Quentin Miller was sworn in as Buncombe County’s first African American Sheriff. Photo: Urban News

2018: The Year in Review

Quentin Miller was sworn in as Buncombe County’s first African American Sheriff. Photo: Urban News

A year to remember—and one we’d rather forget.

While Washington spent the entire second year of a presidency in turmoil, Asheville endured its own mini-me 2018—though with somewhat better results.

The year began with the January leak of a police video showing APD officer Christopher Hickman beating and tasing civilian Johnnie Jermaine Rush the previous August as he walked home at midnight after a long day at work. Hickman, who is white, accused Rush, who is black, of jaywalking and then of trespassing as he crossed an empty street and an empty parking lot; then, with his rookie trainee watching, he took Rush down, tased, choked, and handcuffed him, and arrested him.

Tammy Hooper

Fallout was fast and intense. The community’s perception was that if Police Chief Tammy Hooper had shared the full bodycam video with the District Attorney in a timely fashion, asked the SBI to investigate (standard procedure for any police beating), and fired Hickman before he could resign, outcomes may have been different. However, at that point, the damage was done:

  • Hickman was allowed (under law) to resign before being fired—so he can likely land another law enforcement job in the future;
  • DA Todd Williams dropped all charges against Rush, and brought charges against Hickman, who was indicted in July on charges of misdemeanor communicating threats, misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury, and felony assault by strangulation;
  • Rush sued the city, which in August 2018 agreed to pay him damages;
  • City Council fired City Manager Gary Jackson, to whom Hooper reported;
  • Hooper handed in her resignation in November, effective Dec. 31—though with sweetener for “consulting” after she’s out of office.

Unending Turmoil

There were also developments in Buncombe County’s management scandal. Former interim County Manager Mandy Stone and former Assistant Manager Jon Creighton were both indicted for taking kickbacks from a longtime private contractor in exchange for county business. Former longtime County Manager Wanda Green, who already faced indictment on several charges, was re-indicted on additional charges as well. Her son Michael accepted a deal that included pleading guilty to one conspiracy charge and agreeing to pay an $11,000 dollar fine.

Debra D. Campbell, Asheville City Manager

New leadership, new leaders

A full year after the beating of Johnnie Rush, and three months after Jackson’s dismissal, Asheville appointed a new City manager in August. Debra Campbell, Assistant City Manager of Charlotte, took the reins Dec. 3 as the city’s first African American in the job; among her first challenges will be to choose a replacement for Hooper.

Buncombe County, meanwhile, made history—along with Durham, Cumberland, Forsyth, Guilford, and Pitt counties—in electing black sheriffs for the first time. After emerging as the winner of a five-man Democratic primary, former Asheville Police Department Sergeant Quentin Miller handily defeated two opponents, a Republican and a Libertarian, winning 61% of the county-wide vote in November.

Miller’s platform included a strong focus on community engagement, de-escalation training, working with the District Attorney on alternative punishment and diversion programs, and a widely progressive program of sensible gun control measures, treatment rather than incarceration in the opioid epidemic, and the approval of medical marijuana for pain treatment.

Along with the other five counties electing their first African American sheriffs (and in Pitt County, the new sheriff is an African American woman), Mecklenburg (Charlotte) and Wake (Raleigh) counties also elected black sheriffs, though they were not the first in those roles. So now the head of law enforcement in the seven largest NC counties is an African American sheriff—offering a stark contrast, and a reason for optimism, in the face of the resurgence of racism and Jim Crow tactics across the country … and in the state legislature.

There were few election surprises in Asheville-Buncombe County; Miller was a strong favorite for sheriff, and Amanda Edwards successfully held the Buncombe County Commission seat of retiring Commissioner Ellen Frost, 55-44, keeping a majority of four Democrats on the seven-member commission. There she will join Al Whitesides, who ran unopposed for a full term from the first district, and Robert Pressley, who defeated Democrat Donna Ensley to win a second term from District 3.

Dr. Nancy Cable

Changes here, there and everywhere

Not only did Asheville replace its City Manager and anticipate choosing a new Chief of Police, and Buncombe County get a new sheriff, but other institutions bade farewell to longtime leaders and welcomed new ones.

UNC Asheville named a new chancellor, Dr. Nancy Cable, who began her duties in July, after a year of interim service by Dr. Joseph Urgo (who remains provost) after the unexpected resignation of former Chancellor Mary Grant in 2017.

Also this year, four legendary professors—Dr. Deborah (Dee) Grier-James (English), Dr. Charles James (chemistry), Dr. Dwight Mullen, and Dr. Dolly Jenkins-Mullen (both Political Science)—retired from UNC Asheville in May after more than three decades of teaching, challenging, and inspiring students. In October, to honor them, the Humanities Lecture Hall was renamed the James & Mullen Humanities Hall.

In September, the Rev. Dr. Charles Mosley also retired, after 43 years as pastor of Nazareth First Baptist Church—and more than 50 years since he first preached there while still a student.

Up the road in Madison County, Mars Hill University honored departing President Dan Lunsford in May after 16 years, and welcomed his successor, Dr. Tony Floyd, in September.

