David Cox was furious.
A few weeks earlier, he and fellow Raleigh City Council member Russ Stephenson had a meeting with Robert Massengill, the city’s public utilities director, about the Brentwood Water Main project. Cox wanted Massengill to change course and not run sewer lines through the backyards of a dozen properties on Ingram Drive in Northeast Raleigh.
He’d heard from a constituent, Lorilyn Bailey, who owns two properties along Ingram Drive and who had complained to him about the city’s plans to tear down her trees and dig up her yard. Cox wanted to intercede on her behalf. He came away thinking Massengill had seen the light.
But then he learned that the city had sent the residents letters to begin easement negotiations. The project was proceeding against Cox’s wishes.
He was enraged, and he wanted something done about it.
“I consider this matter to be of the utmost importance and seriousness,” Cox thundered in a December 19 email to the city council, city manager Ruffin Hall, and city attorney Robin Tatum Currin. “We have received no report and no opportunity to consider options. Any communications to begin easement acquisition should not have been sent. Furthermore, I am concerned that I, as a Council member, have been seriously misled in this matter either accidentally or willfully. I consider this matter so serious that I am requesting that it be looked into independently by the City Attorney and that corrective action, including disciplinary action, be taken immediately.”
Word of this email circulated around City Hall. Several city sources saw it as Cox calling for Massengill’s head. If nothing else, it was a message, a shot across the bow: Don’t cross me.
This wasn’t the first time Cox had lashed out at staff, they say. Five City Hall sources say Cox has repeatedly berated and sought recriminations against staff members whom he perceived to have acted contrary to his desires. According to these staffers, many employees are afraid to push back for fear their jobs may be at risk.
“I’ve seen it from the inside, and I’ve seen the berating of staff over some of these issues,” says a high-ranking staffer. “It’s pretty embarrassing. David, he’s got his worldview, and if you don’t agree with his worldview, you’re wrong, and there’s no amount of evidence or information you can provide. He will dismiss it.”
Cox did not respond to the INDY’s requests for comment. The city’s communications office said Hall could not comment on personnel issues. Tatum Currin could not immediately be reached. Two sources independently confirm that the city took no action against Massengill.
Massengill says he had little choice but to proceed as planned. Cox’s request wasn’t feasible.
The Brentwood project was designed to update hundred-year-old pipes in the neighborhood to prevent sewage from overflowing and spewing into local rivers and creeks. To avoid cutting through wetlands, the city had to run those pipes through the Ingram Drive backyards—where the existing pipes already are.
Bailey argues that the wetland is pretty dry. There used to be a lake beyond her properties, but it dried up years ago after a dam burst. All that’s left now is a muddy track with a small winding creek. Still, the city’s engineers and environmental specialists say, it’s considered wetlands because of the soil, vegetation, and animal species present. Because of that designation, they’d need permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to dig into it—a costly, lengthy process unlikely to go in the city’s favor.
After all, from the Army Corps of Engineers’ perspective, there’s a viable alternative: Run the lines through the Ingram Drive backyards.
Massengill declined to comment on Cox’s letter or its aftermath, but he says the Ingram Drive plans have been in the works since at least 2017. The area is already experiencing overflow during heavy rain events, he says, and without replacing the pipes, “raw sewage would spew” into the creek.
Digging into backyards is a last resort, he adds, but in this case, it’s unavoidable.
“Our design professionals—who are professional engineers who also have soil scientists on staff—looked at this and determined this is wetlands. It wasn’t even a close call,” Massengill says. “We’re doing this to clean up the environment. The last thing we want to do is create more environmental impacts. We understand how disruptive these kind of projects are. We don’t want to be there any more than they want us to be there, but we need to be and have to be.”
Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 919-832-8774, or on Twitter @leightauss.
My family has longed lived in Brentwood, and there are MANY wonderful neighbors who look out for each other and connect to keep this community thriving. We also strongly support David Cox to represent us and stand up for our best interest. I am also concerned that “Journalists” such as Amy put their opinions in the article and use the ever popular “sources say” so we, the reader, actually think this is true. It is so obvious in the media today how facts are spun and opinion is inserted into narrative. I have a Journalism degree and never once was I taught to write this way. So after reading this, after growing up in Brentwood and being on the homeowners side, I feel that you are trying to do your part in spinning a story and make a trusted and honorable City Councilman look bad. I don’t buy it for one second and hopefully other readers won’t either.
