Sunday, March 29, 2009

Week in Review 3/23/09 - 3/27/09

On Monday evening I was the guest speaker at the Western Wake Republican Club’s monthly meeting. I spoke to the group about some of the keys to running a successful campaign, and the pros and cons of running for public office. I have run for public office twice – I lost the first election by 130 votes, and won the second by 50. Hey, what can I say? I like to keep em close. ;-)

I spent a great deal of time this week responding to citizen emails. Council received a lot – and I mean a lot - of email asking that council support the Jordan Lake Water Supply Nutrient Strategy Rules. The funny thing however was that a good amount of these were sent to council on Friday - after we had unanimously voted to support the rules at our council meeting the night before. Regardless, I answered every email and informed folks that council did support the rules in their entirety. We also received a lot of email pertaining to Cary's new rollout cart recycling program.

Thursday evening was our council meeting. Prior to the meeting council held a closed session to discuss matters pertaining to a town employee. It was a closed session – that’s all I can say about that. Council meeting highlights included the discussion and adoption of Land Development Ordinance Amendments pertaining to the Conservation Residential Overlay District and Residential Cluster Subdivision Development Regulations, council’s agreement to host an education forum, and adoption of the Jordan Lake Water Supply Nutrient Strategy Rules that I spoke about earlier.

Amendments to the Conservation Residential Overlay District and the Residential Cluster Subdivision Development Regulations passed by a vote of 5-2. Mayor Weinbrecht and I voted against the proposed changes. My biggest concern dealt with the potential loss of rural character in our southwest area – an area of Cary that for years we’ve planned to remain just that - rural in character. The changes do provide for greater preservation of open space (a great thing) but encourages developers to cluster their developments to achieve this. Townhome/cluster development just doesn’t seem very rural to me.

In previous blog entries I eluded to an education initiative that council members Gale Adcock and Jennifer Robinson and I have been working with citizens on. I say working with citizens because in all honesty they have done most of the work. Anyways, at our Thursday meeting we asked that Council consider funding and hosting a forum of Wake government, business and citizen leaders to study quality education in our community. This forum, named “Climate for Student Success” will highlight several areas of increased academic achievement.

While municipal governments do not have the authority to govern education in Wake County, municipal leaders are often called on by citizens to take a role in the future of Wake’s schools. Some of us don’t wait to be called upon ;-) At the Climate for Students Success forum, leaders will be given important information about practices that have been successful in improving overall student achievement and an opportunity to discuss Wake’s current and future educational climate.

The keynote speaker is none other than Elaine McEwan, best-selling author of 10 Traits of Highly Effective Schools which speaks about the distinguishing qualities and unique characteristics of schools that help all students make outstanding gains in performance. Ms. McEwan is a partner and educational consultant with The McEwan-Adkins Group, offering workshops in instructional leadership, team building, and raising reading achievement. A former teacher, librarian, principal, and assistant superintendent for instruction in a suburban Chicago school district, McEwan is the author of more than thirty-five books for parents and educators.

Another distinguished presenter, Mrs. Amy Holcombe, Ph.D., Executive Director of Talent Development at Guilford County Schools will speak about the Mission Possible program, a comprehensive teacher incentive program that combines multiple components to recruit and retain highly effective teachers for the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement in schools with critical needs.

There will also be time for an open discussion and Q+A segment between municipal and community leaders.

The forum will be held on May 11, 2009 from 8:30 – 12:30 in the Cary Council Chambers. Unfortunately due to space limitations and the need for Wake County municipal leaders to attend this will be an invitation only event – but it will be videotaped and broadcast on Cary TV so all of our citizens can watch.

That’s this week in review. Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Week in Review 3/16/09 - 3/22/09

This week I had the pleasure of serving on the artist selection panel for the proposed Walker Street Extension Project. The panel reviewed artwork from nearly twenty different artists before narrowing the field to three finalists and two alternates. The panel will now conduct interviews before making it’s final decision. While I am ok with the artists selected, and really glad that few weren’t, my favorites unfortunately didn’t make the cut. I know, you’re surprised. ;-)

Thursday evening was our Planning and Development Committee meeting. Notable items of discussion included consideration of a request to amend the Comprehensive Transportation Plan, Habitat for Humanity funding, and consideration of a resolution supporting the Jordan Lake Nutrient Strategy Rules.

Citizens in the Silver Oaks community petitioned the town to change Winfair Drive’s Roadway designation from collector to residential over concerns pertaining to a proposed development in their community. The committee unanimously voted to deny the request because a residential designation would in no way impact the proposed development as some residents have been led to believe, and could even have some unintended consequences. For example, residential streets allow for more curb cuts and driveways than a collector. Townhomes could be constructed on Winfair with driveways every 30 feet – something the majority of residents have made clear they do not want. We also had concerns over setting a precedent throughout town, and giving residents false hopes.

