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Community Reparations Commission extends process; consultant “steps back”

Christine Edwards of the firm Civility Localized has served as project manager since November 2022.
Screen grab from Buncombe County
Christine Edwards of the firm Civility Localized has served as project manager since November 2022.

Christine Edwards, the project manager who oversaw Asheville and Buncombe County’s joint reparations effort, announced she would “step back” and pivot into serving as an “administrative support manager.”

Monday’s announcement surprised some of the Community Reparations Commission’s 25 members and came less than a year after the Charlotte-based consultant started the role.

“While it has been an incredible honor to be a member of this effort, it’s become evident that through these several months that my involvement has not had the intended impact,” Edwards said at the commission meeting on October 16.

Edwards' announcement followed a shift in the meeting agenda prompted by commissioner Keith Young, who opened the meeting by sharing that there was “important information that needed to be brought to light."

“I believe this needs to be discussed at the top of the agenda because I believe it puts into flux everything that this commission is doing,” Young said.

Young, a former city councilman who wrote and helped pass the city’s initial reparations resolution, said most people were unaware of Edwards’ unexpected departure and that it could cause complications.

“We haven't really been given a plan of succession, nor how things are gonna shake out,” he told BPR in a phone interview.

“We all found out [Monday]. Some of the commissioners found out in the meeting and some of us had heard rumors earlier in the day, but we haven’t been told that there's going to be people taking over. I can't really say what the actual concrete plan is and what that looks like moving forward.”

The commission officially formed in March 2022, following the City of Asheville's and Buncombe County’s decisions to approve reparations resolutions in 2020.

Edwards was the second consultant to step away from managing the city and county’s historic reparations efforts. The original consultant on the project, the Cary-based TEQuity, served for a little more than a year before resigning in November 2022.

In late September 2023, the city’s equity and inclusion director Brenda Mills, who chairs the Community Reparations Commission, also announced her retirement.

Community Reparations Commission is made up of community members from Asheville and Buncombe County. This virtual meeting took place July 18, 2022.
Courtesy of Community Reparations Commission
Community Reparations Commission is made up of community members from Asheville and Buncombe County.

Commission timeline shift

At Monday's meeting, the commission also voted 10-4 on a resolution to extend the commission from April 2024 to December 2024.

Vice Chair Dewana Little said the commission has not yet received enough input from community members.

“Just to be real, we have not exhausted our resources to make sure that we are touching as many Black people as possible with this process and getting their input on our recommendations,” she said.

Some members of the commission expressed concern about the resolution which originally proposed extending the commission’s work for an additional two years.

“We have addressed the harm, have we not, in all of our [impact focus areas]?” commission member Bobbette Mays asked.

“We have,” she continued. “We've gone back from slavery. We have gone all the way back to the beginning, and we've come all the way up to now, to where we need to go forward. I would think…We have done that process. So what I'm saying is I don't want to start over…that means you got to start all over again, so you'll be sitting right here a year and a half for now with some new people talking about the same thing.”

Assistant Buncombe County Manager DK Wesley said the April deadline was not set in stone. Any extension recommended by the commission would be considered by Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, she said.

“If there is a reason or justification for an extension, however long, we can take it forward to our board and our city council if you all…vote for that,” she said. “ I will say that it is going to have to be a pretty detailed, significant justification to justify two years.”

What’s next?

Edwards will officially conclude her responsibilities as project manager in November, according to the city’s website.

Edwards requested a revision in the scope of her role to be more administrative in nature and no longer include the project management aspects of supporting the commission.

At the meeting, commission director Mills said she “was not going to speak in detail because we are still working it out,” but that the city and county have a “high-level plan.”

Mills also said the city will add additional staff to help support the project.

Brenda Mills' retirement is effective January 31, 2024.
City of Asheville
Brenda Mills' retirement is effective January 31, 2024.

In an email statement to BPR, Mills declined to provide further details about why Edwards was stepping back from her current responsibilities, but she said the city and county have a meeting scheduled next week to “map out roles and responsibilities” following Edwards' transition.

“We are confident that this process will continue as planned,” Mills wrote. “The first consultant, TEQuity LLC, provided a great framework to kick off the project and the second, Civility Localized, provided order and continuity, firmed up the timeframe, and provided a template for recommendations development.”

On October 17, the commission released a draft of short, medium, and long term recommendations and asked the community to provide initial feedback. The draft focuses on five core topics: housing, economic development, criminal justice, education, and health and wellness.

Some of the recommendations include:

  • Criminal justice reform, including incentives to increase Black representation in the police force and funding to support Black community members who have been involved in the criminal justice system.
  • The creation of a Black economic development center and business grants for Black-owned businesses of up to $100,000.
  • The creation of a community-based educational space for Black youth that includes enrichment experiences.
  • Comprehensive recruitment and retention package for Black educators that includes social, financial, professional, and housing support.
  • Funding for Black-owned and Black-led health centers and healing spaces, including birthing centers, healing circles, and other entities that support health and healing among Black people.
  • Accountability for entities/institutions responsible for anti-Black discrimination in health care.
  • A resolution to support housing reparations in Asheville and Buncombe County, as well as a Black homeownership campaign and the creation of communities on reparations land that supports Black homeownership and Black-owned business. 

Once the commission finalizes the recommendations, the measures will go before Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for a vote.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.