Sylvester Williams | Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County | Indy Week

Elections » Candidate Questionnaires - Durham County

Sylvester Williams

Durham Mayor


Sylvester Williams
Occupation: Retired Financial Analyst
Phone Number: 919-596-2682
Email Address:
Years Lived in Durham: Life long Durhamite other than school

1) Durham residents, from the new group Durham for All to the demonstrators who tore down the Confederate monument on Main Street, are calling for more power to be placed in the hands of the people. In what ways do you think Durham can improve public participation in local government? How would you make room for that in city government?

My daughter brought home a text book from school. In the biology textbook was a picture of the "first African woman". The picture was a monkey standing upright. I protested to the Durham School board to not only remove the textbook but also stop the teaching of Darwinism or evolution, which the picture of a black woman looking like a monkey was based on. Although the local paper picked up on my protest, the national media did not. Now a young lady attending a local university helps to destroy a confederate statue and it receives nationwide attention. In following her lead should we now destroy every textbook that supports evolution or Darwinism? You can pull down statues, but until you address the institutional racism to which some schools are based on, you are putting a bandaid on the problem. The state legislature in 2007 has acknowledged the biases of institutional racism, but we refuse to address it and continue to be manipulated by the media that give us nothing in return.

2) Because of state law, municipalities have a number of restrictions placed on them by the legislature: they can’t, for instance, be a sanctuary city, impose a city-wide minimum wage, enforce inclusionary zoning, or remove Confederate monuments. Under what circumstances should elected officials push back against the legislature?

The question is misleading. Durham is not a sanctuary city. City Manager Tom Bonfield and City Attorney Patrick Baker said Durham isn't a sanctuary city The city passed a resolution in October 2003 aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants. The ordinance, Resolution 9046, prohibits police from targeting people based solely on their immigration status. In other words, a person's immigration status would not be checked unless that person was involved in a "serious crime." However, illegal immigrants are still being arrested and deported.

I proposed in a mayoral interview that start-ups and relatively new companies not be held to the same standard as long-established companies in setting minimum wage. My research as a Financial Analyst produced the following. Deciding how much revenue to allocate to employee salaries is a critical consideration to make. Payroll is frequently one of the most significant expenditures for a business owner. Not only is payroll a regularly occurring expenditure, but it also comes with strings attached: taxes, insurance, and additional add-ons like vacation time, sick days and other benefits. For managers trying to hold on to already-slim margins, payroll is frequently the expense item that can make or break a business.

3.) Given the inflamed racial tensions after the recent events in Charlottesville, what steps should Durham take to position itself as a guardian of social justice? How would you characterize city leaders’ relationship with Durham’s communities of color, and what should be done to improve that relationship going forward?

The relationship is tenuous at best because the elected officials have ignored or taken for granted the concerns of Durham's poorest and most overlooked citizens. The civil rights movement started with the Black community, but now it appears to be the most overlooked community when it comes to housing and jobs. When the problems in the Black community are addressed all of Durham fares better.

4) Durham’s public housing stock is aging, and there is limited money to redevelop units. What are your ideas for keeping residents of public housing in quality, affordable homes?

My proposal to utilize some of the City’s fund balance to promote economic development. The State of North Carolina requires that cities present and pass a balanced budget each year. Furthermore, the Local Government Commission requires that cities maintain a minimum fund balance of 8 percent of the prior year’s expenditures. This equates to cities in North Carolina maintaining approximately one month’s worth of expenditures in reserve. These two requirements are in place to ensure that cities within the State maintain healthy balance sheets. For the Fiscal Year 2012-2013, the City of Durham has a projected unrestricted fund balance of 12.5%. Now it is 25%. In dollar terms it amounted to $19.5 million. Now it is $45 million. This fund balance level is currently 17% greater than the requirement set forth by the State, and represents millions that could be utilized for affordable housing and job creation within Durham. My contention is that given this analysis, Durham can not only meet the fund balance requirements but also put in place programs that will create jobs, increase affordable housing and additional tax revenue. The additional tax revenue is a key point here because the City’s fund balances could be adversely impacted by a smaller increase in revenue sharing from the State and the costs associated with continued high unemployment. Durham is one of 37 cities in the United States that possess a AAA bond rating. There are another 22,000 cities across the country with bond ratings below that of Durham’s. Are we to say that those cities are fiscally irresponsible due to their lower rating? Of course not. When you consider that there are census tracts with unemployment rates greater than 30% within the City of Durham, why would the City be reluctant to address this need by using reserves that would far better benefit the City in creating affordable housing, jobs, expanding the tax base and increasing revenues. Two of the candidates running for mayor failed to address this issue while serviing as an elected official.

