Asheville City Council Candidate Q&A: Sheneika E. Smith
Editor's note: BPR's candidate questionnaire was created in May after asking community members to share their questions and what issues matter most to them and their communities. This Fall, BPR offered candidates the opportunity to update their bios and respond to three additional questions. Those questions are identified with an *. The candidates' responses have not been edited or fact checked by BPR.
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Sheneika E. Smith Bio:
Elected to Asheville City Council in 2017, appointed Vice- Mayor in 2020. Currently, Chair of Public Safety Committee and Boards and Commissions. Professional experience includes community organizing and event planning, workforce development outreach and recruitment, as well as behavioral and mental health work within adolescent populations.
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?
It is imperative to continue working collaboratively with other elected officials, community stakeholders and Asheville Police Department (APD) to align our public safety service delivery model with the immediate and future needs expressed during the 2020 ¨Re-imagining Public Safety¨ public input exercise.
Based on my interpretation of the final report from those listening sessions (which included community members as well as 40 sworn and non-sworn APD employees) and ongoing conversations, it´s agreed that police can´t solve public safety issues alone. There is an outstanding need for stronger community support networks and strategies in order to reduce traditional law enforcement responses to behavioral and mental health crises, and other quality of life concerns.
If community policing remains our North Star, how we get there requires citizens to answer this question: Can we reduce police funding and limit their roles while ensuring safety?
Currently, responses to that question are mixed and some fluctuate, but I can´t ignore the low hanging fruit. In the midst of department-wide staffing issues, I propose that we formulate new hiring objectives and fill those vacancies with the goal of creating alternative response mechanisms to advance our problem-solving techniques. By customizing hiring profiles and recruiting professionals to address complex societal issues such as homelessness, domestic violence, substance use, and mental health issues; Coresponder teams will form and be embedded within our department.
Fulfilling this new hiring objective in this manner will lead to a more diverse response to community issues and begin transforming our law enforcement system in an incremental, but holistic way. Police-mental health collaboration is decades old and proves to alleviate use of force, reduce injuries to officers and citizens, lessen justice system involvement and lessen additional adverse outcomes.
Last Spring, BPR asked you about your priorities as an Asheville City Council member and what steps would you take to achieve those goals. What have you learned about these priorities during the campaign season?*
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?
Asheville is an economically segregated community, putting a high demand on the need for multiple affordable housing options.
Purpose Built Housing Development is an important route in creating upward mobility through mixed-income housing options for distressed families; meeting them where they are economically. This tool integrates equity into policy; creating a true sense of community and belonging.
As a City Council member, what is your role in building an equitable and diverse community in Asheville?
Building a diverse and equitable community means making policy decisions and setting priorities that center vulnerable groups and those who are at risk of being priced out of our city. There are tools for this, like the GARE toolkit, which supports equity work and those who lead and implement the work to eliminate adverse outcomes and pursue equitable and inclusive actions.
With that said, now that our Equity and Inclusion Office is fully staffed, trusting this team´s professional leadership and recommendations will be integral part in galvanizing equity and inclusive models to better our community.
How should the City fund reparations efforts?
It is important to remind elected officials and community leaders that while the Commission is tasked with producing a report of recommendations and strategies for programming and policy, the immediate mandate of both governmental bodies is be proactive in developing public-private financial vehicles to fund the movement ahead of the Commission´s final report.
The formation of reliable and sustainable funding strategies is urgent and requires a comprehensive analysis that boldly names entities and community institutions that benefited and gained a profit from the concerted effort that caused economic disenfranchisement of the Black community. Those entities should then be called in, educated and prompted to commit restitution to address harm done.
Last year's budget, proposed by City Manager Debra Campbell and approved by City Council, committed $2.1M for Reparations. The funds came from proceeds from the sale of city-owned land on Charlotte Street (White Labs Inc.); land acquired through Urban Renewal in the late 1960's and early 1970's. This action prompts another funding strategy that´s plausible; liquidating assets that are associated with Urban Renewal and eminent domain takings, as well as designing policy for Urban Renewal Land Disposition transaction.
What role should the City play in helping residents respond to extreme weather and climate change?
Work proactively towards updating our Emergency Operations Plan (ahead of inevitable natural disasters and climate change issues) to prioritize communities of color. Historic evidence and events show us that planning, response and recovery efforts fail to timely respond to vulnerable groups.
Creating community-serving spaces or Resilience HUBs by renovating utilizing city and county-owned facilities or community-managed facilities, will increase our very survival. Outfitting these community spaces to support it´s residents and coordinating resources/medical services before, during, or after a natural hazard event is the objective.
Preparedness also means increasing the community ´ s capacity and capabilities to be empowered and trained to manage emergency operations and administer medical care, and food preparation, etc in instances of disaster.
What development priorities would best serve Asheville moving forward?
Development has to compliment the unique and rich character of Asheville that natives like myself and others hold dear. Development must work in union with a philosophy that safeguards what we value; taking into consideration that all community members must be free live a healthy and meaningful life and experience a sense of connection with our development decisions.
How do you respond to voters who feel the City is prioritizing tourism over investments in public services?
We´re at a turning point and must we pivot. Tourism is imploding, but the public benefit is steadily eroding. As a unified front, we must make the case to direct a more fair and just distribution of occupancy tax funds collected and determine the highest and best uses of the funds to benefit the community members, equity concerns and long overdue, infrastructure needs.
How will you approach policing and public safety in Asheville?
(Same as stated above)
What is your position on the proposal to restructure City boards and commissions?
The proposal is a work-in-progress. Continued input and information gathering will happen before a final product is determined.
How do you plan to engage community members in the Council's decision-making process?
Continue asking questions of those most impacted, reaching to leaders and advocates who are doing the work associated with decisions and listening to comments share in public forums and meetings.
Is there a role City Council should play in countering misinformation and threats to democracy? If so, what?*
Asheville City and Buncombe County filed a lawsuit against Mission Hospital alleging monopolization and inflating prices. What do you think are the most important steps City Council can take to improve healthcare in Western North Carolina?*