History Lesson – Let’s Have an Investigation, Part 2

In the first part of this history lesson, I noted how John Odom as a board member of the non-profit, Passage Home, brought to City Council a Citizens Advisory Council meeting where the CEO of Passage Home was confronted with difficult and heated questions about how the non-profit was conducting part of its operation.  One consequence of that Council meeting was that Odom called for an investigation of the CAC.  All of this was described in detail in a 2015 News & Observer article.

That same article described an incident where I attended a meeting of the CAC chairpersons (collectively, the group of chairpersons is referred to as the RCAC).  The purpose of my attendance was to give a brief presentation on height limitations near property lines – particularly, height limitations near residential property.  However, my presence was protested.  According to that same N&O article:

“The board (RCAC) originally scheduled time at a meeting for David Cox, a leader of the North Raleigh resistance to a Dunn Road development plan. Cox was to speak after Planning Director Ken Bowers.

This peeved Will Allen, the Hillsborough CAC chair. Allen blasted out a mass email arguing that Cox wasn’t a planning expert and that he was too politically biased to deserve a place on the agenda, calling it a misuse of city resources.

A few days later, Cox disappeared from the agenda, reportedly because of time constraints.

Yet on March 18, the Raleigh CAC found itself in a lengthy debate about whether to hear from Cox, who was eventually allowed to make his presentation about height restrictions near property lines under the new zoning ordinance. His talk was about as long as the debate that preceded it.

Afterward, Allen said it was proof the whole system has to go.”

Pause for a moment… Yes, the article says that the Hillsborough CAC Chairperson protested my request to speak to the RCAC.

Moreover, the article claims that the Hillsborough CAC Chairperson said that my request to speak was proof that the whole system has to go – I, as a citizen (albeit not a planning expert), had requested to give a presentation to fellow citizens who volunteer their service to a system that they presumably believe has value by giving a voice to citizens.

Fast forward to the present…

Today the Hillsborough CAC has a new Chairperson.  Indeed, the Hillsborough CAC has an entirely new board consisting of three people that I greatly admire and respect as champions of citizen participation and neighborhoods:

Bob Geary, Chair
Will Hooker, Vice-Chair
Francesco Visone, Secretary

Postscript:

It does happen, apparently, that some people will volunteer to serve a system that they fundamentally do not believe in.  Some go so far to try to destroy that system.  The thought never seems to occur to make the system better. By 2015 the seeds had been sown within certain circles that the CACs are bad and must be eliminated.  And, if not eliminated, then replaced with something else that is just effective at silencing the voices of citizens.

Sadly, that effort, I fear, is ongoing.

You can read the entire N&O article here:
http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/wake-county/article16848911.html

History Lesson: Let’s Have An Investigation

This is our first history lesson.  It begins not at the beginning but somewhere in the middle. This lesson has two parts.  I begin, naturally, with part one…

It is morning, March 30, 2015.  People are retrieving their newspapers.  The night before at 6:13pm a story appeared online from N&O reporter, Andrew Kenney.

Andy reports (link to Andy Kenney’s entire report is below),

“Tempers are flaring and relationships fraying as the city grapples with a new wave of development.  During the struggles, Raleigh’s 19 citizen councils have become flashpoints in debates about everything from gentrification to suburban development, prompting calls for change in a system designed to link city government and constituents.”

Former Council Member, John Odom, calls for an investigation.  According to Andy,

“In South Raleigh, City Council member John Odom has called an investigation into a contentious meeting between that area’s Citizens Advisory Council and a local nonprofit. East of downtown, another citizen board was the site of a showdown between a City Council member and a neighborhood leader.”

Citizen Advisory Council (CAC) meetings are fluid.  CACs are a gathering place for citizens.  A particular development case arises and those citizens concerned or interested in that case come to the CAC to hear about and – importantly – express their opinions and view.  Development cases range from rezonings to disposition of property that the City owns for redevelopment.

