Eugene A. Brown | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Eugene A. Brown

Candidate for Durham City Council


Name as it appears on the ballot: Eugene A. Brown
Full legal name, if different: Eugene Alexander Brown
Date of birth: November 1, 1943
Home address: 410 N. Buchanan Blvd., Durham, NC 27701
Mailing address, if different from home: same
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Owner/Broker, Distinctive Properties (since 1980)
Home phone: (919) 688-5954
Work phone: (919) 682-4403
Cell phone: (919) 624-4719

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

The most important issue to me as a Councilman is adhering to our city’s mission statement: “The City of Durham is dedicated to improving the quality of life in our community by delivering cost-effective, highly-responsive services with integrity and friendliness.”

In addition, I believe in our council goals: “(a) All Durham citizens are safe; (b) Every citizen in Durham has access to adequate, safe, and affordable housing; (c) Durham enjoys a prosperous economy; (4). Durham citizens enjoy a healthy environment; (d) Durham citizens enjoy sustainable, thriving neighborhoods with efficient and well-maintained infrastructure; (e) Durham citizens enjoy a City rich in aesthetic beauty; (f) Durham citizens enjoy a vibrant City that embraces and promotes its cultural diversity and heritage; and (g) Durham citizens enjoy an efficient and accountable City government.”

Obviously these are goals to strive for and will continue to be so. But I take these goals, along with our mission statement, very seriously. All of them are important but three, perhaps, stand out. Public safety is critical. A great city starts first with being a safe city. A prosperous economy is the engine that drives the Bull Durham train. Having an efficient and accountable city government is also important because if Durham is embedded in waste, fraud and abuse, then public support of many of these other goals would be threatened financially.

2. What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on council? This might include career or community service; but please by specific about it relevance to this office.

Please see answer for Question 3 below.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

From the center out and to the left. I’ve been a Democrat all of my life and have worked in the U.S. Congress for former Congressman John D. Moss (D. Calif.) who wrote, among other legislation, the Freedom of Information Act and the Consumer Product Safety Act. I also worked as Press Secretary to Senator Joe Biden (D. Del.)

As you realize, however, this is a non-partisan race and although I have always maintained and adhered to my party’s basic principals, on Council I try not to wear rigid ideological blinders as I work for all the people of Durham. My voting record is very similar to my friend and colleague Diane Catotti, but I do strive to be an independent voice in a diverse city and I am not afraid to speak truth to power. One example is when I spoke out in protest against the hostile take-over by Paxton Media of the Herald-Sun (Independent, January 12, 2005).

Another Council issue, covered in your paper, was the Rice Financial Group’s attempt to do a $120 million leveraged swap with the City. I worked with Martin Eakes and others to write an 18 page brief on the inherit risks to the City of such a fiscal gamble.

Four year ago, my campaign promises included striving to bring about positive, common-sense changes to City government; restoring fiscal accountability; listening to all citizens and acting independently.

Our work is far from finished, but I believe I have helped Durham in the past four years make tremendous progress, including: revitalizing our downtown; creating beneficial public/private partnerships such as American Tobacco; enhancing our Police Department by adding 30 officers and hiring a new chief; offering home ownership to moderate income citizens with our Eastway and Hope XI complexes; passing a $110 million bond that addresses (partly) our deferred maintenance; and utilizing the occupancy tax and not tax payers’ funds, to construct our 2, 800 seat Performing Arts Center.

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

Let me give you two “principled stand” positions. The first, the Walltown Community Center, which I voted against; the second, the real estate transfer tax which I supported and which could be on the ballot in 2008.

  • Walltown Community Center

  • Consider the following:

    1. Three years ago, a new Walltown Center was never one of the top priorities in the Parks and Recreation master plan. But due to strong lobbying by the neighborhood, it bounced to the top of the list.

    2. A “Request for Proposals” solicited architects for the new building. Three finalists were chosen by a diverse City committee. The number-one company from Charlotte was rated far ahead of the other two firms and is/was known nationwide for its expertise in this field. But the job was awarded to another firm ranked a far-distant third—the George Williams Group. Williams is a former brother-in-law of City Councilman, Howard Clement, who did not recuse himself from the vote.

    3. The construction estimate came back on the gym and snack bar at nearly $400/sq.ft., which would make it one of the most expensive gyms in the country. Even hospitals, which are the most difficult public buildings to construct, can be built for less than $400/sq.ft.

    4. Months later, George Williams, (who is actually a very nice man, so there is nothing personal here) came back before the Council again and told us that he had to sub-contract the job to another architect. So the City is now being forced to pay for two architects.

