I am still dazed and confused by the death of soul brother numero uno Dr. Walter de Gama.
According to Herodotus, when a Scythian king died, he was buried with his horses. As Dr. de was a classicist of the highest order, we (de Gama’s family and friends) feel it fitting to send his horses with him. So this Friday night, I will take that old minivan he had tricked out for racing to the demolition derby at the State Fair. We’ve stenciled this quote by the Scythian philosopher Anacharsis across the rear hatch: “Written laws are like spider's webs; they will catch, it is true, the weak and the poor, but would be torn in pieces by the rich and powerful.”
Mourning rituals provide context in which we can take stock of the lives now gone, and our own futures without them. The unexpected loss of Dr. de forces me to take stock of this blog - the local political scene, all that has recently passed, what is yet to come. I have had precious little time since last Tuesday to contemplate the outgoing and incoming City Councils. I no longer have an editor to review my blogs, so I post this now as it comes straight out of my brain, hoping that the stream of consciousness will help lift the heavy weight of temporality that is pressing on my psyche.
Any analysis must start with the District B City Council race. BTB.org unilaterally declared War on Taliaferro on June 8, 2005. We lost battles along the way, last Tuesday we won the war. But today no ding dong the witch is dead, I am in no mood to gloat. Taliaferro is a short-timer, I wish her only good fortune in her life outside of politics.
I must give Taliaferro credit for doing the right thing by not calling for a runoff. There was no scenario under which she could harvest even a small fraction of the voters that turned out for Republican challenger Angel Menendez.
Despite losing, Menendez’ political capital has gone way up. Waaay too many Democrats blustered that he wouldn’t get more than a percent or two of the vote - conservative white Raleigh Republicans just aren’t gonna vote for a Hispanic. Those are the all-too-common Democrats who think they know everything about how Republicans think but really know nothing. I don't care if his name is Joe Bob Brahmaputra Abdul Awwal de la Cruz, a career Marine (retired) dedicated to strict fiscal conservatism is gonna be a strong Republican vote-getter.
It'd be mighty big of the Mayor to ask the City Council to appoint Menendez to a City advisory board.
Surely Taliaferro must have recognized the parallels between her predicament and that of Benson Kirkman in the 2003 District D runoff. Challenger Crowder was within a percent or two of Incumbent Kirkman after the first round of voting. What Crowder knew and Kirkman didn’t is that everyone that would ever consider casting a vote for Kirkman already had, and the 36% of the vote that had been shared by the other two candidates was Crowder’s for the picking. Kirkman desperately wanted to succeed Meeker as Mayor, but ended the race just a pathetic shell of a politician holding the tattered hat handed to him by Crowder.
Taliaferro also desperately wants to succeed Meeker as Mayor, and she would have come out of a runoff as politically destitute and extraneous as Kirkman now is. Like other career politicians, Taliaferro will try to reinvent herself and run for something else, but like Nixon the challenge will be to remove the perception of the gigantic buffalo chip super-glued to her shoulder.
So it’s thumbs-up for Rodger Koopman and his entire District B team. Koopman needed to win this race as much as District B needed him to win it. Having lost the race for a county commission seat to former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble just last year, another defeat would have permanently marked Koopman as unelectable.
But Koopman shouldn’t (not that I think he would) get too cocky about his “mandate.” Taliaferro and her development-interest cronies will be watching closely for any signs of what they can call over-reaching. He should also be counting his lucky stars that Cary was the first to try out the instant runoff system, not Raleigh. Menendez voters - for the Republican and against the various bonds - weren’t coming out a second time just to support Democrat Taliaferro. But suppose they had been given the option of making a second choice at their visit to the polls last Tuesday. Dollars to donuts most of them would have scratched the box next to Taliaferro’s name. And Taliaferro would be sitting pretty right now.
A bit west over in District A, Nancy McFarlane did what Paul Anderson could not just two short years ago. Incumbent Tommy Craven is old school City politics; that flew when Raleigh was taking off, but the times have left him behind. There will always be the next office park or subdivision, but we are changing focus from growth to growth management. Craven couldn’t change even if he had wanted to; the expectations from him as point man for the development industry meant he had to ignore anything that would appear to interfere with it's business. Craven was vulnerable, he’s smart so of course he knew he was vulnerable, yet he just didn’t seem to try that hard. He didn’t seem to really want the job that much, certainly not in the same way Taliaferro wanted it. That is probably not a bad thing.
Russ Stephenson, drawing on a wide variety of supporters to become the top vote getter in the at-large Council race, has positioned himself as the next Council’s consensus builder. That’s the role that Mary-Ann Baldwin so desperately coveted. Though she won the other at-large seat, she was unable to shake off the stigma of being bought and paid for by Big Real Estate.
One of Baldwin’s many miscalculations was that Taliaferro and Craven were safe. They weren’t, and now it is just a sad case of be careful for what you ask for. Rather than being the nexus around which the other Councilors circle, she has rendered herself utterly irrelevant. How does Baldwin push the progressive planks she ran on, like transportation issues and cleaner air, while voting against impact fees and development standards that her Big Real Estate base abhors? That is not to say that she can’t re-invent a new role for herself on the Council over the next two years, just that it is a difficult task at best. The progressive majority just doesn’t need her - the Mayor can easily find five votes for any reasonable initiative he chooses to pursue.
Nevertheless, watch for Baldwin (and Stephenson while you’re paying attentions) to develop delusions of grandeur about that cushy office down the hall where Meeker sits.
Joining Baldwin in the green recycle bin as yesterday’s news is District C’s James West and District E’s Philip Isley. Given his close alliance with Jessie Taliaferro over the past four years, who can West turn to now for support of anything? Even the N&O pegged him (with Baldwin and Isley) as one of the developer-friendly holdovers rendered irrelevant by the progressive majority. The political fortunes of James West just took a nosedive.
Meanwhile, Philip Isley, soon to be the sole Republican on the Council, has been true to form over the last week, mostly whining that he is the only independent thinker and similar dribble. He is like some mildewy monument to reactionary politics - can’t go forward, would go backwards in a heartbeat, but is unable to move in the moment. When District E’ers get their act together and replaces him, instead of hanging out at Crabtree or putting a moat around their district, they will signal the 21st century has arrived in Raleigh.
Thumbs up for District D’s Thomas Crowder, the ideological book end to Isley. His lonely calls over the last four years for a more progressive agenda and doing the morally right thing by putting citizens first may at last be heard. He’s the one everyone is expecting to over-reach to try to strangle the goose that laid the golden egg. Can he now ratchet down the braggadocio and scootch over to the middle to get things done? We certainly hope so.
Thumbs up to Helen Tart for a campaign that was always about what’s best for the City, not what’s opportune for Helen Tart. She has long been active in City life, particularly as a member and former chair of the Raleigh Transit Authority. Transportation is a major part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which will soon be reworked for the first time in twenty years. Her transportation expertise is desperately needed on the Planning Commission, which will oversee much of the writing of that new plan.
Tart is likely to make much more of a Planning Commission seat than fellow at-large candidate Paul Anderson ever did. We really wanted Anderson to win in 2005 when he ran against Craven, and we really wanted Anderson to rise to the occasion when he was subsequently appointed to the Planning Commission. Oh, well.
And Anderson has just made it all the worse for James West, because it’s thumbs down for all of District C. The major African-American political force in Southeast Raleigh endorsed both Anderson and Stephenson. But behind the curtains, many Southeasterners made just a single mark for Anderson, and many others cast that second vote for Baldwin. Anderson lost, and Baldwin is irrelevant. So what does Stephenson owe James West or Southeast Raleigh? They can only thank their lucky stars that Stephenson has never come off as the type to hold a political grudge, so he can be counted on to do the right thing at crunch-time. But he surely doesn’t have any motivation to go out of his way to be pro-active for Southeast Raleigh either.
Having now lost two in a row that he could have easily won if he had played hard, and smart, Anderson is irrelevant. District C is growing and changing, new blood will surface and seize the reins of power in two years.
And of course it’s both thumbs up for Mayor Charles Meeker.
From where I sit, the political future of Raleigh is so bright I’m gonna have to buy shades. We here at BTB.org have little with which to judge our effectiveness. In the early months of 2005, we would get dozens of unique readers each week. Eventually dozens became scores, scores begat hundreds, until over the last three or four months we’ve been attracting thousands of unique readers each week.
But did we have an influence on the races, or was it simply timing and luck that put our picks in the right place at the right time? Our motto has always been “Blogging for a Better Raleigh.” However, real reform is not an intellectual concept; it takes a lot of hard work from a lot of stakeholders.
All of the people who worked on the winning campaigns of Koopman, McFarlane, and Stephenson can forget going back to normal life. You were Chosen. You have to get involved. Remember, many of the Mary Ann Baldwin supporters will just be on the clock when they go down to city hall to the public hearings, so you know they will be there. You’re in it for the labor of love and the belief in citizen participation.
As for me, I am emotionally and physically spent. Last week I had a dream, in which the ghost of Dr. de Gama woke me up.
“Gosh, de,” I exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”
“Lunsford,” he said, “Belowthebeltline was a great ride, but it can’t go on forever. Let somebody else take a spin at doing the heavy lifting.”
“But de, what about the Citizens, don’t they need me at the wheel?”
“They’re in good hands now. We did our job, so give it a rest.”
“What about the issues?”
“Wait u'til New Years Day. If you still feel like carrying the torque wrench, you can pick it up again. Or let it go.”
With that my ghost of an blogging buddy led me outside to a brand new 1950 Cadillac where Inga and The Intern were waiting.
“Where are we going?” I asked as I got in. Walter wheeled around the street and tore off.
“To the State Fair, silly, to ride the Ferris wheel and see the demolition derby.”
(Watch the credits of Ferris Buehler’s Day Off if you need a clue)
I awoke in a cold sweat, how can I get the ghost of de Gama to rest in peace? That’s when it hit me that we had to take his old minivan to the demolition derby.
Me, I’m going away for awhile - maybe a short while, maybe a long while, I just don’t know. Before long the holiday season will be here, with family and friends all around it can be a restorative time for me. De and I started this blog on New Year’s Day 2005. So like The Ghost Of de suggested, I will come back on New Year’s Day '08 and let y’all know if I am still in the game, or if I’m taking the site black.
Neither de nor I ever meant for this be a permanent gig. We always hoped that we could catalyze a media revolution in City politics. The paper recently had an interesting article on the interface between mainstream journalism and volunteer journalism. We would like to see several blogs focused on the City at large. And we always believed that each Council district could support a blog or two devoted solely to City politics in just that district.
So you want to be a blogger? If you want to do it right, know that this is an extraordinarily tough hobby because you are both researcher and author. It will take a ton of your time. If you have a group of people, you can divide up the work and be your own policy think tank. You better think that writing is fun. You know those columns on the paper’s op-ed page that are on the side and go top to bottom one column? Those are 750 words. It can be very difficult, but practice writing in that limited format (we seldom held it that short). Have a sense of humor, try to elevate your commentary to parody or political satire in the grand tradition when you can.
Anyway, if you want to blog about Raleigh city politics, then write about Raleigh city politics. When people want to know what is going on locally they don’t want to waste time reading about hockey or vegetables or restaurants or the national scene. Not that it is impossible to mix, say, politics and art - The New Republic is perhaps the gold standard for that. But you and me, we didn’t get no liberal arts education from Harvard and Columbia like the editors of TNR. So we need to stick to the City and only the City. Or go for the County Commissioners, and only them.
Thanks to you people, it’s been the ride of our lives.
If I went downtown and showed the Raleigh Planning Commission documents that said I was the rightful owner of half of Fayetteville Street, with an easement on the Capitol grounds, do you think I could get my case to build an auto body shop just behind the statue of Charles Brantley Aycock heard by the end of the year?
Remember months ago I told you about the developer who presented to the Planning Commission forged easements on his neighbors’ property, so he could get his development plan approved? Quess what, that plan is still pending before the commission. His son, also his employee, has been charged with two counts of common law forgery and one count of attempting to obtain property by false pretense. Those are some mighty serious offences.
Of course, we pretty much know they’re true, because at the time the father admitted they were true. About the only thing we don’t know is if the kid was acting alone or in cahoots with the old man.
At the Planning Commission meeting this morning, it came up that it’s been six months since this plan was last considered, so what’s up with it? A City planner reported that the developer’s attorney was supposed to check the authenticity of all the various easements that the developer had presented to the City, and then report back to the commission. But he’s apparently MIA. Maybe busy keeping the boy out of jail?
So the Planning Commission is still waiting for the opportunity to give the scofflaws their development, how to go about it was today’s topic. Planning Commissioner Maha Chambliss suggested that the Commission reject the plan outright, after all, the developers did lie (not to mention cheat). The City Attorney warned against that, “there are eight standards to deny a site plan, lying is not one of them.”
This was the point at which I fell out of my seat busting my gut. I thought Chambliss had made an open and shut case that if the Planning Commission accepts these lies, then it sets a precedent for all other developers to lie to the Planning Commission (like no one has ever lied before the commission before, tee hee). Chambliss got no sympathy for this argument from either her fellow commissioners or City staff.
“The person who committed the wrong was not the developer,” said the City attorney.
Huh? It was the developer’s son, “2nd in charge to my pops.” So I guess next time KB Homes wants a 500-home subdivision they can make up anything they want, because the CEO lives in L.A. and sends his minions to the meetings in Raleigh.
In the end, the Planning Commissioners decided to give the developer until the end of the year to get his attorney's report to the commission. Even Chambliss, looking utterly defeated by the apathy of her fellow commissioners, voted for that.
I am not an attorney, and we here at BTB.org do believe in the rule of law and high minded stuff like innocent until proven guilty. But every last ounce of common sense is lost on this Planning Commission. They are shot through the looking glass, where down is up, and a piece of paper saying what's yours is mine is relegated to a minor issue of larger negotiations instead of grounds for termination of any request to a representative municipal body. If it could get any weirder, let me know.
If a progressive Council is elected today, its first order of business should be to fire all the commissioners and reconstitute the Planning Commission so that all stakeholders in the City’s future are fairly represented. Okay, Big Real Estate is a legitimate stakeholder, they deserve a seat at the table, so I propose that Chambliss, the only one of the current lot with any hint of conscience, gets to stay. The rest of the seats get divvied up among the other stakeholders.
This is no trivial matter. The City is about to rewrite its Comprehensive Plan – it's calling it Raleigh 2030 and the official kick-off is just a few days away. The Planning Commission will play a pivotal role in the development of that new Comprehensive Plan.
Do you really want this motley crew of developers and developers' cronies who collectively have shown little more that a lick of sense, and even less morality, planning what your City will look like in twenty years?
Don’t lie now, tell me the truth….
Why in the world would District B City Council Incumbent Jessie Taliaferro go negative on her opponent Rodger Koopman?
She sent a flier to voters in her district claiming that "Rodger Koopman is a typical politician saying one thing and doing another." Maybe so, maybe no. Certainly we know that is the case for Taliaferro, as we have documented many times on this site.
For instance, that same flier says that "Jessie Taliaferro voted against spending $45 million in tax dollars (sic) to subsidize a parking deck for a private hotel development project in downtown."
Flashback: Raleigh City Council meeting, September 18, 2007, that's like three weeks ago. Mayor Meeker makes a motion to authorize the issuance of Certificates of Participation for $24,300,000 to finance the construction of an 553-space parking deck in downtown Raleigh - for some private development - and to spend another $300,000 for construction oversight.
