Wake County

A curiously timed break hints at a power shift on the Raleigh City Council

A day after two new members joined the Raleigh City Council, a typically genial task revealed the rising influence of a board faction that wants to slow growth.

In a break from tradition Tuesday, it was not Mayor Nancy McFarlane who set committee assignments for the board. Councilman Russ Stephenson spoke on behalf of a competing list of assignments, but a 4-3 vote initially didn’t meet the two-vote margin needed for approval.

The competing assignments ultimately passed with a 5-3 vote, though, after Councilman Corey Branch briefly left the room. Branch had not asked for a motion to be excused, and rules dictated that his vote count as a “yes” by default.

“I’m actually not feeling well and on medication,” Branch said in a text message after the meeting. “I needed to step out to gather myself and to make a request for my wife to bring my medicine. I actually stepped out again (later) during the meeting.

“As for the vote, I was still working on a solution on both sides,” he said.

Minutes earlier, Branch had been named mayor pro tem by a unanimous vote.

Stephenson, along with incumbents David Cox and Kay Crowder, have all advocated for slower growth in Raleigh. They voted in favor of Stephenson’s plan, along with newcomer Stef Mendell, who was elected this fall on a slow-growth platform.

McFarlane and council member Dickie Thompson voted against the plan, along with newcomer Nicole Stewart.

Branch tends to be critical of new development while advocating for more job opportunities in Southeast Raleigh.

The lists are largely similar, but the Transportation, Neighborhoods, and Growth and Natural Resources committees differ by one member each.

“I think the biggest change is on Growth and Natural Resources,” McFarlane said.

McFarlane had assigned Stewart to the Growth committee. But the winning proposal swapped Mendell for Stewart, leaving Thompson as the only council member on that committee who typically sides with McFarlane on growth issues.

McFarlane and Thompson said they were frustrated and confused by the choice to contradict McFarlane’s recommendation. The mayor is typically tasked with setting assignments for committees that tackle issues such as economic development and transportation.

“I had been talking with them over the past couple days, and I thought I had worked out something that would work for everyone, until the last minute,” McFarlane said. “I really thought the committees I had put forth would work for everyone.”

Stephenson said his list represented the council’s wishes, but Thompson said he had never seen the list before the meeting.

“That’s not right,” Thompson said. “In the past it’s been customary for the mayor to make a selection, and I’d like to hear your motivation for this.”

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan

Competing Committees

Bolded names show where the proposals differ.

McFarlane’s assignments, which were not approved:

Economic Development and Innovation: McFarlane*, Thompson, Stewart, Branch

Neighborhoods: Stephenson*, Cox, Mendell

Transportation: Branch*, Crowder, Mendell

Growth and Natural Resources: Crowder*, Thompson, Stewart, Stephenson, Cox

The council majority’s assignments, which were approved:

Economic Development and Innovation: McFarlane*, Thompson, Stewart, Branch

Neighborhoods: Stephenson*, Stewart, Mendell

Transportation: Branch*, Crowder, Cox

Growth and Natural Resources: Crowder*, Thompson, Mendell, Cox, Stephenson

*Chair of the committee