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Asheville Citizen-Times     May 9, 2018

Amanda Edwards, Donna Ensley win Buncombe commissioner primary races

ASHEVILLE — Two political newcomers will move forward to the November election after winning their Democratic primary races for a seat on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

Unofficial results show Amanda Edwards was the top vote-getter in District 2, earning 3,056 votes, or 39.9 percent. Nancy Nehls Nelson came in second in the four-way Democratic primary with 2,398 votes.

Donna Ensley handily defeated her two primary challengers Catori Swann and Taylon Breeden in District 3 with 3,017 votes, or 61.4 percent.

Edwards, a political newcomer and executive director of the A-B Tech Foundation, will face Republican candidate Glenda Weinert in November to replace Commissioner Ellen Frost.

“I had an outpouring of support from the voters today,” Edwards said from her Weaverville home Tuesday night. “Just hearing that they wanted to support a candidate who centered their campaign on restoring trust to Buncombe County, and also a working mom who understands what it’s like to be working and to have children and balancing a lot — I was hearing that across the board at the precincts today.” 

Edwards, who visited 20 of the district’s 31 precincts on Election Day, said she’ll be spending the next six months connecting with more constituents. But Tuesday was meant to show gratitude for her supporters and family, she said.

With Frost — a Democrat who did not seek re-election — there are four Democratic commissioners and three Republicans. The District 2 race could decide which party holds a majority on the board.

The county is separated into three districts, each one having two seats. The board chairman, a seat held now by Brownie Newman, is elected countywide.

“I’m really looking forward to getting to know even more voters throughout District 2 and appealing to them,” Edwards said. “As we know, it’s the swing seat on the county commission, and I am looking forward to taking that with the Democrats.”

In District 3, Ensley beat three Democratic candidates to face Republican incumbent Robert Pressley. Ensley, an Arden resident, has not previously sought public office. She retired as chief development officer at MANNA FoodBank.

Ensley said Tuesday night that she was humbled by her primary win, and applauded her challengers.

“They’re both great folks, it’s kind of bittersweet,” she said from the Thirsty Monk in Biltmore Park, where she was celebrating with supporters.

“But I also believe that I have spent my lifetime preparing for this — without even planning it, but knowing all the things I’ve done leading up to now are why I am where I am now.”

District 3 covers western and parts of southern Buncombe, including Arden, Biltmore Forest, Avery’s Creek, Enka, Candler and much of Leicester. Pressley won his race in 2016, despite spending less money than any other candidate. Several voters said at the time they don’t follow local politics but voted for Pressley because he is a friend.

Ensley said she’ll “have a lot of homework to do” between now and the November election, and will be meeting with District 3 constituents.

“My goal is only going to be to represent the folks in District 3 and to the larger community,” she said. “It will be to lend a voice in this whole area as we move forward.”

The commissioners race comes as the county grapples with the fallout of a federal investigation into former county manager Wanda Greene. Greene and her son, former county employee Michael Greene, have pleaded not guilty to charges that include wire fraud, embezzlement and conspiracy.

After Wanda Greene departed from the county last year, records obtained by the Citizen Times showed some $3.6 million in controversial expenditures, including pricey sponsorships at an equestrian center and retail shopping on taxpayers’ dime.

Commissioners have since promised to boost transparency and regain public trust, ushering in a series of policy changes meant to prevent such expenditures in the future.

Two Democratic voters said they were disgusted by accusations of illegal or inappropriate spending by Greene, but both said they see no indication any of the District 2 nominees had anything to do with it.

“I didn’t see any bad Democrats on the ballot,” said Fairview resident Bill Fain.

The scandal “leaves us with the feeling that everybody’s corrupt,” said Dave Walsh, who voted at Grassy Branch Baptist Church just east of Asheville. But Walsh said that doesn’t extend to the people running Tuesday.

Staff writer Mark Barrett contributed to this report.

The votes

District 2

Amanda Edwards: 3,056

Nancy Nehls Nelson: 2,398

Patrick Fitzsimmons: 1,461

Dereck Lindsey: 739

District 3

Donna Ensley: 3,017

Catori Swann: 1,111

Taylon Breeden: 788

Voting tallies are from complete but unofficial returns.

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Asheville Citizen-Times      Letter to the Editor  April 10, 2018

 Ensley has the integrity we need in a leader

Whenever public officials stray from expected high standards of conduct, the press has a duty keep the public informed. That’s exactly what the ACT has done with respect to the Wanda Green investigation and indictment. This entire affair reminds us that we shouldn’t just vote for candidates who think like us on the issues, but we should insist our elected officials ensure high standards of integrity, character, and conduct for all public employees. Donna Ensley, candidate for Buncombe Country Board of Commissioners District 3, is that kind of person.

I’ve seen Donna in action in the community and can attest to her impeccable character, tireless energy, and strong leadership. In addition to completing a successful career as chief development officer at MANNA FoodBank, Donna served as a very active member and president of the Rotary Club of Asheville. In that capacity, I watched Donna lead three creative and successful fund raising drives and energize our club to support projects ranging from food-packing operations for hungry Western NC families to sending medical-dental teams to support poor villagers in Honduras. I served with a lot of great leaders during my Air Force career, but few more capable than Donna. Donna Ensley has the skill, character, and energy needed to serve our county well and ensure accountability for our public employees. She gets my vote and very strong endorsement.

Maj. General Rick Devereaux, Asheville

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Asheville Citizen-Times      March 28, 2018                                                           

Ensley to run for District 3 Commissioner

ARDEN — Donna Ensley, a former nonprofit executive who said she has “a heart for service,” will run as a Democrat for Buncombe County’s District 3 commissioner seat.

“Of particular interest to me is preserving what makes Buncombe County so desirable: farm land, clean water, great educational opportunities for all ages, neighborhoods that are safe, and green jobs that provide at least a living wage,” Ensley said in a statement. “Of utmost importance is ensuring that the county’s infrastructure can support those already living here.”

Ensley, who retired last year, most recently worked as chief development officer at MANNA FoodBank. She previously has been involved with organizations such as the Rotary Club of Asheville, for which she served as president, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, YWCA and others.

Ensley received in 2014 the WNC Outstanding Fundraising Professional award, according to a news release. She’s lived in Buncombe for 31 years.

“I am concerned for the aging farmer who could face selling his homeplace because he is no longer physically able to farm and cannot pay the non-farm tax rate,” she said. “I am concerned for the senior who purchased her home 50 years ago and has seen her home escalate in value along with her property taxes, while her income has remained stagnant.

“These issues must be addressed by our county commissioners, or those citizens upon whose backs this great country was established and built will be forced to leave the only place they have ever called home.”

Ensley is the third Democrat and the sixth candidate to seek the District 3 seat.

The seat is held by Commissioner Robert Pressley, a Republican, who is running for re-election.

Other challengers have made campaign announcements: Republican Tom Van Slambrouck, unaffiliated candidate Larry Blunt and Democrats Catori Swann and Taylon Breeden.

The district covers western and parts of southern Buncombe, including Arden, Biltmore Forest, Avery’s Creek, Enka, Candler and much of Leicester.

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Election Season is Here!

Hello Neighbors! Just a quick update: If you need to update your voter registration, check your info by April 13 to be ready for the primary election. Voter information can be found here: http://bit.ly/2Gi3yYd Also, the first round of absentee ballots went out on March 19 – so start checking your mailbox. You can still request an absentee ballot until May 1. Find out more here: http://bit.ly/2E2GFWS If you would like to receive election reminders via mobile text alert, text BCVOTE to 888-777.