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Monday, September 21, 2015

Join us live for the Raleigh City Council candidate forum

Posted by on Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 6:50 PM

Tonight, WakeUP Wake County, the League of Women Voters of Wake County and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority are hosting a forum for all 18 candidates for Raleigh's City Council and the Mayor's office. 

We're here at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, live blogging the forum from 7 to 9 p.m. Thanks for joining! 

6:52: We're in a brightly-lit room  behind the Pullen church, and there look to be about 150 or so people here already, a mostly older crowd. 

6:58: People are still flowing in. I think I've spotted all the candidates. And they're being asked to make their way to the long stage at the front of the room. Looks like we'll have some introductory remarks from Karen Rindge, executive director of WakeUP Wake County, as well as from Marian Lewin from the League of Women Voters. Then candidates will be asked questions and will have 30 seconds to respond.. 

7:01: Most of the candidates have taken their seats. "One and a half people are missing."

7:03: The forum will be simulcast in Spanish...Does Raleigh City Council do that? If not, they should.

7:04: Here's Karen Rindge. Thanking the candidates for their time and resources, for being here.  The room is full and people are standing.

7:06: Marian Lewin is giving an intro. *Bad mic static.* "Hopefully, there won't be too many mic issues tonight."

7:07: Lewin is explaining logistics of Council: 2 year terms, everyone votes at-large etc. There's same-day voter registration this year FYI, plus early voting; so if you didn't register yet, it's not too late! Register at the Board of Elections office downtown. Lewin says since there's a lawsuit on voting rights going on, there's a lot of confusion around how/when we can vote. Very true. 

7:09: "It's going to be a juggling effort to give everyone a chance to talk," Lewin says. First, candidates will intro themselves. Then Lewin will ask questions, then candidates will take questions form the audience. 

7:11: Intros start with at large. First we have Mary Ann Baldwin. She running for 5th term. Priorities are affordable housing and transit, which go together. Growing and supporting entrepreneurs. Oak City Outreach Center to support homeless residents and a North Raleigh park that celebrates the Neuse River and provides access.

7:12: Craig Ralph has served 30 years on city boards and commission, including Dix 306. Chair of route community for Raleigh Transit Authority. Supports public private partnerships. 30 years of experience, "I don't need on the job training. I'm ready to go to work." 

7:13: Russ Stephenson running for sixth term. He's talking about the UDO. "When we began writing it 6 years ago, I knew these rules would impact everything we do and become." He has committed thousands of hours to becoming Council's resident expert on the UDO. He's committed to refining UDO rules. 

7:14: Matt Tomasulo. He moved to Raleigh eight years ago. Talking about Walk Raleigh, something that is awesome. "I never intended to stay here, but I'm here now, started a family and started two business. I've fallen in love with Raleigh." Focus is to continue thoughtful development that supports transit, improve communication with residents. 

7:16: JB Buxton, running for District A. "My family has grown with city that boast enviable quality of life and economic climate but is tested by major growth and competition from cities all over the country. We have to chart clear transit, housing, environment, education courses." Track record of getting things done for education in NC and on Planning Commission. 

7:18: Dickie Thompson is a lifelong resident, legacy family. 38 years in community and civic organizations, chair of RDU vision board. "We need to be financial prudent and good stewards of taxpayer's dollars." He, with the mayor, wants to move Raleigh forward in the right direction.

7:19: David Cox. Founded Grow Raleigh Great a year and a half ago because the UDO doesn't adequately protect neighborhoods. "I'm here as the original neighborhood advocate." He wants to be a dependable voice for neighborhoods and citizens.

7:20: John Odom, he is "the largest" representative on the Council and serves the largest district. He's been on Council for 16 of last 22 years. He can claim a lot of the accolades in making Raleigh "the best city in the country." He's served with 4 mayors, so he can work with others to get things done. Transit and affordable housing are priorities,

7:21: Corey Branch: He's a Raleigh and District C native. Tower Shopping Center in Southeast Raleigh ain't Cameron Village, Branch says. Longview hasn't had a grocery sore since Wynn Dixie was in NC- a long time ago. He's an engineer, vice chair of Raleigh Transit Authority. Advocating for community centers. He's ready to come up with solutions for C: "when part of Raleigh is down, all of it is." 

