Name as it appears on the ballot: Nate Baker

Age: 34

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Urban Planner, Quantum Consultants

Years lived in Durham: Approx. 28

1) Please identify the three most pressing issues you believe Durham faces and how you believe the city should address them.

The need for safer and healthier streets and neighborhoods

Durham residents cannot thrive when their lives are at risk every day. The two biggest killers of young people in Durham are gun violence and traffic accidents.

  • Gun violence – Underlying our violent crime problems are federal and state governments choosing not to invest in housing, education, and fundamental social needs; a powerful gun lobby that sinks meaningful gun control legislation; and a staggeringly unjust criminal justice system. Half of the world’s prisoners are in the U.S., an astonishing reality. The justice system overwhelmingly punishes people of color and the poor and tears apart neighborhoods. While the white incarceration rate in the U.S. is 600 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world, the rate of incarceration for Black people is five times higher. 

I support evidence-based methods to make communities safer, including implementation of alternative public safety approaches. I support the creation and growth of the community safety department, and their work analyzing jail conditions and re-entry processes, conducting roundtables on key topics like School Resource Officers and violence interruption, and diversion of people suffering from mental illness out of the criminal justice system. I believe our law enforcement needs should prioritize solving violent crimes. We need to continue to push evidence-based solutions, like gun-buyback programs. We need to be creative, but also ensure we are using resources wisely. I also support comprehensive long-term approaches to crime reduction, like investments in parks and recreation, youth programs, mentorships, and internships, affordable housing, jobs, gang intervention, and progressive criminal justice reforms. As the police department is a significant proportion of the city budget, maintaining dialogue and ensuring accountability with the police department and community members is a core part of City Council’s job.

  • Traffic accidents – We also have far too many young people getting injured and killed from traffic accidents at a rate of over double those of peer cities in some other parts of the United States and three or four times the rate of peer cities in other parts of the world. Our auto-dependent built pattern – including the way we arrange private development as well as the public infrastructure, streets, and public spaces – is directly resulting in deaths and injuries, that affect all races, ages, and abilities, but disproportionately affect Black, Latino, and low-wealth residents. We have many options and powers for addressing this important issue, from development standards to the standards that design our streets. On Council, I will work swiftly to put in place changes now that can improve traffic safety in the coming years.

Creating a new model to our current unsustainable and exclusionary growth

With people and capital flowing into our city, Durham is growing in land and building area, resulting in new development. But our growth is overwhelmingly benefiting wealthy investors and the professional-managerial class, instead of – and often to the detriment of – residents at the lower end and middle of the wealth spectrum, or who are on fixed income. Within existing neighborhoods, many residents are being displaced. Yet, we continue to have underinvested neighborhoods that lack adequate services and food deserts. On the city’s periphery, our own city policies and practices are creating short and long-term environmental and climate crises. We have grown in land area by 10 percent in just the past five years and done so in the most irresponsible and unsustainable way possible: endless car-centric sprawl, with no non-auto transportation options, unserviceable by transit. We need new systems of planning and development as well as new rules that define how we develop in more equitable and sustainable ways.

Here are some opportunities we have in Durham:

  • Simplify and clarify the discretionary and development review processes in exchange for greener and more equitable development standards
  • Apply zoning and small area plans that allow greater community-based discretionary review in a collaborative fashion with future developers
  • Establish a division for community-driven neighborhood, corridor, and area planning, a division that exists in most mid-sized cities undergoing substantial growth
  • Work with residents to consider threading small scale jobs and services into neighborhoods that want them
    • Maintain and update a fact-based community profile, with key land use, planning, and trends
  • Realistically expand the number of transportation options available to households and reduce vehicle miles travelled
  • Establish a growth management division and annexation policies that guide growth, protect open space, and prohibit leapfrog annexations; track and monitor growth and adjust policy
    • Develop guidance for connected countywide green infrastructure
  • Ensure all new infill development and greenfield development is built using transit- and pedestrian-oriented growth and design principles
    • Establish a green building policy to achieve our carbon neutral goals by 2045
  • Incorporate jobs, services, affordable housing, transit, civic space, multimodal infrastructure, natural space, and housing variety into new neighborhoods

