2017 Council election guide — Vijay Kapoor

by David Forbes November 1, 2017

Name: Vijay Kapoor

Profession: Municipal Budget and Compensation Consultant

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

In one brief sentence, describe yourself and why you’re running: I’m the child of immigrant parents from India and Poland, have worked in and around local government all my professional career, work nationally on public sector budget and compensation issues, and I’m running to ensure that all Asheville residents go to sleep each night feeling safe, fed, healthy and valued.

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 processe for ensuring scrutiny of the budget and senior city staff? Are they sufficient? If not, how would you favor changing them?

Not being a current council member, it’s difficult to know what are all the current processes that scrutinize the budget and senior staff. As it relates to the budget, I’ve repeatedly called for implementing a five-year operating budget projection so that we can fully understand the impact of financial decisions. A five-year projection also helps with transparency as the process of developing it – where you critically look at each line item and ask what it’s for and at what rate it may grow or decrease – adds another layer of review. It’s much harder to hide things when looking over a multi-year period.

As it relates to senior city staff, and frankly all city staff, we need to make sure that annual performance reviews are being done. That’s a best practice in the public sector, the private sector and the non-profit world.

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?

We must approach this in a comprehensive way with non-profits and other local governments including Buncombe County as well as with support from the state and federal governments – it’s too big and complicated of a problem for any one entity to attack by itself. I am very willing to listen to those in the public health and the public safety community who know more about the specific steps that we as a city and a region should implement and take. The region should work together to develop a comprehensive plan that outlines the roles and responsibilities of each entity and what they will do. Regarding a likely specific issue related to the approach, I am in support of needle exchange programs.

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?

Throughout this campaign, I have strongly advocated for the need to have City Council focus on the needs of its residents and neighborhoods. That obviously includes residents who live in public housing. What seems to have worked best across the country is for public housing to be interconnected with other communities as opposed to being isolated. If I am elected to City Council, I would want to sit down with residents in public housing to better understand what they see their needs to be. I would also look hard at the rationale for why the mayor, and not the full council, has the authority to appoint the housing authority’s board.

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?

As someone who has led complex government projects and contract bids, I know how difficult they are to manage. But what appears to have happened with the River Arts District re- development project or “RADTIP” has stunned me. I wrote a long opinion piece on the situation which can be found at www.kapoorforcouncil.org/issues/radtip-mess and raised the following questions:
• Why did only a few companies bid on parts of the project?
• Why didn’t City staff immediately notify the public and City Council when the bids came back? Were staff directed not to notify the public or City Council and, if so, by whom and why? Why didn’t staff ask for an emergency City Council meeting, deliver the bad news, and inform City Council on a proposed plan forward?
• Given that City staff obviously knew they would need additional funding from City Council, why wasn’t this possibility even raised during budget discussions?
• What is the plan moving forward to make sure that this does not happen again? Do we not have enough staff to manage this project? Do we need a new oversight process?
• What does this mean for other capital projects the City has in the pipeline? Will any of them be delayed or replaced because of the additional $6 million City Council approved for RADTIP?

Without rehashing every detail of what happened, it’s clear that City Council needed to provide greater oversight. This is the biggest capital project in Asheville’s history and City taxpayers bear the bulk of the expense. City Council has an obligation to find out what happened and why so that this does not happen again.

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)?

During this campaign, I have been asked more questions about my views on short-term rentals than any other issue. Over the summer, I worked with a UNC Chapel Hill student to learn more about the issue by talking to residents and some who served on the ADU Task Force, reading reports, and conducting our own analysis and research. We spent considerable time researching how other cities including New Orleans, LA addressed these issues.

I’ve posted a long, comprehensive summary of my thoughts on this issue on my website in the “issues” section. I’ll simplify it here given space constraints. First, I am opposed to whole home or whole apartment rentals anywhere in the city. I support short-term rentals as homestays. More generally, I would like enhanced enforcement of the current rules in order to reduce the number of short-term rentals operating illegally and I am willing to consider a pilot program for ADUs (as homestays) limited in time (18 months) and number (125) to gather data and evaluate their impact.

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?

No. During the budget process, I spoke out against adding additional police officers because I didn’t think that the budget reflected the true cost of those officers and because I was concerned with the current high turnover in the department. Adding additional employees creates a recurring cost (i.e., one that happens each year as opposed to a “one time” cost) and the budget did not show the cost impact for future years. I still have these concerns, but Council approved the increase and these officers are in the process of being hired. Going forward, I would need to see a better cost estimate and a plan to deal with turnover before I would support any future expansions.

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?

[Candidate’s answer did not have “yes” or “no” as first word.]

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

Yes, assuming that Asheville has the legal authority to enact such an ordinance.

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

No. I’ve spoken out against districts, had an op-ed published in the Citizen-Times opposing this move, and was also interviewed by Blue Ridge Public radio expressing my concerns. I believe that the current system of permitting every voter to be able to vote for every Council member better ensures that Council members are accountable to the entire City. Under a district system, there is a much greater likelihood that parts of the City will be pitted against each other as Council members protect their “turf.” Further, I believe that the district bill was motivated by political ideology not by the desire for geographical representation.

I think that all options are on the table if voters don’t approve the ballot measure including litigation. The ability for a community to be able to choose its own representatives is fundamentally important to our democracy. This is a decision for Asheville residents, not Raleigh.

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. We have a strong City Manager form of government that only has three positions reporting directly to City Council – the City Manager, the City Attorney and the City Clerk. If City Council members do not believe that the City Manager is performing his or her job duties appropriately, then it should be addressed with him or her – which could also include removal.