Michelle Muir | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Michelle Muir 

Cary - Mayor and Town Council

Name as it appears on the ballot: Michelle Muir

Full legal name, if different: Michelle Mason Muir

Date of birth: 11/30/1966

Home address: 1423 Debra Drive, Cary, NC 27511

Campaign Web site: www.votemuir.org

Occupation & employer: President, The Spoken Image, Inc.

E-mail: michelle@votemuir.org

What do you believe are the most important issues facing Cary? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

The most important issues facing Cary are:

The ability to maintain a sound infrastructure and to develop a vision for what that looks like 20 years from now is our most important challenge.

It's critical to improve our small business development strategies and reduce obstacles facing residents who want to start local businesses. Small business growth accounts for 85% of new job growth.

Vigilant, responsible financial stewardship

If we do not take steps now to strengthen our sources of revenue, reduce our operational costs, and to direct growth to places where we have existing services, we will lose our ability to provide a high quality of life. Our roads, clean water, parks, public safety, schools; everything we enjoy about Cary is at risk if we continue being in a reactive mode. A mayor has to take serious steps to plan and identify solutions. I intend to serve in the mayor's office on a full-time basis and would make it my daily focus to serve in addressing these challenges. I will have greater availability to drive collaborative efforts, and I will be more effective as a participant in regional planning.

To address small business growth, I'd like to see existing employees positioned to serve as liaison to work across departments and create a smoother start up process on a reduced timetable. We also need good solid information, gathered through roundtables and surveys so that we can identify ways to help these resident business owners. I want Cary to be known as a great place to start a business; not just because we provide an excellent market, but because our Town has a posture that fosters support of citizens who are ready to invest.

And finally, responsible fiscal stewardship. I believe we need a greater commitment to reducing operational expenses. We look great when we compare ourselves to other towns, but we can't rest on that. We must be in a continuous improvement cycle of looking for process improvements, duplication, new revenue sources, and opportunities to hold the line on spending.

We must have metrics combined with accountability to make this happen. With experience in organizational development and my work with ISO-9000 certification, I will always believe we can identify process improvements that will reduce expenses if we are willing to ask hard questions.

In 2010 the mayor voted to increase each member's overall compensation package by increasing the travel expense allowance. This happened despite the fact that gas prices had dropped significantly from the prior year. That is not fiscal responsibility.

Speaking with hundreds of residents, people are extremely tired of their money going to legal fees. And rightly so. In 2007, our expense for this was approximately $500K. In 2010? $1.7m. If we lose the current appeal of the Bowden Case at the Fourth circuit court appeals, I will not entertain the notion of spending even a penny exploring or conducting a Supreme Court appeal. It's the wrong case to use to attempt to establish precedent nationally on sign ordinances, and it's the wrong financial move for Cary residents.

Explain how—or if—Cary should continue to grow in Chatham County. How do the needs of Cary residents in Chatham County differ from those in Wake? How do you plan to address them?

The Joint Land Use plan, currently nearing the Public Hearing phase, will result in a thoughtful plan that directs and guides development in the areas west. I encourage people to get involved now if they would like to bring input forward on this issue. Chatham-Cary residents have the same needs for clean water, public safety, roads, and schools that Wake-Cary residents have, and we must work diligently with the commissioners in both counties to make sure residents are well-served.

Tell voters about your vision for a revitalized downtown Cary. What should it include—and what should it avoid? What other cities are good models for your vision? And finally, how should Cary pay for it?

We need population, products, and progress; managed in a way that is good for all Cary residents not just those who live downtown.

As a private citizen I am the project leader of a collaborative effort that has provided free wireless to downtown visitors. This project has been an innovative, cost effective approach that provides a meaningful service to downtown businesses that they can use to attract and retain customers.

As a member of the Planning and Zoning Board I have supported initiatives that are good for downtown including;

Sustainable Site Design

Plan Amendments for the Heater Park Community

The Historic Preservation Master Plan

We cannot have population without housing, so we need to encourage good projects that provide housing near existing infrastructure. Housing requires services, so we've got to clear the way for grocery, dry cleaning, restaurants and make sure they know they are welcome in Cary.