Taliaferro says, "I have been a supporter of this project since day one, and I think it is going to be a great addition to our downtown." But she must object that the proposal does not meet her fundamental criterion that a tenant to lease the spaces be identified before approving the funds. When all her speechifying is over, she votes for approving the funds for the downtown parking deck anyway. (Only District A's Tommy Craven, the N&O's consensus builder, voted nay.)
"... a typical politician saying one thing and doing another."
Now less than a month later she's dissing spending on downtown parking?
"... a typical politician saying one thing and doing another."
All of which gets us back to my initial question - why in the world would Taliaferro be going negative on Rodger Koopman?
She knows something you probably don't know. Maybe she learned it by conducting a poll, maybe the political consultants who specialize in negative campaigning that she has been rubbing elbows with lately clued her in. I don't know how she learned it, I just know that she knows it.
The Koopman campaign is getting traction. There is now a real threat that Taliaferro could lose her seat.
Four days left until the voting booths open - troopers need to keep their feet on the ground 24/7 until then.
We would be nothing without The Intern. She's gone downtown, copied all the campaign finance reports, and is putting it all into a spreadsheet.
She's not done yet, but here's what we already know. The figures in this table are not for the entire campaign, rather just the last reporting period - roughly the month of September.
Big Real Estate
No surprises here. If you click on the links in the table, you can see who from Big Real Estate gave to the candidate.
In the At-Large Race -
Baldwin - Big Real Estate through and through
Anderson - now we know why he's had nothing to say on the Planning Commission for the last two years; he's on the fast track to selling out completely to Big Real Estate
Stephenson - we expected that as an architect, he would get some development money, and he did. At 10%, we're comfortable that he'll continue his push for making new development pay for at least 25% of its own way, and for a real comprehensive plan.
Tart - has a total of eleven contributors. She is a very nice lady, and ten of her contributors are very nice ladies (we also recognize the lone male, and can attest that he is a very fine gentleman).
Best - giving it his best for the under-30 crowd
Williams - his mum gave him 8,000 of his $8,723.22. Former Councilor and now State Senator and long time developer Neal Hunt gave him $200.
District B -
The percentages say it all. The blog AViewoftheCity reports that 94% of Taliaferro's money from this time period came from Big Real Estate. We tend to be a bit conservative on who we label as a development interest, so we do not dispute the 94% figure. Basically, if you give Taliaferro money and you are not one of her relatives, then it's a pretty safe bet that you profit from keeping the City under developer control.
The Intern doesn't have all those numbers entered. I think it fair to say that just about everyone who is anyone in Big Real Estate has given to incumbent Councilor Tommy Craven, just about every one else has sent a check to his opponent Nancy McFarlane.
So the next time Mary-Ann Baldwin tells you that she is not the developer's hand-picked candidate, or that she has a "well-balanced portfolio," you just wink and nod your head up and down.
Update on 10/5 - We learned from the Koopman campaign that one donor was misidentified, and will be correctly identified in a campaign finance report amendment to be filed with the Board of Elections. That brings Koopman's take from Big Real Estate down to 2% of his total take. Allso, one of Koopman's contributors balked at being labeled Big Real Estate. Though he is a realtor, he works for the "Triangle's premier small, full service real estate company... currently listing homes for 4%." For that, we have reclassified him as "Little Real Estate," his contribution still counts in our calculations.
Today the News and Observer ran a piece on offensive blogs attacking Mary Ann Baldwin. We have reported on these over the past few days.
Both of these blogs are still online. The fake blog sardonically "authored" by Baldwin was changed dramatically over the weekend, but it was not taken down. It still claims to be authored by Baldwin.
We do not know the folks that run either of those blogs.
We linked to those blogs, apparently that is news? We are irrelevant to the story. The paper wants you to visit those offensive sites, but maybe they don't want to take the heat for publishing the links. So they point you to us. Well we won't give them the satisfaction, let the paper do its own dirty work.
The paper says we defended the tone of the fake Mary Ann Baldwin blog. We reported that the blogs were online, why we thought that was news. We told people straight out they are offensive. I did ponder why these blogs even exist. By those standards, the N&O was also defending the tone in its article.
Google has a profanity clause? Type any expletive in any language into Google, and it will return countless sites brimming with profanity and pornography. Without even one of those fake firewalls that make every twelve-year boy swear that he is over eighteen.
The Baldwin campaign has taken much more from the development industry than the newspaper story reports.
If you are visiting for the first time, welcome.
Hey now, I told you people straight up that what you’d find on those links currently on the front page is in poor taste. So you click anyway, and then you have the chutzpah to complain to us that what you find is distasteful??? Forewarned, Gentle Readers, is forearmed.
One long-time reader whose occasional emails we enjoy wrote:
Dear Mr. Lane,Just checked out the latest weblinks on your site regarding Mary Ann Baldwin. They are really in bad taste. They will only detract from any rational, thoughtful discussion of the issues. I would hope that you remove these links immediately.
That got my attention right away - nobody at home or on the job will refer to me as Mr. Lane, I usually answer to steakhead, cro mag, fossil, or a simple hey you. Punk kids know they got me over a barrel as I can’t run this internets stuff without them.
We all agree, those sites are in really bad taste, I say that up front. But they are news. Just like that moveon.org ad was in bad taste but was unquestionably news. These sites raise important if disturbing questions.
Why are some Citizens so frustrated that they would resort to this level of discourse?
Why, Frustrated Gentle Reader, have you not asked WPTF to stop airing Rush Limbaugh (maybe you have), as daily he plays satirical songs and other bits that are at least as distasteful as what these bloggers are doing?
How many of Mary-Ann Baldwin's Big Real Estate supporters listen to these radio shows on a daily basis?
All of these detract significantly from rational debate, and they are just the mainstream media.
When we post cartoons and doodles, we ask ourselves if the content would make it in any mainstream newspaper or political rag. Political cartoons have always been the edgiest print on any news sheet. Dr. de will produce a drawing, I will review it, and we will go back and forth making changes to the image before we post it. We would not post what you see on those other websites in our blog, but those blogs are news because this kind of attack is new to our local elections. Now that ordinary citizens have access to audiences large and small through the blogosphere, it was only a matter of time before Limbaugh/Savage/Coulter behavior infected local politics, on both the left and right sides.
And these distasteful blogs are news because Baldwin made them news when she attacked bloggers in her first interview in the N&O a few weeks ago; she started the pissing match with these guys.
"There are lots of different ways to distort what you are saying or personally attack you," said Mary-Ann Baldwin, 50, a marketing professional who is running for an at-large seat on the Raleigh City Council. "The blogging and Internet atmosphere has really chilled a lot of people."
It’s chilling to consider her statement two months after she uttered it. It was almost prophetic, as Baldwin is trying her level best to distort her own agenda to sucker unsuspecting progressives, especially Democrat women who are desperate for strong female leaders, into voting for her. The same strategy worked for Joyce Kekas, and it’ll likely work for Baldwin. The latest polling shows that she is running second in the at-large race, the one race in which both first and second win.
The same poll asked 875 Raleigh citizens that are likely to vote in the election if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate that took money from developers. A whopping 81% said less likely. Ask Baldwin on the campaign trail if she if funded by Big Real Estate, and The Great Communicator will give a wishy-washy answer that doesn’t jive with her fundraising events and campaign reports. It’s only the bloggers who point out these inconsistencies. Perhaps if we had decent coverage of local government by the local media folks wouldn't be looking to bloggers for their news. Though finally today it seems that the News and Observer is catching on.
What rational, thoughtful discussion of the issues, Offended Gentle Reader, what with the upcoming election almost completely off the radar screen for most citizens?
On rare occasion, we change or even remove content at the request of readers. Sometimes we agree with their analyses, other times we aren’t sure but think it better to defer to their good judgment. But for the moment, Perturbed Gentle Reader, we will keep those links on the front page. And we will hope we don’t lose you and others who find them objectionable. Think of these blogs like you think of television. Now that you know what they proffer, don’t tune into those channels again. But if you have a strong stomach, take another hit from the Ouzo bottle and keep on keeping on.
Thankfully, not all readers write in with complaints, sometimes we get humorous stuff. So let’s end this blog on a high note, with this tidbit that came in this morning:
Those of us at the candidate's forum last night happen to know that today is Mary Ann Baldwin's birthday. Happy Birthday, Mary Ann! Here's her horoscope, as reported in the N&O:"You may be dreaming the impossible dream this fall as you become more ambitious and concentrate on material success. Although you feel invincible and sure of yourself, this isn't the time to gamble all your resources. A lack of preparedness may hamper achieving your aspirations, but you can cure this by paying your dues or obtaining the necessary qualifications. What is most dear to your heart could change drastically."
My posts over the past week have elicited more than a few retorts from distressed readers. Where to begin?
Today let’s deal with my 9/11 blog on the high dollar Big Real Estate Luncheon for At-Large City Councilor candidate Mary-Ann Baldwin, with current District B Councilor Jessie Taliaferro and also At-Large hopeful Paul Anderson surfing coattails. My comments were provocative, they were intended to be, and they provoked a passionate response from Mrs. Anderson. You can read her response in its entirety in her new blogspot (which appears to have been created solely to respond to my post).
If you don’t know her already, Ms. Anderson is an accomplished professional, an accomplished artist, an accomplished student, and from the content of her letter clearly devoted to her family. All around truly great lady; we bash politicians, not politicians’ families, so she is off limits.
I take her letter at face value, as sincere and true; but I would like to respond to some of her statements about Mr. Anderson.
He was not aware until recently that it was being billed as a fundraiser for Mary Ann Baldwin.
These are the kinds of things candidates must be aware of. Does he have a campaign manager? A kitchen cabinet to run strategy by?
I attended the event today, not Paul, because I wanted to share with the group why I felt that Paul was a candidate worth supporting.
He committed, they printed the invitations, and then he didn’t show? Classic Paul Anderson. They don’t let you send a proxy to City Council meetings.
I invite you to base your judgment of him upon his platform (www.andersonatlarge.com)...
Fair enough. How about he post a platform? Everybody without exception wants Efficient Government, Sustainable Growth, Safe Environment and Neighborhoods. What we argue over is how to achieve those. Anderson doesn’t address a single specific issue at hand on his website; who wrote that stuff for him, communications expert Mary-Ann Baldwin? There is a vague reference to public-private partnerships that comes straight out of Big Real Estate’s own blog. What about anything the Council is likely to actually consider over the next two years? How about tiered pricing for water? What about increasiing impact fees? What about TIFs for John Kane’s parking deck? Oh yeah, Anderson recently told IndyWeek he is “undecided” about that one. Saying you’re undecided on a issue this important to the fiscal management of the City this close to the election means one of two things: 1) you don’t want to say publicly that you will support it, or 2) you’re still shopping around answers to see which will buy you the most votes/contributions/endorsements.
Now we are starting to understand the endorsement by Big Real Estate on Anderson’s front page.
On another note, I am concerned that you would believe that Paul Anderson, as an African American candidate, would only rely on the African American vote in Southeast Raleigh to win the City Council election. What, or who, gave you that impression?
Word on the street? Speaking directly with engaged folks in District C? The Democratic Party? We don't make this stuff up. How about the postcard District C City Councilor James West mailed out a few days ago?
West seldom raises more than a couple of thousand dollars each campaign, and he gets that mostly from a few developers who want to curry favor with him. West’s unopposed, he will win even if he is the only one who marks the space next to his name. He’s safe as safe gets. Yet now he sends out a card that says right on the front “I need your help to elect a Raleigh City Council that is responsive to the needs of Southeast Raleigh and our fast growing city.”
Ol’ LL didn’t fall off the cabbage wagon yesterday. This is an attempt to mobilize the African-American vote in Southeast Raleigh. And it’s a good idea, because almost no one is going to come out to vote in October. The winners will be those who take special efforts to mobilize their voters. At the end of the month, when the next campaign finance reports come in, we’ll let you know who gave West the money for that mailing. Dollars to donuts it’s Big Real Estate.
I could pick apart the rest of Ms. Anderson’s response, but y'all
get my point. We wanted to support Mr. Anderson, really we did. See
some of our
posts from the last election, we supported
him even as we busted him for
We were pleased when he went to the Planning Commission, we really were. There he could learn about the City planning process, see first-hand how so many of the problems we face are created, and build a broad-based constituency. He has a bully pulpit, he can take a stand, for something, anything. Instead we got nothing. Most commission meetings came and went without a peek from Anderson. No reaching out. No taking stands on important planning issues. Apparently no comprehension. Nothing but silence.
So now instead of broad-based support, Anderson has cobbled together an odd mix of realtors and home builders and South Raleigh residents. And it’s showing in the polling, with Anderson lagging behind.
Any chance of Ms. Anderson running in '09?
How else does one appropriately recognize the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on our nation and our values by a band of whacked-out radicalized Islamists? The Imam over at the Raleigh Islamic Center preaches that "The main goal of a non-believer or infidel, in this life, is to attain the highest degree of its goods (or material wealth), lusts, and vanities - without limitation or restraint, and there is no goal for life in the hereafter." (I kid you not, how's that gonna promote tolerance and people just getting along and whatnot?) So really, let's do lunch, k?
And what better way to honor this solemn day than to lunch with those who would sell out our democratic institutions to line the pockets of Big Real Estate?
That's right folks, the political stars are lining up, and in Orion's belt are Mary-Ann Baldwin, Jessie Taliaferro, and Paul Anderson.
Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka.
That's good news for Anderson. Making only a modest effort at campaigning (the same tactic that cost him the District A seat two years ago), he is counting on much of Southeast Raleigh, where much of the (politically active) African-American population resides, to single-shot him - that is, vote only for him even though they could cast votes for two at-large candidates. That alone isn't enough to win. Baldwin brings Anderson credibility in the Big Real Estate Community, and some access to their money and votes.
It's probably good news for Baldwin. She has so much money from Big Real Estate that no other candidate will come even close to mounting the campaign blitz she will unleash. She is probably thinking that Anderson's support will garner her votes in Southeast Raleigh. And folks down there may outwardly support her. But in the privacy of the ballot box, they are not going to diminish the chances of an African-American getting elected at-large by diluting their votes.
And it's all-around bad new for Taliaferro. With As Big Real Estate's most reliable water carrier, Taliaferro is looking for some help toting that load, and she has found it in Baldwin. Right now she has At-Large Councilor Joyce Kekas. Kekas' sole agenda is to do whatever Taliaferro tells her; in two years she has not had a single initiative she can claim as her own.
But Kekas isn't running for re-election.
And Baldwin is no Kekas. Taliaferro and Baldwin will vote together to give away free parking decks to multimillionare developers and to hold down impact fees rather than your property taxes. But Baldwin will not be Taliaferro's patsy.
Taliaferro wants to be Mayor, if only Charles Meeker will get out of her way. But surely Charles couldn't consider a fifth term as Mayor, so surely it must be Taliaferro's turn in 2010.
But suppose Baldwin gets similar ideas....
So let's do lunch today. What two-fiddy among infidels?
Recently I read somewhere that Durham Senator Atwater successfully passed legislation allowing our fine sister City of Durham to repair or demolish abandoned and boarded houses after six months rather than twelve.
Now more than two years ago I was weepin’ and wailin’ that while other cities in North Carolina were getting authority from the State Legislature to demolish abandoned homes that had been boarded up for six months, Raleigh was getting none. That year, Senator Carr got that authority for both the Town of Cary and the City of Greenville. The year before, Winston-Salem and Reidsville both got the wait time cut from a year to six months. Eden, Lumberton, Roanoke Rapids, Whiteville, all municipalities in Lee County, Bethel, Farmville, Newport, and Waynesville all have to wait just six months as well.