Giving power to worker and tenant families

Across the U.S., cities have been shaped by policies and practices that segregate, divide, and exclude people by race and wealth. W.E.B. DuBois’s extensive writing on the Civil War Reconstruction era still reflects many of the conditions and dynamics of contemporary race and class issues. Systemic racism in American cities is so deeply embedded in our regulations and institutions – and in our psyches – that the racism in city-making along with the forces that sustain it, often seem neutral. By unmasking the true nature of how race and exclusion function within what often appear to be neutral policies and practices, we can continue the hard work of dismantling unjust trends and empowering communities, even under federal and state restraints.

While progress has been made on some issues, the reality is that we are far from the just society that we need, and have even regressed in important areas. Nearly every socio-economic metric reflects past and present systemic racism from school and neighborhood segregation: pedestrian and gun casualties, public health outcomes, discrimination in housing and lending practices, credit scores, criminal justice, wealth and income, and much more. As the wealth gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially since the 1980s, the racial wealth gap is even greater today than it was in 1983.

Many of these trends cannot be solved through local government alone, and Durham is must use its limited power and resources to ameliorate some of these disparities. But there is much more to be done. We can work toward rectifying some of the negative actions that have taken place in Durham historically, change regulations, and intervene against market forces that negatively impact low wealth, black, and Hispanic communities. We must continue to have real dialogues and reflect about past and present wrongs, while using systematic evidence-based approaches to fight exploitation and improve the lives of historically marginalized people.

2) 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 been a member of Durham’s Planning Commission since 2018. Although the Planning Commission’s votes are not binding on City Council, and the voting majority on Council has made disappointing land use decisions during my tenure, our body has had a chance to highlight what good development looks like. We have been able to successfully push for changes to our ordinance, such as doubling the amount of sidewalk in new development at no cost to the taxpayer in new developments, street trees on all new streets, and have served as a forum to support resident engagement in the City’s growth. All of this work has required careful deliberation, relationship-building, and collaboration.

In my role as both a member of the Commission, and as a concerned resident, I have fought for more inclusive, environmentally sustainable development, that preserves existing affordable housing and pushes for more affordable units in developments that are approved by our Commission and by City Council. Communities frequently reach out to me for help with planning, zoning, and development related issues and I make myself available to inform and assist them, and sometimes play a larger role, as I have played in Walltown and Bragtown.

I formed a committee on the Planning Commission and for the first time in the Commission’s history, we drafted and proposed our own regulatory changes, amendments to the UDO to ensure that corporate homebuilders are held to a higher standard for street connectivity in new developments. The amendments and accompanying resolution were unanimously adopted by my colleagues on the Planning Commission and subsequently unanimously recommended for approval. Just a few months ago, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt the amendments. I am able to work across diverse and even fractured groups to get things done.

As a professional planner, I work closely with a politically diverse array of communities, city departments, and City Councils across North Carolina and the east coast to develop urban plans, policies, and regulations. While these processes last between one and three years and are at times bold and propose changes, most of the plans and codes that I have led or worked on have been unanimously adopted due to my ability to build trust and work in a collaborative spirit with people, even those who hold disagreements.

3) What’s the best or most important thing the city council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the city should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.

The best thing the city has done in the past year is to expand, support, and refine the HEART program, which has demonstrated its benefits. 

The City Council has handled the pay of city workers poorly. The challenges we currently face around city worker pay were months and years in the making, and relate in many ways to our housing policies in addition to our wage and benefits packages.

4) The city has seen an uptick in shootings since last year, including recent tragic homicides that claimed the lives of children. Gun violence is obviously a multifaceted problem with no simple solution at the local level. But, in your view, what can or should the city be doing to stem the tide of violence that it isn’t doing now?

