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Candidate for Durham City Council

Don Moffitt 

Candidate for Durham City Council

Name as it appears on the ballot: Don Moffitt

Full legal name, if different: Don Leland Moffitt

Date of birth: 11-11-1955

Campaign website: donmoffitt.us

Occupation & employer: Consultant Small Business Development; Project Manager Durham Central Market

Email: don.moffitt@gmail.com

Do you have a Facebook page? Personal & Elect Don Moffitt

Do you have a Twitter account? @donmoffitt (not in use)


Download PDF of candidate résumé.

1. Describe your past leadership roles, both in career and community. How will these experiences help you serve on Council? Please be specific about how these roles correspond to a city council member's responsibilities.

I serve on City Council, and serve in ex officio capacity on twelve boards, commissions and committees. I've seen the problems facing Durham up close, I'm familiar with the priorities, accomplishments and needs of the city.

I served six years on the Durham Planning Commission and chaired it for three of those years. I also served in ex officio capacity on the Joint City-County Planning Committee while chair of the Planning Commission. I participated in hundreds of planning and zoning cases, and am very familiar with the tools that Council has to work with while considering cases. While serving as chair, I learned to facilitate the meeting so that all 14 members, as well as the public and staff, had the opportunity to be heard, and had their viewpoints considered. I required that everyone present be treated with respect. In my work on Council I draw on my experience of planning and zoning matters, melding diverse viewpoints to find balanced solutions and working collaboratively with my colleagues.

I serve on the board of NC Conservation Network and chaired it for two years. Through this work I'm connected to people across the state, and I learn about solutions to shared problems adopted by other cities. NCCN has registered lobbyists; I'm knowledgeable about the NC General Assembly.

I serve on the board of the Eno River Association, and was president for three of those years. The work helps me understand how to accomplish important work with few resources, and how valuable our environment is. It is where we live and impacts our health and well-being every moment of our lives.

I am the Project Manager of Durham Central Market. The work has taught me about the challenges facing small businessesespecially start-ups. It's also helped me understand more about how to bring diverse people together for a common purpose, and the value of having a common vision.

I worked for Whole Foods Market for 18 years, seven of them as Regional President. I learned creative problem-solving, and the importance of having a clearly stated mission to direct the work. I know how to manage a large organization with many people working on very different issues. I learned to be a good steward of the company's resources, a critical understanding for elected officials.

2. How do you define yourself politically? How have you demonstrated this political philosophy in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I lean to the left of centerprogressive social politics and a belief that government needs to be accountable and visible. I believe that together we can do more together than we can acting individually; I support the use of taxes for purposes like affordable housing. At the same time I do not support increasing taxes unnecessarilywe have to be effective and efficient in the way we use the tax dollars entrusted to us.

I believe in equality for all families and all people. I worked for months to defeat Amendment One. One of Durham's greatest assets is the rich diversity of people who live here. Defining marriage legally is a state issue, but Council determines many related issues like domestic partner benefits for same sex couples. Local elected officials matter more than ever in the current political climate, and I represent the values of this city.

This year I worked to pass a budget that balances the services the city can provide with a sustainable/affordable revenue stream. I agreed to implement a small fee for solid waste to allow us to maintain low bus fares. Increasing bus fares would have hurt the people least able to afford the impact.

3. List the three most important issues facing Durham, in order of priority. If elected, how will you address these issues? Please be specific.

The greatest challenge facing us in Durham is the wealth dividethe differences in employment, housing and transportation between various parts of our city. I support incentives for businesses that will increase the tax base and provide jobs. I'm working to provide more affordable housing that is dispersed across the city instead of being concentrated into some parts of it. I believe our transit system is critical, and that we have to plan for light railand stick to the plan. For more on each item, see below.

Jobs

I support the development of businesses that provide employment, especially for moderately-skilled workers. The incentives that we provided GE are fine, but the jobs there will go to highly trained and skilled workers. The good news is that the incentives will be paid for by the increase in the tax base, and secondary jobs will be created by the goods and services consumed by the primary job holders.

In addition to attracting and incentivizing those jobs, I support continual improvement in our job training programs. We need to increase the availability of training for direct skills, like the brownfields mitigation work, so that more of our residents are trained for available jobs. I also support training for "soft skills" like preparing for interviews so that our residents can get the jobs and keep them. I support training that includes internships so that people can learn and earn at the same time.

Affordable housing

It's the location of affordable housing, as much as the quantity, that matters, and I'm working on ways to include it in market-rate housing across Durham. Currently truly low income housing is concentrated in east and south Durham, where people have little access to needed goods and services. State law proscribes requiring its inclusion in development projects and the incentives we have now to encourage it don't work. Southside is an excellent model, but requires too much public financing. We have to find meaningful incentives that encourage developers to include it. As a Council member, I'm working on potential incentives such as expedited reviews and discounted fees.

We also have to plan now for affordable housing within the transit support areas, so that people making 50% or less of the area median income can live near rail stations and have access to jobs across the region. I support full funding for the Planning Department to allow for this work.

