You may not know this, but if you are a resident of Raleigh, you are a member of a neighborhood Citizens Advisory Council, or CAC. The idea behind CACs (there are 19 of them) is that they can air ideas and differences in smaller and less formal settings, and their leaders might be able to advise their district Raleigh City Council representatives on a neighborhood’s viewpoint on a given issue.
It might be something as basic and down-to-Earth as garbage pickup or as big, literally, as a skyscraper.
Speaking of skyscrapers, John Odom, the tall-as-a-tree veteran city council member, recently got agitated about CACs because at one meeting a community organization of which he’s a part got a cold-shoulder welcome and what the group interpreted as harsh comment from a CAC leader.
That’s not the kind of confrontation Odom expects in a CAC, and he’s right. “It’s about respect,” he said. “If we don’t have that in the CACs, it gets out of control.”
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True enough, and though CACs are independent of the council, it may be that the city needs to draw up some more specific guidelines about conducting meetings and hearing all sides and all those other niceties and necessities of this thing called democracy.
Ideally, a CAC meeting should run like an old-fashioned New England town meeting, where residents of a community listen and are listened to by others. But there are indications that some CACs in Raleigh may be vulnerable to the ambitions of leaders who dominate meetings. Members of a CAC can assert themselves and stop that.
And CAC members must understand that council members represent districts (except for two at-large members) that are larger than the neighborhood covered by a CAC, and they’re going to have to vote sometimes in ways that may displease a specific neighborhood. It will always be so. Unless Raleigh wants 19 council members. Which it does not.