Name: Esther Manheimer
Profession: [candidate did not reply]
In up to two words, describe your political affiliation: [candidate did not reply]
In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: [candidate did not reply]
These questions are about problems, challenges or topics facing city government and how you will try to deal with them if elected.
1. The scandal surrounding the actions of former County manager Wanda Greene have spurred a public debate about the level of accountability elected officials enforce on high-ranking local officials and the budgets they oversee. What’s your assessment of the city’s current processes for ensuring scrutiny of the budget and senior city staff? Are they sufficient? If not, how would you favor changing them?
Trust and transparency are paramount to doing the job of an elected official. And elected officials must be accountable to the people they serve. During my time in office, the city had enhanced the transparency of the budgeting process by holding more meetings and work sessions (meetings open to the public) to discuss the components of the budget. The city has also begun making budget data available to the public online throughout the process. While some of the budgeting process is statutorily mandated, the city can and does expand the opportunities for the public to see, hear and examine the pieces that make up the budget and provide feedback and input about items folks like, dislike or want changed.
It’s especially important that the city council provide opportunities to discuss and hear feedback about the operating budget and the capital budget. The capital budget is planned and re-planned multiple years into the future and the city seeks the public’s opinion about this multimillion dollar, multi-year strategic capital plan. It’s the job of the city to help educate residents about the process and how they can be most effective in communicating support, disapproval or a change in direction. The city staff have worked hard to ensure a smooth, transparent budgeting process and have also worked to achieve the city’s now AAA bond rating, an indicator of a fiscally sound municipality.
2. What role do you believe the city of Asheville should play in dealing with the current opioid epidemic and assisting local harm reduction efforts? What, if any, of the city’s current policies on this front would you push to change?
I support a treatment-focused approach to the opioid crisis. The people of Asheville recognize that the opioid crisis is just that, a crisis, specifically an addiction crisis that is killing thousands of Americans. A multi-prong approach is needed to try to get people to treatment, not jail. Just this month, the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and the Asheville Police Department announced an initiative to fight trafficking in heroin and opioid related drugs. The focus of the initiative is to work together to channel people suffering from addiction to treatment and not to jail, and to get drug-addicted people through diversion programs such as drug treatment court. The city and county can also provide a safe place to dispose of opioids people might have in their homes. And, the city must work with area partners such as VAYA Health who can provide treatment options as well as provide care providers with overdose-reversal kits including Narcan. The city must also partner with non-profit agencies that provide needle exchanges.
3. Local public housing is home to over 3,000 Ashevillians. While the housing authority is an independent agency, the city plays a major role in its operations, from the mayor’s power to appoint its governing board to partnering on the Lee Walker Heights overhaul and the controversial APD public housing unit. What changes would you propose in the city’s policies and approach towards public housing?
Public housing in Asheville has, over the years, grown into isolated pockets of poverty that serve to promote generational poverty. The City (and the County) must continue to work together with the Housing Authority, as well as other affordable housing providers, to provide more and better options for public housing residents. We must re-imagine and re-develop public housing so that residents, including the hundreds of children living in public housing, can count on having a safe place to live. Also, public housing itself can be an impediment to the upward economic mobility of public housing residents due of the impacts of concentrated poverty.
The new approach being taken with Lee Walker Heights—creating a mixed-income development that first and foremost provides housing to all of the current occupants of Lee Walker—is an innovative approach designed to ensure that development is no longer a place of concentrated poverty. I support it. This model has been successful in other cities, where it has created safer, more diverse, and more resilient neighborhoods.
4. This summer saw a major controversy concerning cost overruns, transparency concerns and prioritization in the city’s massive infrastructure overhaul in the River Arts District. What’s your assessment of that situation and what approach do you favor going forward?
I was extremely disappointed that council had only one meeting between the time we learned that bids came in significantly higher than previously projected for the RADTIP construction, to the deadline to make a decision about moving forward. Ultimately, the council made the right decision to move forward as this decision preserved the $14,000,000 in federal highway grants already awarded to the city. Without moving forward, the city would have lost the federal funding and was up against a deadline that ensured the city could receive that federal funding. The other option was to wait, lose the grant and hope that the cost of construction would come down. That seemed unlikely.
RADTIP is the largest project undertaken by the city to date, in terms of financial investment. The planning has taken place over many years. This experience has helped us understand that forecasting costs over many years must be handled with much more attention and detail. And it is also important for staff to provide the council with incremental updates as the city moves through the capital projects. The city has now created a website to provide detailed information, including financial information, about all ongoing capital projects. Again, accountability and transparency are the building blocks of trust and the city needs to do all it can to earn that trust.
5. What rules do you favor for short-term rentals (Airbnb-style vacation rentals of a whole home or apartment) and homestays (permitted vacation rentals of a room or part of a home by its occupant)?
I favor the current regulations allowing homestays and banning whole house or whole unit short term rentals in residential districts.
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. Would you vote to repeal the controversial $1 million expansion of the APD’s downtown policing efforts initiated earlier this year?
No. There is no $1 million expansion of downtown policing. Instead, following City Council’s request that she revisit her original proposal, the Asheville Police Chief requested an amount less than $500,000 in order to create a downtown unit using the community policing model. And the funds for this unit were captured through other cuts. Downtown is a unique neighborhood and I support this effort to use the community policing model to better serve the residents, employees, visitors, and business owners of downtown.
7. Following years of pressure from local residents and activists, funds have been allocated to renovate the Walton Street pool, but city staff have pushed to use those to build a new pool at the Grant Center. Members of the Southside Advisory Board object, favoring a renovation or rebuilding on the current site, and a city survey of the area’s residents saw 64 percent of respondents back this approach. Do you favor renovating or rebuilding the Walton Street pool on its current site?
Yes. I favor the community’s consensus around a plan for the reconstruction of the Walton Street pool. This is a community decision and I have personally attended neighborhood meetings where this decision was discussed. The council’s job is to help the community realize their vision by supporting it and securing the funds to make it a reality.
8. Do you favor the city passing a fair housing ordinance based on that enacted by Greensboro’s local government?
Yes. If our current ordinances are lacking and could be improved with language that is strategic and legal, I support improving our ordinances or adopting additional ordinances.
9. Are you voting “Yes” or “No” on the current ballot referendum to divide future Council member elections into six districts?
10. Should Council revise the city charter to make the new equity manager position an independent office directly accountable to elected officials instead of the city manager?
No. Delivering on our commitment to equity and inclusion will require sustained effort and direction. Tying the Equity and Inclusion Manager to City Council would politicize the role. City Council members come and go, and, if they are doing their jobs well, this position should function without the council’s direct oversight.