Helen Tart | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Helen Tart 

Candidate for Raleigh Council at large

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Helen Tart
Full legal name, if different: Helen Lee Tart
Date of birth: 8/1956
Home address1 Monroe Drive, Raleigh NC 27604
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site: htartforcouncil.blogspot.com
Occupation & employer: Currently a part-time reader/scorer of end of year writing tests at Measurement Inc. in Durham. January 1980 until November 2006, a Pagetech in the Production Department of the News and Observer.
Home phone: 919-833-0586
Work phone: none
Cell phone: none
E-mail: htartforcouncil@nc.rr.com

1. If elected, what are your top priorities?

First priority: Making it easier for regular citizens to know what City government is doing and why. Once citizens have access to that information, then make it easier for citizens to communicate with the City and to have that communication respected and remembered. That's the minimum responsibly of government. Everything the city does will be easier if people understand and are involved in the process.

From there, we could expand the ways that citizens can help their city. Most people have something they feel strongly about: It could be crime prevention or litter pickup or dog parks or soccer fields or the arts or water quality or transit or any of dozens of issues. I believe Raleigh is blessed with talented and skilled people. I realize that harnessing the resource of our people will take staff coordination, but that effort that will be magnified in the efforts of volunteers. For many neighborhood level issues, it is both more effective and less expensive to accept the help of the people that live there than to try to have City employees do everything.

My top three specific goals are:

  • To ensure that the updated Comprehensive Plan is based on natural systems as is the Planning Department’s intent and includes the CAT and TTA transit plans.
  • To make sure the redesign of the CACs includes current CAC members and other members of the public, not just staff and Council members, thus increasing the effectiveness of this crucial source of citizen input.
  • To give all neighborhoods the chance to develop a Neighborhood Plan to address problems and protect it from inappropriate development.

The general goals that will guide my decisions on Council are increasing citizen involvement, neighborhood preservation and environmental stewardship, without threatening the prosperity that gives Raleigh the capacity to be a leader in those areas. I believe that education, incentives, and consistent enforcement are the best tools to use to accomplish those goals--starting with education.

Following these goals will help me deal with the varied issues that the city has to address, such as: Public safety, parks, transportation, affordable housing, quality of life, managing growth while assuring that all residents have chance to benefit from that growth, and balancing individual concerns with the needs of the larger community.

I believe my expertise and creativity in applying these goals will benefit the citizens of Raleigh and will help me lead Raleigh into a healthy, sustainable, and successful future.

2. What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on Council? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

The condensed version: As a citizen, I helped complete a Neighborhood Plan that has protected the character of my neighborhood while allowing revitalization of 60 year-old houses, and later to design a mixed-use redevelopment of an existing neighborhood business zone. As an activist, I've supported the many organizations that work to safeguard natural systems. As leader of the Raleigh Transit Authority, I initiated public participation efforts that resulted in the 2003 Five-year Transit Plan. My work organizing the Oakwood Dog Park volunteers has convinced me that Raleigh's citizens are willing to help improve the city. I can help them do so.

In detail: I've gained insight into the frustrations of citizens from the issues my neighborhood has faced and have learned how to resolve those issues. Over 15 years ago, I worked with my neighbors to convince the Planning Commission and then the City Council to deny a request to put a commercial carwash in the middle of our residential neighborhood near Mordecai and Historic Oakwood. With the help of the North Central CAC, that effort convinced us to form a Community Watch and later to request a Neighborhood Plan. As a very active member of the Plan Task Force, I learned how several city departments operate and the best way to communicate with them. The Council approved our Plan including the conservation overlay that has protected our neighborhood from having modest bungalows replaced by two story mansions as has happened in other older neighborhoods. (Check out the Oakwood Park Neighborhood Plan on the City of Raleigh Website.)

Our neighborhood has stayed active: Dealing with a proposed townhouse development in a ravine, the redevelopment I mentioned earlier and various cleanups. Also our neighborhood joined with surrounding neighborhoods to convince the City Council to reduce the size of the proposed St. Augustine's College stadium and to require the College have a Community Task Force.

Because of my years of working within the system, I can better understand neighborhood problems and work with staff and Council to find solutions.

When I was Chair of the Raleigh Transit Authority (governing body of Capital Area Transit) from 2000-2003, I dealt with all levels of Raleigh staff and elected officials. The Authority decides on CAT routes and fares with staff direction, but the City Council decides on the size of the budget. There is also a Council liaison to the board that can make suggestions, but does not have a vote.

The Authority instituted several improvements during my term as Chair, including:

  • expanding the CAT web page to include routes & schedules,
  • using federal funds to add bike racks to all CAT buses at no cost to the city,
  • forming the first public/private partnership to institute a new bus route,
  • starting a universal pass program, causing more college students and government employees to use CAT,
  • helping to design the new fare systems.