7:22: Eugene Weeks is running for his third term. "Yes, things are slow in some areas. We have not seen that same type of economic development in District C, but he's been working with economic development office. Look at vacant lots for businesses coming into Raleigh. Name check Stone's Warehouse, funds of that sale will go to affordable housing all over the city. "We want to make sure we're inclusive on transportation."

7:24: Lewin asks to go back to two or three sentences. Kay Crowder says her path to the Council was unusual. "I love this city, it's the only city I know that I love so much. I want to serve D and all citizens to move us forward."

7:25: Ashton Smith grew up in Raleigh, mostly lived in in D. Ensure we have smart sustainable growth. Wants to use ULI experience, focus on transit and affordable housing. On DHIC board. Will keep an eye on innovation and technology of future, will use Citrix experience. DeAntony Collins moved here from ATL to attend Shaw. He's an educator. "I love this entire city so much and want to give back and serve. The majority needs to feel all the accolades we hear about so much,'

7:26: Bonner Gaylord. "I've never been inclined towards politics but I love helping people and solving complex problems." He wants everyone see the same experiences he has seen growing up here. Attract jobs, manage explosive growth, protect neighborhoods and environment.

7:27: Edie Jeffreys. 15 year advocate defending neighborhoods from damaging development. Running because this is a critical moment for dealing with pressures of growth on our neighborhoods. Not against growth but for growth that honors all income levels and development that respects character. 

7:28: Mayor Nancy. We have done great things and we have more great things to do. She points out her granddaughter as her reason for her work.

7:29: Onto questions, candidates have 1 minute to respond. So there are many people on affordable housing waiting lists. Less than 270 units were produced in the last year. What consistent reliable sources of funding would you work to attain for adequate housing?

7:30: MAB says 3 sources to look at: bond referendums, synthetic TIF funding, esp. downtown for redevelopment. Third is use of city-owned property, 301 Hillsborough is selling for $5.1 million. We can use that money to support it.

7:31: Craig Ralph, a developer,  says public-private partnerships because we have some of the best developers in the country (really?). Developers pooling resources. And using city property. Russ says 301 Hillsborough was a missed opportunity. 4 methods: synthetic TIF, budget earmark of tax rate. Bond referendum and height/density bonuses like in Austin. Regular Russ stuff. 

7:32: Tomasulo agrees on density bonuses, or infill development with inclusionary housing. More creative ways too: city property etc. Also, back yard cottages and tiny house development. Smaller and more accessible. 

7:34: District A gets a different question. Falls Lake is a source of Raleigh's drinking water; what should city policy be to improve water quality?

7:34: Buxton took a liberty and said we need to know how many units we want for affordable housing first! Now water: With Falls Lake, the clearest example of what we don't want is Jordan Lake. Solar bees are a disaster. Keep Falls Lake rules in place. Look at low-impact development strategies. Thompson also wants to talk about affordable housing. Bonding: lenders want to lend to Raleigh. What happened to the American dream of home ownership? Building up equity? We should look at programs where people can own their homes. Water: we need to continue Upper Neuse clean water initiative. 

7:36: District B, "you get another question so don't rehash the other questions." Would you support a city of Raleigh identification card?

7:37: Cox: "what would be the purpose of that?" If voluntary, if people needed one to conduct business transactions, then fine. But do we want to be mandating everyone have some kind of ID card? I don't agree with that. I don't support presenting ID when you vote- applause!!—make it voluntary if people need it for specific purposes let it be their choice. Odom: I'm for less government so I'm not for ID cards either. Not an issue that has ever been brought to me. I'm not for ID cards. We need to solve panhandling deals, people need permits with their names on but that's' it.