We have big problems with boarded houses here in Raleigh, but it's nothing doing in the State Capitol. Two years ago when Cary and Greenville got biscuits and gravy, our Senator (and former City Councilor) Janet Cowell would only ask the legislature for permission to study cutting the time before the City can take action against the owners of dilapidated buildings to six months. The bill authorizing the study withered on the vine, and there’s not been a peep about it since.
This legislative session, Cowell sponsored a bill that will strip Raleigh of its zoning power over state-owned property within a six-block radius of the Capitol. That bill is sitting on the Governor’s desk, I’ve heard no indication that he won’t sign it.
We’re at the front end of a Downtown revival, the State Government Complex is the dominating land use feature in Downtown, and now we have no say-so in how the State will use land as all our zoning and all our planning will be rendered irrelevant by the stroke of the Guvnor’s pen. All because the State wants to put up some ratty parking deck?
Cowell has since apologized, calling her bill a mistake. But Cowell is not longer a greenhorn in the Senate, she has no excuse for not knowing the process. And she has a proven record of giving not much more than lip service to Raleigh’s desire to improve the safety and beauty of its neighborhoods, Downtown and beyond.
Before she pulled this bone-headed move to hurry up the construction of a new parking deck, Cowell appeared to oppose more Downtown parking, at least State-sponsored parking.
She proposed putting state workers in the double chickenwing camel clutch, by providing 15% fewer parking spaces than needed to accommodate the work force. Cowell figures the State subsidizes parking for its Downtown employees by about $65 apiece each month. About time to force those unwashed masses to hike, carpool, ride bikes, take the bus.
It’s just the kind of intriguing hypothetical yet wholly impractical idea one expects from a Wharton School of Business graduate. It's theoretically interesting, an experiment regulating supply and demand in a controlled market.
New Coke seemed like a good idea to somebody too, but people don't like you messing with what they've come to know and expect. So reality sets in - take a group of employees, over several years give them no or tiny annual raises, slash their health benefits, and now pile on by squeezing them on parking. Most Downtown State workers can’t afford Downtown homes (at least the ones fit for occupancy). Ever seen a bike lane Downtown? Ever spent the two hours it takes to catch the bus from Garner to Raleigh? I understand the build-it-and-they-will-come concept, but the don’t-build-it-and-see-if-they-can-figure-out-how-to-get-there-anyway strategy completely escapes me.
Cowell recently announced that she is running for State Treasurer. Her only base of support is her home base in the greater Raleigh area. How’s this for an election strategy? Tick off every state worker in and around the City. Tick off every other Citizen by showing complete disregard for dilapidated housing and local zoning. Then announce you want one of the highest offices in the State. Imagine mis-investing the State employees’ retirement fund, then writing a letter to the newspaper editor apologizing for the mistake.
Here’s an alternative game plan. Get Raleigh the same authority to regulate dilapidated housing that Bethel, Cary, Eden, Farmville, Greenville, Lumberton, Newport, Reidsville, Roanoke Rapids, Waynesville, Winston-Salem, Whiteville, and every podunk crossroads in Lee County already have. Then we can discuss fitness for higher office.
And now we find out that it’s actually the City of Raleigh that owns many
of the boarded-up houses Downtown?!
On October 9th, you’ll have the opportunity to vote not only for your Mayor and City Councilors, but also for how to spend much of your hard-earned money.
Wake County wants to borrow $50,000,000 to buy land to conserve open space and protect water quality, wildlife habitats, scenic areas and natural areas suitable for recreational or other public uses. Wake County lost 75,000 acres of open space between 1990 and 2002, and the pace has accelerated. If we don’t act now, we won’t have anything to preserve in a few short years.
Wake County wants to borrow another $92,000,000 to improve facilities for Wake Technical Community College. There is no sounder investment than in the education of our young folk, and the retraining of our adult work force.
Wake County wants to borrow yet another $45,000,000 for construction and renovation of County libraries. The library is the soul of a community.
Finally, Our Fair City of Raleigh wants to borrow $88,600,000 for building new park, greenway, and recreational facilities and improving current parks. Parks bonds are pretty much no-brainers, just about everyone votes for just about every parks bond referendum floated.
So why did many park advocates initially speak out against the Raleigh Parks Bonds public hearing earlier this year?
And why is BTB.org still telling folks to “Just Say No” to these bonds?
Flashback to early Spring of this year. The City Council holds a public hearing on proposing the parks bonds, as it is required to do by state law. Lending his full support, Mr. Green Jeans speaks of a historic moment for the City of Raleigh, a new vision clearly within our grasp.
But then comes Wake Audubon Society, much more cautious - why is there $9 million for ball fields at unspecified sites in Northeast Raleigh? Both Audubon and BTB.org know the answer – the unspecified sites are nature parks.
Then People for Parks speaks– what’s up with $9,000,000 for a Northeast Raleigh Community Center and $2,000,000 for a Northeast Raleigh Active Recreation Partnership, at unspecified locations? Both People for Parks and BTB.org know the answer – the unspecified sites are nature parks.
Others echo these concerns. If you haven’t kept up with the Horseshoe Farm Park controversy, brush up here. And centered squarely in the eye of this perfect storm is none other than District B City Councilor Jessie Taliaferro. She has been the go-to girl for the construction of active recreation facilities in nature parks.
The Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Board has gone the way of the Planning Commission – not only completely out of touch with the average Citizen, but downright hostile to the Democratic process in general and that average Citizen in particular. BTB .org Hall of Famer the late Martha Greene takes the podium to tell the City Council that the rift between the citizens and government seems incredible, but that the City has a tremendous opportunity to develop the issues of good government, especially transparency. She pleads with the Council to do whatever it can to close that rift.
The Mayor takes immediate notice of the alarm raised by Citizens, well respected Citizens at that, and suggests that the City Council hold a planning session and decide where ball fields and activity centers will be placed. He can’t even finish his request without Taliaferro interrupting - that’s the job of the Parks Board, we have a process, do not step in and do their work for them. The quite perturbed Mayor insists that the Council pow-wow to make these decisions, thank you very much, end of story.
Nevermind that it really doesn't go down quite like that, at the May 15th City Council meeting Mayor Meeker announces that there is not going to be a community center at Horseshoe Farm Park. At this point, the overwhelming assumption of Citizens is that they are getting a nature park without all the active recreation baggage Taliaferro loaded into the proposed master plan. But just when you think everyone's done talking, done negotiating, count on Taliaferro to play her endgame.
Taliaferro, not wanting to be outflanked, moves that the City Council approve the construction of several of the elements of the Horseshoe Farm Park Master Plan, like canoe and kayak launches, picnic shelters, a playground, and restrooms.
Whoa Nelly, says District D City Councilor Thomas Crowder. After all her squawking about process, now Taliaferro wants to build facilities at Horseshoe Farm Park without first approving a master plan?
Taliaferro launches into a tortured explanation about how her motion is pretty much the same as adopting a master plan (except that it ain’t), why not build the consensus items now, reconsider the contentious items (active recreation facilities) in a couple of years. For some unknown reason the Council takes the bait, unanimously approving Taliaferro’s motion.
I’m sure Taliaferro thinks this is a brilliant strategy - dupe the parks advocates into thinking that Horseshoe Farm is now and forever a nature park, get their support today for the bonds, get the bond money next year, and a year or two after that build basketball courts and tennis courts and gymnasiums at nature parks anyway. Why not, there is no master plan that says no active recreation at Horseshoe Farm.
The City Public Affairs folks fell for Taliaferro's sleight-of-hand, with the City website now declaring Council Approves Horseshoe Farm Park Master Plan.
But that never happened! The News and Observer got it right, with “… the council's approval… making it possible for tennis courts or a gym to be considered in the future,” said David Shouse, a park planner.
There are those Citizens, I postulate most citizens, who want to preserve Horseshoe Farm for nature-based recreation. And there are certainly many Citizens who prefer the City embrace its new-found urbanity and build more active recreation facilities. These are not either-or choices, this is a textbook situation where a true leader would work towards a resolution where all sides get what they need, with a place for everything and everything in its place. After all, we are not paupers, with Wake County always ranking as one of the wealthiest in the State. We are not out of real estate, yet, and there are plenty of underutilized brownfields throughout the City. We still have plenty of room for both ball courts where ball courts are appropriate and needed and nature parks where nature is plentiful.
Both Government 101 and Business School 101 teach that leadership defined by vision and trust is diametrically opposed to artifice characterized by sophistry and peevish micromanagement.
Clearly we here at BTB.org have a bias against Taliaferro, oh that's right, we call it a war. With her, it hardly matters what is said in the weeks or months or years during which an issue works its way through the public process. For her MO is at the end, at the final moment of decision, when everyone else thinks all the tough choices have been made and they are no longer paying close attention, to swoop down out of the blue and snatch the sausage right off the plate. There is no more effective method to disenfranchise Citizens, with all their time and all their effort rendered meaningless in an instant.
The entire City Council failed the Citizenry when it validated Taliaferro’s deception. These are not the tactics of politicians that can lead Raleigh to greatness. Dr. de is the illuminati in this organization, perhaps sometime soon he can shed light on what makes a politician so desperately insecure as to destroy everything around her as she seeks approval.
We have already shown that even the proposed nature park at Horseshoe Farm
is much more about development than it is about unspoilt nature. But plain
and simple, a vote for the Parks bonds is a vote to pave paradise.
Back in July, Dr. de wondered how much money Big Real Estate would pony up for the City Council campaigns, and also who would take the bait and be its newest public face.
All of the candidates had to file financial reports by the end of July, so we sent The Intern downtown last week to read them and answer de's questions. She's still calculating the answer to the first, suffice for now to say it's a bunch. The answer to the second question is Mary-Ann Baldwin.
A few weeks ago I lamented that Baldwin, who is running for an at-large seat on the Raleigh City Council, is pulling a fast one on voters. Baldwin pitches herself as the consensus candidate for the community, and some of you gentle readers chastized me for assailing her. But hard numbers are now in, and the numbers don't lie: Baldwin is owned lock stock and barrel by Big Real Estate.
Baldwin reported raising more than $36,000 thus far. The lion’s share is from Big Real Estate. And this is before last week’s fundraising soirrè at the home of ÜberRealtor Russell Gay. Indeed, her contributor list reads like a who’s who of Big Real Estate – realtors, mortgage bankers, builders, designers, just about anyone who makes a living in the development business. (If your inquiring mind just has to know, you can see a sampling of the contributors here.)
Yeah, there are a few regular ol' citizens who have chipped in a few dollars here and there - Mr. Green Jeans, a local actress, a handful of homemakers each threw in $250. But all totalled, these contributions are a pittance compared to what Big Real Estate has ponied up. Most every Council candidate gets at a least a few bucks from the real estate industry. But there has never been a Councilor that has taken from the real estate industry the kind of bling that Baldwin is reeling in and not been a mere shill for Big Real Estate.
So Baldwin wants on the City Council to make big-league decisions. So what? Well, we have a real problem, gang, and that is progressives being suckered into voting for candidates that talk the progressive talk, meaning certain values and ideals, and then vote Big Real Estate, meaning their agenda protecting their interests only.
From where we sit here at BTB.org, Tax Increment Financing is arguably the number one issue this election cycle, because it gives the Council the option of giving away hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to subsidize private, not public, development. TIF as recently proposed in Raleigh is a scam and a ripoff in any form. It is wrong, period. Any elected official telling you what a great idea this is should be thrown out of office.
IndyWeek’s Bob Geary reports this week that when he asked Baldwin if she supports giving John Kane $75 million of public money (lifted right out of your wallet) to build a private parking deck at North Hills, she said she’s undecided.
NOT AN ACCEPTABLE ANSWER, MRS. BALDWIN.
There is only "yes" or "no" on this question. No serious candidate can be undecided on such a fundamental issue less than two months before election (Earth to Paul Anderson and Helen Tart: Get a clue!).
What Baldwin is unsure about is how she is going to pull off a Joyce Kekas; that is, convince the regular citizenry that you are for them while you are actually in the back pocket of Big Real Estate. Publicly admitting up that you are for this give-away-to-the-rich is political suicide. So is Baldwin trying to leave the door open? Can she possibly think that she can duck the issue now, and not have to face the music of flip-flopping later when she signs the check to John Kane? We are not willing to take that risk, and neither should you.
We wrote off DINO Jessie Taliaferro years ago, but in the last campaign, we told you over and over again that Kekas was no progressive Democrat. Most of y’all didn’t believe it then, but you see it now. Making the same mistake with DINO Baldwin will be an order of magnitude more dangerous, as the substantive difference between Baldwin and Kekas is that Baldwin is oh so much smarter and craftier.
BTB.org Prediction - No other candidate will come close to raising the kind of cash that Big Real Estate will rain on Baldwin, so she wins one of the two at-large seats.
BTB.org Prediction Numero Dos - All you progressive Baldwin groupees are gonna be singing the BTB blues when you finally figure out whose side she really is on.
A couple of months ago, I told you the story of the son from the father/son development company that forged the signatures on a deed that gave them easement rights to a neighbor's property. And of the tepid response of the Raleigh Planning Commission when it was asked to approve the site plan for the proposed development.
Later I asked if the City of Raleigh would ever prosecute either the son or father for violating the municipal code.
That of course was a rhetorical question, because of course the City will not go after these scofflaws. Lest you forget, they are developers. And municipal law don't apply to developers.
Today, thanks to the News and Observer, we find out that the son learned the art of forgery from the father. (The "employee" mentioned in the paper is the son.)
Did the City prosecute the father when he forged signatures on City documents?
How would you like to be exempt from local laws? Forget pasting a sticker from the Policeman's Benevolent Association on your windshield.
Just cough up the dues for the Triangle Community Coalition, and they'll send you a stack of these to flash whenever you get stopped by Raleigh law enforcement:
No one from the City will dare touch you when you have one of those.
"There are lots of different ways to distort what you are saying or personally attack you," said Mary-Ann Baldwin, 50, a marketing professional who is running for an at-large seat on the Raleigh City Council. "The blogging and Internet atmosphere has really chilled a lot of people."
So reported the News and Observer over the weekend. Think Baldwin could have been wagging her finger at lil' ol’ de Gama and Lane here at BTB.org? We can at least stroke our egos by thinking so.
Do we really distort what politicians say? Reviewing our posts from the last two and a half years, I think it more accurate to describe what we do as communicating exactly what our local politicians say and do - they have quite a knack for stating the absurd without our distortions.
Case in point: Mary-Ann Baldwin, 50, a marketing professional who is running for an at-large seat on the Raleigh City Council. She’s got a slick website, check it out.
Mary-Ann Baldwin. City Council.
As a member of City Council, I will work for: Improved communication among council members, City staff and citizens...
The first item on my agenda will be to offer my skills and experience to help the Mayor and our Council improve communication among ourselves, the staff and the people of Raleigh . We also need to communicate effectively with our Wake County legislative delegation, the Wake County Commissioners and our Board of Education to work together on our issues and challenges. We can and should do better if we expect the citizens of our community to have confidence in our decisions.
Got it? Job one is communication. Only problem is, Baldwin forgot to communicate just what office she is running for.
