Thank you to Raleigh’s Police and Fire Fighters for your continued support


After the September 5, 2017 City Council vote, I realized a serious mistake had been made. For all the anxiety and uncertainty that this caused you and your families, I apologize. I am extremely grateful for your understanding and continued support as we worked together to correct this mistake.

At the last Council meeting there was an item in the consent agenda for policy changes that were there for implementing the pay structure and raises. What I didn’t catch was that there was some language that affected vacations and holidays. This was unexpected because the policy changes were supposed to only address the new pay structure. Benefits were not supposed to change. Indeed, items on a consent agenda are supposed to be non-controversial business items which this was not – and I am quite concerned that the item was presented to us in this manner.

I did receive criticism for failing to see this before voting. I have been very critical of myself for not seeing this because taking away benefits is not what I stand for. I am very grateful to everyone for working with us to correct this situation.

My dad worked both as a telephone lineman and as an installer and was a member of Communications Workers of America and served as vice-president and union representative. A main lesson he taught me was the importance of working people. Growing up I watched as he went on strike to fight for fair wages and benefits. When he passed away two weeks after I filed to run for Council in 2015, I vowed to do the same as a City Councilor.

I also have two brothers-in-law and a nephew who are firefighters. My wife’s uncle was a fire fight as was her grandfather. I know full well the risks that they take to protect us.

Simply put, had I known that these changes were there, I would not have voted for them. And, I will vote on Tuesday to remove them and fix this.

Now, here is how these changes were reviewed before they came to Council. First, the changes were created by the HR department. They were then reviewed by three groups of people.

They were first reviewed by the Department heads including the Police Chief and Fire Chief. They did not say anything about the loss of benefits. This is surprising because the Police Chief and Fire Chief have reputations for speaking their minds and fighting for officers and fire fighters.

They were also reviewed by the Civil Service Commission which includes two employee elected representatives. One of those representatives represents the Police union. The Civil Service Commission did not catch these changes.

Finally an employee advisory group did not catch these changes.

When the changes came to Council, they were packed together in the consent agenda which is supposed to contain non-controversial, business as usual items. Again, the expectation was that these changes were simply meant to implement the new pay structure. And, I am quite annoyed that they did not. Determining why so many people including those most affected by these changes did not notice them is something I want to find out.

When I learned of these changes and their impact, I immediately issued a statement explaining what had happened and that I will seek to rescind them. I also was able to visit 13 fire stations and personally explain this situation.

I am proud of the fact that I led the efforts to raise pay for our first responders for the first time in years. I am proud to have been able to correct years of neglect. Cutting benefits is not what I am about.

Thank you for listening.

Thank You to the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association for Their Endorsement!

I am very grateful to receive the endorsement of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association.

The RWCA has been a longtime non-partisan advocate for improving life for minorities and and underserved communities. In August the RWCA sponsored a Candidates Forum in conjunction with the Wake County Voter Education Coalition, NC Black Women Empowerment Network and members of Raleigh/Wake Pan Hellenic Council.

Candidates answered questions pertaining to a host of issues affecting Raleigh ranging from citizens engagement to affordable housing. It is an honor to be recognized by the RWCA as someone who can help lead the city in addressing these important issues.

Candidates at the SE Raleigh Community Candidates Forum. Photo Credit: Edward Jones

Candidates endorsed by the RWCA general membership for Raleigh City Council include:

Charles T. Francis, Mayor

Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi – At Large Member

Russell Stephenson – At Large Member

David Cox – District B Representative

Corey Branch – District C Representative

Kay Crowder – District D Representative

Stefanie Mendell – District E Representative

The RWCA meets monthly on the third Thursday of each month at Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.  Residents of Raleigh and Wake County are invited to meetings to share concerns, receive information, and to advocate for progressive policies that positively impact the community.

The Need for New Roads was Yesterday

Last night I attended an “open house” on a planned widening of a section of Falls of Neuse Road between I540 and Durant road.  This section of road serves the many residents of northern District B as well as communities such as Wake Forest.

I travel through this section of road everyday as it is on my way to and from work.  And, yes, there is a traffic jam most mornings.