With rates as low as they are, now is the time to float a 10-year housing bond.

5) While much of Durham has seen a renaissance during Mayor Bell’s tenure, the city’s poverty rate has also increased. What are your ideas for lowering Durham’s poverty rate, other than providing affordable housing? How can Durham’s renaissance be spread more equitably throughout the city?

Use the same tax-incentives for downtown in the more impoverished areas of Durham. The one problem for Durham is that people that work in Durham don't live in Durham. Incentivize the five identified corridors in Durham with tax incentives. The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce shows that creation of 10 to 25 jobs could receive tax breaks of $1 to $2 million. Jobs in the five corriders would help to create stable neighborhoods where people would live, spend and pay taxes.

6) The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project has moved into the engineering phase, although the Trump administration seems reticent to fund it. What are your thoughts on light rail? If completed, do you believe the project will be worth the community’s investment? Why or why not?

The population in Durham is not dense enough to support light rail. Thirty years of data shows that ridership did not significantly increase. According to an analysis of Census data taken over a thirty-year time period, in four of the five cities with new light rail lines, the share of regional workers choosing to ride transit to work declined, and the center city's share of the urbanized area population declined, too. In addition, the park and ride locations would disrupt lower income communities that tend to be along the rail line. Increases in transit use are only possible when the low costs of driving and parking are addressed, and when government and private partners work together to develop more densely near transit stations.

7) Given the current direction of Durham city government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific changes you will advocate if elected?

More resources would be deployed to address affordable housing and reduce the unemployment in the tracts with the highest unemployment. In addition the cost of a billion dollars of delayed road maintenance has not been adequately addressed. Without greater funding for roads, bridges and the water system, we could see a colossal collapse of life in the city.

8) Please identify the three most pressing issues the city faces and how you will address them.

Institutional racism means we must have an open dialogue with city officials and the residents of Durham. No group should be excluded. There must be a greater level of transparency between what elected officials are saying and what they are doing.

The same level of transparency should apply to the police department. Citizens of Durham should have complete faith in the police department and the police department should know and rely on the citizens they are protecting. Increased salaries or incentives should be given to policemen to encourage more of them to live in Durham in order to develop a better rapport with the community.

Affordable housing and jobs to the tracts in Durham that have not participated in the tax incentivized growth in downtown Durham. As tax incentives have been deployed in downtown Durham, they can also be deployed to other parts of Durham to create jobs and affordable housing.

9) What in your public or professional career shows your ability to be an effective member of the city council? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to deal with them?

I worked for over 35 years with a Fortune 500 company as a financial analyst. We managed over $5 billion in assets for municipalities, foundations, trusts and personal accounts. As economic chair for both the Durham Business and Professional Chain and The Durham Committee On The Affairs of Black People, a contract was negotiated with Greenfire Developers to set aside 20% of the jobs to redevelop the SunTrust building for African Americans. I served on the Ad Hoc Committee for the building of the East End Connector, representing the Hayestown Community. I am the Executive Secretary for an international NGO that feed and clothe people in Ivory Coast, Africa. As Pastor of a local church, we have established and built orphanage in India and multiple churches in the Philippines. I also served on the Youth Services Advisory Board.

10) Please give an example of an action by the city council in the past year that went wrong or should have been handled differently. Also, what was the city’s biggest accomplishment during that period?

Inaction on the tearing down of the confederate statue.

11) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

A people's person that loves Christ Jesus the Son of the Living God.

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