INDY Week candidate questionnaire
Name as it appears on the ballot: Dickie Thompson
Party affiliation, if any: Democrat
Campaign website: www.DickieThompson.com
Occupation & employer: Executive Vice President, J.M. Thompson Co.
Years lived in Raleigh: All of them — 61
1) Given the current direction of Raleigh city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?
I feel strongly that the city of Raleigh is on the right course. Mayor McFarlane has done a great job as evidenced by all the accolades Raleigh receives. Raleigh has been recognized nationally as one the best places to live in the country, and that’s due in part to the hard work of Mayor McFarlane, the City Council, other city leaders and the people of Raleigh. I’m proud to have Mayor McFarlane’s support and endorsement and I look forward to working with her to keep Raleigh great.
2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for improvements in the district if you’re elected. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them?
My top priority is planning and preparing for Raleigh’s continued growth. I will involve the public in the process of continuing to plan strategically for future growth. I will use my seven years of experience on the Planning Commission and my perspective as a family business owner and a lifetime resident of Raleigh to make sure our city’s growth is responsible and well-managed.
I will also focus on continued good public safety in District A. I will also focus on continuing to support the things that have led to our high quality of life in Raleigh: good jobs, strong economic development, park space and greenways, and good neighborhoods.
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?
I served on the Raleigh Planning Commission for seven years, including three as Chairman. I’m very familiar with the issues City Council will have to work on as we plan for ongoing growth. While on the Planning Commission, I developed a reputation for listening, being fair and protecting neighborhoods. I’m currently Chair of the RDU Airport Authority Board, where we have worked to bring more flights to Raleigh to help drive our local economy. I’m also spearheading Vision 2040, RDU’s master planning process and plan for growth over the next 25 years.
I also help run our 94-year-old family business. I understand the issues workers and businesses face, I know how to manage a budget and I understand how important it is to plan ahead.
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.
The communication with the public about the new Unified Development Ordinance could have been handled better. While it is a complicated issue, the city should have done a better job of reaching out to people both to educate and solicit feedback, and the city should have planned for the large crowds in order to hear everyone’s voices. This is an important piece of planning Raleigh’s future, and the public must be involved and people’s concerns addressed. We must not rush through this process – we should do the important work of including residents’ feedback and make sure we get it right.
The best thing the city has done this past year is acquire the land for Dix Park. We have a unique opportunity to create a destination for Raleighites and tourists alike. If we plan well (again, with public input), we can make Dix Park a special attraction that will benefit Raleigh and its residents for generations to come.
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?
When I served on the Planning Commission, I found most city issues did not fall neatly into partisan or ideological categories. A big part of Raleigh’s success has been that our leaders have been focused on solutions, not scoring partisan political points. I plan to continue that tradition. I am not seeking this position to run for higher office, and in this non-partisan race, my highest priority is serving all my constituents, regardless of their personal politics.
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?
I agree entirely with that goal. I have spent my entire life serving my community, as a volunteer for causes, on the boards of organizations such as the Raleigh Rescue Mission and the YMCA, and in a civic capacity on the Planning Commission and the RDU Airport Authority. I have also been active in my church on relief missions, all in an effort to help build a more just community. If elected, I will continue to listen, serve, and focus on solutions for our community, not politics.
Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Raleigh:
7) Now that the city has acquired the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Park, what are some specific things you would like to see the city do with it?
The first step is to set up a master planning process that involves the public and brings together the best ideas from the many great minds we have here. The state will continue to use part of the park for an extended period of time, so we have the luxury of taking our time to ensure we get this once-in-a-generation project right. To do that, we must go through a comprehensive planning process with input from residents.
8) Between gentrification in historic neighborhoods and expensive rentals downtown, the city has struggled at times with questions of affordable and workforce housing. What concrete steps can or would you take to help ensure that, for instance, hospitality workers can afford to live in Raleigh and especially its urban core? For example, there has been some talk of density bonuses to entice developers to include affordable units in their downtown developments. Do you believe this is a viable idea? Why or why not?
In the past, the city has used Affordable Housing Bonds to rehabilitate properties, and do projects with outstanding organizations like the DHIC. The city is also looking at a new policy to make sure affordable housing is established near employment centers and in areas with anticipated transit improvements.