My family has longed lived in Brentwood, and there are MANY wonderful neighbors who look out for each other and connect to keep this community thriving. We also strongly support David Cox to represent us and stand up for our best interest. I am also concerned that “Journalists” such as Amy put their opinions in the article and use the ever popular “sources say” so we, the reader, actually think this is true. It is so obvious in the media today how facts are spun and opinion is inserted into narrative. (see paragraphs 6 and 7) I have a Journalism degree and never once was I taught to write this way. So after reading this, after growing up in Brentwood and being on the homeowners side, I feel that you are trying to do your part in spinning a story and make a trusted and honorable City Councilman look bad. I don’t buy it for one second and hopefully other readers won’t either.
David Cox is a fraud. He is just a double talking con man. He never answers any questions just gives you the runaround and wont answer directly. You cant believe anything he says.
Freedom of the Press has been under assault since Trump took office, and now that assault has made it normal behavior to watch our local elected officials shred investigative journalism whenever it suits their agenda. SHAME on all enemies of the free press! That means shame on you, Stef Mendell, as well as all the other Trump-lite haters who seek to squelch the voice of a reporter and newspaper to suit your political agendas. Bad form.
Not surprised by the actions of Cox. I’m glad those with professional training were able to do their job without elected officials intervening once again. Hopefully the city manager can act as more of an intermediary between the city council and city employees. We could soon find ourselves losing some highly regarded and smart employees because of the actions of uninformed, shortsighted, and overly emotional politicians. I look forward to voting against Cox the next time he runs, although hopefully he decides against it since it seems like he is unfit for office.
Personally, I’m glad to see a city council member advocating for his constituents. That’s, like, their job, right? David Cox has been an excellent champion, both compassionate and responsive, for our District. Would have loved to heard his side of the story. Maybe it would have been good to give him more time to respond rather than moving forward with a one-sided piece such as this.
The writer quotes Mr. Massengill, whose role is critical to the story foundation. It’s since come to light that Mr. Massengill and Council member Cox met subsequent to a Dec. 19 email (also a key factor of this story) and that conversation led to a public meeting with Brentwood residents in January. The sewer project remains in motion, with a better avenue of communications between residents and the city — thanks to the councilor getting involved. Did the reporter not glean this detail from Mr. Massengill when she spoke with him? Why did the reporter only contact the council member the day the story was posted? Surely she could or should have known and reported “the rest of the story.”
When you consider that Indy’s story is based on an email that was more than 2 months old, why the urgency to post the story on February 26? Was there another story set related to the Raleigh City Council set to break or something? You wouldn’t know by reading Indy Week, but the N&O posted such a story Feb. 27 at 12:08 p.m. that every other Triangle media outlet then reported as well. A story also reported in national blog site Splinter, of which former Indy writer Paul Blest now resides. No big deal, I guess. Elected official’s husband witnessed verbally and physically accosting someone at a public event. Indy Week: “That’s not a story.” Really?
I have always been a supporter of journalism and a free press. In recent years the ability of a number of media outlets to present objective and balanced reporting has been seriously compromised. It’s sad to see that happening now in our community.
While it’s appropriate for a media outlet to have a point of view that they express in their editorial opinion pieces, it is not appropriate for that point of view to influence coverage of news pieces. Increasingly INDYWEEK has breached the wall between objective news reporting and opinion with their coverage of local government issues.
What’s equally disturbing is their failure to acknowledge relationships that have the potential to influence not only their investigative reporting and news stories, but also their editorial coverage. I believe that every time INDYWEEK writes about local politics, they should openly disclose any business or personal relationships between family members of their owners/reporters and family members of local elected officials. To do otherwise is an ethical failure.
I realize that remaining fiscally solvent is a challenge for many newspapers today, but that does not excuse resorting to sensationalistic click-bait and abdicating journalistic ethics.
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