    5. Under pressure from the Walltown neighborhood, the Council decided to add a natatorium to the site which was really too small to begin with. Indeed, the lot, which was chosen by the neighborhood, used to be a city landfill and has a stream running through it with 15’ setback requirements. So Council voted at the last minute of our budget debate in June for an additional $1 million to “study” and prepare plans for the pool. The total costs for both the gym and the pool came to $16.7 million! In the end, it will be much closer to $20 million because of escalating construction costs.

    6. Certainly a more modest Walltown Community Center is called for, especially also, with all of the other priorities we have as a City. Yet, as a result of my “principled stand” for economic accountability, I have been called a racist and labeled a Councilman who has turned his back on the entire Walltown Neighborhood.
  • Real Estate Transfer Tax

  • I am one of only a very few Realtors in Durham who supports the real estate transfer tax. I spoke to the Durham Board of Realtors last March and told them, in a nice way, that they were being short-sighted and “penny wise and a dollar foolish” about this issue. Especially, too, in light of the Realtors’ opposition to impact fees. I stressed the growing need for new funds and how improved infrastructure could help sell our community. At the conclusion, I was thanked for having the courage (principled stand) to articulate my minority view, but my arguments didn’t go very far with what is primarily a Republican group.

5. Last year, the city withheld testing data that showed that the city’s drinking water failed to meet federal health standards. What can the city council do to increase transparency in city administration and prevent future breaches of the public’s trust?

Put pressure on our City Manager. The City Manager’s Office needs improvement, particularly in the area of communications. We, the Council, sent them a message two weeks ago when we voted to give our City Manager less of a raise than our other two employees.

I was especially concerned with the City Manager’s reluctance to be forthright about two issues: not only the lead in the water that you mentioned, but also the fire in the landfill. Both were issues that should have been dealt with swiftly and succinctly, as in: “here’s the problem, here’s what we did wrong and here’s what we are going to do to correct it.”

Unfortunately, that was not the approach taken and as a result, those two issues dominated the news and cast a negative light on Durham city government for too long. The Administration also made a major mistake with the findings of the Police Department report in the Lacrosse case. The honeymoon for the Manager is over. I look forward to improvements in this Department.

In addition, I have also been an advocate of transparency in government. As part of the answer to this question, I am enclosing my op-ed article that appeared in the Herald-Sun (March 23, 2007), entitled “Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant”.

6. What specific policy solutions would you advocate to abate Durham’s problems with violent crime?

  1. Hire a new Police Chief from outside the existing department, which we did in July. I felt we needed new leadership and lobbied the Manger to do so. The current department needs to be revamped and reorganized. The number two choice for Police Chief was Major Hodge, who said during the public discussion that “the Durham Police Department has not made any mistakes in the past five years.” Enough said.

  2. Address the gang issue forthrightly. We just received a $1.2 million Justice Department grant to go towards targeting gang activity that will be administered out of the City Manager’s office. We need to make sure the money is spent wisely.

    On September 19th, we will receive our consultant’s report on gangs in Durham. As a member of our Joint City/County Committee I received a preview last month. There will be good recommendations coming out of this report, including suggested changes for the Durham Police Department and the District Attorney’s office. We need to follow through on many of these suggestions and try to ensure that this report will not, like many others, be read by a few and filed away by the many.

  3. Get smart as well as tough on crime. Recognize we must continue to work on the causes of crime as well as those who commit crimes. We need to continue our jobs and housing initiatives in East Durham and work with our public school system to keep students in school. One recent study revealed that, for example, as a nation if we graduate five percent more of our high school students, we will save five billion dollars in terms of less societal costs including lost productivity, social welfare and incarceration.

7. Durham’s south side is experiencing rapid growth. What impact do you expect that growth to have on our city? What are your plans for handling that development?

Economically the impact of Durham’s south side is very positive. It has become one of our main engines driving our economic train and the City is reaping major revenues from this area, including South Point Mall (nearly half of the visitors to the mall are from outside of Durham County). In speaking with Steve Medlin, who may become our new interim Director of Planning, the Comprehensive Plan is well established to prevent further “commercial creep” in this area, especially along Fayetteville Road, which is one of my major concerns.

Some of the existing infrastructure has been programmed and paid for by developers. This funding has assisted in the development of roads, additional turning lanes, storm water facilities, etc. In addition, environmentally sensitive areas are currently being protected and there should be no infiltration into them, at least not on my watch. In summary, further expansion will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but I believe the planning is in place to handle environmental, traffic and density issues. My role will be to act as a watchdog to insure good planning in this area.

8. Private developers are in the process of revitalizing Durham’s Tobacco District, just as city crews are putting the finishing touches on the downtown streetscape. What kinds of policies should the council implement to ensure that downtown becomes a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood?

