William V. "Bill" Bell | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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William V. "Bill" Bell

Candidate for Durham Mayor


Name as it appears on the ballot: WILLIAM V. “BILL” BELL
Full legal name, if different: WILLIAM VAUGHN BELL
Date of birth: JANUARY 3, 1941
Home address: 1003 HUNTSMAN DRIVE DURTHAM, NC 27713-2384
Mailing address, if different from home:
Home phone: 919-544-5597
Work phone: 919-544-4597 EXT 26
Cell phone: 919-475-3368

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

Working to reduce crime and make our city safer for me as mayor will always be a top priority though it may not be among the most important issues facing Durham.

LI think that along with reducing poverty and homelessness, the revitalization of some of our inner city neighborhoods is one of the most important issues facing Durham. During my 2007 State of the City Address, I requested that the administration recommend specific inner city neighborhoods that it thinks the city to should begin a direct focus on revitalization and to work to develop a plan for implementing the proposed revitalization. The administration has identified three (3) neighborhoods (North East Central /Durham, Southside community to include Rolling Hills and a section of the West End Community) in which they suggest we begin this revitalization effort. The key to developing and eventually implementing neighborhood revitalization is to have the community involved from the start through the completion as partners. Improving the quality of life in some of our inner city neighborhoods can positively impact the life styles and other quality of life issues of our residents. The quality of our neighborhoods impacts on business growth and development, job creation, health issues, crime and education. The quality of our neighborhoods affects the attitudes of our citizens in their ability to make positive contributions to their lives, their family lives and the economy of our city and county. City government’s role should be to serve as the catalyst in partnership with the private sector in the revitalization of these inner city neighborhoods. We should do this wherever it is economically feasible. Improving our streets and sidewalks can assist in improving our neighborhoods and economy. Voter approval of the November 2007 $20 million dollar bond issue for streets and sidewalks in our neighborhoods will allow us to address this issue quicker. I believe strong neighborhoods make a strong city which can lead to and makes possible a strong economy.

Another important issue facing our city is the need to begin to focus more heavily on climate and environmental protection measures. The city council and county commissioners took the first step towards this effort by recently adopting a Greenhouse Gas and Criteria Air Pollutant Emissions Inventory and Local Action Plan for Emission Reductions. That was the relatively easy part. The hard work will be to execute the plan. As mayor I will make it my responsibility working with the city council to see that the administration stays on task in executing this plan.

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.

I have over 31 combined years of positive leadership and experience as an elected Durham County Commissioner and as the Mayor of Durham. I provided leadership as Chairman of the Durham County Commissioners for 12 years and in 1992, I was the leader in merging the Durham City and County School system into what is now the Durham Public Schools. I have provided positive leadership during times of crisis in our city, such as during the ice storm which paralyzed most of our city for almost a week. I have demonstrated the capacity and ability to provide strong leadership which helped diffuse what could have become a very explosive event in our city during the recent Duke Lacrosse incident that captured much local, state, national and international attention.

Under my leadership as Mayor, Durham has received numerous national awards and positive recognitions as a good place to live, raise a family and for businesses and careers. We continue to be one of few cities nationally that has an AAA Bond rating from the 3 major bond rating agencies. We have continued to receive unqualified or clean external independent audits each year that I have been mayor.

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

I am a registered life long democrat. Politically I consider myself to be knowledgeable, qualified as a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. I have always tried to be fair in carrying out the duties of all of the political offices to which I have been elected. I have tried to be both representative and responsible to the people. I tend to be bottom line oriented especially when it comes to the delivery of core city services and budgetary matters. I work to see that once a plan has been developed we take the necessary steps to execute that plan. The downtown revitalization and neighborhood revitalization that has occurred in Durham since I became Mayor are some examples. My efforts to engage law enforcement and the community to reduce crime in our city is another example.

The basic precepts of my political philosophy about representative government include my strong belief that its elected officials are public servants who are obligated to serve with integrity. As public servants, they must acquire sufficient knowledge and understanding of all matters subject to their jurisdiction; be open to the ideas of others, including especially those of their colleagues, staffs, and constituents. They should be honest and scrupulous in carrying out their duties; and remain ever cognizant of the fact that politics, according to Otto von Bismarck (1867), “is the art of the possible.” Elected officials should ever remain consistent about the major ends they seek, such as effective and efficient delivery of the services they are required to provide their constituents. The means chosen to reach those ends may be flexible (changed, e.g., by improved technology), but they must always be morally appropriate. Elected officials should strongly support the rule of law, always applying it justly and fairly, and fully justifying the need to eliminate or modify any rule. They also should encourage their constituents to participate actively in their government, and keep them as fully informed as possible about the workings of their government, using such measures on the municipal level as open meetings, availability to the media, and being reasonably accessible to their constituents. Finally, in my judgment, all elected officials should always bear in mind that, according to the Declaration of Independence (1776), “. . . all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness....[and that they govern with] the consent of the governed....”

