Two months in, Raleigh’s first new Citizen Advisory Councils since the Nixon administration are already seeing improved attendance and neighborhood representation.
And a third new member of the city-organized neighborhood groups finally has a name and a tentative start time: the Forestville CAC, to hold its first meeting by May.
“We’re not trying to get 1,000 people to CAC meetings,” said Dwayne Patterson, Neighborhood Services Division supervisor for the city. “We’re trying to make sure we get representatives from all the neighborhood that make up the CAC who can go back and push that information out to the rest of the people.”
Made up of 18 districts, Raleigh’s nonpartisan CACs were conceived in the early 1970s as a nonpartisan way to foster two-way communication between residents and the City Council. Each CAC meets regularly to discuss issues affecting the neighborhood, passing their conclusions on to the Raleigh City Council. Via the CACs, every Raleighite older than 18 has a pipeline to the council – at least in theory.
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Approved about a year ago, the new CACs are intended to update and improve on a system whose out-of-date boundary lines meant some groups suffered from little to no attendance at meetings.
Early meetings have attracted residents from a broad range of neighborhoods, Patterson said, which is the goal. Success won’t be measured by the headcount at meetings. It’s about snagging a representative from every neighborhood within the CAC boundaries.
“The prevailing thought has always been that the smaller the CAC area, the more effective they can be,” Patterson said.
So far, the updated geographic boundaries of the new CACs seem more able to target neighborhood concerns, former Falls of Neuse CAC Chairman Chad Ingham said. “Falls of Neuse CAC was too focused on its immediate area, but now it feels like it’s become more expansive,” Ingham said.
The push for new CAC lines came from within the system. Neighborhoods were split by out-of-date geographic boundaries. It was difficult to unite districts that counted upwards of 70,000 residents, when CACs were originally intended to encompass 7,000 to 14,000.
The city decided to shut down low-attended Six Forks and Falls of Neuse CACs and redraw boundary lines in midtown Raleigh create two new CACs – Atlantic and Midtown – and split the Northeast CAC in half with Interstate 540 as a dividing line.
The changes help cut the size of the sprawling North, Northeast and Northwest CACs, and allow for growth in high-expansion areas such as North Hills. All affected residents were notified by the city.
Through the years, the groups have given a decisive nudge to the Raleigh City Council on issues from zoning to mass transit. New CACs with new leadership will inject new energy into the system, Patterson said.
“There are opportunities now to really get in on the ground floor of leadership and really set the direction for how they would like things to go.”