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 

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12 replies on “Without Public Input or Notice, the Raleigh City Council Just Killed Citizen Advisory Councils”

  1. So rather than make a case they did this in secrecy. This is the opposite of democracy.

  2. This is so sad. One of the great things about Raleigh has been that regular citizens have had so much opportunity to have input and shape the way Raleigh has grown. You’ve just taken away one of the ways that citizens connect to the larger community and have impact. It would have been much better to develop your new system before dismantling the old one. City Council is saying “trust us!” when they’ve just shown that we can’t trust them at all.

  3. “We’ve underbuilt housing for decades.” YIMBY (Yes, In My Back Yard) leaders keep repeating this line. It’s become a mantra that now gets repeated at the highest levels­, from a California state legislative report to a White House paper, to the point it’s become gospel. Never mind that if we dig into it, the facts are very different.

    YIMBY leaders also have a compelling explanation for why we have supposedly “underbuilt” for decades. At fault is a combination of NIMBYs and rabid progressive activists.

    Equity advocates are familiar with real NIMBYs, older white homeowners who often want to protect their property values by keeping others out. Off and on over the decades, many of us in the affordable housing movement have had to fight one version or another of NIMBY over exclusionary policies. I first encountered the term YIMBY when community organizers were fighting in support of affordable housing and in opposition to NIMBYs. The combination of those with NIMBY sentiments and real estate developers eager to create exclusive communities led progressives to fight for inclusionary housing, demanding that developers create mixed-income communities.

    But according to the YIMBY leaders, now we equity advocates are the problem too, little different from the NIMBYs, rabid progressives who are too naïve or ideological to understand how the market really works. In this story line, in the name of fighting evictions and displacement, we progressives, we communities of color, we poor people and immigrants, we working-class queers stupidly don’t realize that luxury development now will eventually become the affordable housing of the future! (Editor’s Note: Here’s a more nuanced look at that idea.) It’s simple supply-and-demand they say, Econ 101, and we obviously didn’t go to college if we don’t understand that simple truth.

    They say we foolish activists abuse environmental regulations and planning processes that allow for democratic participation to stop or slow development. So the answer to the problem is to do away with those pesky regulations, limit public input, and give up on any attempt to get real estate developers to mitigate their impacts on our neighborhoods.

    Why Is This Such a Compelling Story?

    There’s a crisis of housing affordability we are all feeling, one that no longer affects just poor and working-class families, but also hits the middle class, especially younger households. To be clear, it’s not that they cannot afford any housing at all, but that they cannot afford the housing they want.

    Because for all this talk of needing to build new luxury developments, the base for this movement would rather live in our funky old neighborhoods—old Victorians in San Francisco’s Mission District or brownstones in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. These are the places that decades of suburban white flight (the parents and grandparents of today’s millennials), bank redlining policies and racial exclusion, bad schools and urban decay left behind to us, the work

  4. This is incredible. You couldn’t tell anyone and allow input because… people would object? You didn’t want a fight? Oh dear. Can’t have opposing arguments. Y’all learned well. To our detriment.

  5. Most of downtown Raleigh falls into one of three CACs that traditionally have had black leadership, and a majority of black residents: the North Central, Central, and South Central. The CACs tend to be attended and led by long-time residents, who tend to be black and middle-aged or elderly. These folks are not always thrilled about the redevelopment of their neighborhoods.

    A case in point: The Idlewild neighborhood is within the North Central CAC. It has historically been a black neighborhood of modest traditional homes, many of them historic. There is a “Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District” (NCOD) covering much of the neighborhood, protecting its character. Recently a developer requested to build ten three-story attached Modernist row houses in the neighborhood. These violated the zoning and NCOD, and the North Central CAC voted to oppose them. Nevertheless, the City allowed the row houses by means of a work-around, treating them as condos rather than row houses. The ten condos sold for around $500K each, much more than the old traditional houses. This allowed a much greater profit to the developer than traditional houses.

