part of those priorities: the Climate Justice Initiative and sanctuary camping for unhoused urban campers.
Sandra Kilgore was the only Council member to engage with the protesters, sparking a heated argument over the financial feasibility of their demands.
City Council’s next budget work session is in early April.
Asheville Watchdog Uncovers Shady Circumstances Surrounding Mission Health's sale to HCA
Mission Health’s sale to HCA may have been “rigged,” according to an investigative report by Asheville Watchdog.
Internal documents state that Phil Green, the strategic advisor who led the charge for Mission’s sale to HCA, had an undisclosed business relationship with HCA. HCA was one of only two companies invited to make a formal bid. A third contender didn’t even make it that far.
“Too often, when one hospital swallows up another, patients end up paying more and getting worse care,” Attorney General Joshua Stein said to the Watchdog. “North Carolinians need better safeguards to review transactions to put the patients’ interest first.”
Well, that does it for this entry.
As always, please let me know if you have feedback, tips, or see a headline you’d like me to add to next week’s newsletter: Editor@AshevilleFreePress.com.
Ursula Wren, Editor
The Asheville Free Press