Asheville Watchdog: Debra Campbell to Remain as Asheville’s City Manager

Written by Andrew R. Jones and John Boyle, Asheville Watchdog.

The city of Asheville will renew its contract with City Manager Debra Campbell, who has come under fire from critics for her low-key leadership style during tumultuous moments in the city’s recent history.

Mayor Esther Manheimer read a statement at the beginning of Tuesday’s city council meeting on behalf of the council announcing Campbell’s contract would be renewed come December.


“The council recognizes Manager Campbell’s strong leadership and strategic focus during historically challenging times and celebrates accomplishments and has identified ongoing city challenges,” Manheimer said in her statement, which was also sent out as a news release.

“The council looks forward to continuing our work with Manager Campbell and building upon our work to date and focusing on our ongoing efforts to address the needs of the community and the city. The council has worked together to set goals and priorities with the manager as we move into the two-year renewal period beginning December 2023.”

Council members met in closed session Tuesday before their regular meeting to discuss Campbell’s contract, part of an annual review of appointees, which include the city manager, city attorney, and the city clerk. Council members were not immediately available for comment.

Campbell’s contract was scheduled to expire in early December.

Campbell has been a low-key executive known for being reluctant to work in the spotlight, as Asheville Watchdog reported in May as part of its Down Town series.

Some residents have been frustrated with her seemingly lack of engagement at moments like the 2020 protests around the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis; the City Council-mandated removal of the Vance Monument downtown in 2021, and the prolonged city water outage over the 2022-2023 holiday season.

In addition, the city has wrestled with an increase in homelessness, drug use, and aggressive behaviors in downtown Asheville during her tenure.

Barry Bialik, a developer and past chairman of Asheville’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, said he was disappointed by the decision though he was not surprised.

“Hiring for a city manager job is complex, but it probably would have taken a year anyway,” he said. “I think whether she’s the best person for the job doesn’t matter now. Her performance has been mixed. One thing I’ve observed is that our city is not innovative. City leadership does not work out of innovation, it works out of fear.”

Michael Lewis, a North Asheville resident who has lived in the area for 44 years, said he was disappointed, too.

“I’m skeptical of it,” he said. “I think it was an opportunity to make some changes. Unless we remove the city council, I don’t think it’s going to make much difference. We need some leadership in this town because there’s a vacuum.”

Lewis said he hoped the city would eventually search inside its own ranks for a new city manager.

Campbell, 65, makes $242,694 a year, plus a $6,000 annual vehicle allowance.

She receives an annual review, and her employment record from this year shows she has received raises each of the past three years from her initial salary of $220,000. Those salary increases were listed as “Pay increase – All employees.”

She came on in 2018, exiting her four-year role in Charlotte as an assistant city manager. She had been with Charlotte since 1988, where she held various positions including planning director.

Reporter John Boyle contributed to this report.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email [email protected]. To show your support for this vital public service go to