Durham City Council: live blogging the anti-HB2 resolutions

Update: Here is the full text of the resolution:  Download Durham City Council resolution vs HB2

Patrick Baker, city attorney: I've been trying to determine what if any changes in city operations, ordinances, etc. need to be made. The part that has gotten the most attention is the single-sex and multi-occupant bathrooms and changing facilities. The legislation — the big change is biological sex, as put on their birth certificate. If the certificate hasn't been changed to reflect your gender reassignment surgery, then you still have to use the bathroom that complies with the gender on certificate.

They haven't criminalized me, for example, going into the women's bathroom. But there are already laws on the books for that — trespassing, for example.

Don Moffitt: This is bathrooms only that we own, right?

Baker: Yes, it's applicable to only public agencies, of which municipalities are part of that. Private businesses are not.

The wage ordinance part: We don't require a livable wage for outside contractors. There are some nuances, and at some point I may come back to you. We don't have a wage ordinance that's in violation of HB2. Our staff is not covered by the statute.

General anti-discrimination requirements: Local agencies don't have the authority to impose anti-discrimination ordinances beyond what the state has provided. Sexual orientation and gender identity left out of the protected classes in the legislation. We are not requiring outside contractors to abide by our values. Our internal policies, which cover sexual orientation and identity, are not affected by the legislation.

Two lawsuits have been filed, one against the state, and a case coming out of the state of Virginia, regarding transgender and gender identity and the facilities they can use. This is the Fourth Circuit, and North Carolina is in that circuit. Transgender: Is it considered sexual discrimination under the law? We'll get some guidance from that decision.

If there are going to be designations about the bathrooms, I'd suggest just leaving signage alone.

Moffitt: Wasn't the outside contractors law already on the books?

Baker: Yes.

Cora Cole-McFadden: I want to share a statement from the National League of Cities: Cities stand in favor of local authority and inclusiveness. On Friday, the executive committee affirmed its commitment to Charlotte for the 2017 [league convention]. We don't want to penalize Charlotte. When you're a city and the state can overstep you, it's not a good thing.

Eddie Davis: I'm assuming that since even the protected classes who've had the ability to sue in the past now being placed back in time: If a citizen of Durham decided not receiving proper public accommodations, they could not sue in state court, but would have to sue in federal court. There are not federal courts in every county, so there could be problems filing that. [It also costs more, $100 for state filing, and $400 for federal.] You would do federal circuit court, then the appeals court and the Supreme Court.

Baker: If someone wants to invoke Title 7, they can file under state or federal court. The vast majority of employment claims are under Title 7; those can be filed in state court and aren't affected by HB2. Any discrimination based on North Carolina public policy, you can't file that state law claim in state court, but federal. 

Charlie Reece: I'm making a motion to suspend the rules to vote on this resolution.

[The vote to suspend the rules passes unanimously.]

Reece: I want to thank City Council and staff, and ordinary people who contacted me about when we were going to pass a resolution about HB 2. Today's that day and now's that time.  [Note this is not all of the language, because it went by quickly. We will post the resolution when we get a printed copy.]

We call for repeal of HB2 [clauses are being read about what the General Assembly did to the Charlotte ordinance.] The statute's omission of gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes, local governments appear to be prohibited from offering protections to these people. the legislation appears to be inconsistent with the Equal Protecton Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It is mean-spirited ... There have been lawsuits, and one of the plaintiffs is Angela Gilmore of Durham, N.C., a law professor at NCCU. More than 120 companies have written letters opposing HB2...

Durham is an open and welcoming city, supports full inclusion and engagement of any resident regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, race, class, disability, religion and national origin. Durham City Council calls for the repeal of HB2 as soon as possible. DCC asks private business to welcome and encourage customers and employees to most closely align with their gender identity.

Rose Sanchez: I support the governor and I think he's right.

Luke Hurst: Durham likes to talk a lot about a welcoming city committed to full inclusion and engagement. That's not how it always feels to be transgender or gender nonconforming, particularly people of color. [Some businesses aren't welcoming.] My safety and dignity should not be controversial. I encourage you to take action. Take proactive measures to make sure everyone feels safe in city. Would you join the lawsuit against HB2? Would you work to increase the number of bathrooms in the city. There are eight bathrooms in city hall, none that I feel safe in using.

