2017 Council election guide — Sheneika Smith

by David Forbes November 1, 2017

Name: Sheneika Smith

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]

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. 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?

It is my understanding that unlike the County, the City of Asheville does not have early retirement or retention bonuses, and all salary increases have to be approved in the budget. Additionally, there is a strict policy for notifying City management if any employee has a family relationship with another City employee. These policies help combat the worst abuses seen by Wanda Greene.

However, despite these precautions, I have been concerned over the level of transparency displayed by the City Manager’s office in the process of creating budgets and informing members of Council about priorities. It seems as if at times the method of allocating funds is nebulous and driven by a particular narrative. Take for instance the conversation held around increasing funds to expand transit, which was viewed as a half cent addition to already rising property taxes, while the additional million dollars asked for and received by the Asheville Police Department were seen as simply the cost of doing business. Local transit activists have called this a budget “shell game”.

Additionally, I am concerned with the generally high salaries paid by the City of Asheville to senior staff. A recent Carolina Public Press story stated that: “Of the 10 highest paid municipal employees in the region, eight work in Asheville. City manager Gary Jackson’s salary of $190,452 per year is the highest overall in WNC.” More internal audits need to be in place and a schedule of periodically assessing spending and overhead. I would push for the budgeting work sessions to become more open to the public, and the real-time changes to the budget document published on the City’s website. As a member of Council, I would ask for simplicity in the creation of budgets and justifications from the City Manager’s office for all expenditures.

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?

Let’s start by driving messages that reduce criminalization of drug use. Drug addiction has been a leading epidemic in communities of color for years and has been penalized as a matter of criminality instead of recognized as a health crisis. But now that opioids have invaded white suburbia, there seems to be a double standard regarding addition. Truthfully, what people need most is heartfelt compassion instead of detached appeals for more punishment and police force action across the board. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem. I propose COA work with Buncombe County Health And Human Services and the Sheriff’s Department alongside the Asheville Police Department to explore the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), where addicts are fast-tracked into treatment and not jail. I would also like to see us look closely at harm-reduction solutions that have worked in other communities such as needle exchange programs, safe consumption sites, and reducing financial barriers to rehabilitation

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?

Residency in public housing shouldn’t become a life sentence to inter-generational poverty. Yet unfortunately if we look at the history of public housing in Asheville, it has helped to foster conditions of economic segregation. We need to view public housing as transitory, as means to an end for community members to eventually move on to home ownership and generational wealth creation. It is important to note that the recent Vision 2036 for the City doesn’t even deal with a plan for public housing beyond the redevelopment of Lee Walker Heights. To that end, I favor a suite of wraparound services that align local nonprofits and service providers in everything from job training and placement, to financial planning and first time home buying counseling that would help ensure that residents have a chance to join the mainstream of community economic life.

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?

The problems associated with the Rad-Tip redevelopment are ones of over-promising and under-delivering. Especially concerning is the fact that the initial hook for bringing Federal money into the mix through the Department of Transportation TIGER grant was the Complete Streets Livingston project that would have brought much needed pedestrian safety measures and other infrastructure improvements to a marginalized neighborhood, however now this part of the proposed work has been seemingly cut out due to cost overruns. The majority of the problem seems to stem from trusting in one large-scale procurement process. I would be interested to see if we could have broken up this massive project into more manageable components that would have allowed for more small bids from local companies. Additionally, how might we have reverse engineered that needs of this project to help stand up local firms capable of meeting the needs of this project, while saving the City money in the long term.

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)?

Asheville is in the midst of a twin crisis of housing supply and overall affordability. I sympathize with residents witnessing the hotel industry making record profits while they struggle to pay rising property taxes and have turned to the sharing economy just to get by. I’m also challenged with the fact that only around 20% of African-Americans inside city-limits own their own homes, and this conversation excludes their hopes and dreams. I also hear the concerns of renters who have difficulty finding a place to live because homes being turned into STRs, and advocates who fear out-of-town corporations hollowing out neighborhoods.

To alleviate the affordable housing problem we must build units in the “missing middle” for our service industry workforce. That is why I support more money for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. I believe in a middle path utilizing a city-wide regulation scheme through conditional use permitting to combat the excesses of the STRs. I would consider a separate occupancy tax on STRs that was funneled directly into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. I would also like to examine whether a twilight clause could be placed on ADU short term rentals that transitioned them to long-term rental after a set period of time.

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. Would you vote to repeal the controversial $1 million expansion of the APD’s downtown policing efforts initiated earlier this year?

Yes. Police have been overburdened with tasks outside of their expertise—such as dealing with homelessness, drug use, educational discipline and mental illness. Many communities have created community based alternatives aimed at addressing issues of public safety that do not rely on police intervention or incarceration. Restorative justice is that alternative to police and incarceration and has a long history in other parts of the world. Restorative justice deemphasizes punishment and focuses on making communities whole after incidents of violence or trauma. A vote to repeal $1 million for the APD would be contingent on APDs continued work with Vera Institute around tackling the most pressing injustices of our day—from the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, racial disparities, and the loss of public trust in law enforcement, to the unmet needs of the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those harmed by crime and violence.

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. The development of the Grant Center was not a proposed action that the Southside community ever favored. The space is not considered a community resource, as evidenced by the lack of utilization and involvement in planned activities there. Therefore plans to subvert the communities request, yet again and not renovate appears to be the usual ……..The community has spoken loudly with their request to save the Walton Street Pool and have it registered as a historic landmark because of its significance during integration when other city-wide pools were restricted to white users only due to Jim Crow laws.

8. Do you favor the city passing a fair housing ordinance based on that enacted by Greensboro’s local government?

Yes. I would encourage more statewide collaboration with sister cities around social justice and equity issues of our day. There are many municipal bodies within NC who are standing boldly for the people and against legislation from Raleigh.

9. Are you voting “Yes” or “No” on the current ballot referendum to divide future Council member elections into six districts?

No. This is a power move coming from Raleigh attempting to dilute the power of the people’s voice. It was done recently with the judicial redistricting legislation, impacting mainly judges of color and female judges. Double-bunking is what they call it and is forces incumbents within the same districts to compete for the same seats.

This municipal election has already been a historic one. We have the opportunity to have the most diverse council in Asheville’s history, not to mention, voter turnout has increased. I would hate for this proposed redistricting plan to shift us back to voter apathy or siloed neighborhoods and political priorities.

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?

Yes, but first I would consider staffing the position with a research team and legal advisors.