Lack of Progress and Accountability in Raleigh’s Community Engagement Project

Lack of Progress and Accountability in Raleigh’s Community Engagement Project

On Tuesday, January 5th I spoke to the City Council about the progress of the City’s community engagement project. Below are my comments. — Michael Lindsay

Hi Mayor Baldwin and City Council members. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you. I hope all of you had a good holiday season. 

This evening, I want to talk about Mr. Fearn’s community engagement project. My focus will be on accountability and transparency. As my chart indicates, today, January 5th 2021, we are into the 8th month of Mickey Fearn’s $72,000, 10-month contract. How do we citizens know what progress has been made, and how can we be sure our money is being well spent?

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Here are two screen-grabs I made on New Year’s Day; one from the City’s website page titled “Raleigh Seeks to Revolutionize Community Engagement” and one from Mr. Fearn’s website. In both images we see that the last published report on the progress of Mr. Fearn’s community engagement project is September 25th. The previous two reports had “bi-weekly” in their titles. The last report didn’t use that phrase. Are there other bi-weekly reports since September 25? Are there any monthly reports that have not been made public? We are now well over 3 months since the last public report.

Also, the City website has a link to Mr. Fearn’s website, and says to visit his site for additional details. Well, there are no additional details on his site. It is the exact same information as on the City website. Raleigh residents were promised back in the summer of 2020 that as a part of Mr. Fearn’s community engagement project we would have a website where we could go participate in this process. We still don’t have it. 

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So where are we now? According to the contract between the City and Mr. Fearn, by the end of January (which is month 8 in my chart) we are to have designed new community engagement functions and implemented them. They should based on bringing citizens in as co-creators (Task 4 from Phase 1) and synthesis of data and lessons learned from the inventory, discovery and research (Task 5 from Phase 1).

Early on in this community engagement project, I participated in several Zoom meetings with Mr. Fearn. Also, I networked with many other residents who are actively involved. After Christmas, I starting asking around about what, if any, progress has been made since the last published report on September 25th. I have found little evidence that we have moved beyond Tasks 1, 2 and 3 of Phase 1. Task 4 may have been started, but hasn’t gone very far.

As of today, over 70% of the time and money associated with this effort to “revolutionize community engagement” has been spent. Have goals been met? Has the money been well spent? The residents of Raleigh have no idea since we’ve been kept in the dark for over 3 months.

Thank you for listening. 

 

 

Please click on the below image to see all 3 pages of presentation.

Raleigh’s Leaders’ Moment to Listen

Raleigh’s Leaders’ Moment to Listen

During the holidays we are re-posting some of our favorite guest blogs while we take some time away from our hectic schedules. Here is an important message from Terrance Ruth.

 

By Terrance Ruth

Raleigh is at a pivotal moment, a moment where leaders must listen. For a city that has received so much praise for its quality of life as a great place to live, work, and raise a family, Raleigh’s leadership is being questioned by its most important stakeholders, the community.

Beneath the glory and buzz of startup hubs, amazing restaurants, and continuous development, lies this difficult question: Who is benefiting from Raleigh’s success and who is Raleigh’s success ignoring?

2020 has challenged the depth of Raleigh’s success and community leaders are calling for new city leadership. We have seen a diverse group of protesters for weeks. We have seen council meetings saturated with residents’ speeches. We have seen council members resign and be asked to resign, by residents. What is at the core of this relentless citizen dissatisfaction? Why have so many taken to the streets in a city that has such a promising outlook?

This outcry by community members can be partially attributed to a systematic silencing of the community’s voice. From all that has occurred so far in this defining year, the consistent thread is the request by community members to be taken seriously and to be heard by Raleigh’s leadership.

Many low-income people of color live in the most neglected areas of our city. These communities have been systematically shut out of wealth-building opportunities of the last century. Gentrification, environmental neglect, and other negative side effects of Raleigh’s never-ending growth have come at the expense of those who have been the most excluded from policy decisions on how Raleigh develops and how it cares for all of its residents.

It is time for Raleigh to become a city where growth decisions are intentionally embedding equity and respect for community voices, allowing benefits to be shared by the least among our citizens. It is time that Raleigh’s leadership implements policies and practices that dismantle barriers to residents’ engagement and empowerment.

As a city, we must equip residents with the opportunities and resources they need to meet their basic needs: jobs that pay livable wages, efficient transit, safe and affordable communities, and a sustainable, livable environment. Equally important is that leaders create a sense of community that is based on a shared vision of how to create and nurture a well-managed city that is accessible to all.

