May 23, 2004
TO: Mayor Charles Worley and the Asheville City Council
FROM:  Monroe Gilmour, Coordinator
               Swannanoa Valley Alliance for Beauty & Prosperity(SVABP)
                PO Box 1341, Black Mountain, NC 28711
Re: Access policy on the Asheville Watershed: Questions the City Manager should answer
        (with reference to the Asheville Citizen-Times article, Sunday 5/23/04)
Dear Mayor Worley and Asheville City Council:
    Sunday's Asheville Citizen-Times ran a story on page one of the Mountain section concerning our request that you investigate the inaccuracies in what City Manager Jim Westbrook and  Water Department Interim Director have written to us.
    The article revealed new information unknown to us before and, in doing so, raises serious questions of veracity  and managerial effectiveness in the people hired to carry out your policies.  Whatever the details of the forestry management plan when it is presented,   I hope we both agree now that interactions between the City of Asheville and the public should be forthright, transparent, and accurate.  We are writing today to ask that in your investigation of this matter you consider asking the following questions:
1. Quality of Security?   If, as City Manager Westbrook stated in the article, the forester did not have permission to take his private group on the Watershed, how could several carloads of people arrive at the Watershed, fire up a grill & have a picnic, and then tour the Watershed without anyone asking a question, especially in light of 'security' being the reason for the no-tour policy?
2. COA staff accompanied Hicks' tour?   If, as City Manager Westbrook stated in the article, the forester did not have permission to take his private group on the Watershed, how does City Manager Westbrook explain  the fact that a member of the Watershed staff accompanied the tour?  We have learned from a person on the tour that a Watershed staff member unlocked the gate allowing them in.
3. Security  in regard to visitors to Watershed?  The article states that "In a letter to Gilmour, City Manager Jim Westbrook said the only people allowed on the land in the last two years have been contractors, engineers, chemical delivery drivrs and mail carriers delivering mail to the water facility."
    If 'security' is the reason for the no-tour policy and if even a group of citizens known to you (SVABP) is not allowed, what are the security measures taken to vet such visitors as noted by the City Manager, many of whom would be first-time visitors?   
    My guess is that there is no vetting process for he individuals allowed into the Watershed. If true, that fact reveals that security is actually more lax and casual than would be believed reading the tour-request denials sent to us.  
    My own conclusion is that cutting off tours of school children was short-sighted, ineffective from a security standpoint, and unnecessary.  Similarly, the denial of citizens to review an important upcoming policy decision was also not a security issue and counterproductive.  I think it would be useful to ask the City Manager to review the  security policy rationale and to get public input while doing so.  I hope that you will conclude that giving the tour to camp directors should have allowed by policy just as our request should have been allowed by policy--and that you will change the policy.
4. Quality of Internal Communication?  The ACT article quotes the City Manager saying the forester did not have permission while the same article quotes the Interim Director of the Water Resources Department surmising that perhaps he did have permission.  Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?
    On February 12, 2004,  I wrote to Mr. Westbrook informing him of the camp directors' tour and the grill-and-picnic by the lake   In his March 12 reply to me, Mr. Westbrook never even mentioned that Mr. Hicks lacked permission to take the tour group on the Watershed. In fact, he wrote that  "Mr. Hicks has brought individuals with specific expertise to accompany him on the watershed on numerous occasions with the approval of the Water Production Superintendent."
    This reply combined with what he stated in the ACT article defies credulity.  Is there a disconnect in communications between your line managers and the City Manager.  How could he not have known the people on the tour had no forestry expertise or that they did in fact have permission? 
    At best, Mr. Westbrook got bad information from his subordinates, or indeed no information at all.  At worst, Mr. Westbrook intentionally dodged the question and consciously gave inaccurate information to me in his March 12 letter.
    Either way, it speaks poorly of the quality of his management style.   Does this pattern of management happen elsewhere in City government?   Have other citizens had the same experience on different issues?  Are these management questions that, if not resolved satisfactorily, will negatively affect the quality of governance in the City of Ashevile? 
    Beyond the details of the Watershed-tour-policy, the management pattern revealed should be the concern of City Council.  I would note that this pattern is the same one we saw with various City officials during the Rod & Gun Club revelations and the earlier four-year controversy over clearcutting. 
5. Maintenance Problem or Logging Program?  The ACT article expanded our understanding of what the "access problem" is.  The article states, "After a plane crash in the watershed in 2001, emergency crews had problems reaching the aircraft because of downed trees across the watershed roads."
    We had known of the emergency crews' complaints about access but did not know that it was based on "trees across the watershed roads." 
    That fact raises the question:   "Does the Asheville Watershed need a forestry management program or a high-quality road maintenance program?"     Cutting the grass and keeping roads clear would seem a simple enough task, given funding and staff.   Even the "fire danger" problem (if indeed there is one) would be improved with such maintenance.
    Another question would be: "Why are the Watershed roads not clear now and why has this issue not been addressed more aggressively til now?"
(In the earlier fight over clearcutting, the Water Department, after giving numerous other discredited rationales,  tried to use the rationale that logging would bring in revenue that could be used to maintain the roads.  That rationale was itself discredited when it turned out it took  more money and staff time supporting the contract than the contract brought in revenue.)
Conclusion:  The  manner of interaction and response between City officials and our organization raises broader questions of truthfulness, internal communication, transparency,and effective policy analysis.  Only with City Council's intensive intervention will these negative management characteristics be corrected.  I urge you to fix them and to include the public in that process.  We will be glad to help.
    Thank you for your attention to these questions and observations and know I would be happy to meet with each of you to discuss these observations and our experience. 
* * * * *
PS:  While being unable to comment on the forestry plan itself since it hasn't been made public, I cannot help but note a quote by David Hanks in the ACT on May 19, 2004 under the headline: "Water Budget decision delayed."   He is quoted, "If we were to get into an extreme drought, we probably wouldn't be able to met the (new) standard (at North Fork)," Hanks said."  (parenthenses are the ACT's)
    Why, one might ask, is the City Council even considering a logging program on the Watershed at this time?  At best, logging in the Watershed will not improve the reservoir's water quality but will expose it to greater risk .
    Yes, it is possible to do logging with minimal risk but do we really want to take that risk, especially with these new high standards requirements? 
     A key question might be:  "Are the benefits of a logging program so enormously substantial that it is worth taking on that risk to the water quality?"  Skidders, logging trucks, erosion, ongoing public controversy, less security, etc. etc.  This is what will be part of a forestry management plan that includes logging.  Can we afford it?