These improvements were made with the cooperation of staff and the encouragement of Council members.

Two actions during my time as leader of the board did require Council approval:

  1. Adding 2 alternate members making the board more effective by assuring a quorum for votes and giving members more time to learn the details of providing transit service. Adding alternate members required changing the ordinance statue that set up the Authority.

  2. Passing the 2003 Five-Year Transit Plan. The Transit Plan was developed with an extensive public participation process that included city, county and state staff and elected officials, business and university leaders, TTA, AMTRAK, Greyhound, citizens that attended any of the dozen public meeting, and thousands of CAT bus riders surveyed on the buses.

I can bring that kind of outreach to other parts of Council activities.

My years of active participation in and interaction with the CACs, the environmental community, and transportation professionals can add depth to Council's understanding of the issues that Raleigh is facing.

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

I don't define myself politically, unless being an idealist is political.

Personally, I am an environmentalist. As a leader, I believe the first responsibility of government is to assure the free and open flow of information between it and its citizens. As citizens, it is our responsibility to access that information and to give our leaders the guidance that they need to make effective decisions.

I believe that increasing public participation will result in improving and protecting the natural systems of our city while preserving neighborhoods and building a sense of community. I think that will actually add to Raleigh's prosperity. Once people understand the damage that unmanaged growth can cause, they will work to find ways to focus growth while fostering the quality of life that we enjoy in this area.

It is in the details that so much of this happens.

As Chair of the Transit Authority, I directed staff to expand the use of website:

  • I insisted that the CAT bus routes and scheduled be posted on the city website. I actually had to argue with staff to get them to do it.
  • I added a page to the Transit Division website listing the members of the Authority and their contact information.

I also increased the use of email communication to reduce wasted paper:

  • I instituted email delivery of transcripts of Authority meetings (usually between 50 and 100 pages) to members for approval or revision before being approved at the next meeting. Nine members, 50 to100 pages, 8 to 10 meetings a year: that's a lot of paper saved. Then it was a simple matter to post the approved minutes on the web site.

Also I looked for ways to improve CAT system that would serve the traditional lower-income rider while finding ways to make it easier for other city residents to leave their cars at home. Adding bike racks to the buses did that because it increased the distance a person could live or work from a bus stop and still use the system. If you notice the people using the bus racks, many of them don't look like they just left an air-conditioned office.

The Transit Authority has no control over capital spending such as which buses to buy or how much to pay for them, so changing system over to hybrid or electric vehicles was not something that we could do. There are also federal requirements that control much of how the transit equipment money is spent.

On Council, I will work to increase the use of the web to communicate with citizens and for ways to get that information out to people that don't have assess to the web. The city web site should be absolutely user friendly.

For the record: I am a progressive Democrat who sometimes gets frustrated because most North Carolina Democrats are more conservative than I am.

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

Supporting a moratorium on teardowns in neighborhoods that don't have Neighborhood Plans until a plan can be developed.

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

I would insist that Public Participation include all of Raleigh's citizens, taking key public hearings outside of city hall and into the neighborhoods.

I would work to improve make Raleigh's public transit system -- Capital Area Transit CAT -- more reliable.

I would encourage the city to work more with non-profit organizations to help them serve the people that need them.

I would suggest that the residential component of mixed-use developments have units reserved for the employees that work in the businesses.

I would support The Raleigh/Wake 10-Year Action Plan to End and Prevent Homelessness.

I would continue to focus on regionalism by working with the Triangle J Council of Governments and with Triangle Transit Authority to combine the resources of the Triangle Region to address the needs of all citizens.

6. In the next two years, Raleigh will complete a revision of its comprehensive plan. If elected, will you seek to influence what it says? If so, how?

Yes. The Comprehensive Plan update is key to guiding future growth. We should start by identifying natural areas that need protecting and reserve them. New development around those areas should be less dense. The parcel-based approach proposed by the staff should make it easer for staff, developers, and citizens to know what is allowed, without compromising the natural-systems protection.

  • I would insist that the public participation process be extensive and reach into all areas of the city, both to get reaction from citizens and to make sure they know how important this plan will be.
  • Areas that are already heavily developed should only be allowed to add new development if the infrastructure -- including transit service, bicycle and pedestrian facilities -- is in place or will be when the development opens.
  • I would encourage more planning processes such as that used by the Hillsborough Street Partnership, combining the interests of the neighborhoods, the business community and the public sector.
  • I would look for ways to encourage people to live near where they work.
  • I will work to strengthen the protections of natural systems and neighborhoods.
  • I would seek additional opportunities to actually implement smart growth.
  • I would make sure that pedestrian, bicycle and transit access is included.
  • I would support TTA's original rail plan. The TTA plan gives an opportunity to focus to growth around the station locations which are in areas where people already want to live. Mixed-use developments have already been approved based on that plan. TTA has public/private partnerships with developers to build appropriate developments around the station locations.

