Two years after the Raleigh City Council disbanded citizen advisory councils in a surprise vote, and a year after it hired a consultant who essentially told it to bring CACs back, the council is appointing a new board to study how best to engage the community. 

Since the city council’s decision to disband CACs in 2020, council members have endured a steady stream of criticism from both suburban Raleighites protesting against new development and minority advocacy groups like El Pueblo. 

People citywide are unhappy with the council’s sometimes secretive behavior, closed-door conversations, and surprise votes. Many feel left out of important decisions on issues, such as redistricting, that affect them and their neighborhoods.

Most recently, some residents voiced concerns about how public comments are handled as city council meetings switch between virtual and in-person. Kristen Havlik commented Tuesday that, going forward, the council should offer a hybrid option for public comments to accommodate people who may be at risk from COVID or don’t have the time or ability to comment in person. 

That’s not to say CACs were better—two city councils in the past decade had tried and failed to reform the system before it was dissolved under Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin.

Since CACs were formed in 1974, they had become entrenched in local politics. Baldwin and others argued many CACs were not representative of the city’s population and gave an outsized voice to a vocal few who had the time to attend meetings. At the time CACs were dissolved, they had become a vehicle for those vocal few to protest and ultimately stall development projects. 

Now, the city council is moving forward on efforts to reform the system by creating a new “Community Engagement Board,” which will be charged with reviewing existing strategies for community engagement and recommending improvements. 

The board will also, “elevate the voices and needs of communities that have been underinvested and historically marginalized,” “assist with public outreach to community members,” and organize community leaders like local nonprofits to “promote opportunities for engagement,” according to a presentation by the city’s community engagement manager Tiesha Hinton. 

The board will be comprised of 16 people: eight nominated by the city’s Office of Community Engagement and eight nominated by each member of the city council. Board members will serve two-year terms. 

The city is aiming to recruit a long-time Raleigh resident, a new resident, a business owner of color, someone who has not previously served on a city board or commission, a renter, a young adult 18-23 years old, a person who is 55 or older, and someone with “lived experience.”

The city council approved the proposal 7-1, with councilman David Cox voting against. Cox offered a strong rebuke, saying the board is “just another board of political appointees.  

“This is not what democracy looks like to me. This is not what community engagement looks like to me,” Cox said. “This is about a board of individuals that will have political connections and will do as (the) majority on council wants them to do. I’m glad this is coming up during an election year.”

Applications are open to all Raleigh residents. Interest forms will be available online and at six community centers starting May 23 through June 10.

Also Tuesday, the city council revisited the idea of extending council terms from two years to four years, adopting staggered terms, increasing pay for city council members, and increasing the council to nine members by adding another district seat. 

Public survey results showed support for compensation increases and adding a district seat, but not for four-year terms. 

Council members discussed putting these issues on the November ballot for voters to decide, or possibly leaving the decision to the next council, which will be elected in November and start serving in January. 

Council member Jonathan Melton pointed out that increasing pay for city council members could make it easier for young people, working people, and people of color to serve on the council. He said he was in favor of implementing that change in this year’s budget, to take effect next year. 

Also Tuesday, the city council made two big investments in keeping housing affordable for renters. 

First, they approved a new three-year program, in partnership with Campbell Law School, to help prevent evictions for low-income residents. The program will also help settle tenant lawsuits through Blancard Law Clinic. Lawyers and law students will assist Legal Aid of North Carolina and other nonprofits serving low-income renters. The city council is funding the program with $500,000 from federal American Rescue Act funds. 

Second, the council approved an extension of gap funding totaling about $7.1 million for the development of 344 affordable rental units. These units would be built in Lake Haven, The Preserve at Gresham Lake, and The Terrace at Rock Quarry. They are meant to help house people who make less than 70 percent of the area median income.

Also Tuesday, the city council approved: 

  • another $149,000 to the United States Geological Survey for stream and rain gauge installation and maintenance, including six rain gauges and one stream gauge across Raleigh, which could help predict future flooding;
  • the transfer of $700,000 within the Vehicle Fleet Services Operating Fund from employee pay (money that was unspent because of staff vacancies) to operating to cover the increased cost of gas
  • the transfer of about $600,000 within the Solid Wast Services Operating Fund from software to fuel, vehicle maintenance, and operations to cover the increase cost of gas and vehicle maintenance 
  • reduction of the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph for Antside Court, Cookwood Court, Loft Lane, Seaspray Lane, Shadowlawn Drive, Stormy Lane, Suntan Lake Drive, and Thunderidge Drive. 

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