Residents can still learn about proposed developments and city planning from the same place, for now.
The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday voted 5-3 to create a Community Engagement Board that will be charged with making it easier for residents to stay informed about rezoning requests and city projects.
“We’re elevating (citizen engagement) to a higher priority than it’s ever been before,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.
The move came after a task force launched by the city last fall recommended a slew of changes, including what some interpret as a de-emphasis of Raleigh’s citizen advisory councils.
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McFarlane’s suggestion that the City Council create the Community Engagement Board and then hash out the details during a work session drew vehement protests from some council members during an unusually combative 20-minute debate.
Among the details to be decided: Will the City Council or the community select members for the new board? Who should qualify for a nomination? What engagement strategies will the board consider?
Council members Corey Branch, Kay Crowder and David Cox said they wanted todiscuss the details at a work session, before voting to create the engagement board.
Council members interrupted each other on several occasions and, in a rare display, McFarlane hammered the council desk with the gavel to restore order. Councilman Dickie Thompson at one point asked why Cox and Stephenson were so angry.
“We’re up here arguing over a few words,” Thompson said. “Why is there such mistrust here?”
Damon Circosta, who co-chaired the task force, framed its report as suggested guidelines and said his peers don’t expect the council to upend the system of citizen advisory councils.
“We were the party planning committee,” Circosta said. “We just proposed a structure under which you could get this party started.”
Councilman Russ Stephenson took issue with the fact that the task force’s recommendation suggested that engagement board members have “professional experience and expertise in the field of communications, metrics and public engagement.” He said the board should reflect the community, and the council voted to adopt that language.
Cox said the community, not the council, should take the lead in populating the engagement board and determining its role. While praising some of the task force’s ideas – such as sending notices about rezoning requests to property owners within 500 feet, rather than 100 feet – Cox pointed out that the task force didn’t attend any CAC meetings before forming its list of recommendations.
“We need to look very closely at the charges of this board. What are the goals of this board? I support citizen-led engagement,” Cox said. “What we’re talking about is a top-down approach.”
Baldwin said every council member appointed someone to the nine-member task force and that the person Cox appointed was among the eight who voted in favor of the recommendations. Cox said he nominated five people for the task force before its creation last December, “and they were all vetoed by the mayor.”
McFarlane said Cox “didn’t follow the parameters set out by the council.”
Bob Geary, who chairs the Hillsborough CAC, said the council’s move showed a lack of interest in what residents think of the task force’s recommendations. He was one of a dozen residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“But it’s not a good sign that, after a task force has been meeting for weeks without any opportunity for citizen participation, the council jumps to accept its recommendations without first giving citizens a chance to weigh in,” Geary said.