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

I have stated this before that throughout my service as a Durham County Commissioner and as the Mayor of Durham, I have demonstrated that I am always willing to take a principled stand and lose some votes. Two notable examples are my support as a Commissioner for merging the Durham City and Durham County public schools, and my support as the Mayor for establishing a policy on domestic partners rights as city employees. I firmly believe that public servants should be persons of integrity who will not sacrifice their ethical or moral principles just to win votes.

My recent support of not changing our Resolution #9046 (“Resolution Supporting The Rights Of Persons Regardless Of Immigration Status”) is an issue that was used in my opinion as a wedge issue by my opponent and could result in my loss of some votes.

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?

In the case of the “lead in water” testing incident, we brought in external professionals – experts in the field -- who did an evaluation and made recommendations. Their investigation showed that no deliberate efforts were made to deceive the public or the regulators and, in fact, the Department went beyond normal testing in trying to ascertain the scope of the problem. In doing so, it made us vulnerable to other EPA procedures for testing. I believe our biggest issue was how we communicated with the public about what we were attempting to do to address the issue. At some time it became too personal between our administration and the media, which did not help us in getting the facts out to the public. The experts also made certain recommendations which the administration will follow. What we can do in the future is to learn from our mistakes and to not repeat them if similar situations should arise.

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

As you know violent crime is comprised of four (4) types of crime: Homicides, Aggravated Assault, Robbery and Rape. As such all cities are prone to each of these types of crime which constitutes violent crime. Does Durham have more violent crime than the smallest rural community in the Midwest? Of course. Do we have less violent crime than the nation’s biggest cities? Definitely. The reality is, when you compare Durham to cities of our size using FBI statistics, we’ve become safer than the average.

So my answer to your question is that we will continue to focus more heavily on those areas where the incidents of crime is higher in an attempt to reduce those areas and hence reduce the total number of incidents which will cause a reduction in violent crime.

Homicides: Homicides constitutes the smallest category (1% or less) of violent crime but it is the most serious and is the ultimate crime in that it results in a death. Most homicides involve guns. We have to continue to focus on getting illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals. Project safe neighborhood has this as a goal. The public should work to be more supportive of the efforts of the “NC Against Gun Violence Education Fund” as it works to get legislation which will help reduce the trafficking of illegal guns and provides for gun tracking. I will continue to support the efforts that I focused on in my 2006 State of the City Address with respect to reducing homicides. We ended the year 2006 with the lowest number of homicides in almost 20 years.

Aggravated Assault: The police should continue to target those persons who are prone to repeated aggravated assaults and the community needs to inform the police of their knowledge of activities that tend to lead to aggravated assaults such as drug dealers and persons they know that carry illegal guns. Additionally I have long advocated that increased police presence should be made in those areas which experience higher incidents of violent crime in particular than other neighborhoods. This can serve as both as a prevention deterrent or intervention crime stopper. The police have committed to do this in one of our communities for a year and already it is achieving results. I have also advocated the use of security cameras to compliment and in some cases supplement the fact that the police can not be present all of the time. We will be rolling out a series of trial security cameras by the first week in October to ascertain their effectiveness in helping to reduce crime and in some cases their effectiveness in aiding in solving crime.

Robbery: Robbery in a lot of cases is related to illegal drugs as a driver either by the suspect to get money to support an addiction and or persons who for various reasons see it as opportunity to get quick money because they are prone to criminal acts or are not able to support their desires with honest employment. As a community we have to continue to try to reduce the illegal drug activity and work to provide more support for those addicted and prevent others from becoming addicted.

Rape: In many cases the victims and suspects are familiar with each other. We need to continue to educate the public and particularly our female population of the need to be aware with whom they associate and the precautions they should take in dating or socializing in general. We as parents and family members should also work harder to teach and ask our young men (no matter the age) to respect women and when a woman says NO, they mean No and they should respect their wishes. This is true in general for all of our citizens.

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

We have adopted a comprehensive land use plan that is designed to guide the type of growth that we would like to see. I think we should adhere to that plan as much as possible when making zoning and development decisions.

I think it’s very important to consider the big picture of Durham’s growth in the south side both as a community and as a city. Durham is one of the fastest growing cities in America, we need to ensure the infrastructure is in place to accommodate our citizens’ needs. We have adopted a comprehensive land use plan that is designed to guide the type of growth that we would like to see. I think we should adhere to that plan as much as possible when making zoning and development decisions. As development decisions come before the City Council, I will continue to weigh each with the comprehensive land use plan as a reference for making my decisions.

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?

Most neighborhoods either residential or commercial thrive when factors are such that their is a level of comfort that persons feel secure, where the aesthetics of the environment are pleasing and where the needs of those living or visiting the setting are provided and easily accessible. The city council is working hard to see that policies are in place which will provide ensure that those factors are a reality.

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

Streets, sidewalks, street lights, buses, water and sewer infrastructures, and overdue facility maintenance on some our public facilities are among our most pressing capital improvement needs.

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

I think that we are taking the correct steps to promote strong town-gown relations regarding infrastructure improvements in the neighborhoods adjacent to Duke University by continuing to have on-going communications on a regular basis with the top administrators of Duke and the community to head off problems and to plan for future development needs of both the university and the city.

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