Gun violence is tragic and requires both short-term (like gun buyback and prioritizing resources for solving violent crime) and long-term solutions that address the root causes of violence. Much of the gun violence in Durham is geographically concentrated. We know of many of the streets and neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment and have been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our city needs to invest resources into these neighborhoods not just through its existing public programs, such as the YouthWorks program as well as funding establishing more community and recreation centers for these disinvested neighborhoods. More outreach needs to be done in these marginalized neighborhoods to notify families of these opportunities. 

I would also want our city to expand funding to the Durham Parks and Recreation department to build more community centers in underserved communities that provide our youth with education, sports, recreation, and other community opportunities after school and during the summer. I also would like to expand funding for apprenticeship programs. This would help provide more economic and educational opportunities to gain the wealth and opportunity.

5) What can or should the city be doing to support people who are not in control of their own housing (including renters, the unhoused, and those whose homes are owned by banks) as costs of living skyrocket?

Housing instability is a terrible feeling, yet it is a common life experience for renters and homeowners, and an issue which I believe needs to be urgently addressed. Relatedly, I am deeply concerned about the displacement and devastation of community support systems and networks that have resulted from the diaspora created by gentrification.   

The communities experiencing the greatest impacts of housing instability have the greatest understanding of what they need. In my view, the most important step we can take is to support, elevate, and empower the work of local communities. I have witnessed and supported the organizing and leadership of community activists, like Brandon Williams in Walltown, Constance Wright and Vanessa Mason-Evans in Bragtown, and others. I would like to elevate their voices, and augment their efforts by supporting reformist planning ideas, such as small area planning and proactive rezonings, so that local communities within Durham can be heard and can be given the power and resources to chart the course for their own communities. 

In addition to empowering local communities and enacting changes in our urban planning practices and some of the other ideas for increasing housing affordability and supply discussed in other sections, I would like to see Durham enact a set of policies that remove incentives to tear down good quality naturally-occurring affordable housing to be replaced with higher end luxury housing (for example, the parcel with the 16 unit apartment building on Geer and Gurley anticipated to be demolished and replaced with 7 luxury townhomes), a much larger investment in grants to support the retention of long-term residents, and creative zoning that would discourage the conversion of affordable rental units to new, upscale housing. 

As a Councilmember, I will work to help create and support a strong local tenant union to fight back against exploitation. I would reconvene the subcommittee, which was established but never met, to refine and implement the Tenants’ Bill of Rights in Durham. There are great ideas there that need refinements and legal teeth. Our city needs to more aggressively and creatively use carrots and sticks, particularly around our unique emergency repair powers that the city can use to bring poorly maintained properties up to code and feed units into voluntarily-adopted rent control, with monitoring by the city. Combined with creative use of zoning powers that uses standards and density and dimensional standards to remove financial incentives to tear down NOAHs, or alternatively increase the number of units on sites, while preserving the existing number of affordable units in perpetuity, we can make creative use of our powers to maintain and expand safe, accessible, affordable housing for the benefit of tenants, not just rich landlords.

Finally, I would like to see more loans and grants to low- and moderate-income residents to enable them to stay in their existing homes and to be able to complete important maintenance projects, like roof repairs. I would like to incentivize the sale of properties to the Durham Community Land Trust to keep units permanently affordable while also growing equity and autonomy.

6) Describe your vision for sustainable growth and development in Durham, including your view of how Expanding Housing Choices has impacted Durham’s communities and built environment since the policy’s passage in 2019; your thoughts on SCAD and the extent to which developers should be involved in shaping the city’s zoning codes; and an example of a municipality you believe has made smart decisions related to growth and development that could be similarly implemented in Durham.