Sometimes CAC discuss other matters that can be equally or more contentious.  Andy Kenney reports on the matter of a building just south of downtown known as the Raleigh Community and Safety Club.  According to Andy, a non-profit known as Passage Home hosts several programs from the building paid in part with grants from the City including $50,000 to “start a program that would employ and train five people at a time” in the building’s commercial kitchen.

Use of the building was discussed at a recent CAC meeting where the Chief Executive of Passage Home gave a presentation.

Citizens from the area were concerned that they were being excluded from the building which had been a long time landmark of the area as a public gathering space.  They were concerned that Passage Home wasn’t serving the neighborhood apparently as intended but keeping the building inaccessible and using it to serve people from outside the neighborhood.

Per Andy Kenney the following sentiment was expressed, “We are the public that you should have collaborated with. Since 2005, you have not collaborated with us, and the community has questions.”

As Andy Kenny writes, there is tension.

 

John Odom learns of the debate and the tension and brings this meeting up at the March 3, 2015 City Council meeting.  Andy notes,

 

“Odom, a member of Passage Home’s board of directors, brought the spat to the City Council on March 3.”

I’ll stop here.  In the second part some more characters enter our story including one named, David Cox.  But, there is no need to get into that just now.

And so it began…

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/wake-county/article16848911.html#storylink=cpy

 

History Lessons

Last fall City Council formed the Citizen Engagement Task Force (aka CETF). Soon, a recommendation from CETF will be presented to City Council (spoiler alert: no provision for citizens to vote on rezoning requests).

When the CETF recommendations become available we will all have a chance to discuss and debate them. To aid the discussion and debate, it is important to review the history that led up to the formation of the CETF and the resulting recommendations.

The history is just long enough and complex enough that it cannot be easily summarized in a single post on Facebook. It will have to be presented as a series of several posts. You will recognize these posts because they will each begin with the words HISTORY LESSON.

Because this is a Facebook group, you will be able to contribute to these lessons. You will be able to add information and perspective. You will be able to correct mistakes or inaccurate information. You will be able (aghast!) to provide your opinions.

Here are some tentative titles for these lessons:

Let’s Have An Investigation
There’s A Storm In North Raleigh
Old People And Their Home Made Signs
Amateur Night at the RCAC
Strangers On A Train To Charlotte
A Modest Proposal
Just Because Others Go To CAC Meetings Doesn’t Mean You Can

Statement on Downtown Fire

Note: these are my own comments and not official comments from the City of Raleigh

First and foremost, I am extremely grateful for this City’s first responders. Despite the enormity of this fire, our fire fighters, police, emergency teams worked together in exemplary fashion to get the fire under control and ensure that there was no loss of life or serious injury. Raleigh is a top rated city and our first responders are at the top of the class.

Second, as the Fire Chief acknowledged during the press conference, this was Raleigh’s largest fire since the 1920’s. The fact that it happened indicates that our knowledge is incomplete and that there will be lessons to be learned.

Obviously, there is an investigation that is ongoing. Eventually, we will learn what happened. And we will learn what we must do differently to prevent something like this from happening again.

Thank you.
David Cox
Raleigh City Council Member

The Importance of Good Character


A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Citizens Engagement Task Force.  During that meeting Raleigh’s Planning Director, Ken Bowers, made a presentation to the task force about rezoning requests.  At one point someone asked him why people object to rezoning requests.  His answer really resonated with me.

Ken said that there are two main objections that people have with rezonings: the impact on traffic and the impact on the character of an area.

For me the last part of this statement was a revelation.  THE MAIN OBJECTION OF A REZONING IS THE IMPACT ON THE CHARACTER OF AN AREA. Even when it seems that the main objection is traffic, what people really object to is the change in character.  Yet, it can be remarkably difficult for people (even those who object to a rezoning) to think of their concerns in terms of character.  Here is why.

