Politics & Government

Triangle Politics: Chapel Hill mayor seeks county's help with revitalization effort

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt made his best pitch this week to get the Orange County Board of Commissioners to join Chapel Hill’s quest for renewed growth and more tax dollars in a struggling area east of downtown.

The town’s Ephesus-Fordham district – one-story strip malls and vacant lots – is failing, he said.

“We thought with a small area plan we’d find direction about what our vision was, because in the past that’s all it ever took in Chapel Hill. Just say you had a vision, and developers would run with checks in hand and they’d build,” he said. “And what did really happen here? Nothing.”

The town plans $10 million in road and stormwater improvements in the district. The town could pay for it all, Kleinschmidt said, but it wants the county’s help, at up to $400,000 a year for the next 20 years. The commissioners can decide how much they want to pay each year.

“We’re not asking you to participate with your current deposits,” Kleinschmidt said. “We’re asking you to participate with the new money that the town’s investment and five years of work is going to create for you. If it doesn’t create it for you, don’t participate.”

Schools cap plan reaction

Elected officials in Holly Springs and Cary, who have lobbied against school enrollment caps, had mixed reactions to a Wake County schools proposal that may place caps on 19 schools next year while lifting caps on nine others.

Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said Thursday that residents in his town would be “big winners” if the district lifted caps at two of the town’s three elementary schools – Holly Springs and Holly Ridge – and Holly Springs High, its only high school.

Capping “is a potentially serious issue in a town that’s growing as fast as ours,” Sears said. “It sounds like we’re making progress.”

Cary Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said the continued school crowding demonstrates the need for the Wake County Board of Commissioners to build schools at a pace that matches growth across the county.

“It’s very stressful for families to have caps imposed,” Robinson said. “That goes for people living in the area, people moving into the area and people trying to sell homes.”

Another racial bias probe

The Durham Human Relations Commission is preparing for another probe of alleged racial discrimination – this time, in the city’s water department.

Anticipating City Manager Tom Bonfield’s report on his own investigation this month, commission Chairman Ricky Hart has appointed four commissioners to review the report and recommend whether and how the commission should undertake an investigation of its own.

Hart initially wanted to wait until January, after Bonfield’s report is complete, to decide whether the commission should take up the case. Most other commissioners, though, preferred to go ahead with planning for a possible investigation.

Earlier this year, the commission completed an investigation of alleged racial bias by Durham police. At its meeting Tuesday, it heard bias allegations from Nathanette Mayo, a water department employee and City Workers Union secretary.

Look for more on this story in Sunday’s Durham News and at thedurhamnews.com.

Political events

• Democratic Women of Wake County will host a panel discussion about the Wake election results on Thursday at N.C. State University Club, 4200 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh. Participants will include Wake Democratic Party Chairman Dan Blue III, first Vice Chair Brian Fitzsimmons, executive director Austen High and coordinated campaign director Byron Johnson. Buffet opens at 11:30 a.m., followed by the program at noon. Free. Cost for lunch is $20. Reservations, contact Cindy Sizkez at 919-319-8375 or cindydwwc@yahoo.com by Tuesday.

Compiled by staff writers Tammy Grubb, Andy Specht and Jim Wise.

Got a tip, item or coming event? Fax Triangle Politics at 919-829-4529, or send e-mail to metroeds@newsobserver.com. Send items by noon Thursday.