7:38: District C: currently RPD only needs verbal consent before searches for probable cause. Would you support them needing written consent? Branch: When dealing with officers and training them, as far as verbal consent: I understand that is a needed requirement. I know it has been used in other cities. I would support once I understood how it would be used: stopping people on the road, or coming into someone's home. I would have to look into it. Re. affordable housing: Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro brought in federal cash for it, why can't our lawmakers do that in Wake?

7:40: Weeks: On consent, I think it depends on the situation. If stopped on street, maybe verbal consent, but we need to look at peoples constitutional right. If going to search a home, police have time to get written consent. 

7:41: D question: One issue facing schools is a lot of high poverty schools. Communities without affordable housing compounds problem: how to create economically mixed communities. Crowder: I have often said we do better if we live together and learn to appreciate each others' differences, be tolerant, work to understand people. The city needs to work to identify areas where we need economic development and affordable housing. Increase mixed-income group that share similar values. We can help schools but have little power about what happens other than expressing our concerns to County Commissioners. We don't have much power over schools. 

7:43: Smith: Most effective thing we can do is work with groups out there, observe scattered site policy. Studies show mixed income neighborhoods makes for stronger neighborhoods and is better for everyone. Transit is important also. Transit and affordable housing need to complement access to schools. 

7:43: District E: How can Raleigh improve its bus system to better serve riders? increase spending on improving services and expanding  its bus system? Collins: I do think we should put more into transit. My family experienced a situation where we needed to rely on public transit. When we didn't have cars, I couldn't find one bus to get to work. So I spent hundreds to get to Point A to Point B, just from home to work. We need to make our city more walk-able, integrate sidewalks and bike lanes, have more coverage around city so everyone can ride the bus OTB.

Bonner Gaylord: Definitely increase transit. He tried to give up driving for Lent and could not make not staying in a cab the whole time work. We do a good job with money we have but we absolutely need to increase transit funding. I hope everyone here will vote for transit referendum. We need to grow densely in walkable areas, utilize transit to get to one area to next and protect neighborhoods. Jeffreys: Yes, we need more transit options that need to be flexible and efficient, serve under-served communities. Speed up efficiency. Look at different kinds of options. Bus stations in different parts of city where people can get on an express line. We have opportunities to do something different. Re-examine Wake County's 4 transit options; do something less expensive than putting a bunch of buses on street. Do this more efficiently by using a different kind of network.

7:48: Mayor questions: How can we guide growth? Mayor says we have anticipated growth for a long time, Comprehensive Plan is a map for growth. That's built around a comprehensive transportation system. Referendum is incredibly important first-step. Comp. plan guides us to a future map. UDO is the detail of how to implement that map. 

*Dr Bob Weltzin did not attend, citing traffic, potholes, and lack of parking.  

7:56: Well, Windows just installed new updates. Sorry for blackout. We are onto audience questions. A resident asked about the transit plan, and another asked candidates what they have done personally to make Raleigh better for citizens. Ralph invested $10 million in SE Raleigh. MAB advocated for bond money. Did not get Russ's answer. Matt Tomasulo supported South Park Heritage Trail walk, a public private partnership with the city, Blue Cross Blue Shield.

7:58: Question for District A: An audience member from Austin. He says there is a terrible traffic situation. Sales tax increase purchased buses...ridership did not increase. Buses were on the road. "I want to hear concrete proposals to get people out of cars and into public transit so we're not killed by traffic."

7:59: Thompson says to make riding buses attractive, they need to get places faster on the buses than by sitting in traffic. Good connectivity, reliable service, good routes. We spend a lot on transit. Buxton says we need 15 minute headways during peak times, dedicated lanes, bus-rapid transit. Give free bus passes to kids ot encourage them to grow up riding buses (that's a good idea). Eddie Woodhouse also did not show up.

8:02: A question for District B candidates. Citizens are asking about Councilor visibility and assistance re. UDO. What will you do to change perception of B citizens' perception of your visibility and assistance...wow, that is awkward for John Odom. Cox says we need to have citizen involvement from Day one. Citizen input in advisory councils. Cox would meet with citizens, understand their concerns. When it comes to zoning, support homeowners. I want to be there and understand what they want. I would give that priority rather than to a developer who comes in from outside Raleigh.