Patty [DIDN'T GET LAST NAME] , works with LGBT youth: I identify as queer. Before HB2, it was a challenging environment for LGBTQ youth. They were struggling for inclusion and to be valued and loved for who they are. Even in progressive schools, they have problems being who they are. Trans people are the ones targeted in bathrooms, which are more dangerous for trans and gender-nonconforming people than others, as is the world.

 We want Durham to do more, but we appreciate [what the city does].

Helena Cragg of LGBTQ Center: Hopefully your work won't end after today, and that you'll show the leadership Charlotte did and proactively work to repeal HB2.

Motion passes 7-0.

Bell: Thanks to Councilman Reece for working on this. 

The equity issues looming over Moogfest and the Art of Cool

Over the past 60 years, as high-speed interstates have been built parallel to the smaller highways — I-85 and U.S. 70, for example — the towns along the two-laners have withered. Yes, we want to drive faster, with six lanes of open road spread before us. We want to fill our tanks at a mega-Sheetz and grab a latte at Starbucks and a burger at McDonald’s. But in opting for six lanes instead of two, our wallets bypass the small filling stations, the downtown coffee shops and diners. The little guys lose.

This is the comparison I thought of at last week’s City Council work session when organizers for two festivals, Moogfest (Interstate) and the Art of Cool (Highway), asked the city for money to help them offset costs of producing their respective events at several venues all over town.

Moogfest organizers asked the city and the county for a total of $135,000 — $62,500 from each — to cover half of the cost of free community programs. (The amount covers none of the ticketed events.) The balance of the $276,000 for this purpose would be covered by private sponsors. 

Meanwhile, AOC, after being rejecting by the county for a $5,000 ask, approached the city for $20,000 to offset the costs of renting lights, sound and a stage for a large show at the Durham Armory.

On Monday, Moogfest got its $62,500; AOC is expected to receive some funding, but the amount won’t be voted on for two weeks — shortly before the festival begins.

This is not a question of whether a city should invest in the arts; both festivals will enliven Durham’s culture. It is an issue, though, of equity. And, as City Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden noted at Monday night’s regular council meeting, a “racial” one. 

From a social capital perspective, Moogfest is powered by the substantial muscle of the city’s startup and tech culture, with the full promotional backing of the chamber, the convention and visitors bureau, and the American Tobacco Campus. 

AOC is at a financial disadvantage — at least in terms of economic impact, which unfortunately is the main metric of success — precisely because it’s young and homegrown. If you live in Durham and attend AOC, it’s unlikely that you’re staying in a hotel, taking Uber or a cab to the airport, or dining out for every meal. 

And frankly, AOC, while its offices are in the American Underground, still hasn’t been fully embraced by, well, I’ll say it, white culture. 

In its third year, AOC, is a homegrown, fledgling jazz festival, scheduled for May 6-8. By festival standards, AOC has a small budget — $342,000 — and, typical for nascent events, has yet to turn a profit. (By comparison, Hopscotch in Raleigh didn't earn a profit in 2011 and 2012, when the INDY owned it. I’ve not been privy to revenue numbers since the paper and the festival were sold.)

More than two-thirds of AOC’s audience is black, according to 2015 festival figures, and the event is known for showcasing high-profile and up-and-coming African-American artists. It includes free community programs, as well. 

“We are very grassroots,” AOC President Cicely Mitchell told City Council.

Two-thirds of AOC’s budget comes from ticket sales. Prices are modest, with student and senior passes running $25, and nightly club passes costing $50. The all-access VIP package is $285. Last weekend, AOC offered discount on ticket prices, which indicates sales could be slower than anticipated.

Two weeks later, enter Moogfest, which started as an electronic music extravaganza in 2004 in New York, then moved to Asheville for a decade, and is marking its first year in Durham, May 19–22. (The festival is always held as close as possible to Robert Moog’s birthday, May 23.) 

In 2014, its budget totaled $2.7 million, but the festival lost $1.5 million. Buncombe County rejected the festival’s request for $250,000.

This year, Moogfest’s theme is Afro-Futurism, which combines elements of black culture, jazz and science fiction. While that presents some issues with audience overlap, that’s not a guarantee of black audiences. Several years ago, the Durham Arts Council mounted a Sun Ra exhibition, and a performance by local musicians and a parade. The crowd was largely white. 

Like AOC, Moogfest will include free community programs. A festival pass is $249, and the VIP version runs $400. Single-day tickets range from $49–$89.   [In 2014, that was the price of single-day tickets; as a commenter noted below, there are no single-day tickets this year. Thus you're in for 249 clams or you're not going.]

