2017 Council primary guide — Dee Williams

by David Forbes October 1, 2017

Name: Dee Williams

Profession: President, Dee Williams and Company, Inc.(small business, non-profit, government community economic development, contract acquisition/management, financial analysis, loan packaging, and capacity-building).

In up to two words, describe your political affiliation: Independent, Greens

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I am a native born black business woman who has strong analytical skills, a superior work ethic, coupled with love for people to bring access to opportunities, hope,  and an enhanced quality of life to families.

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?

I would never make that decision based on an opinion that is not grounded in fact.  I believe that all of them should be given a fair chance to perform, or not to perform, accordingly.  I believe that too much emphasis is placed on these positions, especially the Manager, as all are “hired hands.” It is the job of an elected official to exert due diligence and “healthy skepticism.” I would never rely on any of these direct “reports” to interpret data  or financial information.  Council is charged with oversight via the various Council Committees and with regular reporting.  It is up to Council to provide proper oversight and to provide apt fiduciary diligence with these individuals, with regular reports and updates, so that the excessive cost over runs like with RADTIP, do not happen.  Timely updates, via charge to the City Manager, can provide information which may forestall a near disaster.

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?

Those powers did change, as Council ceded its authority for large developments, like hotels over to P and Z.  As long as these developers met the ” check list”, they were allowed to over-proliferate our Downtown without regard to the effects of low wage, and wear on our infrastructure.  The Council only rescinded its authority back in March, but the damage and the hotel over-proliferation, replete with low wages, and multi-national corporations who send their profits out of town, are left.

Cities have statutory “police power” and to regulate and control development such that this development does not become damaging to its citizens or environs. Council should be intimately involved in deciding how growth is regulated in our City. Without this, as we have been shown when our Council ceded its rights to P and Z, the damage is severe to the sustainability of our local economy.

If this development does not pay a living wage, contribute to affordable housing, or help to repair our infrastructure, we do not need it.  The acid test for any development is, ” will it help Asheville’s people?”

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?

The burden for making or giving notice to the landlord before contacting the City should not be mandated.  All property should be maintained to the standards of the Minimum Housing Code and is not on the Tenant for following a prescribed written procedure to notify the Landlord before calling the City.  This extra procedure should be omitted, since the law mandates minimum standards and when a property does not meet it, the responsibility to correct it falls on the Landlord, only.  This responsibility of the Tenant to notify the Landlord in writing first, before notifying the City needs to be discontinued, as the Tenant has no part in the responsibility of notification of the Landlord in writing before the City can act to enforce the standards.

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?

There was a shifting of capital funds by the County in which they did not build another/larger jail, etc.  I believe that the APD’s officers need to be paid fairly, and  these officers need to be trained in implicit bias, community policing, and they need to have at least a 2 year degree, rather than coming to the force right out of high school.

The reports showed massive and disproportionate disinvestment and the greatest  destruction of capital in any black community in North Carolina during Urban Renewal, and the widest black achievement gap in the state, as well.  Until specified reforms are undertaken which will reduce documented racial profiling in stops, searches, and uses of force, no additional funding to perpetrate the same profiling, should be used as these disproportionate encounters/profiling of black detainees may  produce unnecessary injuries and even deaths, according to the data which is found in the N.C. Policing Tool which substantiates the existence of ” racial profiling.”

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

The State of North Carolina regulates whether they are taken down.  I am not a proponent of diverting attention on these monuments, but just like Rev. Barber of the NAACP said, ” We are dealing with outward vestiges like these monuments, but not dealing with the  systemic causes of racism and the attendant poverty which this racism has caused.”  I will let those who want to ” dwell in symbolism” attack these Statues which are ” shiny things”, while those of us who problem-solve, attack the ” root, rather than the branch. of the problem.

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 am Chair of this NAACP Criminal Justice Committee Initiative, along with PRC Applications, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. We are still working with APD on mutual agreement of  data points.  We have also worked on issues of quality control in making sure that all of the data is uploaded to the N.C. Department of Justice data base and quality control procedures to ensure accuracy.  We also have worked on obtaining the geographic locations for stops to be provided in each report for local information.  We have also agreed that YTD information needs to be provided and then, quarterly reports to Council Committee and then to the public to enhance transparency and accountability, as well as bench-marking to chart progress or the lack, thereof.

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?

Yes. I am in favor of only owner occupied rentals, with the owner living on the premises.  Many of our legacy owners are using this ” tool” to pay escalating property taxes and fees, to help with maintenance, and other high costs just so they can stay in their homes in Asheville.  Many are elderly and on fixed incomes. We do not need Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT’s) ” hollowing out” entire neighborhoods with these whole house Airbnb’s as well as the fact that these units add to the unaffordability of rental housing in Asheville.

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, most of us in Asheville are one paycheck away from disaster and renters are cost-burdened beyond 33% of gross income.  Most of us must work two and three low wage jobs to try to survive.  The answer does not lie in ” shuttling folks who are poor out of the City via transit.”  That is surrender to gentrification. There is room for all of us ” at this table” if we use intentional policies to create equity.  The best thing is not becoming homeless or evicted in the first place, so this rental crisis fund would be a great help to vulnerable people.

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. There are some things worth fighting for and going to court over – this is one of them.  Sometimes, elected leaders need a jawbone to ” speak truth to power”.  After that, they need a backbone to do what is right and pass a non-discrimination ordinance in defiance of HB142  and take the moral ground, and prepare to go to court.  Other municipalities will join us, as well.  It takes leadership and a moral conviction to stand up for what is right.

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

Yes. We do not need the Byrne funds for law enforcement,  as it is the incentive to wage the ” failed War on Drugs” and gives incentives to mass incarceration and promulgation of the prison industrial complex.