The traffic jams are invariably from drivers waiting to enter I-540. At Falls of Neuse there is a single ramp onto I-540 that serves both the northbound and southbound Falls of Neuse traffic.  A traffic light stops vehicles in one direction to allow vehicles from the other direction to turn onto the interstate. The single ramp combined with the stopping and starting of traffic are huge contributors to the morning backups.

A more fundamental problem is that I-540 is regularly jammed with traffic. Drivers on Falls of Neuse as well as Six Forks, Creedmoor, and Leesville roads have no where to go. Often it is a crawl to get onto I-540.

Very simply, we have come to depend on a single road, I-540, to move traffic in northern Wake County.  Yet, growth continues unabated.  Last night’s open house was to learn about and discuss a plan to widen Falls of Neuse in the vicinity of the I-540 interchange.  It sounds reasonable enough.  But there are many concerns that the project does not address the fundamental problem – unabated growth without a well-planned road network.

There was a very large number of people at the open house. Most people had the impression that the widening project is a “done deal” and that they were only being asked to pick between two possible options for widening the road – both highly impactful.

Let’s be upfront about it.  With this project, there will be losers in terms of lost homes, lost businesses, and lost aesthetics from lost landscaping and trees. This project is guaranteed to turn this section of Falls of Neuse into another Capital Blvd.  The result will be six lanes of asphalt, a concrete sidewalk, and where business can remain, asphalt parking lots with few, if any, trees or landscaping.

So, let me begin by dispelling a myth. The project is not a “done deal”. I am in the process of arranging to meet with Governor Cooper’s office to discuss the many concerns that I heard expressed Everything, as far as I am concerned, is on the table including postponing or cancelling the project.

Repeatedly, I heard that this project does nothing to address the fundamental problem – whcih is no more room on I540.

I agree. Widening Falls of Neuse (with its many negaitive impacts) to bunch up as many cars as possible on Falls of Neuse is not the answer. Where will they go? It will still take just as long to get onto the Interstate.

The real issue is that we cannot have a future where an ever growing population north of Raleigh drives south to I540 to get to places like RTP. To support the level of growth that is happening, we need another road. In my view, the obvious choice is route 98. Route 98 needs to be improved so it can also serve as a path to places like RTP, Brier Creek, etc.

The area is growing rapidly but the roads are not keeping up. We also need to improve other arteries such as Creedmoor and Six Forks and move forward as quickly as possible with the planned improvements to Route 1/Capital Blvd.

Our road infrastructure shouldn’t be one and only one road – Interstate 540.

The time for a workable network of roads has come – and it was yesterday.

To express your views on this project, please send email to NCDOT Project Delivery Team Lead Ben Upshaw, PE, at bjupshaw@ncdot.gov. Please do this by September 7th. And please copy me at david.cox@raleighnc.gov.

On Charlottesville

I grew up in a small conservative town well before the Internet and all the electronic diversions that we have today. I spent much of my time attending Church be it regular services, Sunday School, Sunday night youth groups, etc.

The lesson stressed by my parents, my grandparents, my teachers, and my mentors more than any other was, love your neighbor as you love yourself.

There were no qualifications to this lesson. It was not love some neighbors better than others. It certainly was not hate some neighbors.

When people march in support of one race over another or one religion over another, or one group over another, that is an affront to the most important lesson that I learned as a child and is an affront to what I stand for today.

I will do what I can as a Councilor, as a citizen, and as a person to fight hate and to ensure that all our children will have a future of equality and compassion – hard as that might seem today.

Thank you for listening.

From the Ground Up Citizens Push Back But Questions Remain


The evening of June 6 so many people showed up at Raleigh City Council, that they overflowed into the lobby and into a conference room on the floor above where they could watch on TV.  The reason?  On May 2nd Council voted 5 to 3 to begin implementing a recommendation to create a new organization that will “become the second generation” (in other words replace) Citizen Advisory Councils.  And, citizens came to object.

I voted against this recommendation as did Council Members Kay Crowder and Corey Branch.  I voted no because the intent of these recommendations is to replace Raleigh’s current grassroots Citizens Advisory Councils with top-down, Council driven Citizens Engagement Councils. 

