Wake County

Former council member is removed from transit board. She calls it 'political payback'

Former Raleigh City Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin was removed from the GoTriangle board. City Council Member Russ Stephenson was named to fill the remainder of Baldwin's four-year term
Former Raleigh City Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin was removed from the GoTriangle board. City Council Member Russ Stephenson was named to fill the remainder of Baldwin's four-year term ehyman@newsobserver.com

A former Raleigh City Council member — and frequent critic of some sitting council members — has been removed as one of the city's representatives on the GoTriangle governing board.

In a split and surprising vote Tuesday, some Raleigh leaders chose to remove former Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin from the GoTriangle board and to appoint Council Member Russ Stephenson to fill the remainder of Baldwin's four-year term. Stephenson joined Council Members David Cox, Stef Mendell, Dickie Thompson and Kay Crowder in supporting the change. Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Council Members Corey Branch and Nicole Stewart voted against removing Baldwin.

"I just have to say I think it's really unfortunate and it sends a bad message to the people we entrust to serve on boards who have dedicated years representing the city of Raleigh and been integral in the community," McFarlane said. "It's a shame that politics sometimes interferes with that."

The plan to remove Baldwin was spearheaded by Cox and Mendell during an update by the Raleigh Transit Authority at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Both Cox and Mendell said the move wasn't "personal or political" but just their effort to get an elected leader on the GoTriangle board, similar to other cities that have elected officials serving on the regional transportation board.

"Council is elected by the people," Cox said. "Council is responsible to the people, and transit is going to be very important over the next couple of years. There's going to be an aggressive plan moving forward. And I just felt it was important to have someone from council to be on the board. ... There is no retribution. I think you heard our comments. We think Mary-Ann did an exemplary job on this board. It's just a question of how council has changed and representation on the board has changed."

Baldwin, who was first elected to Raleigh City Council in 2007, chose not to run for re-election last fall.

Baldwin has frequently criticized some council members — including Cox, Mendell and Stephenson — for not moving fast enough on certain issues such as allowing granny flats and short-term rentals within Raleigh.

"I think it’s political payback," Baldwin said. "Payback for being vocal and not agreeing with everything that they do."

Raleigh City Council members David Cox, left, and Russ Stephenson listen during a council meeting in the municipal building in 2016 Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

None of the council members who voted to remove Baldwin spoke to her first about the decision.

"It's really a crummy feeling to be surprised by something like this," Baldwin said. "It's a slap in the face. If they had come to me and said that this is what we want to do and why, I would have understood that. And so I think it's what they did but also how they did it. I just don't think that is how you treat people. Especially somebody who I served on the council with."

If she had been consulted about the move, Baldwin said she would have recommended Branch to serve on the board, in part, because he's the council liaison to the GoRaleigh transportation board and serves as the chairman of the council's transit committee.

"Hard to consider me when I find out at the table and blindsided," Branch said in a tweet after the meeting.

Baldwin was the longest serving member of the GoTriangle board of trustees. Raleigh's other representative to the board is Will Allen III.

McFarlane said she'd spoken with Jeff Mann, the GoTriangle general director, who called Baldwin a valuable member of the board with institutional knowledge that would be a loss if she was removed.

Anna Johnson; 919-829-4807; @anna_m_johnson

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