Name as it appears on the ballot: Charles Francis
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: FrancisForRaleigh.com
Occupation & employer: Lawyer, The Francis Law Firm PLLC
Years lived in Raleigh: 40+
1) Given the direction of Raleigh government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
The City Council, City government, and Raleigh as a whole need stronger, positive leadership from the mayor to make real progress in increasing access to housing both to rent and to buy, saving Umstead park from the misguided RDU quarry, and including more people in Raleigh‘s growth and development.
2) If you are a candidate for a district seat, please identity your priorities for your district. If you are an at-large or mayoral candidate, please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces.
Beyond providing high quality and affordable basic public safety, water and sewer, sanitation, road and transportation services and regulating development – the basic functions of city government – my top three top priorities will be increasing access to housing, to rent and to buy; funding the Dix Park master plan, so that Dix evolves into a world-class park for everyone, while also improving neighborhood parks; and including more people in Raleigh’s decision making and growth.
3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the city council and as an advocate for the issues that you believe are important?
The breadth of my life and professional experiences distinguish me from other candidates and prepare me to lead as Mayor. I was born and raised in Southeast Raleigh, graduated from Wake County Public Schools, Princeton University, and Duke University School of Law. I have served as a federal prosecutor and lawyer in private practice for 28 years. For the last 25 years, I have made a payroll every two weeks as managing member of my law firm and I was a founding director of North State Bank, which has funded the homes, businesses, and dreams of many thousands of people all over North Carolina and beyond. I have led in the legal profession and as a volunteer on the boards of the YMCA of the Triangle, Rex Hospital, the John Rex Endowment, where I was a founding member, and the Research Triangle Park Foundation. My goal is to make city government move closer to the speed and efficiency of business.
4) Most people agree that Raleigh faces a housing affordability crisis. Do you believe the council made a wise decision not to place a bond on this year’s ballot? Why or why not?
I support the affordable housing bond in 2020. But we need to do more. My proposals are outlined in detail on my website — FrancisForRaleigh.com. I believe we should:
- Identify underutilized parcels owned by the city, county or state which can be repurposed to increase density and affordability
- Consider the impact of any property tax increase on affordability and maintain relatively low city property tax rate
- Expand successful homeownership programs like the one in College Park near St. Augustine’s University, which is facilitating the development of 98 single-family homes and 51 townhome units with 60% buyer income-restricted homes and 40% of the homes with no buyer income restriction
- Increase the construction of tax credit housing and build a closer partnership with affordable housing developers
- Increase staff in city agencies dealing with development and get rid of unnecessary regulations that add to the cost of housing
- Increase opportunities for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs)
- Immediately establish a task force to devise solutions on housing that can be quickly implemented in Raleigh
- Adopt property tax rate freeze for seniors who are long-term residents of Raleigh
5) Assuming the council places a bond referendum on the 2020 ballot, how much money to do you believe the city should ask for? What do you believe it should fund? Outside of a bond, what steps should the city be taking to promote housing affordability in Raleigh?
It is premature to specify an amount. The primary purpose of a bond referendum on housing is to give the city the ability to provide subsidy to make the numbers work for affordable housing development and to support first time home buyers. That needs to be done as part of a larger strategy that includes the items set forth above.
6) Discussions surrounding housing often turn on questions of protecting neighborhoods’ characters or promoting density in the city’s core — i.e., what kinds of new housing the city should add, and where? At the crossroads of this conversation is the rapid gentrification of Southeast Raleigh. What role should the city play in ensuring that the longtime residents of those neighborhoods can continue to afford to live there?
As a lawyer representing long-time residents of Southeast Raleigh neighborhoods, I have been on the front lines in battles preceding gentrification. This representation of homeowners in negotiations and disputes with investors has often been hand to hand combat on the front lines of capitalism. Those experiences and study lead me to believe that the city must take an active role in preserving and creating affordable apartments for renters being displaced and in supporting long-time homeowners who want to remain in their old neighborhoods. That’s why I have proposed a property tax freeze for long-time senior homeowners. Beyond that, city government needs to respond to the concerns of seniors and long-time residents to make sure that they are heard and respected as neighborhoods evolve and change.
7) The city currently has twenty neighborhood conservation overlay districts, which can restrict new development. Do you believe this tool is being used effectively? How would you change the city’s approach to NCODs, if at all?
I am a strong supporter of historic preservation. Over the years, as a homeowner and investor, I put my money where my sentiments are, building a conforming, architecturally appropriate home in Oakwood in the 1990s and recently revitalizing the Francis-Shepherd House in the Blount Street historic district for my law office. However, I also am a strong advocate for property rights. I think that the city should move very cautiously in approving conservation overlay districts because of the restriction on property rights and because there are other methods for protecting neighborhood charm and character.
8) If you could change anything about the city’s unified development ordinance, what would it be and why?
There are changes that need to be made in the UDO text, but a more important change is increasing the speed and reducing the cost of the development services departments in reviewing plans and issuing building permits and certificates of occupancy. With me as mayor, these departments will respond more quickly, efficiently, and closer to the speed of the business.
9) Earlier this year, the council required homeowners who wish to build an accessory dwelling unit on their property to petition their neighbors through an overlay district process. So far, no neighborhoods have started the application process. Do you believe this is the right approach to ADUs, or do you believe they should be allowed by right? Please explain.
I believe the ADU process adopted by the city is too restrictive.
10) When considering new downtown development projects—e.g., John Kane’s proposed tower on Peace Street or new developments in the Warehouse District—how much consideration do you believe the council should give to automobile traffic and parking concerns?