I kid you not. Peruse her website, it says she seeks to become a member of the City Council. OK, there are eight members of the City Council - one from each of the five districts, two at-large, and one who gets to be Mayor. Does she want to represent District C, where she resides? Perhaps she would like to run at-large, represent all of the Citizens of Our Fair City? What the heck, shoot for the moon and sit in the Mayor's chair.
Nowhere on her website does Baldwin tell us just WHAT she is running for (of course, if you read this blog post after she does, that will have changed).
So The Great Communicator can’t even communicate what office she seeks. You tell us - by pointing out this simple fact, am I personally distorting what Baldwin is saying or worse yet am I personally attacking her?
What else is Baldwin communicating, or more accurately not communicating? Read the Issues page of her website, then tell us what she stands for.
First and foremost, communication. The first item on my agenda will be to offer my skills and experience to help the Mayor and our Council improve communication among ourselves, the staff and the people of Raleigh.
According to Baldwin, more effective communication would have averted the recent sanitation workers debacle. Never mind that the garbage men threatened to walk out because they got stiffed on overtime, not because an uncommunicative boss forgot the second canon of the One-Minute-Manager: One Minute Praising - Praise your employees by catching them doing the right thing.
The right thing to do was to pay the men for the work they were doing, that would have much more effectively communicated our gratitude for their sweat than a few atta-boys. The whole affair had serious racial overtones, as most of the garbage men are African-American, with even the NAACP stepping in the fray. As Frederick Douglass once said, “The white man's happiness cannot be purchased by the black man's misery.” Now that is effective communication.
Those last two paragraphs are certainly provocative, as I intended. But are they distortion? Or a personal attack?
It’s important to have someone on Council who supports growth, but also understands that we have to guide growth, preserve the character of our neighborhoods and conserve our natural resources.
So what do you think about the hot button growth issues? Would you increase impact fees? Put restrictions on teardowns and infill? Strengthen the Mayor’s tree ordinance? Develop in the water-supply watershed? Flatten Kidds Hill and build towers in the Crabtree Valley floodplain? Pave over Horseshoe Farm Park? Repave Hillsborough Street? Give John Kane a $75 million parking deck? Inquiring minds want to know.
Word on the street, where the magpies are garrulous, is that Baldwin is Big Real Estate’s candidate. Anoited to run at least to replace retiring At-Large Councilor Joyce Kekas, who has handed the Key to the City over to Big Real Estate; at best to knock out At-Large Councilor Russ Stephenson, who by refusing to let go of the impact fee issue has royally annoyed Big Real Estate. And Big Real Estate doesn't get mad, it gets even.
We also need to invest in our transportation systems to maintain our quality of life... Funding new roadways is only one solution to the problem. We also need to take a fresh look at transit on a local and regional basis. That fresh look requires vision, imagination and an ability to look into the future.
Fantastic. So just what is your vision? Do you support light rail or not? You do make your living selling the services of road builders, so you do have a bit of a marketing challenge convincing the electorate that you can effectively promote alternatives to asphalt.
Fact is, Baldwin doesn’t tell us where she stands on almost any of the important issues facing the Citizens of Raleigh.
Her nascent campaign is eerily reminiscent of that of Joyce Kekas in 2005. She’s a Democratic. She’s a she. She's for “Balanced Growth,” “Community Values,” “You - the Citizens of Raleigh.”
When “I want to make Raleigh an even better place to live, work and raise a family” isn’t backed by specifics, it's not a position statement, it's a not-so-clever rhetorical trope.
As it did for Kekas, the Big Real Estate money is expected to flow to Baldwin.
And like Kekas, Baldwin is quickly garnering the support of progressives. Not only is she a Democrat, she lives in a downtown condo, so she just has to be progressive.
For now, we'll not write off Baldwin. She’s smart, she’s accomplished. She could do good for the City. And she'll probably win. But so far, what she is passing off as improved communication, we here at BTB.org call old fashioned political hubris. Hopefully, forgetting to tell us what she is running for, or stands for, is just a minor stumble, not a harbinger of the rest of her campaign.
But if as rumored the Big Real Estate money does fill Baldwin's coffers, we'll most certainly let you know. Then if you want to believe that we are distorting her intent or personally attacking her, that will be fine by us.
For as Frederick Douglass also said, “When men sow the wind it is rational to expect that they will reap the whirlwind.”
Our Fair City has five Council districts, and all five incumbent Councilors are running again. Until yesterday, only District A had a challenger - small business owner Nancy McFarlane, not affiliated with any political party, is taking on Republican and small business owner Tommy Craven (who hasn't filed for re-election yet but is expected to do so).
For months now, there has been talk of a Democratic challenger to District B's current Coucilor, Democrat Jessie Taliaferro. Of the four names bantered about, none has filed to run, though rumor has it that one will file before the deadline Friday afternoon. Yesterday, Republican Angel Menendez bit the bullet and signed up to oppose Taliaferro.
Menendez serves on the Executive Committee of the Wake County Republican Party. He represents the Triangle Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, one of ten recognized auxilliaries of the local GOP. From its website, The mission of the RNHA is to build a membership organization to foster the principles of the Republican Party in the Hispanic community; to provide Hispanic Americans with a forum to play an influential role in local, state, and national Party activities; to increase the number of Hispanic Republican elected officials; and to create and maintain a network of Hispanic Republican leaders.
We'll have to cogitate on this for a while, but it is probably good news all around. It is healthy to have contested Council races; contests in two districts out of five is twice as good as a contest in only one district (though still pathetic). It is also good news for a Democratic challenger to Taliaferro. As a DINO, she would likely pick up the lion's share of Republican votes if a true Republican weren't in the race. Now many if not most of those votes are ripe for picking by Menendez. Leaving Taliaferro to scrap for as many Democrat votes as possible.
The gates close at noon this Friday - hopefully this bit of news will encourage one of the potential Democratic contenders to actually enter the race. There are beaucoup disaffected voters in District B. Make no mistake about it - her Big Real Estate money not withstanding, Taliaferro can be taken down.
Which, as you can guess by the tone of this post (this whole blog), wouldn't break any hearts here at BTB.org.
Heck, we'd much rather have a genuine Republican than a DINO.
note on Thursday - Tommy C's officially in.
Some of you think I over-exaggerate the role of Big Real Estate on the City Council and the City's Planning Commission, others just think I sound like a broken record.
But I did say on July 4th that The City Council still has one seat to fill, and the prospects of appointing anyone that will advocate for any stakeholder other than Big Real Estate are slim.
And sure enough, today the Council filled that last seat with Bonner Gaylord. Nominated of course by none other that Big Real Estate's Dream Girl, District B City Councilor Jessie Taliaferro.
It's a clean sweep for Big Real Estate, with no other stakeholder allowed to have effective representation on the Planning Commission.
Expect action on giving a $75 million parking deck to John Kane for free, immediately after the Council elections this fall.
It was Aristotle who said if liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.
Liberty and equality in Raleigh?
Not gonna happen under Mayor Meeker's watch.
No, we did not know Martha Greene.
Yes, we will miss her.
Yes, she belongs in the BTB.org Hall of Fame.
Happy Birthday, America.
We here at BTB.org love this day. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and everybody in North Carolina gets to fish for free!
As Thomas Jefferson said, there is nothing more patriotic than dissent. And if Dr. de and I are about anything, it’s dissent from business as usual in City of Raleigh politics. What better way to celebrate the freedom we have in this country than to post on Independence Day?
I promised weeks ago to weigh in mightily on the fiasco that is the City of Raleigh's Planning Commission. You, like I, probably thought that the Commission had sunk as low as it could, had struck rock bottom with a Developer/Chairman that held no regard for the laws governing the Commission or for that matter with no reluctance to use the Commission to promote legislation designed specifically to enrich his own development business. I’ve been chasing rumors ever since, and with the City Council appointing new commissioners over the past few weeks, the rumors are confirmed – as hard as it is to conceive, believe, or achieve, the Planning Commission has hit a new low.
A couple of months ago, the Commission’s bad boy of the building industry, Charles "Chuck" Walker, resigned when he moved out beyond the city limits. A Commissioner can only serve for three consecutive terms (that's six years) and Walker’s literal partner-in-development Commission Chair Jim Baker and former Chair and like-minded developer Mark Everett are reaching the end of the line. In normal times, this would be occasion for song and dance, but we have also lost Commissioners Erin Kuczmarski and Betsy Kane.
Long-time readers will recall that Kuczmarski was BTB.org's golden girl, and we ran a successful campaign to have her re-appointed after District B City Councilor Jessie Taliaferro tagged-teamed with former Planning Commissioner Scott Cutler to engineer her ouster. Kuczmarski had been a faint voice for the average Joe and Joanne. But she ultimately fell from BTB.org’s graces when she crossed over to the dark side with her own development, submitting a rezoning application that ignored the letter and the spirit of the state law that covers the zoning process. Despite that, she’ll not be reappointed by the recently elected County Commissioners (she lives outside the city limits in the Extraterritorial Jurisdiction limits).
Now Commish Kane has handed in her letter of resignation - her new employment in state government does not give her the developer’s luxury of attending numerous meetings during the work day. Kane, though a professional planner and attorney nominally in the development support business herself, never wandered off the high road, and was the sole representative of the common citizen. So should you run into her at any of her favorite downtown or uptown haunts, be sure to buy that woman a drink, because we all owe her for keeping the torch lit for so long.
Many had hoped that failed District A City Council Candidate now Planning Commissioner Paul Anderson would add another voice of reason when he was appointed more than a year ago, but he has been literally moot at the Commission table. Word on the street is that he is running for a Council seat again, this time at-large. It’s his best shot; former District A is not likely to get behind him again, and as a African-American he can hope to draw out that vote from across the City. But if he approaches this campaign with the same tepid enthusiasm he exhibited in his last campaign and subsequently on the Planning Commission, all is already lost.
So what’s next?
A few weeks ago, the City Council unanimously appointed local engineer/real estate agent Waheed Haq to the Planning Commission. A reasonable person might note that Commissioner Maha Chambliss, also a development engineer, does a more than adequate job of advocating for Big Real Estate in general, its engineers in particular. But the old rule of thumb is that you can’t have too many developers on a planning commission.
Haq had served unremarkably for several years on the City’s Appearance Commission, where he failed to meet the attendance uber-criteria to which Council Taliaferro holds all commissioners and board members. Haq had poor attendance on the Appearance Commission. Taliaferro based her opposition to the reappointment of Kuzsmarski on her 70% attendance, and just recently she tried to eject David Knight from the Parks Board for 65% attendance.
Haq's attendance record on the Appearance Commission? 50% in 2004, 58% in '05, 55% in '06. But Haq, because he is Big Real Estate’s boy, got a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card from Taliaferro.
Haq is an active member of the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors, and served on its Government Affairs Committee for almost 3 years. The Association was gloating in its last newsletter, glowing over Haq – make no mistake, he is their man. Mathew Brown, long time supporter of Mayor Meeker, was also nominated for the seat now occupied by Haq. For several weeks, the Council vote was deadlocked 4 for 4 against Brown. But the Mayor is notorious for not rallying behind his supporters, and in any showdown between the Mayor and Taliaferro (and there are many) the odds lay 9-1 on Taliaferro. So the Mayor rolled on Brown, as he had done twice before, and Haq was in like Flint.
Haq has a unique problem as a Planning Commissioner. He served for several years on the N.C. Board of Ethics. Appointed by the Governor, it's hard to know just what that Board does – it holds secret meetings and all the links to substantive information on its webpage are broken. That for sure ain’t right. It only takes an occasional glance at the paper or evening news to know that the constant chatter about State officials like Wright and Black and Decker doesn't say much for the Ethics Board.
And that’s the rub for Hag – ethics is about what is right and what is wrong. Big Real Estate has colluded with our local politicians to exclude every other stakeholder from the Planning Commission, and that is plain and simple wrong. So Haq of all people should be particularly troubled by his appointment. He is Big Real Estate’s boy, so no matter how fair-minded he promises to be, merely sitting in a Commission seat that rightfully should be filled by a representative of any of the various unrepresented stakeholders is plain and simple wrong.
There is only one ethical path that Haq can trod, but he will not go down that road. The right thing for him to do is resign.
But folks, it gets worse. At its last meeting, the City Council appointed local attorney Clyde Holt to the Planning Commission. Old timers will instantly recognize his name, as Holt used to be a fixture in City Hall. He started his career as an attorney for the City, then went into private practice. He was known as the go-to guy for pushing through any square development project that had to be fit into a round hole in the comprehensive plan. Show up at any City Council meeting, and you would find Holt. He eventually moved on to more fertile feeding grounds, serving as the General Counsel for the Centennial Authority (which operates the RBC Center) and also as City Attorney for Knightdale.
So many were surprised when Holt announced that he was sticking a toe back into Raleigh development waters by seeking a seat on the Planning Commission. Seems like pretty small potatoes for a big shot like Holt. But here’s what they overlook. The City is about rewrite its Comprehensive Plan.
According to the City’s website, the comprehensive plan is an official long range policy statement adopted and amended by formal resolution of the City Council. It is a major component of the planning process for the city as it guides the long-range, comprehensive decision making process involving primarily physical development and those city actions expected to influence development in the long-term. The comprehensive plan contains goals, objectives, policies and guidelines for growth and redevelopment for the city.
The Planning Commission, working with the City’s Planning Staff, will take the lead role in developing the new plan. This is an opportunity that only comes along every twenty years or so, so Big Real Estate has decided to purge its Planning Commission of any dissenters, and pull out its Big Gun.
The Council also appointed Linda Edmisten, wife of Rufus Edmisten, to the Commission. Rufus was Attorney General of North Carolina from 1974-1984 and served as Secretary of State in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Having earned the nickname “Rufus the Dufus,” he fell from grace when state audits revealed that he had misused literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money, such as sending state employees to run his personal errands and using an ``investor awareness'' fund to pay for his overseas trips.
Rufus and Linda live in an 85 year old farmhouse in the southern part of Raleigh; the home and gardens are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Folks we’ve asked, folks who should know, say Edmisten’s interest in the Planning Commission is protecting the family farm from encroaching development. Hopefully she won’t expect the City employees that maintain our parks and greenways to weed her husband’s famous gardens.
The City Council still has one seat to fill, and the prospects of appointing anyone that will advocate for any stakeholder other than Big Real Estate are slim. The County Commissioners, now de facto controlled by former Raleigh mayor Paul Coble, will only appoint a developer or real estate agent. Soon, Big Real Estate will have made a clean sweep.
This afternoon I will char a pack of Nathan's on the grill - skinless 100% fresh beef. Dr. de considers a seven course meal to be a hot dog and a six pack of YooHoo, I make him go gourmet by serving Nathan's.
But Big Real Estate will spend the day gorging on too much pork for just one fork. For us here at BTB.org, this is Independence Day and we are darn proud to be Americans. We are committed 110% to the principles of of the people, by the people, for the people that made this country great. On the other hand, your Planning Commission, well, it's pretty much devoted to the principle of of Big Real Estate, by Big Real Estate, for Big Real Estate. Your role as peon citizen is not to have any say in how your local government is run, rather it is to be limited to paying for all the services and infrastructure necessary to sustain developers and realtors and line their pockets. For your Planning Commission, every day is Dependence Day.
As Captain Steven Hiller said in the movie Independence Day, after smacking the alien up side the head, “Welcome to Earth.”
Last week, Mayor Meeker offered to give the State of North Carolina $10.5 million for the Dorothea Dix property.
If at the time of the press conference you were standing outside anywhere in Raleigh, you could hear the collective laugh of beaucoup state politicians emanating from the Legislature Building downtown.
