Mike Woodard | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Mike Woodard

Candidate for Durham City Council Ward III


Name as it appears on the ballot: Mike Woodard
Full legal name, if different: James Michael Woodard
Date of birth: 2.20.59
Home address: 2009 Woodrow Street, Durham, NC 27705
Campaign Web site: www.mikewoodard.com
Facebook Page: Re-Elect Councilman Mike Woodard
Occupation & employer: Administrator, Duke University and Duke Health System
Home phone: 919.286.0188
E-mail: mike@mikewoodard.com

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

  • A safer Durham: finding short-term and long-term solutions to crime, especially youth crime and increasing domestic crime; providing adequate resources for our police officers and fire fighters; and making our streets and sidewalks safe to travel on.

  • An economically viable Durham: spreading economic development to all parts of the city; investing in our neglected infrastructure; enhancing transportation options; providing affordable housing; and maintaining sustainable growth and sound land-use policies.

  • A cleaner, greener Durham: continuing implementation of an effective comprehensive solid waste program; cleaner streets and public spaces; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; implementing plans for regional light rail; and energy efficient buildings and services that save tax dollars.

  • Effective leadership: maintaining accessibility to all residents; maintaining accountability and confidence in City government; continuing excellent participation at Council and committee meetings, as well as attendance at public functions.

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

Throughout the twenty five years I've been active in the Durham community, and across the state, I've never been interested in simply seeking a title or position; I've been interested in getting things done for the betterment of the community. I've learned that to be effective in leadership roles one must be fully informed about issues, work closely with others to build coalitions and hopefully reach consensus on solutions, and then work hard to implement them.

Before my election to City Council, I served in leadership roles for the Durham and NC Jaycees, St. Philip's Church, the Dispute Settlement Center, and Rape Crisis of Durham. I cite these organizations of the many I've served because I was active during transitional periods for each. Working hard to be an effective leader, I was able to lead those organizations to much better places.

Since my election in 2005, I have continued to delve fully into myriad issues, work closely with a wide range of groups and citizens to craft solutions, and pressed hard for their implementation.

Examples where I have been effective include:

Sound land-use, transportation, and environmental policies

  • As chairman of the Joint City-County Planning Committee for two consecutive years, working to make reasonable changes to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and various other regulations.

  • Proposing, developing, and co-chairing the Environmental Enhancements to the UDO (EEUDO) committee, which proved to be a model for citizen engagement in developing sound land-use plans.

  • Chairing the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) as we begin the process of implementing our 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan, including enhanced mass transit, this has involved developing a shared vision for the MPO and then working closely with the Capital Area MPO, Triangle, Transit, NCDOT, the General Assembly, and other stakeholders.

  • When the Council was asked to take a stand on the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) near Butner, I urged that we not take a knee-jerk position, but rather a carefully-researched and information-based decision. As the Council liaison to the Environmental Affairs Board (EAB), I worked with the citizens on the board to develop a comprehensive report a couple of hundred pages long, including conducting public hearings, that led to both the Council and the County Commissioners opposing the facility based on sound reasoning.

Safer streets for pedestrians and bike riders

  • Redesign of Alston Avenue: building a coalition of neighborhood groups, who originally were opposed to each other, in reaching a compromise; and then pressing NCDOT to accept this community solution.

  • Signals and crosswalk at Broad and Perry streets: This should have been easy, but a number of people had not succeeded in completing this project, due to NCDOT's objections. I worked to build a coalition of supporters, including Duke's student government and the City's Transportation Department, to push DOT for changes. And we succeeded this time.

Another example I would cite is my sustained work in leading the effort of various citizens' groups and the City and County administrations to protect Durham's public access TV channel.

I have also been extremely effective in providing the basic constituent service we expect of our local elected officials.

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

In its endorsement of me in 2005, The Independent said, "His résumé is an unusual blend of progressive politics and a strong background in the business community, which, he argues—and we agree—puts him in a position to build bridges between competing interests and bring a progressive voice to debates on issues such as economic development." That was an accurate description four years ago, I have served that way in office, and it is accurate again this year.

