Triangle Politics A weekly look at the local political scene

Raleigh officials criticized for handling of Exploris school request

Staff writersMarch 7, 2014 

Former state Sen. Cal Cunningham had strong words for Raleigh City Manager Ruffin Hall after city leaders rejected Exploris Charter School’s request to rent the old Salvation Army building at Moore Square.

Cunningham, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2010, told Hall in an email that city staffers exercised “bad form” in discussions with the charter school, where Cunningham is a committee member.

City staff advised against leasing the vacant building, in part because of soil contamination issues on the property. Exploris leaders said they hadn’t heard about the environmental problems until the Feb. 25 meeting.

“We were very surprised by staff’s recommendation once we got a hold of the memo, especially since it represented a change of position from the oral conversations leading up to the memo,” Cunningham wrote. “You now have parents and volunteers using words like ‘sucker punched’ with regards to city staff.”

“If we had understood … we might have redirected our efforts earlier and are now scrambling to figure out whether we will be able to expand the school this fall.”

For his part, Hall replied that he’s sorry Exploris supporters were upset by the decision. “Staff concerns evolved as we went through the process,” he wrote to Cunningham, adding that the city will help look for another site for Exploris’ new elementary school. “No guarantees, but perhaps we are aware of private property options that may prove helpful.”

Chapel Hill reconsiders zoning

Chapel Hillians continue to wrestle with worries that a new “form-based code” may not deliver on its promises.

Town Council members indicated Thursday that unresolved questions about the Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment zone could delay a March 24 decision. The draft code would apply to 190 acres of primarily commercial land south of East Franklin Street and surrounding Fordham Boulevard.

Form-based code lets developers know what the local expectations are for how buildings should look and relate to their surroundings. It generally promises a faster approval time than traditional zoning and permits.

Many residents say the lack of details about what could happen and whether the town would benefit leaves them fearful of giving up the reins to town staff and developers. But the draft code’s supporters say it could make the town more attractive to investors and improve its reputation as a difficult place to do business.

Landscape architect Scott Murray said he supports the draft code after trying it out on different clients’ projects.

“Is it a good code? Yes. Is it a great code? I think it is,” Murray said. “Is it perfect? No, it doesn’t have to be, but it does work in the real world, and it’s time to get on with it.”

Wake schools hope to use clout

Wake County school leaders hope to leverage their position as the largest school system in North Carolina to persuade state leaders to drop the requirement that districts offer raises to top teachers in return for them giving up their tenure rights.

The Wake County school board unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling for a repeal of the state law mandating that the new contracts be offered to 25 percent of teachers across the state. But Wake deliberately stopped short of what Durham’s school board did on Wednesday in voting to join the lawsuit that the Guilford County school system will file against the new contracts.

Instead, Wake school leaders will try to meet with legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory to press for changes.

“I’m hoping this has some influence on the state,” school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton said after Tuesday’s vote. “And I hope we’ve phrased this in a way that state leaders realize we’re reaching out to them on behalf of educators, not just in Wake County but across the state, to try to address the issues that the law is causing.”

Political events

• Former state Attorney General and Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten will speak to the Wake Democratic Men’s Club at the Holiday Inn Downtown (formerly the Clarion) in Raleigh on March 10. Edmisten served on U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin’s staff for 10 years and will speak about his role as deputy chief counsel to the Watergate Committee and how the outcome of that hearing still affects politics today. Doors open at 6 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. and the program at 7 p.m. RSVP by emailing WakeDMC@mail.com.

• The Downtown South (Raleigh) District precinct cluster meeting will convene on March 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Southeast Raleigh High School to elect precinct officers and select delegates for the 2014 County Convention for the Wake County Democratic Party. Strategic plans regarding the get-out-the-vote initiative and the coming election cycle will be discussed. For more information, contact facilitators Virginia Tally at 919-828-6539 or Sara Perry at 919-828-7915.

• Durham County Republicans hold their annual convention March 15 at the Durham Public Schools Staff Development Center, 2107 Hillandale Road. Registration opens at 8 a.m., with precinct meetings and other business starting at 9 a.m. A number of GOP candidates in 2014 are expected to be on hand, including U.S. Senate candidates Ted Alexander, Heather Grant, Mark Harris and Edward Kryn; and state House District 50 candidates Lewis Hannah and Rod Cheney. See bit.ly/1kGa2xN for more information and to register.

Compiled by staff writers Colin Campbell, Tammy Grubb, T. Keung Hui and Jim Wise.

Got a tip, item or coming event? Fax Triangle Politics at 919-829-4529, or send e-mail to metroeds@newsobserver.com. Send items by noon Thursday.

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