Tuesday’s Raleigh City Council meeting was forecast by some to be a confrontation between some of the leaders of citizens’ advisory committees (CACs), Mayor Nancy McFarlane and other council members who support establishing a Community Engagement Board to encourage more broad-based input from citizens.
In a lengthy meeting, roughly 30 citizens spoke in favor of the current CAC setup, wherein local residents speak out on development projects in their neighborhoods or other issues affecting residents in their areas. Some CAC leaders fear creating a new, citywide board might diminish their influence.
But McFarlane opened the meeting with conciliatory comments, focused on the need for a study of how “to engage the public.” She noted that the new board’s creation isn’t about diminishing the CACs, but getting more people involved. She was reasonable and right.
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CACs go back to the 1970s and they were, for many in the African-American community, the only way to get a message to City Hall.
But Raleigh in 2017 is vastly different, and the current council, as led by McFarlane, is engaging all parts of the city and wrestling with issues of affordable housing (the main issue in Southeast Raleigh, where many families have felt “gentrified” out of their neighborhoods), jobs and downtown redevelopment.
With a new engagement board, CACs will remain a good part of the process of reviewing zoning and development issues, and they should.
Ultimately, though, the people elect a city council that is, at the end of the day, answerable to all citizens, and in Raleigh, answers every two years. That’s engagement.