Name as it appears on the ballot: Mike Woodard
Party affiliation: Democratic
Campaign website: mikewoodard.com
Occupation & employer: State Senator
Years lived in Durham: 41
1) Please identify the three most pressing issues you believe Durham faces and how you believe the city should address them.
- Maintaining Durham’s relatively strong economy and spreading its opportunity to all parts of the community
- Continuing to recruit a wide variety of businesses to move to or open in Durham
- Supporting job readiness programs for residents
- Providing assistance for current businesses
- Maintaining and improving City services, especially in light of staffing challenges
- Implementing an equity compensation plan for City employees
- Supporting departmental recruitment efforts, especially in hiring underrepresented populations
- Working with the administration to provide safe, encouraging, and equitable work environments
- Developing affordable housing and workforce housing options for Durham residents
- Using all the tools the City has available to provide a full range of options for housing
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 am proud of the work I did in leading collaborative efforts to solve various issues and propose new ordinances or legislation. A few examples include:
- Environmental Enhancements to the UDO—I chaired a year-long effort by a 14-member task force that proposed eight changes to the UDO that improved environmental requirements and are still in use today. The task force included representatives of environmental groups, neighborhoods, the development industry, and political action groups.
- Redesign of Chapel Hill Road and Alston Avenue—I convened working groups that included neighbors and businesses, City Transportation ad NCDOT staff members, the district police captains, and various non-profits to redesign Chapel Hill Road and make changes to the proposed design of Alston Avenue to make them safer and protect businesses while continuing to meet capacity goals.
- “Energy Huddle” to rework H951—After the House passed an omnibus energy bill in 2021, I convened a bi-partisan working group that rewrote the bill to become a model law that will move to 70 percent carbon reduction by 2030 and to carbon neutrality by 2050.
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 most important initiative the City Council has undertaken recently is the establishment and expansion of the HEART program and other wrap-around to aid community safety. The HEART crisis response units connect residents in crisis with the correct care they need in a non-threatening, responsive manner that will not escalate into potentially violent, and even tragic, consequences.
The Council moved too aggressively in forwarding the SCAD proposal. While SCAD has been discussed in many public meetings, there was much public concern expressed right up to the public hearing. And the process of receiving and channeling public input was too wieldy. The SCAD proposal was also being considered in total before approval of the Comprehensive Plan, an example of putting the cart before the horse.
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?
As the new Council prepares its budget next spring, I would prioritize these items:
- Expansion of the HEART program
- Initial implementation of the civilian crash investigators unit
- Enhanced, equitable pay for police department personnel
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?
Market forces are driving housing supply. However, the City can work in a broad-based coalition to provide more affordable options. I’ve worked actively to remove barriers that have limited those options, like accessory dwelling units, density, and workforce housing.
We should focus on workforce housing for working residents such as firefighters, law enforcement, teachers, other government employees, and other middle-income families.
I will work with my Council colleagues, City departments, non-profit agencies, and the private sector to continue developing ways to protect Durham from gentrification that drives people from their homes. One strategy is helping current residents repair and renovate their homes so they can stay in place and maintain value, especially our senior and our long-time residents. Another strategy should be to continue increasing density in our urban neighborhoods so potential homeowners will be closer to services and amenities they desire.
Because inclusionary zoning is not allowed under North Carolina law, local governments have limited tools in including affordable/workforce housing in the zoning process. However, the Council has done a good job requesting support for affordable housing from developers. I would work to continue these requests.
This year there was an effort in the General Assembly to develop a statute to offer local governments the ability to create workforce housing more easily. The proposal had flaws and I worked hard to stop it without more work. I convened a working group to develop a better proposal, and I hope to continue working with that group after I leave the Senate. This idea has promise.
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?
The first step is admitting that we have environmental injustices that need addressing. Next, we should establish a plan for ongoing work, not just an ad hoc effort. I would like to have the City’s Environmental Affairs Board adopt this as a priority for its work, along with committing permanent staff resources.
The City should have a clear plan of assessing all former incinerator sites and begin assessing the data. This will be a big task, so we should prioritize places where children and seniors are likely to gather like parks and open spaces.
As we gather the data and prepare the assessment, we should have full communication and engagement with the affected communities. The communication should include maps of the sites and test results.
If a contaminated site is found, neighbors should be offered free testing for exposure.
I would like to investigate a brownfields revitalization program and policies that remove barriers to neighborhoods setting aside space for urban gardens and farms.
7) What are the city’s most pressing transit needs?
The most pressing transit need is the development of a bus rapid transit (BRT) plan. Raleigh and Chapel Hill have presented their plans, while Durham’s is still being developed. With the federal DOT’s decision last spring to forego funding commuter rail and encouragement of BRT, the City must speed up its work on BRT to provide service to in-town commuters and to provide connections to the Triangle region.
8) What can or should the city be doing to uplift low-wage workers? To uplift small businesses?
While the national and state economies are rebounding, and Durham is near full employment, disparities still exist in our economy. A strong labor market alone is not enough to close the gaps we’re experiencing.
To ensure job stability, workers must first be stable in their personal lives. The City must continue its work on maintaining reasonable housing costs and work with partners to ensure child care is available.
The City must also assist with training and job readiness programs, particularly in the new economies (high tech, life sciences, medicine) and especially for young people of color. One program I have been impressed with is Made in Durham. As a community, we should begin to scale up this and other programs.
In attracting new businesses, leaders should concentrate on finding good-paying jobs that offer training and professional opportunities.
Supporting local small businesses begins with City leaders—as well as those in financial institutions, philanthropy, and corporations—collaborating towards a set of goals that address systemic barriers and offer opportunities.
In all it contracting and procurement, the City must continue policies that encourage small businesses, especially those that are historically-underutilized.
In addition to current programs offered in Durham, I have learned about programs in other cities that interest me and may have some things to offer us. One in Seattle in called the Equitable Development Initiative and the other is managed by the City of Dallas’ economic development office. Both work with other government agencies and private partners to assist small businesses, HUBs, and new entrepreneurs with capacity building, property acquisitions, and capital expenses. I am eager to learn about other programs and find practices that may be applicable to Durham.
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?
During my 18 years of elected service, I have maintained an “open door” policy for all residents I’ve represented. I would continue that practice as Mayor.
I have also been actively engaged in the community by attending events, holding town halls, visiting neighborhoods and places of worship, and frequenting businesses. I would continue those as well while serving as Mayor.
10) How should Durham’s city council address first responder vacancies?
The Council should carefully analyze the proposed pay plan when it is introduced next winter and consider how to implement it.
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