As chairman of the JCCPC, I watched month after month as the committee and Planning Department staff wrestled with issues where we found the UDO was unclear or where specific ordinances were in conflict with other ordinances. Also, given the limited time we had to spend on issues, we often did not have time to look at a broader context, especially with respect to environmental issues. That's why I proposed the EEUDO committee and took an active role in its development and agreed to serve as its co-chair. I wanted the committee to have a balance of members from environmental groups, development interests, and neighborhoods. I am pleased we were able to recruit a broad-based group with deep knowledge of land-use issues. I often referred to the committee as an "all-star team," and the amount of quality work it accomplished in a short time was impressive.

Another time I was able to build bridges to work on an issue was during the design of Alston Avenue. There were neighborhood groups who originally were opposed to each other's desired outcomes. With help from the City staff, we held a series of meetings in which we worked for a compromise position. This wasn't an easy task at first, but we persevered and developed a community solution that elected officials used in negotiations with NCDOT for a redesign.

As chairman of the MPO, I have been working closely and actively with government entities in the Triangle region, various business and environmental groups, grass-roots organizations, and citizens to implement the 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan, which includes plans for enhanced mass transit.

When a transitional housing project was proposed for the up-and-coming Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood in 2007, I worked hard to protect the neighborhood during an important time in its transition while also not placing the housing project at a disadvantage. Working closely with the neighbors, leaders of the housing project, and City administrators, I was able to assist in finding a new—and ultimately much better—home for the project.

During our efforts to secure a public access channel, I worked hard to bring together a number of community groups, interested producers and citizens, as well as elected officials and City and County staff. We were ultimately successful, but it took a great deal of work and patience, as well as never losing sight of the end result.

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

During my three-and-a-half years in office, I have taken stands on a number of issues that were not popular with certain constituencies (at least initially), but I took those stands based on careful study of the issues and of the implications of the various solutions.

One recent example is my vocal support of the City Council's position in the Jordan Lake rules. After spending many hours in meetings and watching presentations, and after carefully reading the rules and various reports about them, I reached the conclusion that most of the rules were beneficial to the environment of Durham and the region, but that some were not. I joined my Council colleagues in approving a resolution and in various actions that advocated our position.

My vocal support of this position put me at odds with a number of voters and various organizations. However, in light of criticism and actually being called names, I remained firm in my position because it was reasonable and in the best interest of the citizens of Durham and the region. While it took many months of dialogue, City and State officials, along with environmental and some business groups, were able to reach a solution.

During our FY10 budget deliberations last winter, I took a strong, public stand in favor of a dedicated neighborhood revitalization fund, after the administration did not recommend one. It would be similar to the Downtown Revitalization Fund, and I advocated for it even if that meant redeploying a portion of the Downtown Fund.

Holding firm to this position was challenging given the difficult economic climate and budget challenges we faced, as well as concerns from downtown business interests. (I serve as the Council's representative on the Downtown Durham Inc. board of directors.) However, I insisted then—and now—that the City's and private investments in downtown will be in vain if Durham's neighborhoods, particularly those nearby, cannot sustain themselves. And, besides, it was the right thing to do for the neighborhoods.

Another principled stand I took was in support of the Congestion Relief and Intermodal Transit Fund, approved by the General Assembly this summer. My opposition to various amendments to the legislation put me at odds with some of my local colleagues, some of our legislators, and other stakeholders. However, the proposed amendments would have hampered our efforts for a truly regional transit system.

Additionally, some citizens and groups have stated their opposition to the proposed funding mechanism. However, on both counts, I fully considered the options proposed and ultimately decided the legislation and funding mechanism as proposed are our best opportunity to develop a greatly-needed regional mass transit system.

5) Recently, the N.C. General Assembly approved a nutrient clean-up strategy for Jordan Lake, which will require local municipalities, including Durham, to pay for any necessary pollution-reduction measures. How will you work with the City's Public Works Department to ensure Durham's pollution-reduction goals are met, and how will you work to prevent similar pollution—and the high cost of state-mandated clean-up efforts—in the future?

