This post is excerpted from the
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It’s not actually on today’s agenda, but it will be the elephant lingering in the room
. On Friday afternoon, a group of Wake County commissioners—chairwoman Jessica Holmes along with Greg Ford and James West—issued a blistering statement accusing their four colleagues of engaging in “pay-for-play.” This is, I should point out, highly unusual for a Wake County board that is run unanimously by Democrats and has for the last three-plus years prided itself on comity and technocratic policymaking. In the three years I’ve been living here, this is the first time I’ve heard one Wake commissioner accuse another of corruption. In other places, this is normal politics, especially so close to next month’s primary election; here, it’s, well, unusual, to say the least.
WHAT IT MEANS:
- On Friday afternoon, I did my best to explain the allegations in some detail.
- Here’s the backstory: In November, the board voted 4–3 to purchase the failed Crooked Creek Golf Course and turn it into a park. Once the county’s conditions are met, probably later this year, the board will vote to allocate $4.5 million toward the purchase, but there will be millions of dollars in expenses to come later (critics say upward of $20 million, though supporters dispute that). Critics allege that the neighborhood’s HOA was given preferential treatment—perhaps because Commissioner Matt Calabria lives nearby—and that this money could have been better spent on schools or affordable housing. Supporters say this part of Fuquay-Varina needs a park and argue that this is a good deal not just for the neighborhood but for the county.
- Here’s the allegation: On April 15, members of the HOA will host a campaign event for the four commissioners who voted yes—Calabria, John Burns, Sig Hutchinson, and Erv Portman—all of whom face primary challengers next month. The insinuation in the statement is that this isn’t normal politicking but a sort of quid pro quo—that these commissioners did something beneficial for the neighborhood and are now going to rake in campaign lucre. The four commissioners have all told me this isn’t a fundraiser but a GOTV event; they see nothing wrong with rallying supporters ahead of an election.
I’ve had numerous conversations with commissioners and politicos on all sides of this thing over the last several days, both on and off record, and I’ll be reporting more on this and associated issues in this week’s paper. But it suffices to say, the illusion of comity is shattered. Commissioners are genuinely pissed at and distrustful of each other.
Here’s something that is, in fact, on today’s work session agenda. The board and staff members will be discussing ways to provide additional economic incentives for businesses that engage in socially beneficial behaviors, things like six or more weeks of family leave, a living wage, LEED certification, investing in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and so forth. As Calabria told me last week, “The Board of Commissioners is hamstrung because we can do very little with the legislature. This is one way I’m trying to encourage good business partners.”