9) Related to affordable housing and affordability in general is viable public transportation. What steps can the city take to improve mass transit throughout the city? Will you actively support the transit referendum that Wake County will likely put to voters next year?
I support an all-of-the-above approach to improving transit in the Triangle, including improvements to our highways, expanded access to mass transit, and increased options for bicyclists and pedestrians. I enjoy bicycling along the Greenway System, and I would work on City Council to integrate all of these transportation elements together so that residents have choices for getting around. I would like to help build a transit system that people would use by choice, not just by necessity – public transportation that works well enough it convinces some to leave their cars at home.
We must continue to work with the County and our fellow municipalities to come up with a transit plan that voters will support. I will actively support the referendum.
10) The city came under fire at Council meetings in July for the proposed remapping under the Unified Development Ordinance. It is safe to say there was a lot of uncertainty and distrust. Broadly speaking, how do you think the city should approach issues of density and neighborhood livability? And if the city had it to do over again, what about the UDO remapping do you believe should have been done differently, if anything?
This is the largest overhaul of our zoning code in over 50 years. We cannot continue to grow without developing more mixed-use density developments, but they must be done in a way that protects current neighborhoods by paying close attention to transitions. The city should have done a better job communicating with the public about what changes the UDO represents, and should have created more opportunities for public input on the plan.
This is too crucial an issue to rush. The current council should wait until the new Council takes over before finalizing any remapping.
11) Also on the subject of livability: The issue of regulating sidewalk patios hints at the difficulty this city (like other cities) faces in striking a balance between making its downtown more of a neighborhood and the needs of the businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry, that currently exist. How do you think the city should go about balancing these needs? What does a successful downtown look like to you?
The initiative that lead to the opening of Fayetteville Street and the revitalization of downtown was the ‘Livable Streets’ initiative, intended to make downtown a vibrant area to live, work and play – not just drink. I’m the only candidate in District A who supports City Council’s reasonable actions to protect public safety and the city’s investment. Even with new rules, Raleigh is still less restrictive than the overwhelming majority of cities in America. A successful downtown is one with a vibrant night life, but also a vibrant day life with a wider variety of retail, and a place where families want to live. Much of this is now being laid out in a new downtown vision plan for the next ten years, including more affordable housing.
12) Some downtown businesses have worried that the parking-deck fees scheduled to go into effect at the end of the year will adversely impact them. On the other hand, there are obviously costs associated with both building and maintaining garages, and most other cities do charge for their use. What would be your ideal solution?
We should charge for use on Wednesday through Saturday evenings when most who use the decks are coming from out of town to enjoy our nightlife, but not create a burden for local residents or Sunday churchgoers who are less likely to increase public safety or cleanup costs. We should provide a low-cost monthly pass for service employees who use the parking decks for work.
13) Some recent legislative actions have seemed, to some extent, antagonistic toward the state’s cities: specifically, the repeal of business privilege taxes and the movement toward redistributing sales tax revenue. In your view, how should the city respond to these (potential and actual) revenue losses? Will the city’s property tax rate need to increase? Will services or new initiatives be curtailed? How should the city address its fiscal challenges going forward?
Some recently proposed legislation would have a negative impact on Raleigh and Wake County. We can respond to these revenue losses by looking for investments in growth that will pay for themselves, like the current impact fees for new parks and roads, before we raise property taxes. We must also look to become more efficient as we move forward. As a family business owner with experience meeting payroll and bringing projects in under budget, I know how to ensure we are fiscally responsible with our taxpayers’ money.
14) The city has about 230 employees who earn less than what is generally considered to be a living wage, about $31,000 a year. In your view, is this problematic or something the city should concern itself with?
Yes it is. Everyone who works hard deserves a livable wage for their efforts.
15) When is the bike share program going to happen?
This was a direct casualty this year of the state legislature cutting revenue coming to Raleigh. I’m hopeful that next year we can find a solution that makes sense financially.
16) What do you believe the role of Citizens Advisory Councils should be? If you are running for a district seat, how closely would you work or have you worked with local CACs?
CACs are an important conduit between citizens and the city. I worked closely with them while on the Planning Commission. I intend to continue to work closely with CACs in District A, and I also intend to continue Council Member Maiorani’s practice of holding frequent town hall meetings with residents.