As I have throughout the discussions related to the Jordan Lake rules, I will work closely with the City administration, various State officials and departments, and other stakeholders to ensure that an effective and reasonable set of rules are enacted and implemented, both in the Jordan Lake and Falls Lake watersheds.

As a member of the Joint City-County Planning Committee, co-chair of the EEUDO, and the Council liaison to the EAB and Open Space and Trails Commission, I will continue to work hard to see that various protections are built into our ordinances and regulations that will limit run-off pollutants. I eagerly await the actual text amendments that will come out of the EEUDO's work. I will advocate for a continuation of the EEUDO, or a similar model, to address other environmental issues in our land-use planning.

6) Southern Durham Development is suing Durham County for conducting a public hearing before changing its Jordan Lake watershed maps to accommodate a proposed mixed-use project known as 751 Assemblage. Supporters of the project say it will increase Durham's tax base, and call a public hearing to change the watershed maps an unnecessary burden on property owners. However, others question the validity of the survey and say the County is bound by the state's administrative code to conduct a public hearing. Would you consider annexing the property to resolve the matter, if Southern Durham Development requests that the City do so? Why?

The 751 Assemblage project is currently under review by the County and is the subject of litigation. Until those matters, particularly the lawsuit, are settled, it would be inappropriate for the City to consider annexation of this property.

7) Until recently, the City had a 25-square-mile "donut hole" in which no watershed protections existed. By closing the "donut hole"—which covered most of downtown—Durham lost an important incentive to attract downtown development and re-development, developers argued. What are your thoughts on how Durham can best attract smart growth while also protecting its watersheds?

Durham and the rest of the Triangle area will double in population over the next 20 years. How we manage that growth is the most important issue facing us now, as we strive to find a balance in growing and protecting our environment.

Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities (still the seminal work on urban planning 48 years after its release), wrote, "Designing a dream city is easy. Rebuilding a living one takes imagination."

I keep a sheet of paper with that statement on it in the cover of the notebook I use for the Joint City-County Planning Committee as a reminder of the things we need most in guiding Durham's growth over the next generation: Imagination. Creativity. Out-of-the-box thinking. Not accepting the same old answers for the issues and challenges we face.

The best way to attract smart growth and protect our whole environment, not just our watershed, is to work for consensus upfront. As I have mentioned before, the EEUDO committee model was successful in having an informed dialogue from various stakeholders well before the Planning Department staff began addressing concerns expressed by elected officials and the community, businesses and environmental and neighborhood groups alike, about the current Unified Development Ordinance. The committee was able to reach consensus on 80 percent of the complex issues that came before it. During the winter and spring months, we will see the end results of the committee's work, as the department presents various amendments to the UDO that will address topics like buffers, mass grading, and steep slopes.

After the first of the year, which will give us all time to catch our breath on the EEUDO's work, I will advocate for EEUDO 2, another effort to continue working on issues identified but not addressed during the first round.

This question cites another example where as a community we addressed a complex issue in a collaborative way. When state regulators forced Durham into addressing the "donut hole," various groups began working to find a solution that would not choke off important growth downtown, in the surrounding neighborhoods, and in some suburban areas that were not originally anticipated. I am pleased with the solution we were able to achieve.

Another example of this kind of consensus building is the creation of conservation subdivisions, which allow density bonuses for the set aside of open space and other environmentally friendly practices.

There will be times when reaching consensus on issues related to land use and planning will be difficult. What is important is for the elected bodies to learn from previous issues when this is not possible. As we have moved (and will continue to move) through the issues around Jordan Lake and the proposed 751 Assemblage project, the elected bodies cannot lose sight of the things we need to do better the next time a similar issue comes before us.

One suggestion I have is the creation of a technical committee to advise us on watershed mapping and related issues; this approach was used in the mapping of Falls Lake. Hopefully working through some of these questions in advance will mitigate the controversy. It will also help us establish more clarity and certain criteria in guiding growth in environmentally-sensitive and fast-growing areas.

8) Fairway Outdoor Advertising has proposed amending the city-county Unified Development Ordinance to allow for electronic billboards? Are you in favor of this measure, or not? Please explain your answer.

