We endorse Harold Weinbrecht. A Democrat, he received our endorsement in 2007 and we believe he has earned a second term.
We appreciate his emphasis on environmental protection, which earned him the endorsement of the N.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club. He created a town sustainability manager position and the Citizen Issue Review Commission to encourage local participation in government, including the development process. Weinbrecht has shown that he supports well-planned, responsible development while curbing unbridled growth that damages the environment and quality of life.
(However, we do disagree with how leaders from Cary and other western Wake County municipalities handled the siting of the new wastewater treatment plant in New Hill, which affects those residents' quality of life.)
Michelle Muir, a Republican, is president of The Spoken Image, a marketing consulting group for small businesses and nonprofits. While she is clearly passionate about Cary, her stances, particularly on growth, are not progressive.
"We have this divisiveness ... between anti-growth and pro-growth," said Muir, who sits on the planning and zoning board, at a recent candidates' forum.
Muir, like many of Cary's conservative candidates (see Don Hyatt as Exhibit A), contends that Cary is unfriendly to business. While some businesses have griped over the town's stringent sign ordinance, we don't see evidence that throngs of people have abandoned Cary over it, especially given the number of major corporations that have located in the town over the past five years. And businesses and developers should be elated that impact fees have been waived for downtown development. Weinbrecht has also supported incentives for developers and nonprofits to build affordable housing.
If being "unwelcoming" means regulating growth rather than allowing the development to run amok (see Chatham County as Exhibit B), then we support Weinbrecht's stance and, if it exists, Cary's cool reception to the bulldozers.
However, it is fair to say the sign ordinance is a major issue in Cary. In 2009, David Bowden, who later passed away, hired someone to paint a sign on his house that read "Screwed by the Town of Cary," which, the town said, violated the ordinance. Officials threatened to fine Bowden if he didn't change the size of his sign, although he did not have to alter its message. However, a U.S. district court ruled that unless Cary regulates holiday decorations and public art, it can't enforce the ordinance in the Bowden case. Cary is appealing the case to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court; it could go to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Weinbrecht sees the case as a legal defense of the town's sign ordinance. "If our sign ordinance goes away, your neighbor could put up a billboard with flashing lights into your bedroom," he said at the forum. (Really? Are you sure you're not exaggerating, Mayor?)
Muir wanted the sign down, she said at the forum, adding, "I want us to stop spending money on [the case.]" However, the town's insurance now kicks in to cover any future legal expenses related to the case. Stay tuned.
We are disappointed that Muir has stooped to criticizing Weinbrecht over petty matters. In her questionnaire, she took issue with Weinbrecht's 2010 vote to increase council members' travel allowance. "That is not fiscal responsibility," she wrote, because gas prices had dropped from the previous year. However, the increase was only $300, a bump from $9,300 to $9,600,
And gas prices fluctuate: Today you might pay $3.25 for a gallon of gas; by the end of the week it could be closer to $4. Considering the council's pay—$10,859 a year, plus travel—begrudging them additional gas money seems unreasonable.
Muir also took a swipe at Weinbrecht for allegedly not being a full-time mayor. Weinbrecht's works as a software engineer at SAS, so he is unable to regularly meet during the day. Yet given Weinbrecht's puny town salary—$13,000 annually, plus a $10,000 travel allowance—he, like most mayors, have to work: Durham's Bill Bell, at UDI; Raleigh's Charles Meeker, at a law firm. We prefer that our elected officials work, even full-time; it keeps them in touch with the issues facing the average citizen.
Weinbrecht has raised $9,549 this election cycle, with his biggest contributor being the North Carolina Indian-American Political Action Committee ($1,000).
Muir has raised nearly $16,000 this election cycle, with at least $2,000 of it coming from real estate/ development interests. She also received money from several major players in the Wake County GOP: Republican Women of Cary ($500), state Rep. Paul Stam ($150), fellow council candidate Don Hyatt ($125) and Wake County GOP chairman Claude Pope ($100).
To be certain, Jeff Foxx is a newcomer to politics; the last office he held was student body president of Winstead Elementary School. That's not stopping us from endorsing the 36-year-old Foxx, a Web designer at SAS. Much like District D's Gale Adcock four years ago, he's a quick study. He knows the basics of the Cary budget, which is notable for someone who isn't privy to inside-Town Hall machinations. He is for balanced growth, environmental protection—of importance to District B, whose Black Creek is contaminated with fecal coliform—and public transit as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and wear on the roads.
Foxx opposes lifting developer impact fees for downtown projects, noting that, "in other parts of District B there are much needed infrastructure improvements that aren't being made."
At the Cary candidates' forum, Foxx had an excellent idea for promoting government transparency—one that other cities should consider: make it easier for citizens to know how council members voted. The votes are buried in the minutes, Foxx acknowledged, "and it's all there if you have the patience to read it." That's just it—few people do have the patience or the time. He suggests creating a spreadsheet where the issue and the votes are logged. It's that simple.
