Elections » Candidate Questionnaires

Russ Stephenson

Candidate for Raleigh City Council

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Russ Stephenson

Full legal name, if different: Russell G. Stephenson

Date of birth: 10/29/1955

Campaign website: www.RussForRaleigh.com

Occupation & employer: Architect, self

Email: Russ@RussForRaleigh.com

Do you have a Facebook page? Russ for Raleigh

Do you have a Twitter account? @RussForRaleigh


1. What do you see as the most important issues facing Raleigh? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

The most important issues facing Raleigh fall into two categories.

First are those related to achieving the sustainable growth goals of Raleigh's 2030 Comprehensive Plan seeking investments that maximize long term benefits in three mutually-supportive ways (1) with a strong, diverse and innovative 21st Century economic base, (2) with a greater awareness of environmental stewardship's integral role in improving the health and prosperity of our citizens and our economy, and (3) with social equity that values community diversity and cohesiveness by promoting affordability, and increasing neighborhood and workforce capacity to rebuild a stronger middle class.

The second category are external issues related to economic, regulatory and technological changes that are beyond our direct control, but to which Raleigh and other cities must remain responsive in order to remain competitive and maintain a balance between high quality services and an affordable cost of living.

My top three priorities in addressing these issues are:

1. Promote cost-effective mobility infrastructure (walking, biking, driving & especially transit) investments and partnerships that will help us achieve our 2030 Comp Plan's sustainable growth goals.

2. Supporting an excellent Wake County Public School System is a fundamental investment in our children's future and in Raleigh's reputation as a world-class city, committed to building a highly educated workforce to attract and retain the best jobs and companies.

3. Our city government must continue to innovate. Raleigh has had a long and stable run of success in its partnerships with public and private major institutions, in its conservative financial management and in its downtown revitalization. But the changing technologies, demographics and economies of the 21st Century require fresh ideas, new skills and new ways of providing services and working together in order to compete and succeed.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the issues you've identified? Please be as specific as possible in relating past accomplishments to current goals.

I am a LEED accredited architect and urban designer, with more than 30 years of professional experience managing multi-million dollar projects in the public and private sectors, and participation in four NC award-winning city planning projects. Over the last eight years, I have led Council's engagement in (1) developing the fundamental city planning and zoning documents that will guide Raleigh's growth for the next twenty years (2) water resources management & conservation, (3) fair growth funding & impact fees, (4) citizen engagement, (5) parks planning, (6) healthy neighborhoods, (7) affordable housing, (8) transit strategies, and (9) forging a stronger connection between infrastructure investments & economic development benefits.

3. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle and North Carolina. Please point to a specific position in your platform that would, if achieved, help further that goal.

In answering question #1 above, I referred to the three mutually supportive 'pillars' of sustainable growth, including social equity. The accomplishments listed in question #2 and priorities listed in question #1 each have a social equity component that contributes to a just community.

4. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I am committed to the proposition that in a diverse democracy, consensus solutions are always best. Democratic consensus is messy, requiring patience and a willingness to consider legitimate, but conflicting values as important pieces of the final puzzle picture that is framed by the adopted communitywide vision of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. That process requires trust and can alienate people with little patience or regard for the views and values of other stakeholders. Working toward consensus is never popular with folks who are sure they are right.

5. If these issues haven't been addressed above, would you please comment on:

a) The role of City Council members and their relationship to the manager and staff is an issue currently. Some think council members should talk only to the manager, insulating staffers from political pressure. Others think the members should also be able to question department heads and staff as part of their policy oversight role and to resolve constituents' problems. A middle course would be oversight by committee, a time-consuming job for the part-time council. What's your position on this?

That past City Manager's policy of directing Councilors to interact directly with Department heads worked well, and he never questioned my relationship with his staff in eight years. The Interim Manager has provided a written policy statement that continues the past practice.

