Name as it appears on the ballot: Venita Peyton
Date of birth: 7/14/1956
Campaign website: venitapeyton.com
Occupation & employer: Real Estate Broker, Insurance Broker, Greater Raleigh Real Estate, Inc.
Do you have a Facebook page? Personal
Do you have a Twitter account? @venitapeyton
1. What do you see as the most important issues facing Raleigh? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Lack of transparency and greater separation between income levels.
My top three priorities are to examine how the ‘new’ City Manager will have been selected and, (if majority agrees), re-opening the hiring process. 2) Examine the Dorothea Dix lease and identify stakeholders who agree that the original intent must precede any changes. 3) Examine the state of Raleigh’s unemployed and underemployed and identify methods to lessen their crisis.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you’ve identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.
As a former city employee, graduate school intern and contractor and real estate broker, I have worked with local officials in how government serves the public good.
As the recipient of the Patricia Roberts Harris fellowship at North Carolina State University from 1992-1994, I worked under the supervision of Mayor Gerald Holleman in Holly Springs. One of my responsibilities was setting up four community groups (which included education, chamber of commerce and parks). From those groups came working relationships that has resulted in new schools and many, many new businesses. With Progress Energy’s economic development staff, I helped to create the town’s profile for business use.
As a former chair of the East Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council, the residents always enjoyed active, lively discussions on community involvement. Likely, our most contentious involvement required a united relationship with the City police, ALE and ordinary citizens to close Variety Pic-Up, a convenience store that logged over 400 complaints annually.
3. Indy Week’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.
The Mayor’s ten minute State of the City apparently failed to raise significant concerns about the needs of the indigent, homeless, unemployed and underemployed. Our elected officials may be largely ignorant of the limited availability of rental properties for low income residents (when compared to the long waiting list), the number of homeless (especially children)and the number of families living in motels, so we’re inclined to believe that they are virtually nonexistent. This indicates that we should rotate the persons serving on committees like Planning and Housing Authority so that new and fresher approaches to problem solving can be achieved.
4. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
Re-opening the City Manager search. The current secretive methods so far have cost the City $225,000, but may cause more damage if it turns out to be an inside job. No amount of money can restore employee morale or taxpayer confidence if the process was tainted.
5. If these issues haven’t been addressed above, would you please comment on:
a) The role of City Council members and their relationship to the manager and staff is an issue currently. Some think council members should talk only to the manager, insulating staffers from political pressure. Others think the members should also be able to question department heads and staff as part of their policy oversight role and to resolve constituents’ problems. A middle course would be oversight by committee, a time-consuming job for the part-time council. What’s your position on this?
The examples are obvious. Before firing City Manager Russell Allen, every major project was completed as expected. Under his guidance, the former Civic Center was successfully imploded and replaced. A new hotel opened. One-way downtown streets became two-way. A new bus repair facility was built on Poole Road opening more employment opportunities. More bus routes with later schedules were advised and adopted. Our recycling program (which originally included only a small 8″x6″ car bag) grew into weekly pickup and now monthly. With the current mayor (wanting to supplant the role of the manager), the results are: an empty police building, an uncompleted public safety building, two barely useful 4th of July celebrations, national headlines from not allowing the feeding of the needy, firing the city manager and an unexplained secretive replacement process.
Unfortunately, we’re likely to get a hand-selected manager with big dreams but a meager resume. The best candidates would not want to accept a new position one week before knowing who his or her bosses will be. So, the new Council will inherit a new person who may feel that his or her owes their allegiance to the former councilors.
b) Council members are paid little ($17,000 for the mayor; $12-13,000 for the others) and, except for the city attorney and clerk, no professional staff report to them. All staff work for the manager. Would you change this system at all, and if so, how?
Council members may also have an expense account. Council could continue at part-time pay if they spent more time actively working in their communities, rather than micromanaging staff. At-large persons should receive more pay than district councilors because their territory (as the Mayor’s) is city-wide. Council is considering an ordinance that will allow them to participate in the City’s voluntary benefits program – yet another perk. It seems that a few insiders support Council moving the police chief directly under their authority, which could result in layoffs for those who don’t want to sacrifice their oath for new games.
c) In light of the scandal unfolding at the Raleigh Business and Technical Center, supposedly a business incubator, is it time to beef up the City Council’s oversight mechanisms? Are other city-sponsored agencies and city departments vulnerable to similar problems? At some point we must ask if the refunding of 10+ year old operations is automatic, rather than allowing new organizations to be considered.
With minimal checks and balances, city employees and decision making boards are also vulnerable to mischief. The best system will be unannounced outside audits of programs, finances and staff.
d) Do you support the goals of the 2009 comprehensive plan and the brand new Unified Development Ordinance? Will these two initiatives really change the way Raleigh develops over the next several decadesand for the better? Or for the worse?
In 1989, I served as a member of the Vision 2000 Committee through the Raleigh Comprehensive Plan. None of us have significant experience with the Unified Development Ordinance, however, I am concerned that many decisions may be made administratively rather than through neighborhood groups. Through a flurry of emails on September 1, I know that members of the Northeast CAC were very concerned that the applicant for the Sheetz gas station seemed to be leaning towards re-filing under the UDO plan as a last ditch effort.
e) How important is improving public transit in Raleigh and the region to the city’s future prosperity, do you think?
