Kenneth A. Presting
Website: Facebook: Ken Presting for Cary
Occupation: Consulting Engineer, software development
Phone Number: 919-271-1191
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Years Lived in Cary: 18
1) Please identify the three most pressing issues the town faces and how you will address them.
The pressure for development has long been the driving force in Cary politics. In the South Cary area, Council District C, there have been some conspicuous developments that were less than fully successful – Waverly Place, South Hills Mall, and MacGregor Village. Waverly has been updated and is now a spectacular contribution to Cary life with its balance of free public space and commercial opportunities. Whether the others can follow suit is an open question.
The commute from Cary to RTP is an ongoing headache that is out of the headlines only because it is so familiar. Widening of Hwy 54 is of course indispensable but in the meantime public transit could make a difference if it is recognized as safe, convenient, and reliable. This should include transportation alternatives at the employment centers such as Zipcars and bike-sharing rental racks. I advocate fare-free public transit.
Another generally accepted fact of suburban life which is problematic from my own point of view is the dependence on large parking lots for every commercial space. This creates a familiar set of issues (drainage, heat, etc.), but at this point in Cary’s development it’s not just ugly, it’s a waste of space. Recent downtown plans call for a new parking deck, and some Council members have objected to a site choice that makes the deck visible from otherwise attractive areas. The solution of underground parking is obviously more capital-intensive, but we should all agree that Cary is worth it.
2) Earlier this year, the town council unanimously passed the Cary Community Plan, which is designed (among other things) to create denser housing and bring more people downtown. Already there’s been at least one case, on Urban Drive, where residents protested new townhomes. If elected, how would you go about addressing conflicts related to urbanization and growth in what has historically been a suburban community?
Let me qualify the perception that Cary is “historically” suburban. I myself can remember horse pastures on High House and Kildaire Farm Road. The rural heritage of Cary is insufficiently appreciated. When it comes to land use issues, I’m most interested in preserving the last vestiges of open space – which are historically farmland – for recreational use by future generations.
That said, there are always concrete reasons to preserve the original intent of any residential development, and the expectation of the homeowners who invested there. Here is a point where arguments from Libertarian thinking are relevant. Anyone who holds private property is entitled to the peaceful use of their investment. Zoning laws of any kind interfere with that principle. At the same time, certain uses of private property will diminish the value of the surrounding neighborhood, which could be an unfairly externalized cost. Since these are both issues of investments and costs, one might hope for a market-based solution. Let the disputing parties negotiate over a payment.
The primary role I see for government in these issues is to serve as a pre-existing residents’ association that can engage in collective bargaining with the financially stronger developer organizations. The neighbors have a legitimate financial interest in local land use, but so do future generations. Future generations are represented by the Town plans – and good plans are part of the present value of local real estate.
3) As the town grows, affordable housing will become more and more of an issue. How do you believe the town should address affordability?
Housing prices can be kept down only if supply meets demand. Rent control and subsidized housing have been tried in many places and the negative consequences are well known. For me, the concept of “sustainable development” includes successful business models.
My own contribution to this discussion is to emphasize the concept of “total cost of residence” which looks not only at the cost of a house or condo, or at rents, but also at the time spent commuting, or the need for a second vehicle, or the cost of local services. Free public spaces are part of this calculation. So for me a walkable mixed-use development with a grocery as well as an urgent care, with a bus stop and a bike rental rack is a contribution to affordability even if the rents are not subsidized. The basic concept of working where we live has been a foundation of Cary town planning from the earliest days, and it’s still the essential element of sustainable development.
I’ll add that the other side of affordable housing is richer residents. Raising the minimum wage has been a municipal action in many areas and there is concrete evidence that employment is not lost. It’s true that when the minimum wage goes up, employer’s payroll costs go up. But it’s not only those employees’ wages that go up. All the other local employees, who are customers to all the other local business, have increased income also. Raising the local minimum wage means more money in the pockets of everyone’s customers. Minimum wage employees spend a greater proportion of their income on local goods and services, especially rent. So when a larger portion of the community’s cash flow is going through the bank accounts of low-wage workers, more money is spent within the town and everything is more affordable, to more of us.
