Sunday, March 28, 2010

Week in Review 3/21/10 - 3/28/10

On Tuesday afternoon I had two meetings: Cary’s State Legislative Committee meeting and our Town Council Meeting.

Cary’s State Legislative Committee members this year are Mayor Weinbrecht, Council Member Adcock and myself. We reviewed a number of topics but most of the discussion centered around two items in particular; public financing of municipal elections and annexation.

The committee discussed whether or not Cary should add support of HB120 – which is currently still in committee - to our legislative agenda. This legislation would grant municipalities with a population of 50,000 residents or greater the authority to use public financing (taxpayer funded) for municipal elections. Just so we are clear, if HB120 were to become law it does not mean that Cary would automatically begin utilizing public campaign financing. Cary would still have to hold a public hearing and then decide for ourselves if this is right for us.

I adamantly oppose public financing of municipal elections for the following reasons:

· A citizen’s tax dollars could be used to fund a candidate’s campaign that citizen would not otherwise support.
· It would not prevent outside interest groups from continuing to spend money on the candidate(s) of their choice. They just could not give directly to the candidate.
· We might not get a true read on citizen support at the public hearing (all committee members acknowledged this at our meeting). We witnessed this during the IRV debate. Only elections advocates such as the League of Women Voters or Fairvote came to speak.
· We have much more important items to spend tax dollars on.
· Money doesn’t buy you love. The following municipal elections results prove this.

In 2007, Harold Weinbrecht spent roughly $60,000 in his bid for Mayor. The incumbent Mayor Ernie McAlister spent nearly $200,000. McAlister lost.

In 2007, Durham Mayor Bill Bell spent $52,000 in his bid for reelection. Challenger Thomas Stith spent nearly $200,000. Stith lost.

In 2007, Cary Councilman Nels Roseland spent nearly $38,000 in his bid for reelection. Challenger Vickie Maxwell spent roughly $12,000. I spent $8,000. I won.

The committee agreed to not place this item on our legislative agenda.

The committee also discussed whether or not to support the North Carolina League of Municipalities Legislative Agenda and Wake County’s Joint Legislative Agenda. I opposed both of these given the League’s position on annexation, and that Wake County’s Joint Legislative Agenda also includes support of the League’s agenda. I believe we need comprehensive annexation reform in North Carolina. You can read more about my position on annexation here.

The committee also unanimously recommended including the request to exclude municipal email listserv databases from being classified as public information. This would hopefully prevent folks from requesting the town’s email list of thousands of citizens for the sole purpose of spamming them. To be clear, we are only requesting that the email addresses themselves not be classified as public information – not actual emails or other public information.

After our Legislative Committee Meeting was our Council Meeting. Notable discussion items included:

· The approval of a special use permit, annexation, and site plan for a church to be constructed at 910 Twyla Road
· Designation of the Old Carpenter Farm Supply Store on Morrisville-Carpenter Road as a Historic Landmark
· Consideration of Cary’s first Historic Preservation Master Plan. Council forwarded this to our Planning and Zoning Board for review.
· Approval of a request by Mayor Weinbrecht and myself to amend Policy 123 regarding guidelines for Cary’s Government Access Channel. You can read more about this issue here. Council decided to create a blackout period that prevents council members from appearing on Town of Cary programming such as the CaryMatters TV show or BudTV 90 days before their general election.

I met with a citizen on Wednesday to discuss his interest in becoming more involved in government; possibly to include a run for office one day. I spoke about the responsibilities of a council member, the time commitment and rigors of running a campaign. I encourage everyone to become more involved in their government and will gladly speak with anyone interested in doing so.

On Thursday I had the privilege of speaking with two 3rd grade civics classes at Saint Michael the Archangel School about local government. The students were very bright and asked a number of great questions. This was a lot of fun and I hope they invite me back.

Thursday evening I attended the “What’s Up Downtown” event at Havana Grill on Chatham Street in downtown Cary. It was great to see so many downtown friends and Heart of Cary Association members. I didn’t have very far to travel either as Havana Grill is right next door to Frantz Automotive. ;-)

On Saturday I had the honor of officially kicking off the Miracle League of the Triangle’s spring baseball season by throwing out the first pitch. The Miracle League provides children with special needs, regardless of their disability the opportunity to play baseball. The Miracle League was started by Robin Rose and Tony Withers, who after seeing an HBO special about a similar program in Georgia, believed the same could be done here in the triangle. A board of directors was soon formed and over $750,000 was raised to cover the costs of field construction and programming. Kenny Moore, owner of Andy’s Restaurants donated $250,000 towards the program. The field is named Andy’s Field in his honor.

