August 8, 2018
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yesterday, a new indictment was filed relating to allegations of fraud, bribes, and kickbacks against former county manager Wanda Greene and now two additional former Buncombe County officials, Mandy Stone and Jon Creighton. What has been alleged in a series of federal indictments shocks the conscience and amounts to a gross abuse of power and public trust. These individuals deserve due process, and we must treat these as allegations, not proven fact. But we must also address the substance of allegations against them and understand the broader narrative they reveal: what happened was not the work of a single corrupt official; it was a culture of corruption and we do not yet know how far it extended. The federal investigation continues and as the latest indictment makes clear, it is possible that there will be more indictments against other individuals.
Today, I’m writing this statement as an individual County Commissioner because I feel an obligation and a responsibility to communicate directly with our community and the district I represent. You are owed answers and accountability. In sharing my analysis, I do not propose to have all the answers. I believe that collectively, we as a community working together will find solutions that no one of us will find on our own through this crisis.
Your County Commission has a responsibility to serve you through this crisis. Buncombe County Commission brings together seven individuals who love our community, have different perspectives on some issues, and have found alignment on other issues like expanding access to Pre-K and responding to the opioid crisis. I have respect and appreciation for fellow Commissioners and believe that the differences in approach and leadership style that distinguish us individually combine to create a stronger governing body.
Some steps have been taken the course of the year, but there is more that we can do at the level of County Commission to protect Buncombe County’s integrity. As we face this ongoing crisis, we must respond with action measures and it is past time for comprehensive reforms. This is a crisis and we must continue working to repair public trust and to put proactive reforms into place to ensure that every tax dollar is spent appropriately and that the county focuses on its singular mission to serve our community.
These are specific actions I advocate for and status reports on areas where steps have been taken in the past year:
I believe we must move through this crisis with accountability and humility. I am accountable to every decision I’ve made as a Commissioner. The investigation is not over, and until we have a full knowledge of the facts, we must understand that there are things we do not know.
This conversation needs to happen at the community level. From 9 - 10:30 AM tomorrow, I’ll be at Penny Cup Coffee downtown at 39 S. Market Street. If you can make it, I’d love to see you there to hear your ideas, listen, and answer any questions I can.
Together, I believe we can find solutions to this crisis and work together to create a system of local government that reflects the integrity and character of the people of Buncombe County. I am committed to moving forward through this crisis with the same values that led me to serve as Commissioner. I am here to work for you.
Al Whitesides: Alfred.Whitesides@buncombecounty.org | 828.273.6427
Ellen Frost: Ellen.Frost@buncombecounty.org | 828.275.8662
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara: Jasmine.Beach-Ferrara@buncombecounty.org | 828.242.6672
Joint Statement from Buncombe County Commissioners Al Whitesides, Ellen Frost and Jasmine Beach-Ferrara on the Crisis of Racial Bias and Excessive Use of Force
As Buncombe County Commissioners, we are gravely concerned about the excessive use of force on Mr. Johnnie Rush by an Asheville Police Department officer and the ensuing delay in the administration of justice. In August 2017, Mr. Rush, an African-American downtown resident, was assaulted by a law enforcement officer after being stopped and detained for allegedly jaywalking on his walk home from a 13-hour work shift. Mr. Rush is one of our constituents, and an assault on his dignity is an affront to all of ours.
This is a crisis in our community on par with the opioid epidemic. It must therefore receive the same level of open dialogue, honest assessment, collaboration across agencies, and robust funding by the public bodies who are duty-bound to serve and protect our constituents.
Incidents like this should never happen again. But they can, and will, unless we take proactive and ongoing steps to prevent them. Asheville City Council has initiated steps to redress the systemic factors that resulted in the stop, arrest, and excessive use of force on Mr. Rush and the subsequent delay in the administration of justice. We support those efforts and seek to build on them to protect all citizens in every corner of Buncombe County.
We propose the following immediate actions to address this crisis. We look forward to discussing these ideas with community members, advocates, fellow members of Buncombe County Commission and county staff, Asheville City Council, the Buncombe County Sheriff, the Buncombe County District Attorney, and the Buncombe County Public Defender.
