William V. "Bill" Bell | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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William V. "Bill" Bell 

Durham - Mayor and City Council

Name as it appears on the ballot: William V. "Bill" Bell

Date of birth: January 3, 1941

Home address: 1003 Huntsman Drive Durham, NC 27713-2384

Occupation & employer: Executive Vice-President/COO, UDI/CDC

E-mail: billbell@udicdc.org; wbell51126@aol.com

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 have approximately 36 combined years of positive leadership and experience as an elected Durham County Commissioner and as the Mayor of Durham. I provided leadership as Chairman of the Durham County Commissioners for 12 years and in 1992, I was the leader in merging the Durham City and County School system into what is now the Durham Public Schools. I have provided positive leadership during times of crisis in our city, such as during the "December 2002 Ice Storm" which paralyzed most of our city for almost a week. I have demonstrated the capacity and ability to provide strong leadership which helped diffuse what could have become a very explosive event in our city during the recent Duke Lacrosse incident that captured much local, state, national and international attention.

Under my leadership as Mayor, Durham has received numerous national awards and positive recognitions as a good place to live, raise a family and for businesses and careers. We continue to be one of few cities nationally that has an AAA Bond rating from the 3 major bond rating agencies. On the state and national level I presently serve as Chairman of the NC Metropolitan Mayors Coalition (Comprised of 27 mayors that represent 27 of the largest cities in NC). I was chosen by the National Conference of Black Mayors to Chair the Conference's Health Care Reform Committee. I have also served on various national committees on the "US Conference of Mayors" (a national organization that represents Mayors of cities of 30,000 population and above throughout the nation).

Additionally I have served as a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army Signal Corps (1961 – 1963); I have worked as an electrical engineer in the private sector where I managed and provided leadership for many projects and retired from the IBM Corporation in 1996; I have also worked in the non-profit sector where I now am the Executive Vice-President/COO of UDI/CDC a 501C3 non-profit Community Development Corporation. These experiences in both the private sector and non profit sector have given me a broad experience for continuing to serve as Mayor of the city of Durham, NC.

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

I am a registered life long democrat. Politically I consider myself to be knowledgeable, qualified as a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. I have always tried to be fair in carrying out the duties of all of the political offices to which I have been elected. I have tried to be both representative and responsible to the people. I tend to be bottom line oriented especially when it comes to the delivery of core city services and budgetary matters. I work to see that once a plan has been developed we take the necessary steps to execute that plan. The downtown revitalization and neighborhood revitalization that has occurred in Durham since I became Mayor are some examples. My efforts to engage law enforcement and the community to reduce crime in our city are another example.

The basic precepts of my political philosophy about representative government include my strong belief that its elected officials are public servants who are obligated to serve with integrity. As public servants, they must acquire sufficient knowledge and understanding of all matters subject to their jurisdiction; be open to the ideas of others, including especially those of their colleagues, staffs, and constituents. They should be honest and scrupulous in carrying out their duties; and remain ever cognizant of the fact that politics, according to Otto von Bismarck (1867), "is the art of the possible." Elected officials should ever remain consistent about the major ends they seek, such as effective and efficient delivery of the services they are required to provide their constituents. The means chosen to reach those ends may be flexible (changed, e.g., by improved technology), but they must always be morally appropriate. Elected officials should strongly support the rule of law, always applying it justly and fairly, and fully justifying the need to eliminate or modify any rule. They also should encourage their constituents to participate actively in their government, and keep them as fully informed as possible about the workings of their government, using such measures on the municipal level as open meetings, availability to the media, and being reasonably accessible to their constituents. Finally, in my judgment, all elected officials should always bear in mind that, according to the Declaration of Independence (1776), ". . . all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness....[and that they govern with] the consent of the governed...."

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

In my opinion the three most important issues facing Durham are:

1. Job creation in the private sector is one of the most important issues facing Durham. It is not the role of Durham City to be a job creator within in City government, except where it is necessary to deliver the needed city services. It is our role to help create an environment where businesses can foster and grow and create jobs. The availability of jobs for our workforce also will help address another important facet of our community and that is the high degree of poverty among certain segments of our population and neighborhoods.

We do this by enhancing our city's practices and policies which will create an environment for greater job growth and job creation. We do this by more efficiently and effectively streamlining the process for new construction and renovations; ensuring that we have the needed infrastructures, such as good streets, water, sewer capacity, transit resources and supporting job training programs and incentives where necessary and which demonstrate that incentives are cost beneficial and will provide jobs for our residents.

2. Improving our neighborhoods particularly those inner city neighborhoods that are most distressed is a vey high priority for me as Mayor. We have made much progress in North East Central Durham and South West Central Durham and are continuing that effort in the Rolling Hills South Side community. If re-elected as Mayor I would urge my colleagues on the City Council to continue to support those efforts and look to working with other communities to see how neighborhood improvements might be made.

3. Passing the 1/2 cent transit sales tax and the 1/4 cents sale tax for education in the November 8, 2011 General Election is the third near term priority in my opinion for Durham. The successful passage of those two issues would put Durham at the fore front of the region for the beginning stages of a regional transit system which in my opinion is necessary if we are to continue to have a quality region in which to live and support the economic engines that will help this region grow in a sustainable environment.

In my opinion no other level of local government more defines an area than its educational system. The passage of the cent sales tax will provide a needed resource to enable us to have and sustain a quality public school system, especially for those students who depend on the public schools for their education. The cents educational sales tax will also support some students who want to attend Durham Technical Community College another important educational institution in our city.