I'm convinced private investment must and will eventually far surpass the seed money Cary has put forward and will create a revenue source that helps the entire town.

In your analysis of Cary's operating and capital budgets, what expenditures should take priority? What expenditures should be reduced? Should any items be eliminated entirely? Justify your priorities.

For the most part, Cary has done an excellent job identifying capital projects that can be delayed until there is adequate funding projected for these improvements.

However, one area of concern I have is whether we are adequately and systematically tying growth patterns with public safety initiatives and provision of police and fire services. Developing a stronger strategy for this would be a priority.

Operationally, I would like us to use broader metrics (again) that will give us an idea about how effective some of our efforts are. For example, how much does the Cary Matters broadcast cost, and what is the actual value to citizens when it is largely a duplication of information going out through other channels? How many viewers does it have? We also have a volunteer board, CIRC, that has yielded no positive result but has used up hours of staff time and created an additional layer of government between citizens and their representatives. It should be disbanded. These are just two examples.

We should also consider a review of our operational technology posture. There are innovative programs, such as the Click-it and Fix-it PDA App being employed in Raleigh, that come with little or no cost to taxpayers but provide higher service levels. As it is, right now our website doesn't even render properly for a large part of our population using Macs. We should be further ahead on the curve. (I'm sure someone will see this and fix it, so thanks!)

Council and the mayor often like to remind voters that Cary has the lowest tax rate in Wake County, because most towns have raised their rates while ours has remained steady. Unfortunately, in June of 2008, less than six months after taking office, the incumbent mayor seconded and approved a motion raising our tax rate. We would not have the lowest tax rate in Wake County today if he had won that vote.

The median home price in Cary is $257,000, according to CNN Money. (By comparison, Durham's is $158,000 and Raleigh's is $170,000) How should Cary ensure there is adequate affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents?

I have supported components of Cary's Affordable Housing plan that I believe are effective means to identifying positive long term strategies, and have supported products at a range of price points, including those targeted at Seniors on fixed incomes. We can also reduce the cost of developing home projects at lower price points, so that the projects are economically feasible for investors. I have been personally involved with Habitat for Humanity and the Raleigh Rescue Mission and seen the importance of working in the community to support people at even the lowest income range. I am convinced Cary has tremendous private resources that individuals can be moving toward these efforts as well.

Would you support placing a half-cent transit tax on the 2012 ballot? Why or why not?

I believe we need to come up with a plan for transit. I don't agree that the current TTA plan, focused largely on rail solutions, is in the long-term best interest of Cary residents. Bus-based solutions provide far greater flexibility and do not destroy natural resources in the process. I also don't think the economy has been restored to a stable condition that allows us to accurately predict future growth and ridership and I am not encouraged by the state's pattern of use of transportation dollars. As a result, I would not support a referendum.

What sort of relationship do you think the Town of Cary should have with the Wake County school system? Do you believe that, in the future, western Wake County municipalities should form their own school system, either by a formal breakaway or through the creation of a sub-district?

As Mayor, it is important to be involved and visible on a regular basis in schools and with board leaders; to support those who are working hard in our community, and to assist students in understanding how critical it is that they become involved in the process of government. As a parent of children in our public schools, I am highly involved through volunteerism, PTSA and board appointments for WCPSS, and advocating successfully for road changes for improved safety. I have positive relationships with both minority and majority members of the board and the superintendent; and in February, I hosted a meeting of with Anthony Tata and facilitated his engagement among teachers, parents and leaders. I will never turn down opportunities to meet with the these leaders (or any individual or group) by sending substitutes to meetings held during business hours, which is the mayor's current practice due to schedule constraints.

With the economic landscape and the timetable for projected job recovery, I do not believe in forming a separate school system in Cary. As a town, our greatest focus should be on identifying ways we can support the school system's student achievement goals and assisting them when possible, in managing their share of taxpayer resources.

I was disappointed to see the Mayor vote to require Wake County Schools provide approximately $30,000 in landscape improvements at Panther Creek in the last fiscal year; to provide a buffer in an area where natural re-growth will eventually be sufficient. This took needed resources from our schools and in the end, provides no additional value to students or the town.