For more than 40 years Raleigh has been the home of a unique form of citizen involment.  Started by then Mayor Clarence Lightner, citizens began gathering to discuss issues important to them.  Those issues ranged from school assignments to rezoning proposals to trash collection.  Referred to as Citizens Advisory Council meetings, these meetings were a place where citizens could come, discuss, and ultimately advise City Government about how to proceed on the issues of the day.

Typically, Citizens Advisory Council (or CAC) meetings happen once a month.  Because Raleigh is large and occupies about 145 square miles, there are 19 such meetings.  To organize the meetings the citizens elect a Chair, Vice or Co Chair, and solicit volunteers to help out.  CACs are truly grassroots.  For its part the City Government provides space in community centers and some money to help get the word out.  Otherwise, the citizens run their own meetings.

On May 2nd Council adopted a recommendation by a task force to create a Council appointed board that would oversee the creation of about 12 Citizens Engagement Councils (CECs). The board would set standards for how the CECs should operate.  One recommended standard is that the CECs would meet quarterly rather than monthly.  Furthermore, the CECs would not be advisory in nature.  Citizens Advisory Councils actually vote on issues and report the results of those votes to government bodies such as the Planning Commission as well as to City Council.  Those votes would not continue with CECs.

So, on June 6th Citizens came in large numbers to express their opposition to the May 2nd adoption of these recommendations.  Council listened to some 30 people who had filed petitions to speak on the topic.  And the Mayor offered the following statement:

Before we start tonight, I do have a few comments that I would like to make. I do want to take a few moments now and acknowledge the concerns that have been circulating in the community regarding the future of the CACs. The CACs have not been disbanded or changed in any way.  

I believe every member of this City Council understands and values the important role the CACs have had and continue to play in citizen engagement. I’m very glad that you’re all here tonight. The CAC Chairs, and those that work through the CACs, are the resource that we need to figure out how to improve citizen engagement in this growing city. I want everyone to know that I am committed to a citizen engagement process that includes everyone. And I mean everyone. 

What we’re doing now is starting a community wide discussion on how we better communicate and engage with the public; now that we are a community that is approaching a half a million people. And I apologize that our communication attempts have failed in conveying that message. I know that it has come across as an attempt to disband the CACs, and that is not the intent of this process.   

I would like to reiterate that I appreciate the work of the Citizen Engagement Task Force, however, we need to acknowledge that at this time, that those that have been actively involved in citizen engagement through their CACs, feel that their voice has not been heard…and has not had the opportunity to be heard. 

So before we move forward, I would like to say ‘let’s pause and take a breath’; it’s more important to get this right than it is to rush through a process that people have concerns about right off the bat. So I would like to suggest that our next step be a Council work session that includes a consultant that will facilitate an open dialogue and help bring a consensus around how we proceed. And how we move forward. I think we can all agree that we do share a common goal and that is “how do we improve citizen engagement in Raleigh?” 

This statement reads like a reaffirmation of Citizens Advisory Councils. However, many questions are unanswered. Yes, Mayor McFarlane says the CACs will continue.  But, in what capacity will they continue? What oversight is the City going to institute?  Will CACs remain grassroots and independent?  Is the City going ahead with creating CECs that will eventually overshadow CACs?

The vote to begin implementing the recommendations of May 2nd remains in force.  If Council wants the trust of citizens and really wants to begin improving citizens engagement with a clean slate, then Council should repeal the vote of May 2nd.

With the May 2nd vote in force, the question remains, what is the fate of Clarence Lightner’s experiment in Democracy?  What is the fate of Citizens Advisory Councils?

Update on Defective Sprinklers at 616 Oberlin

I received the following update on the defective sprinkler system at 616 Oberlin from the City Manager’s office:

Recent activity on social media outlets described the relocation of residents of the multi-family apartment complex, and implied that construction did not meet code. The facts of the situation began approximately three weeks ago when the Office of the Fire Marshal was contacted by a contractor regarding the replacement of sprinkler system piping at 616 at the Village apartments, 616 Oberlin Road.

