Thursday, January 29, 2009

Citizens Police Academy


Sign up now for the Town of Cary’s Police Department Citizens Police Academy that will be held February 18-May 6, 2009, with classes meeting each Wednesday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. The free, 12-week program covers topics such as criminal and constitutional law, patrol, criminal investigations, youth services, DWI detection, and domestic violence, as well as a trip to the firing range. This class is a prerequisite for citizens interested in becoming members of the Citizens Assisting Police (CAP) Team. The application deadline is February 4; enrollment is limited. You must be 18 years or older to participate. Pick up an application at the Cary Police Department. For more, call (919) 380-4218, e-mail or visit Citizens Police Academy at

I am a graduate of the Citizen's Police Academy and I HIGHLY recommend this course to anyone interested in learning more about our town's Police Department or the CAP Team.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NC considering the iTax?

Legislators Ponder Taxing Computer Downloads

“We are facing an ever-shrinking tax base, and we need to kind of get with the 21st century.” NC Representaive Jennifer Weiss

I recommend this song as Rep Weiss's ringtone.

See related N+O story here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Week in Review 1/19/09 - 1/24/09

Thanks to Mother Nature this week was a fairly light one. Tuesday’s affordable housing worksession and a Wednesday meeting were both cancelled due to the snow and ice. I hope everyone was able to take a little time away from the rat race and have some fun playing in the snow – but not too much fun. ;-)

I spent a good deal of time this week catching up on emails and phone calls as a result of the council retreat this past weekend. It’s amazing how far behind you can get when you’re without your computer for only two days.

This week I met with and spoke to town staff on a number of occasions regarding transportation improvements associated with Wake Med’s new Women’s Pavilion. Improvements to Tryon and Kildaire Farm Roads are required per our town’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) and there was confusion pertaining to the timing and funding responsibilities of these improvements. Thankfully the majority of issues were resolved prior to this item coming before the Planning and Development Committee meeting on Thursday evening. This was the only item on our committee’s agenda.

Town staff, Singh Development, and I also worked this week to schedule another community meeting and notify residents in the Silverton Community regarding the proposed development at Evans, Cary Parkway and Winfair. The goal of this meeting is to present and review the various alternatives discussed at the previous meeting. This meeting will take place in the Maple Room at Bond Park at 6:30 on Feb 17.

On Thursday I met with parents to review and discuss data discrepancies in WCPSS’s proposed reassignment plan and offer advice. It was very enlightening to review the spreadsheets these parents created (which I know took a great deal of time and energy) detailing each school’s current and proposed capacity percentages and low income student population numbers. While a lot of data, it can best be summarized as this: Many of WCPSS low income and growth calculations are incorrect (WCPSS has admitted such), and after reassigning 25,000+ kids across the county to “relieve overcrowding and balance enrollment”we will still have schools 150% over capacity while others sit only 70-80% occupied. It boggles the mind.

On a related note, on Friday I met with a friend and colleague to discuss the upcoming school board elections. Four school board seats are up this fall and rumor has it that three current school board members will not be running for reelection. We have a huge opportunity here folks.

Saturday was sad day for not only North Carolina, but for sports fans and cancer survivors across the country as we learned that NC State Women’s Basketball Coach Kay Yow past away after her very long and very public battle with breast cancer. Kay was an incredible woman who led by example and inspired greatness. Firm but fair; she earned the respect of everyone she came in contact with – even her opponents. While her record of 737 wins, twenty one 20+ win seasons, an Olympic Gold Medal, and 4 ACC Championships are amazing accomplishments and speak to her abilities as a coach, Kay will be most remembered for her strength, courage, and never give up attitude. We’ll miss you, Kay.

Monday, January 19, 2009

RETREAT! 2009 Day Two

Most of day two of the retreat focused on reviewing the progress of specific goals or priorities council identified at last years retreat (55 in total). While many of the items on that list have been completed or are in progress, some have not yet been completed and council still has a lot of work to do. But hey, what’s the point of setting goals if we aren’t willing to work hard to achieve them right?

Some examples of priorities identified at last year’s retreat which council discussed at length were better roads, reinvestment in downtown/old Cary, increased openness in government, greater citizen involvement, better education/neighborhood schools, and protecting our environment. Here is an action summary of what your council and I have done to work towards achieving these goals:

Better Roads/Transportation: FY2009 budget includes over $40 million in transportation funding including over $8.1 million worth of road improvements to Cary Parkway alone. Increased advertising for C-Tran has resulted in a 25% increase in ridership. Completed 2 mile section of White Oak Greenway west of NC 55. Comprehensive Transportation Plan Update completed.

