Opinion

It’s time to clean house at the Raleigh City Council

Raleigh City Hall has been the site of contentious City Council meetings. All seats are up n the Oct. 8 election
Raleigh City Hall has been the site of contentious City Council meetings. All seats are up n the Oct. 8 election tlong@newsobserver.com

The Raleigh municipal election on Oct. 8 might be a lonely one. Despite a competitive mayor’s race, turnout is likely to be low and most City Council incumbents are likely to receive another two-year term based on name recognition and little else.

But this low-profile election could prove to be of great consequence if Raleigh voters do what’s needed — clean house. Otherwise, giving most of the current group another term will ensure another two years of juvenile spats and a lack of vision about the city’s future.

In the past, members of Raleigh’s nonpartisan council have generally worked together with effectiveness and collegiality. That approach attracted talented people to serve on the city staff. That’s all gone now. Neighborhood activists opposed to growth have joined the council and allied with longer-term incumbents to split the council and undercut its ability to lead. Top city staffers have been browbeaten by council members and some have left. Personal feuds have broken down communication between council members.

The result has been a lack of results. The eight-member council can’t agree on small things such as allowing alternative dwelling units in backyards, the regulation of electric scooters or rules on using homes for Airbnb rentals. And while tangled in smaller disputes, the council has failed to envision the big projects, adopt the innovative policies and set the bold goals that should distinguish and excite a dynamic city.

Here’s our list for restoring the council to a body worthy of its city. We support Mary-Ann Baldwin for mayor and recommend the re-election of at-large candidate Nicole Stewart. At 37, she’s the council’s youngest member and one of its few adults. And bring back Corey Branch, 41, in District C covering Southeast Raleigh.

As for the rest, it’s time for change.

In the other at-large seat, Russ Stephenson, 63, has served for 14 years. That’s enough. We appreciate his service and progressive views, but he has gotten caught up in the council’s toxic atmosphere. We recommend Jonathan Melton, 33, a domestic law attorney who would bring both youth and an LGBTQ perspective to the council.

In District A covering central north Raleigh, we recommend Patrick Buffkin, 36, a staff attorney with the N.C. Utilities Commission, for the open seat. He says, “We need to get back to talking to each other.” Amen.

In District B covering northeast Raleigh, our choice is Brian Fitzsimmons, 36, a project manager. He would bring a thoughtful and cooperative approach in place of the divisive and disruptive incumbent, David Cox, 61.

District D, covering southwest Raleigh, presents a tough choice. Thomas Crowder was a good council member. His wife, Kay succeeded him after his death from cancer in 2014. Crowder, 63, continues her late husband’s attention to constituent services, but she has contributed to making the council dysfunctional. A Crowder has represented the district since 2003. It’s time for a change. We recommend Brittany Bryan, 38, a regional manager for EBSCO publishing. She is committed to a council driven by mutual respect and focused on the future.

In District E, extending northwest from central Raleigh to RDU, incumbent Stef Mendell, 64, works hard and gets around her sprawling district. But she’s part of the mutinous group that needs to go. We recommend David Knight, 51, a natural resources consultant.

This will be a low-turnout election, but those who vote can make a high impact. Vote for change.

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