As Catotti, Brown depart, who'll fill their big shoes?

One of the challenges I'm sure folks in government face is that, while everyone wants a piece of you when something goes wrong, everyone takes your work for granted when things are going right.

With last week's announcement that Diane Catotti is stepping down from City Council after three four-year terms -- coming on the heels of Eugene Brown's similar announcement a couple of weeks back -- Durham's City Council is about to lose two experienced, veteran leaders.

It's perfectly natural for Brown and Catotti to be ready for new challenges and some time off after twelve years on the Council.

But to those who've paid less attention to City happenings in the past few years than, say, in the early 2000s, it's easy to forget that the City's veteran legislature is undoubtedly one of the keys to the City's success. And in looking at the elections to come, will we come to realize we've taken experience for granted?

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Wexford, Durham.ID seek incentives for renovations and parking decks in special City Council meeting today

The front page of today's Herald-Sun neatly captures two items that are both newsworthy and, quite unintentionally, at odds with each other.

On the one hand, we have the arrival of Walk [Your City], a campaign with philanthropic backing to encourage downtowners to "park and walk" by reminding us all just how close so many of Durham's urban amenities are.

And then on the other hand, we have this afternoon's special City Council meeting, intended to get City Council approval for City economic and workforce director Kevin Dick to negotiate economic incentives to pay for the renovations, along with new parking decks. 

So how are we getting to Durham's future? Behind the wheel, or on foot (or bike, or transit)?

It's an easy and somewhat false dichotomy; for now, the iron-triangle between commuters, their employers, and property owners likely means new developments still need copious surface and structured parking. 

But, what's the role that local governments should or should not play in subsidizing downtown development, at this point in Durham's expansion?

And, with car interest on the decline and technological change looming, is a future that contemplates so much parking akin to hoarding scythes in the dawn of the mechanized combine age?

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Public and private: Who controls downtown Durham's agora, and its cool?

A couple of days ago, we tweeted out a link to an article by Matt Hartman, a Durham-based writer whose article on downtown Durham and gentrification appeared this week in The Jacobin.

The thesis of Hartman's piece is that downtown's "cool" is a cultural asset created by Durham pioneers and which, through its exploitation and marketing by developers seeking to revitalize empty buildings and vacant land alike, is being expropriated by capitalism.

Perhaps not a shocking thesis to appear in a magazine that describes itself as a socialist voice for the left. And not an uninteresting one; it's definitely worth a read, wherever your views sit on the political spectrum.

While his argument is an interesting one, I'm not sure I agree with all his conclusions. Still, Hartman's argument about the need to understand the nexus between public and private entities and to develop successful public spaces is certainly worth some discussion.

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N&O, H-S veteran Jim Wise announces retirement


It's literally the end of a Bull City era in print journalism: Jim Wise has covered his last City Council meeting.

JimwiseAnyone who's picked up a newspaper in Durham since, oh, the Reagan administration has had a pretty good chance of having read or been influenced by his work.

A dedicated student of Durham and regional history, Wise has always had the unique opportunity to take something out of the current headlines and tie it back to some other time in history -- even back to the 19th century hardscrabble founding of the Bull City, when needed.

And his voice will be missed.

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Council recap: Road diet win, BCBS hangs in, 539 Foster risin'

By the end of Monday night's City Council meeting, some of the dais-holders seemed nearly giddy at the prospect of a meeting ending three hours sooner than many had expected.

Indeed, the Council quickly dispatched with a number of controversial items -- with that expected to be most divisive perhaps, the 15/501 Business road diet, sailing through unanimously.

See how the sausage got made after the jump.

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The 15-501 road diet process: indigestion for advocates, businesses alike?

On the surface, a road diet for the segment 15-501 Business just west of University Dr. probably seemed to city leaders to be, if not a sure thing, at least a fairly low-risk discussion.

The process, intended to right-size roads that are two wide in order to reduce speeds and add features like parking or bike lanes, has been done on Main St., Chapel Hill St., and Erwin Rd. among others with little controversy. The traffic counts fit the pattern seen elsewhere. And from the City's perspective, it's a low-cost activity: NCDOT would cover the cost during a scheduled repaving of the road.

Ah, but what's that they say about the best-laid plans? Instead, the discussion has turned into a heated debate. On one side, nearly a thousand residents signing a petition for a change they fear could be lost to controversy. On the other, a petition that has drawn the signatures of many of the corridor's businesses, including the owners of popular locales like Nana's, Q-Shack, Foster's and the like. (Guglhupf stands as the most vocal exception.)

Neither side is sure which way the City Council will vote tonight. And ultimately, Council is in a tough position, with battle lines already drawn -- and one side seemingly guaranteed to go home unhappy.

How did a seeming gimme get so contentious?

