Saturday, July 26, 2008

Week in Review 7/20/08 - 7/26/08

Doesn’t it seem like summer just began? - yet here we are just a few days away from August. Time does fly when you’re having fun! ;-)

Monday I met with town manager Bill Coleman and key members of town staff to follow up on a citizen’s concerns I had spoke about in an earlier post regarding issues they are now experiencing as a result of the Maynard Road widening project. I am pleased to report that it appears that the majority of their concerns will soon be addressed. I swear our town staff continues to impress me more and more each day. They are an incredibly professional and dedicated group of individuals – it is really an honor to work with them.

Tuesday evening council had a worksession to discuss the land development ordinance (LDO) amendments proposed by our town staff. The bulk of these amendments dealt with proposed changes to the southwest area plan (SWAP). Council also discussed our long term vision for the area. Other amendments we discussed were building height restrictions in the cottage business district of the downtown area, and a few modifications to our town’s sign ordinance.

On Wednesday key members of town staff, the Heart of Cary Association, and council members Jennifer Robinson and I traveled to Clayton and Smithfield to visit with members of their downtown development associations and elected officials. The goal of this trip was two-fold; to learn more about how their downtown development associations and downtown merchants work together with their respective town’s government towards improving their downtown areas, and more specifically, how each town decided to structure that relationship. Clayton, for example hired a full time employee to serve as their downtown development director. Smithfield on the other hand preferred to fund a position within the downtown’s non-profit association – much like Cary does with our Economic Development Director and the Chamber of Commerce. Both scenarios have their advantages and disadvantages. Considering Cary may be looking to create a similar partnership with the Heart of Cary Association in the future, this was a very valuable trip.

Thursday evening….and Friday morning ;-) was our council meeting. It lasted until 12:50 am. That’s what happens when you don’t have a council meeting for a month. There were eight public hearings on our agenda alone. The main issues of discussion pertained to a proposed office development at Crossroads, a comprehensive plan amendment, a railroad crossing closure, and a proposed storage facility on Highway 55. Other issues of note were the consideration of a proposed mixed use sketch plan submitted by SAS, and a proposal to consider allowing Cary citizens to keep chickens in town limits.

Care to take a guess which topic generated the most media attention, phone calls and emails prior to our meeting? You guessed it – chickens. While I consider every issue that comes before council important, one of the biggest surprises to me since I have been on the council has been what topics motivate folks to contact us. $300 million budget? 5 emails, no phone calls. Chickens? 10-15 emails, 20 phone calls, customers asking about it at work and so on. Heck, I even received a message on my Facebook page about it.

Feedback was mixed - about 50/50 honestly. While I voted against the proposal for a number of reasons such as smells, noise, and the potential for disease and predators, my biggest concern was how would the town police this program? While the majority of Cary citizens would surely follow whatever guidelines the town set up, there would be those who abuse it. Would the town have to hire more zoning enforcement officers to enforce regulations? Would folks have to agree to have their property searched if someone complained? Years ago the town imposed a limit on the amount of dogs and cats folks could keep. We couldn’t enforce that ordinance so we scrapped it. While most folks just wanted chickens for the eggs, what about those who want chicken for dinner? Would they be slaughtered in the backyard?

I honestly see no cost savings to a citizen by allowing them to keep chickens either (fresher eggs yes). By the time you pay for materials and build a chicken coup, buy chicken feed, and pay any administrative costs/permits/fees to the town, how long would it take to recoup that money saving a buck or so on a dozen eggs? I don’t buy the gas savings/environmental argument either - I know of no one that goes to the grocery store solely for a dozen eggs. For those who want farm fresh eggs I would recommend the Cary Farmer’s Market in the train depot parking lot in downtown.

Friday I met with Morrisville Town Council member Tom Murray (it was his turn to buy lunch, and I have never been known to turn down a free burger.) ;-) Tom and I try to get together every couple of months or so to discuss the issues we are facing in our respective towns, and what each of us working on to address them.

Many of the problems facing our towns are a regional problem – rapid growth, water, schools, and traffic to name a few. These problems are in no way unique to Cary or Morrisville. Regional cooperation and fostering relationships with leaders in our neighboring municipalities is critical to better addressing these issues - and sometimes there is just no better way to do that than over a burger and fries. ;-)

Well, that’s about it for this week. Tonight my wife Lisa and I are headed out to celebrate her 29th birthday….again ;-) ;-) and hopefully tomorrow I’ll get to watch some of the Brickyard 400. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Week in Review 7/14/08 - 7/19/08

On Monday council member Jennifer Robinson and I met with Mayor Weinbrecht to discuss our differences regarding the possible redrawing of council districts this year. Council had directed town staff to look into redistricting back in February, and late last week staff notified council that they had completed their preliminary analysis, and were requesting further direction on how to proceed. Council agreed to hold a worksession on this topic in August to discuss further.

