Triangle Politics: A weekly look at the local political scene

TriPol: Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane to fill two seats on housing board

From staff reportsJune 27, 2014 

Mayor Nancy McFarlane will soon get to make her mark on the embattled Raleigh Housing Authority board.

The public housing agency has been under fire for director Steve Beam's salary and time off. Beam's pay has reached as high as $280,690, and he has taken up to 11 weeks off per year - all with the support of the agency's governing board.

McFarlane - who is solely responsible for board appointments - now has two vacancies to fill. The board updated its bylaws last month and increased its size from seven members to nine. Southeast Raleigh activist Octavia Rainey, a longtime critic of Beam, had asked McFarlane to make the board larger and add a representative from Southeast Raleigh.

The current board has only one black member and no representation from the southeast corner of the city.

Board Chairman Kyle Dilday gives a different reason for the decision to add two members. "We have some seasoned board members whom we may lose in the not too distant future and felt this was an opportunity to have new individuals trained before we begin to possibly lose some of the seasoned members," he said in an email.

McFarlane hasn't made any nominations yet. She didn't respond to a request for comment this week, but she said in January that she would consider Rainey's request for more representation.

Teacher raise defended

The issue of whether the Wake County Board of Commissioners gave teachers enough of a pay raise continues to be a hot political topic.

The school board had wanted a $29.1 million plan that would have given a 3.5 percent pay raise to all school employees. Commissioners instead opted to use $3.75 million in revenues from excess liquor sales to give teachers a raise of between $200 and $300 a year.

Democrats, including those running in November for seats on the Board of Commissioners, have accused the Republican board majority of shortchanging teachers with such a small raise.

In a press release this week, Wake County Republican Party Chairwoman Donna Williams said she was "amazed at some of the criticism" regarding the pay raise and how critics "trashed the increase for 2015 as if it were nothing."

"In a time when our citizens and especially our teachers are just beginning to see the benefits from the positive efforts of our commissioners, we need to stand strong behind them," Williams said of the Republican commissioners.

Politics of teacher pay

Meanwhile, Wake County school leaders warn there will be political consequences if state legislators can't come to a budget deal that will give teachers a state pay raise this year.

Both the House and Senate have different plans for teacher pay raises and are far apart on reaching a deal on a $21 billion budget for the coming fiscal year. If no deal is reached, the state would continue to operate on the budget adopted last year that includes no pay raises for teachers this year.

"In an election year, it might be very dangerous to walk out of town without some type of increase for teachers," David Neter, the Wake school system's chief business officer, told school board members this week.

School board member Bill Fletcher said failure to provide pay raises for teachers could hurt state House Speaker Thom Tillis in his bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan this fall.

"I find it hard to believe they would leave town without some kind of teacher pay raise," Fletcher said. "I think that would be a fundamental political error for the national Senate race."

Town lifts tow fee limits

Chapel Hill's Town Council voted 7-1 this week to lift the limit on what drivers might pay if they are towed from private parking lots.

The decision follows the N.C. Supreme Court's ruling on June 12 in favor of a lawsuit challenging the town's towing rules and its ban on cellphone use while driving. The council also voted 7-1 to repeal the cellphone ban.

The court ruled the town can require companies to post detailed warning signs about towing, but it cannot tell them how much to charge or prohibit them from charging credit card fees.

Council member Matt Czajkowski said the lawsuit could have been avoided if the town had not also banned cellphones. The town knew, based on advice from the state Attorney General's Office, that the proposed rules might be unenforceable, Czajkowski said.

While some people said a lawsuit over towing fees was inevitable, no one ever mounted a challenge, he said. An attorney for tow company operator George King said the lawsuit was filed primarily because the cellphone ban made it illegal for King's drivers to immediately answer calls about towed cars. Not answering the phone violated the town's towing rules, the lawsuit said.

The court's ruling has forced several local governments, including Carrboro, Durham and Raleigh, to reconsider their own towing fee caps.

Compiled by Colin Campbell, T. Keung Hui and Tammy Grubb.

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