Sylvester Williams | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Sylvester Williams

Candidate for Durham City Council Ward II


Name as it appears on the ballot: Sylvester Williams
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: 04/20/1955
Home address: 404 Sparella Street
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Investment Analyst; First Citizens Bank & Trust Company
Home phone: 596-2682
Work phone: 716-7332

1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham?

A. Making all of Durham's neighborhoods safe

B. Creating incentives for established local businesses and new small businesses to hire people in areas where unemployment is highest

C. Advocating for the proper balance between our local workforce and industry to maximize the availability of jobs for Durham residents

D. Supporting neighborhood-friendly development that preserves our neighborhoods, historic assets and diverse cultures

E. Ensuring that government policies are environmentally-friendly to protect our human and natural resources

F. Providing incentives to rehabilitate abandoned and aged housing to increase home ownership and affordability throughout the city

2) If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

My top priority would be to refocus on the delivery of core services to the citizens of Durham. Where public safety is concerned, align and allocate resources to the areas with the greatest needs. And given manpower and budget constraints, assign officers for walking and bicycle patrols to create a visible and consistent presence in our neighborhoods and promote better relationships with residents and business people.

According to the 2000 business census, over 53% of Durham's businesses with employees employ 4 or less people and over 70% employ less than 9 people. Clearly, most of Durham's employers are small businesses. Creating incentives for existing small businesses to grow and hire more people makes sense for a number of reasons. First, the number of small businesses dispersed throughout the city represents a broader employment base and would yield a more immediate impact on reducing unemployment by adding jobs all over the city. Second empowering thousands of existing businesses to add employees is far less expensive than luring a few big businesses with multi-million dollar incentives. And third, local businesses would hire local Durham residents from our neighborhoods.

Identify areas that are now non-performing from a revenue-generating standpoint, such as the Pettigrew Street corridor, that can support environmentally-friendly manufacturing and create jobs for local residents. Revisit the current Workforce Development Plan to include a strategy to put the hardcore unemployed to work while maintaining the current focus on high tech industry. As the economy worsens, the number of unemployed residents will become an even larger drain on the city's resources.

Reestablish small area plans prior to the approval of any large scale development or redevelopment plans which might adversely impact residents and neighborhoods. This ensures that residents have a voice in the future development of their neighborhoods. I am an advocate for open government and citizen access to all levels of government.

The need for a clean and abundant environment, particularly our water supply, is critical to the health and development of our city. We need a long-term sustainable solution to create a balance between growth and environmental responsibility.

The city's code enforcement policy not only removes existing affordable units from our housing stock but also penalizes homeowners by denying them the ability to qualify for federal rehab monies if code enforced. Instead our policy should make home owners, particularly the elderly, aware of all available resources that would enable them to repair their homes before being code enforced.

3) 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.

As Pastor of The Assembly at Durham Christian Center, I am used to listening a great deal, resolving conflicts and helping people take responsibility for life's challenges. My twenty four year career as an investment analyst has positioned me to understand budgets and finance which are important skills to have in running a successful city government.

As President of Hayestown Community, I advocated for the preservation of neighborhood homes and businesses in response to the proposed East End Connector. I also advocated for the state to be fiscally responsible in assessing the environmental impacts on the affected neighborhoods before acquiring property for the connector.

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

I'm a pragmatist who looks for solutions that work and that come from many disciplines and perspectives.

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

Our neighborhoods have been neglected. I would advocate for neighborhood infrastructure improvements to stimulate neighborhood-scale economic development for existing residents and businesses such as the streetscape for the five neighborhood corridors.

6) 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?

I would work with Public Works to get a full vetting of all the issues, constraints and solutions. I would look for the best long-term sustainable way to ensure that we have a clean and abundant water supply.

7) 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?

We need to know all the financial, legal and environmental benefits and costs to residents of our city before a determination can be made.

8) 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?

Seven hundred million dollars have already been invested in Downtown. Commercial Real estate values are dropping and major downtown projects are not self sustaining. Major future investment should be directed to neighborhoods which are the lifeblood of the city. As stated earlier, incenting businesses already established would not encroach on the watershed areas, and also the pressing need of job creation for residents of Durham could be satisfied.

9) 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.

I would err on the side of caution to save lives by reducing the amount of distractions on our roadways.

10) 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?

Durham already has one of the highest percentage of commercial properties in its tax base of NC's largest cities -- but our taxes keep going up. The issue of taxation needs to consider our spending along with raising revenue to put the city in better financial shape. Durham's unemployment rate has doubled over the past year and I am not in favor of raising taxes in a recession while so many of our residents are losing their jobs and homes.

11) 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?

Durham County is main provider of social services for city and county residents. The city can, however, revisit its workforce development plan to ensure that more citizens gain the skills they need for gainful employment which would reduce the costs of social service. Also before using the rainy day fund, we must remember that the recession may not have bottomed out yet. Therefore we need to look first at reigning in spending wherever possible before accessing the rainy day fund.

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

Utilize a number of non-performing locations for environmentally-friendly manufacturing to create jobs that are aligned with the skills present in those neighborhoods. One example is the Pettigrew Street corridor.

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

We need to first assess the effectiveness of prior incentive funding to produce the desired outcomes, which have been more recently framed around job creation for residents in neighborhoods around downtown. We need to determine how many and what types of jobs were created with our tax dollars and whether jobs went to Durham residents. Only then can we assess the effectiveness of these incentives.

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