Why redistrict? Well in a nutshell, growth in Cary – especially that in the western portion of town – has created a significant imbalance in the populations of council districts. How much an imbalance you ask? District B and D for example have roughly 26,000 people in each one. District A has over 44,000 people and counting. District A now stretches from Academy Street in downtown all the way into Chatham County…seriously. I believe it is simply not fair for one district representative to have nearly twice the citizens - and twice the responsibility - as other district representatives.

There will be those who claim redistricting to be politically motivated. Some already have. And there will be those who claim not redistricting to be politically motivated. Some already have. I just believe it is the right thing to do - and quite frankly it should have been done years ago before things got so out of whack.

Tuesday evening was our Planning and Development Committee meeting. Nothing terribly exciting to report there except that we did agree to move the next round of Land Development Ordinance Amendments to council for further discussion and possible adoption – after our worksession of course.

Wednesday I met with the developer of two projects in Cary - the first is a proposed office development at Piney Planes and the second dealt with proposed changes at Weldon Ridge, a residential development at New Hope Church Road in west Cary. Originally, part of the property in question at Weldon Ridge was to have a Catholic School sited there. Unfortunately that project has fallen through. The developer has since met with the Wake County Public School System to see if they were interested in the site. They weren’t. I advised they speak with the folks from Thales Academy to see if they might be interested in that location, and it has since been confirmed to me that a meeting between Thales and the developer has been set for next week.

Thursday evening I attended the Wake County Growth Issues Task Force meeting in downtown Raleigh. The topic of the evening was schools – specifically, how do we turn WCPSS into a “world class school system”? Our guest speaker was Ann Denlinger from the Wake Education Partnership. She was a good speaker, and I really enjoyed her presentation… up until she said, “We expect everyone that comes to America to learn our language, but we don’t expect our kids to learn theirs – that’s very arrogant”. Let’s just say I disagreed with that assessment. ;-) For the record, I do believe children should study a foreign language in school – but NOT because we expect immigrants who come to America to learn English. If I moved to Germany, I would be expected to learn German. I wouldn’t expect Germany to learn English to accommodate me.

After Mrs. Denlinger’s presentation we broke up into small groups where we participated in a brainstorming exercise. Each group was tasked with coming up with two recommendations that we believed could better help WCPSS become that world class school system. Our group, which consisted of Councilors Tom Murray and Liz Johnson from Morrisville, Tim Sack from Holly Springs, Dale Beck from Zebulon, and yours truly ended up recommending that municipalities work with our local Chambers of Commerce and business community to create and support more vocational education programs, and encourage increased involvement from the private sector regarding mentoring and internship programs. All in all it was a productive meeting.

Friday I met with town staff and consultants regarding affordable housing in Cary. My concerns focused on the need to better disperse affordable housing/low income projects throughout town instead of always locating them inside the Maynard Loop – and what types of incentives the town could be looking at to encourage developers to site some percentage of affordable housing within new development. I also believe the town’s housing rehabilitation program should be more of a priority. I think we can all agree that a diverse housing stock in Cary is desirable, and we should do all we can to ensure there is quality affordable housing available for folks such as service employees, teachers, police officers, and town employees. It is my belief that Cary will be better served by having affordable housing projects dispersed throughout town instead of concentrated in one geographic area.

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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Say What?

Well, if I was in Congress I actually couldn’t say it. But since I’m not, here ya go.

Congress, in their infinite wisdom, is apparently trying to stifle its members from communicating with their constituents through blogs, social websites such as Facebook or Twitter, and other forms of electronic communication. Seriously. See related news story here.

Congressional leaders claim it’s about fairness and taxpayer protection. In reality it’s about control.

What happened to freedom of speech? What happened to openness in government?

Note to Congress: If you don’t agree with something one of your members posted online, start your own blog and rebut. Better yet - considering many of you have been there since the Stone Age, and probably aren’t that familiar with the internet yet - get one of your computer savvy assistants to set up a blog for you. Heck, if I can do it - so can you. It costs you nothing but your time.

We need greater transparency in government, not less. No wonder Congress’ approval rating is at 18%.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Week in Review 7/7/08 - 7/13/08

This was a busy but very productive week.

Tuesday evening consisted of two meetings. The first was with a citizen regarding ambulance services in Cary, and possible changes that could be implemented to potentially improve response times and increase efficiency. I’ll be meeting with the town manager regarding these recommendations in the near future.

Afterwards I sat in on the animal issues task force meeting at town hall, and I am glad I did. It not only gave me the opportunity to catch up on what the group has accomplished thus far, but it was also a great opportunity to observe the group's membership and better understand where each individual is coming from. This is a very important issue and I wanted to learn more about the group’s work than what I will read in a final report. I was asked a couple of questions during the meeting for clarification, but I really didn't want to say too much as to not influence the group’s direction. A tip of the hat goes to Chairman David Forvendel. I was very impressed with his ability to keep the group on task while still allowing everyone ample opportunity to make their points.