NC municipalities might not now have the power to raise wages, but we can participate in the national discussion, lobby the NCGA, form alliances with commercial interests that recognize the advantages, and look for other incentives. Considering wages in awarding town contracts is a familiar tactic.
4) What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the town council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?
The engineers on the Cary Town Council have distinguished themselves, and I’d be proud to simply add myself to the Lori Bush/Ed Yerha faction of the Council. I think it’s natural and predictable that anyone with an education and a career in engineering will be able to handle details, understand complex problems, work with other people, and find practical solutions to real human problems. It’s what we do all day. I found this background helpful in all the volunteer work I have done – the PTA, the Boy Scouts, coaching a soccer team, and working in politics.
My own unique contribution is that I also have a background in philosophy, which helps me understand points of view that are not so common. I am now a secular person, but I was raised as a Lutheran. I have read both the Bible and the Mahabharata. Most Americans don’t know that words like “alkaline” and “algebra” come from Arabic, and that European science has those ideas because Islamic scholars invented them. I am somebody who doesn’t just advocate diversity; it’s the foundation of my everyday thinking.
5) Please give an example of an action by the town council in the past year that should have been handled differently. Also, what was the town’s biggest accomplishment during that period?
At the last quasi-judicial meeting in August there were a few examples that caught my attention. While discussing a new development in the western area, there were points where each of Mayor Weinbrecht and Council member Bush raised questions about traffic design. Each admitted that the proposed plans had defects, but in the end the Council heaved a collective sigh and moved on. I find traffic engineering in NC to be generally behind the national standard. I would press developers much harder to reach real solutions, and I would support adding expert staff to Town departments for better traffic design. We shouldn’t have to live with the congested, confusing, and sometimes dangerous points in our street system. Who hasn’t left Crossroads in the wrong lane and found themselves in Raleigh?
The greatest public success of the past year is the new downtown park. It deserves all the praise it’s received. The fountain is destined to become the new iconic symbol of Cary. When I first saw it I was reminded of Respighi’s music, “Fontani di Roma”. It’s an inspiration just to drive past it. It’s already popular with families and I can’t wait to see the future stages of that project.
6) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?
Because I spent some time studying political philosophy in grad school, my personal views don’t always fit into familiar categories. I work for creative solutions to nagging controversies, which means listening to people with other views. Basically I’m a Bernie Sanders democratic socialist. But also, I’m a committed globalist – I believe in free movement of peoples, as well as goods and capital. I supported Obama on the TPP. But that’s because if there were a healthy labor movement worldwide, then global trade would not create problems of exploitation. But of course, our own labor movement in the USA is under attack and exploitation is endemic here as much as elsewhere.
The essential functions of government are safety and justice. Not just safety from crime, but also safe buildings, safe water, and so on. And justice is not only in the courts, it’s also in everyday honest commerce, accurate record keeping, etc. This is the area where I would apply the quote from Thoreau, “That government is best which governs least.” Laws should be simple and predictable.
On the other hand, when it comes to services I believe the public has every right to get into any business enterprise, turn it into a regulated monopoly, and run it at a loss for the general welfare. This makes sense when economies of scale create a favorable cost structure (power, water, parks, roads, schools), or when risks to vulnerable residents make private facilities infeasible. So the Town has a fire department, but we expect everyone to have their own fire insurance.
When it comes to luxury expenditures like sports arenas and amphitheaters, it seems to me inconsistent with free-market capitalism for the public to get into any profit-oriented business. It’s often said, if it were a good investment, wouldn’t it attract private capital? Development and re-development bonds are borderline cases here, and we have seen many long discussions over them.
7) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.