Though no one’s bothered to do a real appraisal, the number $50 million is being tossed around. Representative Paul Stam of Apex told the N&O 50 mill. Former Raleigh City Councilor now Senator Neal Hunt has made his personal fortune in real estate development in North Carolina, and he pegs the value of Dix at somewhere between $35-60 million. That's big money considering that, as the Mayor points out, a third of the land is floodplain and old landfill.
Yesterday, Senator Hunt told the Raleigh City Council that “it’s absolutely a no-brainer” that the land needs to become a park. Hunt urged the City Council to put an offer on the table so the Council of State, which much approve any property transfer, has something to mull. I suppose he didn’t consider the Mayor’s offer last week of $10 mill+ as serious.
So let’s add it up - the Mayor is committing to $10.5 million for purchase. The non-profit Dix Visionaries is committing to raise $7 million in private funds to jump-start park planning and development. Suppose that group could be persuaded to put its commitment towards purchase. That’s $17.5 million, exactly half way to Hunt’s $35 million.
But haven’t we already put down a deposit that should count towards the purchase? Way back in February Oh-2, Governor Easley withheld $209 million in local government reimbursements, including $8.2 million that was (still is) by all rights Raleigh’s money ($5.2 million in utility taxes, $1.7 million in inventory taxes, $1.2 million in wine and beer tax, and $64,000 in homestead tax exemptions).
Many communities decided to sue the state (the suit was organized by District E City Councilor Philip Isley’s law firm). The Raleigh City Council decided not to join the suit, saying it wasn't the right time for that, but more likely because it couldn’t see squeezing blood from a turnip.
Suppose out of the goodness of our hearts we as Raleighites had chosen to lend that money to the Governor so he could balance the state budget. The prime rate at the time was 4.75% - we’re not loan sharks, surely we’d have given the state prime. An online interest calculator tells me that if the loan were paid in full today, the State would pony up $10,398,854, say $10.5 mill with rounding error.
So now we’ve got $28 million in the kitty. A trifling $7 million more and we're in the game. And the state ain’t cutting any reimbursement checks today, so that interest is still accumulating. And how about all that state land and buildings, some of it the most valuable property in the City, for which the City gets no property tax? Add up downtown, NC State University from Centennial East to Centennial West, the West Raleigh Art Museum/Agriculture/State Fair corridor, and it’s a huge chunk of the City - shouldn’t that count for something in the negotiations?
Raleigh buying Dix is plenty doable. Senator Hunt made a statesmanly offer to help the City Council in any way possible to acquire the property. The rest of the Wake County legislative delegation has kept a pretty low profile during most of the Dix discussion. Former Raleigh City Councilor now Senator Janet Cowell is mysteriously busy alienating as much of the electorate as possible, trying to take parking places away from state employees and shut down the N.C. State Energy Office (the folks who bring us alternative fuels and renewable energy).
What of Representative Deborah Ross, whose House District 38 includes downtown Raleigh? If you are saying not what of, but who is Deborah Ross, you're not alone. Her legislative committee hired the Urban Land Institute, which created a plan for private development of much of the property. Even every developer’s best friend Mayor Meeker eventually ran from that plan. To Ross' credit, she has expressed concern about the future of mental health care after Dix closes, but we as a society have pretty much said that those folks can live on the streets and in the prisons for all we care.
We dropped almost $10 million to throw asphalt over Fayetteville Street Mall, with millions more yet to be poured in for decorations. The new convention center is up to $215 million and it’s not finished either. Yeah, $35-60 million dollars only gets us the dirt at Dorothea Dix, but dirt's the one thing they ain't making any more of, at least not anywhere near the center of the City.
Hurrah for the Mayor for getting the conversation about buying Dix started. The Mayor has clearly traveled abroad and learned how to haggle. You already know what that rug is worth more or less, and more importantly what it is worth to you. The merchant will only say Kind Sir, what are you willing to pay? Of course you lowball, never making a first offer of more than a third of what you’re willing to part with. The merchant hoots and hollers, he can’t part with it for less than twice what’s its worth. Yet within ten minutes, everyone’s smiling, shaking hands, and counting out the rupees.
You’ve seen the TV ads with former Presidents Clinton and Bush or former Governors Hunt and Martin teaming up for the cause de jour. It’s time for Meeker and Hunt to join hands and go forth and get Dix.
I have burned an American flag.
Indeed, burning is the preferred method of disposal for flags that are no longer servicable.
The Boy Scouts make quite an honorable ritual out of it, complete with obituary, the Pledge of Allegiance, a bit of patriotic song, and finally a solemn laying onto the pyre as the bugler blows taps.
I rather like Old Glory. I have a small decal of her on the rod, and I fly a larger though still modest version out in front of the house on holidays and special occasions. I’ve even seen the Star Spangled Banner in the special workshop dedicated to its preservation in D.C.
So I do get a bit unnerved when some tattered neo-Trotskyist protestnik puts a match to the American flag in the Public Square in protest of the stamocap financial oligarchy apparatus.
But then I unfold the shabby copy of the Bill of Rights that I keep in my dresser top drawer (the original of which I am also fortunate to have seen) and quickly remind myself that no society is free in which speech is not.
Now comes Martin Auto Haus and its dozen American flags along Capital Boulevard, all waving you in for that special deal on a 1998 Benz C-Class (only 96,678 miles for $3,200 down) or a 2000 BMW 3-Series 328i (114,534 miles for under 15 grand!).
First, Our Fair City says: The owners need to take nine of the flags down, as only three flags of any kind are allowed.
One ot the owners of the car lot says in response: The flags are a tribute to our soldiers at war. "We've got troops overseas dying every day," he said. "If anything, we should be putting more up. That's why I have them - it's a tribute."
The City Inspectors are now saying: Let's put off enforcing the three-flag rule until the City Council weighs in on the matter.
To all of which BTB.org says: Tributes our tushies - this is nothing more than blatant use of our sacred flag for crass commercial self-interest.
Better yet, you go visit the remaining family of Leesville Road High School graduate (‘99) James Irving Lambert, maybe bring a casserole and some flowers, and let them know how much you appreciate his sacrifice for this great country.
But if you’d rather peddle bitter fruit, go put up twelve flags along Capital Boulevard.
And while you're at it, you might as well just go stand out on the side of the road and urinate on a dozen American flags.
Yeah, yeah, you read all about it in the paper, but to really understand the story you need to look at the photo essay posted here by the News and Observer. Go ahead, it will only take a minute and a half (exactly) out of your life.
And when you’re done, remember this:
The owners of this trailer park are exactly who the Triangle Property Management Group is advocating for.
The owners of this trailer park are exactly who Mayor Meeker was protecting when he knuckled under to Triangle Property Management Group pressure and stripped all the meat out the Probationary Rental Occupancy Permit (aka The PROP) last year.
The owners of this trailer park are exactly who District E City Councilor Philip Isley is protecting when he refuses to consider any substantive regulation or registration of landlords in the Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee, which he chairs.
Mr. Donald Genford, of Genford Development Company, was picked up by the Raleigh Po-Po and charged with committing a "Baker Technicality."
(If you don't know about Baker technicalities, e.g., forging an easement deed, read my two preceding posts.)
From the NC General Statutes:
14-122. Forgery of deeds, wills and certain other instruments.
If any person, of his own head and imagination, or by false conspiracy or fraud with others, shall wittingly and falsely forge and make, or shall cause or wittingly assent to the forging or making of, or shall show forth in evidence, knowing the same to be forged, any deed, lease or will, or any bond, writing obligatory, bill of exchange, promissory note, endorsement or assignment thereof; or any acquittance or receipt for money or goods; or any receipt or release for any bond, note, bill or any other security for the payment of money; or any order for the payment of money or delivery of goods, with intent, in any of said instances, to defraud any person or corporation, and thereof shall be duly convicted, the person so offending shall be punished as a Class H felon.
In my previous post, I relayed the sad but true tale of a local developer who filed a forged easement deed with the Registrar of Deeds, and then provided the deed to the City of Raleigh in support of a proposed site plan.
Of course it is a violation of state law to forge documents, and the district attorney should prosecute. But the developer also violated City law as well; from the municipal code:
Sec. 14-1011. FALSE INFORMATION.
It shall be unlawful and a violation of this code for any person to give false information or misrepresentations in any application or permit required by this code.
(Ord. No. 1979-247-TC-108, §§8, 11-6-79)
The Municipal Code also prescribes penalties:
Sec. 14-1005. CRIMINAL PENALTY, NOT EXCLUSIVE REMEDY; CONTINUING VIOLATIONS.
(a) In accordance with G.S. 160A-175, and unless this Code of Ordinances provides otherwise, violation of any provision hereof shall be a misdemeanor or infraction as provided in G.S. 14-4, punishable upon conviction by a fine not exceeding fifty dollars ($50.00) or by imprisonment not exceeding thirty (30) days. Each day that any such violation shall continue shall be a separate offense. An ordinance may provide by express statement that the maximum fine or term of imprisonment to be imposed for its violation shall be some figure or number of days less than the maximum penalties prescribed by G.S. 14-4.
(b) An ordinance contained herein may be enforced by other remedies, as authorized in G.S. 160A-175, including the imposition of civil fines, the ordering of appropriate equitable relief, including injunctions, or a combination of remedies.
(Ord. No. 2004-718-TC-258, §§6, TC-17-04, 10-5-04)
State law references: Misdemeanor or violations of City ordinances, G.S. 14-4; violations generally, G.S. 160A-175.
Fifty bucks for forged easement deeds is a joke, not justice. Maybe thirty days in the pokey is a bit harsh (maybe not considering the severity of the crime of forgery), but at least a few nights behind bars are certainly warranted.
Problem is, you can’t be convicted and sentenced if you're never prosecuted. And the chances of the City prosecuting a developer for such a crime are virtually naught. After all, the Chair of the Planning Commission is able to ignore the rules with impunity, so why should developers be held to a higher standard?
Park too close to the curb or leave your garbage can on the street a day too long, and the City will bring the full weight of the law down upon you. Imagine if you as Josephine Citizen had gone to the Planning Commission and taken documents that were discovered to be false, even accidentally false. Do you suppose the Commission would call your breach a "legal technicality" and vote on your behalf 10-1? And what sort of view do you suppose the City Councilors would have if they knew a regular ol' citizen had a case before them with forged documents?
If fact, why let that be a rhetorical question, why not just ask them? The City Council meets next one week from today. Consider a phone call or email to your City Councilors, tell them that you expect the developers who submitted the forged documents to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the City law.
Of course, with the Mayor and most of the City Councilors deep in the pockets of local developers, you like I will be disappointed but no way surprised when nothing happens.
And we'll continue paying our parking tickets.
Because it's the right thing to do.
I haven’t fired at one of my favorite targets, the Raleigh Planning Commission, in a good while. Maybe because I was resigned to the notion that it couldn’t get any worse, but Chef Boyardee was I ever wrong about that. The Planning Commission has now hit an all time, and hitherto unimaginable, low.
Of course, the warning signs were all there. A few months ago, Jim Baker was elected Chair of the Commission. I’ve already established in past posts that Baker is unfit to serve, having shown disregard for the laws governing Commissioners' conflicts of interest. Unfortunately though not surprisingly, no City official is willing to uphold the laws by which the Commission is supposedly bound, so Baker is empowered to do as he pleases with impunity.
Then there is the fiasco of the recent appointment of local engineer/developer Waheed Haq. I’ll leave that for a future post, but know that it wasn’t pretty and it doesn’t bode well for the Commission or the City. So on to the case at hand...
At last week’s Planning Commission meeting, there was a public hearing for the site plan for Wake Crossings Plaza, a proposed new development on Mitchell Mill Road. As is customary, city planner Stacey Barbour introduced the matter, and asked that after the hearing the Planning Commission delay action on the case.
Barbour explained that the developer was proposing to put part of the landscaping buffer on neighboring properties, which is legal if he gets landscape easements from his neighbors. Chair Baker suggested that the requested delay was to clear up “technical issues.” Baker again posited, “I assume these are technical issues in nature, is what you are referring to, or is it...”
Barbour interjected, “There are easements which have been provided to us in support of the design, and some of those easements have been called into question.” (Raise big red flag here.)
He revealed that often similar development plans are approved with the condition that the landscape easements for adjacent properties will be obtained before building permits are issued. But in this case, the developer was required to submit copies of the easements with the development plan (two big red flags flying now). Barbour had learned just before the close of business the previous day that something was amiss with the easements.
Steve Fitzpatrick, owner of the Genford Development Company which submitted the site plan, arose to speak. “I don’t know what else more I need to say right now, except the fact that we do have a problem with one of the easements where it was, I made a mistake and it was incorrectly recorded.” (Red flags now completely tattered in gale force winds.)
So Chair Baker responds, “So, I think the answer to the question, there was an attempt, and apparently there was some technicality you are trying to resolve with staff.”
Fitzpatrick, “That is correct, that is correct, legal technicality, yes sir.”
Which brought this query from Commissioner Maha Chambliss, “Are you saying that it is incorrectly recorded as far as metes and bounds, or are you saying...”
Fitpatrick (interrupting), “No Ma’am, it shouldn’t have been recorded. We have one that should not have been recorded, yes Ma’am.”
Chambliss, “Are all the property owners behind you willing to give you that easement?”
Fitzpatrick, “We have one that is in question, and that was never resolved, and that’s what the question is.”
When the public hearing finally got around to the part where the public gets to speak, Romeo and Vita Mazzaluna took to the podium. They live next door to the proposed development, and were asked by the owners to give a landscape easement. They queried their real estate attorney and their mortgage company, and as both told them not to do it, they refused to sign. Mr. Mazzaluna called Barbour the afternoon before the public hearing to inquire about the status of the development, “and what I found was that there was on the Register of Deeds a signed document, not by us, but a forged document, and that is the technicality that he talked about, and so, I don’t understand. I am also questioning other signed easements with lots along that line.”
The Mazzalunas even brought copies of the forged document as well as notarized authentic signatures, so the Commissioners could clearly see the forgery.
Now Baker is backpedaling his attempt to trivialize this illegal action as a technicality, and with a big wide grin across his face stutters, “Obviously this is something that will have...”
“A little more than a technicality,” Mrs. Mazzaluna finishes firmly for him.
Commissioner Chambliss was incensed and made a motion to reject the site plan on the spot. Chair Baker responded, “We don’t have all the information yet.”
Ms. Chambliss’ motion died for lack of a second, and Baker moved that consideration of the site plan be deferred. With Chambliss’ the only nay vote, Baker’s motion to delay passed.
At this point, I would normally be out of my chair screaming at the TV! But I was so literally stunned. Speechless, breathless, motionless, wide eyes glued to the tube, not even blinking. What does that idiot mean we don’t have all the information yet? The developer all but outright admitted to the Commissioners that the easement document was forged. After the meeting, when it is was crystal clear to him that the gig was up, Fitzpatrick was much more direct with the North Raleigh News, “Oh, it's forged.”
The lack of outrage by any Commissioner other that Chambliss is just, well, just staggering. Not unexplainable, given the Commissioners we were dealt, but staggering nonetheless. If I had free time (the lack of which is evidenced by my recent post rate), I'd start a new website called jimbakermustgo.com. And coin a new phrase - a Baker Technicality - for criminal activities posing as legal technicalities. Who needs Kelo, just let the developers take their neighbors' property on a Baker technicality.
