Name: Andrew Fletcher
Profession: Musician (jazz piano), Tour Guide (LaZoom)
In up to two words, describe your political affiliation: Independent
In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I believe our politicians should live like the people they represent, which means we need to vote for candidates who work paycheck-to-paycheck, renters, folks that understand struggling economically in this city, and that describes me and the rest of us who have for so long gone underrepresented in Asheville politics.
These questions are about problems, challenges or topics facing city government and how you will try to deal with them if elected.
1. Of the current top city officials that answer directly to City Council — City Attorney, City Manager and City Clerk — which ones would you favor retaining or firing? Why?
I’d like to hire a new City Manager and a new City Attorney. I want a City Manager who fully and transparently executes the will of our elected officials, is willing to lead on equity and social justice issues, and is capable of delivering important quality of life government services and policies that will benefit the working class folks like me that are really struggling. I want a City Attorney that’s willing to fight for human rights issues as hard as we fought for retaining city ownership of the water system. The biggest problems I encountered with the busking advocacy I led in the past few years convinced me of this. Instead of communicating with us and treating our ideas and needs as valuable, city management treated public meetings as set-piece battles, where their victory meant our defeat. Instead of a battle, it should have been a cooperative process. And part of the reason we defeated the worst of those proposed policies was that the city legal department was proposing laws that would not have survived a First Amendment lawsuit. We can do much better at both positions.
2. The powers granted to the planning and zoning commission are a key point of debate in how Asheville should deal with growth and how much of a direct role elected officials should play. Do you think those powers should change, If so, how?
Planning and Zoning has written a lot of blank checks to developers because the board is not built to consider “big picture” issues, macro issues like the rise in rental prices. The charter and makeup of the board needs to be reconstructed to empower (and disempower) P&Z to respond to the current issues the city faces with development run amok. Yes, there’s danger to developers in politicizing development, but the risks of negatively affecting entire communities because development is out of control is much greater. If we’re such a thriving place that successful developers want to bring their capital here, we need to make sure that their success is our success too. If we keep up our current development trends we’re going to stop being Asheville, NC and turn into Anywhere, USA. The market here is, for now, hot enough where we have the upper hand in negotiating with developers. It’s time we use it.
3. Some Pisgah Legal Services attorneys recently criticized city staff’s enforcement of tenant protections, asserting that they don’t sufficiently enforce the written ordinance and place additional burdens on tenants dealing with bad landlords. How would you change or reinforce the city’s tenant protections and their enforcement?
I’m a renter so this question hits pretty close to home for me – literally. That being said, I’m lucky to have had a good relationship with my landlord (Hi Kathy!), and for 10 years I’ve been in the same house. Many, many others are not so lucky. Some of the other candidates probably don’t spend much time with people who have lived these horror stories, but I do. I hear again and again of unheated, unsafe homes, and from people who have had their $1200 security deposits flat-out stolen from them. Staff enforcement of tenant rights is so bad that most people don’t even bother to report their housing problems for fear of eviction. We need to educate renters about their rights, start treating complaints seriously, acting promptly on them to throw the book at the exploitative, dishonest landlords that are serial offenders.
4. In response to a community push that cited the de facto segregation shown in reports like the State of Black Asheville, the Buncombe County Commissioners recently supported taking funds intended for a jail expansion and instead putting them towards community support and rehabilitation. Do you favor a similar shifting of Asheville’s law enforcement funds? If so, to what extent and to what kind of programs?
The Buncombe County Commission made the right move, and it’s past time for the City of Asheville to follow. If we truly want safer communities, we need equity and economic mobility for our poorest neighborhoods. Some ways to do that include redirecting law enforcement money to job training, education, and infrastructure in underinvested communities. It’s a desperate need for many. And that will only happen politically, which is why it’s so important to vote. I’ve realized this: we’re not going to find the police chief that suggests plans that will fix this, and no bureaucrat will ever argue for redirecting their budget. If this change is going to happen it’s going to be demanded by the community who will vote for elected leaders that listen and respond to citizen concerns on policing issues instead of just apologizing for the latest outrage and then ignoring the underlying problems. And we’ll need a City Manager who acts promptly to implement those policies.