In this category my thinking is “our national and state governments are gripped by insanity, and what can we do in Cary that is positive anyway.”
a. Gun control
Early this year, I had a striking experience when I was locked out of my office one Saturday due to a failing burglar alarm panel. After the Cary PD responded, I was explaining the event to the officer, while a building management representative came to reset the system. Here was the shock – the officer instructed the second person to stay away so that the officer didn’t have to divide his attention between two targets.
What I came to realize is that police officers are today in very real danger from a public they must assume to be armed and dangerous. For me, this has given a new meaning to the slogan “Blue lives matter” and to the larger issue of officer-involved shootings. It is now clear to me that public safety requires a community where only the police carry guns.
It was a municipal ordinance that was overturned by the Supreme Court in DC v Heller. Therefore, Cary as a town cannot ban guns on our own, but we can take action. Congress has prevented the CDC from collecting statistics on gun violence and public health. But the Town can do so with our own funds, and we can share that data with others. Someday the Court will be returned to a sane balance. Meanwhile it is the municipalities that must take the lead to frame arguments and collect evidence.
Cary has no abortion provider at all, and the closest one is just over the line in Raleigh on Jones Franklin Road. But that location is often picketed by protesters with a megaphone. Raleigh even has a volunteer group that will escort patients past such protesters. But of course such measures are themselves evidence of extreme conflict.
I would say that simply as a commercial tenant, this health care provider is not enjoying the peaceful use of their private property. Other cities have enacted buffer laws to protect such facilities. I would begin negotiating with national providers to establish a location in Cary that had the necessary protection. Unfortunately one must expect controversy here.
On a wider scale, I believe Cary and the Triangle in general are in an advantageous position to facilitate a national dialogue on morality and reproductive rights. Our concentration of both universities and medical research facilities, as well as our location in the Bible belt are all favorable. I recommend to readers the work of Judith Jarvis Thompson, “A Defense of Abortion” and also an episode of Krista Tippet’s “On Being” titled, “Healing Our Fractured Civil Spaces on Abortion.” It is a priority for me to defuse the issue of abortion from its status as a political wedge.
It is common to conceive the problem of terrorism under the category of national or “homeland” security, declare “war” upon it, and use childish expletives to express fear and anger toward its perpetrators. I believe this is a fundamental mistake. Terrorism is a failure of public safety, not national security. Terrorism exists because it is no longer possible to maintain what Max Weber called a “regional monopoly on the means of violence” when such means include drugstore compounds, agricultural fertilizers, and motor vehicles. We cannot maintain public safety by limiting access to means of violence.
I suggest we have no alternative but to employ against terrorism the most radical of all political tactics ever conceived: to love our neighbors, as ourselves. My point being that the entire world now functions as a single city, and we are all neighbors. Anyone can travel anywhere for any purpose within hours, with no significant cost. All of our goods and services come from everywhere else. Messages and imagery of violence are as ubiquitous as the daily and nightly news. Anyone who wants evidence that people like themselves can be murdered with impunity can find it with a click. When we bomb anyone in the global village, we are bombing ourselves.
Therefore I want to explore the possibility that municipalities’ soundest concrete steps to increase our own safety is by increasing the safety of other cities, especially those that are at risk in other parts of the world. Specifically: in countries where American troops or allies are at war. This is not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but also Yemen, Palestine, Somalia, and so on.
Cary is uniquely positioned to contribute in this project because of our exceptionally diverse and educated population. First of all is the variety of faith communities in our town. We can open direct channels to the most troubled areas, perhaps even by contact with extended family of our own residents. We can bypass barriers of language as well as differences of religion, because our own community includes so much variety.
The concept of “sister cities” is not new, and Cary already has a program in place. There are as yet no cities in this program from countries where American troops are fighting. Still I expect a positive response to this proposal. I will organize cultural exchanges, involving schools and churches, as well as technology and knowledge-sharing between local administrations. There is a history of the Council District C seat to be liaison to the Sister Cities Association; this is a role I would fulfil and expand.