8:04: Odom: I go out and meet with citizens and go to meetings. The rub comes in if people don't think i do enough for them. I have done things, like Lifetime Athletic facility on Falls of Neuse road. I stood up to special interest groups and made that happen. It wouldn't be there without me. The process is there, and I think I have done a great job in District B. (He handled that well). 

8:05: C question. NCSU student asking about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Branch: I fully believe black lives do matter. I have two young nephews in school. I understand that black males are perceived in a certain way by police. I am for a police review board. We have to educate our citizens on their rights. Sports leagues, use community centers and nonprofits for kids; bring police officers into communities. Weeks agrees that black lives matter; educate black males on how to interact with police (?) When we talk about RPD, they are doing a good job bringing activities into SE Raleigh and into district C. A baseball league. Police take time to coach and mentor kids. You have bad and good cops wherever you go, but our police chief is doing a good job with sensitivity training. When incidents happen, steps are taken to make sure things don't happen again.

8:08: Question for District D: For candidates, what would you do differently for downtown Raleigh residents, not just bar owners? You said you want to apply data to problems. Crowder: As in all cities, as you grow you have to deal with different issues. City has spent millions downtown. As with all fast growing cities, there was a public safety concern. It went into committee, it was studies, stakeholders came together. It went to Council. In order to move forward, you sometimes have compromise on both sides. Is it perfect, no/ Can we tweak it, yes. That's why there is a 90 day trial period. It does not affect private businesses only use of pubic space. 

8:10: Ashton Smith says the concern was less about decision itself, but the process and the execution of the pilot program. Going back to data piece, in tech world it is important to define problems specifically and match solutions. I love idea of pilot programs to solve big problems, but it's important to treat our city like something with a greater vision. Make sure we are saying this is success when 'x' happens, failure when 'y' happens. That will guide us.

8:11: Resident asking about paying for parking. Is paying for parking good or bad? The audience like this questions. Collins says, as an OTB citizens we need ot think carefully about how city brings in revenues. We need to stay in a position where we have money to do what we need to do. But to attract people downtown, we don't want to penalize them. I wouldn't say we shouldn't pay for parking. I will pay for safety. 

8:13: Gaylord says we absolutely need to charge for parking downtown eventually. It's a safety, cleanliness etc issue. We need to phase in implementation so we don't negatively affect businesses downtown. Protect ongoing economic vitality by phasing in parking. Jeffreys says she uses parking decks often. I would hate to have pay for parking, but I have been feces, trash, vomit...something needs to be done in order to clean that up. i don't want to impose a restriction that will hurt businesses but needs to be some way to work together to care for parking decks. If it's raising a nominal fee, that may be the way to go. I agree with phasing it in. Craig Ralph said the answer is take the bus!

8:15: Greensboro was first city in SE to pass living wage ordinance. Would you support raising floor of city workers to $14 ideally or higher than now? Mayor Nancy says everyone that works in Raleigh needs to make a living wage. I got that question on (the INDY's!) survey...i think it's a discussion we need to have. It ties into the discussion of affordability of everything housing, transit etc.

8:16: Second round of questions. At-large: should Councilors scrutinize staff produced/presented data, question city staff, or are they never wrong?

8:17: MAB says "I believe staff should be treated with respect." Ralph says question me, question staff. If you question me, I question staff. Stephenson on UDO: Most complex city decision in our lifetime. Staff has been in triage mode doing a great job with complex rules. hey look from perspective of being under-resourced, not always from the perspective of citizens. It's my job to go out talk to people and bring citizen concerns back to staff. That is what I have been doing, esp. in SE Raleigh where new zoning code puts bars in those neighborhoods.

8:18: Tomasulo says it is leaders; obligation to empower staff to make decisions. District A question: how urgent is a citizen review board in Raleigh? Would you lobby the General Assembly? Buxton says significant safety issues in A that don't get addressed office. I would want to know if the system is working first. If we are not holding police officers accountable, then citizen review board is the last place you go. If that's what we need, then that is what we should have. I want elected officials and police dept. to hold themselves accountable. 

