Bill Bell | Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County | Indy Week
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Bill Bell 

Name as it appears on the ballot: WILLIAM V.”BILL” BELL
Party affiliation, if any: DEMOCRATIC
Campaign website: N/A
Years lived in Durham: Since May 1968 (47 YEARS)

1) Given the current direction of Durham city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?

ANWSER: In general I am of the opinion that things are generally on the right course in the city.

2) Please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them.

ANWSER: At this point in my life as an elected official, of all the issues confronting city government, the three (3) most pressing issues facing the city single which are most important issue to me, are: (1) Reducing poverty (2) The revitalization of our inner city neighborhoods that have been distressed for long periods of time and providing affordable housing for below median income residents. (3) Reducing crime in general and specifically reducing violent crime. I continue to strongly believe that “Strong Neighborhoods throughout the city makes for a Strong City”. Strong neighborhoods, in my opinion, are neighborhoods where there is a good quality of life for its residents, free from crime, great housing stock, and all of the other amenities that make a neighborhood attractive to live in. If re-elected as Mayor, I would continue my advocacy for those issues.

3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of Council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?

ANSWER: AS Mayor in my February 2014 “State of the City Address” I proposed a program centered on “Reducing Poverty Neighborhood by Neighborhood Year by Year starting in year 2014”. The neighborhoods have been identified and the program is ongoing with leadership and participation by city/county /DPS/local universities, residents, civic organization and businesses. In our 2013 budget I advocated for and the city council adopted the advocacy and passed a 1cent property tax (which generates revenue of $2.4million dollars plus annually) dedicated to the issue of affordable housing in the city. I have continually advocated and supported efforts to reduce crime in our city.

The crime index results have been uneven over the years but in general the overall crime index has been down per 100,000 residents since I became Mayor in 2001.

In 2001 the violent crime index per I00, 000 residents was 974.68 and in 2014 the violent crime index per 100,000 residents was 764.75, a decrease of 21.54%.

In 2011 the property crime index per 100,000 residents was 6,980 and in 2014 the property crime index per 100,000 residents was 4,528.4, a decrease of 35%.

I also have not hesitated to seek outside help in helping us to find solutions as a community. In 2015 I invited the US Department of Justice to come in to our city to look at Police community relations as well as suggest how we might further reduce crime in general and specifically reduce violent crime. We have accepted their suggestions and are moving forward to implement them.

4) Please give one specific example of something you think City Council has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the city’s done during that span.

ANSWER: The city did not do an adequate or good job of monitoring and ensuring that housing contractors completed satisfactorily, the streets in two (2) of our subdivisions (Ravenstone and Stonehill). This had the effect of impacting the neighbors in those subdivisions for a long period of time of having to live and navigate over incomplete streets and later to incur additional cost to have them repaired. The results was that we now have a more effective process to ensure that that will not happen again to other subdivisions without adequate bonding to ensure the completion of the streets that are required to be constructed to city standards. I wish that we as a city would have moved quicker to minimize the issue and felt that the city should have assume more of the financial cost of repairing the failed streets, but I was out voted.

The best thing that the city has done is to provide public support for the revitalization of downtown in so many ways (DPAC, renovations of DBAP, renovation of the old Durham Ballpark, renovated streetscapes, new parking garages, building and job incentives, etc.) along with the successful revitalization of some of our inner city neighborhoods such as developing mixed income affordable housing in Northeast Central Durham (i.e. Eastway village the old Barnes Avenue) and mixed income apartments in the Lofts at Southside and developing homeownership units in the Southside neighborhood.

5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

ANSWER: I am a registered life-long democrat. Politically I consider myself to be knowledgeable, qualified as a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. I have always tried to be fair in carrying out the duties of all of the political offices to which I have been elected. I have tried to be both representative and responsible to the people. I tend to be bottom line oriented especially when it comes to the delivery of core city services and budgetary matters. I work to see that once a plan has been developed we take the necessary steps to execute that plan. The downtown revitalization and neighborhood revitalization that has occurred in Durham since I became Mayor are some examples. My efforts to engage law enforcement and the community to reduce crime in our city are another example.

The basic precepts of my political philosophy about representative government include my strong belief that its elected officials are public servants who are obligated to serve with integrity. As public servants, they must acquire sufficient knowledge and understanding of all matters subject to their jurisdiction; be open to the ideas of others, including especially those of their colleagues, staffs, and constituents. They should be honest and scrupulous in carrying out their duties; and remain ever cognizant of the fact that politics, according to Otto von Bismarck (1867), “is the art of the possible.” Elected officials should ever remain consistent about the major ends they seek, such as effective and efficient delivery of the services they are required to provide their constituents. The means chosen to reach those ends may be flexible (changed, e.g., by improved technology), but they must always be morally appropriate. Elected officials should strongly support the rule of law, always applying it justly and fairly, and fully justifying the need to eliminate or modify any rule. They also should encourage their constituents to participate actively in their government, and keep them as fully informed as possible about the workings of their government, using such measures on the municipal level as open meetings, availability to the media, and being reasonably accessible to their constituents. Finally, in my judgment, all elected officials should always bear in mind that, according to the Declaration of Independence (1776), “. . . all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness....[and that they govern with] the consent of the governed....”

