What Raleigh Residents Think About Council Changes
Wed., Dec. 15: Nicole Stewart is out + Durham County approves new kid prison
» What Raleigh Residents Think About Proposed Council Changes
Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s city council usually gets in trouble less for what it does than for how it does it. The quintessential example is the backroom manner in which the council dispatched with the CACs in early 2020 without giving the public—or council member David Cox—a heads up.
Agree or disagree, there was a good argument for doing what the council did. But the way the council did it ensured that CAC advocates would not only lose but feel ignored.
If the CACs are the quintessential example, a close runner-up is the city’s decision—technically, the General Assembly’s decision, made at the city’s request—to postpone Raleigh’s municipal elections from October 2021 to November 2022, granting MAB and company 13 extra months in office.
Here again, there might be merit to even-year elections—for instance, more than a handful of voters will show up—but the fact that it was done without public input engendered significant resentment, though not enough for a recall campaign to amount to anything.
After a city study group presented a report arguing for a number of significant changes to the local government, the council decided to ask the public’s opinion.
So far, at least, the public and the study group don’t entirely see eye to eye.
The city council comprises five district seats, two at-large seats, and the mayor, all of whom are up for election every two years. The study group has proposed adding a sixth district seat. The study group recommended:
transitioning from two- to four-year terms,
staggering the terms of district and at-large council members,
paying council members more,
and increasing the council’s size to nine by adding one district seat.
It also recommended having staff do voter outreach and moving to even-year elections, which has already been done. We’ll ignore those for now.
As of yesterday, with just over 900 votes in, here’s where we were:
Note: To see the tallies, I had to vote. I voted for all of the study group’s recs (agree, agree, agree, agree, disagree), then erased my votes after I captured the screenshots.
In short, people seem OK with paying council members more and with adding another district rep to the board, but they want to vote on all of them every two years.
These questions don’t capture my biggest issue with the city’s scheme: the November elections will be a plurality-rules affair with no provision for a runoff.
If the online vote shakes out this way, will the council abide by it?
An online poll is never scientific—also: I don’t live in Raleigh, and I could vote—and the opinions of a few thousand people don’t necessarily reflect the will of hundreds of thousands of residents.
The survey is open through Jan. 12. The city will host a series of public meetings over the next few weeks (6 p.m. on Dec. 15 at Green Road Community Center; 2 p.m. on Dec. 16, virtual; 6 p.m. on Jan. 5, TBD; 6 p.m. on Jan. 10, virtual) before the study group makes its final recommendations to the council in January.
The council will vote on adding a member and/or new salaries in February, most likely
As the council weighs its options, it’s also redrawing its five (or six?) district lines. The N&O has the details here.
RELATED: At-large council member Nicole Stewart, first elected in 2017, announced yesterday that she wouldn’t seek reelection. She didn’t offer much of an explanation.
It is with my deepest gratitude that I am announcing that I will not be seeking re-election to the Raleigh City Council.
When I began this journey in 2017, my goals were to increase access to the decision making table and help make our City Council more diverse. Raleigh voters twice gave me the opportunity to achieve this and much more during the last four years.
During my tenure, I am proud of the progress we have made and believe now is the right time to let the next leader step up and serve our beloved city.
I look forward to serving our community in other ways moving forward and protecting the progress we have made. …
With your support, and with City of Raleigh staff’s hard work, I’m most proud of the following accomplishments:
Stopping future development from being built in the floodplain.
Setting a goal to reduce our community’s climate emissions by 80% by 2050 and approving a plan to get us there.
Supporting a $80M Affordable Housing bond, which received the highest voter approval in bond history with 72% of voters in favor.
Laying the groundwork for the next generation of housing to be built, which will be more abundant and diverse.
Ensured greater outreach to and engagement with our renters, who make up 50% of our population.
Helping hire City Manager Marchell Adams-David and City Attorney Robin Tatum-Currin, two incredible leaders who are committed to moving Raleigh forward.
Stewart told the N&O:
“I have served with two very different councils. And, you know, there’s a big difference between campaigning and governing. And I have gotten my fair share of both of those skills and much prefer governing, which we’ve been able to do more of the past few years.”
The first council, from 2017–19, was the NIMBY-esque bunch dominated by David Cox, Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Russ Stephenson. Other than Cox, the others lost their reelection bids in 2019 to a more development-friendly group.
» Durham County Approves New Kid Prison
On Monday night, the Durham County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to spend about $30 million to build a new Durham County Youth Home—aka, a juvenile jail facility. This project has been in the works for several years, but the vote nonetheless drew considerable opposition: 113 people submitted public comments by Sunday asking commissioners to either reject the project or postpone their vote.
According to the county, the Youth Home is necessary for a number of reasons:
The current one is old—almost 40 years old—and the facility doesn’t always meet code.
The Raise the Age legislation passed in 2019 will add to the juvy population, which means they need a facility with more beds.
Over the last four years, 49 Durham County kids have been confined out of the county, in facilities that might not be as caring as the one Durham is building.