I believe Raleigh can do this by becoming more inclusive, just, and human-centered. Our city leaders can and must restore the public’s trust and allow more citizen voices to be at the table to help create solutions that reflect the needs and rights of all of Raleigh’s residents.

I stand with those who seek to amplify, deepen and multiply efforts to build an equitable, thriving Raleigh that values the voices and participation of our residents. Raleigh leaders, do not miss this moment to listen. 

Terrance Ruth, PhD

Dr. Terrance Ruth has been an advocate for public education, serving as a teacher and principal, and is the parent of a son who attends public schools in Wake County. Dr. Terrance Ruth has worked in K-12 schools across Florida and in Wake County. A former Administrator for Wake county Public Schools, he continues to serve as an Education Consultant to numerous nonprofits.

Dr. Terrance Ruth has led social justice organizations at the national, state, and local levels with a reputation for being the implementation expert.  He served as the NC NAACP Executive Director under Dr. Barber and Dr. Spearman and has served as National Director of Programming for the Repairers of the Breach.

Terrance is a Lecturer at NCSU and serves as President at Justice Love Foundation.  

I helped Mayor Clarence Lightner create the CACs. Why is the current City Council so unwilling to listen to citizens?

I helped Mayor Clarence Lightner create the CACs. Why is the current City Council so unwilling to listen to citizens?

During the holidays we are re-posting some of our favorite guest blogs while we take some time away from our hectic schedules. Here is an important message from Henry Sanoff.
Henry Sanoff, a globally respected professor at North Carolina State University, copied this letter to his neighbors. We have his permission to post it here. The network of 18 Citizen Advisory Councils (CACs) was abandoned by the newly elected City Council on Feb. 4, with no advance notice and no public comment allowed.

To Mayor Baldwin and City Council members,

The key issue, which you have all disregarded during the past few months, is the need to listen.

You initially abandoned a key listening post, the CACs, which I developed working with Mayor Lightner in 1973, and which has been in place for more than 4 decades. Clearly, conflict is part of a normal process of decision making, and there is conflict when citizens discuss the future of their community.

To be fearful of conflict is antithetical to a normal planning decision process. To accept conflict as a norm does require some skills in conflict resolution.

So, the lack of serious communication in the past few days is also symptomatic of an unwillingness to listen. As a faculty member at UC Berkeley in the early 1960s, I witnessed many initially peaceful demonstrations that became violent because the police were prepared for violence without recognizing that their militaristic appearance was a partial cause.

The resort to violence was in part due to a conflict in values between students and the university administration. It required a change in the administration with an interest in listening and a willingness to compromise…and they did.

I was also in the Watts area of Los Angeles when the riots occurred. This was a visibly quiet residential area in the city, but less visible was a lack of public transportation, access to health care, and high unemployment … a tinder box ready to explode … and it did. The area appeared to be a quiet residential area. The pain experienced by the residents was not visible.

More recently, however, there have been several places in the country where local leaders joined the demonstrators in support of their grievances rather than arming for potential violence. They listened and garnered local support. This only suggests that there are problems in a community that are invisible to the untrained eye.

Your proposed approach to sensitivity training of Council members has often been proven to be ineffective. Rather, it would be more effective to identify (advisors or) consultants who are skilled in listening techniques and conflict resolution. Yes, this may require more time than pushing through hasty decisions, but ultimately may earn the support of the community to a city administration that respects the many diverse voices and a willingness to listen.

Sorry for the lecture, an occupational hazard.

Best wishes for a more enlightened future,

Henry Sanoff

Professor Emeritus of Architecture

ACSA/Alumni Distinguished Professor

North Carolina State University

Fast tracking this project is a betrayal of your relationship with the citizens

Fast tracking this project is a betrayal of your relationship with the citizens

Longtime Raleigh resident, Rachel Wooten, PhD, delivered the following remarks to the Mayor and City Council for public comment Dec 1, 2020

 

To Mayor Baldwin and Council Members,

I have just sent an email to you as a member of ONE Wake.  I am following up with a personal email. I’m copying council staff, as I would like this read into the public record at your meeting tomorrow night.

This project and the way it’s being fast tracked is a betrayal of your relationship with the citizens of Raleigh.  You have just won our support to spend our tax dollars for affordable housing in our community.  A pittance of what is actually needed, but a good start.  Now you’re proposing that our tax dollars be given to support a private development, while having no legal agreement with the developer to provide any affordable housing.  You’re proposing giving away future tax revenues that should be appropriated by the city for housing and any number of other critical needs, now and in the future, during a time of ongoing economic distress.

