We held two virtual City Council meetings yesterday, May 5, 2020, an afternoon and evening session. Just when I was beginning to think we had settled into a habit with the virtual meetings, we had audio issues before the evening session which caused a 30 mins delay. Thanks to staff for working quickly to fix the issue! I am really looking forward to being back at the council table when it is safe to resume in-person meetings. Below is a summary of both meetings:
1. We received a COVID-19 update. Wake County’s and Raleigh’s stay-at-home order expired April 30 and most of the county, including Raleigh, has now shifted to following the statewide stay-at-home order which remains in effect through May 8. During this time, restaurants are restricted to carry-out, gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer people, and certain businesses are closed. We will follow the statewide reopening plan; Phase 1 is scheduled to begin May 8 at 5 p.m. Attached is a graphic with helpful information about Phase 1. The city, when possible, will attempt to align our services reopening with the state’s phases. The latest city-related information can be found here.
2. During council reports I asked for four items. First, I requested that staff come up with options for allowing more room for bikes and pedestrians on roads and in the right of ways as we maintain social distancing guidelines. Those options will be presented at our next council meeting. Second, I asked for a memorandum explaining the law on enforcing the stay-at-home order, including the laws that apply to open carrying firearms and gathering. Third, I requested the status of our police advisory board. We were informed that council will make final appointments to the board at an upcoming meeting. Fourth, I asked about progress on ways to include renters in notifications sent for rezonings and other land use issues. Currently, our city code requires that notice is sent to property owners. I think it is important for renters to be included as well. This issue was raised by Council Member Nicole Stewart during the prior council term but no action was taken. At the March 3 meeting, I raised the issue again and it was referred to the City Attorney. The City Attorney informed us that options will be presented at our next council meeting.
3. We conducted the public hearing and voted upon allocation of the CARES Act funds I addressed in the meeting summary for April 21, 2020. As a reminder, we directed staff to allocate $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to provide rent, utility, and mortgage assistance to households up to 50% AMI; we directed staff to allocate $1 million in Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funds to assist with homelessness/eviction prevention, including rent and utility assistance to households below 30% AMI. Both initiatives were passed unanimously.
4. We hired a consultant with expertise in community engagement to improve how we obtain input from the public. The goal is to create a new process in which residents have multiple opportunities to engage with, and help construct, the future of the city. We started this process in February, and I know much has changed since that decision was made, but I am glad we are seeing this process through to completion. The consultant, Mickey Fearn, will work in phases over a period of 10 months. The first phase includes gathering information from stakeholders and community members who were engaged in the prior system of community engagement. The total contract price is $72,000, which I understand is a significant amount of money. I think it is also helpful to understand that the total budget for the City of Raleigh is about $1 billion; thus, the amount for the consultant is a fraction of the budget. Regardless, when allocating any amount of public funds it is important to consider the impact and benefit of the expenditure. I understand that reasonable minds can disagree on budget issues. I also understand that we are expecting budget constraints. But we can’t stop investing funds in initiatives and services; they say a budget is a values document and now more than ever we have to be deliberate with our priorities. One of the priorities of this City Council is improving community engagement and public access. This decision is another leap in that direction. Other steps we have already taken include: hosting Raleigh Unleashed to gather ideas from our board and commissions, relaxing the Rules of Decorum (allowing speakers to address council members individually and by name), and changing the procedure for Public Comments (eliminating the 2-week advance up requirement; you can now sign up to speak at a council meeting up to 1 hour in advance). We have other initiatives in the works as well, such as expanding notice requirements to renters (discussed above).
Our next council meeting is May 19, 2020 at 1 p.m. Stay safe, and I hope to see you all again soon.