Asheville Mayoral Candidate Q&A: Kim Roney
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.
Kim Roney Bio:
Kim Roney walks, bikes, and rides public transit. She currently serves on City Council in Asheville, the ancestral land of the Cherokee, the birthplace of her great-grandmother, and her home since 2006. Asheville’s first openly-queer City Council member, she is a community organizer, small business owner, music educator, and community radio producer. A founding member of Friends of Community Radio, she served as Station Manager/ED of 103.3 AshevilleFM from 2012-2015. In her music studio, she currently works with 34 students and their families across 12 schools in Asheville and Buncombe County. On Council, Kim serves on the Governance, Public Safety, and Boards & Commissions Committees, and liaisons advisory boards including the French Broad River MPO, Urban Forestry Commission, Multimodal Transportation Commission, Homelessness Initiative Advisory Committee, Neighborhood Advisory Committee, and Human Relations Commission. In community organizing, Kim sits at the table with the ART-C Coalition, NCDOT Vehicle Miles Traveled Reduction Task Force, Just Economics Policy Advocacy Committee, Asheville Music School as Secretary, Asheville on Bikes as a volunteer, and with municipal electeds in North Carolina on the Local Progress Organizing Committee. She enjoys music, puzzles, a good story, and the process of growing, cooking, and sharing food with friends and neighbors.
Contact and campaign info:
If elected, what is your top priority as Asheville Mayor and what steps would you take to achieve that goal?
Many are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living rises while the tourism industry strains our natural resources, burdens our infrastructure, and displaces our vulnerable neighbors. My top priority is an equitable recovery from overlapping crises and a hopeful future in the face of climate change.
I’m running for Mayor on an Open Meetings Policy because achieving our aspirational goals includes shared work to take better care of each other and the planet, including:
- Affordability: Investing in deeply-affordable housing and keeping neighbors from becoming unhoused; overhauling the outdated Unified Development Ordinance to ensure smart growth and development designed for neighborhood resiliency; coordinating with the County for a fare-free Buncombe-Asheville Transit System; pushing the City to lead not lag on living wages by leaning into the mayor’s role on the Economic Development Coalition; and partnering to expand renewable energy options.
- Public Safety: Ensuring a public safety response that works to keep everyone safe; diversifying our public safety response to address the opioid/overdose crisis, homelessness, and mental health with partnerships including the Buncombe Community Paramedicine pilot program; acting on a plan designed to address homelessness with the goal of housing as a human right; following through with our commitment to Reparations; and responding to our stated Climate Emergency.
- An Improved Public Meeting Process: Ending the Council check-in process and shifting to a public pre-meeting process; increasing accessibility of public documents and engagement opportunities; supporting our advisory boards instead of dissolving them; and committing to an organizational equity audit.
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?
Action items to achieve our affordability and housing goals include:
- Overhauling the Unified Development Ordinance to ensure planning and design that promotes greater density along transit corridors for access to jobs, groceries, education, healthcare, and community without a car. Urban Place zoning is a step in that direction, but we need higher standards for affordability and to lessen the need for parking by ensuring robust multimodal infrastructure while mitigating gentrification of vulnerable neighborhoods.
- A community benefits table could be a tool in setting standards to meet our goals while also providing a clear path for development of affordable housing. This could include points for deeply-affordable housing, green-building, solar, and multimodal infrastructure.
- Updating our Land-Use Incentive Grants and adopting Source of Income protection to incentivize depth of affordability and ensure vulnerable neighbors aren’t prevented from signing leases based on how they pay rent.
- An Buncombe-Asheville Transit System that combines resources to improve equitable access, economic mobility, and location affordability while offsetting the growing costs of transportation and reducing vehicle miles traveled as we work on carbon reduction.
Follow through on our Climate Justice Initiative and the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council goals.
- A humane response to homelessness. I’m meeting bi-weekly with community members, faith communities, Buncombe County Community Paramedics, and nonprofits. The National Alliance to End Homelessness will bring a needs assessment and recommendations to the City and County at the end of the year, an important time for the community to stay engaged and ensure meaningful action.
As Mayor, what is your role in building an equitable and diverse community in Asheville?
As a white woman, I’m committed to listening, centering Black, Brown, and Indigenous people and groups impacted by historic and current disparities rooted in systemic racism. I’m committed to an outside equity audit of City Hall as outlined in This Moment by Cothinkk, and to using my privilege and my public service role to mitigate harm while supporting civic and community processes towards Reparations.