“We have one that is in question, and that was never resolved, and that’s what the question is.” - The Mezzalunas said no. Parents, never ever let your daughter date a boy whose father doesn't understand that no means no.
“That is correct, that is correct, legal technicality, yes sir.” - What some would characterize as a mischaracterization, we here at BTB.org would call a flat out lie.
“We don’t have all the information yet.” - All the parties were at the meeting, the issue could easily have been settled then and there. Now the Mazzalunas will have to miss work once again to spend a long morning in a Planning Commission meeting, and are likely to have to sit through several more meetings, as the final decision must be made by the City Council. It’s not only staggering, it’s flat out unconscionable.
“A little more than a technicality.” - Front runner for the 2007 Understatement of the Year Award.
I’ve watched the recording at least a half dozen times, and after taking in the vocal intonations and the body language, this is what I believe. Baker was tipped off as to what the problem is, hence his insistence that it be characterized as a technicality. When he couldn’t cover up the nature of the crime any longer, the best he could muster was a silly smile and a stutter. His reaction was not one of ha ha you were dumb enough to cheat, rather his grinny stare conveyed ha ha you were dumb enough to get caught.
There is one and only one ethical course of action here. The Planning Commission must vote unanimously to recommend that the City Council not approve the site plan, and the City Council must unanimously deny approval of the plan, and instruct the City attorneys to work with the local district attorney to investigate and prosecute.
If the developer had a shred of morality, he’d withdraw the whole plan now. If Chair Baker had just an iota of decency, he’d resign from the Planning Commission and go into permanent seclusion. Given this unprecedented level of hubris from the Commission, I’ll put dollars to donuts that neither happens.
The Planning Commission is utterly and completely broke.
I’ll lay out how to fix it in my next post.
A chuckle for those of you in the development business (others won’t get the humor): the engineer doing the planning and development for this project is Harold Yelle of Aiken and Yelle Associates.
Raleigh's effort to limit the growth of the pawnshop industry makes national news:
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve not been in a pawnshop recently. We know our reader demographic - you earn much too much to need to pawn the Playstation III you got the kids for Christmans to pay the month’s rent and you don’t collect either small weapons or knock-off Fender guitars.
But apparently somebody Downtown thinks there are too many pawnshops popping up around town, because the Comprehensive Planning Committee of the Raleigh City Council is currently contemplating limits on their establishment.
At 18 citywide, Raleigh can hardly touch the cash-for-goods business of Fayetteville, which boasts nine pawnbrokers on Bragg Boulevard alone.
Raleigh has a far lower resident-to-pawnshop ratio -- about one shop for every 19,000 people. But Councilman Thomas Crowder worries more about the proximity of pawnshops to residential neighborhoods and tendency to cluster in run-down commercial areas.
Still, Councilman Thomas Crowder noted the city's resident-to-pawnshop ratio is worth a closer look.
"The distance to neighborhoods, the distance to other pawnshops needs to be looked at," he said. "It's hard to get other retail establishments coming in."
Both payday lenders and pawnshops target the lower-middle income and below sectors. But North Carolina recently drove payday lenders out of the state by outlawing their business. Both nature and economies abhor a vacuum, so of course pawnshops are going to move in to satisfy the unmet demand created by outlawing payday lending.
A 2004 analysis by the Fannie Mae Foundation noted that Fulton County (Atlanta) and the District of Columbia prohibited payday lenders. Our data suggest that this restriction may simply have increased the per capita representation of pawnshops in Fulton County and of check cashers in Washington, D.C.
One can argue that both the payday lenders and the pawnshops are predatory lenders, that is, folks can be made worse off if lenders can deceive households into borrowing more than is optimal. Excess borrowing reduces household welfare, and may increase default risk. This was easy to prove for payday lenders, and is probably true if harder to demonstrate for pawnshops. At the pawnshop, you pay 2% interest and a 20% fee for a one-month loan. If you pawned Grannie’s wedding ring, you probably would really like to get it back, so if you can’t make the payment at the end of the month, you can just pay the interest and get another 30 days to cough up the full amount. The loan is costing you 264% interest annually - hard for you and me not to see that as sub-optimal borrowing. But then again we aren’t really economists, are we?
So back to the real economists at the Fed - they found that payday lenders present stiff competition for pawnshops. The number of pawnshops in the U.S. grew about 6% per year between 1986 and '96, but growth essentially stalled from '97 to 2003, when payday lending began to explode in popularity. The economists expect competition among payday lenders and pawnshops to drive prices down to the level that just covers the costs of producing the loans. So the problem of high prices at for payday lending may reflect too few payday lenders and pawnshops, rather than too many.
Despite their alleged naiveté, payday borrowers appear sophisticated enough to shop for lower prices. The problem of high prices [for payday loans] may reflect too few payday lenders [and pawnshops], rather than too many. If scrutiny and prosecution risk limit entry into payday lending, the lack of competition may drive rates higher. In the end, the simple fact that payday lenders have triumphed over pawnshops suggests that payday lending raises household welfare by providing a preferable alternative.
In other words, if payday lending is bad, it’s still better than a trip to the pawnshop.
Except, of course, in North Carolina, where the pawnshops ultimately won the day when the payday lenders were expelled.
"People associate us with poor people and stolen goods, and that's just not the case," the pawnshop manager fretted to the N&O reporter. Truth be told - yours truly associates pawnshops with poor people and stolen goods. I grew up in that low-middle income class, I remember my parents coming up short now and then, I’ve been in a few pawnshops.
Old prejudices are hard to break, I’m the first to admit that about myself. I still want to believe that the pawnshop exists to provide quick cash to petty thieves, thought the empirical evidence says this ain’t so. Every day, the pawnbroker submits a list of all merchandise received, including serial numbers, to the police. The police compare the serial numbers against records of stolen merchandise. Anything stolen is recovered this way and returned to the owner. If a stolen item is found in a pawnshop and the item was not reported to the police by the pawnshop when it came in, the pawnbroker can be charged with receiving stolen merchandise.
The biggest problem on Friday afternoon appeared to be an overabundance of used golf clubs waiting for new owners, said the N&O of one local pawnshop. None of the poor folk I know have a surplus of golf equipment sitting around the house. More likely, some sap left the tailgate to his SUV parked in Oakwood unlocked, and a meth addict who never sleeps passed by at 3:30 am and helped himself. The golfer didn’t bother calling the police, knowing the clubs are long gone, and even if he did, what are the chances he knows the serial numbers on his Pings? Slim to none.
Irregardless of my prejudices, do pawnshops really attract thieves? At least with the payday lenders, you knew the folks they catered to had real jobs because they had to produce real paycheck stubs. If pawnbrokers catered primarily to criminals, then they would not compete directly with payday lenders. But the Feds have proven that is not true. It’s not a crime to be poor, and there is no indication that because someone is poor they are a criminal (now that’s a relief!).
Only a lawyer or a banker would argue that if people want to pay exorbitant interest rates, let 'em. After all, look at the credit card mess; the message is that unlimited debt at punishing interest rates and zero savings is an okay financial strategy. You gonna sit your kids down and pass that financial advice onto them?
We can't condemn folks with their backs against the wall, but that doesn’t mean we have to allow the easy out of caving to predatory lenders.
"They're all over," city Planning Director Mitchell Silver said. "They're not clustered, but that appears to be a perception."
“That’s a bald-faced lie, and you and I and Mitch Silver all know it,” says BTB.org’s Lunsford Lane.
“Alternative financial service providers are disproportionately located in minority, low-income neighborhoods,” says the Fannie Mae Foundation. “Alternative providers tend to cluster in neighborhoods with a higher share of minority and low-income residents.”
Maybe you’re still partial to Councilor Crowder’s proposal to incorporate a scattered site policy for pawnshops, just like we (say we) want to scatter affordable housing around the City. After all, affordable housing is in demand and at a premium. In other words, not likely to be found at North Hills, Crabtree, and Brier Creek, eh?
My friend, now you have hit the nail on the head. Po’ Folks ain’t just a restaurant in Greensboro. Pawnshops attract poor folk (or vice versa). Bottom line is that all this fuss about pawnshops is really about poor people. Nobody wants ‘em around, at least not around their neighborhood. Heck, I even moved away from the poorest of them when I got a firm grip on my bootstraps.
A pawnshop in the ‘hood is a pretty sure sign that there are plenty of po’ folk near by. Po’ folk are easily taken advantage of, and as a result tend to live in run-down housing. A house is the biggest asset most of us home-owning middle-class commoners have, so we don’t take kindly to property values in the ‘hood being driven down by slumlords renting sub-standard housing.
We rail ad infinitum against the hands-off policy the City Council has towards the slumlords, like for example, yanking all the teeth out of the PROP. The City’s Community Services Department buys condemned houses from slumlords, paying market rate for houses that are in liveable condition.
But on what moral or Constitutional ground are you going to justify forcing pawnshops to not concentrate near poor folk? They don’t generate loud noises or foul odors, like say nightclubs or kennels. Unlike most mini marts, they don’t sell vices (unless you put handguns, guitars, and lottery tickets in the same class as alcohol and cigarettes). What harm can you demonstrate is done to our youth when a pawnshop is near a neighborhood or school?
None. It’s just that nobody wants the poor around, at least not around their neighborhood. Wanna test my assertion? How about as a condition of giving John Kane $75 million of our taxpayer money so he can build a parking deck for his new North Hills East, he must agree to include fifty rent-subsidized units for the poor in his housing mix, and at least one pawnshop and one rent-to-own appliance store in his retail mix? Just what fraction of a second after Councilor Crowder makes that proposal at the City Council table will it take this giveaway to the rich’s biggest proponent, District E City Councilor Philip Isley, to leap out of his seat in protest?
If you want to hurt the poor, set a low limit on the number of pawnshops allowed. Limiting competition will enable the existing shops to keep loan rates high while offering low value for the goods pawned. The current pawnshop owners have got to be loving this proposal to limit the entry of new competitors into the market. If you really want to help the poor, run these money lenders out of the temple, just like you did the payday lenders. And in their stead, support self-help credit unions and legitimate micro-lenders.
Usury is a major lesson of the Bible and roundly condemned. We here at BTB.org will be the first to chime in that if a business is legal let 'em be - unless you're going to regulate them for the "betterment" of Society. Like, oh, greenhouse gasses for example, or maybe payday lending. Hey, maybe we should start a payday lending website...
By far the best solution is to get rid of all the poor people. By moving them solidly into the middle class, of course. How does a society tweak circumstances to create a better world? It’s a long, expensive, and uncertain process, involving issues of education, access to health and child care, cut-rate credit, and more. All that smacks of social engineering, but if you really want the market to rule behavior then legalize all the vices and simply tax them. Really, get over your flagrant hypocrisy and snotty indignation the next time you whip out your Discover card to buy a cup of Starbucks when you could be paying cash.
If you want to help the poor, and the not-so-poor neighbors who live with them in their owner-occupied houses, enforce current housing and zoning codes vigorously, and beef up enforcement tools like the PROP. Everyone deserves a decent place to live; living near the poor doesn’t have to be a threat to anyone’s personal economic viability.
Our final thought for this Easter Holiday comes from the North Carolina General Statutes:
§ 24-1. Legal rate is eight percent.
The legal rate of interest shall be eight percent (8%) per annum for such time as interest may accrue, and no more. (1876-7, c. 91; Code, s. 3835; 1895, c. 69; Rev., s. 1950; C.S., s. 2305; 1979, 2nd Sess., c. 1157, s. 1.)
For years, a coalition of business owners, home owners, and NC State University students and administrators joined with City of Raleigh personnel to plan the revitalization of Hillsborough Street. With roundabouts and medians, the primary focus was on pedestrian safety and traffic flow. A prettier streetscape and increased parking were very much welcomed bonuses. In 2001, the engineering company Kimley-Horne and Associates presented a final feasibility study and conceptual plans to the Raleigh City Council.
Total cost - $24 million, with 16 mill for roadwork and 8 mill for burying the utilities. The Council bit, and included $3 million for what was to be the first 10% of the work in the 2005 road bonds referendum. Of the 11 projects included in the referendum, this was the only one partially funded. The Citizens bit, and approved the road bonds.
Fast forward to early 2007, and the City Council is balking on Hillsborough Street reconstruction. District B City Councilor Jessie Taliaferro is saying no way this kind of money is going into West Raleigh. At-large Councilor Joyce Kekas, who takes all her cues from Taliaferro, leads the retreat. City Planning Director Mitch Silver was given a couple of weeks to come up with a new design.
And in less than a month, Superplan Silver single-handedly accomplished what a team of city planners, traffic engineers, and concerned citizens couldn’t do in seven years - create THE design for a new Hillsborough Street. Total costs went from $32 million to $5.5 million, and most of the improvements went.... well, we don’t know where they went, they just disappeared faster than a speeding bullet. In February, the City Council (by split vote) voted for a $6.3 million redesign of the street.
But the City Council had only allotted $2.6 million for the project (not the full $3 million that voters approved), leaving a funding shortfall of $3.7 million. To be dealt with at a later time.
So at the City Council meeting this afternoon, Mayor Meeker said the cost is now estimated to be $6.6 million, though the exact cost won’t be known until the project is put out for bid. He proposed paying for it with the $2.6 mill from the bond issue, $2 million from the pedestrian safety fund, and the rest with “shares provided by third parties.”
Councilor Taliaferro’s response was no way in hell the $2 million in the pedestrian safety fund is going to Hillsborough Street.
And that was the end of that.
The Mayor removed the item from the agenda, and asked the City Manager to put it back on the agenda later. In late fall. October, November. One reason given for waiting until Fall is that the project can be “75% designed” by then, and the actual dollars required can be calculated.
A more important reason is that late Fall is politico-speak for “after the election.”
The “shares provided by third parties” is $2 million to bury the utility lines that the Mayor will ask the phone company and the power company to eat. These companies did chip in some of the cost for burying lines on Glenwood South. But they are not likely to swallow the total cost - their line will be hey, we got perfectly good phone lines and electric lines on Hillsborough Street, you don’t like looking at 'em, you pay to bury them.
And it didn't go unnoticed that it is kind of hard to approach potential donors with your hand out when you really don't know how much you're asking for.
But hold it right there just one minute, buddy boy, didn’t the City Council approve the $2 million allocation from the pedestrian safety fund last year? Yes.
Well, truth be told, actually no.
Flash back to June 19, 2006, the Raleigh City Council Budget Work Session. That’s the special City Council meeting to pass the next year’s budget. The Mayor only had four votes. Republican Councilors Isley and Craven weren’t voting for any budget the Mayor put forward, out of “principle.” At-large Councilor Stephenson also vowed to vote nay, as the budget didn’t contain adequate increases in impact fees. The Mayor needed one more vote, and District D’s Thomas Crowder was playing hard to get.
Crowder said he’d take $2 million from the pedestrian safety fund for Hillsborough Street (Hillsborough Street is in his district). The Mayor was cool with that, but Taliaferro said no. “The City Manager suggested taking the $2 million out of the pedestrian safety bond funds and moving it into reserve for the 2006/07 with the understanding it could be appropriated for the Hillsborough Street roundabouts or whatever else the Council wished. Final action or appropriation would have to be made by the Council to move the money from reserve. The Council by consensus agreed to take $2 million of pedestrian safety bond funds and placing it in reserve to support the first two roundabouts on Hillsborough Street subject to the City Council approval. Those funds would be moved to the 2006/07 line item. In response to questioning from Mr. Isley, City Manager Allen pointed out there would be no projects defunded by this action as no projects had been identified.” (Itals lifted from Council meeting minutes.)