Habitat for Humanity has experienced cost overruns on their Waldo St. and Falcone Pointe projects. They claim part of the reason is due to NCDOT and Town of Cary development requirements and fees and requested a reallocation of previously approved funds to cover these overruns. Habitat also discovered that their proposed Chatham Pointe project is not financially feasible either….after the town awarded them $261,265.00 for it back in November. Habitat instead requested approval to use those funds to buy six lots on Brandywine instead.

Now most folks who build in Cary – on their own dime anyways – are able to calculate the cost of their development – including fees – pretty accurately. When you are using taxpayer money you better get it right. 0 for the last 3 is unacceptable to me. I reluctantly supported the reallocation of funds for the two projects already under construction, but did not support their request to use $261, 265.00 previously approved for the Chatham Pointe project to buy the lots on Brandywine, and I instead voted to return that money back to the town’s general fund.

We also approved a resolution in support of the Jordan Lake Nutrient Strategy Rules. Council received concerns from citizens regarding the retrofit language in the resolution. They preferred a resolution that simply states the Town of Cary supports the rules in their entirety. I can’t say I disagree. The town’s concern however is that should the legislature struggle with the retrofit portion of the rules (as we believe they will), the legislature might not accept any of the rules. We all agree that the Jordan Lake Nutrient Strategy Rules are critical to protecting our water supply. If the legislature won’t pass all of the rules, then let’s get as many protections in place as we can now and work to educate the general assembly in the meantime.

Sunday (today) I met with a citizen regarding a drainage/flooding issue to better understand their concerns before discussing the matter with our town staff, and afterwards I attended the Cary Cup Table Tennis Championships at Bond Park. The Cary Cup has grown to become one of the nation’s three largest table tennis tournaments featuring athletes from around the globe. Having never seen a table tennis tournament before I didn’t really know what to expect. I have to say it was one of the most intense and entertaining sporting events I have witnessed in quite some time – very impressive. Thanks to Mike Babuin and everyone at the Cary Table Tennis Association for all their hard work and dedication, and congratulations on such a successful tournament.

That's my week in review - thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week in Review 3/9/09 - 3/14/09

This week council finally made what I am sure will turn out to be one of, if not the most important decision during our time on the council. After nearly 5 months of conducting a nationwide search of candidates for Cary’s Town Manager position council unanimously selected Assistant Town Manager Ben Shivar to serve as Cary’s newest Town Manager. Congratulations Ben!

I originally opposed “casting a net far and wide” and conducting a national search for two reasons. First and foremost I believed in Ben’s ability to lead and was confident he was the right person for the job. And second, I was concerned about the cost ($35,000) - especially in this economy. Well, after conducting the search I do believe there was value in the process. $35,000 value? Probably not, but value nonetheless.

Council wisely chose to conduct search and assessment process blind – we didn’t know the names or cities of any of the candidates. Therefore there could be no bias towards one candidate or another - Nobody could have lobbied for Ben, or any other candidate if they wanted to. Ben’s qualifications and experience along with his performance in the assessments and screening process are why he ended up one of two finalists for the job. And after council interviews it became crystal clear to everyone – we had the best man for the job right under our noses all along. Ben can now lead knowing he went up against the best of the best and came out on top and nobody – I mean nobody on council can ever question this decision. Ya…there’s value in that.

This week council held a worksession to discuss three items; affordable housing in Cary, our soon to be implemented roll out cart recycling program, and automated water meter reading. The affordable housing worksession consisted of follow up with staff and consultants and a review of their progress based on the previous input from council. It’s now our job to review the Consolidated Housing and Community Development Plans and Cary’s Affordable Housing Plan so that we can provide further input on those documents before final adoption.

Cary’s Public Works Director Mike Bajorek provided an update on Cary’s roll out cart recycling program. Citizens will soon be receiving notices on their garbage containers about a week or so before you are to receive your new roll out recycling container. And guess what??? It’s beige!! ;-) Mike calls it “taupe” …he’s in denial. The new recycling program will not only allow citizens an easier way to recycle phone books, chip board and junk mail, but will also save Cary taxpayers roughly $613,000 a year after about 4 ½ years.

Cary will soon be switching over to an automated water meter reading system for greater accuracy and to reduce costs. This system will replace meter readers with technology and eliminate 10 paid positions with the town. While a very expensive system to initially implement, this will eventually save Cary taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and reach full cost recovery in about 9 years.

Thursday evening was our council meeting. Besides the announcement that we had hired Ben Shivar as Cary’s Town Manager, our agenda had three notable discussion items; a public hearing regarding which type of election method to this fall and whether or not to utilize instant runoff voting, an update and recommendation on traffic safety at Panther Creek High School, and my request to direct town staff to review our impact fee rate structure in the downtown area.