Wednesday I was interviewed by UNC TV regarding instant runoff voting. It never ceases to amaze me how often it happens that when I’m up to my elbows in grease and sweat under the hood of a car, the TV media wants an interview. But what the heck – if they don’t care that I need a bath why should I? ;-)

After speaking with our town manager and staff earlier in the week I also received confirmation that the town will be developing a procedure to better alert guests at Koka Booth Amphitheater when a storm may be approaching so both guests and event staff may be better prepared in case we get another storm like we saw at our July 4th celebration.

I was also interviewed by the News and Observer regarding the press release by the US Census Bureau naming Cary the 5th fastest growing city in the Nation. I spoke to the reporter for about ten minutes – they used one quote. Go figure….

I also spent a good amount of time on an opinion piece for the Cary News regarding the downtown streetscape project. There was a letter to the editor from a citizen in last week's paper that was not only critical of the project, but my support of the project in particular. But considering the citizen who wrote the letter also happens to be the father-in-law and campaign treasurer of my predecessor and former opponent Mr. Nels Roseland, I'm not surprised. I thought it best to not stoop to their level, but I did find it important to explain to folks exactly what the project is, and why it is needed.

Thursday morning I attended the United Space Alliance’s (USA) award presentation to Net Direct Systems. Net Direct Systems is a local provider to USA’s space program, who through their hard work and attention to detail were one of a handful of companies honored by USA this year. USA is NASA’s primary industry partner in human space relations, the space shuttle, and the international space station. USA also gave a very informative presentation on the shuttle program, space station, and the Ares program. The Ares will ultimately replace the current space shuttle in the future. Dick Covey, four time shuttle astronaut and CEO of USA was the featured speaker and spoke to his experiences as an astronaut and test pilot over the years. He actually flew on the shuttle mission that launched the Hubble Telescope, and the follow up mission which repaired it. I had never met an astronaut before so this was a real treat.

On Friday I met with town staff regarding the installation of a stormwater control device in a citizen’s yard due to the Maynard Road widening project. Staff will be investigating alternative best management practices that could possibly be utilized instead of the grassy swale (fancy word for a ditch). While appearance and loss of the use of the citizen’s yard is definitely a concern, I also worry about the public’s safety. This ditch is only a few feet from the sidewalk and drops about ten feet down.

Afterwards I met with the developer and representative of the proposed office development at Kilmayne and Maynard Road. I had met with concerned citizens the previous week and today I presented those concerns to the developer. The developer has promised to make the two office buildings that will be visible from Maynard residential in appearance, and has also agreed to make this a condition of the rezoning.

Well that's about it for this week. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Week in Review 6/30/08 - 7/6/08

I apologize for not posting a week in review during the last couple of weeks. My schedule has been incredibly busy as of late. I'll try and do better. During the last couple of weeks the majority of council's time was spent on the budget process. Please see my blog entry regarding that topic for more information.

Monday evening I had the pleasure of attending Chamber of Commerce Night at the the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary. Numerous area chambers were in attendance such as Cary, Apex, Durham, Holly Springs, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. It was a great opportunity to meet with and hear from area community leaders about the future of business in our region. Afterwards we were treated to an amazing baseball game between USA Baseball's collegiate team and Chinese Taipei. The highlight for me however was having the honor of throwing out the first pitch! And YES I made it to the catcher ;-) A little high and outside - but I got it there.

Tuesday evening I had two separate meetings with citizens to discuss issues that have arisen as a result of the Maynard Road widening project. They both have very valid concerns, and it is my hope that with a little extra effort by the town and some common sense these issues can be resolved soon.

Thursday evening I met with residents adjacent to the proposed development at Kilmayne and Maynard Road. They have concerns regarding the compatibility and change of character their residential neighborhood will experience as a result of this proposed office development. I expect to meet with town staff and the developer sometime this week to discuss.

Friday night my family attended the 4th of July celebration at Koka Booth Amphitheater.....what there was of it anyways. A very nasty storm moved in a little more than halfway through the North Carolina Symphony's performance and the remainder of the event and fireworks were postponed until Saturday night as a result.

I was disappointed that event staff gave no indication to the crowd that a bad storm was moving in until thunder and lightning was already on top of us. This resulted in a mass exodus of thousands of people all attempting to hurry to their vehicles in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. It is my hope that we can learn from this experience, and not make these same mistakes again. We chose not to attend Saturday night's performance.

I hope you all had a great 4th of July holiday. As Americans we are blessed to live in a free country that affords us liberties that folks in other countries will never know. Please remember to say a prayer for our troops who are serving both here and abroad. Let us never forget those who have paid the ultimate price for this great nation. Freedom isn't free.