2017 Council election guide — Dee Williams

by David Forbes November 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. 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?

The levels of accountability are deficient, since most elected officials have a lack of sufficient financial literacy, themselves.. Elected officials need to understand the budget and the budgetary process, at a minimum. The Finance Committee of Council usually leads the budgetary process. Ideally, after each department submits a preliminary budget, comparative budgets from the previous fiscal year, along with percentages of increase/decrease per line item of each departmental budget, needs to have accompanying notes of explanation. Budgets need to be projected over 5 years to facilitate adequate planning. Written policies and procedures need to be instituted and followed to ensure proper oversight and regular reviews of both operating and capital improvement budgets.

The capital improvements project budget should be updated quarterly to reflect inflation adjusted increased in the budgeted amounts and to be broken down in time-phased plans if they are large to facilitate financing, management, and reporting.

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?

This addiction needs to be addressed as a sickness, and less as a crime. Buncombe County has led the way in investing in treatment, rather than arrest. These arrests feed the ” prison industrial complex”, since many inmates, especially the poor and people of color who are low level non-violent drug offenders, are locked up disproportionately. The Asheville Police Department need to use more discretion in not arresting folks who are addicted and all officers need to carry Nar-Can to help save lives. Rather than arrest, these people need to be referred to providers for treatment.

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?

The City needs to appoint folks to the Housing Authority Board who will help the Authority launch its for profit subsidiary, so that this subsidiary will own the commercial property which is to be built or should be built in Lee Walker Heights.  When the funds of $4 million dollars was allocated by the City to the Housing Authority to develop Lee Walker as mixed use housing, the development of commercial space should have been conditioned, since this area will be part of the South Slope and revenues could be used by the Authority to reinvest back into its operations to keep improving the properties which it owns and which it needs to provide regular maintenance. The Authority needs to develop a strategic/comprehensive plan with performance measures and benchmarks, which are regularly reported to City Council since over 3,000 Ashevilleans are residents.  Council represents these citizens, too. In addition, the City charter needs to be changed to allow other Council members to nominate Directors to the Board, besides the Mayor, only. Other service improvements and development efforts are needed, as well.

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 City has very little experience in managing large capital improvement projects and the massive, and the unexpected cost overruns demonstrated it. The City must use a balanced, measured, and even-handed approach in developing capital improvements for additional tourism-oriented ventures in Asheville. The City needs to adopt policies and procedures about development efforts by the City in tourism-oriented ventures, since the data points to the fact that the City needs to invest in diversifying the local economy in areas other than tourism, which is a volatile industry, anyway. If the City decides that it will be the investor/developer of a large infrastructure investment, there needs to be an open process of discussion of setting policies and procedures to properly manage and report the status of the financing, inflation adjusted prices and the methods of oversight and accountability before any investment, so that the public can provide input and the City can be transparent and accountable to the taxpayers. Policies and reporting procedures need to be put in place to ensure that construction costs are adjusted regularly to reflect market rates of inflation, before projects are let out for bid.

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)?

STR’s should be allowed, as long as they are in owner-occupied housing and the owner acts as the live in host. The units need to be registered with the City and regulated. STR’s are often a way that “legacy” homeowners can afford to stay in their own homes, maintain them, and afford ever-increasing taxes and fees that are levied off the backs of owners, many of whom are elderly and disabled. These owners need to rent these rooms out in their homes to cope with the ever-increasing costs of living in Asheville, rather than to depend on low wage service sector employment to defray the costs of ever-increasing taxes and fees..

Whole house rentals or Airbnb’s can become ” party houses” and ruin neighborhoods because they are often owned by Real Estate Investment Trusts or absentee owners. These usually become ” party houses” and can ” hollow out” entire neighborhoods with influxes of people whom the neighbors do not know and often bring a number of people who create problems in the neighborhood. These separate units should not be allowed in neighborhoods.

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. I was Chair of the NAACP Criminal Justice Committee which ” brain trusted” bringing the Southern Coalition of Social Justice and PRC Applications together to begin to use the N.C. Policing Tool to establish data on the disparities of stops, searches, and uses of force by the Asheville Police Department, as it pertains to black drivers in Asheville. In addition, I would want to take a look at the consistency of the crime data that was used to justify the additional funding, as well as the types of crimes which were committed to make sure that data was not conflated to arrive at the conclusion that the ” data” demonstrated that a police substation needed to be staffed and placed Downtown. I also would want compilation of the entire 2016 Stop, Search, Uses of Force, and the ” hit rates”, based on the yearly data that APD sent to Department of Justice, so that there are some established period of data points to chart trends. Additionally, there were some low cost/no cost recommendations like written consents to search, cessation of stops for non-safety-related equipment deficiencies, all of which were used by other municipalities to reduce disparities and which were not considered then by APD.

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 re-building/renovating the pool on its current site. The funds for Grant Center’s Pool were lost de to an administrative technicality. The cost estimates that the City obtained for the Walton Renovation have shrunk due to inflation, as well. The amounts that were originally estimated to repair/renovate, have also increased due to inflation, so the funds which have been set aside, if put out for bid, would result in another cost overrun. The Walton St. Pool has had its ingress/egress blocked during Urban Renewal, making the Park and Pool less accessible or visible and these factors, along with its severely neglected state, appears to be a deliberate attempt to make the site and pool financially and the tactics of dead-ending during Urban Renewal, are contrived to make the site as unfeasible as possible. The City always selects individuals who have little financial acumen with which to deal, as most of those did not realize that the funds were in hand to repair, nor do they now realize that the funds are not sufficient, since they have not been updated to reflect inflation a’la RADTIP.

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

Yes. It should be prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. It should apply to rentals, leasing, and sales of all housing choices in the City of Asheville. It should be in the form of an Ordinance, rather than a resolution, or attached to the City’s Fair Housing Ordinance as an Amendment. In Greensboro, Council amended its discrimination Ordinance. In addition, the City of Asheville needs to add additional protections against discrimination in the delivery of City programs, services, and activities. The City should also codify its non-discrimination policy for City employees, making it a part of the Code of Ordinances, if it is not, already. This should also be added to the language in the City’s awarding of City procurements and contracts.

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

Yes. As a black woman, I have experienced district elections by leading the initiative to help to elect the first black Alderman in Winston-Salem, Mr. B.O. Bailey, after district elections gave the black community its first chance to elect a black official. For groups without representation, districts have been used to ensure adequate and accountable representatives . It works if the districts are drawn fairly. In most comparable size cities in N.C., there are district, rather than at-large elections to make sure minority voters have adequate representation. This is usually the standard reason to create district elections is to ensure minority representation.

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, but it can be contracted out, since most folks on Council have little idea what this position is supposed to do. There are no policies and procedures nor benchmarks to chart progress that have been reported. The position was created to ” operationalize equity” throughout the “systems” of the City. Without tangible measures, there is doubt that the position can cause measurable change in the lives of most folks of color in Asheville just like the MBE Program of the City brought few tangible results. This person will ” tread lightly” since their direct Supervisor is the same person or entity which ” signs their timesheet and paycheck.”. Unless this position is properly” charged” with tangible goals, bench-marks and reports these at least quarterly, it will be another program that delivers few benefits to the people which it was designed to help.