A number of Cary and Wake County citizens, as well as members of special interest groups such as Fairvote spoke both in support of and against IRV. While I am the first candidate ever elected in North Carolina utilizing IRV, I spoke against using IRV for the following reasons:

· 2nd and 3rd place votes must be hand counted and sorted.
· Ballots are sorted and counted away from where they are cast as the machines are unable to do so resulting in a greater risk of human error/tampering.
· Does not increase voter turnout as proponents claim. Election methods do not increase turnout – better candidates who motivate the electorate do.
· Any time special interest groups lobby so hard for “better ways to elect candidates”, that throws up all kinds of red flags to me.
· Mistakes were made during the 2007 election – I am not confident the BOE has taken steps to ensure those mistakes won’t happen again.

Council decided to utilize non-partisan plurality elections this fall, and will further discuss the use of IRV. Plurality elections allow each voter one vote and provide for no runoff election. The candidate with the most votes wins. It will also save Cary taxpayers almost $100,000 vs. a traditional runoff election. Durham is also looking to switch to plurality elections in an effort to save their taxpayers $185,000. One vote – one voice. What’s more democratic than that?

Council received an update from staff regarding traffic concerns at Panther Creek High School after eliminating of left hand turns out of the drop off driveway last month. While school officials and town staff believe the majority of concerns have been addressed, staff further recommends the town install delineator posts to better direct traffic into the school and further prevent the left turn movement responsible for vehicle collisions at this location.

Council also chose to direct staff to review the downtown impact fee rate structure and look into possible incentives for redevelopment/infill development and will report back to council in the future.

March 15-21 is Sunshine Week – a national initiative to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information. As you all know openness and transparency in government is very important to me. It’s one of the main reasons I started this blog – to keep you, the citizens of Cary, informed about what it is I am working on as a member of the council. You may not always agree with everything I do as a member of the council, but you darn sure have a right to know what it is I am doing. The town takes openness in government as seriously as I do. And while the town actively participates in Sunshine Week activities, the sun shines at Cary Town Hall 365 days a year as Cary works very hard at serving our citizens. For more information of Sunshine week and the town’s participation please click here.

Well that’s all for this week. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Week in Review 3/2/09 - 3/7/09

This past week was a little light in regards to scheduled meetings. As a result I was able to spend some quality time with Cary youths.

I had the pleasure of hosting Boy Scouts at our automotive shop on Wednesday evening. I taught them about car repair and maintenance. We changed the oil and filter, rotated the tires, and performed a complete maintenance inspection on my truck. I also emphasized the importance of personal safety and protecting our environment by recycling used fluids. We all had a great time and they earned their automotive maintenance merit badge in the process.

Thursday Morning I participated in West Cary Middle School’s Career Day. This was a lot of fun. I mainly spoke to students about careers in the automotive repair and service industry, but I also answered a few questions regarding my service on the council. I found it a bit amusing that each class I spoke to all wanted to know the same three things – 1) Have I ever worked on a Lamborghini? 2) What is the fastest car I have ever worked on? And 3) Have I ever installed hydraulics on a car? I honestly expected numbers 1 and 2. Number 3 however – asked by numerous students - surprised me. Definitely a hip-hop generation ;-). The students also wanted to know what famous people I have met. I said I know the Mayor real well so they had better behave or else they might end up with a public art easement in their front yard ;-) They didn’t get the joke.

Councilors Gale Adcock and Jennifer Robinson and I met with citizens who have been working with us on a schools initiative this week. While I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag here on my blog, I will say we plan to bring this to council for discussion and hopefully approval at our March 26th council meeting so stay tuned.

This week I asked council for a sponsor to direct our town staff to review our water and sewer and transportation impact fee rate structure as it relates to the redevelopment of existing structures in our downtown area. I believe excessively high fees to be a deterrent to redevelopment efforts in our downtown. It is my goal to find a more equitable way to encourage redevelopment and re-use downtown while ensuring that growth still pays its fair share. I was very pleased that another council member (Robinson) agreed to sponsor this request. Council will discuss this item at this Thursday’s council meeting.

Council received a lot of email this past week from parents regarding traffic concerns at Panther Creek High School; over 30 I believe. I answered every one. Council previously passed an ordinance prohibiting left turns (the traffic movement responsible for accidents at the school) out of Panther Creek between the hours of 6:30 – 8:30 am. We also directed staff to work with WCPSS to provide private traffic control and/or cones to direct traffic west onto McCrimmon. Since that time staff has been monitoring the situation closely to gauge the ordinance’s effectiveness, and we have also learned that WCPSS has refused to provide for private traffic control and/or cones. Parents are requesting a traffic light be installed at both the student parking entrance and parent drop off area. While council did discuss the installation of traffic signals, staff has indicated that DOT would not approve the traffic signal installation. Council will further discuss this issue at this Thursday’s meeting.