If re-elected as Mayor I will use the "Office of the Mayor" to further support our local education system where appropriate and reach out to the region to encourage the other counties (Wake and Orange) to pass the 1/2 cent transit sales tax in November 2012.

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

I have stated before that throughout my service as a Durham County Commissioner and as the Mayor of Durham, I have demonstrated that I am always willing to take a principled stand and lose some votes. Two notable examples are my support as a Commissioner for merging the Durham City and Durham County public schools, and my support as the Mayor for establishing a policy on domestic partners rights as city employees. Additionally I have supported the city council stance taken on those issues in question #10 of your questionnaire. I firmly believe that public servants should be persons of integrity who will not sacrifice their ethical or moral principles just to win votes.

In recent years, the Council has targeted community development improvements to certain areas, i.e. Northeast Central Durham and Rolling Hills/Southside. Name a specific area of the city that hasn't yet been targeted with services, but needs attention. What are the needs there, and how would you address them if elected?

I will be the first person to say that there are many other areas of the city that are candidates for community improvements. It is important to also realize that those areas of the community did not get in their state overnight, but over many years and it will take years before all of our communities, in particular those communities that need improvement, are improved. The city under my leadership as Mayor has made neighborhood improvements one of its top priorities and we have proceeded to identify those neighborhoods that are most in need and we have begun the improvement process with positive tangible results. In doing this we have had to make priorities and tailor those priorities to the available and potential resources needed to make the community improvements. I am convinced that has we make process we will be able to enjoy the support of many of our citizens which will allow us to garner the resources and move on to the other neighborhoods that are also in need of community improvement.

I consistently believe and say that "Strong Communities make for Strong Cities" and we as a city can not afford to not improve our communities if we are to be a strong and great city.

The City Council recently voted to allocate a large percentage of current and future federal housing grants to one project in the Rolling Hills and Southside neighborhoods. Dedicating these future allocations has reduced available funding for other housing-related services. Do you agree with the council's decision? Explain why.

Yes I do agree with the council's decision since I was a strong advocate and supporter of that proposal. The decision in my opinion will provide for a larger amount of quality market rate mixed income affordable housing than the city has previously been able to provide to those families in particular who fall below the median income, into the categories of low income and very low income families.

These targeted neighborhoods were among those in the highest need of community and neighborhood improvement. They also met the criteria of improvements that could be made a block or more at a time rather than a house at a time. Neighborhood improvements that encompass blocks, rather than single houses at a time, present themselves for the best transformation to stronger neighborhoods improvements on a larger scale.

Additionally, the administration as it may be appropriate, has committed to finding away to provide other needed housing-related services.

What role should the city play in the development or redevelopment of commercial real estate? Do you believe the city should award incentives to private developers, and under what circumstances?

Several large-scale housing developments have stalled in recent years, leaving behind half-finished neighborhoods, roads and other infrastructure. Given the unfinished projects and recent economic challenges, how should the city proceed in deciding whether to approve new projects? Does the economic downturn call for a revision of current policies?

Most of the large-scale housing developments that have stalled in recent years have been a result of the unexpected downturn in the economic climate that has drastically affected the housing industry. In some cases the city has not required enough up front infrastructure related bonds by the developer to insure that the infrastructure could be completed in the event of a developer not being able to complete the infrastructure work. We have asked the city administration to thoroughly review those instances and to make recommendations as to how we might prevent future occurrences and also how we might assist those developments that are in that situation now. As a part of those recommendations I would expect there to be recommended revisions of our current policies as it relates to this issue.

Police Chief Jose Lopez reported to Council earlier this year that crime reports in the city of Durham have dropped more than 30 percent since 10 years ago. Analyze the police department's current strategies in crime prevention and enforcement. What areas need improvement? How would you enable the department to make those improvements, if elected.

First let me say when I became Mayor in 2001 I instituted the practice for the police department to give quarterly reports to the city council at our public meetings. I instituted this practice because I thought that it was important that not only the City Council, but also that the public be aware of our crime statistics and the efforts that were being taken to reduce incidents of crime. I also believe that in most all cases, to solve a problem, you first have to agree that you have a problem or identify the problem. I did not want to wait until the end of the year to find out if we had a crime problem and how we were doing as a city in reducing crime or not reducing crime.

I think that the police department is doing a good job in crime prevention and enforcement, however the prevention of crime is not limited to the responsibility of the police department, it is also a community responsibility and the community must work to assist the police in crime prevention.

The area that concerns me most is the area of clearance rates or solving crimes. In general when we compare ourselves to the national averages and even some of our peer cities we are doing better or equal in solving some categories of crime and in other categories of crime we are not doing as well. I want us to be better in all cases and comparisons. But more importantly I want our citizens to know that if a crime is committed in the city of Durham, there will be a high probability that it will be solved.

The general public, I think, does not expect the police alone to prevent all crime, however I am of the opinion that the general public does look to the police to solve crimes and provide the leadership.

The issue of solving crimes and/or clearance of reported crimes is an area that I would like to see much more improvement. This again is going to require the cooperation of the community, but the leadership in solving crime has to come from the police department. I have asked the police chief to tell us what he would need in additional resources, if needed, to increase our clearance rates or our ability to solve more crimes. I also would like to know if additional resources are needed, how they would be used and what could we expect in our clearance rates.

In the past year, the council has taken an official stance on several national issues, voting last year to stop any official city travel to Arizona in light of its controversial immigration law; voting earlier this year to accept Mexican national identification cards as an official ID in traffic stops and other city-related business; and voting this summer to oppose statewide efforts to ban same-sex marriages. How would you have voted on each of these issues? How do you feel about the council taking a stand on these national issues?

As Mayor I supported all of those positions.

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

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