    The old houses are therefore all threatened, in this and many other neighborhoods, because the land under them is worth more if they are torn down, unless they are protected by zoning or an NCOD that is enforced. The residents are therefore at risk of eviction, except for those who own their homes. The new City Council wants to eliminate the CACs, which lobby for enforcement of the zoning and NCODs. Supporters of the new City Council also want to eliminate the NCODs themselves; this will probably happen soon. Then it will be even easier to buy the modest old houses, tear them down, and build much more expensive row houses, condos, etc.

    The new City Council has also said it wants to build a lot of affordable housing. But most of the residents of these old neighborhoods want to stay in their current homes; they don’t want to move to a housing project.

    I hate to see Raleigh’s old homes town down; they are so important to her history and character. I don’t want to live in a city with no history or character.

  6. Wow. That sounds SO corrupt!!! Who does that??? Avoid telling a voter because they’re going to oppose? Isn’t that a dictatorship? What has Raleigh come to???

  7. In a shameful display (aided and abetted by Leigh Tauss and INDY Week) , Raleigh City Council just voted to immediately end all CACs ! No notice or citizen input, just Russian style governing. Saige Martin, Nicole Stewart and David Knight especially spoke of how this will “improve” citizen engagement. HUH? That’s the Orwellian aspect. Also, INDY Week and alleged journalist Leigh Tauss knew this was going to happen and DIDN’T report it until after the fact. You’ve become a propaganda arm of the pro development faction of city council. Sure wish INDY Week would go back to being the Triangle’s progressive voice.

    In a shameful display (aided and abetted by Leigh Tauss and INDY Week) , Raleigh City Council just voted to immediately end all CACs ! No notice or citizen input, just Russian style governing. Saige Martin, Nicole Stewart and David Knight especially spoke of how this will “improve” citizen engagement. HUH? That’s the Orwellian aspect. Also, INDY Week and alleged journalist Leigh Tauss knew this was going to happen and DIDN’T report it until after the fact. You’ve become a propaganda arm of the pro development faction of city council. Sure wish INDY Week would go back to being the Triangle’s progressive voice.

  8. Guess what Saige, not everyone bothers to vote in local elections, but those who are active in CACs sure do. This was cowardly, how can you claim to represent Raleigh residents when you are afraid to talk to them about your plans? My mother lives in your district, and has spoken to you plenty of times openly and honestly, and now you have lied to my kind, sweet, helpful mother by hiding your intentions. She has lived in Raleigh for 34 years compared to your few, but now you are working to silence her voice in local government. You should be embarrassed by your behavior towards the constituents who go out of their way to participate.

  9. The CACs are unrepresentative and biased towards the wealthy and older people with the time and money to attend meetings. They aren’t elected bodies. They may not be as bad as the “key man” system for grand juries (that Texas recently abolished and only California still uses), but it’s the same kind of thing. There’s no reason for them to get city funding and staffing.

  10. Paying a consultant to study/design a community engagement program that will lead to a new muni agency. $$$$$ Locking residents out of engaging directly with their city council so said council can jam their pet projects through with out interference of the people they serve… priceless!

  11. I hope the city council knows what it is doing. The people that attend the CAC meetings are also the ones that show up to vote in local elections.

    Saige Martin should reconsider referring to a fellow council person’s opinion as “asinine.” It is undignified and hostile, particularly in a public forum. I encourage the council to treat each other with respect, regardless of whether they agree. This includes not leaving any one member in the dark about an important decision.

    Lastly, think twice if you have to take a sneaky route, like not welcoming community input, to get your way on a vote. Chances are, you are doing something unethical.

  12. Poor leadership excluding citizen from dialogue. The city has not laid out any guarantees how citizen input will be gathered in rezoning matters. Councils actions left communities high and dry. No place to meet, no money to run. No transition plan for neighbors.

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