7. The issue of tax-increment financing (TIF) is before the Council because of developer John Kane’s request for a $75 million tax break in connection with his North Hills East project. Do you support or oppose Kane’s request?

In its latest version presented to the City Council, I oppose it.

I'm skeptical of the City Council encouraging competition with Downtown Raleigh residential condos and businesses. But if they do, the City should at least get part ownership in the deck and a percentage of any income from it.

However, there lots of things that Kane could add to the proposal that would increase the public good of the project:

  • John Kane could agree to provide affordable housing in the complex -- for people who work in either part of North Hills. That reduces the need for parking for workers and makes the businesses better able to compete for employees.
  • He could agree to pay for additional CAT route trips on the 2 routes that serve the area.
  • He could agree to have the same kind U-Pass program that NCSU and State Government has with the city where the complex would pay the fare for each CAT ride a shopper or employee takes to or from North Hills.

Of course, these suggestions might very well cost more than they'd get from the TIF.

The thing is that North Hills works, which proves that Downtown Raleigh should as well.

In general, do you think TIFs are needed in Raleigh?

I am not sure. Any proposal that both the Common Sense Foundation and the John Locke Society are against should be looked at very closely. Maybe we should wait until to see how the Roanoke Rapids model works.

If so, under what circumstances?

Any decision on the circumstances of TIFs should be decided with extensive public involvement. However, I believe that the Dix park project provides the kind of clear public purpose that Tax Increment Financing is designed to fund.

8. Raleigh’s impact fees for parks and roads were increased 72 percent last year, but they remain far below what state law allows. Do you support increasing impact fees further, and if so, by how much?

In general I support increasing impact fees substantially, probably doubling them. The exact amount will have to be determined as we study what it will actually take to get new development close to paying its true cost.

In general I support anything that will help focus the costs of growth on the people who most profit by it.

9. CAC leaders are asking the Council to help them strengthen citizens’ involvement in city government matters. Should the CACs be strengthened? If so, what specific measures would you support to assist them?

CACs are the heart of citizen involvement in Raleigh. It's the only City organization that allows everyone living in an area to be involved in communicating with City leaders. Every other City board or organization is appointed by the Council.

The current Council seems to be determined to weaken the autonomy of the CACs during restructuring that the council is in the midst of considering. I disagree with that.

CACs are not perfect and there are problems to be addressed, but the people involved in the CACs should be a large part of addressing those problems. There does need to be an updating of the borders of the CACs and probably the addition of some CACs in the rapidly growing areas. This process seems to perfect time to raise the awareness of the CACs. How that is done will vary by CAC, with the individual CAC leaders helping to decide.

For example, at a recent Council meeting, representatives of the CACs presented a web-based marketing plan to the Council. That would work well in some areas of the city with a many internet savvy residents. Other areas might need different kinds of outreach.

The City could help CAC officers use the web to get information out to their members. The heads of CACs can print out info from the city website for CAC members that don't have access to the web, or they can appoint a communications coordinator to do that for them. Whoever takes on this responsibility can be helped with the cost for toner and paper. The logistics would need to be worked out with the people in the CACs, but some of the web pages will need a "printer-friendly" version to make the printout more useful and less costly in terms of paper and toner.

Basically one of the best ways of helping the CACs is for Council members to talk about them-- to the people that contact them with a problem, at the Council table every meeting, whenever they interact with citizens.

10. Public transit is a huge issue in Raleigh, but there’s little consensus on what to do about the local bus service, or about regional rail or bus connections. What are your goals in this area?

First, to get people to talk about it, instead of ignore it. I devoted 15 years of my life to trying to improve transit in Raleigh and the biggest problem was to get anyone to pay attention. Luckily this is the perfect time to talk about transit because CAT is starting a new 5 Year Transit Plan development process and the Special Transit Advisory Commission due to deliver its recommendations in October.

I believe we need a dedicated source of funding for transit. Perhaps we could follow Charlotte's lead and implement a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transit.

However my goals in this area are so extensive, that I can't do them justice here.

11. Several city or county governments in the Triangle extend employee benefits to domestic partners (including gay and lesbian partners) the same as to married spouses. Raleigh does not. Should it? Is this something you’d support if elected?

Yes, probably. The details would need to be worked out. For example, it would require determining the definition of "domestic partner". This would be a good issue for the Human Relations Commission. Staff could find out how other municipalities have deal with it and how it has worked. Then the Commission could direct the discussion at a public meeting (with the help of Council members if they want) and report back to the full Council.

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