Diverse & Youthful

In Buzz, December 2022/January 2023 by Melissa Howsam3 Comments

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Raleigh’s newly elected city council

new city council is being sworn in Dec. 5 at Union Station, including four new faces: Mary Black, Megan Patton, Jane Harrison and Christina Jones. Many have described this council as divided—and reelected Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin as having to govern a council pitted against her. But, for her part, the mayor is optimistic. “People always want to paint negative pictures,” said Baldwin in a conversation with us one week post-election. 

“This is the most diverse council in the history of Raleigh—and probably the youngest,” she said. “So I’m thinking, ‘I can’t wait to hear new ideas and these perspectives.’ And we have to respect that and all work together.” During and since the election, the council has been cast by nearly everyone as anti-growth vs. pro-growth. But the mayor doesn’t see it that way. “They actually are not anti-growth. They fall across lines of smart growth, and I think we share common values,” she said, including affordable housing, transit, small business and climate change, to name a few. 

In talking to new council members, Baldwin says she thinks there could actually be a lot of unity and consensus within city council, which begins with building relationships and trust, listening to one another, and a willingness to compromise. Bottom line: “The campaign is over,” said Baldwin. “Now we govern. It’s not about activism. It’s about doing what’s best for our community.”


Are CACs the most divisive issue?

A hot-button issue leading up to the election and now anticipated to be one of the most divisive issues facing council are Citizen Advisory Councils (or CACs). If you aren’t familiar, you’re not alone. According to a city survey, more than 90% of residents had never heard of or been to a CAC—meaning this is a “hot-button issue” for a select few. That said, reinstating or revamping these advisory councils was also the central issue fueling some candidates to throw their hat in the ring for city council. 

In short, CACs were intended to be nonpartisan advisory boards representing different geographical regions of the city, comprised of nonelected citizens. These councils routinely held meetings as a way of dispersing information and gathering public input. The CACs were disbanded without public input or notice in early 2020, a move for which Mayor Baldwin took much ire in the media. But, she says, her goal was to actually make community engagement more inclusive—not eliminate community engagement altogether. “My feeling is that CACs were exclusive, not inclusive, and we’re looking at ways to make community engagement inclusive.”

For their part, new District E Council Member Christina Jones served as former chairperson of the Raleigh Citizen Advisory Council. And new District D Council Member Jane Harrison reestablished the West Raleigh Community Advocacy Council and has vocally advocated for reestablishing robust community engagement. “Economic development should be community-centered, and city decisions must recognize the voices of the most affected groups, including historically marginalized communities and neighbors adjacent to a development,” Harrison told Raleigh Magazine. “We need forums like CACs and neighborhood associations to convene across the city, sharing information and developing leadership capacity to bring the best ideas forward.”

We asked Baldwin for her take on the return of CACs, and she nodded to the active community engagement board that council has asked to come up with ideas to move things forward. “I would like to see that community engagement board do its work and let us listen to them about what they think is needed,” she said. “And I hope we allow the community engagement board to do its work.”


Hot-Button Issues

4–4

4–4

4–4 

  • Missing Middle Housing
  • Allow duplex, triplex & townhomes next to single-family homes
  • Nays: Black, Harrison, Jones, Patton

5–3

  • Reinstate Citizen 
  • Advisory Councils
  • Nays: Baldwin, Forte, Melton

2–6


All In Favor

8–0 VOTE

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Comments

  1. Mayor. Baldwin continues to promote the mythology that CAC‘s were exclusive. This is absolutely untrue. People went to CAC‘ meetings because they wanted to and because they were interested in a particular subject. Nobody was excluding anybody from going to CAC meetings. Years ago, we repeatedly asked community services staff to do random mailings to get more people interested, but nothing was ever done. There is one simple reason why CAC’s were just banded under the cover of darkness, and that is because some of the folks involved in the CAC‘s were as good, as if not better than some of the land-use attorneys that came to them with petitioners cases. They were folks on the council and in the development community that did not like the sophisticated feedback they were getting from CAC’s. There is no doubt that the CAC is needed some tweaking, but you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. Mayor Baldwin’s tired trope that CACs were exclusive is maddening. It’s even more maddening that media outlets like Raleigh Magazine are willing to print it without challenging it. CACs were NOT exclusive. Every resident of Raleigh was a member of a CAC. No resident was excluded from attending a CAC meeting. There were no bouncers at the entrances stopping people from attending. As far as claiming the meetings were held at inconvenient times or locations, well, they were held on weeknight evenings at 7pm. The same as City Council meetings. As for the statistic that 90% of residents were unaware of CACs, whose fault is that? CACs were a formal entity of the Raleigh City Government. It was the responsibility of the Raleigh City Government to promote the CACs. If they weren’t better known, the fault lies with the City. The CACs asked the City for promotional help on several occasions and the City always refused. The City replaced the CACs role in hearing zoning cases with an additional “Neighborhood” meeting that is controlled by the developer. The developer sets the time and place for the meeting. These meetings have been less well attended than CAC meetings were. And, if the city was worried about the diversity of attendees at these meetings, you certainly can’t tell. Because the city is NOT collecting any demographic data of the attendees of these “neighborhood” meetings to see what the diversity is. If diversity was an important factor in eliminating CACs, then the city should be measuring for improved results. But, they are not.

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