Raleigh Report

Raleigh’s process for choosing Dix Park advisers draws scrutiny

Views of buildings and the Dorthea Gardens neighborhood in downtown Raleigh, N.C. from atop the Dorthea Dix complex on Thursday, October 16, 2014.
Views of buildings and the Dorthea Gardens neighborhood in downtown Raleigh, N.C. from atop the Dorthea Dix complex on Thursday, October 16, 2014. clowenst@newsobserver.com

City leaders on Tuesday picked a group of business leaders, land planners, political supporters and critics to help design Dix Park, considered one of the biggest public projects in Raleigh’s history.

But the process for naming the advisers – from liberal real estate magnate Greg Hatem to conservative blogger Joey Stansbury – quickly drew scrutiny from some residents who said the city was not being transparent.

City staff compiled a list of recommended appointees that wasn’t available to the public until hours before the City Council meeting Tuesday afternoon. Raleigh leaders then unanimously approved the recommendations without reading the names aloud, showing them on screens in the council chambers or discussing the list.

“This process suffered from a disturbing lack of transparency and inclusivity,” said Brent Woodcox, a Raleigh resident who works at the legislature and wasn’t selected as an adviser. “By ramming this list through with no discussion or debate, the council harmed the credibility of the Dix Park project.”

Mayor Nancy McFarlane defended the process, saying city staff wanted to notify applicants whether they made the cut via email before making the list public. She said she was comfortable with the recommendations.

“They did a good job of bringing in a lot of talented, enthusiastic people ... people who are open to new ideas,” McFarlane said.

The city last year bought the Dorothea Dix campus, formerly home to a psychiatric hospital, from the state for $52 million and plans to transform the 308-acre downtown property into a park. Raleigh leaders recently set up two committees – an executive and an advisory – that will create a vision for the park and help guide its development.

To help fund the effort, Raleigh recently agreed to a five-year partnership with the Dix Park Conservancy, a group of local business leaders and philanthropists that will collect donations and host events like Destination Dix, a free festival planned for Saturday at Dix Park.

The executive group will have final say over how conservancy money is spent, while the advisory committee will be responsible for engaging the public with the planning process and leading topic-specific work groups.

About 415 people applied for 45 spots over a one-month period this summer. McFarlane said staff members – not council members – reviewed applications and tried to create a group of advisers with a variety of backgrounds and skill sets.

Roughly two-thirds of the advisory committee is white and male, and 56 percent is over 40 years old.

Angela Crumpler, who says she was born and raised on Dix Hill while her father worked at Dix Hospital, said she was stunned by her exclusion from the advisory committee. She noted her familiarity with the park’s history and her career as an attorney who advised the state Department of Labor.

“I’m sorry, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done. Something smells wrong,” said Crumpler, 62. “It sounds like it was all political. I want to know why these people were picked. Is the history of the place going to be considered? ... I know it, I lived it.”

Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, is among the appointees. So are SPARKcon festival founder Aly Khalifa, former Raleigh councilman Wayne Maiorano and local artist and planner Matt Tomasulo.

The executive committee will have eight members: McFarlane and a council member of her choice, three members of the Dix Park Conservancy, N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson and two city staffers.

McFarlane on Tuesday said Mayor Pro Tem Kay Crowder, whose district includes Dix Park, will join her on the executive committee. Carlton Midyette, Capitol Broadcasting CEO Jim Goodmon and former News & Observer Publisher Orage Quarles III will represent the conservancy on the executive committee, she said.

The executive committee will soon begin its search for a consultant, and the advisory committee will likely convene later this summer, McFarlane said.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

Dix Park Master Plan Advisory Committee

Jacquie Ayala

James Benton

Roderick Brown

Walter Cole

Son Duong

Brent Francese

Daniel Gottlieb

Mary Ruffin Hanbury

Jenny Harper

Greg Hatem

Ebony Haywood

Thomas Hester

Myrick Howard

John Johnston

Carly Jones

Aly Khalifa

Bill King

Jai Kumar

Charles Leffler

Caroline Lindquist

Chris MacPherson

Wayne Maiorano

David Millsaps

Dr. Tony Mitchell

Joan Moravick

AnnieLloyd Nesbitt

Shana Overdorf

Bill Padgett

Julie Paul

Charles Phaneuf

Robert Poston

Sara Prado

Brian Pressley

Megg Rader

Sarah Reeves

William Ross

Amy Simes

Ashton Smith

Joey Stansbury

Matt Tomasulo

Edward Vinson

Joe Whitehouse

Kimberly Wicker

Andrew Williams

Larry Zucchino

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