A North Asheville magazine publisher says she is working to salvage tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue after Asheville City Councilwoman Gwen Wisler took issue with a recent article the magazine published.
The article in question is on the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County’s efforts to stop a Charlotte Street development, which is set to demolish a dozen old homes. It’s critical of the developer’s plans and does not quote developers or others in favor of the project.
Wisler, who said she hasn’t expressed an opinion for or against the development, acknowledges that she told Montford & North Asheville Neighbors Publisher Christine Priola in an email that she would “reach out to all of your advertisers.” However, she said she didn’t actually reach out to any, and if the magazine has lost revenue, it’s not from anything she did.
Two advertisers have decided not to renew their contracts, Priola said. One is a three-year $28,000 contract, and the other a one-year, $12,000 contract. One expires in six months, the other in a year.
“It was scary,” she said. “I could’ve lost everything in one day.”
The city’s code of ethics for city council members, under Section 3, requires, “Respect for office, council, public.” It also says that “council members should act with integrity and independence from improper influence as they exercise the duties of their office.”
“All of a sudden I’m doing damage control,” Priola said. Now she said she has a year to try to fix things.
The article is part of a series highlighting a local nonprofit every month and spotlights the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County’s work opposing a Charlotte Street development project.
The Killian family and RCG, the developer, hope to construct 183 new residential units, 30,000 square feet of office space and 20,000 square feet of retail space.
The Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission is set to vote on its recommendation to City Council on a needed conditional zoning June 2.
“We encourage all of our neighbors to be the change they want to see in the world,” the article says. “Saving Charlotte Street and other historical homes is just one step in our journey.”
Wisler maintains she did not reach out to advertisers, only an acquaintance and the publisher, and didn’t object to or express an opinion about the position of the article, but the way the article was framed.
“I’m listening to everybody on either side of this,” Wisler said, referring to the development, saying she reads from people who agree and disagree.
She called the article “political” and “one-sided,” saying when she read it, she didn’t take it as an opinion article.
“It said ‘Nonprofit of the Month,’ and it was basically the Preservation Society’s position on the Charlotte Street project,” she said. “It wasn’t the kind of article that I would expect under the headline ‘Nonprofit of the Month.'”
Asked why she felt strongly enough about it to reach out to the publisher in that way, Wisler said, “I just did.”
As far as advertisers who have apparently pulled their support of the magazine, Wisler said, “That was not a result of anything I did.”
Priola said the article wasn’t political and was based on facts.
Those who aren’t renewing their contracts told her they “got some phone calls” and didn’t feel comfortable renewing, she said. She’s trying to repair the damage before those contracts expire.
More about the magazine
The magazine is focused on bringing neighbors together with local businesses, Priola said. In the past, nonprofits like MANNA Food Bank have been featured.
A recent nonprofit featured was Pandemic of Love, which she said has now grown tremendously after being featured in the magazine.
“That’s what we do, we just support people,” Priola said.
One group featured as “Band of the Month” went on to sign with an agent and a 10-year-old writes a monthly environmental column, she said.
Wisler said she’s been reading the magazine for about six months, noting that people don’t subscribe, it just comes in the mail, saying she’s never seen op-eds published, but usually interviews with a neighbor, or gardening and investing tips.
She said she was surprised to see how one-sided the article was.
The magazine is all about boosting business and never includes politics or religion, Priola said, explaining that the Preservation Society was the nonprofit of the month, so she had a writer reach out.
“Everything we do is celebrating neighbors,” she said.
Wisler said she has no connection to the development and does not stand to benefit in any way if the project is approved by City Council.
A spokesperson for the Killian family and RCG also said Wisler has no connection.
Wisler, a former CEO of outdoor products manufacturer Coleman, chairs the City Council committee on planning and economic development and serves as a liaison to the Historic Resources Commission. Wisler was first elected to City Council in 2013 and served two terms as vice mayor.
In a voicemail to the magazine, she calls the article “completely ridiculous.”
“I cannot believe you people would’ve published that,” she says. “Strictly one-sided, you didn’t look at the issue in total. … I mean, timing was amazing for this. The nonprofit of the month just happened to the Preservation Society. This has gone completely political. Take me off your mailing list right now.”
Wisler called the article ‘fantastically politicized’
Wisler, who lives on Kimberly Avenue in North Asheville, is on the magazine’s mailing list as it targets homeowners with property value above $450,000, Priola said, an effort to promote local businesses’ relationships with local homeowners.
In an email to Priola, Wisler writes that she will “reach out to all of your advertisers and express my dismay at your publishing this article,” calling it “fantastically politicized.”
“I know I said that in there, but I did not,” Wisler said, again stressing that she only contacted the publisher and Katherine Morosani, an acquaintance of hers, though Morosani also advertises in the magazine.
But Priola said the advertisers were blind carbon-copied on the email. She found out that they had been copied May 12 only when Morosani replied to Wisler’s email.
But Wisler said she sent the email only to Morosani.
Priola said the issue has “taken on a force of its own.”
Wisler was also called out in a city Audit Committee meeting May 20 by member Amy Kemp, who said “the best I could tell, there was a big ethical violation that occurred with the Montford magazine, and taking business or advertisers away from the magazine because they’re having a position on development.”
Kemp, a certified public accountant, said it raised ethical concerns.
“So how does that work? How does the public gain confidence in the city, when we have city people that are doing those things,” she asked in the meeting. “And it looks like collusion. … The best I could tell, we had an ethical violation for a city council member.”
Committee Chair Scott Powell eventually stopped the conversation saying the committee meeting “is not the venue for this. If you’re going to blindside a council person in this meeting. I don’t have meetings like that.”
Wisler said in the meeting that she’d be happy to talk to Kemp about it, but both said they haven’t yet discussed it.
“That was not done on City Council business,” Wisler said in the meeting. “That was my personal response to that. I wrote that on my individual email.”
But Kemp said that as a City Council member, “All the time, you’re on. You’re on. (You) can’t go and say I’m going to sabotage that magazine.”
A violation of the city’s code of ethics?
The city’s code of ethics includes a bulleted list of what “characteristics and behaviors consistent with standard include.” One of…