I hear of few problems with public transit. In terms of intra-city travel, most claiming problems seem to be those who don’t ride the CAT bus. Some travel difficulties have been helped by re-timing traffic lights. Working with our regional partners will always be important, however, I’d like to see buy-in also from other towns and cities.
f) If elected, will you ask the Wake County Commissioners to allow a public referendum in 2014 on a ½-cent sales tax for transit, the same as Durham and Orange counties have passed?
Raleigh residents may not be open to an increased sales tax. So no, I won’t ask for this sales tax until I see the spending plan, which identifies who benefits in the short run and long run. If a new transit option fails to pay for itself, then it threatens to either become another taxpayer-funded subsidy or the cost too high to be valuable.
g) Until the ½-cent sales tax is in place in Wake, what else should Raleigh do on its own, if anything, to jump-start public transit within the city?
Our current public transit is buses. Some may appear underutilized because of the time of day or because potential riders choose to drive. With two bonds looming, the unknown cost of health insurance on the horizon, a possible war with Syria, and the fact that many have not recovered from a difficult economic picture, asking residents for more money at this time should be a low priority.
h) Raleigh is trying to gain control of the 325-acre Dorothea Dix Hospital tract for use as a destination park. Do you support this effort? Should Raleigh pay fair-market value for the land, via lease or purchase, as many in the General Assembly demand? Please share your thoughts on how development of the park should be financed, if at all? i) As part of a growth and economic development strategy, should Raleigh begin to use tax-increment financing (TIFs), subsidizing current developments with anticipated future property tax gains? If so, what policy limits, in any, should be adopted as part of a TIF plan?
No, I don’t support the goal of a destination park. The original plan by Ms. Dorothea Dix was a campus to serve the mentally ill. The state of North Carolina decided to shift these citizens to Butner, which perpetuated the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinking that they have always been afflicted by. We should be mindful that more and more of us (and our families) are affected by mental challenges and should embrace the idea that this campus could be used for expanding support.
I’m uncomfortable with using anticipated future property tax gains at this time. These funds are usually committed. The Governor strong-armed the Mayor into holding a conversation on the lease in April 2014, which she timidly agreed to. Fundraisers seem to have stopped and the Mayor refuses to discuss calling it a ‘real estate’ conversation that isn’t subject to public disclosure. So, until we as citizens agree on a use, I’m not ready to discuss which funding mechanisms may be best.
j) For many years, it’s been a point of pride for Raleigh managers and Council members that Raleigh government costs less, and the city’s property tax rate is lower, than other towns in Wake County and other North Carolina cities. On the other hand, services may suffer because of inadequate funding. Are you concerned that Raleigh is investing too little to achieve the world-class status to which it aspires? Or can spending be cut further without sacrificing quality?
Raleigh has a spending problem. $200,000 is not a small amount of money for financing this Council’s blunder in not renewing his contract. A sizeable investment in infrastructure maintenance is likely overdue. That’s why it was unnerving that nearly $20 million was tossed aside to stop construction of the public safety building and one million spent to purchase a North Raleigh facility for the Police Department. Now we have the added embarrassment of watching the Wake County Board of Commissioners approve, build and open a downtown Justice Center during the same time that ours could have been completed.
k) Is Raleigh doing enough to serve its growing Hispanic population and help them feel a part of the city?
Our Hispanic neighbors have access to churches and organizations and have largely created their own support systems. I’m unaware that the City has made any effort towards making ANY of us feel like we’re a part, based on their recent rash of closed door decisions.
l) Is Raleigh doing enough to serve its growing population of homeless and street people, many of whom suffer with mental illnesses? If not, what do you recommend?
Raleigh has given millions of local and federal dollars for housing needs for over 30 years. Nonprofits annually receive hundreds of thousands of federal, state, local and private dollars. These groups should be audited as often as any other and their board of directors and staff members should be rotated. Until then, we will continue to be embarrassed by our huge lack of ignorance of why these problems continue to exist.
The bad publicity surrounding the feeding of hungry people downtown could have been avoided with the City inviting these groups to network with existing providers. For instance: First Baptist Church (Wilmington Street) has provided early Sunday morning breakfast for the homeless for years. I was invited to speak to them several years ago. When I was a member of Martin Street Baptist Church, we participated as an emergency shelter (which I also volunteered with) as well as Meals on Wheels. Other churches have been providing meals on Saturdays but these veteran providers seemed excluded from the conversations.
These difficulties were (in my opinion) first highlighted in 2004 by Mrs. Mary Judd, when the City stopped her from feeding homeless people IN HER HOME. Wesleyan First Church of Deliverance initially helped her with partial use of their facility, but she eventually had to find another space. The City forfeited a key opportunity to offer an exception but chose rules over respect, appreciation and support.
We are only as strong as our weakest citizen. The reason why the poor, the infirmed, the jobless, homeless and hungry are not in the forefront is because they detract from Raleigh’s ‘shiny’ image. Our current mayor claims that the Dorothea Dix property should be made to resemble New York’s Central Park but fails to comprehend that her downtown office is a stone’s throw from people who eat out of garbage cans.
The weakest are not on the radar. I am.