Vision for sustainable growth and development:

The battle over sustainability will be lost or won by how we manage our growth. My vision for sustainable growth requires a drastic departure from the status quo, which approves over one thousand acres of unsustainable, car-centric sprawl each year. Instead, we should plan intentionally for the places we should develop and the places we want to permanently protect. Where we develop, new growth should be 100% transit, bicycle, and pedestrian-oriented; instead of the current City Council policy of requiring no public parks, requiring exclusionary HOAs, and only requiring dedication rather than construction of greenways, all new growth should include public parks, playgrounds, greenways and all new housing within a quarter mile walk to public green space, an integrated variety of housing types, corner shops, live-work units, bicycle infrastructure, sustainable building practices, civic uses, and small-scale employment, all built around transit stops that enhance transit service.

Expanding Housing Choices

EHC was a lot of labor for little payoff where costs often outweighed the benefits. Some of the outcomes of EHC were good (such as facilitating infill development on empty or grayfield lots) while many were bad (like incentivizing teardowns of affordable units and the people who live in those units and replacing them with expensive units and the people that live in them). Some of the worst outcomes of EHC are the many opportunities missed. Below are some key issues with EHC:

  • Suburban Tier. Housing choice is about neighborhood choice and currently the supply of walkable and diverse neighborhoods is scarce, increasingly out of reach to residents’ demand. As we grow out, we only build exclusionary homogenous developments. The former suburban tier represents Durham’s greatest opportunity to achieve multiple key planning objectives, including providing a variety of housing types in a sustainable and complete community design that uses land in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner. Requiring mixed use, walkable, mixed housing development in greenfield areas should be a priority and would be much easier to accomplish than what EHC was trying to do. So fixing zoning in the suburban tier should have been and continues to be a key opportunity and low-hanging fruit for Durham.
  • Explicit Goals. From the beginning there should have been explicit goals for the EHC. There was always confusion about what EHC actually aimed to achieve because the goals were never made clear. Many residents believed it to be an affordable housing plan or plan to mitigate gentrification but it was neither of those things. 
  • Tailored Approach. Each neighborhood is unique, and each holds a different potential for offering housing choices. Through neighborhood planning, opportunities could be identified that could have the double effect of both protecting the things people love and achieving actually impactful density increases and housing variety. Neighborhood planning could identify opportunities for well-designed quadraplexes, apartments, and live-work units that create activity on the street and provide neighborhood-scale services. This approach should be taken seriously like it is in other municipalities, and it would require a commitment to developing a small division within the planning department for 3-4 full-time neighborhood/small area planners under the long-range division. This should not be confused with Neighborhood Protection Overlays. 
  • Diverse and Representative Steering Committee. Planning processes like this need to include steering committees made up of respected individuals and local leaders that represent a diversity of interests, expertise, and socio-economic backgrounds and provide meaningful direction throughout the process. They don’t bog down the process – in fact, they help speed up the process through trust building. Steering committees inform big processes and relay information to the community.
  • True Public Engagement. Neighborhoods should not only have been able to answer online polling questions, but should have had a strong say in their future. That means ensuring a linear planning process where residents are the generators of ideas and help prioritize potential strategies. This would not only result in a more trusting public, but would help push major initiatives forward by building support and establishing a sense of ownership. In a good planning process, the last public hearing is a boring public hearing.
  • Permanent Subsidized Housing. Permanent subsidized housing – especially for 60 or 80% ami or below – should be a part of any initiative to significantly increase densities in existing neighborhoods. This means the City, the community land trust, and affordable housing partners should acquire lots and dilapidated houses before upzonings and land costs rise. Gentrification occurs from private market forces more aggressively when we don’t have a more thought-out approach to building and preserving affordable housing.
  • Capital Investments. Increases in density should be coupled with capital investments (or at least a commitment to and method for capturing capital investments), particularly for sidewalks, LID stormwater infrastructure, bike lanes, street trees (between the sidewalk and curb), playground, and bus stops/shelters.
  • Study of Consolidated Land Ownership. Increasing density automatically increases land values, thus enriching those who own land in areas undergoing the allowance of greater densities. Before any such amendments are reviewed and adopted, we should really know who owns land in those areas. Increasingly, large corporations have acquired land, creating monopolistic effects on the cost of housing. We need to study these kind of impacts where we can (With GIS, it does not take long to do this kind of thing).
  • Loan programs. The City should couple regulatory changes like EHC with loan programs that help average residents make improvements on their property, such as building or redeveloping an ADU which is otherwise extremely difficult to finance. 
  • Design, missing middle prototypes, and special use permits. Design standards are a critical component of infill development. While the design of sfh and duplexes cannot be regulated in most cases in the state of North Carolina, there are still ways of regulating design. First, design (of single family homes and duplexes) can be a regulatory component when the requirement is accepted voluntarily. This can be accomplished through a special use permit. This is one option. There is also a potential opportunity to create a new permitting process specifically for missing middle that could be approved at the staff level, but functions like a special use permit whereby design standards would be required. These types of solutions comply with state law. Second, a sophisticated opportunity to ensure missing middle housing is compatible with existing neighborhoods and ensure that neighborhoods have a say in the way their neighborhood looks and feels is to create 7-8 beautiful missing middle prototype designs. Each neighborhood could select any or all of the prototypes to allow by-right. Key design elements would include front porches, balconies, and garages in the rear. Lastly, we should consider the fact that regulations of higher density residential buildings and commercial buildings can include design regulations, and this should be explicit in conversations with neighborhoods as an incentive for achieving higher densities.