The ticket prices reflect the income of the festival’s audience. Emmy Parker, creative director for Moogfest, emphasized the wealth of its audience, which, she said, is “very educated and mature, with 60 percent of festival goers earning household incomes of more than $100,000 a year.”

Unfortunately, a festival’s worth, at least in terms of public funding, has been distilled into the hocus-pocus financial modeling that determines its economic impact. And part of that equation is whether a festival draws out-of-town guests who book hotel rooms (Moogfest audience) or attracts a largely local or regional audience that doesn’t (AOC).


According to 2016 projections by the DCVB, 4,350 people will attend AOC this year, compared to 10,250 for Moogfest. But the primary financial difference is the overnight spending: $932,846 for AOC, and $3.7 million for Moogfest.  When all of the visitor spending is accounted for (food, transportation, etc.), Moogfest’s value added to the Durham economy is $4.9 million, compared to AOC’s, which is $1.1 million. 

At last week’s Council work session, Shelly Green of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, (perhaps sensing the tension in the room over the equity between the two festivals) noted that Art of Cool’s economic impact “has grown exponentially from $500,000 to $1.6 million. It has a smaller budget. It’s new festival. Moog been around long time. It’s hard to compare,” she said.

Yet that's exactly what the city is doing in its funding decisions — decisions that don't account for what Councilman Steve Schewel, a former owner of Hopscotch, called “the subjective elements.” 

Lost in the talk of dollars and cents, hotel beds and taxes generated, is that AOC started in Durham and, even if it's smaller than Moogfest, is nonetheless part of the city's cultural fabric. It would be a shame to see AOC fail because the chamber and DCVB — and the public — don't value it. Yes, technoshamanism — using technology to inspire a spiritual experience — sounds sexy. But I would argue that a Terence Blanchard performance can elicit an equally transcendental state of mind.

“This is our homegrown festival,” Schewel said of AOC. “It’s diverse and financially accessible. Those are important virtues.”


The search for a new Durham Housing Authority CEO + slots open on waiting list and "worst-case housing needs"

Wanted: A new leader for the Durham Housing Authority

Qualifications: Stellar management and financial expertise, particularly in complex real estate deals. Candidates should play well with others and have compassion and imagination.

After six years as the CEO of DHA, Dallas Parks, 69, is retiring in June, leaving a void at the top of one of the most vital public agencies in the city. As it begins its search for a replacement, DHA is holding a public forum on the qualifications for a new CEO at Thursday, April 7, at 6 p.m. at the DHA central office, second floor, 330 E. Main St.

This is a crucial time for DHA and its to-be-named leader. The largest provider of city’s affordable housing, DHA is transitioning its public housing stock to Section 8 properties — a years-long process known as RAD.

HUD launched the RAD program nationwide to address the ongoing and expensive maintenance required for public housing properties. Under RAD, the DHA would still manage the properties, but would not own them. By law, the housing would remain permanently affordable.

The problem, though, is that fewer Durham landlords want to participate in the Section 8 voucher program. As a result, people with Section 8 vouchers, who must use them within a specific time period, can’t find housing.

The new CEO could also be required to overhaul DHA in how its services dovetail with the city’s Community Development Department. At the March 10 City Council meeting, consultant Karen Lado of Enterprise Community Partners, proposed that to properly address the affordable housing crisis, particularly for very low-income households, DHA and the city should find new ways of working together.

“I can't overstate how significant DHA is as a partner,” Lado said. “Well over 90 percent of available units or vouchers serving very low-income households are managed through the housing authority. It can redevelop sites at a higher-density.”

That could include combining both DHA and Community Development into one agency. The City Council would have to approve such a move, which could benefit DHA and the people it serves.

DHA is land rich but cash poor (and short-staffed.) And the city and DHA occasionally find themselves competing for the scarce Low Income Housing Tax Credits. For example, last year, DHA applied for a 9 percent credit for the redevelopment of its Club Boulevard site. Meanwhile the city was planning to sell an acre of land near the bus station for affordable housing, the buyer of which would also likely apply for the same credit. (The city ultimately decided to hold on to the property until it had a firmer grip on its affordable housing plan.)

Lado laid out the dire situation, noting that 15,000 Durham households, most of them renters, allocate more than half of their income on housing costs. This is what federal housing officials call “worst-case housing needs,” and on Monday, they announced a plan to help address them. 

