6/15 and 6/16 meeting summaries: budget, police board, rezoning
We had a budget work session Monday, 6/15 and a regular meeting yesterday, 6/16. Below is a summary of both meetings.
1. We passed the FY2021 budget with no tax increase. There was a proposal to include an additional $2.8 million to expand the police department. That proposal was not approved and was not included in the budget. I did not support funding an expansion of the police department.
Part of the proposed expansion was to create a new Mental Health and Homelessness Unit comprised mostly of sworn officers. I believe the intent of such a unit is good, but we should accomplish that goal in a different way. At the meeting yesterday, I stated that we should re-examine the role of police in our society and how we serve the community. When you call for help, you don’t always need an officer with a gun and badge to respond. I support investing in civilian mental health professionals and social workers to form a unit that could assist and respond, especially with our most vulnerable residents like individuals who are housing insecure or homeless or struggling with mental illness. I plan to work towards that goal.
The budget also does not include any funding for tear gas. I oppose the use of tear gas or any chemical agent on our community. The police department is reviewing its use of force policies, including its tear gas policies. I hope a policy will soon be adopted that bans the use of tear gas, or at the very least bans tear gas as a means of crowd disbursement.
2. The City Manager provided an update on actions taken by the city in response to recent events. The City Manager has hired a professional services firm, 21CP Solutions LLC, to conduct a policy and procedure review of the police department. Selection of the firm was within the City Manager’s authority and not subject to council approval. Funding to hire the firm will be taken from the police budget. The firm will conduct a review of police policies and procedures, assess the tactics utilized during the protests, determine gaps in policy, procedure, training, or department practice that may be inconsistent with national best practices, and prepare a report with findings and recommendations. The report will address areas of concern identified by residents and community organizations.
3. We moved forward with key projects for Dix Park. We authorized a contract to design the Gateway Plaza and Play area of the park, and we moved forward with short term recommendations for connecting Dix Park to John Chavis Memorial Park.
4. We approved a rezoning to allow 112 residential units near Shelly Lake Park. I know this rezoning case received a lot of attention and public input. I visited the park and site last weekend. I voted in favor because the site was already zoned to allow residential construction. Instead of building several larger, more expensive single family homes, the rezoning allows more people to live near the park in condominiums or multi-family construction. Because they were asking for additional density, they offered certain conditions to protect the park, such as a 200+ foot buffer* and storm water runoff protections, as well as traffic mitigation. Such conditions would not have been included if they built on the site under existing zoning entitlement. (*The initial edit of this post stated “tree buffer” – though there are presently trees on the lot, the condition does not mandate anything regarding trees; the buffer prohibits construction of the housing within 215 feet of the park).
5. We appointed 9 members to our Police Advisory Board. We received around 150 applications, and decided to add 2 additional at-large seats to the board for a total of 9 members. This board will review existing police policy and procedures and contribute to fair policy development. The board will also engage community members through educational outreach on Raleigh Police Department directives.
The board is not everything I wanted it to be and falls far short of community demands. Specifically, the board will not conduct investigations, hear testimony, or contribute to disciplinary action. I support a true oversight board that would have that additional authority. To get it, we need permission from the state. It is helpful if you also contact your legislator. In the meantime, I am working to reach consensus on moving this issue forward on council.
Our next council meeting is Tuesday, July 7. At that meeting, we will conduct a public hearing and vote upon whether to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs) by right, citywide and whether to eliminate parking minimums downtown and along transit corridors. I support both of these changes.