SCAD + Extent to which developers should shape zoning

Durham’s zoning regulations are broken and have been for years. The UDO standards result in exclusionary built environment that perpetuates a reliance on cars, allowing almost no other transportation choices and making transit a slow and burdensome mode. It creates vast swaths of corporate built single-family sprawl only accessible by car, with nothing to walk to—not parks, jobs, child care, or grocery stores. Durham’s planning and development system also currently disempowers low-wealth and working class people and puts them at a disadvantage; the reality of this process, paired with rampant neoliberalism, has led to the most aggressive level of displacement of Durham residents since urban renewal. Poorer residents living in smaller houses are being replaced with wealthier residents living in larger houses, where the dimensional standards incentivize tearing down more affordable naturally occurring affordable housing and maxing out the lot dimensional standards. When it comes to zoning regulations, the devil is in the details. The wording of the regulations matters and has long term consequences which over time leads to huge fiscal efficiencies or inefficiencies—who writes the regulations has dramatic impacts over the details, and for what groups it works. 

Durham Planning Commissioners have long identified the broken nature of our regulations. Commissioners have begged for zoning reform for years, including very specific amendments. Commissioners identified real problems and proposed real solutions. Commissioners have repeatedly asked for specific zoning amendments. The Commission even dedicated a committee to zoning reform, and took unprecedented actions, with little to no resources. Folks have asked for action on pedestrian-oriented design standards, sustainability standards, analyses and aggressive updates to the affordable housing density bonus, creation of new zoning districts for better tools to address walkability in the suburban tier, updates to street cross-sections, parking standard updates, and public park dedication standards. Commissioners even asked for more resources for the planning department and sought opportunities to streamline development review procedures. 

The SCAD content itself is an expansive wish list with some good and benign amendments, but paired with a few bad poison pills.

Cities should write their own regulations, with consultation from a variety of stakeholders. Developers should not write development regulations. The real estate industry should be a participant in the amendment process. They are one of several key stakeholders, among tenants and climate advocates, and others. And that is one reason why about a quarter of these proposed amendments are decent, some are even good. I also don’t blame the applicant for using their power and influence to propose changes to the UDO. My frustrations with lack of action on our zoning regulations are extensive and have been for years. If they have the means, the political connections, the resources to pay for staffmembers to shepherd this through, pay the $3,000 fee, and there’s a formal process embedded in Durham’s UDO for them to do it, it makes complete sense they would take the initiative. The broken system compels it.

