Name as it appears on the ballot: Justin L. Sutton
Party affiliation: Independent
Campaign website: www.suttonformayor.com
Occupation & employer: Attorney / State of North Carolina
Years lived in Raleigh: 31
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?
No. There must be a dynamic shift in how we do business in this city, how we govern as a collective body, and how we effectively manage city resources for long term sustainability and growth. I would advocate for equitable and transparent budgeting practices along with responsible fiscal policy to strengthen our core economic functions. We must also deliver on our promise to administer quality public services and programs to the residents of Raleigh while streamlining existing municipal operations to reduce wasteful taxpayer spending. We need a fresh perspective on local issues, and this begins with new leadership.
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.
Economic growth and the lack of small business inclusion throughout all city contracts awarded;
Housing affordability; and
Infrastructure management due to the growing concern of density, accelerated growth, and the strain placed on our public resources and municipal operations (i.e. public utilities, public safety responsiveness, and waste management services).
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?
I have an extensive background in government contracting (state & federal) and experience forming administrative policy (North Carolina Administrative Code). As a procurement attorney, I provide counsel to state cabinet agencies, community colleges, municipal departments and key government stakeholders on regulatory compliance issues and contractual matters related to the acquisition of goods and services. As a career public servant, I won’t bring private interests into this elected public office. I will demonstrate effective leadership and provide greater transparency and accountability for decisions rendered by our city administrators and council members. I will also advocate on behalf of our disenfranchised, mentally ill, and underserved populations by enhancing public program offerings and municipal services to improve the quality of life for all residents.
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?
Yes. With any proposed affordable housing development, we need to ensure access to quality public services, education, healthcare facilities, recreational resources, transportation, and job opportunities. These essential amenities are often overlooked when planning affordable housing developments, especially for low to moderate income households.
Passage of an “affordable” housing bond by referendum is a short-term fix that will ultimately increase the cost of living for our most economically distressed residents over time. The ability to issue more debt is not a sustainable economic nor social model for the city as the financial impact of these projects will be passed down to residents through increased property taxes, higher utility bills, and fees for public services and social programs. Roughly 13.6 percent of local property taxes is allocated towards paying down existing debt. This will only increase with more debt issued over time.
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?
I would only support a reasonable bond measure for the construction or purchase of single-family homes with lease to own options and low-density housing units with significant input from the public as to planning and development.
If elected mayor, I will also focus on the expansion of existing housing programs to enhance the marketability of our communities through homeowner rehabilitation services, first time homebuyer assistance funding, tougher building codes, and increased rental vouchers/subsidies. I will enhance our public service offerings by providing credit counseling programs to residents and propose amendments to our existing budget to redirect taxpayer dollars to pay for these programs. We must reassess the city’s historical spending habits and budget process to achieve our intended social purpose of providing viable pathways to home ownership while bridging the economic gap caused by the existing housing market.
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?
We should amend our zoning regulations to facilitate the development of “gentle” density housing options (i.e. duplexes, townhomes, and cottages) to maximize land use and provide accessible pathways to affordable home ownership within strategically zoned areas of the city. To prevent widespread displacement of long-term residents due to increased property values, causal shifts in socio-economic status, and the disruptive nature of new developments, I would prioritize tax relief programs and encourage extensive community input during the planning, development, and restoration phases of these gentrifying neighborhoods across Raleigh.
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?
Yes. I would like to preserve the existing character of our neighborhoods, prevent overcrowding and congestion of land, and maintain efficient and adequate transportation, water, sewerage, public safety responsiveness, and access to schools & parks within these districts.
8) If you could change anything about the city’s unified development ordinance, what would it be and why?
I would enhance our Natural Resource Protection ordinance due to the environmental impact of new construction and land development projects on the horizon. As a punitive measure, I would increase civil penalties and fines for violations under this ordinance. We must limit unnecessary growth and focus on the preservation of our trees, vegetation, green spaces, and small streams to make Raleigh an eco-friendly environment for generations to come.
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.
Outside of communities and neighborhoods subject to historic restrictive covenants, I believe property owners reserve the right to construct accessory dwelling units and structural appendages to their existing residences with the approval of a quasi-judicial governing body such as Raleigh’s Board of Adjustment.
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?