Fire Marshal staff was informed that the piping used in the fire sprinkler system had developed “pinhole-type” leaks at the joints of the fittings within the piping. The fire sprinkler system is live and has been code compliant. The existing fire sprinkler system will remain active during the repair process except for the time when the new system is actually tied-in to the existing system, projected to be a two or three hour period during the daytime. The fire alarms system will remain live at all times. The building owner and contractors are in the process of obtaining necessary permits to conduct the repair work. Below is an outline of the plan for life-safety during repairs:

  • Relocate the residents from the upper floors to the 1st and 2nd floor apartments while the work is ongoing in the upper floors. Once the work is completed on the upper levels, move the residents to the completed and inspected upper floors and make repairs to the lower floors. 
  • Replace the existing CPVC fire sprinkler piping with an identical new system to be run directly adjacent to the existing system. 
  • Tie-in the new piping to the system. This will occur during the daytime and will take a few hours. 
  • Fire watch will be provided for the entire duration of work. The fire sprinkler system will be live at all times except when the tie-in is actually performed. 
  • Remove existing piping once the new piping has been installed, tested and put into service. 

Fire Marshal staff has been contacted by four news agencies and has worked with the Communications department to provide accurate information to the media. The structure received a certificate of occupancy (CO) in February 2017, all inspections prior to issuance of the CO were completed and per the North Carolina Building Code, and the leakage began subsequent to the CO being issued. The cause of the piping leaks has not yet been determined and is not a regulatory or life-safety matter.

Thoughts on Citizen Engagement 

Note: CAC is the existing Citizens Advisory Council. CEC is the new proposed Citizens Engagement Council.  CEB is the new propose Community Engagement Board.

According to the task force recommendations, “The complete system of CECs is intended to be a ‘second generation’ of the CAC system in place currently.”

The new CECs will serve at the pleasure of Council – not citizens. A proposed Community Engagement Board (to be appointed by Council) will act as a body of overseers. Rather than a citizen driven organization, the recommendations state, “The CEB will recommend recognition of the CECs by City Council when they meet the standards and guidelines developed by the CEB.”

In short, this philosophy about citizen engagement is top down, Council directed oversight rather than grassroots, bottom up, citizen led and driven. We can innovate a citizen led approach. But, innovating a citizen led approach is not what is recommended and not what is happening.

Having helped turn out 600 people at one CAC meeting and 300 at another, and orchestrated an election to replace the previous Mayor Pro Tem, I think I know something about engaging citizens.  

The issues with CACs are not so serious that we require a whole new structure. Rather the CACs could use help better communicating with citizens and hosting effective meetings by providing them some resources and training. Importantly, we do not need a permanent board to accomplish this.

Many CACs have, in fact, taken steps in the past year to improve communications. These steps include better outreach through emailings, display of signs in neighborhoods announcing meetings, holding more regular and, therefore, predictable meetings, and spreading the word through other organizations such as HOAs. Some are also live streaming meetings for those who are unable to attend and can watch at their convenience. I, personally, have noticed an increase in attendance at CAC meetings and a much more engaged public.

Sadly, neither the task force nor some on Council knows this because they didn’t and do not attend CAC meetings. Indeed, during our City Council retreat it was proposed that the recently adopted code of conduct be amended to prohibit Council members from attending CAC meetings.

When the task force was formed, I submitted the names of five people to be on the task force. It was communicated to me by the Mayor that those five were not acceptable specifically because they were regularly involved with their CAC. 

I argued that these people would bring insights to the task force precisely because they have been involved in citizen engagement. However, the names were vetoed. I finally was able to submit the name of someone with no CAC involvement.

In retrospect, I should have stuck to my position. However, I relented when a compromise was reached that allowed Carole Meyre, Chair of the RCAC, to participate. Sadly, Council did not hear from her to understand her reasons for voting against the recommendations.

I Announce that I will Seek Election Again to Raleigh City Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For the past year-and-a-half I have been privileged and honored to represent District B on the Raleigh City Council.  I am extremely grateful for the support that I have received from so many throughout these many months. In recent weeks, many people across the city have graciously reached out and asked that I consider another term in office. In answer of these requests, today I announce that I will seek election again to Raleigh City Council this October.

Citizen Engagement

Many of the reasons I ran for political office for the very first time in my life in 2015 remain driving factors in my decision to run again.  In my time representing District B, I’ve done my best to serve my constituents and the interests of all Raleigh residents.

