In a series of votes on Tuesday afternoon, the Raleigh City Council swiftly dismantled the city’s nearly 50-year-old Citizen Advisory Council structure. There was no written notice of the vote on the council’s agenda, and the council allowed no public comment on the matter.
The primary voice of opposition was council member David Cox, who wasn’t told beforehand that CACs would be discussed.
All of the other council members knew.
CACs are forums designed to spur citizen engagement and allow residents to vote on issues slated to come before the council in an advisory capacity. They were created in 1974 under Mayor Clarence Lightner to bolster the city’s applications for federal block grants. Although the city never received those grants, the CACs became entrenched in Raleigh’s political landscape.
There are 19 CACs throughout the city, which require the support of 12 city staffers and about $1,000 in taxpayer funds each.
This isn’t the first time the council has tried to reform CACs, says council member Saige Martin, who led this reform effort. Initiatives to alter the system began under Mayor Charles Meeker in 2004; however, no action was taken. The council also tried and failed to confront the issue in 2015 without success after meeting with public backlash.
For that reason, Martin and Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin decided to keep this vote under wraps. They informed the media—including the INDY and CityLab—under an embargo and whipped votes in secrecy. The only council member left out of the loop was Cox, who is closely aligned with active CAC members.
“What I didn’t want is a fight going into it,” Martin told the INDY before the meeting. “It could have been on the agenda, but at the end of the day, this fight has happened many times. We don’t need a fight.”
Martin, Baldwin, and others have long argued that many CACs aren’t representative of the city’s population and give an outsize voice to a vocal few who have the time and resources to attend CAC meetings. So they wanted to tear the old system down and replace it with something they think is better.
City council member Nicole Stewart says killing the CACs is necessary to free up funds for the city’s new community-engagement efforts.
“Unfortunately, we have limited resources and are making a decision to fully move forward with a new system instead of just focusing on one that only engages a few folks,” Stewart told the INDY Monday.
In four motions on Tuesday, Martin laid out what that new system would look like. He first asked the city to hire a consultant to explore ways to “revolutionize our civic engagement process” so that it can be more inclusive and participatory. Eventually, this will result in a city department dedicated to community engagement, Martin says.
The second motion repealed the city ordinance that created CACs and immediately stripped them of funding and staff support, with all advisory votes on rezoning cases ending within 45 days. Cox bristled, arguing that this would hurt the city’s disadvantaged communities. Martin called Cox’s point “asinine.”
Ultimately, Corey Branch joined Cox in opposing the motion, though it passed 6–2.
To comply with the city’s neighborhood meeting requirement for rezonings, Martin’s third motion asked planning staffers to draft a new ordinance that would add an additional step in the rezoning process to include a meeting prior to the planning commission’s review. It also passed 6–2, with Branch and Cox against.
Finally, Martin asked that the planning commission not delay rezoning cases due to CAC participation. This motion passed 7–1, with Cox opposing.
“We know some people will not be happy but how we plan to deal with it is create something so good that people will be happy,” Baldwin said on Tuesday. She added that active CAC members “will have an opportunity to participate in the new system.”
This is a developing story.
Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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