Incumbent Don Frantz, on the other hand, touted his transparency by saying he posts a blog entry every couple of weeks about what he's up to on council. He's posted 19 times this year, far behind the 31 and 41 entries he logged over the same time period in 2009 and 2010.
Frantz, who served on the planning and zoning board in 2005–2007, won his council seat four years ago by 48 votes over Vickie Maxwell. That slim mandate was enough to inspire him to run, albeit unsuccessfully, for the N.C. House last year, in the midst of his first council term.
Frantz, a conservative Republican, toes the party line of being anti-tax and opposes placing a transit tax on the ballot for a public vote.
We do give Frantz kudos for supporting the Jordan Lake rules to help protect a major drinking water source for the region. Although that wasn't a controversial stance, it was an important one.
Foxx and Frantz do agree on one point: They both support allowing backyard chickens in Cary. (They are legal in some rural residential areas.) Finally, a consensus.
Foxx certified he would not exceed the $1,000 threshold for campaign contributions or expenditures, and he's stuck to that promise, having raised no money.
Frantz, on the other hand, withdrew his certification to stay below the $1,000 mark. He has raised $9,300 this election cycle, including $500 from charter school founder Robert Luddy and $150 from state Rep. Paul Stam.
At the Cary candidates' forum, citizens submitted questions about topics including economic development, sign ordinances and the legality of backyard hens. Here is another question: Why is Don Hyatt so cranky?
While several other U.S. cities are bankrupt or, as in the case of Trenton, N.J., laying off a third of its police force, Cary ranks among the safest U.S. cities, has the lowest tax rate in Wake County, is warming a nest egg—a $5 million surplus—and boasts a 5 percent unemployment rate—compared with 10 percent for North Carolina.
Nonetheless, Hyatt, a self-described fiscal conservative, the challenger in the District D race and the man behind the entertaining, if often infuriating, CaryPolitics blog, complained that the town isn't welcoming enough to business and development. "I drank the Kool-Aid" several years ago on slow growth, said Hyatt, who, in 1999, served on the planning and zoning board. He favors waiving impact fees, which are levied on developers to help pay for roads, parks and other infrastructure, for "stand out projects," whatever those are. "We need people who will embrace business and growth," he said.
Cary already has those people. In addition to being home to SAS, the city has benefited as Siemens, Deutsche Bank and ABB have either located there or expanded operations over the past two years. In 2010, Forbes.com named Cary as the No. 3 Best Place fo Business and Careers.
We endorse incumbent Gale Adcock. The director of Corporate Health Services at SAS, Adcock quickly came up to speed on city issues—transportation, the environment and economics—after she was elected four years ago. She has also been endorsed by the N.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Her votes on fiscal decisions—to ride herd on the city budget, to lower Cary's property tax rate and to temporarily waive impact fees for core downtown projects—should please conservatives and the bid'ness types, but as one might expect from a self-described centrist, she is balanced in her political stances. For example, she doesn't shy away from all impact fees. As a matter of equity—and to help mitigate the environmental impacts of large residential developments—she supports these fees for multi-family projects as well as single-family ones.
Adcock has raised at least $18,000 this election cycle, much of it from health practitioners and small contributions from individuals About $600 came from development interests; the Democratic Women of Wake County contributed $1,000.
Hyatt, who has raised just $310 for his campaign, did not return a questionnaire. But at the forum he did have one positive comment: "Cary is the nicest-looking city east of the Mississippi." Boston, eat your heart out.
We endorsed Lori Bush in 2007 and we are pleased to do so again. A solutions manager at Cisco, she has been a positive force in Cary politics prioritizing her concerns for the environment—she received the Sierra Club's endorsement—budgeting and public safety.
As an at-large council member, Bush would represent all of Cary. She is sensitive to the issues facing Cary residents who live in Chatham County, noting in her questionnaire that, "We must respect the rights of property owners who are interested in developing (or not developing) their land," she wrote, "while considering the impact to the shared water resources and the needs of the community."
Her views on affordable housing are also refreshing. While some people may imagine affordable housing as urban slums (apparently never having seen Durham's East Main Street project), Bush, a former planning and zoning board member, defines it as a home that costs its renters or owners no more than 30 percent of their income. Sadly, she says, less than a quarter of town employees can afford to live in Cary, and she supports revisiting the town's Affordable Housing Plan, which has not been updated since 2000.
Bush has raised $31,000 in this election cycle, according to September finance reports (she says this amount also includes money left over from her previous campaign), compared to $9,700 by challenger Zeke Bridges.
A lawyer and a conservative, Bridges is earnest about serving Cary. However, most of his answers on the Indy questionnaire and at the candidates' forum were vague. Bush is better qualified, more knowledgeable and progressive.
There is a correction to this article. Bush is not an incumbent on Town Council, but is running for the seat vacated by Erv Portman. She has served Cary on the planning & zoning board, citizens advisory committee and design focus group.
To learn about the candidates' stances on the issues, read their 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.