At this point, neither Fairway nor other representatives of the billboard industry have presented a specific proposal to amend the City and County's billboard ordinance. As a result, I will address the question in general terms.

The question of billboards was debated, litigated, and ultimately codified in the late 1980s. Given the history of this issue, the industry has a very steep threshold to overcome in seeking any changes to the ordinance.

As chairman of the Joint City-County Planning Committee last year, I requested that industry representatives take their request to the public to gauge support. I have attended a handful of the presentations, and I have not seen a groundswell of public support to make any changes. If anything, I've seen a great deal more opposition.

9) Last year, Durham voters rejected a proposed half-cent "meals tax" for local projects. This year, a half-cent sales tax for transit is proposed in the legislature, also requiring voters approval. But Durham could pay for transit and other needs simply by increasing property taxes, which some consider a more progressive method than either of the alternatives. Which taxes should be increased, if any, and for which projects? Will you support the half-cent sales tax for transit if the legislature enacts it and the county puts it on the ballot?

I disagree with the assertion that Durham could pay for transit by "simply" increasing property taxes. Increasing the burden on Durham homeowners, especially our low-wealth homeowners, is a not "simple" matter, whether for the City's operating budget, for "local projects," or for the critically-needed enhanced mass transit.

The Independent, along with other media and most political organizations, understand this as evinced by its endorsement of last year's prepared meals tax.

The 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which includes an enhanced mass transit plan vital to protecting our environment and to maintaining safe, reasonable growth, projects $8 billion in spending in Durham and Orange counties and a portion of Chatham County over the next 25 years. "Simply" raising property taxes would place a significant burden on homeowners and would also force difficult budget decisions by the local governing boards.

The Congestion Relief and Intermodal Transit Fund bill requires a detailed financial plan that must be approved by all three boards of County Commissioners before any sales tax referendum can be placed on a ballot. In order to fund the LRTP, we will need to consider a number of revenue options, of which the increased sales tax is one.

Food, medicine, housing, and utilities would be excluded from any sales tax. Based on their research, three leading authorities on government financing have pointed out "...the more the base of the sales tax excludes necessities (such as food and prescription drugs) and includes luxury or nonessential goods and services, the less regressive the tax is likely to be." (Robert D. Lee, Jr., Ronald W. Johnson, and Philip G. Joyce (2008). Public Budgeting Systems, 8th edition (Boston: Jones Bartlett).

Other possible revenue sources include:

  • Increased vehicle registration fee. Durham just received legislative permission to charge $15; Chapel Hill's fee is $45.

  • Increased vehicle rental tax, paid overwhelmingly by visitors who use local roads but don't pay property taxes.

  • Investment return from development around transit stations.

  • Increased tax rate in RTP.

The Triangle area has a more balanced and comprehensive mix of potential funding sources than most urban communities who must rely heavily on sales tax.

All of these options should be considered.

Data show that the availability of public transit provides a significant benefit to low and moderate income families. Public transit options will include expanded and enhanced bus service as well as rail service. In Durham, DATA currently provides 170,000 bus hours annually. Within three years of implementing the enhanced mass transit plan, bus hours would climb to 310,000, reducing head times and allowing for new and expanded routes.

The annual cost of transit is 5 to 7 times lower than the cost to maintain and operate a vehicle for work purposes. The annual impact of a ½ cent sales tax is six to 11 times lower than the impact of the increases in gas prices over the last five years.

Revenues derived from a broad array of sources are designed to produce a dramatic improvement in transit services, which will mitigate the impact of high gasoline prices and a lack of transit options on low- and moderate-income families in Durham and the region.

I will support, and actively work for, a sales tax for transit.

10) The FY 2009-10 budget includes cuts to many social services, while maintaining rainy-day funds necessary to maintain Durham's AAA credit rating. How can Durham maintain services for the neediest while also balancing its budget?

Initially, I was unclear what was meant by "social services" since most of the traditional social service programs are administered by County government. In an email to me, Matt Saldaña of The Independent staff said that he "honestly was thinking of both the City and the County" when writing this question.