5. What course of action do you favor in dealing with Asheville’s Confederate regime and segregation-era monuments?
The Vance Monument should be removed and relocated to the Vance Birthplace and properly contextualized there. The Robert E. Lee / Dixie Highway monument should be ground to gravel. Some personal history: I grew up a voracious reader and when I was 9 years old or so I was a Civil War history buff. I studiously learned all the lies of the Lost Cause myth that are made available to children. It was not until much later that I learned the real history of the war, and of Reconstruction, of Jim Crow and segregation and how our past has built the systemic racism of today. So I can see in my own story that these monuments help to miseducate children about who our heroes should be, what values we celebrate, and who gets a full share in society. For persons of color this type of miseducation makes the world a more dangerous place. I see the nation and city we live in as made up of a compromise between a disgusting racist past and a truly equitable multi-cultural future. Before we can build that better future, we must fix our present by tearing down monuments that glorify the many sins of the past.
These questions are about specific proposals Asheville City Council has or may consider, and how you would vote on them. The first word of each answer must be Yes or No. An explanation of one’s position — or an alternative proposal — may follow. Answers in this section that do not begin with “Yes” or “No” will not be published.
6. Earlier this year, the local NAACP — backed by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice — called for several reforms in an attempt to address racial disparities in the APD’s traffic stops. Those reforms included: ending regulatory stops for minor issues like expired registration or a busted headlight, written consent for a driver agreeing to allow a vehicle search and a transparent investigation into why full stop numbers may not have been reported to the SBI. Do you favor the full and immediate adoption of these reforms?
7. Do you favor extending the ban on whole home/apartment Airbnb-style rentals to areas where the practice is currently allowed, such as downtown and the River Arts District?
No. But! Please keep reading because STRs are destroying our community and I’m passionate about stopping that. Basically, our current, failing system is this: whole house STRs are 100% legal downtown, 0% legal (almost) everywhere else. Homestays, where you rent an extra room in the house you live, are permit regulated and I support keeping that. This is a very complicated problem, and the current crisis has shown us that an under-enforced ban simply doesn’t work. To get the large decrease in whole-house STRs that will restore some sanity to our rental housing market and start bringing our residents back, they must be highly limited and heavily regulated. If we want to keep the number of whole-house STRs low and start to reverse the conversion of long term to short term housing, we have to destroy the STR black market with a very limited legal market and mountainous fines for scofflaws. This would bring AirBnB and the others to the negotiating table where we can get THEM to only list STRs that have a valid, city permit and safety inspection. In downtown, entire buildings are evicting long-time tenants to cash in on the gold rush with zero limits. The same system of regulation needs to be city wide, with no exception for downtown or RAD. This is no small task. We will need a superior city legal team that’s willing to take this on with a creative scheme and a courtroom strategy. This is also a strategy to build a political coalition of renters alongside local STR operators who would rather leave the black market and get a permit. Together, we can defeat the real culprits: out-of-town STR investors who don’t live and can’t vote here. Ideas that don’t win can’t help. This is an idea that can win.
8. Do you favor the city establishing a rental crisis fund that would give direct monetary assistance to those in danger of being pushed out by rapidly rising rents, with priority given to those in the most marginalized and rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods?
9. Lambda Legal and other civil rights groups have dubbed HB142 a “fake repeal” of the HB2 legislation that discriminates against LGBT (especially trans) people and sued to overturn it. Should the city of Asheville formally condemn HB142, pass a non-discrimination ordinance in defiance of it and prepare to defend that ordinance in court?
Yes. This is a human rights issue, and human rights are non-negotiable. Full stop.
10. Should the city of Asheville declare itself a sanctuary city, as some social justice and immigrants rights’ advocates have called for?
Yes. Any time one of Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and immoral policies comes to town to co-opt our police force and spend our local taxpayer’s dollars, I would consider it to be my duty to refuse.