Interview with Justin Sutton

In Buzz, City Council, July/August 2019 by Jane Porter1 Comment

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Editor’s note: The candidate provided written responses to these questions via email.

1. The City Council has proposed putting an affordable housing bond on the ballot next year. Do you support the bond and do you think that’s enough to address Raleigh’s affordable housing problem?

I think we’re missing the mark on affordable housing. This has become a growing social issue which continues to widen the economic gap between renters and owners. With any proposed affordable housing development, we need to ensure access to public services, education, healthcare facilities, recreational resources, transportation, and job opportunities. 

Here’s the downside. Passage of an “affordable” housing bond by referendum will come at a significant cost to our citizens. The city of Raleigh has nearly $1.6 billion worth of outstanding debt obligations on the books. The ability to issue more debt is not a sustainable economic or social model for the city as the financial impact of these projects will be shouldered by residents through increased property taxes over time.

We should focus on the expansion of existing housing programs to enhance the marketability of our fallen communities through building code enforcement, rental vouchers, subsidies and the purchase of residential units to be added to the city’s existing housing stock. I would also direct our City Council to allocate more funding (general fund) to homebuyer assistance programs for first time low-income buyers and housing rehabilitation efforts to clean up blighted neighborhoods.

2. Raleigh’s Human Relations Commission recently recommended the city set up a police oversight board with investigative and subpoena powers. Raleigh’s Police Chief has stated she is not in favor of such a board. Does Raleigh need a board for police oversight?

My focus is the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. I would approve a (community) oversight board comprised of citizens to foster strategic and collaborative partnerships between RPD and key neighborhood stakeholders. We need increased community engagement to ensure our safety needs are being met along with programs that focus on public safety education. I also believe there is a need for criminal justice reform through comprehensive officer training programs. However, we are currently hampered by budget cuts which may delay implementation along with a backlog of public safety equipment needs. 

3. John Kane has proposed building a 40 story tower in the Peace Street area downtown. If elected Mayor, would you support the rezoning for that proposal as is, or try to negotiate for inclusion of affordable hosing units?

I would not support this proposal as is. However, I would consider an affordable housing cost share project with willing developers. The planning of this community would need to include extensive public input.

4. Does Raleigh have enough density and do we currently have the infrastructure to support more?

We are certainly headed in this direction. There are limitations to growth. Increased density will only strain our infrastructure and city resources (i.e. public utilities, public safety response, roadways, etc.). We experience this firsthand every day through congestive afternoon traffic patterns and the frequency of first responder sirens sounding every 15-20 minutes. This is a major issue. If anything, we will need to place greater emphasis on city infrastructure and asset management programs to streamline business and public safety operations in the most densely populated areas of the city. 

5. CACs (neighborhood meetings) have traditionally been ways for citizens to engage with decisions that will go before the City Council. Do you support CACs or do you think, with a lot of these conversations happening online these days, that CACs have outlasted their usefulness?

I am a strong proponent of neighborhood meetings and town hall discussions. These public platforms generate thought provoking discussions on issues that directly impact residents at the local level. Elected officials should encourage public participation in the legislative decision-making progress on a regular basis. This feedback is extremely vital to the city’s social progress and long-term economic sustainability. 

6. Are the current members of the City Council putting forward a strong enough vision for Raleigh’s growth?

Our needs are constantly changing. With the passage of our city’s capital improvement and operating budgets, we will need to reassess the appropriateness of specific projects in order to allocate taxpayer dollars to the greatest areas of need. I believe we need greater transparency throughout the budget process to identify the long-term financial impacts associated with capital investments. We can accomplish this through budget realignment efforts and greater input from the public. I would much rather commit taxpayer funding and resources towards affordable rental and first-time homebuyer assistance programs rather than miscellaneous municipal set aside projects that provide little value to our residents. We need responsible and effective budgeting strategies to address the true long-term vision for Raleigh’s progressive growth.   

7. Are the city managers and staff doing a good job implementing the Council’s vision as stated and running the day to day operations of the city?

There must be a dynamic shift in how we do business in this city, how we govern as a collective body, and how we effectively manage city resources for long term sustainability and growth. This all begins with effective budgeting and sound fiscal policy. We must also take a closer look at how effectively our city is administering public programs and come up with more efficient methods to deliver public services and streamline existing business processes.  I’m tired of the status quo. I believe we need a fresh perspective on local issues and that calls for new leadership from top to bottom. 

8. Recently, the Council passed a suite of rules regulating Airbnb and electric scooters. Do you support the rules or feel they are too strict?

Our City Council is tasked with creating legislation that protects the health, safety, and welfare of our residents. I believe we are making progress in terms of regulating short-term rentals like Airbnb and electric scooters. I will reserve judgment until we have enough data to assess the effect of this legislation.  

Last Word

We desperately need vibrant young leaders with executive level acumen who can turn civic dreams into civic reality. I was born and raised in Raleigh and maintain a vested interest in our progressive community and diverse residents which span all walks of life. The City of Raleigh is a complex government organization. I am confident that my years of managerial experience as a local business owner and dedicated career as a procurement attorney have uniquely qualified me to excel in this elected capacity.

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