Transportation

In the short term, the community needs improved bus service (more routes, shorter wait times between buses on existing routes). We also have to stay with our plan to create nodes of dense development in order to facilitate rail development for the future. I will defend the community's plan for the future (the Comprehensive Plan) and work hard to see those centers built out.

4. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

751 South. I believed that it would cost me endorsements and votes.

5. The city's updated panhandling ordinance has been criticized for being too stringent. If you were to revisit the ordinance, how would you balance public safety with the needs of the homeless?

The needs of the homeless are not met by allowing them to stand on the corner and panhandle. They have the right to do that, within limits, but at the end of the day we cannot feel we've done our job if that's all we do. It's worth noting, as well, that panhandling is not synonymous with homelessness. The Mayor Pro Tem, as one example, reports offering to take a panhandler to a shelter and being told in return that he commutes from Burlington to work the streets here each day.

The updated ordinance affected roadside solicitation, and the impact on panhandling was to limit places where it can occur. One place we can modify the ordinance is to expand the places where roadside solicitation is allowed, as long as those places are relatively safe.

A better solution is to direct violators of the ordinance to Community Life Court to connect those who need services with service providers. This will require interested community members to stay engaged to help individuals get to the CLC when required, so that they are not then cited for failure to appear.

As a follow up question, Durham is seven years into its 10-year plan to end homelessness. What are the pros and cons of the plan? What are the greatest obstacles to ending homelessness and how should the city overcome them?

Generally speaking the plan is well-formed. In broad terms, it calls for moving people into permanent housing as quickly as possible, a more effective and less expensive solution to emergency shelters.

The first step is to identify the homeless and to provide them with the services they need to occupy and remain in permanent housing. Durham's Continuum of Care is a collaboration of organizations working on homelessness; it's designed so that someone entering the support system is directed to where there is capacity and programs that the person or family needs.

The second step is to shelter the person or family, and to provide them with the skills and tools required for successful independent living. Genesis Home, as one example, assesses each new resident and designs a curriculum of programs tailored to their needs. It may include classes on budgeting, shopping, resume writing, interviewing and job training.

The third step is to support the person or family when they move into permanent housing. One tool is the Circle of Care, where faith communities provide a team to support the person after they've moved into permanent housing. Support may be emotional, and it may be more tangiblea ride to an interview, help with childcare, assistance in navigating some government program.

We've moved from having emergency shelters alone, to having a range of facilities including permanent supportive housing and transitional housing, in addition to continuing to support people after they've moved into permanent house. In 2008 60% of the homeless were in emergency shelters; today it's closer to 40%.

Over the past six years supportive housing, with access to needed services such as mental health, has quadrupled to over 250 beds. More capacity is needed, however, to meet the total needed for the community. I advocate for using the proceeds of our "Penny for Housing" property tax to leverage private investment and increase transition and special needs housing.

It's working. In the most recent "Point in Time Count", held January 30 and 31, 759 people were identified as homeless. Although this represents an increase of 8.7% over 2012, most of the homeless were in shelters. Only 53 of the 759 were unsheltered, a decrease of 16% over the prior year. Chronically homeless people declined from 134 in 2012 to 87, a reduction of 35%.

Problems remain, however. In the current state and federal budget environment funding for shelters and programs is challengingsome shelters are laying off needed staff. One of the biggest issues facing us is that there is not enough mental health treatment availablewhen the state began closing residential treatment facilities our homeless population increased.

6. Neighborhood Improvement Services has embarked on the PRIP, the Proactive Rental Inspection Program. Assess the progress of PRIP.

When the PRIP was established, City Council set some fairly ambitious goals for the program. Neighborhood Improvement Services is doing a great job of meeting those goals. NIS spent a lot of time on informing tenants and property owners about the program before its launch. Outreach included two full page newspaper ads, nearly 20,000 postcards, 10 overview sessions, 12 meetings with realtor and/or property management groups, 3300 homes canvassed and 4000 pamphlets distributed.

As far as actual inspections, the last consolidated numbers I have for the program are as of Jan 31, 2013. Accomplishments include nearly 2,000 inspections in designated areas, 432 "reasonable cause" inspections and 118 "self-certified" properties with 213 more pending at the time. 73% of inspected properties were found to have violations; 41% had three or more violations.

The top violations found include missing or inoperable smoke and C02 detectors, damaged windows, plumbing leaks, flaking/peeling paint and insect infestations. These are excellent results for the first year of the program. We now have to keep the state from proscribing PRIPs, as nearly occurred during this past session.

Also, do you think PRIP can adequately address the quality of rental housing in Durham?

We haven't had enough experience with the program yet to say for certain, but the PRIP appears to be making substantial progress in a) improving the quality of rental housing, b) building relationships with tenants so that they know they have resources to which they can turn and c) building relationships with property owners and management companies who work with Neighborhood Improvement Services on when and how to make the required repairs to their properties.