Reinvestment in Downtown/Old Cary: Downtown Streetscape Project and Cary Elementary renovations fully funded for FY2009 (finally!). Working with Wake County to develop a plan for the new downtown library. Land acquisition (purchasing) is ongoing for the downtown park. Directed staff to move forward in selecting a downtown development director/manager.

Increased Openness in Government/Greater Citizen Involvement: Both Mayor Weinbrecht and I keep an online journal to better communicate with Cary citizens – you’re reading mine ;-), The Cary Matters TV show was created to better educate and inform citizens of what council is working on. Created the Citizen Issue Review Commission, made boards and commission appointments more transparent.

Schools: I could write a novel on this one but I’ll keep it short. Numerous meetings with and lobbying of school board members and legislators, as well as meetings with parent groups, PTAs, schools advocacy groups. Added at-large school board elections and taxing authority to our state’s legislative agenda. Working to bring all Wake County municipal and community leaders together for a schools roundtable discussion/forum. We still have A LOT of work to do here.

Environmental Protection: Changes to Cary’s land development ordinance (LDO) to prevent mass grading/preserve rolling hill natural environment/strengthen erosion control standards underway. Council created a new Environmental Advisory Board. Planning Staff working with EAB to create development incentives in exchange for reductions in energy consumption. Interdepartmental team established to review town operations and facilities for possible energy and water savings as well as ways to become more environmentally responsible.

This is just a brief list – council has many other goals and priorities. I chose to speak on these as they also happened to be a big part of my campaign platform. Rest assured your council and I will continue to work as hard as we can to improve the quality of life in Cary while keeping taxes low. And on a related note – Cary has the lowest tax rate of any municipality in Wake County.

After so much progress the end of the retreat ended on a down note. One councilor apparently didn’t pay attention during day one’s session where council agreed (again) that after a vote, the issue was over (unless there is support to revisit of course…which there wasn’t). For the umpteenth time he again wanted to revisit a council decision – this time it was council’s support for at-large elections on our states legislative agenda – an issue where he has previously voiced his opposition on numerous occasions - as long ago as last year and most recently at this past Thursday’s council meeting. During discussion it also became obvious that some of his frustration stemmed from the fact he hadn’t read our state’s legislative agenda, nor compared it with last year’s agenda for discrepancies. Frustrating….

Before we ended the retreat council did finally decide to direct staff to move forward with narrowing the list of consultants for the Community Visioning initiative then bring back a proposal to council for final decision on whether or not to move forward with the visioning process. Some councilors wanted more information before deciding whether or not to move forward with this initiative and that is fine. I didn’t and opposed it for the reasons I spoke of in day one’s post. I lost. But I promise not to have a tantrum and bring it back up every week for the next year ;-) You win some, you lose some.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

RETREAT! 2009 Day One

Council spent the better part of the morning discussing and evaluating council’s performance over the last year. This included a review of expectations and goals we set at last year’s retreat. After this review Council members were asked to choose 3 items we thought we performed well on, and 3 we thought we still needed to improve on. I won’t waste your time telling you about where we believed we excelled. Council did agree that we could do better regarding allowing each member the freedom to express their views, but ultimately supporting the decision of the council. Simply put, feel free to argue your position, but once the debate and vote is over it’s over. You win some – you lose some. Continuing to bring up the same issue over and over and over again wastes valuable time and is disruptive and disrespectful. Council also felt we could do better in regards to district and at-large councilor communications.

Next was staff's opportunity to give their perspective on council’s performance. According to staff – and I trust them and really appreciate their honesty btw – we need to do better at identifying the problem instead of focusing on solutions. We have professional employees to help with problem solving, but they need to know what the problem is first before they can help find a solution. The would also like us to do better in regards to raising questions in advance of meetings since it would help them to be better prepared, and for us to be cognizant of how our requests or initiatives impact resources – both time and financial.

After a quick break council the discussed how to better manage and respond to all the different inputs we receive from citizens, boards and commissions, town staff, government officials, and other government entities or associations. Much of the discussion centered around better defining the roles and responsibilities of our boards and commissions, as well as that of the council liaison. Council also discussed how to improve communication between the different groups and council. There was discussion about looking into professional management computer software, but thankfully that idea was abandoned. We do not need to spend money on fancy computer programs to better communicate with one another – we already have a fancy tool for that – it’s called a phone.

