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Equity and water are under the microscope in Asheville and Buncombe County

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and County Commission Chair Brownie Newman co-lead a City/County meeting in January.
Buncombe County Government Facebook
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and County Commission Chair Brownie Newman co-lead a City/County meeting in January.

The call for an audit of local governments to examine policies and programs to identify any that harm the Black community is moving forward after county leaders approved a request by the Community Reparations Commission. Buncombe County Commissioners passed  a resolution approving a racial equity audit of the county government during their February, 7 meeting. The resolution also seeks to ensure that “necessary and reasonable action will be taken to address intentional and unintentional harm committed against the African American community. In January, the Asheville City Council adopteda similar resolution by the Community Reparations Commission, a group of more than two-dozen members appointed by city council and county commissioners in 2022 to shape the city-county reparation process.

“We’re not just looking to vet the outcomes of public policy areas, but we’re also looking at the origins of public policy areas,” Commission Chair Dr. Dwight Mullen told council members during the January meeting. “It requires us to look inside, as well as - the eventual impact it has on our community.”

The commission told lawmakers they would like to have an audit firm chosen by spring.  

The two governments are also working together to assemble an independentcommitteeto review Asheville’s holiday water outage.  The nine-member volunteer group is a mix of residential and commercial water customers along with professionals with expertise in public water systems and communications. The group will study the timeline and city’s response to the outage that began Christmas Eve and left more than 37,000 people without running water.  

“The idea would be for this committee to move swiftly and give us a 30-day report," Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer told commissioners during their January 10meeting, "A sort of 'after-action' if you will, in terms of what happened, and then a longer term - maybe a 90-day report of recommendations around capital needs, communications, emergency response, if there are any issues there. “

The city appointed seven members and county commissioners are in the process of selecting the final two members.

The county commissioner’s briefing and regular meeting are livestreamed and archived on the  county’s Facebook page.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.