Further, he said: "From the City's perspective, this would mean more the social benefits it provides its employees (health premiums, etc.)--in addition to a reduction in the work force.

"It would also include the 42 percent reduction (roughly $350,000) in payouts to non-city agencies including community development, youth, and public health and safety groups (e.g. El Centro Hispano, Durham Affordable Housing, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Durham Crisis Response Center, etc.). I am not sure how much was cut from each individual agency, and this overall figure also includes arts groups, which for our purposes is also a "social service."

"The more difficult cuts to social services certainly occurred on the county side of things, but the larger point remains about how to balance services, while also balancing the budget."

I will address the question in light of Matt's explanation.

First, maintaining the City's AAA bond rating is extremely important, as this is the City's credit rating and affects the amount of interest paid when the City issues bonds. This rating has a clear effect on the City's ability to fund capital and infrastructure needs. While a good portion of these are "hard" services like road resurfacing and water and sewer projects, they also include "social services" like parks (the new Holton Center, an innovative projective combining many services in one space in Northeast Central Durham, was funded in the 2005 bond package) and arts facilities (the Carolina Theatre, Durham Arts Council, and Armory are City-owned buildings that have been renovated with recent bond funds).

It is important to remember the Council voted to decrease the City's fund balance to 11 percent for FY 08-09, a full percentage point below the established 12-15 percent target. I did not vote for the 08-09 budget because of that action, as I feared it would jeopardize the bond rating. As the recession grew worse last fall, the City administration wisely instituted hiring and spending freezes that allowed the fund balance to grow to 11.7 percent, which seems to have lessened the pressure on the sub-standard reserve fund. However, with the bond markets still in flux, working to maintain the bond rating at the minimum of 12 percent was important this year.

With the dramatic decreases in revenues, the FY 09-10 budget proved to be the most challenging budget in decades. While I am not happy about many of the cuts and hard decisions we were forced to make, beginning with the reduction in workforce, I am satisfied that the Council and the Administration did all we could to adopt a budget that continued to provide core services at a high level and allowed us to address our citizens' priorities.

More than 60 percent of the City's budget is personnel costs. The only way we would be able to balance the FY 09-10 budget was to make cuts in those costs. Any reductions in workforce are difficult. The cuts proposed by the Administration were program related, meaning the necessity of programs and their priority in the scope of City services were assessed first. Only then were any suggestions made to eliminate positions, occupied and unoccupied. I am pleased the Administration was able to place all but about 10 employees who lost their jobs.

Another way to reduce personnel costs was to enact temporary cuts in retirement plans and to raise insurance costs, though the amount of the insurance increases were on the whole less than many other governments and businesses passed on.

We were able to provide one-time cash payments to the City's lowest-paid employees, those making less than $40,000 per year.

These too were difficult decisions, but meant that the City was able to cut fewer positions and lessen the impact on core services. The actions were consistent with cuts made by many other governments, businesses, and organizations.

The non-city agency (NCA) pool was not singled out, as it was cut the same amount as all other departments. The decreased amount some NCAs received was based on the overall cut and also on the plan the Council established for funding NCAs two years ago. It is important to note that a number of NCAs receive program-specific funding from various department budgets (Durham Affordable Housing Coalition, for one).

Matt's observation that "the larger point remains about how to balance services, while also balancing the budget" is correct. In the current economic client, we were forced to make very tough decisions in the 08-09 and 09-10 budgets, and I expect we will have to make similar decision for 10-11 next spring.

In all budget actions, cuts and increases alike, we should look to the priorities of our citizens. The Council adopted its goals (safety; affordable housing; prosperous economy; healthy environment; well-maintained infrastructure; aesthetic beauty; cultural diversity and heritage; and efficient and accountable government) after much citizen input. These goals, in concert with the results-based accountability program, give us a blueprint for setting these priorities.

The Council has conducted its Coffee with Council sessions for a number of years to seek current input from citizens as to specific programs. Additionally, and new this year, the Budget Office, on the suggestion of the City Manager, conducted the first Citizens' Budget Workshop to solicit the active input of citizens by involving them in a budget-making exercises. And Durham citizens are not afraid of speaking out to their elected officials.

