The Raleigh City Council held a closed-session discussion on the Raleigh-Durham Airport on Tuesday, but David Cox—whose reelection bid has focused on fighting the airport’s lease with Wake Stone for a quarry—wasn’t there.
He skipped the meeting to attend a Backstreet Boys concert at PNC Arena, Cox confirmed Saturday. (As The News & Observer has previously reported, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter is Cox’s third cousin.)
Cox has posted repeatedly on social media about the quarry and discussed the issue at length during his campaign events. A few hours before the council’s closed-door session, Cox and his allies—Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder, and Russ Stephenson—pushed city attorney Robin Tatum Currin on the question of whether the city had legal standing to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit over the quarry deal.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane insisted this matter was better suited to the closed session. “This is about governing, not politics,” McFarlane said.
Cox interjected: “This is about governing transparently in front of the people of the city.”
A lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court by the Umstead Coalition and Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, which is expected to be heard next month, claims the city and the other local governments that own the airport—Wake County, the city of Durham, and Durham County—should have a say in the deal, which will allow Wake Stone to mine a 105-acre parcel for the next thirty years in exchange for up to $24 million in royalties. None of the other local governments has formally opposed the agreement. Jessica Holmes, who chairs the Wake County Board of Commissioners, told the INDY earlier this month that the county “does not have a vote on whether the land lease moves forward.”
Historically, matters pertaining to potential litigation are always discussed in closed session, McFarlane told her colleagues last week. Eventually, Mendell made a motion to add to the meeting agenda an item requesting that the city join the lawsuit against RDU. It failed in a 4–4 vote.
After the motion deadlocked, Crowder asked Currin to clarify whether the city would have standing if it wanted to get in on the legal action. While not wanting to discuss anything “covered by attorney-client privilege,” Currin said, she believed the city has the right to ask the court to be heard.
The council went into closed session at about 5:00 p.m. The session adjourned at about 6:15 p.m. The Backstreet Boys show was scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. By car, it takes about fifteen minutes to get from City Hall to the arena, according to Google Maps. Cox told the INDY he had personal matters to attend to before the show. Cox says that, while he wasn’t “physically in the room, I was available by phone.”
McFarlane says that’s not her recollection: “Nobody mentioned that David was available by phone if we needed him.”
In a now-deleted Facebook post on Saturday, Cox chided Brian Fitzsimmons, his challenger in the District B race, over the quarry issue: “So many have thanked me for fighting the quarry. I wonder how many have thanked my opponent for NOT fighting the quarry?”
The black-and-white framing of the issue is misleading, McFarlane says. While it’s easy to oppose the quarry, the legal ramifications of the city joining the Umstead Coalition’s lawsuit are more complex.
“I don’t want people to misunderstand and think that I support a quarry,” McFarlane says, “because I would much rather the land not be developed or at least not be done into a quarry. But they’ve already made that decision and signed the contract, so there are legal issues of interfering with a contract, and it’s not as simple. We don’t have the legal authority, as far as I know, to, quote, ‘stop’ the quarry, but that’s how it is being portrayed.”
This story has been edited for print. Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at email@example.com.
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