Download 10987_EXHIBIT_AFFORDABLE_HOUSING_GOALS_384901_680295 [Figures on severely "cost-burdened renters" are on page 3.]

In a presentation to Congress, HUD reported that in 2013, 7.7 million very low-income unassisted families paid more than half their monthly income for rent, lived in severely substandard housing, or both.  Although that number is down from historic high of 8.5 million in 2011, it’s nonetheless up 49 percent from 2003. (HUD's 72-page publication is also worth a read.)

That prompted U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced a new federal program Monday, the National Housing Trust Fund, to help create permanently affordable housing for very low-income households. Although the amount is a modest $174 million, each state will receive some funding. Provided the feds don’t cut off funds to North Carolina for its passage of HB2, the state is projected to receive $3.3 million. From there, the state will distribute funds based on eligbility. The funding comes from Freddie and Fanny Mac.

(City Lab has a good explainer, better than the jargon-heavy National Low-Income Housing Coalition site, which is clearly for pros.)

What does this mean for Durham? It’s unclear, but the city, nonprofits and/or the Durham Housing Authority could receive some precious dollars to create new housing for the most vulnerable people.

And now for some good news about affordable housing: About 200 slots became available yesterday when the Durham Housing Authority opened its waiting list under a new system.

McDougald Terrace, Cornwallis Road, Oldham Towers, Liberty Street, Hoover Road, JJ Henderson, Forest Hills Heights, Oxford Manor and Club Boulevard, as well as housing scattered throughout the city.

DHA has changed its general overall waiting list to one that is site-based, says Sherry Harris, DHA compliance manager. That means people who are interested in the public housing program can apply at the site where they want to live.

Since this is a new process, persons who were on the general wait list had an opportunity to apply to a specific site before remaining slots were open to the public. The applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

More bad news: HB2 could jeopardize federal housing funds for N.C., Durham

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, one of the overlooked consequences of House Bill 2, the hydra-headed, discriminatory legislation rammed through by Republican lawmakers last week, is federal funding for housing.

The New York Times reported yesterday that as a result of the legislation, North Carolina and its cities and towns could lose not only federal funding for K-12 public schools, but also transportation (a coffin nail for Durham-Orange light rail) and housing. In North Carolina and Durham, billions of housing dollars are at stake — money that helps the county’s most vulnerable citizens.


A quick refresher, if you’ve been traveling abroad or living without human contact or TV, radio, newspaper and Internet access for the past week: Besides discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace and the bathroom, HB2 also prohibits cities and towns from setting their own minimum wage and requires plaintiffs who sue their employers for discrimination (e.g. race, gender) to do so in federal, and not state court. (Federal court is more expensive and protracted, thus many people couldn’t even afford to pursue a lawsuit at that level.)

As a result, many companies and business conventions are leaving or boycotting North Carolina. For example, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, which had planned to invest in a $20 million facility in Durham County, is now reconsidering its decision.

Federal agencies are reviewing their funding for North Carolina just as Durham is embarking on an ambitious affordable housing plan, which will require at least some federal dollars. Homeless services and the Community Development Department receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for many of their programs. And without HUD, it’s unlikely the Durham Housing Authority — the largest purveyor of affordable housing in the city — would exist.

The former Whitted School, which will include affordable senior housing, plus a preschool, was made possible by a $2.9 million FHA-backed mortgage, approved by HUD. The feds also gave Durham $108,000 last year for homeless veterans programs. Another $968,000 went to homeless programs in general, and Connect Home, a HUD initiative, would provide 2,000 low-income households in Durham with access to Google Fiber. These figures don’t include the millions in grants and other funding the Durham Housing Authority receives.

Now, let’s tally all of the classes of people this new law penalizes:

  • LGBT people
  • Friends, allies and families of LGBT people
  • People of color
  • Women
  • The poor
  • Children who attend public schools
  • Public school teachers and employees
  • The elderly
  • People who drive, take a bus, plane or train
  • Businesses that contract with the federal government for services (highway pavers, construction companies)
  • And city, county and state budgets — and the programs, capital improvements and other initiatives that money funds
  • In other words, everyone.

Durham Police Chief finalists, Part 2: Major Michael Smathers of Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD

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Note: On Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Tom Bonfield announced the two finalists for Durham Police Chief, Atlanta Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis and Major Michael J. Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. This is the second of two stories about the finalists.

