It was inspiring to look around a packed hall in downtown Asheville last Monday night and see about 250 people gathered for a town hall on opioid issues. The stories in the room were personal, heartbreaking, inspiring, and motivating. We heard updates about the latest local data, which shows promising reduction in overdose deaths and ER visits, heard about new initiatives like offering Medication Assisted Treatment in the county jail and heard about the power of peer-based recovery and support programs. The event was co-hosted by Buncombe County, the City of Asheville, MAHEC, and Vaya. I was honored to be among those who spoke.
This issue - how we come together to end the opioid crisis - matters a lot to me personally and because of the many community member I've met who've been personally impacted. I truly believe that the path to recovery starts by meeting people where they are, listening, offering a hand, and then helping people access the care they need and deserve.
Throughout the event, we heard this message echoed: we have to end the stigma around addiction, we have to treat people as people not as their disease, and we have to be relentless in responding to this crisis.
You can read coverage on the county's website here: https://www.buncombecounty.org/countycenter/news-detail.aspx?id=18251
I wanted you to be the first to know that I’m running for re-election to Buncombe County Commission in 2020.
Serving on Commission since 2016 has been a tremendous honor. I’ve met folks all across our county and heard their stories, some joyful, some heartbreaking. Working with community partners and families, I’ve had the honor to help lead the creation of the county’s new Early Childhood Education and Development Fund and now chair the committee that advises this fund. I’ve championed new affordable housing initiatives and worked on new policy responses to the opioid epidemic.
People ask what it’s like to be on County Commission. My answer is pretty simple: I love it. My decision to run again is about wanting to keep representing your voice in Buncombe County and to keep working with you to create policies that help everyone in our community thrive. This means significantly expanding access to quality early childhood education and to safe affordable housing; ensuring we are nimble, compassionate and effective in our responses to the opioid epidemic; creating a 21st Century criminal justice system that ends practices of mass incarceration; and taking local action to respond to the threats of climate change.
Our community deserves the very best of what local government can be and for the full resources of county government to be focused resolutely on solving problems and serving people. I’ve been and will continue to be a voice for reform, transparency and accountability in our county government.
My wife, Meghann, and I have talked a lot about this decision and what it means for our family, which has grown in the past year as we welcomed Lily and Wyatt to the world and as Cal has started kindergarten. What we keep coming back to is this: we need people in government who get what it’s like to be a working family, who know first hand what discrimination feels like, and who understand the real impact that fair, just policies can make in people’s lives. I carry this understanding with me into every meeting I attend and every vote I take as a Commissioner.
From the start, my campaign has been about people coming together - to talk about what matters to them, to dream about what we can do in our community, and to get out and do the work. We built a campaign on the values of equality, community, and opportunity. When it comes to working with those who hold different beliefs, we choose empathy as a starting place; we're doubling down on that now in these times of great division in our nation, I hope you will join me in this campaign.
Can you chip in right now to help me get off to a strong start? Whether it’s $5, $50, or $100, your donation means we can talk to more voters to spread this message.
As you may know, the court-ordered process of redrawing NC General Assembly districts also means that Buncombe County Commission districts will be redrawn. We expect finalized new maps in the coming weeks.
Regardless of what the districts look like, I have more work to do and this December, I will file in whatever district I live in.
It is a great honor to wake up each day and serve our community and it would be a great honor to be re-elected to this role in 2020. I hope to see you at an upcoming community event and you can also follow campaign updates here.
"I’m tired of doing memorial services for people I love who have died of opioid overdoses," Rev. Mark Siler of Haywood Street Community, said on Tuesday night when he spoke at our Buncombe County Commission meeting. Rev. Siler was there to show support for a new program that would expand access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) at the Buncombe County Detention Center. His words echoed the many stories I have heard from people across our community whose lives have been impacted, often tragically, by the opioid crisis.
This past year, I've been honored to work with the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, NC Department of Health and Human Services, and community partners on expanding access to MAT at the detention center. The Board of Commissioners passed a resolution endorsing this program by a unanimous 7-0 vote at our August 20th meeting.
Click here to read the rest of my recent op-ed, which ran in the Asheville Citizen Times.
I strongly oppose HB370 and was honored to work with fellow Buncombe County Commissioners Newman, Whitesides, and Edwards to send letters to Governor Cooper to support his pledged veto and to NCGA leadership urging them to oppose HB370. You can read the letters here.
This is a critical time to stand with immigrant communities at the local, state and federal level. HB370 is a dangerous bill that targets the immigrant community, violates due process, and undermines NC sheriffs' ability to set local policy regarding compliance with ICE detainers. Versions have passed both chambers of the legislature and it is currently at the House Committee on Rules.
This unconstitutional bill has particular implications in Buncombe County because Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller has established a local policy that our Sheriff's Office will not comply with ICE detainers. Here's what you can do to oppose HB370:
1) Please contact state elected officials and urge them to oppose HB370;
2) Please support the work of local organizations like CIMA that are on the front lines of opposing HB370 and supporting immigrant communities.
Since being elected in 2016, my top policy priority has been working on early childhood education and development issues - how we can make Buncombe County a place where every child has an equal opportunity to thrive.
I'm so excited that the county's new Early Childhood Education and Development Fund officially launched on July 1, 2019, ushering in a permanent commitment to the youngest children in our community. With this fund, the county has committed $3.6 million annually in county funding to support the county's priority of ensuring that every child has an opportunity thrive in their first 2,000 days, including expanding access to quality early childhood education. I'm grateful to serve on a County Commission that places prioritizes early childhood issues: the Fund was approved by a 6-1 vote and there is strong engagement on these issues across the Commission.
You can read more about this work on the county website and in media coverage. And you can read the full listing of projects receiving funding for FY 2020 here. It's an incredible line of projects.
All this really sunk in for me last week when the county hosted grantees for an orientation. In that packed room, people who are on the frontlines of educating and caring for our children shared stories about what this new funding will mean - new classrooms opening to serve more children, increasing teacher and staff pay to a living wage, being able to respond to the needs of children impacted by trauma. It was pretty emotional and pretty inspiring.
As part of this process, we also launched a 15-member Early Childhood Education and Development Committee, comprised of 3 County Commissioners - myself, Commissioners Pressley and Whitesides - and 12 community members who bring rich and diverse leadership and lived experience to this body. The work of this committee, which included reviewing grant applications totaling $7.8 million dollars and bringing funding recommendations to the Board of Commissioners, has been supported by county staff who have worked hard to ensure that accessibility and transparency are key features of the start up of this fund.
Everywhere I go, I talk about the experiences of children in Buncombe County and part of what motivates me is hearing how passionate people are about this issue. That local engagement tracks with what polling data from across the state tell us, which is that a commanding majority of people, across the political spectrum, support public funding for early childhood education.
I'll keep sharing updates here and invite you to follow along as this work keeps growing.