Western Carolina University in Cullowhee mourned the passing of former Chancellor David Belcher, 60, who had retired after only six years when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

And one of Asheville’s legendary political leaders, Marie Colton, died in early September at age 95. Colton was the first woman ever to serve a President Pro-Tem of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and had been a fighter for equal rights and education throughout her career.

Big Business, Big News

In perhaps the biggest business news of 2018, the nonprofit Mission Hospital agreed to be sold to HCA Healthcare, a for-profit hospital chain that owns more than 175 hospitals and stand-alone surgery centers in the U.S. and United Kingdom. Under state law, the sale requires that all net revenues from such a sale be turned into an independent trust dedicated to healthcare—and completely separate from the purchasing organization.

Complaints and questions immediately arose about the sale. Why HCA, which is the largest for-profit healthcare provider in the country? What guarantees would there be that those hospitals would continue to serve their communities? How separate would the new Dogwood Trust be, given that its founding nine-member board included seven former chairs of the Mission board and limited geographic, racial, or ethnic diversity? [See related story about two new board members]

The state Attorney General, Josh Stein, is reviewing the sale to ensure that all laws governing transfers of nonprofit institutions to for-profit status will be met. But in the meantime, a storm of controversy has erupted over the sale, with local stakeholders, who feel they built the hospital system, questioning whether HCA will put profits ahead of the community’s needs.

The Year of the Woman?

At least 118 women will serve in the 116th Congress, with 96 in the House and 22 in the Senate. Women won state legislative seats around the country, as well. But it was also the Year of Disparaging Women.

After Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) spoke with the widow of a U.S. soldier slain in Africa, Donald Trump and his Chief of Staff John Kelly lied about her involvement in the naming of a new FBI field office building, and Kelly and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the black Congresswoman an “empty barrel”; later, when video proved they were wrong, both adamantly refused to apologize to her.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, discussed the corruption of the Trump regime—and was immediately the subject of repeated, ongoing attacks as a “low-IQ” person, along with other disparaging remarks, most made by the president himself.

Georgia House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams, a Yale Law School-educated attorney who founded the New Georgia Project to register 18-25-year-olds to vote, won the Democratic nomination for governor and came within 1–2 percentage points of defeating the Republican in this deep red southern state. Donald Trump, campaigning for her white opponent, who personally oversaw the disenfranchisement of over 55,000 mostly black voters, called her “completely unqualified” for public office.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez successfully primaried a 10-term congressman from Brooklyn on a “Democratic Socialist” platform, and quickly demonstrated the depth and breadth of her vision, drive, honesty, strength, and intelligence. You can guess what happened.

What do all these powerful, outspoken, influential women have in common, besides being women? Well, they’re all black or brown, and they’re all under constant attack by powerful white men.

Nor are they alone: white women in power—Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi come to mind—have faced the same disdain and contempt as their African American and Hispanic sisters. So watching the number of newly elected, newly empowered women taking office across the country will give a good start to 2019.

State legislative follies

The NC General Assembly continued its seven-year assault on representative democracy, continually creating legislation in secretive, closed meetings that denied even fellow Republicans the opportunity to amend bills before voting on them.

Judicial redistricting appeared and quickly disappeared, as legislation was passed to cancel primaries, was overturned by the courts, turned up again as a ballot initiative, and was slammed to the ground by the voters in November. The budget was brought out by a “conference committee” that permitted only legislative leaders and a few committee chairs to participate, and then was brought to the floor and voted on, vetoed by the governor, and passed over his veto by an almost party-line vote.

Courts also reversed legislation that took away the power of the governor to control a majority interest over certain executive agencies, and threw out redistricting in which racial and partisan gerrymandering were challenged.

As our legislative reporter Nelda Holder wrote at the time, we should “reflect on the fact that … North Carolina has operated for almost a decade under what court rulings [have found] to be illegal legislative districts. Individuals … make decisions on behalf of this state and its people, who—sans gerrymandering—might never have been in office.

In another case, the NC Supreme Court found 4-3 that provisions of another law changing the State Board of Elections violated the state constitution’s separation of powers clause.

But in late July, the legislature did an end run around the courts that have continued to overturn its legislation, voting to place six constitutional amendments on the ballot that, if passed by the voters, the courts could not overturn. Four of those passed:

  • “Maximum Income Tax Rate of 7.0%” (SB 85)
  • “Protect Right to Hunt and Fish” (SB 677)
  • “Strengthening Victims’ Rights” (HB 551)
  • “Require Photo ID to Vote” (HB 1092)

The other two were opposed not just by Democrats in the Assembly and across the state, but also by all five living former governors, Republicans and Democrats alike. And both—the “Judicial Vacancy Sunshine Amend-ment” and the “Bipartisan Ethics and Elections Enforcement” amendment—were handily defeated.

The ultimate vote, however, came in November, when the Democrats won enough seats to end the Republicans’ veto-proof grip on power in the Legislature. Now, if Governor Roy Cooper vetoes a bill, the GOP will have to find Democrats to override him—or, heaven forfend, actually compromise with the party that represents a solid majority of the state’s voters.

What a year! We can’t wait until January!

 

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