But private amendment applications are not real estate deals and shouldn’t be treated as such. These are public regulations governing vast swaths of land across over 100 square miles of our city. We don’t have to compromise at the expense of the community good; we get to have the regulations we want. We should be making good, walkable, sustainable, inclusive development easy to build. We should make everything else hard to build. The key is to ensure we are improving our city, getting good outcomes, that developers are dedicating their fair share of public goods; and remove any unnecessary hurdles that might slow that down-without compromising on the outcomes or externalizing costs to the public.

Example municipalities

There are many good examples of planning, development, and growth management from municipalities. I think Davidson’s Rural Area Plan is a model for planning for growth and development in rural areas that both urbanize while protecting valuable spaces. I think Alexandria, Virginia has some excellent small area plans that serve as models for growth, such as the Landmark Mall Small Area Plan, Old Town North Small Area Plan, and Arlandria-Chirilagua Small Area Plan. And municipalities in the State of Oregon, like Portland and Eugene have excellent growth management divisions that carefully track, monitor, and adjust metrics around growth.

6) In August, the city released a report showing lead-contaminated soil in several parks in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods in Durham. What can or should the city be doing to address existing environmental injustices and prevent further environmental racism as Durham expands?

We tend to surprise ourselves with information we’ve had for months, years, or even decades. We need to be proactive in our governance to tackle our city’s biggest challenges. Environmental injustices are omnipresent in our city, from toxins in our parks to food deserts to housing that abuts our busy roads and freeways or heavy industrial sites. We need to use the powerful tool of planning to analyze existing trends and conditions, set a vision for environmental justice, and create implementation steps to achieve our vision.

This also speaks to the importance of parks and greenways being centralized and celebrated spaces, not just leftover spaces. We need to ensure we build communities around parks and recreation, and not leave them as afterthoughts, sewer easements, or brownfield sites that haven’t undergone adequate remediation.

7) What are the city’s most pressing transit needs?

The city operates primarily on a hub and spoke model which is efficient in some ways but requires many passengers to travel indirectly to downtown with transfers to other parts of town, which can be very inconvenient. We need more cross-town routes that take people to where they need to go more directly, particularly those with 15-minute and 30-minute frequencies.

We have some good revenue sources, like the half cent sales tax, vehicle registration fees, vehicle rental tax, and of course the general fund, but are also on the cusp of losing federal revenue that has helped keep transit free. This will require some important communication with the community, but we should seek to keep transit free and should do so by dipping into transit plan money.

We are not meeting our goals for constructing and improving bus stops. We need to understand what the cause is for those delays so that we can address them and provide good bus stops across Durham.

We also have broader issues around transportation generally, that impact transit. Infrastructure projects are incredibly slow to get accomplished in Durham, both because of city processes and because of NCDOT. We see plans for greenways, neighborhood bike routes, and more that take years to get completed. There are internal problems we need city leaders to address, such as interdepartmental communications and retention of high-quality project managers. We also need city councilmembers with enough knowledge, experience, and drive to push against and call out NCDOT more publicly and advocate for better maintenance, repavings and redevelopments. Durham needs to be more proactive and anticipate NCDOT road projects so we get out ahead and address them rather than constantly reacting to them in an unprepared fashion, resulting in bad projects. Part of the problem is that we as a city still do not have design standards for street redevelopment.

We also need land use that supports transit and makes it convenient to take the bus—increasingly and incrementally more convenient than the car.

Finally, we desperately need bus rapid transit (BRT) and need leaders who will work aggressively to move that forward. BRT is quicker than rail to construct and has access to more federal funds (can receive 70-80% of project value vs 50% with lightrail). Right now, the MPO is leading a study on BRT but we need city leaders to champion it and move it forward.