Following lunch we began the community visioning discussion. Council had authorized staff to issue requests for proposals (RFP’s) to consultants a few months ago and staff informed us they have since received 26 proposals for review. After a summary of next steps and time frame we heard from Dan Klatt, an Alderman from Franklin, Tennessee and Vince Papsidero, Planning Administrator from Columbus, Ohio regarding the visioning processes conducted by their municipalities. Both made very informative presentations and it was helpful to learn more about the visioning process from those who have already undertaken such an endeavor. Following their presentations and a after lot of Q+A and follow up discussion there appeared to be consensus that Cary conducting a visioning process would be valuable – especially in regards to infill development and redevelopment such as in our downtown area, but the key issue some folks were struggling with (especially with me) was cost. Staff estimates this process could cost upwards of $500,000.00. In a bad economy when revenues are down and we are looking at serious budget constraints I do not believe this to be a priority right now. We left the first day of the retreat without a decision one way or the other on whether to pursue a community visioning initiative.

The most valuable part of the day to me was the early morning discussion between council and staff. Much of the visioning presentation/discussion could have been covered in a worksession or similar meeting. But the opportunity to discuss our performance amongst peers and town staff really only presents itself once a year at the retreat. Discovering what our weaknesses are will help us better focus on them – we can’t fix what we don’t know is broken - and we will become a better council as a result. Good stuff.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Week in Review 1/11/09 - 1/15/09

The week began with a meeting with Cary’s interim Town Manager Ben Shivar. We discussed a number of topics which included our state’s legislative agenda, the horrible repaving job the state’s contactor did on Cary Parkway near High House Road (staff will now be looking into filing a complaint with the state), potential public-private partnerships in our downtown area, and the town’s upcoming involuntary annexations – which I oppose.

Afterwards I met with our Town Clerk Sue Rowland for her annual performance review; probably one of the easiest meetings I’ve had in quite some time. How do you advise someone of where they can improve when they already perform so well? I don’t know what council would do without Sue (and Karen and Mary too!). They’re awesome. Instead I asked Sue what she thought I could do to improve. ;-) (and NO I won’t tell you what she said!)

Monday evening I attended the Wake County Young Republican’s meeting in downtown Raleigh. The highlight of the evening was the election of new club officers. Congratulations are in order for Jason Walls who was elected Chair, Phillip Geyser; Vice Chair, Darren Eustace; Secretary, Ashley Rainey; Treasurer, and Mike Hall was elected Parliamentarian. North Carolina State House member Dale Folwell was also in attendance.

Wednesday morning council members Gale Adcock, Jennifer Robinson and I met with members of the schools advisory group that council created last year and a few other concerned citizens to discuss the manner in which the council should move forward regarding the schools roundtable discussion initiative that council approved last year. We hit a few bumps in the road last year and are way behind schedule - and for that I cannot apologize enough. In the meantime however the council has worked very hard to represent citizen concerns to the school board and fight for neighborhood schools – including a number of meetings between the school board and council as well as individual and group meetings. We have also met with numerous citizen and parent groups and schools advocacy organizations. You should hear something in the next few weeks.

On Thursday I met with a friend and former member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board. We discussed a number of topics ranging from growth – or lack thereof – to the economy and budget issues as well as the upcoming municipal and school board elections.

Thursday evening was our first council meeting of the new year. Council approved our state’s legislative agenda minus the request to ask the general assembly for the authority to allow council members the ability to participate in the discussion and vote in meetings via electronic communication (by phone). I asked that council not support this initiative as I believe it important that council members – or any elected official for that matter – be present at meetings in order to vote. I worried that if Cary were to receive this authority, some councilors might not find it as important to attend every meeting since they could simply phone their vote in. Thankfully council agreed. We also approved the Green Level Stream Restoration and Greenway Plan with additional language at the request of a citizen and myself.

Council also tabled a resolution supporting the Metropolitian Coalition’s statements and advocacy regarding the economic stimulus package that Congress is working to pass. I adamantly opposed this resolution as I believe a massive increase in government spending is not the answer to our economy’s problems.

Our nation currently has a trillion dollar budget deficit. Under the current proposal we will essentially be doubling that deficit to 2 trillion dollars. How much longer can we continue to mortgage our grandchildren’s future – or that of our grandchildren’s children? How long will the rest of the world allow us to print money 24/7 to cover our debt? I also have grave concerns over the “needed infrastructure” projects identified by the US Conference of Mayors that the stimulus money could possibly fund. Providence RI “needs” a $4.5 million Polar Bear Zoo Exhibit. Durham NC “needs” a $20 million minor league baseball museum, Miami Fl “needs” a $1.5 million water park ride, and Ohio “needs” $1.5 million to curb prostitution. You get the idea. Some may say, “Well we now have a new President in charge, things will be different”. To them I say that just because someone new is sitting in the director’s chair doesn’t necessarily mean the same actors will perform any better. Congress is who will ultimately decide the specifics of the stimulus package and where the money goes. Considering how well the last stimulus package was administered and that Al Franken has now joined as a supporting cast member I’m not feeling very confident. We simply cannot borrow and spend our way out of this mess.

