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: WILLAIM VAUGHN BELL
Date of birth: JANUARY 3, 1941
Home address: 1003 HUNTSMAN DRIVE DURHAM, NC 27713-2384
Mailing address, if different from home:
Occupation & employer: VICE-PRESIDENT/COO, UDI/CDC
Home phone: 919-544-5597
Work phone: 919-544-4597 EXT 26
E-mail: WBELL51126@AOL.COM

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

I have consistently stated that as mayor, working to reduce crime and making our city safer will always be a top priority, and we are having success in doing this. However it is not the only important issues facing Durham, especially during this most severe downturn in the economy.

We must continue to work to reduce poverty and homelessness, along with the revitalization of some of our inner city neighborhoods that are most distressed, both economically and environmentally with respect to the quality of life.

As a city council we have directed our focus on inner city neighborhood revitalization and we are working to develop a plan for implementing the proposed revitalization. Realizing that we can't solve all of this at once, the administration has identified three (3) neighborhoods (North East Central Durham, the Southside community to include Rolling Hills and a section of the West End Community) to 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.

We must also continue to focus more heavily on climate and environmental protection measures. Both 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. As I have stated before that adopting the plan 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 approximately 34 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. On the state and national level I presently serve as Vice-Chairman of the NC Metropolitan Mayors Coalition (Comprised of 26 mayors that represent 26 of the largest cities in NC). I was chosen by the National Conference of Black Mayors to Chair the Conference's Health Care Reform Committee. I have also served on various national committees on the "US Conference of Mayors" (a national organization that represents Mayors of cities of 30,000 population and above throughout the nation).

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 are 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 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.

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?

In my opinion the first step is to make sure that both the city council and the city administration are in agreement with the strategy. The next step is to define strategies and goals with time points which will result in measured improvements within the time frame of the regulations. We also need to define in a quantitative way the projected cost for implementing the strategy and how much is the responsibility of the city and the property owners. We then need to determine a fair and reasonable methodology for assessing and paying that cost.

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?

This presently is a board of county commissioners' matter and I would not support annexing the property to resolve the matter. If at some time it enters the City Council's arena, I'll make a decision after thoroughly reviewing the information gathered. I am also wiling to listen to various opinions on the subject, but as an elected official I reserve the right to make my own decisions on matters before me. It has been my practice to not make a decision on zoning matters until they have been presented in our formal council meetings.

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?

For me the issue was how much more development did we want to allow in that 25 square mile area at the expense of negatively impacting the Neuse and Cape Fear Basin. It was also important to try to provide added protection to those waters in the Neuse and Cape Fear Basin that were impacted by storm water runoff discharged from development within the City of Durham. I was of the opinion that given the economic trade offs that comes with added development and storm water run off from that development that we could afford to limit development in the 25 square mile "donut hole". We could do this by providing additional protection through the rules promulgated by the ordinance that repealed the existing storm water performance standards for new development and replacing it with a new storm water standard containing new performance standards for total suspended solids and nitrogen; by protecting buffers and by managing peak flows that cause or contribute to stream erosion. The adopted ordinance allows for smart growth and also provides an added protection for our river basins.

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.

I have not seen the proposal and will wait until it is presented before stating my opinion.

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 voter's 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?

The pros and cons of funding transit with a ½ cent sales tax verses other alternatives was in my opinion thoroughly discussed by the members of the General Assembly and other advocates of transit or foes of transit, before the final bill "Congestion Relief and Intermodal Transportation 21st Century Fund" was passed by the NC General Assembly in August 2009. I support the bill and if the county commissioners submit the issue for a referendum I would support the referendum, providing in my opinion that a transit plan has been thoroughly discussed and as much information as reasonably possible has been made available to the voting public.

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?

The Durham County Board of Commissioners and not the Durham City Council has the legislative responsibility for the health and human service functions provided by local governments for the neediest. The City's FY 2009 -- 10 budget did not and does not budget for social services and therefore did not make cuts to many social services, while maintaining rainy-day funds necessary to maintain Durham's AAA credit rating. There may be non-city agencies that the city funds that provide services that may be considered social service functions, but they make up a very infinitesimal part of the city's budget. The city council's funding or not funding those agencies would not make any appreciable impact on the City Council's budgeted rainy day fund or have an impact on Durham's AAA credit rating.

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

First of all one indication of the City Council's focus and importance of redevelopment of northeast-central Durham is that upon my recommendation the City Council established a North-East Central Durham Committee consisting of four (4) city council persons (chaired by Councilman Farad Ali, Mayor Pro-tem Cora Cole McFadden, Council person, Eugene Brown and Howard Clement). This is the only city council committee that has four (4) council persons comprising a committee, which indicates how important the council views the revitalization of North East Central Durham. Additionally an advisory committee consisting of residents and other advocates and professionals serve to provide input to the city council committee on strategies for redeveloping North East Central Durham.

In order to have quality economic development you have to have a neighborhood environment that is conducive to attracting businesses and residents. We are working hard to development that environment and we are having success, through the cooperation and support of law enforcement, residents, the business community, public and private agencies such as the City, County, Durham Public Schools Duke University, NCCU and others. New housing has and is being constructed, recreation facilities have been enhanced, a vocational high school, recreation center and health wellness center has been opened in a renovated Holton Middle School, and a neighborhood grocery store is being developed as well as another business in renovated buildings. These are all examples of positive redevelopment actives occurring in North-East Central Durham. There is still much to be accomplished but I am convinced that we are headed in the right direction.

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

The health and effectiveness of the city's economic incentives are well. There obviously is always room for improvements, but without the economic incentives that the city has provided thus far, downtown Durham would not have been able to achieve the degree of quality development that it has achieved to date. Additionally those incentives are beginning to have a positive impact on our neighborhood redevelopment efforts.

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