Asheville City Council Candidate Q&A: Maggie Ullman Berthiaume
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 email@example.com or record a voice mail at 828-253-6700.
Maggie Ullman Berthiaume Bio:
I was raised in the northern section of the Appalachian Mountains and came south to Asheville to study Environmental Policy and Economics at UNC-Asheville in 2002. I am raising a daughter with my husband, Chris Berthiaume. As a family we enjoy riding bikes, paddling our beautiful rivers, and foraging for edible mushrooms. My community service began with volunteering in shelters for the unhoused as a child. I interned with Asheville City Council as an undergrad to pilot a fare-free transit program, have served on nonprofit boards, and I serve as an appointed commissioner on the City’s Multimodal Transportation Commission and an appointed commissioner on the Buncombe County Energy and Environment Subcommittee. I’m also a member of Just Economics and CoThinkk and a board member of Asheville on Bikes. In my day job, I work with nonprofits to help them row in the same direction on climate change. Previously, I was Asheville’s first Sustainability Director, during which time I saved $1million a year in energy costs and used those savings to fund new programs. I also increased residential recycling 35%. I’m running as a first-time candidate because I am committed to bringing people together to preserve what is precious and fight for what is long overdue. I have the skills and experience in City Hall to take Asheville’s ideas and put them into action while living my values to be trustworthy, inclusive, and equitable.
Contact and campaign info:
If elected, what is your top priority as an Asheville City Council member and what steps would you take to achieve that goal?
Asheville is facing unprecedented change. I am running for city council to put my values and leadership experience to work to bring forward creative solutions for affordable housing, climate change, and ensuring the quality of our core city services. I will build coalitions to address our challenges and leverage opportunities to increase equity and resilience. Specifically:
The housing market is in the driver’s seat and it is running Ashevillians out of town. I will champion building deeply affordable housing, zoning that supports adding small-scale housing into our neighborhoods, and ensure incentives help people most in need–people earning a living wage or less.
Solar power is good for the environment and is a cost-effective budget strategy. I will champion installing solar on every city building.
I will prioritize funding core city services for a healthy, safe and livable community including our water system, recycling and waste services, sidewalks, greenways, parks, and living wages to retain staff.
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?
Housing our 500-600 chronically unhoused neighbors and connecting them to necessary services is an all-hands-on-deck situation in which we need to row in the same direction, because our community is only as safe as our most vulnerable residents. In 2005, I was a junior at UNC-Asheville and I distinctly recall the City and County adopting a 10-year plan to end homelessness. I thought, “Is that even possible?” Today, as a candidate I spend time listening, learning, and volunteering with our unhoused population, and I actually have hope. In the nearly 20 years since that plan was adopted, Asheville has rehoused nearly 2,500 people! It’s not as if our community has been sitting back and doing nothing. We just continue to find ourselves in a place where the hardest to house are still the hardest to house. Also, we have more people in poverty or on the brink of being unhoused because we have experienced a worldwide pandemic, economic shutdowns, and inflation. Recently, it seems like the major shift around the unhoused is the amount of attention it is getting in community conversations and the news. Which is great. This call for action, coupled with triple-down of support and commitment from the city, county, and partner agencies gives me hope that we can chip into that chronically unhoused number. I will advocate for coalition building and funding commitments for supportive low-barrier/high-access housing, long term housing, and wraparound services that enable people to be housed and remain housed.
As a City Council member, what is your role in building an equitable and diverse community in Asheville?
A fundamental lesson I've learned through my work on racial justice in my day job as a climate advocate and my volunteerism locally with CoThinkk is that as a white leader good intentions and belief in racial justice aren’t enough. In order to have an effective role in building an equitable and diverse community in Asheville I will need to put in the work and adhere to my racial justice principles, which include: move at the speed of trust, center lived experience, and co-create solutions in community. As an elected official it will be my duty to ensure inclusive and equitable participation in government processes.
How should the City fund reparations efforts?
I support the Reparations resolution adopted by the City. The resolution calls on the state and federal government to initiate policymaking and provide funding for reparations; the state and federal governments are in a position to make the greatest investment in reparations in terms of dollars. I respect the leadership and perspectives of the members of the Community Reparations Commission. I will await their short, medium and long term recommendations to address generational wealth creation and to boost economic mobility in the black community rather than talking over them before they have had the chance to voice their recommendations. As for how to fund their recommendations. I am interested in exploring the value of city owned land, especially land that was systematically devalued and then switched hands from our Black community members to the city during urban renewal.
What role should the City play in helping residents respond to extreme weather and climate change?
