Asheville City Council Candidate Q&A: Andrew Fletcher
Editor's note: BPR's candidate questionnaire was created after asking community members to share their questions and what issues matter most to them and their communities. The candidates' responses have not been edited or fact checked by BPR. Share your questions and ideas for future elections coverage by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or record a voice mail at 828-253-6700.
Andrew Fletcher Bio:
Andrew Fletcher is a 15 year resident of Asheville and a 27 year resident of Western North Carolina. He grew up in the foothills town of Tryon, NC. He is a member of WNC’s #1 voted Jazz Group, Firecracker Jazz Band, having played over 2,000 shows as a jazz pianist everywhere from Pack Square to The Kennedy Center. He first became politically active in 2015, when he joined the Asheville Buskers Collective and was able to help lead a successful advocacy effort to preserve the flourishing street culture of Asheville. This experience organizing the community to effect change in City Hall led him to other roles, first as the Chair and Spokesperson of the Haywood Page Advisory Team which generated a successful community driven plan for the “Pit of Despair.” He currently serves as the Vice Chair appointed to both the City of Asheville’s Downtown Commission and the Public Art and Cultural Commission. In addition to his work engaging the City he volunteers as a board member with non-profits Asheville Music Professionals (AMP) and The Nina Simone Project, and is a former member of Blue Ridge Public Radio Community Forum where he contributed to strategic planning efforts. He represented the music industry as the designated spokesperson of AMP during the Noise Ordinance Debate before City Council in July of 2021. Currently, he is a senior in Economics at UNC-Asheville.
Contact and campaign info:
1. If elected, what is your top priority as an Asheville City Council member and what steps would you take to achieve that goal?
My number one priority as your member of City Council would be to immediately deal with the affordability crisis happening in Asheville. This requires bringing citizens of all walks of life to the table to help transform our current toxic relationship with development, so that we can build a sustainable future for our community. I want us to learn the lessons from our tragic legacy of urban renewal and the recent failures on Charlotte St. and with The Flatiron building. Our current pace of rampant development is displacing the people and places that make Asheville special. While at the same time current leadership has done next-to-nothing to deal with our housing crisis and need for better paying jobs outside of tourism. Land use policy is one of the most powerful tools local government has at its disposal. This is why we see members of the real estate industrial complex frequently run for local office, backed by big money. They've done a great job for their industry but have left the rest of us behind. It's time to rewrite land use policies that put local needs first, and benefit the working people, families and artists of Asheville.
2. The 2036 strategic plan calls for Asheville to be “a city with abundant housing choices for people at all economic levels and stages of life. Chronic homelessness is a thing of the past and rapid rehousing strategies abound thanks to an effective network of service providers.” What action is needed today to reach these outcomes?
The City has not been an adequate partner with other agencies including the County, service providers and other non-profits. Sometimes one part of the city undermines our best goals and generates unfortunate outcomes. I don't think we can afford to wait around while our overlapping crises deepen and multiply. The City of Asheville is big on Strategic Plans, countless hours of human capital have gone into a myriad of “listening-sessions”and “charrettes”. But when the City does not put adequate resources behind these lofty goals, they remain simply words on paper gathering dust instead of creating change. The city needs to step up and directly create workforce housing with ownership opportunities to build generational wealth. That means taking existing successful models from other places, such as social housing, and community land-trusts. We also need to rewrite our land use rules to steer development money from its current focus on tourism back to local needs. Council needs a City Manager ready to execute on these plans.
3. As a City Council member, what is your role in building an equitable and diverse community in Asheville?
The information highlighted by Dr. Dwight Mullen in the State of Black Asheville report doesn’t lie. The last decade has witnessed the City of Asheville lose thousands of African-American residents, as neighborhoods have become increasingly gentrified resulting in the loss of opportunities for building generational wealth. The impact of redlining neighborhoods continues to today and without direct intervention by the city will extend into the future. So-called Opportunity Zones lay directly on top of formerly redlined neighborhoods which is increasing gentrifying development. The city must target these areas to expand black ownership and opportunity. In addition, we must rely on the Equity and Inclusion Office to audit all city policies with regard to Equity Impacts, and that includes ensuring that contracting opportunities for operations of the city are made available for black residents. It’s good that the city has passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and we need to continue to monitor that policy to ensure it is working.
