Three months after voting to abruptly eliminate the city’s Citizen Advisory Councils, the Raleigh Council voted to hire consultant Mickey Fearn, currently a North Carolina State University professor at the School of Natural Resources, to figure out what the city’s new community engagement process will look like.
The vote passed 7-1. Council member David Cox, an ardent supporter of CACs, was the lone dissenting vote, citing budgetary concerns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
On February 5, the City Council voted to eliminate citizen advisory council, a series of neighborhood boards in place since the 1970s. Although advisory in nature, the CACs enjoyed outsized power over zoning and development decisions, despite limited attendance, and were supported by the former development-skeptical council majority.
But October’s election resulted in a huge shift in power on the council with the replacement of council members Stef Mendell, Kay Crowder and Russ Stephensen, who championed protecting neighborhoods, by development-friendly challengers David Knight, Saige Martin, and Jonathan Melton.
With no public notice—Martin having quietly whipped votes for the motion behind the scenes—the vote to cancel funding and disband the groups outraged the CACs longtime volunteers. Many called out the hypocrisy of dismantling the city’s only community engagement structure without any community engagement and no plan in place for what comes next.
To figure that out, the council selected Fearn: one of several candidates vetted by city staff. Fearn has been a professor at North Carolina State University’s School of Natural Resources since 2013. He brings with him five decades of experience in the public sector, including having served as Seattle’s director of innovation for a workforce of 10,000 city employees.
During the council’s virtual meeting Tuesday, Cox briefly expressed his displeasure at the motion to hire Fearn given the city’s financial situation (Raleigh faces up to $36 million shortfall in revenues due to the coronavirus.)
“With our budget situation coming up and also that we had CACs with numerous citizen volunteers, I think at this time it is inappropriate to be spending this kind of money on a consultant coming out of our contingency funds,” Cox said.
Martin responded that overhauling engagement is exactly what the city should be investing in.
“As we move forward our strongest public policy priorities will become apparent,” Martin said. “I think this council has decided that community engagement and strengthening our community engagement, and being forward thinking and innovative, is exactly what we’re going to do, and a small amount of money to reinvigorate that process is a step in that direction.”
Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at email@example.com.
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