All downtown development projects should be subject to traffic and congestive pattern studies prior to obtaining city approval. Increased density will only strain our infrastructure and city resources (i.e. public utilities, waste management services, public safety responsiveness, roadways, etc.), thus creating untenable circumstances which may impair the city’s ability to effectively address the health, safety, and welfare needs of our residents over time. We experience this firsthand every day through heavy traffic congestion, increased frequency in first responder reporting, and water/utility main breaks beneath busy streets and roadways. This is a major issue. Looking towards the future, we will need to place greater emphasis on our city’s infrastructure and internal asset management programs to streamline municipal operations and maximize public resource utility in the most densely populated areas of the city.
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?
I’m a proponent of strategic growth with a social purpose. I would propose new zoning regulations to restrict building height, capacity, while increasing development and permit fees on all new construction concentrated within the city’s corporate limits. Location is key to any new development. However, we must consider the long-term impact on our municipal operations and city services due to accelerated growth (i.e. public utilities, waste management, etc.) extended to these developments.
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?
No. While the city is charged with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its residents, I believe the current regulations (i.e. taxes, fees, designated infrastructure costs, quantity and use limits) imposed on these alternative transportation options are unduly restrictive. I would re-evaluate the operational fees/expenses levied upon these industries as compared to other municipalities similar in geographic size and population to make an equitable rate adjustment and rely upon data available to conduct a risk assessment on rider safety and related health concerns stemming from accidents reported quarterly. This data would be utilized to determine our next steps in regulating these industries moving forward.
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?
Our City Council is tasked with advancing legislation to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents. Surely, the city would like to preserve its revenue stream through hospitality taxes funneled from hotels and public rest accommodations. However, I am opposed to any regulation that is unduly restrictive in terms of the private use of one’s property for a lawful purpose. As mayor, I will reexamine the scope and intent of this ordinance to preserve the rights of property owners as consistent with state landlord-tenant and equitable housing laws.
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?
Yes, but we can always improve this system to increase resident interaction and input via interactive chat, live web feeds, and televised access with call-in options. We should encourage public participation throughout the city’s decision-making process by soliciting input from community boards, appointed commissions, and residents during town hall meetings and CACs. These public platforms generate thought provoking discussions on issues that directly impact residents at the local level. This feedback is extremely valuable to our social progress.
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?
No, I do not support the proposed RDU quarry lease. Yes, I believe the city should intervene as a plaintiff in this matter to take an affirmative stance on the preservation of our open spaces and precious natural resources. We must lead by example as good stewards of the earth.
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?
Yes, I agree with this assessment. However, true leaders must be steadfast and patient when faced with adversity. In the famous quote by Vince Lombardi, “leaders are made, not born.” A true leader must set the tone for this council by demonstrating wit and sound judgment. Managing different personalities is a true form of art which requires charisma, trustworthiness, and an iron fist at times. I am an effective negotiator and will lead by example to fulfill my public duty to the residents of Raleigh. If elected mayor, I will certainly emphasize this same tenet of thought to the council.
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?
Yes. I would support a community police oversight board comprised of community stakeholders and prior law enforcement to maintain accountability and transparency throughout RPD operations. We need community engagement to ensure our public safety needs are being fulfilled along with effective public safety education programs. We should also prioritize criminal justice reform through comprehensive officer trainings and instruction on proper police procedures along with mandatory revisions to internal departmental policies to achieve uniformity throughout the administration of justice. However, I would not advocate for broad subpoena powers to produce police personnel records as this exceeds civilian authority in contravention to state law.
18) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
I am running for mayor to ensure our city’s long-term economic success, cut wasteful taxpayer spending, and to improve the quality of life for all by reinvesting in our residents through effective public program offerings and strategic social policies. I will also provide growth opportunities for small, minority, veteran, and women owned businesses by prioritizing the purchase of local goods and services to bolster our city’s economy. I was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina and maintain a vested interest in our city’s progressive growth and residents spanning all walks of life. The city of Raleigh is a complex government organization. I am confident that my years of government experience and dedicated career as a procurement attorney have uniquely qualified me to excel in this elected capacity. As a final thought, I will never bring private interests into this elected public office. I am a public servant and will always uphold the public’s trust with dignity, character, and honor.