These five facts are not in dispute. 

Fact 1: Last year, Raleigh City Council member David Cox tried to get then-planning commissioner Eric Braun in trouble following an argument Braun had with Cox’s allies at a planning commission meeting. The city found no wrongdoing on Braun’s part. (Later, Cox also tried to get the city’s utilities director disciplined for declining his demand to move a sewer line into wetlands after a constituent complained about the city digging in her backyard. The city found no wrongdoing in that case, either.)

Fact 2: Braun, no longer on the planning commission, sometimes criticizes Cox on Twitter. Cox has forwarded a few of those tweets—nothing threatening, just links to INDY and News & Observer stories with commentary slamming Cox’s leadership—to the city attorney.

Fact 3: At last Tuesday’s city council meeting, Braun used the public comment period to ask Cox for an apology and explanation for sending his tweets to the city attorney, which Braun likened to intimidation. (Cox didn’t apologize and has never offered an explanation, Braun says.)

Fact 4: Soon after Braun’s remarks, the council unanimously (minus Mayor Nancy McFarlane and council member Nicole Stewart, who were absent) voted to change its rules so that members of the public could no longer address individual council members. It did so with no debate or discussion; this change did not appear on the council’s agenda. 

Fact 5: Jonathan Jones, an attorney and former executive director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, told INDY reporter Leigh Tauss that he thought such restrictions were probably unconstitutional. 

That’s what Leigh reported Tuesday night. 

Cox, followed by his supporters in the echo chamber of the District B community Facebook page and beyond, lashed out, first attacking Leigh, then the INDY, and then me. 

Cox huffed that “Tauss got the story wrong” and posted a letter from city attorney Robin Tatum Currin signing off on the change (neither Tatum Currin nor Cox responded to Leigh’s request for comment Tuesday, and this letter wasn’t made public before the vote). 

Others piled on, accusing us of “shoddy” journalism, having a vendetta, being fake news, being ageist, having conflicts of interest, supporting white supremacy, being pawns for unnamed forces seeking to manipulate the upcoming election, being toadies for Phil Berger’s right-hand man, etc. 

Cox later pointed out that Leigh moved here from Connecticut.  

Fine. Being a target isn’t fun, but it’s the price of being in the arena. So as much as I want to, I’m not going to defend Leigh—other than to say she’s tenacious, ambitious, and assiduous—or myself here. 

In fact, I was hesitant to write about this episode at all. Why give it oxygen? 

The answer is that it offers a window into something more bothersome: Cox and a few of his council allies—particularly Stef Mendell—appear to have deemed themselves above accountability. 

It’s not just that they’re defending themselves—they’re entitled to do so. Nor is it that they seem to expect coddling by the progressive media, though that’s gross. 

The problem is that they chafe at any criticism whatsoever. 

That’s part of the reason the change in the council’s rules of decorum was worth reporting, regardless of its legality: Council members decided that the people they serve shouldn’t have the right to call them out in public meetings. 

The other reason is the subject of the public comment that preceded the council’s decision: What the hell was Cox doing reporting the mean tweets of a private citizen to the city attorney? 

To my mind, both of these things betray exceedingly thin-skinned tendencies.

In their view, it seems, any reporting that reflects negatively on their decisions, or any opinion that offers a different vision of the city’s future, must—just must—be offered in bad faith, funded by developers or business interests, and it needs to be delegitimized as “fake.” 

Mendell, for instance, has claimed that the INDY has a conflict of interest because (deep breath) our company’s owner, Richard Meeker, has a nephew who has a business partner whose wife is on the city council, which means … something. I wasn’t clear on where that thread went. 

Cox, meanwhile, implied on Facebook last week that the INDY had undergone some big change recently—new management, new editor, Leigh “from Connecticut” Tauss—as if that were the only possible explanation for critical coverage of the city council. 

To clarify: Richard Meeker has owned the INDY since 2012. I’ve been the editor since 2015. That year, we endorsed David Cox for city council, as we did in 2017—when we also endorsed Stef Mendell. 

Neither the paper’s ownership nor its editorial management has changed since. 

What’s changed is that, following the 2017 elections, the council’s majority began wielding its power (and, I’d argue, not always in ways befitting a thriving, forward-thinking city). They’ve made news, so we’ve put them under a microscope. We’d do the same no matter who was in control. 

This, too, is the price of being in the arena. You want power? We’re going to call you on your bullshit. And lots of residents are going to do the same. 

Sometimes they’ll be unfair. Sometimes they’ll even be mean. 

Put on your big-boy pants and deal with it.

(Don’t worry, David. I’ll go ahead and send this column to the city attorney. I wouldn’t want you to trouble yourself.) 

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at 

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