Rich Answers Questions: The League of Women Voters

Position/philosophy statement:

Let’s make day-to-day life in the city better now, tackling our problems with steady, heartfelt leadership, even as we plan for tomorrow’s challenges.

What experience and qualities do you feel you bring to this office?

In my work, I help families budget and plan their futures in a city where costs are rapidly rising. As chair of our city’s Multimodal Transportation Commission, I see how our infrastructure struggles under explosive growth. I’ve helped guide major overhauls of our transit system, along with road, sidewalk and greenway projects across the city through the budget process. I’ve represented neighborhoods impacted by poor planning and won improvements that maintain quality of life. I’ve worked to increase government transparency, and spearheaded important initiatives on traffic safety and equity. I am experienced, fair, inclusive, and passionate about making the city a better, fairer, safer, and more open place for everybody to live.

What do you think makes you the best candidate for this position?

Experience. You need particular skills to work an initiative through the city bureaucracy: steadiness, patience, creativity, willingness to listen. If it only took good intentions and passion, we’d already be a utopia. I know the process and have shown time and again that I can get things done.

Identify your top three (3) issues that you wish to address during your tenure in office and rank them in order of priority.

1) Government accountability. Without this, none of the rest happens. Transparent policymaking; city services interacting fairly, reliably, and openly with the public; a budget process that responds to public needs; careful stewardship of tax dollars.

2) Infrastructure resiliency. From roads to water lines, our physical environment is struggling to handle growth and the changing climate. It’s a drag, a genuine threat to life and limb, and the main way we experience the city’s changes for the worse. Yet roads and pipes get too little attention from city leaders.

3) Shared prosperity. We need affordable housing, yes. But more broadly we need a diversified economy with rising incomes across all sectors and reaching the entire population

What is the first thing you hope to accomplish in your office, if elected?

Initiate the long-promised zoning code overhaul to create a clear rulebook for developers to follow, guiding growth where we can handle it and putting an end to unsustainable practices.

What are your views regarding self-governance (autonomy) of local North Carolina municipalities? When and how should the state legislature intervene?

I believe government, simply put, is people coming together to solve problems. At the level of very local government, the problems and their solutions aren’t even particularly partisan. They’re practical questions looking for practical answers: how do we live, work, get around, and respect each other in this confined space, this city? The problems of Asheville aren’t exactly the same as Gaston County’s, or even Raleigh’s and Charlotte’s. Yet our solutions are limited to what legislators from Gaston, Mecklenburg, and 98 other counties approve. That doesn’t seem fair. I believe when the people of Asheville come together behind a course of action, there ought to be a way to make it happen. I hate hearing “But Raleigh won’t allow it!” more than anyone. Yes, North Carolina is a Dillon’s Rule state that restricts the powers of municipalities. That’s our legal environment. But problem solving, finding ways to live together, is our culture and our responsibility to each other. We can’t say “Raleigh won’t allow!” and give up. Look at Charlotte passing a nondiscrimination ordinance when everyone thought it was impossible. Look at Davidson and Cary taking action on housing no one thought was possible. We’re creative, caring people, thinking deeply about how to share this space. If we want something, let’s come up with ways together to do it.

Rich Lee for Asheville City Council climbing tree