I consider this input critical in making my budget decisions.

11) One of the focus areas for economic redevelopment is northeast-central Durham. How do you propose redeveloping that area and through what measures?

Economic development without social development isn't sustainable, while social development without economic development isn't possible.

The revitalization of Northeast Central Durham (NECD) will require a comprehensive approach, using both economic and social development, in order to be successful. This has been borne out in various studies of NECD over the past six years (Strategic Revitalization Plan-2003, RKG-2005, and UNC-CH-2009.)

Working closely with residents, neighborhood groups, business stakeholders, organizations, and other government entities, the Council and City administration should include the following in NECD economic efforts:

  • Enhanced infrastructure. The widening of Alston Avenue will assist commerce in NECD, but City-maintained streets and other infrastructure must be updated. Enhanced bus service is also critical in these efforts.

  • Public safety. The Bull's Eye initiative was successful in lessening crime in NECD, and the relocation of the District 1 substation to Holloway Street has enhanced community policing efforts. The City should continue assertive patrols in high-crime areas. NECD should be a priority of the Safe Streets lighting program when it resumes.

  • Comprehensive neighborhood planning is another tool the City must use. We should have small-area plans for various neighborhoods, starting perhaps with Cleveland-Holloway and Golden Belt, and then moving east.

  • Strategic use of the Neighborhood Revitalization Fund will help bring home-grown businesses into the area and may even attract larger retail and service business opportunities. We've already seen success with the establishment of retail businesses in the Angier-Driver corridor and with the Gilbert Street business center.

  • Cleanliness and blight removal are also important. Deploying Neighborhood Improvement Services' Impact Team and going after the 400+ boarded-up houses should be a top priority.

  • The new Holton Community Center is a unique partnership that will prove to be transformational. The City and its partners must continue to support the programming in that facility.

  • Eastway Village and Franklin Village have been important in turning blighted areas into desirable neighborhoods. The City and the Durham Housing Authority should continue similar efforts, realistically on a smaller scale, in other portion of NECD.

  • The placement of a Job Link center in the Antioch Baptist Church was important in reaching out to NECD residents. The City should look for other ways to expand employment and job readiness services.

12) Assess the health and effectiveness of the city's economic incentives fund. What improvements could be made?

The City's various incentive funds are in good health. As incentives "burn off" in the Downtown Fund, the money returns to the fund, replenishing it for future incentives. The new Neighborhood Revitalization Fund became a new, independent line item in the FY10 budget and has strong support to continue in future years.

The Downtown Fund has been a great success. In the past eight years, it has been the catalyst for:

  • private tax base growth of 238 percent;

  • $1 billion in private and public investment;

  • 5000 new jobs downtown, including the staff of The Independent;

  • 1.5 million square feet of new office space;

  • making downtown a destination for events and dining; and

  • incalculable factors like facilitating historic properties, bringing new life to formerly unused or under-used buildings, identity for Durham, and civic pride.

Since I became a candidate for office four years ago, I have been advocating and working for efforts to expand the use of incentives beyond downtown, especially in our lower-wealth neighborhoods. Working with projects in these areas will be more difficult and the pay-offs may not come as quickly or be as tangible as we've seen downtown. However, the City must find ways to encourage solid economic development throughout the community.

Efforts have increased in recent years with success. The City has made grants or incentive packages for businesses in the Angier-Driver area (Samuel and Sons and Superlative Foods, to name a few), as well as other areas of NECD (Lewis and Clark business center for one). With a dedicated Neighborhood Revitalization Fund in place, I expect to see the number of project the City supports to grow significantly.

An improvement I have pressed for is the establishment of clear criteria for the Neighborhood Revitalization Fund. As I said during a recent Council work session, "In the absence of some of the specific criteria that I'd like to see spelled out in more detail, sometimes these projects over the years have felt to me a little more haphazard, a little more subjective and maybe even a little more personal. I'd like us to put some more concrete around what we're doing here."

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