As a psychotherapist, I will share one of the best definitions of addiction I’ve ever heard: “You can’t get enough of what you don’t need.”

Raleigh DOES NOT need more hotels, more restaurants, another sports venue, and more expensive high rise apartment dwellings.  We are in a pandemic.  Businesses, restaurants and hotels are hanging by a thread. Not to mention entertainment venues.  And yet you’re proposing to offer tax dollars for a private developer to bring in new businesses? At this time?

The issue of betrayal of our African American community looms large here as well.  Decades ago, white development split Oberlin in two and left it in shreds.  In more recent times in Durham, a bypass was run through the Hayti community.  We need to stop our white privileged approach to these communities.  If we want to bring new development to their neighborhoods, shouldn’t we be asking them what they want? Shouldn’t we all be at the table together, building communities together, rather than superimposing on them our profit-driven developments?  Developments that are far more likely to benefit white people, and not the citizens they will most profoundly effect.

The issue of betrayal also looms large in the manner you’re going about this.  If there were no pandemic, the meetings about this rezoning would be packed.  The word is barely getting out about the project because of current gathering limits.  As you know, there is substantial opposition to this development on the part of multiple religious communities, represented by ONE Wake.  I believe you would have notable push back from the business community as well (ie, the latest article in Triangle Business Journal) for all the reasons I’ve listed above.

This appears to be a ‘done deal’ between John Kane and a number of you who received campaign contributions from him.  It appears that the tail is wagging the dog.  Raleigh is in no rush for this rezoning to be approved.  Council appears to be rushing because John Kane wants this done.  You were elected to serve all the citizens of Raleigh, not just private developers.

In closing, let me say that the optics for this project are bad from all sides.  From a “pay to play” appearance, to a white privilege appearance with no real engagement with our African American neighborhoods, to pushing for something that people need more time and information and ability to come to the table.  We are all extremely stressed and pre-occupied with Covid-19 and this hideous election cycle.

As a career psychotherapist and mediation teacher, I assure you that people are deeply traumatized at the moment, with very little bandwidth for anything other than keeping their lives going.  To push through a massive project at this time looks opportunistic and uninterested in the needs and opinions of the citizens you represent.

I’m asking you to postpone your rezoning decision until after the new year.  I’m asking you to do a great deal more outreach and information gathering about what Raleigh really wants and needs from this or any other development.  This simply is NOT the time to rush a rezoning for such a massive project with so many possible negative outcomes for all Raleigh citizens.

Sincerely,

Rachael Wooten

 

Rachael Wooten, PhD
Diplomate Jungian Analyst
Author of Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha. Sounds True, April 2020.
rachaelwootenauthor.com

 

 

Rachael Wooten, Ph.D., is a Zurich-trained Jungian analyst and a licensed psychologist who has been in private practice for over 40 years. She has taught meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 20 years. Rachael was a founding Mother of The Women’s Center in Raleigh. A long-time activist on behalf of women and the environment, Rachael relies continuously on the principle of the Interdependence of all Being, which values the sacredness of all beings–human and otherwise–as guidance in her relationships, her vocation , and her activism. She is a member of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Yavneh, a Jewish Renewal Community, ONE Wake, and Livable Raleigh.

Profiles in Courage

Profiles in Courage

As the largest development proposal ever seen in Raleigh, John Kane’s Downtown South Project challenges all the normal processes for judging community impacts and benefits.

The political pressure for quick approval is equally off the charts, so much so that the City Council has scheduled special meetings designed to force the Planning Commission into wrapping up their Downtown South review in less time than a typical rezoning, even though its complexity and impacts are the largest ever seen.

These Planning Commissioners’ service is a profile in courage and professionalism

Raleigh’s Planning Commissioners are Council-appointed volunteers who review development proposals and regulations. While some commissioners see the work as a stepping stone to political or business advancement, they all bring a spirit of community service. The work is a complex mix of legal, political and financial forces, blended into an endless triage of development analyses and recommendations to Council.

In this pressure cooker, two Planning Commissioners have recused themselves, since they are associated with Kane Realty. For the rest, it would be easy to throw up their hands and punt. But in an extraordinary display of professionalism and integrity, a majority of the remaining Commissioners are taking their oath of public service very seriously. They are working to produce a high quality set of recommendations – for a successful project that serves the public interest according to Raleigh’s community vision of sustainable and equitable prosperity. Their determination to speak up for the best interest of the public is a profile in courage.

You can see clips of them in action in a short video HERE.