The Miracle League has come a long way from the first game held in the Adams Elementary School parking lot with 40 kids. Today the program serves 258 kids and fields 20 teams. They will soon be looking to add a second field to further provide for the special needs children in our region.

The Miracle League is always looking for volunteers and sponsors. Please consider helping out by volunteering your time or donating today.

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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Week in Review 3/8/10 - 3/14/10

My week began with a meeting with Town Manager Ben Shivar. We discussed a number of topics including transportation and rail, a signage issue we are trying to work through in the Silverton community, and Cary’s upcoming budget.

Afterwards I visited with a successful business owner in the Raleigh area and was given a tour of their North Carolina manufacturing facility – very impressive. We also discussed the need for increased vocational education and training for service and manufacturing jobs in North Carolina.

A highly skilled and educated workforce is critical to our state and nation’s economic future. Preparing our children to compete in a global economy must include investments in vocational education for those children who do not want to go to college. We must educate not only the next Fortune 500 CEO or pharmacist but also the next electrician, service technician, and nurse. Providing increased opportunities for students to learn a skill or trade not only increases their chances of success once they leave the public school system, it will also significantly reduce North Carolina’s abysmal high school drop-out rate.

Our council meeting was this Wednesday evening. Notable discussion topics included a request to amend policy 157 pertaining to the Citizen Issue Review Commission (CIRC) and a request from Council Members Robinson and Portman to direct staff to prepare a staff report outlining the I-540 impacts on Cameron Pond so that Council may determine the best manner in which to address these concerns. The request regarding Cameron Pond was a no-brainer and passed unanimously. Thanks to council members Robinson and Portman for their work on this.

While I supported the requested amendment to Policy 157, I still have concerns regarding the CIRC process in general. The proposed amendment reads as follows:

Amend Policy 157 pertaining to the citizen issue review commission (CIRC) as follows: (1) All applications will be initially reviewed by CIRC staff liaison to ensure eligibility by meeting the criteria set forward in Policy 157 and then all applications will be forwarded to CIRC with a recommendation. (This replaces current policy which engages Town Manager). (2) CIRC can do one of the following: deny application; or forward application to council with recommendation to form an issue advisory group; or recommend applicants present to other board/or refer town department; or recommend applicants send a written report to council; or table application in order to request more information or to continue assessment of application.

I supported creating CIRC over a year ago because I believed it could better help citizens bring issues of concern to council. I fear I was wrong.

While well intentioned, I believe the CIRC process has created another level of government bureaucracy that lengthens the time it takes to get an issue to council for discussion, increases costs and possibly gives folks false hopes.

We already have a great system in place to determine whether or not an issue warrants forming a task force or issue advisory board. It simply takes the support of two council members (a sponsor and co-sponsor) to bring any issue to the council table for discussion and vote. While not every idea is adopted, every request receives a fair hearing and an up or down vote.

Two examples are the Animal Issues Task Force and the Sign Ordinance Review Task Force – two advisory groups created by council to assist us on two important issues. They didn’t require months of process or have to go through a staff liaison or our town manager and then to a committee before coming to council to be sanctioned.

With the CIRC process we essentially have a committee to study whether or not to form a committee. Why would a citizen or group of citizens want to go through the CIRC process when all they really need to do is earn the support of two council members and their request is on our next agenda for discussion and decision?

We'll see how it goes after these most recent changes.

Council received the unfortunate news this week that Mary Henderson, Cary’s Parks and Recreation and Cultural Resources Director will be retiring effective June 1st. Mary has worked for the town for over 27 years and has given so much of herself to help make Cary one of the best places to live in the country. She will be sorely missed and I wish her all the best in her retirement.

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

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Week in Review 3/1/10 - 3/6/10

What an incredibly busy but productive week!

The week began with our monthly Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Advisory Board meeting. The board received a number of reports from sub-committee members as well as an update from Joy Ennis and Sal Cammarata regarding the Town of Cary’s Volunteer Banquet, awards presentation and silent auction fundraiser. Thanks so much to everyone who worked so hard to make this event such a huge success!

I had the honor and privilege of reading to students at Kingswood Elementary School on Tuesday for Read Across America. The book I chose to read was one of my all time favorites – Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The kids were a lot of fun and I can’t thank the staff and teachers at Kingswood enough for all their hospitality.

