Aug 15, 2023

An Amendment: A Necessary Path Towards Reimagining Public Safety for All

Friends and Neighbors,

Considering the recent letter by a majority of my colleagues outlining a “Both/And” approach to public safety, I hear and reiterate shared concern as I offer this amendment.

Everyone in our community deserves to be safe! Council has both obligations and opportunities to strategize a necessary path from the situation we’re in towards where we aspire to be. This path will require the courage to shift to a culture of deep collaboration, acknowledge racial disparities in our service outcomes, and invite accountability through transparency so our processes can improve and our community can grow strong enough to be resilient when faced with crisis. 

These are some steps the City of Asheville is taking now, some our community is eager to take with us, and some we’ve resisted–now is the time to move our community forward:

  1. Partner for Community Paramedicine: Grow the existing Buncombe County Community Paramedicine program to ensure we’re proactively deploying first responders with the right tools and training for mental and behavioral health crises, the opioid/substance use crisis, and homelessness. Partnering under the leadership of Buncombe County instead of duplicating our own path is both fiscally responsible and is key as the county carries the role of Health & Human Services.
  2. Reduce Homelessness: Maintain momentum towards the 112 strategies identified in our National Alliance to End Homelessness report to reduce homelessness by 50%. Stay engaged as the new Mission Behavioral Health facility and 198 units of permanently-supportive housing open this year. 
  3. Activate Violence Interrupter Programming: Ensure dialogue with all Community Health Worker groups working to prevent gun violence and intimate partner violence. Engage in partnership with diversion/reentry programs facilitating healing for residents, families, and their communities.
  4. Release the Strategic Partnership Funds: Increase funds for youth mentorship partners instead of withholding the $242,000 in available funds. We find money for the things that are important to us, so if we’re serious about addressing the opportunity gap in our schools through partnership, then there is no question–we invest in a hopeful future for our youth!
  5. Bolster Neighborhood Resiliency: Implement adopted neighborhood plans, starting with those impacted by redlining and Urban Renewal. Activate our Neighborhood Grants to implement our Climate Justice Initiative including stormwater mitigation and tree canopy restoration. Get ahead of the forthcoming decade of turmoil during I-26 Connector construction by boldly advocating alongside disproportionately-impacted Burton Street, Montford, and Hillcrest neighborhoods. 
  6. Commit to Reparations: Listen and respond to the Stop the Harm Audit and Impact Focus Area (IFA) recommendations by the Community Reparations Commission.
  7. Close the GAP: Ensure our streets are designed for everyone to get to their destination safely through Complete Streets Policy and strategies in our Close the GAP plan. 
  8. Regain our Living Wage Certification: Strategize living wage compliance for retention and recruitment so staff can afford housing and so the City of Asheville can provide quality, equitable service outcomes. This is key as community safety means first responders live in the communities they serve.

In addition to core services like sanitation and keeping the water on, taking these steps is a choice of priorities.

What happens if we choose distraction instead of strategy? 

Using a narrow lens to define public safety is achieving the same results. In our annual budget process, Council adopted Strategic Priorities–diverting from those strategies can result in  fearful, reactionary responses that create new challenges without solving others. One recent example is the potential expansion of the solicitation/panhandling ordinance, which distracts staff time and taxpayer dollars. This ordinance isn’t going to get to the root causes of the issues we face, and increases the risk of a lawsuit by attempting to criminalize giving and receiving resources. Another example is displacing unsheltered residents to reduce visible poverty, resulting in a false narrative that homelessness has been reduced. Displaced people are harder to count when scattered into neighborhoods, and this discrepancy that homelessness is down can threaten our future service funding.

The Choice Is Ours! 

Is the City of Asheville going to continue with distractions and squander resources or focus on implementing our adopted plans and stay on a path towards equity in our Strategic Priorities? I believe our caring community is capable of meeting this moment and moving forward together. I invite our friends and neighbors to reach out to all of us on City Council to express concerns and support for prioritization of our Strategic Priorities when you email us at: ashevilleNCcouncil@ashevilleNC.gov

With concern,

Councilmember Kim Roney

(Citizen Times article from Feb. 2024 updating on neighborhoods impacted by violent crime.)