My hope is that we will hire a new Manager who will embrace thoughtful change in a collaborative spirit: with targeted performance audits focused on achieving the community's strategic priorities and with performance goals and oversight metrics that facilitate clear and constructive lines of responsibility and communication.

b) Council members are paid little ($17,000 for the mayor; $12-13,000 for the others) and, except for the city attorney and clerk, no professional staff report to them. All staff work for the manager. Would you change this system at all, and if so, how?

As Raleigh has grown and become more complex, Council's responsibilities have expanded as well: acting as an effective policy-level 'Board of Directors', providing quality constituent services, processing the weekly load of Council and committee responsibilities, sharing oversight for the internal and external activities of a 3,500 person organization, and bringing innovative new opportunities to the city's attention. The Mayor and Council need additional support in order to do their jobs effectively.

c) In light of the scandal unfolding at the Raleigh Business and Technical Center, supposedly a business incubator, is it time to beef up the City Council's oversight mechanisms? Are other city-sponsored agencies and city departments vulnerable to similar problems?

Yes to both questions.

d) Do you support the goals of the 2009 comprehensive plan and the brand new Unified Development Ordinance? Will these two initiatives really change the way Raleigh develops over the next several decadesand for the better? Or for the worse?

For the better. See my responses to questions #1-4.

e) How important is improving public transit in Raleigh and the region to the city's future prosperity, do you think?

Very important. See my top priority in question #1.

f) If elected, will you ask the Wake County Commissioners to allow a public referendum in 2014 on a ½-cent sales tax for transit, the same as Durham and Orange counties have passed?

Yes.

g) Until the ½-cent sales tax is in place in Wake, what else should Raleigh do on its own, if anything, to jump-start public transit within the city?

See my first and third priorities in question #1

h) Raleigh is trying to gain control of the 325-acre Dorothea Dix Hospital tract for use as a destination park. Do you support this effort? Should Raleigh pay fair-market value for the land, via lease or purchase, as many in the General Assembly demand? Please share your thoughts on how development of the park should be financed, if at all?

Yes to the first two questions. Dix Park development should be financed like other park investments via park bonds approved by Raleigh voters.

i) As part of a growth and economic development strategy, should Raleigh begin to use tax-increment financing (TIFs), subsidizing current developments with anticipated future property tax gains? If so, what policy limits, in any, should be adopted as part of a TIF plan?

There are several forms of special assessment districts that can support development that would not have occurred but for the tax support. In all cases, the public's contribution should go to public infrastructure supporting development that promotes the City's sustainable growth goals.

j) For many years, it's been a point of pride for Raleigh managers and Council members that Raleigh government costs less, and the city's property tax rate is lower, than other towns in Wake County and other North Carolina cities. On the other hand, services may suffer because of inadequate funding. Are you concerned that Raleigh is investing too little to achieve the world-class status to which it aspires? Or can spending be cut further without sacrificing quality?

Providing optimum service levels goes beyond balancing low cost services with a high quality of life. Low cost services also benefit Raleigh's affordability. A good example of where we can reduce costs while improving our quality of life is by redirecting more of our solid waste stream from costly and environmentally damaging landfills to recycled products that add to the city's bottom line.

k) Is Raleigh doing enough to serve its growing Hispanic population and help them feel a part of the city?

We are a nation of immigrants and Raleigh values its cultural diversity as one of the keys to its competitiveness. Raleigh continues to expand its Hispanic hiring, community services and outreach. One example is support for the Fiesta del Pueblo that celebrates Hispanic food, music and culture in downtown Raleigh. With projected demographic trends, Hispanic participation in the life of our city will continue to grow.

l) Is Raleigh doing enough to serve its growing population of homeless and street people, many of whom suffer with mental illnesses? If not, what do you recommend?

Raleigh continues to expand human service and homeless service programs while other governments have reduced funding. Raleigh provides grants and maintains long-standing partnerships with many faith-based and other non-profit organizations that provide a continuum of services including food, shelter, health and job training.

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