Council decided to table this resolution until our next meeting to allow staff the time to change the language in the resolution, and make the resolution more “Cary specific” so that we are speaking for Cary alone. While much better than what was originally proposed, I did not support this either as I believe we should not send a message to congress that in any way shape or form implies we support the stimulus package.

The council retreat was Friday and Saturday – I’ll be writing a separate post on that here shortly. As always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Week in Review 1/5/09 - 1/10/09

On Monday evening I attended the WCPSS Community Engagement Meeting at Apex High School with Mayor Weinbrecht and Gale Adcock. Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly was also in attendance. All of us spoke in opposition to the school system’s proposed reassignment plan. My speech focused on the importance of parental involvement in a child’s education and my concerns over a number of reassignments that move students away from their neighborhood school; making it much more difficult for parents to remain involved in their child’s education. You can read news reports about it here, here and here.

Mayor Weinbrecht, Gale Adcock and I also met with School Board Members Eleanor Goettee and Ron Margiotta to discuss our concerns with the reassignment plan in greater detail. The meeting went well and I am optimistic that some positive changes will be made to the plan. However, the board members were clear that while they may support some of our requests, it takes five school board members (a majority of the board) to change the plan. I appreciated their honesty in this regard, and I truly thank them for taking the time to meet with us. Great things sometimes do happen when all parties come to the same table. You can read more about it here and here.

I was a little surprised at how much media attention our speaking at WCPSS’s community engagement meeting and our meeting with two school board members received. You’d have thought they’d never seen local officials meet with the school board before. Then again, considering the previous council’s hands-off approach regarding schools maybe they hadn’t. On the other hand they may have been looking to stir the pot a bit – hoping to get somebody on camera publicly criticizing the school board. Now c’mon, do they really think I’d do that??? ;-)

The Cary Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Economic Development Forecast at Prestonwood Country Club on Wednesday. The guest speaker was NC State Professor and Economist Dr. Michael Walden. Given the current state of the economy I wasn’t about to miss hearing from Dr. Walden. He not only spoke to how the recession is affecting the country in general, but how it was affecting Cary in particular. While Cary is feeling the effects of a slumping economy, thanks to conservative budgeting practices by council and our town staff we are weathering the storm better than most other municipalities.

Thursday morning I attended the Heart of Cary Association’s monthly meeting. The Friends of the Page Walker hosted this month’s meeting and gave a wonderful presentation on the history and renovations of the Page Walker Hotel. If you have never been to the Page Walker Hotel you MUST take an hour or two and visit. It is a great place to learn about Cary’s history. And heck, while you’re there, look into joining the Friends of the Page Walker. You’ll be glad you did!

Afterwards I attended the Cary Republican Women’s monthly meeting. The guest speaker was Council Member Jennifer Robinson who did an excellent job of presenting a year in review with a focus on the economy and its impact on Cary.

I was honored this past week to be invited by The National Federation of Independent Business Owners (NFIB) to participate in their “Key Contacts Program”. NFIB is the nation’s leading business association representing small and independent businesses. A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, NFIB represents the consensus views of its members in Washington and all 50 states. The primary objective of the Key Contacts Program is to build relationships with members of Congress and educate them about issues facing small business. I have been assigned to work with US Senator Richard Burr.

This coming Friday and Saturday is the Council’s annual retreat. This year’s retreat will be held at the Embassy Suites here in Cary. Council decided to hold the retreat locally in an effort to reduce costs given the current state of the economy. This year’s retreat should cost 1/3 of what previous retreats have cost. While I believe we should always be looking to reduce costs regardless of the shape the economy is in, this decision made me happy as I have advocated for council retreats to be held locally for years. I never really understood how visits to Southern Pines or the beach helps council and staff better work together. For the record, I paid my own hotel costs associated with last year’s retreat held at Southern Pines (I also paid my own hotel costs on the downtown steering committee’s visit to Salisbury NC and Greenville SC and during my trip to Atlanta with WCPSS to visit a vocational high school). Cary taxpayers sent me to town hall to represent – not take trips at their expense.

Well that’s about it for this week. As always, thanks for reading!