As a member of city council I will prioritize helping residents respond to extreme weather and climate change because these are public safety and public policy issues that require leadership. I will also ensure that we aren’t choosing carbon mitigation OR environmental justice. We need all environmental work to be just. The City has a Climate Justice Initiative Plan, a 100% renewable energy (RE) policy, the Climate Resilience Assessment, and the 4% annual municipal operations carbon reduction goal. I will pursue implementation of these initiatives through three leadership strategies:
Finding the nexus. Overlay the priorities to propel work that serves all of these plans. Also, implement resilience hubs at community centers. A resilience hub would be a reliable place in every neighborhood where renewable energy powers the building when the lights go out for everyone else. These hubs could become the safe place during a climate emergency. Neighbors can store medicine, plug in breathing machines, get clean water, etc., until the emergency passes.
Being accountable. We have adopted plans. Next steps are where the impact happens. I will keep the city accountable when making budget and policy decisions.
System change. When I led the city work to start their climate mitigation journey, I spent significant time changing the culture of the organization. We need this work to continue through efforts like adding a climate impact statement to every staff report going to council and using the Climate Justice Screening tool in all city analysis.
What development priorities would best serve Asheville moving forward?
For a sustainable, affordable, diverse community in the future we need to establish and pursue development priorities now that protect our environment while meeting our community members’ needs for safe affordable housing, accessible multimodal transportation options, and access to nature, grocery stores, health care, schools, work, and recreation.
We know preventing infill keeps market demand in the driver’s seat, increases housing prices, and results in lower income folks being pushed from their homes and neighborhoods (gentrification). Then this migration from Asheville neighborhoods results in further sprawl with long term environmental impacts. When we prevent infill development, urban sprawl results in critical habitat loss, increased runoff and impacts on our waterways, and increased vehicle miles traveled for the lower income folks who move further and further away from their jobs. These negative feedback loops spiral toward inequity and environmental degradation. We also lose the opportunity for close-knit, in-town communities where people can easily connect with one another and attend to their daily needs.
I will bring people together to honor that Asheville has all kinds of people, and all kinds of people need all kinds of housing, which we can provide by strategically supporting infill development on transit corridors, near jobs, and near parks to strengthen and diversify our neighborhoods. We will continue to struggle with affordability but we can be doing so much more when we pull together and create a more equitable, more resilient, and more sustainable community.
How do you respond to voters who feel the City is prioritizing tourism over investments in public services?
As your city councilor I commit to consistently voicing and acting upon my commitment to ensure that serving our residents is always the North Star of our decision making. Every decision we make must start with critical and strategic thinking and inquiry. I will ask, How does this help our most vulnerable neighbors? How does this serve other neighbors? How does this advance our goal to be a healthy, sustainable, equitable community for our residents?
How will you approach policing and public safety in Asheville?
For all Ashevillians to thrive, we need to feel safe. We must acknowledge that the main tool the city uses is law enforcement, yet keeping our community safe is increasingly complex and requires more tools. I support investing more in things like the community paramedic program and rebuilding our police force with an even better culture for community safety. I will advocate for police pay that allows officers and staff to afford living in our community, partnerships for innovative community safety programs, and refresh support for community-led efforts to prevent crime.
What is your position on the proposal to restructure City boards and commissions?
I currently serve on the City Multimodal Transportation Commission and the Downtown Public Space Management Taskforce. I also staffed the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment for seven years. I have experienced the moments when groups of volunteers came together with clear purpose, thoughtful deliberation, community support, and passion to make our community better. I have also experienced meetings when I questioned if watching paint dry would be more impactful.
The current structure isn’t working well and I’m thankful the city is at least trying to do something about it. That said, proposing to turn away 200+ of our most actively engaged community members, isn’t matching the moment. I would like to see the city continue to restructure in a way that maintains current momentum of volunteers, organizes around the comprehensive plan priorities to break down silos, and adequately staffs with the time and skills needed for the community to effectively engage.
How do you plan to engage community members in the Council's decision-making process?
I have said that I will be a responsive, open, honest, and reliable City Councilor in service to the people of Asheville. What will that look like? First, I will put in the long hard hours to learn and listen. Leaders often get it wrong: They ask people to come to them. Instead, I will go to you before I make decisions. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the 100 Ashevillians I interviewed before I decided to run for City Council. In those conversations I learned that my experience getting stuff done in City Hall and my skills building coalitions would be of service to our community at this time. Or ask the people I sat with during 20+ get-togethers and the 462 people whose front doors I’ve personally knocked on to listen and learn. Second, I will bring different voices together in pursuit of all Ashevillians gaining what they need. I will help people move from ""me"" to ""we."" How I have served our community over the past two decades and how I have run my campaign is a demonstration of how I will engage community members as a member of City Council. I will continue to learn and grow and give back to our community.