2017 Council primary guide — Adrian Vassallo

by David Forbes October 1, 2017

Name: Adrian Vassallo

Profession: CPA, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP

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

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: For 12 years I’ve been working throughout our community, I want to bring my experience and skillset to City Council to help make Asheville a great place for all of us.

General questions

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?

• Our City Manager needs a substantial performance review. My perception is that he is not performing to expectations.

• Our City Attorney unfortunately has been quite busy with lawsuits that the City is involved in. We should retain her, but there should be more transparency into how many lawsuits are happening and the reasons surrounding them.

• Our City Clerk is one of the best employees we have. While she is in the process of retiring, I am sure she is bringing our Deputy City Clerk up to speed with great mentoring.

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?

We’ve already implemented changes at the Council level for review of lodging establishments. I believe the best changes we can implement on growth are at the earlier stages of review. Having chaired Downtown Commission for 3 years, I always struggled with the “mandatory review, voluntary compliance”. If we allow our volunteer citizens to exercise more authority earlier in the process and we get citizens more engaged at these public meetings, we might actually agree more on the growth our community is experiencing. I do think that P and Z plays a critical role in the process, not just from a review perspective, but from a planning perspective. We should be pushing them and assigned City staff to do a better job of getting in front of issues, like hotel growth and affordable housing. Much of that planning would play into where we invest our resources into infrastructure as well.

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?

This is a city management issue. If our city employees are not adequately enforcing ordinances that we as a community put in place, then we need to be holding leadership accountable. No tenant should live in sub-standard or unsafe housing. Council should be directing our City Manager to bring enforcement back in line and it would be worth reviewing the penalties associated with violations.

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?

Unfortunately, we still have violence in our community and need police officers to curb this. We need todo a better job on training and officers need to be engaging with their assigned neighborhoods by “walking the beat”. This is not to say that we can’t also do a better job of supporting programs that build community. I do not favor shifting funds, but I would advocate for additional funding for our community program budget. I also think that the soon to be formed Human Relations Council should be tasked with soliciting community input on this issue and reporting back in a transparent way what the needs of all our citizens are.

5. What course of action do you favor in dealing with Asheville’s Confederate regime and segregation era monuments?

I support the forming of the Human Relations Council. I think their first order of business should be to host several community engagement events to decide the direction we take with the three Confederate monuments in Asheville. I will support whatever recommendation they come up with assuming that it has been through a fair and comprehensive community process.

Yes/No questions 

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?

Yes. I believe in supporting decisions with data. We now know that there is a significant disparity in the way people of color are targeted for traffic stops. We should be directing our Police Chief to implement changes in policy and training to address this issue. The aforementioned reforms are a minimal response. Training programs for our officers need to be implemented as well. We can also look to other cities for models that include prevention and assistance for the issues that lead to regulatory stops in the first place.

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. These are commercial districts and whole house STRs are a commercial enterprise. I do not support consideration of them in our residential neighborhoods until we hear from our Affordable Housing Commission on the data of how they affect our affordability. This is an economic issue, and we need the economic data to make that decision.

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?

Yes. However, we need to examine this further and see if this is only a “Band-Aid”. Keeping people in housing is important, but how long can we support the program financially? Will beneficiaries of the program have to pay back into the fund? What would the criteria be for support? These are questions that I would push down to AHAC for review before Council made a decision.

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. We should offer our endorsement and support of the ACLU’s lawsuit against the state. I attended the Campaign for Southern Equality’s event with Chris Brooks this summer and hope to see this legislation overturned.

10. Should the city of Asheville declare itself a sanctuary city, as some social justice and immigrants rights’ advocates have called for?

No. While this is a very important issue, we have so many problems at the local level that need our attention now. We shouldn’t be reacting to everything thrown at us from the national level. The issue above about unfair traffic stops is something we should address now. Our affordable housing crisis is an issue to be addressed now. We have limited time and especially resources as a community. Let’s focus our efforts on affecting the most positive change we can locally.