Droves of supporters of Raleigh’s citizen advisory committees descended upon Tuesday’s city council session to speak out in opposition to a new community engagement board created by the council May 2 on the recommendation of a task force that contained few CAC voices.
Some thirty people, many of them CAC chairs or members, signed up to speak during a public comment period. Virtually all opposed the new board.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane, part of a 5–3 majority that created the new board, showed in opening remarks that she had already heard clearly that the CAC groups, who have advised the city council on zoning and other matters, felt side-stepped by the proposed new layers of committees.
“I do want to take a few moments now and acknowledge the concerns that have been circulating in the community regarding the future of the CACs,” McFarlane told the packed council chambers before the public hearing. “The CACs have not been disbanded or changed in any way. I believe every member of this city council understands and values the important role the CACs have had and continue to play in citizen engagement.”
Those who spoke gave voice to frustrations not only on the issue of civic engagement but also about a host of issues including affordable housing, predatory towing, accounts of police misconduct, and gentrification.
“What are y’all doing that would keep Raleigh as a thought leader and show that the city of Raleigh truly cares about the African-American community and those that are impoverished?” asked Wanda Gilbert-Coker, who said she had been homeless in Raleigh along with her teenage daughter. Confronting the council, Gilbert-Coker asked forcefully: “Is Raleigh for all, or for y’all?”
In her remarks, the mayor called basically called for a reboot of the process, one that took into account the decades of work members had put into CACs. Specifically, McFarlane suggested a council work session that would get help in smoothing out the process from an outside consultant. This appeared to be a different stance than the one that mayor had taken in May, when she described the advisory councils as representing far too few of the city’s burgeoning population. McFarlane seemed to advocate Tuesday for significantly reworking the city’s plan.
“What we’re doing now is starting a community-wide discussion on how we can better communicate and engage with the public now that we are a community that is approaching a half a million people,” she said.
“And I apologize that our communication efforts have failed in conveying that message.”
Several speakers expressed appreciation for McFarlane’s apparent new direction. But most proceeded with comments objecting to the community engagement board, asserting that it would lessen residents’ voices in civic matters.
“From top to bottom you are looking at council-led boards, council-led bodies, rather than citizen-led bodies,” said Sam Alcine, chair of the Central CAC.
Some speakers reached into the past for comparisons to the recent housing boom in Raleigh, the spate of development they said has displaced many black and low-income residents. William D. Terry, who used to live in public housing at Halifax Court off Peace Street, said the Capital Court development that replaced it isn’t affordable for those who lived at Halifax.
“In that community we were like a little family, before the housing court renovation,” Terry said. “We are not saying that renovation is wrong, but if you are going to move residents out that have been there all their lives, at least give them a chance to move back there. Developers came to our neighborhood and moved us out.”