I have been involved with contentious rezoning requests where people walk away from public meetings with a gut wrenching feeling about what the proposed request is going to do their neighborhood.  Inevitably, the word, “mitigation,” comes up.  What is it about the rezoning that you don’t like?  What is it that can be done to mitigate those impacts?

At subsequent meetings discussions ensue about traffic, lighting, noise, hours of operation, offensive odors, etc.  One-by-one the impacts are mitigated. Don’t like the lighting? No problem, we will install parking lot lights that direct the light straight down.  Concerned about dumpsters?  No problem, we will ensure that the dumpsters are only emptied once a week at a that is convenient to you.  Can’t stand the odor of hamburgers cooking?  We have that covered by ensuring that our restaurants won’t have fryers or grills.  Concerned about traffic? We can handle that too by widening the road and adding traffic lights.

One-by-one the checkboxes are ticked off and all the concerns are mitigated.

Pause a moment and think about this statement.  One-by-one the checkboxes are ticked off and all the concerns are mitigated. Logic dictates that if all the concerns are mitigated, then the rezoning request should be approved.

What people often don’t realize is that there remains one checkbox that is frequently overlooked: the change to the character of an area.  Yes, all the minutiae has been addressed.  But in the end, growth and development is all about change. Sometimes the change to the character of an area is minor or at least acceptable – as long as the individual concerns have been mitigated.

In other cases, the change to the character of an area is so dramatic that people cannot accept it even though the individual concerns have been mitigated.

Ken Bowers distilled peoples’ concerns down to two issues: traffic and character.  I distill those concerns even further to just character.  Yes, we can widen roads, add turn lanes and traffic lights.  In some case we can even do the dramatic like construct interchanges and fly overs.  We can handle the traffic.  But, despite all of our ability to “mitigate the impacts,” what gives people that gut wrenching feeling is that some rezoning requests and proposals for growth and development forever change the character of an area.

 And forever changing the character of an area is something we should take seriously and not overlook simply because we have ticked off all the other checkboxes.

Visualizing the Future

One of my interests in computer science (I have a Ph.D. in computer science) is 3D computer graphics. I think we should bring this technology to bear during rezoning cases. Raleigh is growing rapidly and being able to visualize the impacts of growth and development are essential for deciding how or if property should be rezoned.

Here is an example of state-of-the-art software for doing exactly this sort of visualization.

Statement on Raleigh’s Code of Conduct

Raleigh recently adopted a new Code of Conduct to regulate the behavior of City Council Members.

I voted against the Code of Conduct. In fact, I was the lone dissenting vote.

In general I agree with much of what is in the document. There is language about treating others with respect and using the manners that most of us learn from an early age – like not interrupting when another person is speaking. In general, the parts of the Code of Conduct that address “how” we behave are fine.

Where I disagree are with parts of the Code of Conduct that discourage or prohibit “what” we can say in public and “with whom” we can associate with in public.

There is language in the code of conduct that discourages even the mere attendance at public meetings. For example, if constituents that I represent have a concern about a rezoning case, I am discouraged from attending a meeting of the Planning Commission to hear the arguments of the case – even if I were to simply sit quietly in the back of the auditorium only to listen.

When a Councilor does speak in public, the Code of Conduct admonishes, “Keep your political support and opinions away from public forums.”

However, it is OK to talk privately with people and express one’s views. For example, the practice of privately meeting with developers and their lobbyists about rezoning cases can continue unimpeded. In fact, some Councilors will call developers to advise them that they can or cannot vote for a rezoning. Sometimes you will hear that a developer has withdrawn a rezoning case. Very often that is because a Councilor has told the developer that he or she doesn’t have the votes.

Fundamentally, the parts of the Code of Conduct that limit with whom one can associate with and what one can say in public are the parts that I disagree with. They are fundamentally in conflict with the First Amendment that prevents government from abridging the right of free speech and the right to assemble in public.