4. How should the City fund reparations efforts?
The ongoing legacy of Asheville is one of a multitude of sins committed against our Black neighbors. They are many and varied, but we know they involve the taking of land, the denial of opportunity, and the deprivation of safety and dignity. These are sins that have to be addressed, and the Equity and Inclusion Office must take a leading role in decision making outside the Reparations process as well. Outside of city funds, we know that tourism has a serious legacy of racism, going back to the time when enslaved persons worked at The Eagle Hotel. Following that history and money forward, I would like to see the 100% of the TDA's occupancy tax revenue redirected to local needs including a portion toward reparations.
5. What role should the City play in helping residents respond to extreme weather and climate change?
The largest and soonest local impact of climate change will not be the weather, it will be an influx of climate refugees from regions more vulnerable to the coming extremes of climate change. We need to prepare by ensuring now that we have permanently affordable housing for our workforce before everyone working for a wage is completely priced out of the city. In addition, we need to accelerate our plans to be carbon neutral as the technology to do so is becoming ever cheaper, and start building an energy grid of the future that doesn’t rely on Duke Power’s fossil fuels.
6. What development priorities would best serve Asheville moving forward?
Coming from my experience as a renter and my study of Economics at UNC-Asheville, I bring a very different perspective to development. It's not possible (or wise) to halt all development, but we must enact land use policies that steer development money into satisfying local needs rather than the wants of the tourism industry and developers who are chasing short-money instead of longstanding community needs. The people who say it can't be done are the ones who benefit from the status quo. We need to have land use and development possibilities that are politically and environmentally sustainable, and to me that looks like development without displacement. Two recent projects on Charlotte Street show us the way, which is why I support the Fuddrucker’s redevelopment and oppose the project directly across the street. To ensure that, we get more good development and less displacement of our people and places, we must rewrite and modernize our land-use and zoning policies.
7. How do you respond to voters who feel the City is prioritizing tourism over investments in public services?
As someone who works IN tourism (with LaZoom Tours) but not FOR tourism, I understand our complex relationship and history with tourism. I feel that our community - I’m including city government and individual residents but especially the tourism workforce - is drowning in the costs of tourism and failing to see enough of the benefits. Our elected leadership needs to join the chorus of the community in calling for 100% of the TDA occupancy tax money to be spent on local needs. This year, that is projected to be $40 million and there’s a lot we could do for locals with that money if the state legislature would let us have it. As far as what can be done directly by city policy, we need to be disincentivizing (at the very least) new hotel construction to shift development to local needs, and drastically enforce limits on whole-house Short Term Rentals. AirBnb and it’s ilk are stealing workforce housing, emptying neighborhoods of neighbors and filling them with tourists. We have to get a serious about that.
8. How will you approach policing and public safety in Asheville?
My view is that the entire mission of our City government is to provide public safety. Filling a pothole is public safety, adding a speed bump is public safety, having working streetlights, safe roads and wide sidewalks are all positive investments in public safety. A good public school system and equitable economic opportunities are known to increase public safety. We can’t continue to treat policing as the only solution. In addition, social workers and community paramedics have a lot to offer, and we haven’t supported them enough. Our budget has to be a statement of our values.
9. What is your position on the proposal to restructure City boards and commissions?
When I'm on council, I'll need to hear from those boards and commissions and so I'm absolutely opposed to the proposal as it is now. I currently serve as the Vice Chair of the Public Art and Cultural Commission and the Downtown Commission as well as the Chair of the Public Space Management Committee. From those roles I've observed and partaken in success and failure, and what separates them is how resourced and staffed the commissions are, how much trust was extended to us by council, and a good mix of appointees. My fear with the current proposal is that in the vacuum created by kicking out over a hundred appointed citizen positions, we will get more expensive outside consultants. Any use of consultants should augment community recommendations, not replace them. I'm deeply concerned that this will be railroaded through before the election and ask the community to join me in halting the proposal to demolish rather than renovate our community-powered advisory boards and commissions.
10. How do you plan to engage community members in the Council's decision-making process?
We need to have a City Council that operates on a daily basis to turn transparency into trust. There are a few concrete steps we could take. Enacting an Open Meetings Policy that includes citizen contributions to decisions that affect citizen access to publicly funded public meetings and information would help hardwire the community into the process. I support ending the dubiously legal and purposely secretive council "check-ins" that have recently come to light, and using a public work session in their place, like the County does. I’ve been involved with community led efforts like the Haywood Page Advisory Task Force where the city trusted the community to chart the future, and I would always prefer to listen to constituents over consultants.