8:20: Thompson says city does have a grievance board. Police should police themselves but we should watch over the police. We see them doing things they shouldn't' be doing sometimes. Any city employee should be held accountable to the highest standard. We need to make sure we have a system that works, people feel like they are heard and treated fairly.

8:21: District B question. Another NCSU student, has a question on transit. What can we do to bring bus stops into 21st century- make them city and citizen friendly? How can bus stops complement transit efforts. Cox: We need shelters ideally at all stops. i would like to see they have seats, protection from sun. Incorporate state of the art tech to keep people up to date about where buses are. At NCSU you can go online and see where buses are in real time and plan your trip efficiently. We need to do this to create state of the art transit system.

8:22: Odom says simple to resolve, because it takes money. We need to have the right attitude. Safe, clean covered bus stops. We haven't done that and we need to make up our mind to fund it or not. I think we have the money and the attitude to do it.

8:23: What are your ideas on Southeast Raleigh revitalization, Lincoln Park and Washington Terrace area? Will it increase property tax? Branch: I want to make sure citizens are involved in revitalization efforts. Look at grant money and funding. there is money available to improve home, emergency funding to make rents. In order to revitalize that area citizens have to be involved. That's the first step. Also work with St. Aug's university and St. Agnes hospital. Reopen that center for medical services. Look at Route 10 (bus route) funding. Weeks: How do inform and educate citizens on revitalization policies? Bring residents to the table, listen to their comments and take care of them. St. Aug is at the table, and has been. There are efforts to reopen St. Agnes. Involving citizens is most important, get their input first. 

8:26: Replacing infrastructure in old neighborhoods is taking a long time. How can we do this better, use more tech? Crowder: We move slow as a city/bureaucracy. I live in older neighborhood to. We are having culvert/storm water work done. The areas are based on needs. We're working to repair all but there are many old infrastructures. There is funding and the city has a well mapped plan for getting to old culverts. Smith: We will always struggle with bureaucracy. But we can do a good job communicating with neighborhoods about timeline. Use tools available: digital, meetings, paper to bring transparency to process. Staffing issues too. We will need to start looking to make sure we have staff in place, but transparency is most important.

District E: What ideas to do you have to protect boundaries of our neighborhoods: Collins: Start with safety. Sidewalk and bike connectivity. In some neighborhoods there is no sidewalk/bike lanes. All over district and city. That's scary and doesn't promote walkability. Roads are crumbling too. And we need to address these things. Thru See, Click, Fix, for example but we need to make sure issues are responded too. Gaylord: Who wants to have their neighborhood torn down? No one. That is where we need to start with zoning code and where we did start. Neighborhoods are protected through the Comprehensive Plan and UDO. Commercial interests abutting residential interests: there are 100 foot protections. Some conditions are challenging, like public right of way. We need to continue to protect neighborhoods and base other steps off that. 

8:31: Jeffreys: I have been at this for 15 years. I see tear downs and infills and I see what is happening in transition boundaries. I share your concern. I think UDO was weakened after it left the Comprehensive Plan. We need text changes to buffer what is there to protect houses and neighborhoods. Make sure transition areas are protected. Protect small business that are there, and keep undesirable businesses like gas stations out. I hope we will get opportunity to make text changes in UDO.

8:32: Last question for Mayor McFarlane; Do you support ID card? We have not had this come up before tonight. I think you are right, there are people who don't have access to a form of ID. If that is something we could provide, working with communities, get feedback about where city can be helpful...i understand you need some ID to do almost anything now. I think it's a service municipal government can supply. I'm not a fan of requiring voter ID. These are separate issues but I am interested in learning where we can step in and help on this. 

That's it! Round of applause for the candidates. "We're blessed to have capable people who want to run to do this difficult job of serving on City Council and Mayor," says Lewin.

For more on the candidates and the races for Raleigh City Council, check out INDY Week's endorsement guide, on stands Wednesday. 

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