In my opinion, these limitations should be removed from the Code of Conduct.

This is particularly true about rezoning cases. Developers have deep pockets and often the backing of third parties such as large corporations that want to build the next hotel, grocery store, or shopping center. They hire expensive attorneys to represent them and protect their interests. I have seen cases where developers have hired professional public relations firms and professional lobbyists. And these small armies come to the offices of the City Council to meet with Councilors and the Mayor to wage campaigns that can last for a year or more.

In contrast, you the homeowner, cannot afford to compete. Often, the only resource you have is me, your District Councilor, that you voted for to represent you.

And now, by the City’s Code of Conduct, representing you is the one thing I cannot do in public. I fundamentally disagree with these restrictions and that is largely why I voted against the Code of Conduct.

And, now for the disclaimer (as required by the Code of Conduct): “This is the opinion of the individual and not the opinion of the City of Raleigh.”

City Should Provide Treatment for Autism

At Tuesday’s Council meeting I asked the City Manager to look into providing health insurance coverage for the treatment Autism for the children of City employees (such coverage is not now provided):

Mr. Manager,

One of the key focus areas of the City’s strategic plan is a safe, vibrant, and healthy community.

It has come to my attention that the City’s health insurance does not provide coverage for a treatment known as Applied Behavioral Analysis (or ABA) for children of City employees who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

ABA is recognized as an effective treatment of Autism. In October 2015 Governor McCrory signed into law Senate Bill 676, “An Act to Provide Coverage for the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder” to provide coverage for ABA. This law went into effect July 1, 2016.

A number of organizations supported SB 676. These include:

• The Autism Society of North Carolina
• The Arc of North Carolina
• TEACCH Autism Program
• Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development
• North Carolina Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
• North Carolina Pediatric Society
• North Carolina Psychiatric Association
• North Carolina Psychological Association
• Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina

By passing Senate Bill 676 North Carolina joined more than 40 states in the Country to provide coverage for ABA.

As a consequence of wide spread recognition and support for Applied Behavioral Analysis as a treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, I ask that staff consider adding coverage for ABA to the City’s health insurance plan in conformance with SB 676. Doing so will provide much needed support for the children and families of the City’s employees and will help us move towards our goal of a safe, vibrant, and healthy community for all – especially those of our community who are most vulnerable.

Citizens Think Raleigh is Great – And Raleigh is Great Because of its Citizens

 

This past week Raleigh City Council held its annual retreat.  During the retreat we learned the results of a formally conducted Citizens survey.  More than 90% of Raleigh’s citizens rated the City as a good or excellent place to live.  And citizens view Raleigh as one of the safest communities in the Country.

Now that the retreat is over, I would like to reflect on some of what makes Raleigh such a great City.  To begin are Raleigh’s Citizen Advisory Councils.

Raleigh has a unique, long standing institution known as the Citizens Advisory Councils (or CACs).  There are nineteen CACs in Raleigh serving nineteen different geographic regions of the City.  They meet regularly at locations convenient to their region.  All citizens are invited to attend and participate in those meetings to discuss matters of the day and matters affecting the lives of those who live in the area served by the CAC.

The vision of the Citizen Advisory Councils is “A better City through citizen participation.”  Two key actions of the CACs are:

  • Advise the Raleigh City Council on matters affecting the well-being of the citizens
  •  Communicate its views on relevant matters to the City Council and other governing boards, agencies, institutions and officials

Communication is not a one-way street.  Communication is a dialog between Citizens and their elected officials.  I attend numerous CAC meetings to hear the concerns of citizens, to ask questions, to answer questions, and to share my own thoughts and opinions about those matters that are important to my fellow citizens.

I  ran for City Council because at the time I felt that some on Council were veering away from Citizen participation.  I ran on the promise to not make decisions in a vacuum.  That is why I attend Citizen Advisory Council meetings and that is why plan to continue to attend during my tenure on City Council.

I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.