Local sentiment is overwhelmingly against the legislature creating districts for Asheville city council. Comments solicited by the legislature and obtained by BPR were negative on the prospects of districts, often scathingly so.
You can read the comments here. BPR removed names and addresses from the document.
Of 138 comments sent before May 23rd, only around 15 were in support of districts or offered suggestions for how to create them. The vast majority of comments had a resounding message: Leave Asheville alone.
Residents were commenting on a legislative page soliciting feedback "on the criteria that might be considered in order to draw these city council districts."
Many commenters noted that the city held a referendum in November asking if voters wanted districts. 75 percent of Asheville voters said no. Republican Senator Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville, who represents a part of south Asheville, is the bill’s primary sponsor. He called the vote a “sham.” He says residents of south Asheville haven’t had a voice on council in years. But in the last election, the top vote-getter was south Asheville’s Vijay Kapoor. BPR made multiple requests for the public comments from Sen. Edwards’ office but hadn't received them a week after our initial request. Rather, Democratic Representative Brian Turner of Buncombe County provided BPR the comments upon request. He says he got them from Edwards’ office and he believes they’re only reflective of comments made through May 23rd.
Edwards introduced, and the legislature passed, the bill forcing Asheville to draw council districts, over the objections of the entire city council and mayor Esther Manheimer. It was a revived effort after Edwards’ predecessor, Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca, also of Hendersonville, failed in his efforts to force Asheville districts. It’s not the first time the legislature has mandated changes in local elections. There were similar moves to force districts in Buncombe County, Wake County and the city of Greensboro. Critics of the redistricting say the efforts amount to the Republican-dominated legislature trying to help elect more Republicans in Democratically-leaning areas. A federal judge ruled against the legislature in the case of Greensboro, and Asheville officials have indicated a lawsuit is possible here if Edwards moves forward with drawing districts.
Lawmakers are convened in Raleigh for their so-called "short session," primarily geared towards adjusting the state's two-year budget. But many other bills are expected to be considered, and potentially the Asheville districts bill.