Democrats hold a 4-3 edge on the Buncombe County board of commissioners. Each party has an incumbent on the ballot this fall, with another seat open thanks to Democrat Ellen Frost declining to run for re-election.
Add in the Wanda Greene scandal - which occurred right under the noses of commissioners from both parties for decades – and a high stakes election is now even more so.
There are three election districts in Buncombe County, and each gets to elect two commissioners. The chair of the board is selected by voters countywide, and Democrat Brownie Newman won that two years ago. That gives Democrats the narrowest of majorities on the county board. Their incumbent on the ballot this year, Al Whitesides, will return because he is running unopposed in District 1.
In District 3, which consists of the western side of Buncombe County, Republican Robert Pressley is seeking another term. Democrat Donna Ensley is challenging him, and both she and Pressley expressed support of how commissioners have handled the initial response to the Greene scandal, and made further calls for transparency in the future. The biggest daylight between the two may be on growth and development. During a forum in BPR’s studios, Ensley said she wants to take a more active role in dealing with both. “The biggest difference I see is that I’m really wanting to be proactive about addressing the needs now and in the future for our county,” she said.
Pressley says roads have not kept up with the growth, creating problems Pressley says he hears the most about from constituents. “My family has lived here since 1861. In the same property," Pressley said. "I have seen numerous changes in Buncombe County. For the good a lot of it. But the last ten years it’s been growing too fast.”
Meanwhile in District 2 – which consists of the eastern part of Buncombe County – two newcomers seek an open seat which could determine which party has majority control of the board. Democrat Amanda Edwards and Republican Glenda Weinert talked a lot about their professional backgrounds during a forum in BPR’s studios – and how each believe they are best prepared to prevent anything similar to the Greene scandal from happening again. Weinert is a business owner with a background in accounting. “I currently employ over 100 people," she said. "I work to create jobs, and I think that one of the things the county commission needs is someone that understands better a budget practice, and how to lead from that perspective.”
Edwards has spent much of her career leading non-profits. “Not only am I different from this way from my opponent, but also the county commission as a whole," Edwards said. "That’s where I go back to having that masters of public administration. That is the degree required of county managers to take the job.”
And if the District 2 race is the one that decides majority control of the board, expect it to be decided by a very narrow margin. Two years ago, Republican Mike Fryar won the district’s other board seat by just 317 votes. Four years ago, Democrat Ellen Frost won the District 2 seat she’s vacating by 523 votes.