Cary’s Sign Ordinance Review Task Force met again on Wednesday evening. Main discussion and decision items included monument sign height and required materials, the allowable number of pieces of information that sign may have, text colors, and directory signage. Not all the task force’s decisions were unanimous, which just goes to show how diverse a group the council assembled to perform this important review. I am very pleased with the task force’s work thus far and I believe that what will ultimately be brought to council will be a good reflection of our community’s values. I can’t thank the task force members enough for taking so much time out of their busy schedules to assist us in this endeavor.

Thursday evening I was the guest speaker at the Cary-Kildaire Rotary Club’s meeting. I spoke to the club about ongoing and future downtown projects including the renovations to old Cary Elementary School, the streetscape project (on hold), the recently approved way-finding signage concept and the proposed high speed rail project.

On Friday and Saturday I attended the 2010 Annexation Law and Reform Conference held at the Hampton Inn at Brier Creek. Notable guest speakers included Daren Bakst from the John Locke Foundation, Kathy Hartkopf of FreedomWorks, Tryon NC. Town Council Member Doug Arbogast, Rowan County Commissioner Tina Hall and NC Property Rights Coalition founder Kieran Shanahan.

This was an incredibly informative conference and all speakers did a great job of articulating the issues with the current annexation and eminent domain laws in North Carolina.

The conference concluded with a panel of state legislators who included Representatives David Guice and Bill Faison and State Senators Phil Berger and Larry Shaw – 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans; who all support annexation and eminent domain reform in North Carolina.

It is sad that there is obvious bipartisan support for reform, yet no real reform laws have been passed. It just goes to show how broken our government is when a few powerful people control which legislation comes to the floor for debate and a vote.

Real annexation reform should include the following:

Prohibits municipalities from annexing an area unless that area is in clear need of water and sewer service, police and fire services, and the municipality can adequately provide those services.

County Commission approval of forced annexations.

A simple majority vote of the property owners being annexed.

The annexing municipality – NOT the forcibly annexed citizens - will be financially responsible for water and sewer infrastructure.

Well, those are the highlights from this past week. I’m sorry I didn’t post a week in review last week but given my extra busy schedule these days I hadn’t seen the family much lately and I wanted to spend time with them. I can’t thank Lisa and the kids enough for all their support – I am one lucky man.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Editorial Regarding the Proposed High Speed Rail

I have submitted the following to The Cary News:

The Triangle Transit Authority’s plans for regional and light rail, along with increased bus service have merit, and further planning for additional transit options now so that our region is well positioned to handle the expected growth over the 10-20 years makes sense.

Increased rail service in Cary will also help to spur reinvestment and redevelopment in Cary’s downtown, and in other areas along the rail corridor.

NCDOT Rail’s current plans for high speed rail however, could have just the opposite effect.

During a council worksession, NCDOT Rail Director Patrick Simmons stated that the primary goals of high speed rail is “to move people”, and “public safety”

Public safety to NCDOT Rail means eliminating at-grade rail crossings and the train/car conflict. NCDOT Rail has already recommended eliminating 156 at-grade crossings between Raleigh and Richmond. That means 156 roads that may now dead end where they meet Railroad tracks – unless of course the local municipality invests millions in above or below grade crossings.

Think about how many at-grade rail crossings currently exist in Cary, and how much it would cost Cary taxpayers to grade separate (bridge or tunnel) each one of them. Are you willing to bear a substantial tax increase so that a few hundred people can now get to Charlotte an hour faster than Amtrak’s current service?

Would closing crossings at Maynard Road, Academy Street, Harrison Ave, Cary Parkway and other roads throughout Cary be acceptable to you?

What sense does it make to improve an existing transportation system that negatively impacts another? Why invest so much money in a system that only 3% of the population will ever utilize? And who will want to invest in Cary’s downtown if the majority of road access is eliminated?

The congestion on our roads and highways is not because everyone is trying to get to Richmond or Charlotte. The overwhelming majority is caused by folks traveling to and from work each day, to school, and running errands.

TTA’s plans of regional and light rail, and especially increased bus service to major employment and activity centers might help in this regard. NCDOT Rail’s plans will not.

You may see the majority of council support NCDOT Rail’s plans for high speed rail once we are assured that their plans will not negatively impact our community, our road network, and our taxpayers. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.

In the meantime you can be assured that we will do everything in our power to ensure that Cary’s interests are represented to NCDOT. It might help if they heard from you as well. You can contact them at