McFarlane needs diplomacy to unite new Raleigh City Council

December 3, 2013 

Wayne Maiorano heard it often during his campaign for a seat on the Raleigh City Council: the developer’s candidate, conservative Republican, likely mayoral opponent for Nancy McFarlane one day. In truth, Maiorano may indeed be more conservative than his District A predecessor, and he may not be as certain an ally of Mayor McFarlane‘s when it comes to land-use and development issues.

But the new council member, sworn in Monday night, isn’t likely to be as predictable as his critics say, and he assured voters that he would take up the issues as they come along, without his mind made up in advance.

The council’s more liberal members might have preferred to have had incumbent Randy Stagner win another term. But the truth is, “mixing it up” in debate and having a vote breakdown that requires advocates of one side or another to work to bring together a majority isn’t a bad thing.

When one side dominates too long, a blindness to the potential wisdom in opposing arguments can develop. After an ill-timed push for a downtown convention center more than 20 years ago, voters put in a young conservative who had run against the center. Tom Fetzer ruled for three terms.

If Mayor McFarlane is to bring Maiorano along on some issues, she’s going to have to “work the room” behind the scenes more. McFarlane certainly is smart, terrifically informed on pertinent issues, imaginative and experienced. But working with a council with another conservative on it – and some unpredictable votes in the middle – will demand more old-fashioned political horse-trading behind the scenes.

Those who underestimated McFarlane, a well-schooled council member who was not forceful in meetings, as a mayoral candidate may also not be inclined to give her credit for negotiating skills. But she certainly knows the issues and tends to be on the right side. She is a true believer in her positions, such as protecting the environment and ensuring orderly growth.

For his part, attorney Maiorano may need to learn the art of compromise as well. Working with other city council members isn’t like arguing for a client in a courtroom confrontation. Such discussions aren’t always about winning or losing, but rather finding compromise for the benefit of all. Again, in his campaign he indicated a willingness to find common ground.

On another local board, the issues are tough, but the members are unified. Newly elected and re-elected school board members are in agreement with those they are joining in an effort to build more schools, to be fair in their assignments and to work toward diversity and against the isolation in some schools of the poor and minorities.

This board is some distance from the post-2009 elections when chaos reigned after conservative Republicans took over. Members must keep an ear to the ground and a door open for parents who have ideas or legitimate complaints. Board members are indeed the supervisors of an administration, but they also represent parents and members of the general community.

This is a sound, experienced board, and it deserves the opportunity to work with, not in constant opposition to, county commissioners. The Republican commissioners have had a contentious relationship with the school board, trying, for example, to take over property management.

That’s of little benefit to either board and certainly not to this community. Let’s hope Phil Matthews, the newly elected board chairman, can set a tone of working with the school board in a spirit of unity to improve the public schools at a time when Republicans in the General Assembly have made public education a political target. GOP commissioners should forget about doing likewise on the local level.

They can do better.

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