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Raleigh’s City Council selected Stormie Forte from a pool of more than 50 applicants, and five finalists, to replace Saige Martin as the city’s District D representative after Martin stepped down due to sexual misconduct allegations. Forte, a Raleigh native, attorney and the first Black woman to serve on the council, was sworn into office in July. We spoke to Forte about District D, which covers southwest Raleigh including parts of downtown, and how she plans to tackle some of the biggest issues currently facing the city.
What is the most important issue in District D currently?
Development. District D has probably the most development projects in the works, and likely the most prospective projects. There is a lot going on.
Downtown South is one large project that’s proposed. It has its supporters but some residents worry about impacts on nearby neighborhoods, including gentrification, and on the environment. What are your thoughts?
With these large developments, the more engagement the city tries to have with residents, as well as with the folks who want to make contributions in the form of development, the better. There are ongoing conversations related to how to deal with traffic issues and how to deal with some of the surrounding communities. Looking at what the viability is going to be for the surrounding communities and surrounding neighborhoods will be very important.
You’ve spoken about building bridges between the city government and residents. Why is there a need to do that and what are the best ways to achieve it?
A lot of folks are protective of the community and the current composition of their neighborhood in terms of types of housing and felt they could share concerns through the CACs [local citizen advisory groups]. Now, they feel they are not necessarily being heard. Groups continue to meet as neighborhood associations and I have attended those meetings virtually and answered questions. Residents have invited me to walk the neighborhoods with them. Then, there are folks who have projects and want to talk about that they want to do, so I talk with them as well. I want to hear all sides and be aware of information from city staff. I intend to make decisions and vote based on information from everyone. I will not be able make everyone happy but I want to create a good balance. I will review everything that comes to the council table on a case by case basis and do what I feel is in the best interest of the district and the city.
What do you hope will come out of the community engagement study that consultant Mickey Fearn is currently conducting?
Transparency, making sure the taxpayers and citizens feel processes are inclusive and their voices are heard. I hope the outcome will be one where you would have more participation by folks who are not currently engaged in what is happening.
How do you think the council should address policing? Your predecessor was vocal about defunding the police. You personally have suggested creating an ombudsman program for police accountability.
There is a challenge in folks understanding what the meaning of “defunding” the police is. For some, the perception is the police department would be disbanded. That is not what activists and grassroots folks are advocating for. It is more along the lines of the reallocation of resources and talking to folks in the community. Police officers don’t want to be social workers, they don’t want to be psychologists, and the overwhelming majority of officers believe it is their mission to protect and serve. So, if there is a mechanism to give the police department some relief through setting up new channels to respond to different types of situations, I would be supportive. I would support a resource for the community to report things they felt needed to be addressed in the police department and also a mechanism for folks within the department—law enforcement officers, administrative staff or whomever—where, if there are things they want brought to the attention of city leadership without feeling repercussions, they would have a way.
You’ve floated the idea of using smaller city buses on less frequented routes rather than having large buses drive around empty. What are your other thoughts on tackling Raleigh transit?
My position is evolving but thinking about, ‘How do we make it more enticing to use public transportation to get to different places within the Triangle?’ Is there a way to make it easier to get from place to place? If you want to be able to attract an Amazon or Apple headquarters, having a good inventory of affordable housing, as well as a great transportation system, will attract business. You don’t necessarily want large buses moving through the city at non-peak hours, so if we can get smaller buses and shorter routes in place, have more express routes, that will help make sure people get from point A to point B more efficiently and be more attractive to people who utilize the buses.
What will you be looking for in city manager candidates?
Someone with a good amount of experience dealing with a municipality the size of Raleigh, or maybe larger, and with the challenges we will be facing. There is an affordable housing bond being proposed, so experience with expanding housing in the area. Certainly the challenges with the community as it relates to dealing with the police department. We need a person who has the skillset to navigate the city’s challenges but also to guide the city through opportunities.
Q & A by Jane Porter; edited for length and clarity.
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