Black Mountain Town Council supports Ukraine, adopts amendments, listens to citizens

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Black Mountain Town Council members appeared before the public open faced on March 14, the first time since the expiration of the county mask mandate.

The Black Mountain Town Council addressed a full agenda at its March 14 meeting.

The council pledged support for Ukraine, heard presentations from community organizations, adopted budget amendments for the police department, adopted an updated Code of Ethics, appointed a new member to the Zoning Board of Adjustment and took action on a potential commercial zone after hearing testimonials from the community. 

Roughly 30 community members attended the meeting in-person. 

Ukraine pledge and community presentations

"Black Mountain, NC, joins in offering whatever support can be provided to our Ukrainian friends and neighbors," read Mayor Larry Harris from the council's resolution. "And condemns the crimes and atrocities that are being perpetrated on the people of Ukraine."

Harris said the resolution in support of Ukraine was invoked at a council member's request. The council approved the resolution unanimously in supporting Ukraine and condemning Russian aggression. 

Black Mountain Mayor Larry Harris reads a pledge in support of Ukraine at the March 14 meeting.

At the start of the meeting, council heard presentations from organizations including the Citizens Climate Lobby, urging council to pledge support for the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a federal regulation putting a fee on carbon to promote economic growth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The rising fee that will be passed down through the markets will steer us away from fossil fuels while creating a level playing field for clean energy to compete against the cheaper fossil fuel options," said Citizens Climate Lobby representative Steffi Rausch. 

The council also heard a presentation from the local pickleball league, with widespread support from meeting attendees, asking for a pickleball court so as not to interfere with tennis groups. 

Fees for off-duty police

Among other budgetary discussions, including allocation of fees for the Recreation and Parks Department to better operate a summer camp, the council heard a short presentation from Police Chief Steve Parker to approve an off-duty fee schedule. 

"This is basically part of the accreditation process," Parker said. "What is best practice, what is best policy."

Parker said in January that accreditation would allow for the department to be reviewed in officer behavior and departmental policies to ensure the entire department acts professionally and accordingly. The department would be accredited by the North Carolina law enforcement accreditation program. 

Currently, Parker said when an off-duty officer is requested by an outside party, the officer is paid in a hand-to-hand transaction, a process not aligning with best practices. The chief said there haven't been any incidents of impropriety, but he would like the department to follow best practices of accreditation to maintain professionalism. 

The fee schedule also allows for officers to be covered by workers compensation and better compensation for working off the clock. Parker said off-duty police can be hired for things such as traffic control, music events or other security matters. 

The council approved the off-duty police fee schedule as presented. 

Code of Ethics and Board of Adjustment appointee

The Town Council approved an update to the Code of Ethics for the Governing Body of the Town of Black Mountain at the March meeting. 

Town Attorney Ron Sneed said the update serves to ensure council members serve office without conflict from financial interests. He said the update includes wording changes so council members need not file a lengthy statement disclosing every property or business dealing within the town.

"That's a little bit of overreach," Sneed said, addressing the council. "I modified that to say you'll give the information if you have property you're going to develop in the upcoming year or that you'll be asking for rezoning on in the upcoming year." 

With Sneed's amendment to the update, the council approved the new Code of Ethics unanimously. 

Due to a vacancy, the Zoning Board of Adjustment hasn't been able to hold a quorum. The council appointed Chloe Riddle to fill the vacancy. 

Though Riddle was the only applicant, the council members assured the public she was highly qualified and provided an impressive application. 

Council Member Pam King prepares for the March 14 meeting. King thanked female town employees at the meeting for their hard work in recognition of Women's History Month.

Council adheres to citizens' request

In a continuation from last month's meeting, Town Council held a public hearing for rezoning a section of N.C. 9 for commercial use. After multiple members of the public voiced concerns over increased traffic in an already busy area, the council spoke openly to the public before coming to a decision to deny the rezoning request. 

According to council, the town's Planning and Zoning Department also advised against allowing for the commercial zoning of the land.

"We are accountable to those people that have been here and those people have spoken unanimously that they don't want the property rezoned at this point," said Vice Mayor Ryan Stone. 

Stone addressed those who would rezone the land, saying he was appreciative of the efforts gone into accommodating the neighbors of the lot, but ultimately, as a member of the council, he must follow what the citizens ask. 

The other council members echoed Stone's statements. 

"It would be one of our utmost responsibilities to listen to the citizens of this town," agreed Council Member Archie Pertiller. 

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.