After vigorous discussion, Raleigh City Council members agreed Tuesday to form a community engagement board but punted on how it would work and exactly what it would do.
The proposal for the community engagement board ran into opposition from council members who preferred the existing, sometimes freewheeling citizens advisory committees that were established in the 1970s. Raleigh has nineteen CACs that represent geographic areas of the city.
“We’re not trying to dis the CACs,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said after the meeting. “None of this is set in stone. Fundamentally, we are trying to empower people.”
After discussion, members agreed on a 5–3 vote to establish the CEB, leaving details about how it will function to be developed in a future work session. Council members David Cox, Corey Branch, and Kay Crowder voted against setting up the board. Cox and Branch were worried that the CEB would take power away from the CACs.
“I don’t have an issue other than the CEB being the voice of the committees,” said Branch, whose district has eight CACs.
Before the vote, the board heard from a task force it set up in September to answer questions about the best way to receive input from people in Raleigh on development and other issues. The nine-member task force, led by A.J. Fletcher Foundation director Damon Circosta, compared community input organizations in forty U.S. cities to make its report. Its recommendations include expanded notice of zoning changes and additional levels of communication between the council and grassroots organizations.
In making comparisons with similar groups in other cities, task force members asked about their funding, structures, use of technology, relationship with governing bodies, and role in rezoning cases.
Cox, whose profile rose during several north Raleigh zoning disputes, argues for a continuing role for the CAC network.
“It’s citizen-led and citizen-directed,” he said after the meeting. “Now we are replacing it with a governmental board. What is the mission? Where are the checks and balances?”
Many CACs have faithful memberships and have been outspoken and sometimes successful in opposing new development. Cox said he worries that developers’ interest will have a stronger voice under this new method of getting citizens’ take on zoning changes.
McFarlane argues that the groups fail to represent a broad enough range of Raleigh residents’ opinions, citing a survey that showed low levels of citizen involvement in CACs.
“We have four-hundred-and-seventy thousand people in Raleigh and about five hundred people who take part in CACs,” she said. “Some people don’t have time to go and would rather connect electronically.”