I recently spoke with a transportation advocate in Durham who said: “What are our big transportation wins? We don’t really have any. We’ve lost faith in a vision and the ability to get things done.” Elected officials need to come in with a vision; and work with advocacy communities to apply pressure, and fix barriers to getting things done.

8) What can or should the city be doing to uplift low-wage workers? To uplift small businesses?

Economic inequality is one of the greatest challenges of our time, in large part due to corporate driven labor exploitation and the skimming off the top of both worker wages and consumer transactions in order to maximize investor profits. That is why I believe it is so important to creatively support locally rooted economic engines. In addition to supporting our local businesses, we should pursue evidence-based economic development models that benefit wage-earners, such as worker-ownership, working to turn Durham into a union town, and providing free skills training either through public institutions or local companies. The Cleveland and Preston Models, and PODER-EMA in Buncombe County, serve as success stories for equitable ways to stimulate local economies. The city should lead by paying all of its workers living wages with high quality benefits that compete or out-compete not just other Triangle municipalities but also the private sector.

Small local businesses have deep roots in their communities. They have shown their commitment to a better Durham and have frequently stepped up to deliver much needed supplies and services in the face of community crises. The connections fostered by locally owned businesses increase their accountability to local residents, employees, and consumers. They are the economic backbone of Durham and cities across America. Incubation, retention, and support of Durham’s small businesses are critical local government policies. Good governance in frequent-interfacing areas such as permitting and inspections processes is also key to supporting our local businesses. 

We need workforce housing in Durham, which is most efficiently provided by private developers. The city has for years failed to ensure adequate amounts of workforce housing in new developments and needs to set an expectation of some income-restricted units in every new development.

9) How do you currently, or how do you plan to, engage with constituents across all of Durham’s demographics? Building on that response, how do you currently, or how do you plan to, weigh differing insights from constituents, fellow council members, city staff, and advisory committees when coming to a decision on a vote?

Decision-making requires accessing information from a diversity of sources. For me, there is no more important source than stakeholders who are potentially most impacted by decisions. Ideally, the most impactful decisions will be made over time, and communities not only have a chance to weigh in early, but are actively part of the vision and decision-making process wherever possible.

I am currently in the process of identifying a diverse array of community members (including people who disagree with one another) who would serve on a cabinet that I would meet with regularly, ideally quarterly and as needed. We have some unnecessary political divisions in Durham, and I will seek to work across those divisions.

Durham also has many active boards and commissions, made up of residents with interest and expertise in specific topic areas. I think it is important to ensure those boards are representative of Durham’s diverse population and that boards recognize the value they bring to the community.

City and County staff are very important sources of information and analysis, and the staff reports and recommendations they provide are always valuable in the decision-making process.

One very important ingredient to a healthy democracy is a thriving independent press. Local news also provides an information source that I would seek out in the decision-making process. Local journalism is key to holding leaders accountable and making informed decisions. The decline of local journalism is a problem and I think it is worth analyzing and considering innovative ways of providing support.

Finally, I would seek out information the way that I do in my day job, where I look to universities and professional organizations and their journals and magazines. I often read articles in Governing Magazine, American Planning Association magazine, the Institute for Local Self Reliance, National Association of City and Transportation Officials, the UNC School of Government blog, and others. I am also frequently on the phone with other local governments directly to learn about and understand their experiences.

10) How should Durham’s city council address first responder vacancies? 

One of the first ways to address vacancies is to address the pay gap/discrepancy that our first responders are experiencing in comparison with smaller nearby cities. We need to pay our first responders a competitive wage that will retain the workers that we have. We need to provide excellent benefits, which need to include things like mental health services and child care, given the unique nature and hours of first responder shifts.

We also need to be attentive to the needs of our current first responders. Many have expressed that our city is expanding outwardly without having adequate coverage for new residents moving into new developments. Part of that problem is that we are not ensuring developers provide their fair share of public goods, therefore stretching our public dollars thin.

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