6) The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?

ANSWER: I think that my record as a public elected official both on the Durham County Board of Commissioners and as Mayor of Durham speaks to my efforts towards building a just community in the Triangle, which if re-elected, I would continue to works towards.

7) Do you believe that there is a disconnect between the citizens of Durham and the city’s police force? If so, how would you go about remedying that disconnect? On a similar note, to what degree would you say you that Chief Jose Lopez has your full faith and confidence?

ANSWER: In October 2013, I requested the Human Relation Commission (with the unanimous approval of the city council) to review allegations of racial bias and racial profiling brought by citizens against the Durham Police Department. After almost 6 months of reviews and public hearings the commission reported its findings and recommendations to the City Council in April 2014. As a result of their findings, one could conclude that in some areas there was a disconnect between some of the citizens of Durham and the city’s police force. The city has adopted some of the Human Relations Commission’s recommendations and is in the process of implementing many of the other recommendations.

The Police Chief, by our city’s charter, reports to the City Manager not the City Council. This is a very broad and sensitive question of whether the Police Chief has my full faith and confidence. It would be inappropriate for both the City Manager and the Police Chief for me, in a public media, to appraise the Police Chief’s performance as your question subtly request. As the Mayor I do share my thoughts and questions with the City Manager on the performance of most all of the city departments, to include the police department. The City Manager in turn has the responsibility of appraising the Police Chief’s performance. The City Council, to include the Mayor, appraises the City Manager’s performance which includes his management of all city departments.

8) A report by the U.S. Department of Justice early this year concluded that black males between 15 and 34 in Durham are six times more likely to die from homicide than all other Durham residents. What steps should local government and police take to address this problem? Does the city have its priorities in order when it comes to dealing with violent crime in low-income neighborhoods, at a time when there’s so much focus on downtown development?

ANSWER: There is no one solution or solutions to solving the issue of homicides among black males in Durham between the ages of 15 and 34. It is not an issue that will be solved by local government and the police alone. It is an issue that we, in particular in the African American Community, have to take ownership and try to resolve, along with many other well-meaning citizens who share this concern. As Mayor I personally try to be as supportive as I can of the many programs in Durham that attempt to address the issues facing the young black males in our city. I was thinking as I responded to your questions, in particular of the ages (15 – 34) of the vast majority of young African American Males in Durham, who has been caught up in the world of violence. I will have been Mayor for almost 14 years. These young people, 14 years ago were of the age range of 1- 20 years old. What if somehow we as a community or individuals had been able to wrap our arms around these young people at those ages and help guide them on a different path, what would have been their destinations today? Undoubtable someone did reach many of our young African American Males, for the vast majority of most African American males are not caught up in violence. Somehow we as a community have got to find a way to do that to scale to reach many more of them.
The city’s priorities can, in my opinion, be best summarized in its adopted Strategic Plan and that can be found on the web site:

The goal of a Safe & Secure Community is a goal for all of Durham and is not limited to downtown, nor does downtown take a priority over the city’s dealing with violent crime in low-income neighborhoods.

9) Do you think that support for saving the old Carpenter Chevrolet Building downtown justifies the anticipated $80.9 million cost to renovate it for a new police headquarters? Do you see any alternatives that could have been explored? And do you think the city has enough substations where they’re most needed?

ANSWER: At this point I don’t support spending the money to save the Old Carpenter Building, based on what I have seen needs to be done to put it in to a reasonable shape for occupancy. I am just now assessing the alternatives that have been presented by the architect’s firm. Until I am told different by the administration I have to assume that we have sufficient enough substations given the role of substations. The question of the need for more substations has not been brought to my attention by the public or administration. There have been questions of some of the locations of the existing substations.

10) There’s little doubt that Durham, as a whole, is prospering. But there’s also little doubt that this prosperity is distributed unevenly. What should Council be doing to address inequality?

ANSWER: In order to more evenly distribute the prosperity that we have seen in downtown I think that the council should continue with addressing the goals of its strategic plan. We must remember that downtown revitalization did not occur overnight, but has taken over 14 years to get us to where we are and we still have not finished. Neighborhood revitalization in my opinion is an even harder task, but we have to continue to be focused on achieving that goal and I firmly believe that we can. How many persons could have imagined over14years ago that we would have seen the changes we have seen in downtown or for example in the Southside Community or in Northeast Central Durham community? It takes focus, vison, purpose, persistence and patience.