The city has posted the  finalists’ resumes. You ask questions in person at a public forum on Wednesday April 6, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Durham City Hall. The Q&A will be broadcast on the Government TV channel (8 for Time Warner, 99 for AT&T U-Verse), or livestreamed via the city’s Facebook page and website.

You can submit questions through April 4 via 919-560-1200, the city’s Facebook page, the city’s Twitter feed and by email at PublicAffairs@DurhamNC.gov

After Major Michael Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reviewed the dashcam video of fellow officer Randall Kerrick, he knew that the evidence looked damning.

“I initially had concern the very first time I saw that video,” Smathers testified in a deposition last year. “But I watched it dozens of times that day … and that feeling never left me.”  Download Deposition of CMPD investigator Michael Smathers

In 2013, Kerrick, who is white, shot an unarmed black man, Jonathan Ferrell, 10 times, killing him. The officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter, but a jury deadlocked on the case, and he was not convicted. Kerrick resigned from CMPD last October.

At the time, Smathers was over the Criminal Investigations Bureau, which deals with all of the violent felony crimes, including those by criminal allegations against police officers.

For many Durham residents, particularly in communities of color, it is notable that Smathers, one of two finalists for the chief’s job, was unafraid not only to examine the evidence against a fellow officer but also to recommend charging him with a serious crime. 

“It’s upsetting to charge a fellow officer,” Smathers said in his deposition, “and it was historic in the history of our police department to do it.”

Smathers’ experience in a diverse city could address some of Durham’s concerns about the next chief, especially his work in community policing, clearance rates and police reform. Smathers, who currently oversees the Field Services Division, also managed the armed robbery and sexual assault units, worked in SWAT and officer training, and supervised patrol officers.

In 2012, Smathers attended an Innocence Project event in Albany, N.Y., where he joined several  public defenders, crime victims and wrongly convicted suspects in urging New York state to reform its police interrogations and identification procedures. 

Smathers discusses several of these reforms, including allowing jurors to see and hear police interviews, in transcript of a DOJ podcast. “We just continued to hear from jurors and from our prosecutors that it would enhance their confidence in the work that we were producing and we were testifying to if jurors and prosecutors could hear the interviews themselves. So we thought, why not. There is no compelling reason to not share what goes on in the interview room.”

Smathers was also the commander of the Crisis Negotiation Team, and that experience could prove helpful in Durham, Over the past three years in Durham, several incidents, including the high-profile, officer-related shooting of Derek Walker, who was threatening to commit suicide with a gun in CCB Plaza downtown, raised concerns about the use of force against people with mental illness.

However, there were minor questions about Smathers’ handling of the policing at the 2012 Democratic National Convention — although some decisions, made at the federal level, were beyond his control. That year, Charlotte had received a $49.8 million federal grant to provide security at the convention for 6,000 delegates and 30,000 visitors, as well as the city’s residents.

Smothers was the commander of the Mobile Field Force Platoon, and led policing at various demonstrations and crowd management assignments. The event was largely peaceful, although 25 people, mostly demonstrators, were arrested over the three-day event, including 10 undocumented immigrants who were protesting the convention.

 An U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General’s report noted that “some arresting officers were inexperienced in the protocols and procedures for handling evidence in a mass arrest environment.” 

CMPD responded that "All arresting officers were training in the protocols and procedures for handling evidence in a mass arrest environment. However, the practical application in the field was a lesson learned."

Charlotte elected officials had passed a law giving the city manager the power to declare certain gatherings “extraordinary events.” That designation marks off part of the city as an “event zone,” and gives police broad powers for search, seizures and arrests — all constitutional issues. 

(The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had also designated as a “National Special Security Event.” Similar laws were enacted at both political parties’ 2008 national conventions.) 

On the financial side, the Inspector General’s report found that the city largely complied with the grant requirements, but did receive “reimbursements for $79,311 in unallowable personnel costs. The city also received $53,676 to purchase two sport utility vehicles that it did not modify in ways certified to the BJA as being necessary, which served as the justification for the purchase. As a result, we recommend OJP remedy the $132,987 in unallowable or unnecessary grant reimbursements.”  (CMPD agreed with the findings, except for the one regarding sport utility vehicles.)

In the past 20-plus years, Smathers, who is white, started as patrol officer, where, according to his resume, he spearheaded an aggressive community outreach to Latino communities. As captain of the Charlotte Eastway Patrol Division, an ethnically diverse area of the city of 809,000, he received a community policing award for “leadership and reducing crime.”  