To make myself available to more people I have used technology such as social media to help District B residents stay connected – with me and with each other.  Rather than simply issuing statements and occasional press releases, I have facilitated conversations where people share ideas, and opinions as well as voicing concerns and/or questions to me. To that end, nearly 500 people have joined me in the District B Facebook group for near daily discussions about countless topics.

As a city councilor, I also receive hundreds of emails nearly every week, with the majority thoughtfully reflecting people’s genuine concerns for their neighborhoods and the city. Since taking office in December 2015, I’ve also met in person or spoken by phone with many more residents. I appreciate meeting others who share a common desire for citizens and government to work together for the betterment of Raleigh.

Beyond connecting through technology, I regularly attend meetings of Citizen Advisory Councils (CACs), civic groups, HOAs, and neighborhoods. I’ve noticed that people are coming out in greater numbers because of a concern that their voices are not being heard.  I view my role as Council Member as being the voice of all citizens. To be the best that Raleigh can be, and the best that City Council can be, we must listen to citizens and govern accordingly.

Where Do We Grow from Here?

Raleigh continues to grow because it is a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family. We have great schools, colleges and universities; excellent venues for the arts, music, and sports; parks and greenways and an outstanding quality of life. Raleigh is a world-class city that is literally the envy of much of the country. It didn’t happen by accident.  Raleigh is great because of its citizens with their diverse backgrounds, wide-ranging interests, skills and strengths that they bring to the community.

One of the most common concerns that people share with me is growth and development.  The city continues to grow at an astounding pace. And, with astounding growth comes disruptive change. What will Raleigh be like in ten or twenty years?

In my view, the key to Raleigh’s future is a partnership of government and residents. The key to growing responsibly is citizens’ involvement and my message to Raleigh residents is simple:  YOU should frame what is the right growth for your neighborhood and for the city. As elected officials, our responsibility is to respect and reflect your vision.

Therefore, to me it’s straightforward:  the future of Raleigh depends on all of US. The future cannot simply be in the hands of a few wealthy and/or influential individuals. The simple truth is Raleigh has run out of land. We face many factors as a rapidly growing city, like bigger and taller buildings, large shopping centers, sprawling parking lots, light pollution, noise, increasing crime, traffic congestion, air pollution, and limited environmental resources.

Deciding how we grow, where we grow, and the quality of that growth requires the involvement of all of us. I am committed to ensuring that the people of Raleigh have the opportunity to speak up, be heard, and be included on important issues – especially how Raleigh grows.

To that end, I support strong citizen engagement including grassroots, citizen-led Advisory Councils – a Raleigh institution for citizen engagement for more than 40 years. Through Raleigh’s 19 CACs, citizens have participated in a wide range of issues and contributed to the city we are today. I want to see this process strengthened and ensure that Raleigh residents will participate for the next 40 years as well.

Message to Raleigh Voters

By truly engaging you, the people who have helped make Raleigh the best place to live in America, I know we also can grow Raleigh great for tomorrow. I am committed to ensuring that your voice continues to be heard and that your right to vote on and participate in important matters will continue as we grow the city together.

Citizens’ voices must be heard not only in private at the kitchen table but also publicly at the Council table. That idea inspired my decision to seek office in 2015. This October I seek re-election to Raleigh City Council to continue the work we have started together.

I am running for City Council to ensure that Raleigh’s citizens – all of us – have a voice in Raleigh’s future. Please join me and together, we can grow Raleigh great!

David Cox, Ph.D.
Raleigh City Council Member, District B

Citizens Led Engagement or Council Oversight?

Last fall City Council voted to form a Citizens Engagement Task Force. I voted in favor of this effort with the assumption that the task force would provide recommendations for improving our Citizens Advisory Councils.

I have attended and participated in countless CAC meetings. Citizens Advisory Councils are grassroots, citizen driven organizations. Historically, the City has provided them very minimal resources: often just a place to meet and staff members to provide information on various topics such as neighborhood crime, parks and recreation, and pending zoning cases.

Often there is no sound system making it difficult for the audience to hear during large meetings. There is no video equipment to record meetings. There is no standard mechanism for efficiently voting on zoning cases – most often just a show of hands and no validation that those voting actually live in the CAC district. And, if there is a large turnout for a controversial rezoning case, then all bets are off because these deficiencies become greatly magnified.