Crowder thought he had his bling in the bank, when the Mayor had merely duped him into voting for his budget. Taliaferro had no intention then, and has no intention now, of spending any more than she absolutely has to on Hillsborough Street. And nine times out of ten, what Taliaferro says is what goes when it comes to the City Council, at least on any issue that isn't Downtown.
Add it up - $2.6 million from the bond fund. That’s it. And Meeker has taken the funding for Hillsborough Street off the agenda until after his fourth (and presumably final) election as Mayor.
If you're still buying that Hillsborough Street is going to be rebuilt in 2008 or 2010 for less than 10% of the original 2001 estimated cost, I'd like you to take a gander at some swampland in Florida I’m offering at a 90% discount.
Normally, the nomination of citizens to the various volunteer boards and commissions that the City operates is an uneventful part of every Raleigh City Council meeting.
At last week’s meeting, two current members of the Parks, Recreation, and Greenway Advisory Board were up for reappointment. Reappointment is typically routine if the member desires it, and Patrick Beggs and David Knight requested it.
But District B City Councilor Jessie Taliaferro objected. She was down with reappointing Mr. Beggs, and he was affirmed by the Council. But Mr. Knight had to go. Taliaferro recounted that Mr. Knight had missed half of the Park Board meetings, and the Park Board told her that of those meetings he attended, he usually arrived late and left early.
She subsequently requested that the City Clerk obtain a letter from Mr. Knight explaining each of his absences and that each City Councilor receive a copy of the letter.
On the face of it, fair enough. If you can’t come to the meetings, maybe you should let someone else sit on the board. But since when does a board report to the City Council the tardiness of one of its members? And since when does a Councilor publicly humiliate a Citizen volunteer by demanding a letter of explanation copied to the entire Council? A decent Councilor contacts the volunteer privately and says hey look, you’re good people, you mean well, but...
Something smelled fishy, and once again when we pulled the lid off the dumpster that is District B politics, we were overwhelmed by the stench.
First the attendance record. I collected the available minutes from Parks Board meetings back to the beginning of last year, and calculated the attendance of each current member who has served continuously during that time period. There were ten meetings, attendance was:
|Mary Alice Farrell||60%|
Knight made six of the ten meetings, Beggs made seven. Neither has a stellar record, but neither is at the bottom of the dumpster. For a board that Taliaferro says is working very hard on a lot of master plans and a lot of greenway expansions, it doesn’t meet very often.
So what is the cutoff? Is seven meetings significantly more engaged than six? And what of the other three members with six or less meetings attended? Will they be asked to resign to make room for Citizens willing to do the hard work of master planning and greenway expanding?
Of course not.
So why pick on Mr. Knight?
Because on July 20 of last year, Mr. Knight cast the sole nay vote against the Parks Board motion to add active recreation to what was supposed to be Horseshoe Farm Nature Park (the nature part has long been forgotten).
Mr. Beggs was more than accommodating, offering friendly amendments to the motion to make it more palatable. The other members voted aye, and the motion passed 12-1.
Despite the unanimous recommendation of the master planning committee that this not occur.
Despite overwhelming public opposition.
Why would the Park Board ignore the overwhelming public sentiment for a nature park? As then Board Chair Jan Kirschbaum expressed at that fateful July meeting, “it is the responsibility of the Board to follow the directions from Council and represent the best they can, the wish of the citizens... She asked the board to consider the minority position heard as well as the majority position. She stated that the board cannot assume that public input best represents the needs of the entire community of users or the long-term interest of the citizens” (lifted from the meeting minutes).
Translated into plain English, “Democracy? We don’t need your schtinkin’ democracy.”
The City Council made two critical errors - they reappointed a Parks Board member who embraced that authoritarian philosophy, and they shafted the one Board member who did not. Shame, shame...
So what’s up with the Parks Board telling Taliaferro that Knight habitually arrives late and leaves early?
Guess what? The latest Chair of the Parks Board is none other than Taliaferro’s campaign manager.
After publicly humiliating Knight, Taliaferro went on to nominate Elaine Perkinson to the Board.
Perkinson is already on record for supporting active recreation like tennis courts and basketball courts at Horseshoe Farm. She signed an electronic petition to urge the “City of Raleigh to include active recreation in parks being developed at Horseshoe Farms and Forest Ridge Park.” As a sign of just how popular this idea is, the petition has 45 signatories, 13 of whom signed as “anonymous.”
It should be common knowledge by now that you don’t tug on Superman's cape and you don't mess around with Jessie. She loathes the idea of a nature park at Horseshoe Farm, no matter how much her constituents want it. Knight voted against it, Beggs voted for it, Knight got axed.
Taliaferro is a bulldozer (see de Gama’s latest toon) - slow but deliberate and powerful. She will slowly but surely stack the Parks Board so it will do her bidding and no other. The Mayor and the other Councilors will whistle Dixie through it all, knowing she will plow over them if they throw themselves in front of the blade.
Nature lovers, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - it will be a cold day in hell before Horseshoe Farm becomes a true nature park.
Democracy in Raleigh is dead. Or at least in a long deep slumber.
Taliaferro’s statement verbatim:
Mr. Mayor, I’d like to renominate Patrick Beggs, but I read the attendance report of David Knight, who was originally a nominee of mine, and I am quite concerned that of all the Parks Board meetings he has only attended half and of those the parks board tells me that he is often late and leaves early. So before we consider his nomination for continued service I really would like for him to address those absences to us and whether he has the ability to serve and serve well. The parks board, particularly if we throw another parks bond out there, is working very hard on a lot of master plans and a lot of greenway expansions and we really need people who can give us the time to serve.
Easy to find a job when you get here.
Just don't drink the water.
BTW, the stuff in the bottle is the same stuff that comes out of the faucet.
Buy a Brita.
OK, this slumlord thing has got the hamsters spinning the wheels in the brains of BTB.org, well at least in the Intern’s cranium.
For review, a cop buys a rental property in 2002. In 2004 the property is in such a state of disrepair that the City buys it for $320,000 using its power of eminent domain. Big news in local paper.
Startling, no? So this what the City of Raleigh’s Community Services Department commonly does with the money we voters give them when we approve those affordable housing bonds?
Take the case of 545 East Martin Street. This cute little historic house used to sit there:
The house was purchased by Sharon McGhee in 1994 for $10,340.
In 2004, the City purchased the house for $95,000.
Then razed it, and the lot sits empty today.
Over the years, Ms. McGhee and her late husband owned a lot of property around the City. Some of it in just awful condition. Por exemplo, 909 East Davie Street:
Just think, if you rent that unit on the lower left you get that great view of the dumpster out of your living room window. In 2004, the Raleigh City Council passed an ordinance declaring that property in such disrepair that it was not fit for human habitation. It has since changed hands and been re-inhabited.
Back to East Martin Street, where the rental house there was so bad that the City paid Ms. McGhee nine times what she paid for it ten years earlier, then tore it down.
I thought the Community Services Department was using the housing bond money to provide fit housing for the least fortunate among us, not to line the pockets of some of our most fortunate (aka slumlords), while taking housing stock out of the market. Are you as confused and baffled as I am?
How deep does this go? In 2000 and 2001, the City bought two houses in the 600 block of East Martin for $159,400. Since 2003, the City has purchased six houses and buildings in the 700 block of East Martin for a total of $565,000. And we are just scratching the surface on one three block stretch of one downtown street.
What a deal for any aspiring slumlord - 1) buy distressed properties downtown, 2) distress them (and the po’ folk that rent them) even more, 3) make friends with the good folks down in the Community Services Department, 4) profit!
We here at BTB.org have always supported clean, safe, affordable housing for all of our citizens, and we have supported every bond measure put forward to provide just that. We didn’t realize that we are buying historic houses (the deeds for the property 545 East Martin go back to 1886 at least) from slumlords so we can tear them down.
We call out props to Josh Shaffer at the News and Observer for reporting the story on Sergeant Newman’s distressed properties. Now we throw down the goblet (as soon as de Gama finishes drinking his chocolate milk out of it) to the N&O - keep digging. Your readers want to know just what they are actually getting for their bond money, as well as who is getting their bond money..
More back of the envelope scribblings:
Sergeant Newman buys two neighboring rental units in 2002.
By 2004, the properties are so run down the City takes them from him by eminent domain. The City offers what it thinks is a fair price for slum property, the Sergeant disagrees and finds a judge to agree with him, the City pays $320,000 for the slum units.
City tax rate = $0.435 per $100 valuation
Valuation of these properties = $263,181 (tax value, not sales price)
Yearly tax = ($263,181/$100)*$0.435 = $1,145
So now divide $320,000 by $1,145, get 280.
Yes, the City would have had to collect the property tax of $1,145 for 280 years to recover the base cost of taking this slum property out of the private rental stock (forget alternate costs, bond interest, etc.). Even hobbits only live for up to 130 years.
Lord only knows what the property value and tax rate will be in 280 years, and yes I am ignoring any rental income to the City and improved tax values for neighboring properties and the like, but I think you get my point - you and I are heavily subsidizing the slumlords of Raleigh.
Earth to supporters of transforming the Dorothea Dix campus into a mega-park: military strategists figured out years ago that it is easier to defeat four 25,000 man armies than to battle a single 100,000 man military. Those who prefer to sell off much or all of the hospital grounds to the highest bidder (do not make the critical error of underestimating their numbers and power) have to be laughing as they make their way to the bank.
King Philip II guarded the Macedonian empire by keeping the Greek city-states divided. Create petty feuds between the underlords, ally with those willing to cooperate with the overlords, foment distrust and acrimony among the locals.
Come on, Dix supporters, check those egos at the door and get everyone on the same team.
Or soon Dix will be divided into enough pieces that each group will have its own small scrap to sob over.
By now everyone's read the series in the N&O (w/ props to Mr. Shaffer) about the cop come slumlord . The police have shown up at his properties 86 times over the last five years, city building inspectors 13 times.
So what's all this costing us? Back of the envelope:
Average 17 visits per year.
Average cost $400 per visit.
Tax receipts from just the properties he owns in Raleigh that have rental units:
Taxes due in
|208 N Tarboro||
|211 N. Tarboro||
|1201 E Jones||
|919 S Blount||
|917 S Blount||
|1002 S Blount||
|1109 S Blount||
Calculation for '05: (17 x $400) - $7,094 = $294 to the City and County coffers
Calculation for '06: (17 x $400) - $7,380 = $580
Wow, this slumlord uses essentially the same amount in City police services as he pays in property taxes. That means he gets like a 95% discount on the street lighting, the asphalt on the roads, the street cleaning, the parks, the schools and libraries, and all other city and county services every residence in the City enjoys (and most pay for).
You and I give him these services as a gift. Aren't we nice?
Guess what happens if the po-po respond to a false burgular alarm at your crib more than once in a year?
They send you a bill!
Guess what happens if the coppers have to come to your place 17 times in a year for false alarms?
You get a bill for a whopping $5,350!!!!
You and I, we pay our way for police service.
And you and I, we also pay the freight for the slumlords.
Thank you for your successful efforts to kill the PROP, Triangle Property Management Group.
We know you'll be using some of the money you're saving by having us pay your bills to book the Edgar Winter Group for your next association bbq.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
ps - You might question my estimate of $400 per police/inspector visit, it is certainly hard to estimate. But lots of googling indicates that the true cost is at least that. It's not just an officer or an inspector for an hour or two at $60/hour. Cops tell us you gotta add in:
$400 might even be cheap.
pss - Officer Newman could really use your help raising money.
Oh-six was the off-year in the two-year Raleigh City Council election cycle. Nevertheless, campaigns are still active, and the Councilors still have to report what they do with their campaign funds during the year. These reports are notoriously hard to decipher (I figure intentionally so), but we do our best. Here’s a blow-by-blow with running commentary on notable transactions:
$10,580 - year start
$10,111 - year end
Nothing out of the ordinary - a couple hundred bucks spent on typical expenses to keep a campaign running.
Anderson got beat by Craven in ‘05, and has served (unremarkably) on the Planning Commission since. Chatter on the street is that he’s looking to challenge Craven again, and his campaign committee is still functional, so we include him here.
$500 - Grier Martin for NC House
$250 - Brad Miller for US House
$250 - Roger Koopman for Wake County Commission
$250 - Ed Ridpath for NC House
$250 - Gerry Bowles for NC Senate
$250 - Lorrin Freeman for Wake County Clerk of Court
$150 - Vince Rozier for Wake County District Court Judge
Wow, that don’t look so much like the spending of a guy who’s running for office in a couple of months, rather a guy that’s trying to buy friends in high places and get appointed to something loftier and less boring that the local planning board.
$13,655 - year start
$14,275 - year end
Taliaferro was the only Councilor to end the year with more money than she began it with. Thank yous to Bill Mullins, President of DSM, Inc. (a local development company), who chipped in a thousand bucks in July.
Who throws a thousand dollars at a candidate in an off election year?
In July, the Centennial Authority, which Mullins chairs, asked the City Council for beaucoup more money for upkeep and improvements to the RBC Center. Also Mullins’ kid is now vice-chair of the Planning Commission, and was up for reappointment last year.
All we know is that whenever a developer takes out his checkbook, Taliaferro is always at the head of the line.
$14,925 - year start
$12,574 - year end
West gave a couple of thousand dollars of campaign money to himself, ostensibly as reimbursement for campaign expenses, things like “gifts” for volunteers. We've known a lot of folk who've volunteered for campaigns, never once have we heard of one receiving a "gift" (if you don't consider favored rezoning or appointment to a commission a "gift").
He also gave $135 to the Raleigh Apex chapter of the NAACP.
$3,285 - year start
$2,381 - year end
$500 bucks to the Friends of Lake Johnson (the park is in his district).
$13,480 - year start
$859 - year end
How’d Isley burn through more than 12 grand in an off year?
So, Phil, what did Fallon tell you about us voters that we here at BTB.org couldn’t have told you for half the price?
$8,494 - year start
$5,487 - year end
Wake County Democratic Party - $250.
PKW Enterprises - $250 for “consultation” (we assume political, not fashion). According to tax records, the address of said business is in a residentially zoned neighborhood (where businesses generally aren't allowed) - the Hope VI neighborhood Capitol Park - in a unit owned by the nonprofit Capitol Area Developments, Inc. (where businesses generally aren't allowed). Capitol Area Developments, Inc. was formerly known as Raleigh Housing Authority Developments, Inc.
But wait, reverse lookup and election records tell us that's the home address of Perry Woods, renown political mastermind behind Mayor Meeker's campaigns. The Mayor's campaign manager is running a business out of property-tax-exempt publicly-subsidized housing? Didn't Kekas wonder what's up with that when she went in for her "consultation?"
Somebody please tell us what we're missing here.
$7,331 - year start
$2,180 - year end
Stephenson actually got a couple of donations, including the grub for a wine and cheese reception (swanky!). He spent over $1,200 on phone calling, but the pollster chipped in another $500 worth for policy polling. The RWCA got $65, the League of Women Voters $20, and the Wake County Democratic Party got $30.
For other political races, Lorrin Freeman got $100 for her winning bid as County Clerk of Court, Brad Miller (US Congress) got $300.
$11,705 - year start
$8,947 - year end
His Honor reimbursed himself $266 for frames - we assume for pictures, not corrective lenses. Must be hanging portraits of himself in important places around town.