7. Durham's strategic plan calls for a well-focused annexation policy. In your opinion, what should Durham's annexation policy look like? What areas and developments could be annexed and why?

The NC General Assembly has disrupted Durham's ability to annex in an orderly fashion by proscribing involuntary annexation. A well-developed annexation policy should provide for orderly growth of the city, with expansion occurring where services are needed and projected tax revenues exceed the cost of services provided within a reasonable time frame. In addition the "holes" in the city should, in a well-developed policy, be filled in so that emergency services are provided in a rational manner. (Current patches of city and county mean that different fire departments and law enforcement agencies are dispatched for adjacent small properties.)

In response to the General Assembly's restriction on involuntary annexation, the City responded in a thoughtful manner, by requiring any request for the extension of utilities to be packaged with a zoning request and a voluntary annexation petition.

I support annexations wherever they make fiscal and managerial sense.

8. In 2011, Durham voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase for public transit. Assess the success of the transit improvements. What should the next priorities be?

Collection of the tax began April 1, 2013, and use of the funds has just begun. On August 19, more frequent service was initiated between Southpoint and UNC. Durham revenues cover half that cost, and ridership on the route is up 38% over the same period last year. In October additional buses will be added to three routes in the afternoon to shorten wait times. Work has begun on preliminary engineering and environmental analysis for light rail between Durham and Chapel Hill. These uses both improve the experience of transportation users today and plan for transit for the future.

Additional uses of the tax revenue already in the works are 1) improvements in bus stop shelters, which are particularly important to transit users; 2) the addition of a park-and-ride site near Rougemont; and 3) new buses for additional service expansions.

I think the professional planners at Triangle Transit are focused appropriately and Durham taxpayers should feel good about the use of their tax money.

9. Over the last two-months, Durham's violent crime rate has increased nearly 8%. In July, there was a controversial incident in which a DPD officer shot and killed a man who was allegedly brandishing a knife. However, witness and police accounts of the incident are in dispute. Assess the level of professionalism and proficiency of DPD and recommend ways it can improve.

City Council does not directly manage the Durham Police Department, and I do not have access to case records or personnel files. I see five areas for consideration regarding the professionalism and proficiency of DPD.

Crime rate

While there has been a recent spike in violent crime, the state's Department of Justice reported annual crime rates for 2012 on Sep 5. They reported an 8% drop in index crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson) in Durham compared to the year before. Crime has dropped each year since 2008, and if you factor in population growth the drop has been greater. This is due to the hard work of the Durham police officers, who are building relationships with community members across the city. I've attended ComStat meetings, where District Commanders discuss crime patterns and their efforts to combat crime in each part of Durham, and I'm convinced the Police Department is approaching crime in a thoughtful, impactful manner.

Clearance rate

Clearance rates continue to rise. Members of the Department say that it is in large part due to the help of members of the community across Durham, that people are responding to requests for assistance. In Partners Against Crime meetings I've seen evidence to support that claim, which indicates to me that the Department is doing a good job of building and maintaining relationships throughout the community.

Individual acts of officers

In a department of hundreds of officers, with thousands of arrests weekly, it's inevitable that from time to time there is an incident that calls into question the professionalism of the department as a whole. There have been four significant incidents in the past twelve months of which I'm aware. In one, regarding excessive use of force, the officer no longer works for the department. In the second, where off-duty officers broke into a home to retrieve stolen property, the officers were arrested on the scene and dealt with appropriately. Two others, regarding the shooting of an officer along with the theft of his gun and badge, and the shooting you cited in your question, are in the hands of the district attorney and the SBI respectively. I don't know what the ultimate outcomes of those cases will be, but I do not see evidence of a systemic problem of excessive use of force or abuse of power in the Durham Police Department.

Racial bias

There is a national pattern, which appears to be replicated in Durham, of more focused policing in minority communities. While whites and blacks claim roughly equivalent use of drugs, arrests for narcotics violations is much higher in minority communities. Driver checkpoints are more likely to occur in minority neighborhoods. There's cause and effect, when more policing results in more arrests, and more arrests lead to more policing. I hear regularly that being stopped by police for Driving While Black is a real problem in the community. At the same time I hear residents of targeted neighborhoods praising police for reductions in crime. Reducing or eliminating bias in policing is a long term problem that is going to require thoughtful efforts to bring more balance.

Leadership issues

Chief Lopez is currently under a cloud of suspicion for alleged discrimination, inappropriate remarks and nepotism. He reports to the City Manager, who understands the importance of resolving these issues transparently. Chief Lopez was cleared of the nepotism charge during an internal investigation and recently apologized for his remark. The allegations of discrimination and retaliation were reviewed previously by outside investigators and found to be unsubstantiated.

Now that an EEOC complaint has been filed the allegations of discrimination and retaliation will be investigated again by the EEOC. Either the allegations will be substantiated and appropriate action will be taken, or the Chief will be cleared, and I'm confident that the outcome will be based on the facts.

  • Candidate for Durham City Council

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