Looking at the 15/501 road diet with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, two woulda-couldas loom: a gap in when stakeholders got involved; and, fundamentally, misgivings over whether a free solution is solution enough.

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DPD's Gunter named officer of the year, probably still wants more Lerts

The Durham Police Department has had, shall we say, not the easiest of times in recent years, coming under scrutiny and criticism on everything from an in-custody death, to whether enforcement is racially unbalanced, to the controversy over a new headquarters on East Main Street.

GunterYet it's hard to think of a Durham P.D. officer who is better beloved in many quarters of the community than District 2's Sgt. Dale Gunter.

Gunter -- who was recently named the force's officer of the year -- heads up his district's HEAT (high enforcement abatement team), which targets crime hot-spots and problem areas.  But he's better known to District 2 neighborhoods as DPD's friendly listserv representative, responding to "hey Sgt. Gunter" questions that pop up from time to time.

In the days since Gunter's award was announced, I've seen neighbors from all political stripes -- including some who've been very critical of the D.P.D. in recent years -- hurry forward to congratulate the popular sergeant on the award.

Sgt. Gunter always closes his emails reminding folks to "Be Alert... the world needs more Lerts!" Based on the community response to his award, we might turn this around and say, police departments need more Gunters.

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Shaking off the cobwebs -- is this mic still on?

Everything dies, baby that's a fact.
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.
                            - Bruce Springsteen

OK, sure, The Boss is better associated with New Jersey than Durham. But aren't all those wisecracks about Duke being the University of New Jersey at Durham enough to make him at least an honorary member? (To say nothing of the fact that his daughter apparently went to college at Duke.)

Still, it's been a while. I've been spending a few days on this blog thingee, see, dusting off the cobwebs. If you came here for "authentic china nike jersey" or "louboutin sneakers" deals, sorry, the spam comments are all gone. (Oh, BCR also doesn't suck to read on a cell phone these days.) But hopefully you'll start to see a few things that look familiar.

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What's up with few new posts at BCR?

I've avoided posting any sort of update on where things stand with new content at Bull City Rising, largely because readers have been very indulgent with recent-past warnings that things were busy in the Real World and that content would be less frequent. 

But after some comments here, and particularly some kind personal emails checking in to see if everything was okay, I wanted to post a quick update here.

I've long railed for the need for high-quality, financially sustainable local journalism in communities, and a big part of the reason for that is that no individual blogger can ever hope to keep up with all the news even in the best of circumstances. And when the circumstances aren't the best, well, then there's a real pinch.

So what's been going on of late? Some of the time-management challenges have been local. This spring, my wife Darlene and I finished renovating a house on Gloria Ave., a full-on reboot of a historic house that needed more than a little TLC. And in the months that have followed, I've taken on some additional responsibilities at the day job, which have made for interesting new challenges, though again, less time.

Several of you have written in to ask about the other challenge on the schedule -- a family illness I've alluded to from time to time here on the site, and in more detail to friends and colleagues around town.

My mother continues to battle an end-stage respiratory disease, against which she's put up a brave fight for the past year. In recent months, her condition has, well, worsened, and as of yesterday she's into her third hospitalization in a month.

As a result, I'm traveling out of state just about every weekend checking in on her and trying to maximize my time with her while I can. And that, combined with busier weeks, has squeezed much of the blogging time out of my life for now.

The next few months promise to bring more of the same -- though Matthew Milliken is back in town and working on some interesting stories for the site in the coming weeks.

I wish I could promise a date when I knew the usual ripostes, repartee and reporting would be back. Right now, I can't. But watch this space -- as with so many other things in life, we don't always know just when things will change.

Thanks, as always, for reading BCR.


Civitas investigation alleges conflict of interest, open meeting law violation in DSS change

I'll be the first to admit my preternatural wariness about the work of Civitas, the conservative think tank that's part of a sprawling consortium of organizations funded largely by Art Pope and responsible for the reddening of state government and in part for increased appearances by the likes of "Americans for Prosperity" here in our state.

But we have damn too little investigative reporting happening around here, so credit goes where credit's due to Civitas' Andrew Henson for his story Tuesday about the termination of Durham County Social Services chief Gerri Robinson.

As we noted here in our bon voyage to Robinson a couple of weeks back, the DSS chair came to the Bull City's host county after a rocky tenure in Nashville, Tennessee, and hit headwinds early in her term over a controversial child care subsidy idea -- one which was said to have hastened the departure of at least one local non-profit leader involved in early childhood support.

But as commenters here noted at the time, there was a little grey-cloud asterisk hanging over the firing -- namely, the timing. The personnel change came simultaneously with the selection of one County Commissioner Joe Bowser as vice-chair of the DSS board, and with newly-appointed DSS board member Gail Perry getting called up to lead the agency at her very first meeting.

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