1) We advocate for all law enforcement agencies in the county, including the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office and all local police departments, to review current use of force and de-escalation policies and to revise them, with community input, to reflect best practices and principles as outlined in “The Final Report to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing;”
2) Buncombe County will fund use of force, de-escalation and implicit bias trainings for any law enforcement agency within the county;
3) We will join Asheville City Council in funding and seeking the extension of the 60-day body cam footage retention period to ensure that this footage is available for review when citizens have been afforded the opportunity and right to counsel;
4) Buncombe County will fund a pilot of a multidisciplinary “Use of Force Response Team” within county government that is empowered to receive referrals and reports from the county’s Human Rights Commission (see below), community members, local law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney’s Office. This team will include an attorney, a social worker/victim advocate, and an individual with a law enforcement background. The team would be tasked with: 1) conducting an independent review of body cam footage; 2) assessing needs of victims and making appropriate referrals to victim services; 3) providing legal assistance with filing reports of use of force; and 4) notifying local governments of the occurrence of use of force incidents. Given the City of Asheville’s pledge to fund an attorney position with some parallel functions, we encourage ongoing communication and the exploration of coordination with this new position;
5) Buncombe County will create a Human Rights Commission that is empowered to investigate reports of harassing, violent or discriminatory conduct by public employees toward residents; to receive reports of discrimination related to public accommodations, public services, and private businesses; and to make policy and budgetary recommendations to County Commission regarding human rights issues in Buncombe County to ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect;
6) Buncombe County will fund proposals to create trauma-informed responses to use of force incidents by law enforcement agencies and community stakeholders to recognize how these incidents injure not just individuals but the communities they are part of;
7) Buncombe County will continue to fund the Justice Resource Center; and
8) We call on the District Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with law enforcement agencies across Buncombe County, to develop protocols for requesting investigative assistance from the State Bureau of Investigations (“SBI”) in all use of force incidents and for responding to such reports, consistent with the recommendations contained in the NC Conference of District Attorneys Best Practices Committee’s report.
We believe that our community can - and must - do better to end racial bias and excessive use of force in policing. Doing so requires all hands on deck and a commitment to change at the individual, community and systemic levels.
Al Whitesides, Ellen Frost and Jasmine Beach-Ferrara serve on Buncombe County Commission, representing Districts 1 and 2.
As you've probably heard both the NCAA and the ACC have now pulled championships from North Carolina because of HB2. This discriminatory law is bad for our people, our morale, and our economy. It's political malpractice for Gov. McCrory to dig in his heels to defend this indefensible law.
HB2 has got to go ASAP. Click here to sign this petition to repeal HB2 immediately, run by the Roy Cooper for Governor campaign.
As a LGBT North Carolinian, I know first hand how discriminatory policies hurt people and how policies based on the values of dignity and equity for all can uplift us as individuals and as a community. That's a perspective that I'll bring to my role on Buncombe County Commission and it also motivated me to write this new opinion piece about HB2. If you have a minute, check it out here.
Election season is heating up here in Buncombe County. North Carolina is one of the most competitive swing states in the country and strong turnout in Buncombe County can swing our state blue.
Because I'm running unopposed in the general election, I'm focused on three priorities between now and Election Day:
We're making voter registration a family affair in the Beach-Ferrrara/Burke household and Meg and Cal spent a recent Saturday morning registering voters for the Clinton/Kaine campaign. I've got a stack of voter registration forms in my car and will hand deliver one to anyone in Buncombe county who needs to register - just let me know if you need one!
Our team was really grateful to have Jordan Terry, a senior at the University of Missouri, interning with us all summer. As part of our efforts to support Democratic candidates, Jordan joined the Blue Ridge Mountain Coalition and logged hundreds of hours phonebanking and door knocking for candidates like Rep. John Ager, who is running for re-election in NC 115 here in Buncombe County.
I'll be phonebanking for the Clinton/Kaine campaign - which is also working to elect Democrats up and down the ballot - next Wednesday, Sept. 7 in downtown Asheville. Just reply to this email if you want to join me.