11) In that vein, what more should the city be doing to address the need for affordable housing?

ANSWER: I think the city is on the right path towards addressing the needs for affordable housing for families below the area median income. This is borne out by the city’s adoption of a 1cent property tax specifically targeting affordable housing and is probably the only city in the state of North Carolina that has taken this very bold and progressive step towards affordable housing. This is in addition to some of the other affordable housing efforts the city as undertaken under its own initiative or projects in which the city has awarded grants or financial support for affordable housing. Additionally the city council recently voted (8/24/2015) on a contract with an outside housing company expert on affordable housing to develop and recommend a roadmap for the city to consider on the issue of affordable housing throughout the city of Durham. The first phase of that report is expected in February 2016.

12) As downtown grows, some degree of gentrification seems inevitable. What steps do you believe the city should be taking to revitalize neighborhoods without having them lose their character?

ANSWER: Gentrification for me is the proactive designed act of transforming communities, whether they are residential or commercial, such that the resulting rents and selling prices are so high that persons who may have previously lived or had businesses in the community cannot afford to return to the transformed community, because they cannot afford the cost.

I am not sure where in Durham gentrification is happening, to any large extent, according to my definition of gentrification. I know there are sections of Durham where vacant properties have been revitalized, such that the rents or selling prices are at market rates or above market rate levels, but I don’t consider that in itself, to be gentrification.

The revitalization of downtown has, in my opinion, not been a case of gentrification, because in essence no one was living in downtown or doing any business to a large extent. In effect downtown was a ghost town and no one was displaced because no one was there.

If private developers are using private funds and following zoning and building regulations, I am not sure that there is much if anything the city can legally do to prevent a property from being transformed or can the city regulate the rents or selling prices. If city funds or incentives are supporting the renovation or revitalization of a neighborhood, then the city has more leverage in helping to dictate rents and/or selling prices or the character of the neighborhood. The city is doing this in the Southside community in the Lofts at Southside (formerly Rolling Hills) and Southside home ownership developments that are being revitalized with some support of city funding and mixed income residents are residing in those developments.

I have proposed that the city adopt a Durham Rental Assistance Program(DRAP) for downtown, to assist families with incomes 60% to 80% below the median income( e.g. teachers, public employees, health care workers, public safety etc.) to be able to rent the luxury apartments that have been constructed or will be constructed in downtown. For those neighborhoods which the city may have designated by some standard of gentrification (this has not been done), the city could also continue to provide some financial support for families, who qualify, to renovate or upgrade their homes who may want to stay in their neighborhood rather than selling to persons who may come in and make renovations to their properties that would be unaffordable to many families who are presently living in those neighborhoods.

13) What role should the city play in the development or redevelopment of commercial real estate? Do you believe the city should award incentives to private developers, and under what circumstances?

ANSWER: I think that the city should continue to do what has proven to be successful in its role of development or redevelopment of commercial real estate and awarding incentives on a case by case basis.

14) The Bull City Connector recently underwent route changes. Do you think the results are fair and efficient? If not, how could the Connector’s routes be changed to best serve the needs of residents most likely to use it?

ANSWER: As of now I support the Bull City Connector route changes given the analysis that was performed to make the changes and considering who pays for the free service and the funds that were available to support the Bull City Connector. If in the future the case is made for changes, I am sure they will be considered an implemented.

15) Do you believe the downtown Loop is outdated? If so, what would you like to see done with it?

ANSWER: I do think that the rationale, when it was done, for constructing the downtown loop is not appropriate for today and for the way that downtown has, and is being revitalized. There have been proposals that have been made for converting the loop and I am still not decided which is best. There are Pros and Cons that have to be evaluated not the least of which is cost and who pays.

16) What are your initial thoughts on a proposed mixed-use development in North Durham, with a shopping center to be anchored by a Publix? Do you see, as some North Durham residents have expressed, opportunities to “fix” problems in the area of Guess and Latta roads with this development? (If so, what features would you like to see in the developer’s plan?) Or are you more inclined to side with residents who believe that such a development would change the character of the neighborhood in undesirable ways?

ANSWER: I have not seen the details of those development proposals and I am not in positon to respond intelligently.

17) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

ANSWER: No there are no other issues that I want to discuss. You have presented a rather exhaustive questionnaire. I have not yet decided at this time (9/5/2015) if I will have a campaign web site. If persons are interested in my record as Mayor and issues during my terms in office they can go the city’s public web site:

Or specifically for the Office of the Mayor:

  • Mayor

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