YMCA - $150
Wake County Democratic Party - $600 for “refreshments” (better grades of wine and cheese than what the Stephenson crowd eats)
RWCA - $375 for its awards banquet
Raleigh Convention Center - $1,000 for the funeral of Kenneth Murray
The Kenneth Murray???
Conclusion? You may think your non-tax deductable donation is going to support the campaign of your favorite candidate. But there's a good chance that your candidate wants to be seen as a big macher, so he or she gives your money to favorite candidates and charities.
You of course also give generously to your favorite causes, but you of course give your own money.
On January 9, Gregory Poole asked the Raleigh City Council to delay its decision on the future of the Dorothea Dix property until the Council had time to review the studies of the Dix Visionaries and the Friends of Dorothea Dix.
To which Mayor Meeker promptly replied that the City Council has endorsed the plan recently developed by representatives of the Urban Land Institute (a huge real estate organization). This plan calls for substantial portions of the land to be developed for private uses.
After Mr. Poole had picked himself up off the floor and waved the dust off of his sportscoat, Raleigh District D (where Dix is located) City Councilor Thomas Crowder said he would have to check past Council meeting minutes, but he couldn't recall the Council endorsing the ULI plan.
To which the Mayor replied (with the closest thing he has to a scowl on his face), no, the Council has not actually endorsed the plan, but they have instructed the City Manager to examine it closely.
Fast forward to today, January 27. Not fifteen minutes ago on WRAL-TV’s Headlines Saturday show, the Mayor said that the Council has instructed the City Manager to work towards a bill for the NC Legislature that implements the recommendations of the ULI plan.
Mr. Poole, you've made a king’s ransom supplying the heavy equipment that has been used to pave over the City of Oaks. How dare you now stand in front of the bulldozer that the Mayor is trying to drive through Dorothea Dix.
p.s. - Go man, GO!
This morning the N&O, blazing the headline TREE LAW PRUNES DREAM HOME, recounts the horrors that the Raleigh Tree Ordinance has rained onto the Eaton family of Lake Wheeler Road (I won’t burden you by repeating them here, just read the link). As the paper reports, “The existing ordinance protects trees on lots 2 acres or larger that are either undeveloped or in the process of being developed... The ordinance protects 10 percent of trees on a tract in most zoning districts. Landowners are allowed to remove the rest.”
Or something like that anyway. What the paper neglected to tell is that when Ms. Eaton showed up at the Raleigh City Council’s public hearing on the tree ordinance two weeks ago, she told the Councilors that the tree ordinance forced her to save 40% of her property for the trees.
Forced to save 40% when that law clearly states 10% max? Sumpin’ ain’t adding up right here.
On closer inspection, we find that the Eatons weren’t simply building a house on an existing lot, they were also subdividing land, which has its own particular rules, in the Swift Creek water supply watershed overlay, which has its own particular rules.
I feel the Eatons’ pain, truly I do, but as far as I can tell they have no beef with the tree ordinance. I would’ve thought a headline like TREE ORDINANCE FALSELY IMPLICATED would sell just as many papers. Oh well, all the news that’s fitted to print...
I’ve watched the tape of that public hearing twice now, and what I am most struck by is despite all the whining (the ratio of complaints to praise was quite high), almost no one could cite a specific problem with the actual ordinance. It think it fair to categorize the complaints as:
Too Burdensome and Expensive - Developers turned out in force to tell how expensive it is to comply with the ordinance. Billy Sutton of Wakefield Development appealed for reprieve, "This ordinance is not economical or productive... I plead with you to help us... I want to protect trees, I just need some relief... Something has got to give.”
But he provided no specifics on just what this ordinance is truly costing him. No rational company is going to pursue investments that are not economical or productive. Yet a quick drive around Wakefield Plantation in North Raleigh or Renaissance Park in South Raleigh will confirm that Wakefield Development is still going gangbusters.
Gordon Grubb of Grubb Ventures told the Council that he has lost between one and two million dollars to the tree ordinance in redeveloping Whitaker Park near Five Points. He provided no direct evidence of that of course, and we are impressed with anyone who doesn’t know if they lost one million or two million on trees (a million here and there ain’t chump change around BTB.org). We’re talking 84 single-family homes expected to be priced in the $400,000 to $450,000 range. Trees not withstanding, by all accounts Whitaker Park is still a go.
Best we can figure, Grubb isn’t losing two or even one mil on this project, rather he’s set to make somewhere between five and ten million. And that is really what matters - that developers can make a fair or better profit on their investments. If we want them to squeeze every last dime out of each project, we can get rid of all rules about trees and stormwater and open space and curbs and gutters and the whole lot of it. Bottom line: Whitaker Park is being built, Renaissance Park is being built. All these “Parks” would be just fancy parking lots without the trees. Case closed!
Too Complex and Difficult to Implement- Ten of the twenty-two speakers spoke of the need to reduce the complexity of the ordinance. Which begs the question: how complex is the ordinance?
I’ve read it, more than once. Like all of the Raleigh municipal code, it was written by lawyers for lawyers. We ain’t got no lawyers here at BTB.org (though we’ve paid a few in our time), but we’ve read a lot of municipal code over the past couple of years, and we think we basically get it.
If you want to develop two or more acres, and you have pre-existing trees, you save the following:
If all of this doesn’t total 10% of the whole site (15% in very low density rural residential and R-2 zoning), then add in trees along the road and property boundaries until you get to 10%.
Now take a look at what you are required to save. If you like it, you're good to go. If for whatever reason you don’t, the ordinance provides a Chinese menu of alternate choices - basically within some guidelines you can establish your tree save areas anywhere on the property.
It would be easy to simplify the ordinance, just take out that Chinese menu. But then developers will complain that they have no flexibility. You could simply present the entire Chinese menu, rather than mandating tree protection areas along stream and property borders first then allowing alternatives. Problem is that wouldn’t be legal, and that is where the story, and the ordinance, get a bit complicated.
A little retelling from old City Council meeting minutes - first the Tree Task Force created the Chinese menu and presented it to the City Council. The City Council approved the concept, but it didn’t have legislative authority to implement it - City Councils can only pass those laws that the NC General Assembly specifically gives them authority to pass. So the Council spent two legislative sessions getting authority to make a new tree ordinance. Surprise surprise, the state legislature only gave the City authority to regulate those border trees and champion trees. That’s not what we had in mind, said the Tree Task Force, so they presented to the City Council a plan that follows state law, and still allows “alternative means of compliance” (which is perfectly legal).
So until someone straightens that out with the legislature, the ordinance is either going to be simple and rigid or complex and flexible - take your pick.
A lot of the public comment is that the City staff does not know how to implement the regulations. If that is true and not mere piling on by those who don’t want to save trees anyway, it can be fixed by the City Manager. The City produced a user’s guide to the tree ordinance (the link to the online version is broken, thank you very much City of Raleigh), but if that is not adequate it could certainly be revised. The City also held workshops on how to apply the law. These would be failures of intendance, not ordinance, something the City Manager has struggled with mightily as of late.
It Saves the Wrong Trees - Everybody loves somebody sometimes, just not the same somebody at the same time. Two speakers said that the ordinance should only apply to trees within the City limits, not those at the outskirts (the ETJ, extraterritorial jurisdiction area). Another said that there are very few properties in the central part of the town that are affected by the ordinance. Save trees on infill (really teardowns for rebuilding) which are increasingly common inside the Beltline. But wait, don’t save trees downtown. Save mature trees. No, let us cut ‘em all down and replant with new ones.
A close reading of the tree ordinance reveals that the greater focus is on saving places for trees to grow for a variety of environmental services more so than on what particular tree should be saved. It says right in the ordinance:
This approach affords the landowners greater flexibility and the environment greater protection than just concentrating soley on the most visible and aesthetically pleasing trees. If this isn’t common sense, what is?
Tom Anhut, division vice president of Toll Brothers and developer of Brier Creek, got in the last and what is likely to prove to be the most prescient word of the evening: just let the development community sit down with City staff and together they can work this thing out.
That, gentle reader, accurately sums up the state of Democracy in Raleigh in the 21st century. Develop public task forces to represent various stakeholders. Hear public comment. But when it comes time to actually make law and policy, leave it to the developers.
Dollars to donuts? Tomorrow at the City Council meeting the Mayor reconvenes the Tree Task Force for public show, but later he’ll cut his deal on watering down the tree ordinance in his office with the doors closed. After all, it’s his established modus operandi.
Raleigh Officials Wonder About Soliel Center (ncspin 01/18)
Reports are buzzing through Raleigh’s City Hall that question whether or not the city’s largest building will be built. Last spring, the City Council approved zoning for a 42-story glass tower building that will be 480 feet up in the air. The new hotel would also have a spa, a signature restaurant and office space in the complex.
Developers originally told city planners that they anticipated an August 2006 start date but pushed that back to late 2006 for additional site work. A fence now stands at the vacant site but there is little word on when construction will begin. That has several folks at City Hall including some council members concerned that the project is on hold. Mayor Meeker, one of the Council members who voiced concerns about the building initially, is telling folks he doesn’t know the status of the project and is worried about it’s status.
The attorneys representing these builders made a mockery of the City's planning process, going from planning commission rubber stamp to City Council rubber stamp in a week, with no opportunity for public anaylsis.
Of course, Crabtree Valley is a floodplain, not exactly where one might want to build the tallest structure in the City. So now the developers are publicly complaining: There are many other steps that are being taken by the authorities to mitigate such flooding. One of the studies being looked into is the temporary diverting of flood waters to the empty rock quarry. There are some federal grants also available to fund this. The situation at Glenwood and Crabtree is further complicated by an aging design of how the flood waters are diverted back to the creek. Soleil Group, the local businesses including the mall have funded a study to resolve this issue. Our consultants and engineers have developed a plan that will greatly reduce flooding in this corridor. It remains to be seen if the City will step in and make the necessary improvements, if not then the local businesses will have to pony up the funds.
So the Soleil Group has hired consultants to develop a flood mitigation plan that relies on federal and City funds. Is there any conceivable limit to developer welfare? Local taxpayers like you and I can only dream that local businesses will have to pony up the funds.
In the fall of last year, the News and Observer reported the rumor on the street that Mayor Meeker was mulling a run for higher office, having one eye on Liddy Dole’s Senate seat. Dr. de dismissed the notion with a quick flick of his thumbnail across his front tooth (cosa da nulla).
Shortly thereafter, the N&O’s political columnist Rob Christensen dismissed the notion (Big Dems May Duck Dole Race): Guv Easley isn’t interested in the job, ditto for the State’s top cop Roy Cooper, so “the Democrats will put up an underfunded B-Team or C-Team candidate...”
It was a hot Indian summer for Meeker: his garbage men were revolting as the City struggled to pay for the Mayor’s new garbage collection system, and it was lights out for Jaume Plensa’s Christmas in July in the middle of Fayetteville Street. It almost seemed like piling on when, with a quick flick of his middle finger, Christensen relegated Meeker to the great B-team of never-been wanna-be Raleigh Mayors with sites set on Washington DC.
So it was no surprise to us here at BTB.org when Mayor Meeker announced this week that he will seek a fourth term. After all, where else can he go? He could get out of City Hall now on a high note, keep his name out front like some local variant of John Edwards, bide his time until the right opportunity for something bigger develops.
But power, particularly political power, can be one mean monkey to wrench off your back. So Meeker will ride it out in his Mayor’s office, incurring some risk that everything doesn’t go hunky dory for the City during his next term of office.
This plight of Meeker permanently stuck in the Raleigh muck raises important questions about assumption of political power in this state. We are the Capitol City, a real City despite numerous relics of our recent small town past, with one of the most educated populations on the planet. But if you ever get to be Mayor of Raleigh, you’ll have done all you can politically. Mayor Fetzer? Proven unelectable to US Congress. Mayor Coble? Proven unelectable to NC Senate, has settled for Wake County Commission (clearly a step down). Mayor Meeker? For Senate? Dr. de is more amused than annoyed.
When Erskine Bowles lost to Liddy Dole, local wags once again blamed the “Charlotte Curse.” But truth be told, Charlotte’s Mayors fair far better than Raleigh’s when it comes to higher office.
Eddie Knox (D, 79-83) lost his bid for Governor, but he did two terms serve in the NC Senate.
Harvey Gantt (D, 83-87), Charlotte’s First African-American mayor, went mano to mano with Jessie Helms. So that didn’t go so well, but we’re talking black man in 1990's North Carolina running against the Nation’s best race baiter. Had Gantt sought most any other office, he’d likely still be a player.
Sue Myrick (R, 87-91), Charlotte’s first lady mayor, did lose a Senate race to Lauch Faircloth, but now is in her sixth term as a US Congresswoman.
Richard Vinroot (R, 91-95) lost three runs at the Governor’s Mansion.
So Charlotte’s recent Mayors are 2 for 4, Raleigh’s (Smedes York 79-83, Avery Upchurch 83-93, Tom Fetzer 93-99, Paul Coble 99-01) are 0 for 4. For crying out loud, Charlottonians just sent a crook back to the State Legislature despite his almost certain impending federal indictment.
Maybe Meeker is following the model of his mirror opposite - Charlotte’s current mayor, Pat McCrory. McCrory is now in his sixth 2-year term, a Charlotte record, Meeker’s a shoo-in for his fourth. McCrory ticks off his Republican base by supporting light rail, a downtown sports and entertainment arena, clean air initiatives, and a real tree protection ordinance (save 10% of the trees if you want to develop). Meeker ticks off his Democratic base by abandoning light rail, supporting downtown-style development sprinkled throughout the burbs, and letting Big Real Estate interests strip out his signature tree ordinance and his signature rental property ordinance and his impact fee proposal and his.......
When you look at North Carolina, one thing about growth is clear. The urban areas are booming and will continue to grow. The rural areas, poor and with few resources of their own, are sucking wind. That trend will continue. Is there some sort of resentment or backlash against the prosperity that just seems to gush out of Raleigh? How do Dare and Hyde Counties (aka Basnightland) maintain total control of the NC Senate and thus the State's purse strings, while urban areas choke on traffic and school congestion with few state dollars for relief? Why do we even bother with a Wake County delegation to the NC legislature?
Politically, Raleigh is seen as bland, with Mayor Meeker as King of the Banal. The Mayor could evolve and grow as a politician - Downtown's great, but the entire City begs for leadership on big issues such as transit and TIFs.
This is the Silicon Valley of the East. Why doesn't that get more political traction? For example, the convention center, despite all opposition, is a facility that RTP businesses needed to bring in folks from around the world. A guy leads one of the best places to live, not just in the nation, but on the enire planet. So what is the political message? What would Meeker propose for a statewide political agenda? One skill needed for the Bigtime is the ability to raise money. Could Meeker go around the state and raise that kind of cash? What sort of network does it take to be able to do that? Republicans are weak for the foreseeable future, with Dole among the weakest, so did Meeker consult with Jerry Meek and the Dems across the state?
Meeker also could buy a sports jacket, maybe even a leather aviator jacket and a pair of Levi’s, something other than that gray flannel lawyer suit he drapes over himself for even the most casual of events. He might even buzz off the comb-over for that hip Matt Lauer look.
But even with all the questions answered and sporting the new doo, Meeker would still have to cast off the hoodoo voodoo that the old statue of Sir Walter Raleigh jinxes every Mayor of the Capitol City with, effectively shutting them out of higher office.
Maybe that explains why Meeker sent that statue off to Cincinnati for “cleaning” a couple of years ago, and no one around here has since it since.