A Monday Raleigh City Council meeting aimed at starting to define Raleigh's new Community Engagement Board relied on mostly general presentations from two N.C. State professors, with some Raleigh-specific discussion and response from members.
The concept of a Community Engagement Board passed on a 5–3 vote during a May 2 council meeting, but many details remained up in the air afterward. Raleigh residents, including members of Raleigh's venerable citizen advisory committees, saw the new board as diminishing their decades-old role in helping the city council make decisions on zoning and other matters.
Council member David Cox, who came to public office on the strength of his CAC-based challenge of a proposed grocery store, had urged people to show up at the meeting and to be involved. None of the citizens in the audience spoke.
"We heard from 2 profs on citizen engagement last night," Cox tweeted Tuesday. "@NancyMcFarlane let’s now hear from CAC volunteers."
Mayor Nancy McFarlane supported the initial proposal, the result of a task force's recommendations. However, opposition to the concept led McFarlane to say on June 6 that she supported the CACs and will ensure that their role remains vital during the process of filling in the details.
As initially defined, the Community Engagement Board would have increased the levels of staff contact between grassroots organizations and the council.
"I believe every member of this city council understands and values the important role the CACs have had and continue to play in citizen engagement," McFarlane said in June.
Charles Francis, the mayor's Democrat opponent in the runoff November 7, has criticized McFarlane's backing of the new board as evidence that she is not responsive enough to citizen concerns.
Mickey L. Fearn, a professor at N.C. State's College of Natural Resources and a former deputy director of the National Parks Service, delivered a forty-four-minute leadoff of the meeting. It dwelled in significant part on his planning experience in settings such as Oakland and Seattle.
Mary Lou Addor, from N.C. State's Natural Resources Leadership Institute, spoke for about twenty minutes on concepts such as the leadership and typology of problems framework, and Fearn wrapped up. Then he tossed the ball to the council.
"What do you see as the best next step?" McFarlane asked. "You certainly outline a multitude of things and touched on citizen engagement in ways that are more than just interacting with government".
Said council member Corey Branch, "I think a lot of it is going deeper into our community engagement and consultation and looking at different tools the people use."
Outgoing council member Mary-Ann Baldwin suggested exploring a more formal relationship with N.C. State so that Fearn and Addor could help run upcoming meetings.