Council also received quite a few emails this week both supporting and opposing utilizing instant runoff voting (IRV)in this fall’s elections. Council is holding a public hearing on this item at this week’s council meeting so if you have an opinion on this initiative – which I am sure you do ;-) - please come and speak at the hearing so council can hear your thoughts and better represent your wishes. In case you'd like more information on IRV, here is info both for and against IRV.

Well that’s about all for this week. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Week in Review 2/23/09 - 2/28/09

Hello everyone in Blogsville! Don Frantz’ Week in Review coming to you in 5,4,3,2,1.

Monday evening was the Western Wake Republican Club’s monthly meeting at Bentley’s Restaurant in Crossroads (FYI – Bentley’s makes a killer Burger!). This month’s guest speaker was Michael Patton, the North Carolina 4th Congressional District Director for Americans for Fair Taxation – otherwise known as the Fair Tax.

Council held a worksession this week to discuss two topics – affordable housing initiatives in town and the proposed Cary Community Arts Center fly tower design.

After a detailed housing and income analysis review the council discussed which income levels – if any – the council wished to focus our affordable housing efforts towards, and which specific initiatives we preferred. My opinion is that IF council is going to use public dollars to support affordable housing in the community then those dollars should go back into the existing community in the form of housing rehabilitation assistance. There are already a number of affordable homes in many of Cary’s older neighborhoods that, with a little assistance could make a great first home for a new family or help senior citizens on fixed incomes make needed repairs they otherwise would not be able to afford. This could also help address neighborhood decline which leads to increased rental housing and decreased property values.

In regards to the fly tower, council approved the design team to move forward with the artist’s latest concept. If you remember from earlier posts the original proposal generated quite a bit of controversy due to its massive size and contemporary design, and concerns over its placement on one of, if not the most historic and treasured buildings in Cary. The new design is a compromise of art and architecture and eliminates the massive 60 foot tall metal structure on the tower’s east wall. This, I believe, will provide a much cleaner backdrop for the roundabout art, and not detract from the beauty and art that is Old Cary Elementary.

Afterwards council left the stress of the worksession to celebrate with over 400 of Cary’s most valuable citizens at Cary’s Annual Volunteer Recognition Banquet. A big THANK YOU is in order to all of Cary’s volunteers, and congratulations to the night’s award winners. You all work so hard to make Cary the wonderful place to live that it is and we are forever grateful.

Thursday evening was our council meeting. Agenda highlights included a public hearing on Land Development Ordinance (LDO) Amendments, consideration of a review of Cary’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) for roads to see if there is a more equitable way to pay for roads and ensure that needed infrastructure is in place before development occurs, and recognition of Cary’s Citizen Assisting Police Team (CAP) members.

I was very pleased with the proposed LDO amendments as our staff has done a great job of addressing both council’s and citizen concerns regarding the mixed used development approval process to provide for greater citizen input and participation. Also included in this round of amendments are proposed changes to Cary’s sign ordinance that allow for greater flexibility for businesses in Cary, and property setback amendments regarding the redevelopment or subdivision of residential lots in our downtown area that will further protect the character of established neighborhoods. The LDO amendments are now on their way to our Planning and Zoning Board for review before coming back to council for final decision.

After a healthy discussion on whether or not to review Cary’s APFO for roads council directed town staff to conduct a review and come back to council with any recommendations they feel may help improve upon our current ordinance requirements. I originally had concerns in reviewing our APFO because 1) I didn’t necessarily feel our ordinance was broken so I wasn’t sure why we were trying to fix it. And 2) because I felt some council members were trying to craft the solution instead of identifying the problem first. After it was made clear that we weren’t giving staff specific direction on what changes we wanted to see I supported the review. Our APFO has been in place for 10 years now – a review to see whether it is still meeting our expectations couldn’t hurt.

Friday morning was a lot of fun. It was Celebrity Reader day at Cary Elementary School and I had the honor of reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to fourth grade students (for some crazy reason they consider me a celebrity – I can assure you I am not.). Anyways, I never get tired of Green Eggs and Ham. I like that book – I like it Sam I am. Every time our youngest doesn’t want to try a new food I remind her of the story and ask her how she is sure she doesn’t like something until she tries it? I don’t think she likes the book as much as she used to. ;-)

Friday afternoon council spent the better part of 4 hours reviewing applicants for Cary’s town manager position. This was a closed session meeting so I cannot provide any details other than after reviewing a number of highly qualified individuals we have narrowed the field and we should make a final decision by mid-March.

Well that’s about it for this week in review. Thanks for reading and thank you for allowing me to serve you on the Cary Town Council. It is truly an honor.