Asheville City Council candidate guide — Marc Hunt

by David Forbes September 27, 2015

Marc Hunt is Asheville’s incumbent Vice Mayor

Name: Marc Hunt

Profession: Former whitewater outfitter, community development lender, and land conservation professional

In up to two words, describe your political affiliation: Democrat

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I am deeply committed to improving our community, and I believe that my leadership as an elected official is the best way I can give to my community.

General questions

These questions are about problems, challenges or topics facing city government and how you would try to deal with them if elected.

1) According to recent studies, Asheville has an extremely low amount of available housing and the city’s currently making national lists as an unaffordable place to live. What steps would you pursue to deal with this issue?

The current Council has elevated affordable housing as a very high priority, has laid out very focused aims and goals, and I am fully supportive.  We are doing more than ever to address what has become a deep crisis – one that threatens community character and our economic growth.  We must continue to increase our funding for affordable housing initiatives, update our regulations to allow for greater density especially along transportation corridors, provide incentives to partners for affordable housing development, and improve collaborations with other levels of government and the private sector.  I want us to embark on a multi-decade initiative in partnership with the Housing Authority to smoothly transition all public housing into mixed-income neighborhoods.

2) During the past year, we’ve seen an increasing numbers of concerns raised about de facto racial segregation in Asheville, an issue worsened by the impacts of redlining, racism, urban renewal and the state of public housing. If elected, what specifically would you do to help address this problem?

There are two key challenges here. The first is geographic segregation, as a result of urban renewal and our public housing situation. Asheville has a higher proportion of its African-American residents living in public housing than other major cities in North Carolina. We must embark on a multi-decade effort to reshape our public housing neighborhoods into mixed-income and racially balanced neighborhoods. This cannot happen without significant effort on the part of local government. The second is related to the first, and it is that a higher proportion of African-Americans in Asheville are in poverty than in most other towns, and that is a result of the multi-generational cycle of poverty that predominates public housing. We must do more to create opportunity and pathways out of poverty, and I think that includes strengthened public education. Transformation of public housing will be fundamental here as well.

3) From internal disputes and problems with morale to concerns about racial disparities, many are wondering about the state of the Asheville Police Department. What specific steps do you see as necessary to reform the APD and improve relations with the community?

I believe we are currently on the proper track. Our City Manager has gathered very insightful research, has identified key challenges, and has articulated a detailed action plan. There have been significant changes to the authority structure in the department, and we have a new action-oriented and skillful Chief in Tammy Hooper. She was eager to be hired here to take on the specific challenges we face. The challenges in the department are deeply and culturally rooted, they took a long time to develop, and it will take some time to fix. Patience is in order. I am completely supportive of the track we are on, and intend to hold the City Manager accountable for performance on this point. I do not favor City Council members directly intervening in the affairs or supervision within the police department as some suggest (nor in any department, for that matter).

4) Wages in Asheville are well below the state average and federal data shows pay for many jobs here remains stagnant despite the tourism boom. If elected, what specific steps would you pursue to help boost local wages?

It is well known that municipalities in North Carolina are prohibited from setting minimum wage rates. By adopting a living wage policy that applies to ALL city employees, we are setting a standard and modeling good policy. I am very supportive of the efforts of Just Economics in this regard as well, and appeal to all employers to become Living Wage Certified. As a member of Council who is highly-engaged in economic development efforts in partnership with Buncombe County and others, I am a strong proponent of attracting and growing businesses that pay high wages. We should do still more to support growth of small businesses and entrepreneurism on that front.

5) The last city budget estimated the total cost of the city’s infrastructure needs at around $400 million. What steps would you encourage to address this problem, what funding sources would you use and what would the top priorities be?

In my role on the Finance Committee (currently Chairman), I have provided strong leadership in establishing our annual system of setting capital priorities over a five-year horizon – something that was not done effectively at the City Council level four years ago. We are investing more wisely now. I did support increase in our tax rate in order to fund capital priorities more fully. I have also supported increasing our long-term indebtedness to fund capital needs. Part of the result is our ability to gain outside grants like TIGER VI and other federal money for the RADTIP improvements. These initiatives all have root in our Finance Committee where I provide leadership. Going forward, capacity to raise taxes to directly add more funding for projects will be limited. I think we can improve external funding partnerships (private sector, TPDF, etc.), and I will continue to work on those initiatives.

Yes/No questions

These questions are about specific proposals 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.

1) A majority of Asheville City Council recently approved increased fines and enforcement to strengthen the ban on short-term rentals (i.e. Airbnb and similar sites) in most areas of the city. Do you support this move?

Yes, I supported that move and had a leadership role in developing the policy. I believe that the integrity of neighborhood life and affordability are at stake in how we manage this challenge.

2) City staff recently proposed a detailed plan to restrict busking in downtown in three major spots, with specific rules on the numbers of performers and the amount of space they can occupy. Do you support this proposal?

Yes, though the policy is not refined yet. I believe that it is reasonable and good policy to regulate activities on sidewalks and public spaces in order to ensure orderliness and safety. I also believe busking is a great asset and is important to support. I am glad to learn that there is productive dialogue underway between the buskers collective, staff members, and members of our Public Safety Committee of Council.

3) Do you support a $12.50 minimum wage for all city of Asheville employees, regardless of classification or status?

Yes, and I voted proudly for it this past Tuesday night at City Council!

4) Will you approve city funds to support the proposal, backed by the city-county African-American Heritage Commission, for a monument on Pack Square marking the contributions and history of Asheville’s black citizens?

Yes, and I believe the current Council is generally supportive of this. I would prefer to see a broader collaborative funding effort to ensure a higher quality marker and so that the community more broadly has invested in it.

5) This year’s city budget included a property tax increase, with a majority of the current Council claiming this was necessary due to revenue changes at the state level. Do you support that increase?

Yes, I voted for it in full support.