I’m proud of the role the City is playing in helping to revitalize our downtown and recognize the fact that to really become a thriving commercial area, it needs to become a residential neighborhood as well.

Four years ago there was no American Tobacco Complex. This demonstrates that public/private partnerships can work! We are making progress: Blue Devil Ventures completed their 240 unit apartment complex on Duke Street four years ago; Blue Devil Ventures II along Duke and Main Streets will soon bring around 400 residential units and commercial space to downtown. This was a public/private partnership with the City; American Tobacco and Greenfire Development will hopefully, within the next four or five years, develop another 600 units in the downtown area; in addition, our 2,000 seat Performing Arts Center, which is being funded by our occupancy tax, will open and add economic vitality to our downtown. The lights are bright in our city and will become even brighter in the future.

9. What are Durham’s most pressing capital improvement needs? Please be specific.

Like most cities, Durham faces tremendous capital improvement and deferred maintenance needs.

  • Capital Improvement

  • The bulk of these projects result from our $110 million city bond program that passed in 2005. The bonds will go toward projects for streets (resurfacing and paving), sidewalks, parks and recreation enhancement, some deferred maintenance, Museum of Life and Science, etc.

    In response to public complaints from the 1996 bond implementation program, a citizen CIP committee was formed. This committee has been helpful in terms of helping Council and the public stay informed about the various projects. The committee, using red, green and yellow indicators, highlights the progress of each project. To date, about 85% receive a “green” or go indicator. Several challenges have arisen:

    1. General Services is not fully staffed which has created delays. We may be hiring a consultant, MWH Americas, Inc., who has the expertise in the areas of program management and capital delivery. This company was used in Kansas City and, among other services, cut project completion from 36 months to 18 months (preliminary design to completion).

    2. Construction and material costs are escalating at such unprecedented rates that there may not be enough money to fully implement our 2005 bond programs. For example, according to David Jacobs of the Durham Fire Department, Fire Station 15, which was completed three years ago, cost $1 million to build, while the recently opened Fire Station 16, with the identical floor plan cost $1.5 million. Unfortunately, with the passage of these bonds came a promise to the public that we may not be able to fulfill.

    3. Some projects are embarrassingly slow off the mark. We have yet to start construction on the “Durham Station”, our transportation center, which will be built at the old Heart of Durham site on W. Chapel Hill St. Hopefully construction will start soon since it was funded from our 1996 bond program (we also want it to be energy efficient).

    4. You don’t hear much about this issue, but three years ago, due to a lawsuit from the U.S. Justice Department, Durham was mandated to make, according to General Services, over $10 million in repairs/renovations to bring us in compliance with federal ADA standards. Stay tuned on this one.
  • Deferred Maintenance

  • This is a national and local issue that seemed to get attention only after a major public failure, such as a bridge collapse. Yet, it is one of our county’s major unaddressed challenges. The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated we need $1.6 trillion in repairs over the next five years.

    To our credit, Council hired the Carter-Burgess Engineering Firm from Raleigh to do a facility assessment. Their report, delivered in March 2004, identified over $44 million in deficiencies (hard cost only). This report did not cover our water/sewer system or city streets and their monetary estimate is now way off due to cost escalations.

    There are nearly 2,000 deficiencies to correct and 819 have been assigned to date to General Services. Some funds were set aside in our 2005 bonds but again, due to market conditions, we are about $27 million short. Public works needs about $150 million for new street paving, resurfacing and sidewalk repair. Water management needs millions (exact cost to come) for water and sewer line rehabilitation program, cast iron line replacement, leak detection program for water lines and asset management programs for our water and sewer system. This is quite a challenge to our community.

10. What steps can the council take to promote strong town-gown relations, especially regarding infrastructure improvements in the neighborhoods adjacent to Duke University?

  1. Continue the progress we are making in Walltown and encourage ongoing partnerships with Duke and Self-Help Credit Union for affordable housing programs.

  2. Encourage Duke to continue purchasing student-slum houses in Trinity Park, Walltown and Birch Street neighborhoods. These homes are then sold to be renovated for single-family only. This program has been a tremendous boost to Trinity Park.

  3. Encourage neighborhood activists, including Tom Miller and Jon Schelp, to work with Duke as they did on their Central Campus Project, on issue-sensitive development around campus.

  4. Encourage the City to be an active participant in the very successful 11-year Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership which works to improve life in 12 neighborhoods around campus. This partnership also works with seven nearby public schools to boost academic achievement.

  5. Thank the Duke Endowment for their grant of $777,500 (July 2007) to increase projects in the West End Community Center, Lyon Park and other facilities.

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