Montreat Board of Commissioners discuss changing system of government, bear hunting

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News

MONTREAT - Bears, dogs and a new system of government made up a few of the topics covered at the Montreat Board of Commissioners meeting on March 10. 

The board approved a resolution of intent for the council-manager form of government at the March meeting. A public hearing set for April 14 will take place before a final vote by the commissioners in May. 

Ben Blackburn, interim town administrator, explains the differences between a council-manager system of government and the one currently in place at the Board of Commissioners meeting March 10.

According to interim town administrator Ben Blackburn, this new system would change the town administrator position to town manager, meaning the manager would answer to the majority of the town council. More specifically, the mayor would work closely with the manager to relay communication to the council.

"There's not going to be a lot of differences between the town administrator and the town manager," Blackburn said. 

The commissioners and Blackburn agreed that the new council-manager system would not be entirely different from the current system with the exception of putting a Town Council in place of the Board of Commissioners.

During communications from town staff, Mayor Tim Helms stated the town has spent $74,000 so far on attorney fees for the Board of Adjustment hearings that approved a special use permit for the Mountain Retreat Association to build a new hotel. 

The Board of Adjustment planned to hold a special call meeting March 16 to hear or deny an appeal of specific testimony from the hearing. 

More:Montreat Board of Adjustment calls special meeting to discuss MRA special use permit

The board also discussed an ordinance for bear hunting dogs within the town limits. Commissioner Mason Blake has taken the lead on researching the ordinance in place and how to improve regulations. 

"The only penalty actually in the ordinances is sort of a nonfunctioning penalty," Blake said. 

As Montreat's police force doesn't possess the capabilities to capture and transport hunting dogs to county authorities, as the existing ordinance states, Blake said this cannot function. 

Jim Gibbs, a member of a local bear hunting club, addressed the board, saying his club doesn't need to hunt in Montreat's residential neighborhoods, as has frequently been an issue for other hunters. He said while the dogs haven't been turned loose within the town, they cannot control where a bear will run when chased. 

"There needs to be a process in place for us to retrieve our dogs in an orderly manner without being fined or penalized," Gibbs said. "We will gladly work with the Montreat Police Department in the retrieval of our dogs." 

Gibbs suggested a special permit to allow hunters to retrieve hunting dogs when in town or a decal labeling hunters by their vehicles. Board members agreed that Gibbs and his fellow hunters have been respectful of the town and easy to work with. 

The Montreat Board of Commissioners discussed the issue of bear hunting within town limits, noting instances where dogs have run through residential neighborhoods.

The other penalties in place, according to Blake, include three warnings for hunters before a $250 fine. He said hunters are more likely to change dogs before getting to the fourth warning. 

Blake also suggested expanding the dog control ordinance to a more broad animal control ordinance, a regulation, he said, most municipalities have. This would include a specific provision labeling the hunting dogs as a public nuisance, allowing the town to enact further penalties.

"It's to consider a more effective penalty in the ordinance for people to consider dogs running at large," Blake said. "They're in violation of our ordinance now, we just don't have a penalty to keep them from doing it."

Public works announced Assembly Drive will be closed starting at 8 a.m. on March 14. The town will be removing an estimated 30-35 diseased or dying trees. 

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.