Strategy examples: On Council, I brought Neighborhood Resiliency to the table with support from Vice Mayor Smith. It’s now a Strategic Priority that guides Council’s work, and includes actions for stormwater mitigation, food security, tree canopy restoration, and the Climate Justice Initiative. This is an operational tool designed with community support based on listening to organizers working to protect vulnerable neighborhoods facing historic/current harm caused by planning & development. I’ve also suggested that equity and sustainability impacts be added to all staff reports alongside financial impacts to start measuring the cost of doing things quickly, cheaply, or simply business as usual.
Budget examples: when allocating ARPA/COVID-19 relief funding, I supported applications from historic Black and Legacy neighborhoods working to invest in community safety and well-being, and advocated for participatory budgeting which might have disrupted the scarcity narrative in our internal processes. I also worked with the City Manager to cascade funding for the purchase of the Talbert Lot, maximizing bond funds for affordable housing alongside future transit expansion while allocating $1.2 new funding dollars to the Reparations fund.
The FY23 budget includes a $500,000 allocation for the reparations fund. What other steps would you take to support the Community Reparation Commission?
From their meeting on May 23rd: “The Community Reparations Commission recommends that the City Council include a line item in their budget for reparations for Black Asheville as a percentage of the overall budget in perpetuity.” I believe Reparations are necessary and possible, and I will support this recommendation.
It is my understanding that the new, effectively $135,000 of funding in this year’s budget cycle does not fully meet the recommendation, yet a percentage with a policy like the Council's General Fund balance policy is appropriate and feasible. This would mean growing exponentially and maintaining the Reparations budget alongside local municipal budgets.
I will continue listening and supporting as the Community Reparations Commission makes their upcoming recommendations in the five focus areas of Criminal Justice, Economic Development, Education, Healthcare, and Housing. In addition to our civic process, I understand there is a new community process starting, as well as the ongoing work of the Every Black Voice campaign through the Racial Justice Coalition. I am grateful that our neighbors are organizing to build coalition for meaningful action in this healing work. While supporting work on these civic and community processes, it is important for the Council and Commission to mitigate the impact of historic and current harm in the identified focus areas.
What role should the City play in helping residents respond to extreme weather and climate change?
In January of 2020, the City adopted a Climate Emergency resolution with input from the most impacted community demographic–our youth.
Some things the City can do:
- Resource the City’s Climate Justice Initiative.
- Bolster neighborhood resiliency through emergency response planning.
- Include renewable energy in planning requirements/incentives. My requesting renewables as part of every housing development has led to some voluntary solar and electric charging stations. To meet our carbon reduction goals, we rely on partnerships with the County and Blue Horizons, and need to work towards community solar while incentivizing renewables with every new development.
- Add equity and sustainability impacts to all staff reports alongside financial impact.
Hire an Urban Forester to work on an Urban Forest Master Plan. Repairing and maintaining our tree canopy as part of our living infrastructure is our best tool to mitigating stormwater and landslides, two of our biggest climate change threats.
- Identify funding streams. For example, I added Climate Justice to our ARPA/COVID-19 relief funding priorities to address food systems, and as a member of the French Broad River MPO, I advocate for state funding for public transit and multimodal transportation infrastructure.
As an educator endorsed by Sunrise Movement Asheville and the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, I am committed to courageous leadership and shared work to mitigate the disproportionate impact of climate change on vulnerable people in our community. Reminder: the mayor can schedule these conversations on agendas, but it takes a majority of Council to support action in these areas.
What development priorities would best serve Asheville moving forward?
Great question! Some answers:
- The biggest barrier to the aspirational goals in our Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan around land use and development is our outdated Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). We’re getting 1990’s era, car-centric development without elements that keep housing accessible and affordable for resilient neighborhoods instead of housing designed for today’s needs because our UDO suggests that kind of development is appropriate. We need to update our building codes, raise the floor on standards for smart growth with an equity lens, and prioritize missing middle and dense development along transit corridors designed for all modes of transportation.
- Buncombe County is currently undertaking their comprehensive plan process, and it’s critical that people in Asheville participate because these decisions impact residents as well as the region. We need regional planning for housing development along transit corridors for affordability and equitable access to jobs, education, groceries, healthcare, and community, and we need to work together on a Buncombe-Asheville Transit System.
- Updates are forthcoming to the Land Use Incentive Grant, which works like a form of incentivized rent control. We are looking carefully at the depth of affordability as Council ensures our tax dollars are incentivizing the affordability of housing we desperately need for working and vulnerable people.
- The hotel overlay map and community benefits table need review to ensure we’re stabilizing impact as hotels are using this new process instead of coming to Council for approval. My original suggestion of Smaller Map, More Points stands.
