Arts money unscathed amid budget cuts

June 20, 2009 

Has art become the sacred cow of Raleigh politics?

This week, the City Council voted to keep funding for the arts at $4.50 per resident, or about $1.71 million annually, in the next fiscal year's budget. City Manager Russell Allen had proposed cutting arts funding to $4 per resident, which would have saved the city $190,000.

Philip Isley, the lone council member to vote against the budget, said he would have supported the budget if it had included a cut to arts funding. Isley argued that the city's arts funding would have been generous at $4 per resident. Given the bad economy, that money could have been better spent on other things, Isley said.

Council member Nancy McFarlane, Mayor Charles Meeker and others argued that the arts community is an integral part of the city's economy.

"They are a huge economic driver," McFarlane said. "I think we're looking at a financial benefit."

The decision to not cut funding for the arts comes four months after the City Council voted 6-2, with Isley and Councilman Rodger Koopman voting no, to dedicate a constant stream of taxpayers' money for the creation and development of public art for city buildings, parks and other public spaces.

A new public art coordinator's position was created to run the program, and a contract has been offered that would pay the coordinator $52,000 for the 32-hour-a-week job. This week, the Wake Community PAC criticized the creation of the coordinator's position while the city has an informal hiring freeze in place for everything but public safety jobs.

The $52,000 will come out of the arts budget for this fiscal year, and the new hire will sign a temporary, one-year contract.

"It's not creating a full-time position, and it's to implement a new program that the council instituted," Allen, the city manager, said.

His mike was on

As the Wake commissioners prepared to vote on the county budget Monday, tensions were amped up even more as Chairman Harold Webb repeatedly appeared to lose track of what motion was on the table, whom he had called on to speak and in what order.

Republicans on the board responded to Webb's apparent befuddlement with smirks and eye rolls. At one point, after Webb, a Democrat, took time to stress a procedural point at length that the others clearly already understood, an open microphone picked up the voice of Commissioner Tony Gurley muttering under his breath about the octogenarian chairman.

"He's lost his mind," Gurley said.

Your tax dollars Tweet

It's not quite the same as Tweeting from the streets of Tehran, but the city of Raleigh has created five new Twitter accounts.

The accounts cover city news releases, the city parks department, road closings, traffic updates and updates on the Hillsborough Street roundabout project. Most of the Tweets are unlikely to tell Raleigh residents anything Earth-shattering. (Sample: "Did you know Raleigh Parks and Recreation has 3 off-leash dog park areas throughout the City?")

Sadly, the city's Hillsborough Street Twitter account doesn't even mention the growing fame of the Barrel Monster, who has doubled the number of "Turk 182" references being made in Raleigh.

We look forward to completion of the Hillsborough Street project, so Twitter can tell people in 140 characters or less how to navigate a roundabout.

Off and running

Gene Pease, a veteran of community boards, announced this week he is running for Chapel Hill Town Council.

He joins Penny Rich and incumbents Laurin Easthom, Ed Harrison and Jim Merritt among announced candidates for council. The official filing period opens July 6.

Councilman Mark Kleinschmidt, whose term also expires, is running for mayor, along with Councilman Matt Czajkowski and Augustus Cho, chairman of the town Transportation Board.

Pease has served on the OWASA board, Chapel Hill Planning Board, Chapel Hill Public Library Building Committee, Horace Williams Citizens Committee and a Citizens Budget and Finance Committee.

In Carrboro, Alderman John Herrera announced Tuesday night he will not seek re-election. He gave his support to challenger Sammy Slade, who announced earlier that night he will run.

Slade is a community organizer, urban farmer and carpenter. He is the co-founder and co-coordinator of the Carrboro Greenspace, a group that promotes public space and sustainability.

The Carrboro mayor and three alderman seats are up for re-election in November.

Political Trail

The Western Wake Republican Club will meet from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Bentley's American Grill, 2007 Walnut St., Cary. Dinner is available from 6 to 7 p.m. The public is invited. For further information visit www.westernwakegop.org or call Vinnie DeBenedetto at 919-363-1967.

The Southern Wake Republican Club will hold a general membership meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Needmore Ruritan Club, 1812 Bass Lake Road, Fuquay-Varina.

The Orange County Democratic Women will hold its monthly general meeting from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the OWASA Community Room on the lower floor of the Administration Building, 400 Jones Ferry Road in Carrboro. Chris Fitzsimon, founder and director of N.C. Policy Watch, will speak on health-care reform issues in North Carolina and the nation. The public is invited. Contact Linda Foxworth at 942-0045 or l_foxworth_2000@yahoo.com with any questions.

Compiled by staff writers David Bracken, Michael Biesecker and Julian March.

Triangle Politics is a weekly look at the local political scene. Got a tip, item or coming event? Fax Triangle Politics at 829-4529, or send e-mail to david.bracken@newsobserver.com or metroeds@newsobserver.com. Please send items by noon Thursday.

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