Most importantly, the new project is required by a 2019 legal agreement with the family of Niecey Fennell, a 16-year-old who died by suicide in the Durham County jail.
The case against it is best summarized by a letter, sent to commissioners on Monday by Durham Beyond Policing and a few other orgs, which I’ll excerpt below:
Over the last 24 hours, we believe at least 139 Durham residents have voiced their individual requests to delay the vote to the Board of County Commissioners. We hope you'll take the opportunity tonight to hear each of their heartfelt reflections. 965 Durham residents have signed a petition to re-envision the project. The construction of the youth jail only recently gained widespread public attention despite the Commissioners’ assertion of meaningful public notice and involvement through regular BOCC meetings over the past six years. The stakeholders identified by Commissioners as supporting the new jail are mostly people who have direct professional ties to the juvenile criminal legal system. Missing from these public conversations over the past six years have been communities directly impacted by youth incarceration, including youth and their families. During a recent town hall organized by local groups to raise awareness about this new jail, Durham residents raised serious questions about the County’s justifications for allocating nearly $30 million to locking up our youth, yet County Commissioners have yet to properly address public concern. None of the justifications cited by the Commissioners require an urgent resolution, and all warrant further public discussion, which is less likely to happen if the vote goes forward today.
In a democracy, when the community raises serious concerns, it is the responsibility of elected representatives to pause and listen, not push forward without acknowledging and thoughtfully considering their disapproval. …
The new youth jail promises improved medical services. However, children should not need incarceration in order to access healthcare. Every stage of the youth punishment system is counter-productive to adolescent development. Children are often met with intimidation and physical force upon arrest and are removed from their school and support system while detained. …
More community input is needed to explore preventative care that keeps Durham’s children in their homes and communities and not locked facilities.
The County has repeatedly referenced a 2019 settlement agreement that it claims requires the County to build a new youth jail. In actuality, that agreement states that the County will build a new youth jail if feasible or develop a “reasonable alternative” to maintain sound and sight separation between juveniles and adults. The County has not yet acknowledged or listened to any such reasonable alternatives, despite nearly 200 Town Hall participants voicing an abundance of alternatives. Additionally, sound and sight separation between youth and adults is protected through federal regulation under JJDPA, the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, and has become state law since the time of the settlement. Durham County is already fulfilling its legal requirements.
Barbara Fedders, UNC School of Law, Assistant Professor and Director of the Youth Justice Clinic, said: “Nothing in state or federal statutes and nothing in the 2019 settlement between Durham County and the Estate of Uniece Fennell legally obligates the construction of the facility currently under consideration. Building a $30 million new detention facility is a policy choice but it does not appear by any means to be the only way for the County to fulfill its legal obligations.”
During the ‘Youth Heal in Communities, Not Cages’ Public Town Hall on November 18, 2021, the mother of the child referenced in the 2019 settlement expressed her desire for Durham County to imagine alternatives beyond incarceration: “I would like to see some kind of programs put in, like a wrap-around program that comes into the homes with the families and works with them. And gets these kids out, and gives them a different view on life, and gives them things to do to be a good product of the community, to have them involved in the community.” …
• Durham Beyond Policing
• Advancement Project
• Empowered Parents in Community
• Duke Children’s Law Clinic
• And many concerned community residents
The Durham Community Safety and Wellness Task Force also asked the county to postpone its vote.
Worth noting: At Monday night’s meeting, Durham County attorney Willie Darby told commissioners that the 2019 agreement mandated a new youth home. That is simply not correct.
The agreement requires commissioners to “study, explore, and construct, if feasible, an expanded Durham Youth Home Facility or develop some reasonable alternative plan for total sight and sound separation between juveniles and adults in Durham County.”
On the other hand, as several commissioners pointed out, Durham County has no control over how many juveniles are sentenced to confinement. Their goal is to provide those who are with a safe, healthy facility close to home.
Durham Beyond Policing says juvenile detentions are down across the state and in Durham, which they say calls into question the need for the new home.
» IN OTHER DURHAM COUNTY NEWS
Commissioner Nida Allam, who is running for what may or may not be North Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District once the courts are done with the gerrymandering lawsuits, was profiled by NPR as one of the members of Everytown’s Demand a Seat program running for office.
Earlier this year, the gun control group Everytown launched a new program to train its volunteers to run for office. More than 100 people are participating in Demand A Seat this year.
Among them is Mia Livas Porter, who is running for a California Assembly seat, and whose brother, Junior, took his own life with a gun after battling mental illness. She said that for years she felt powerless—but that changed when she joined Moms Demand Action, an arm of Everytown. …
A different type of violence inspired Nida Allam to run for office.
In 2015, three of her friends were killed by a neighbor at their apartment complex in Chapel Hill, N.C. The victims were all young Muslim students.
While it wasn't charged as such, the victims' families and friends described it as a hate crime. For Allam, it was a catalyst — and got her thinking.
"And that was really what made me so angry and frustrated because it felt like, you know, Muslim lives like weren't valued or important," she said. "I started looking at, what does our state actually have protections against these types of attacks?"