How do you respond to voters who feel the City is prioritizing tourism over investments in public services?
I too am weary of selling out our city to unchecked tourism and for-profit development that extract our natural resources, burden our infrastructure, and displace our vulnerable neighbors. A city that serves the people who live and work here will also be a great place to visit, but local taxpayers are picking up the tab for the tourism industry on public safety, sanitation, parks, and roads–the cost is too much.
As Mayor, I will:
- Continue advocating for a greater percentage and expanded use of our hotel occupancy taxes for equity and infrastructure. The change will require legislative action, so we need coalition across sectors. I brought amendments to our Legislative Agenda in 2021 and 2022, and as mayor, I’ll keep this issue at the forefront as Chair of the Governance Committee and with the Council agenda.
- Plan for resiliency and an equitable recovery from overlapping crises, leading from the mayor’s seat on the Economic Development Coalition to diversify our economy.
- Advance human and civil rights for residents and workers. As an Out-Elected with EqualityNC working in coalition locally and statewide, I supported the drafting and approval process for Asheville’s LGBTW+-inclusive Non-Discrimination Ordinance, including protections for veteran status, pregnancy status, and natural hair. I also drafted Asheville’s proclamation affirming access to reproductive healthcare as a fundamental human right. Next, I’m supporting our Human Relations Commission’s recommendation for Source of Income/Funds protection for access to housing.
What have you learned from the Reimagining Public Safety strategic process and what are your public safety priorities moving forward?
I want everyone to be safe, to be able to call for help during crisis. The City of Asheville is not currently meeting our service obligations. The vacancies within APD present both necessity and opportunity to diversify our public safety response, supporting staff by deploying responders with the right tools and training when addressing the opioid/overdose crisis, homelessness, intimate partner violence, and mental health. My priorities include: budgeting for living wages to recruit and retain staff; engaging partners including youth mentorship, violence interrupters, and the Buncombe Community Paramedicine program that’s currently answering calls for service in Asheville; and acting on a plan for neighbors experiencing homelessness to move from crisis toward solutions centering housing as a human right.
Our society has historically placed too much of the burden of public safety responses on police. In our efforts to Reimagine Public Safety, the City of Asheville has successfully transitioned the majority of response for animal services and noise complaints from APD to Public Works. I supported efforts to consolidate 911, which was an important first step in deploying the right responder with the right tools and training during calls for service.
During the Public Safety Committee’s June meeting, community organizations brought forward solutions for violence interrupter programming to address intimate partner and youth violence. Business as usual will result in the same outcomes when we need to shift to root cause crime prevention. The City can partner with facilities and funding for violence interrupter programming, which will require Council support.
Asheville was one of the last cities in North Carolina with an appointed school board. This year, voters will begin electing school board members. How will you work with this new elected body of local leaders?
I will continue to initiate communications between elected and appointed bodies, and have suggested that we maintain a Council liaison as we transition to an elected Board of Education. We need a leaderful movement across sectors to ensure the education ecosystem our students need and deserve, which means addressing systemic issues that touch every part of a student’s life.
I’m endorsed for mayor by the Asheville and Buncombe Associations of Educators, and one of the messages that resonates with me is that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. The state of North Carolina currently has a $6-billion surplus while our educators are not guaranteed a living wage. As mayor, I’ll continue to engage businesses, non-profit and health sectors, higher and continuing education, the County Commission, our General Assembly delegation, and statewide coalitions to leverage together for education funding through our Legislative Agenda.
Asheville City Schools and our community have struggled to address the disciplinary gap in our schools, which is an outcome of systemic racism and implicit bias. For shared accountability and shared success, I remain of the opinion that joint meetings of the City Council, County Commission, and Board of Educations are necessary, and that students, parents, and educators need seats at the table. Through an Open Meetings Policy, the City of Asheville could set a standard for removing barriers to public engagement, increasing access to information/documents, and securing participatory democracy while centering equity.
What steps could the Mayor's office take to improve transparency?
This is a key part of my campaign platform, and I’m committed to an Opening Meetings Policy within the purview of the mayor’s office. I would start with transparency in the Council meeting process by ending the private check-ins currently happening behind the scenes and scheduling public pre-meetings of Council, similar to the Buncombe County Commission’s pre-meetings.
The people of Asheville are our greatest resource, and we need to invite lived and professional experience to the table for solutions to overlapping crises facing our community, which is why I support bolstering instead of folding advisory boards.
From setting the agenda and defining procedures for public engagement to supporting Council through these procedural shifts, I believe an Open Meetings Policy starting in the mayor’s office will build trust through shared accountability and shared successes.