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McGrady not worried about Moffitt mopup

State Rep. Chuck McGrady. State Rep. Chuck McGrady.

Nowhere was the Republican tidal wave of 2014 less evident than in Buncombe County, where voters turned out two Republican House members largely viewed as antagonistic toward the city of Asheville.

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Reps. Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey won't be around to be sworn in next week, replaced by the Democrats who defeated them, Brian Turner and John Ager. A tiny blue dot in an ocean of red, Buncombe County fired the two Republicans.
Re-elected in a landslide next door, Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville retains solo ownership of issues like the Asheville Regional Airport, the Ag Center and Asheville water and sewer system.
"I don't feel like Tim has left me anything onerous to take care of," McGrady said in an interview. "He may have had a broader agenda than I did but I've been about trying to resolve some of these issues."
Cosponsor of one bill that wrested control of the airport from the city of Asheville, another that forced Asheville to de-annex the fairgrounds and a third that turns over its water system to a regional authority, McGrady could have been in the line of fire, too. A big difference is McGrady has never been antagonistic toward the city. His work on the issues that have divided Henderson County and its bigger neighbor to the north goes back years — to his service on the Board of Commissioners.
Although Moffitt bedeviled Asheville, he also made it possible for resolution, McGrady said.
"I view it as we've been opportunistic here," he said. "One of the problems is Henderson County and the city has been that we've always been out of cycle. When the Henderson County commissioners were all on the same page that's when the city would be about electing a new mayor, and once they sort of got everything in the same way, then the county commission was out of sync, and we just constantly seemed to be out of sync.
"What's changed I guess is Tim Moffitt lit a fire on the issues you've talked about as well as the issues related to land-use and deannexation and that presented an opportunity to get everybody on the same page," he said. "Mayor Manheimer has certainly significantly changed the tone of communications. She's just been much more willing to listen and willing to communicate not through media and social media."


'They're all connected'


So many Asheville-Buncombe-Henderson issues came to the fore at once, McGrady said, because they had to.
"They're all connected," he said. "You hate to think that they're all connected but they are. You don't get anything done unless you have ability to trust each other."
Esther Manheimer agreed that Asheville leaders have a better relation with McGrady and state Sen. Tom Apodaca, who represents southern Buncombe County, than they did with Moffitt and Ramsey.
"At our recent meeting with our legislative delegation, we invited Rep. McGrady even though Rep. McGrady doesn't represent any portion of Buncombe County," she said. "That's because he's been so involved with legislation that does impact our area. I've appreciated his ability to talk through an issue and negotiate to a final resolution, and he probably has acknowledged that those were wins and good movement for Asheville-Henderson County relations."
McGrady and Manheimer agreed that three big issues that have created conflict for decades — airport control, the Bent Creek property Henderson County was to receive in a water agreement with Asheville and Asheville's Ag Center annexation — are largely resolved.
"Other than water, there's not much hanging out," Manheimer said. "Of course, water's a big one."
The city's lawsuit is pending at the state Court of Appeals. And neither the city nor the Legislature sounds ready to back down.
"Asheville has not shown the ability to make the improvements and maintain (its water system) in appropriate fashion," McGrady said. "While I understand the history over the last five to six years isn't that way, that's only because the General Assembly passed the Sullivan Act and forced the city's hand. If you go back and look at the Court of Appeals decision challenging the Sullivan Act, you will see the documentation as found by the Court of Appeals that the city of Asheville has taken money from the water system to run city government. My view is that the city of Asheville over many decades has proven its inability to manage a water system."
But why should control of Asheville's water system matter to Henderson County?
"It's in the best interest of Henderson County because a large percentage of the water that's running through the system managed by the city of Asheville is coming from Henderson County," he said. "Our land-use is being affected by water that is for the most part being used by Buncombe and the city of Asheville constituents. Moreover, there is still an agreement to provide water to (northern) Henderson County, so we have an interest in the water side."


Untangling knots


On the whole, McGrady sees success from a process that has required persistence, attention to detail and diplomacy.
"This has been a very slow dance to bring together all the various parts," he said. "It's like untangling a big knot. The first part of the untanglement was dealing with Bent Creek. The second part of the untanglement was dealing with the Ag Center property. The third part is to now dealing with the larger set of airport issues, and once the Court of Appeals decides whatever it's going to do hopefully we will figure out a way to put the water-sewer issues behind us. Whether that's a one-step process or a two- or three-step process I don't know... I'm on top of it."
Sen. Apodaca and McGrady have pointed out that Asheville voters had traded seniority and access to power for two back row freshmen. Democratic-voting Asheville will, ironically, depend on two Republicans to get things done.
"I think the city of Asheville is going to have a hard time moving any agenda it has," McGrady said. "It has three members — well, four out of five are in the minority, two of them are freshman, really three when you count Sen. Van Duyn (appointed in April 2014). They understand if they want to move legislation they need to go talk to Sen. Apodaca and if Sen. Apodaca is willing to move legislation then I've indicated I will take care of moving that legislation through the House."
Mayor Manheimer said Apodaca, in comments reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times, had acknowledged that Asheville is an economic hub and worthy of support.
"I think he's speaking the truth in terms of the position of a freshman," she said. "But from Asheville's perspective to lose in Tim Moffitt a representative that was actively working against the city, we'll take a freshman who is friendly to the city over a senior whose actively opposing the city. But in that same article ... I read (Apodaca's) words to mean he was not looking to work against us."