My hope in voting for the Citizens Engagement Task Force was for recommendations to address these deficiencies. I support without question CACs because of their inherent nature of being citizen led, citizen directed organizations.

But, the task force’s recommendations go way beyond addressing deficiencies in the support that the City provides CACs by recommending an entirely new organization that is led and directed by City Council and City Staff. The proposal is to create a new Community Engagement Board – essentially a group appointed by City Council to oversee 8 to 12 Citizen Engagement Councils (in contrast to today’s 19 CACs).

This system is clearly designed to replace Citizen Advisory Councils. According to the recommendations, “The complete system of CECs is intended to be a ‘second generation’ of the CAC system in place currently.”

The new CECs will serve at the pleasure of Council – not citizens. The Community Engagement Board will act as a body of overseers. Rather than a citizen driven organization, the recommendations state, “The CEB will recommend recognition of the CECs by City Council when they meet the standards and guidelines developed by the CEB.”

Importantly, the tradition of citizens voting on rezoning requests is glaringly absent from the recommendations.  Presumably, under the new system citizens will never be able to indicate to Council when a rezoning request should be adopted and when it should be rejected.

In my view, these proposals are the opposite of citizen engagement. Our job as City Council is to be facilitators – not overseers. Our job is provide facilities, resources, and personnel to help citizens run effective meetings and to help them set their own agendas. City Council should not through a proxy Community Engagement Board preside over citizens. The two approaches are very different.

But, enough of my opinions. You be the judge. The final report contains 7 pages of recommendations plus more than 400 pages in appendices. I have extracted the recommendations into a separate file. Otherwise the file will be too big to download – particularly on a phone or tablet.

Here are the recommendations:
http://dcoxforcouncil.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/cetf.pdf

Here is the entire report (95MB in size):
http://www.raleighnc.gov/…/16ReportCommunityEngagement.pdf

 

The CACs in Raleigh present a conundrum. On the one hand, the City Council and the City Manager want citizens to know what they’re doing. They also want feedback from citizens about what they, the Council and Manager, should be doing — don’t they? 

That’s what the CACs — the 19 Citizen Advisory Councils in Raleigh — are for: To “advise” city government, and be a forum for citizens to meet with our elected and appointed officials about the issues of concern in our respective neighborhoods.

But what if some of the CACs, when they meet, should decide they don’t like what the Council and Manager are doing? That can get old pretty fast, especially if you’re an elected official!
And it could just cause some council members to wonder why they shouldn’t get rid of those pesky CACs.

Which is the backdrop to a report about to be issued by a Citizen Engagement Task Force appointed by City Council at the end of 2016. The task force is recommending that the CACs be replaced by a different system of citizen groups, with the new groups to be organized by a board (a citywide Citizen Engagement Board, or CEB) that the Council would appoint and the Manager would staff. 
How the new groups, called CECs (Citizen Engagement Councils) would differ from the current CACs is left deliberately unclear, but one recommendation is that there be fewer of them — between 8 and 12 CECs, as opposed to the current 19 CACs. 

Two other key differences that I perceive:

1) The current CACs are citizen-organized and run. The new CECs would be subject to greater control by the Council and the Manager’s staff, according to rules that the CEB would devise and the Council adopt. 

2) The current CACs have a defined role in rezoning cases, which gives citizens a window into growth and development issues; the CECs would have no such role. The CACs’ role is advisory, and it includes the opportunity for any citizen, after a developer presents his case for an up-zoning, to express an opinion by voting aye or nay. The final decision, of course, rests with City Council. The task force recommendation is that developers present their case to citizens at a meeting run, not by a CAC, but rather by the Manager’s planning department, with the department collecting and summarizing citizens’ comments, if any. The opportunity for a citizen-run meeting and for citizens to vote would be eliminated.

In sum, I think the CECs, as envisioned by the task force, would be a useful vehicle for city government to “get its message out” to citizens, but not as useful when it comes to  citizens getting a message to city government.
**

The task force report will be given to Council tomorrow. Apparently, no action will be taken right away, and the report may sit on a shelf until the Council elections have come and gone this fall.