Earlier this year, after public protest the federal government withdrew its plan to site an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office, which would have included temporary detention facilities, in Cary. In retrospect, how could that issue have been handled differently, internally among planning staff and elected officials, with the federal government and with the public?

This was an absolute failure on the part of our town to protect the interests of citizens. In addition to valid safety concerns, this facility would have become the address of record for deported sex offenders, creating a property value nightmare and killing off business in the retail portion of this parcel. God bless whoever started the process of informing citizens!

Staff at every level should consider residents their most important customer, and take initiative when potential threats arise to people's quality of life. This means notifying council as soon as a potentially controversial project arises. In this case, when the developers made an inquiry about the project, they made it clear there would be holding areas, and stated that there are often "public perception problems" and could be "controversial."

Instead, the staff kept this information to themselves and suggested alternate locations for the purpose of avoiding public input.

As a private citizen, I spent hours working with citizens, real estate professionals, and our new congressional representative for the area, to make sure there was pressure from all sides in resolving the issue.

What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.

Career: Human Resources professional for Nortel and Alcatel including organizational development, ISO-9000, and facilitating management development. Extensive training in leadership development through the Covey Leadership Center, Capital Associated Industries and Center for Creative Leadership.

Presently, President of The Spoken Image, a growing marketing consulting practice for small businesses & non-profits, advocating for clients in the marketplace.


Cary Planning & Zoning Board

Wake County Commission for Women

Wake County School Board Advisory Council

NC State McKimmon Center Technology Education Advisory Board

Programs Vice-chair, Raleigh Society of Human Resource Management

Vice-Chair, Cary High School PTSA

Chair, Cary High School Baccalaureate

Vice-Chair, Triangle Swim Team

Past/Present Community Involvement:

Member, Cary Chamber of Commerce; Education and Economic Development Committees

Heart of Cary Association

CHS Student Services Advisory Committee

Leadership Committee, Troop 244 Boy Scouts of America

Parenting Mentor and Bible Study leader

Youth Basketball coach

Member, Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Community Projects:

Created a family-based blog promoting National and State Parks through writing projects and photography

Co-founder iCary Wi-Fi, a wireless network that provides free internet access to visitors and shoppers in Downtown Cary.

Leader 2001 Wake County Library Funding Project

Leader Hurricane Katrina Food drive benefiting NC Food Bank

2011 Led the Removal of the "Screwed by the Town of Cary" sign

Personal: Born in Washington, D.C, daughter of an oceanographer and a schoolteacher. Married to husband Steve, with four children. Twenty-seven-year resident of the Triangle, 13 year resident of Cary.

How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

My commitment to all voters is that I will

listen to you and act as your advocate

steward your resources well, both economic and environmental

protect your quality of life

limit the role of government in your life

I have built relationships throughout the community by serving others, and with a respect for individuals, groups, and business. I know how much we all have to offer our community, and how bright the future of Cary is with the right leadership. My platform is devoted to finding solutions to our long term challenges and by providing a higher level of service to our residents from the mayor's office.

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

My opponent has twice voted against it, but I believe that Cary should allow backyard hens with a carefully crafted policy. This is an environmentally friendly option for organic products, and provides greater freedom and basic property rights. However, there are still many people opposed to the idea, so homeowner associations should have adequate time to amend covenants if they wish to prohibit backyard fowl on a subdivision basis before the current ban is lifted.

The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

Being an ambassador to our community is critical to the role of Mayor, and my daily schedule and personal support network allows me to become engaged in our community with great passion. We cannot continue to build the best possible community of the future without this level of connection between citizens and their representatives. For example, one email I received from a disability advocacy group said "It's refreshing to have someone who cares about all Cary's citizens and who might actually be able to champion our causes."

I will be there, listen, to share ideas to connect private resources, and when appropriate, advocate within the town or throughout the region.

In addition to my work with the Wake County Commission on Women, it has also been my privilege to meet many women and young girls who are inspired by my qualifications, and my willingness to be the first woman mayor elected in Cary. It's really time.

To learn about other candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.

  • Cary - Mayor and Town Council

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