(The Center Square) – Asheville's mayor abruptly suspended discussion over slavery reparations funding for Black residents this week, sparking backlash from residents and a supporting city council member.
The Asheville City Council was supposed to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would have set aside $1 million for reparations for Black residents. Mayor Esther Manheimer said it was removed from the agenda after a request by most of the city council. The council plans to schedule a work session with newly elected council members to go over the plan, Manheimer said.
"But let me just reassure you that council remains unanimously committed to the previously passed reparations resolution," she said. "We need more time, however, to chart a path forward on reparations."
Councilman Keith Young, who lost his reelection bid Nov. 3, initially proposed the city's reparation plan that was approved in July. Young said Tuesday he fears the "proposal will die with his departure." The new council members will be sworn in Dec. 1.
"Funding community reparations was snatched off the agenda yesterday, but I was not alerted until an hour before the meeting today," Young wrote Tuesday on Facebook. "The Black community has taken a serious loss tonight in Asheville."
Asheville made history in July as the third city in the U.S. to grant reparations for slavery to Black people. The city council apologized for slavery and segregation and voted unanimously to develop a plan, form a commission and provide funding to address racial inequities and disparities. The city vowed to address economic obstacles for Black people, including generational wealth and disparities in homeownership, employment and health care.
Young told the Citizen-Times on Nov. 3 that he sent a letter to the other council members recommending they use nearly $4 million to initiate the plan, which he referred to as his final request before leaving. Young said after the meeting Tuesday, the council should propose $4 million or more.
"At every turn, I was told this proposal couldn't work despite me showing time after time how it could," Young said.
Manheimer's announcement that tabled the resolution and the cut in funding also prompted criticism from residents.
West Asheville resident Paul Schulman said during public comment Tuesday the last-minute agenda move shows a lack of transparency and disrespect for the proposal.
"$4 million is frankly laughable when we consider the unbelievable harm that's been done over the years," Schulman said.
Asheville's population is 83% white, 12% Black and 2% Asian. Two percent of the population identifies as more than one race, and less than 1% are American Indian or Pacific Islanders, according to the U.S. Census Bureau of Statistics.
According to a disparity report conducted by the city in 2018, Black residents are paid less and own fewer homes than white residents in Asheville. Black workers in Asheville made an annual mean wage of $27,998 between 2012 and 2016. White workers made more than any other racial group in Asheville during the same time, with an annual mean salary of $43,553. While seven out of 10 white Asheville residents own homes, only four out of 10 Black residents are homeowners.
Montford resident David Greenson said many residents have started doubting the council's commitment to the reparations plan. Young's Facebook followers echoed the same sentiment.
Greenson said he hopes Tuesday's decision to delay the process is an indication the council will return for the Dec. 8 meeting with millions more in reparation funding.
"A debate on whether we should set aside a million or $4 million for reparations is pointless because we all know reparations are going to require many, many millions of dollars," Greenson said. "And this is only going to bring about long-overdue justice for Black Asheville, it's gonna lead to an economic boom in this region, the likes of which we haven't seen."