After that, who knows?

I began by citing the obvious tension when elected officials create citizens’ groups that may criticize them and when appointed officials are asked to meet with citizens groups that may or may not like what they’re doing. 

For this reason, the CACs, though they’ve been around since the 1970s, enjoy little support from most Council members today, and periodic efforts by the CACs to get some help from the city with marketing, for example, have fallen on deaf ears. (Our District D Council member, Kay Crowder, District B member David Cox and at-large member Russ Stephenson are strong CAC supporters, however.)

Yes, the Council funds the CACs — to the tune of $1,000 a year, money that can’t be spent unless the Manager’s staff approves it. There is no money for serious outreach — no TV ads, no mailings, not even a mention in the utility bills — or to tell residents that the CACs even exist, or that every resident who comes to a meeting is automatically a “member.” What marketing does exist is done by the CAC officers, who are volunteers.

The point I want to make is that the CACs are far from perfect, and can be strengthened in many ways. 

But eliminating them and starting over with groups that the Council and Manager control is unlikely to improve things. 

With this in mind, I drafted a letter to Council that I’m hoping other CAC officers will join me in signing. (CAC officers meet monthly, and this month’s meeting is Wednesday night, when this will be discussed.) Here’s the draft:

“The process of citizen engagement in Raleigh has evolved with the city’s growth. In 1974, as Raleigh’s population soared past the 100,000 mark, Mayor Clarence Lightner led the formation of the first Citizen Advisory Council, asking citizens across the city to step up and help. A year later, Lightner took pride that the CAC was integral to every aspect of Raleigh’s government, from community development to better bus routes to recommending the first bike lane in Raleigh on Ridge Road. The CAC advised on zoning cases, worked on the first comprehensive plan and helped to create the Downtown Housing Improvement Corporation (DHIC) for affordable housing.

“Today, as Raleigh’s population nears 500,000, we have 19 CACs established across the city, but with the same goal as Lightner’s: Helping interested citizens to realize the democratic ideal of government “by the people and for the people.” Through the CACs, citizens are in continuing discussions with every department of city government, so that as needs arise in the police department, say, or in water and sewer services, there’s a shared perspective on what to do and how to do it. 

“As CAC officers, we welcome the report of the City Council’s Citizen Engagement Task Force and concur with its conclusion that engaging citizens in the work of self-government is a far more complex task now than it was when Raleigh was small enough that “everyone could know everyone else.” The task force report contains a lot of useful ideas, some of which CAC leaders have advocated for years. The report did not specify, however, how these ideas should be implemented, leaving those details to a new Citizen Engagement Board that the Council could create. 

“We’re receptive to the idea of a CEB, depending on its mandate. If its purpose is to draw more citizens into the work of self-government, good. But there’s an inherent danger whenever a board is inserted between the elected and appointed officials of city government, on the one hand, and the citizens they serve on the other. Of critical importance is that the board’s mission be to empower citizens in their relationship with decision-makers, not to keep them at arm’s length. For that reason, we think the membership of an effective CEB board should be drawn from the ranks of people who’ve shown interest in Raleigh’s major vehicle for citizen engagement since the days of Clarence Lightner, namely the existing CACs.

“It was therefore concerning that the task force didn’t reach out either to CAC leaders or to any of the thousands of people who’ve participated in CACs in recent years. The Citizen Engagement Task Force, in other words, made the mistake of failing to engage with citizens. We caution against the creation of a Citizens Engagement Board if it would operate in a similar fashion.
“Citizen engagement in Raleigh can be strengthened, and we are eager to participate in the work of making it stronger. We think the first step to doing so is to recognize the historic role of the CACs as principle forums for citizens to be involved, review the work of CACs with city agencies, and commit to maintaining the CACs’ viability going forward while bolstering their ability to be as effective in Raleigh’s future as they have been in the past.

“Thanks for your attention to this important issue.”

And thank you if you’ve read to the end. I want us to discuss the task force report at our HCAC meeting on Thursday — and hear your thoughts, if you’ve been coming to CAC meetings for awhile, about how the system works and how it might work better.

We’ll be meeting upstairs in the Cameron Village Library, 7 pm, Thursday, April 20.
– Bob Geary, HCAC chair