by Bob Geary
Mayor Nancy McFarlane's inaugural speech last night was cheery. Raleigh's the greatest city anywhere; she plans to keep it that way. Better transit is needed. The Dix tract should be our Central Park one day. A new zoning code — the so-called Unified Development Ordinance — is coming. Details of these and other issues TBD.
Well, not the time perhaps.
More interesting, to me anyway, was the list of Council committee choices McFarlane circulated yesterday. She'll make them public at the Council table this afternoon. At-large Councilor Russ Stephenson and District C Councilor Eugene Weeks, both early and enthusiastic supporters of her mayoral candidacy, will constitute McFarlane's inner circle, clearly. Both are Democrats. McFarlane, who ran with Democratic backing, is nominally independent.
That goal is often in conflict with the goal of major developers, which is to build whatever wherever it will make them the most money quickly regardless of any long-range city plans. Whether the new code will tighten things up and move Raleigh in the direction of urban, transit-oriented development is a major question facing the new Council.
In that vein, Stephenson promises to be a positive force. However, McFarlane's CPC won't have the services of the other positive planning force on council, District D member Thomas Crowder. McFarlane will leave Crowder off and instead put District E member Bonner Gaylord and her District A replacement Randy Stagner on the CPC with Stephenson. Gaylord and Stagner are independents. Both are capable; neither, though, has shown Crowder's passion for strong planning, at least so far.
Weeks, meanwhile, will chair the Public Works Committee, taking over there from Stephenson. Public Works handles all the infrastructure issues — roads, streets, water and sewer lines — which are the nitty gritty of city government. Crowder will have a seat on Public Works, as will Councilor John Odom, a Republican.
Weeks will also have a seat on the Budget and Economic Development Committee, the third major council committee. McFarlane, as mayor, chairs this one, and Crowder will serve as co-chair as he did under outgoing Mayor Charles Meeker. The fourth seat on this committee — it's the only one with four — is expected to go to Stagner.
The Law and Public Safety Committee, usually the least active committee, will again be headed by at-large Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, a Democrat. It made news last term as it thrashed out an ordinance allowing food trucks on a very limited basis.
I've heard that McFarlane will also move to create a new technology committee, with Gaylord in charge. He's already busy — throughout his first term — figuring out how to make city government more accessible to citizens with websites, apps and such. As McFarlane also said, "The key to a successful city is the participation of its citizens."
Apps should help citizens get and transmit information about city services. Whether better tech will translate to more active citizen involvement in decision-making ... we'll see.