These concerns are and should be part of the analysis in reviewing all commercial development plans. In general, for a significant development to obtain approval the city should require infrastructure sufficient to support the additional traffic created. I also believe that we need to increase structured parking downtown. The lack of parking is more than an inconveinence. It is an impediment to future balanced growth downtown.
11) Developers are eyeing at least three parcels on the outskirts of the downtown business district for twenty-plus-story buildings. Do you believe this area is an appropriate place to add height and density? What conditions should the city attach to such projects, if any?
In general, I believe that Raleigh needs to increase density in areas where appropriate. I support buildings in excess of 20 stories in the downtown core on Fayetteville Street and immediately adjacent to Fayetteville Street. Density is also appropriate at most of the exchanges between I-440 and the boulevards that intersect. Outside of the downtown core, we should zone for increased density (probably 3-6 stories) along transit corridors such as Capital Blvd, New Bern Ave, Wilmington Street, South Saunders Street and other boulevards leading to downtown. The goal should be to create a more varied housing stock which includes more choices and housing that is more affordable. Density alone will not lead to affordability. We need density along with an ethic of inclusion.
12) What are your thoughts on the city’s approach to alternative transportation options downtown? Is the city handling issues such as regulating e-scooter companies and building protected bike lanes the right way? Why or why not?
I am pro-scooter. Of course, we need regulations on their use and storage, but I think that they are a helpful innovation in solving the last-mile problem and providing inexpensive, carbon-neutral transportation.
13) Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance banning whole-house rentals and regulating other short-term rentals. Are you concerned about claims that this ordinance might conflict with state law? Do you believe the city’s policy is the best way to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rentals? Why or why not?
I believe that the ordinance banning whole-house rentals is too restrictive, and we need to take another look at the issue.
14) Do you think Raleigh’s system of Citizens Advisory Councils is the best way of fostering engagement with local government? If not, how do you believe the CAC system should be reformed?
I support Raleigh’s CAC system. I believe that the city should provide more support, including financial support, to help the CACs function better and reach more people.
15) Four council members have called for the city to join a lawsuit over the RDU Airport Authority’s quarry lease with Wake Stone. Do you support RDU’s quarry lease? Do you believe this case is something the city should involve itself in? Why or why not?
Yes, I believe the city should move to intervene in the lawsuit over the quarry. In arriving at this position, I met with Wake Stone executives, Umstead coalition representatives, the leadership of RDU Airport Authority, and heard from numerous people on all sides of the issue. I oppose the quarry deal for several reasons. First, it’s inappropriate to put this public property which was taken under threat of condemnation from private owners to a private for-profit use with so little relationship to airport operations. Second, the process that RDU went through in executing this long-term contract did not comply with state law. Third, I don’t believe that a 105-acre quarry pit on public land adjacent to Umstead Park is the right use for this property. Finally, the contract between the quarry company and RDU is not a good deal for the Airport Authority or the public. Once the contract is invalidated in court, Raleigh and the other municipal owners should work with RDU to find a better of use for the Odd Fellows tract and reliable funding to pay for RDUs capital needs.
16) When Mayor McFarlane announced her decision not to seek reelection, she cited increasing incivility among council members. Do you agree with her assessment? If so, what would do to lower the temperature in city government and make the council more productive?
I agree that the Mayor and council members need to work in a more collegial and professional manner together. Under my leadership as mayor, the council will do exactly that. The basis of leadership is personal relationships. If you look behind and no one is following, you are not a leader. I have positive relationships with a majority of the current council. I will build strong working relationships with all of the next council. That will assist in molding consensus to achieve our commonly held priorities on housing, parks, transit, and other key policy areas.
17) Do you believe the city needs a community police oversight board? If so, what should the board look like, and what powers should it have? Do you believe the city can or should challenge the state law that blocks access to certain police personnel records?
I took a leadership role in calling for a civilian review board in the 2017 election. As in many other areas, other candidates have followed in adopting my position. I am in favor of a civilian review board without subpoena power. People serving on the board should represent a cross-section of the community and be required to undergo substantial training. Beyond a civilian review board, the city needs to take a number of steps to strengthen public safety and RPD/community relationships. These include:
- Increasing force strength to keep pace with growth in the city’s population
- Ensuring that the officers have modern equipment and adequate training, including in mental health incidents
- For the fire department, fixing payscale discrepancies and increasing the number of firefighters on each engine to the industry standard of four
- Recruiting and properly compensating a diverse police and firefighter force for our diverse 21st-century city
18) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
My priorities as mayor will be increasing access to housing – both to rent and to buy – and including more people in the growth of our city and city decision making. Raleigh should be an example of diversity and inclusion. I propose that the city:
- Establish an LGBTQ Liaison with law enforcement as a safe space of listening and advocacy
- Increase contracting with historically underutilized businesses owned by people of color and women
- Create an Office of New Americans to connect immigrants to services
- Establish an Office of Re-entry to provide services and advocacy for previously incarcerated citizens
- “Ban the Box” for formerly incarcerated individuals seeking a job and a second chance
- Make it easier for seniors to age in place
- Look for opportunities to expand mental healthcare in partnership the county, state, and healthcare providers
- Build a destination public library downtown to be operated by the county library system
- Increase the number of seats on the Raleigh City Council by making smaller council districts to create more representation for all people in all parts of our city
- Expand City Council terms from 2 to 4 years and stagger the election of each Council seat to ensure institutional knowledge transcends every election
- Increase opportunities for early voting