Durham City Council grills Ward 3 applicants

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 4, 2013 

— City Council members quizzed applicants for the vacant Ward 3 seat Friday, with the related themes of jobs, poverty and low-cost housing dominating the interviews.

The controversial 751 South development came up as well.

Friday’s interviews were preparation for a special council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday to choose a replacement for former Councilman Mike Woodard. Woodard resigned Dec. 31 to take the state Senate seat he won in November, with 11 months left on his council term.

Anita Daniels, Ed Kwon, Jason Melehani and Don Moffitt agreed that jobs, poverty and affordable housing are challenges the city must address.

None spoke favorably about 751 South, which would put 1,300 homes and up to 600,000 square feet of retail space on 167 acres. Moffitt and Daniels questioned the number and quality of jobs it might create, and Kwon and Melehani said they worried about its possible effects on nearby Jordan Lake.

In considering job creation, Daniels, who is director of Durham Center Access, said the city should promote those that “people can afford to live off of (so) they don’t have to work two or three jobs,” and suggested $38,000 a year as a benchmark annual salary.

Moffitt, a business consultant with a background in supermarket management, said the city should offer incentives “to attract businesses into places where people need jobs,” though they might not be areas the businesses would choose on their own.

Kwon, an administrative assistant at N.C. Central University’s Shepard Library, said he would favor incentives if they meant a net revenue increase for the city, but added that he sometimes wonders, “If the developer sees (a project) as such a good deal, why do they come to the city for money?”

Melehani, an M.D.-Ph.D. graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, advocated opening bus service up to competition. Currently DATA, operated by Triangle Transit, is the only service allowed. “Individuals should be encouraged to innovate and develop new practices in transit or anything else,” he said.

Melehani also said he favors legalizing marijuana and treating drug abuse as a health problem rather than as a crime.

“The last three presidents have committed these offenses and if they had been arrested would not be president of the United States,” he said.

“I admire your chutzpah,” Councilman Eugene Brown said.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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