He also supervised the CMPD’s lab and evidence bureau, which is key for Durham. A years-long backlog at the state lab has resulted in suspects being jailed for months in Durham, even more than a year, without being convicted. Durham officials have floated the idea of funding a county crime lab or hiring technicians at the state lab that would work solely on local cases.

And while Smathers was head of the Criminal Investigations Bureau, CMPD reported a homicide clearance rate of 81 percent in 2014, compared with Durham, which had a clearance rate of 68.2 percent over the same time period. 

 CMPD has 1,850 officers, significantly more than Durham, which has roughly 500 — and a turnover rate of as many as 60 a year.

 Smathers clearly wants to be a chief — somewhere. Two years ago, he was shortlisted for the position at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Yes, he was willing to move to Iowa. 


Durham Police Chief finalists, Part 1: Atlanta Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis

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Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis

Note: On Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Tom Bonfield announced the two finalists for Durham Police Chief, Atlanta Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis and Major Michael J. Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. This is the first of two stories about the finalists; the second story will be posted on Wednesday. 

The city has posted the  finalists’ resumes. You ask questions in person at a public forum on Wednesday April 6, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Durham City Hall. The Q&A will be broadcast on the Government TV channel (8 for Time Warner, 99 for AT&T U-Verse), or livestreamed via the city’s Facebook page and website.

You can submit questions through April 4 via 919-560-1200, the city’s Facebook page, the city’s Twitter feed and by email at PublicAffairs@DurhamNC.gov


Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis (@1divacop) has wanted to lead a police department since the 1990s. And as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2008, she has been concerned that despite her many promotions, a controversy over a sex crimes investigation might derail that aspiration. 

“Two resumes on the table. They look exactly alike,” Davis was quoted in the Journal-Constitution. "One had some drama, and the other one didn't. It's easy to take the one that didn’t."

But in the case of Durham, both finalists have been embroiled in some level of controversy, which is to be expected with candidates of any substantial tenure. Bonfield anticipated that Durhamites know how to use Google, so in announcing the finalists, he tried to defuse those situations. He openly stating that Davis was exonerated after being discharged in 2008 when she was falsely accused of a cover up during a scandal in the City of Atlanta Police Department. Davis was fired — and then sued and was rehired — after an investigation into a fellow officer’s husband, who was indicted on child pornography charges.   

And Smathers, Bonfield said, “withstood significant pressure in 2013 as he investigated the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Jonathan Ferrell and recommended a fellow officer be charged,” Bonfield noted. (More on that tomorrow.)

A 29-year veteran of law enforcement, Davis, who is African-American, has experience that directly relates to several issues facing Durham. She supervises the APD’s Strategy and Special Projects Division, which is largely a management position, including capital projects. Her insight into the need (or not) for a new DPD headquarters could be valuable. 

She’s also worked in internal affairs and community policing in a department of 2,008 officers.

Davis supports an initiative called “Live in the City You Protect,” which encourages Atlanta police officers to actually reside there: “Atlanta’s Police Foundation raises money to give officers an incentive to live in refurbished homes in Atlanta at no cost for two years. The more officers live in the neighborhoods they protect, the better their community relationship which prevents and solves crimes.”

Give her points for that stance: By comparison, only 42 percent of all Durham police officers live in Durham.

Davis would be, well, relieved isn’t the word, but perhaps emboldened, to tackle Durham’s homicide rate. The city recorded 37 murders last year — and January 2015 was the most violent month on record — but that pales compared to Atlanta. The city of 450,000, roughly twice as large as Durham, logged 95 murders in 2015, up from 93 the year prior and 83 in 2012. However, like Durham, Atlanta’s overall crime rate dropped.

Now for the downsides: As head of the Special Projects Division, Davis is responsible for aspects of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking enforcement and Homeland Security programs. Atlanta is a much larger city, with more interstate and airport traffic that makes it a prime drug trafficking area. However, Durham is not Atlanta. And Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson recently questioned the propriety of DPD accepting federal grants for the drug trafficking interdiction in part because of the possibility, if not propensity, of racial profiling during these stops.

(In fact, according to a 2015 Inspector General’s report, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has been accused by state and local police of encouraging such behavior.)

As important and pertinent to Durham’s current situation is Atlanta’s handling of body camera policy. While not solely Davis’ call, “video integration” and body cameras do fall under her job description. 

In 2014, the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, roughly the equivalent of Durham’s Civilian Police Review Board, scrutinized the proposed policy and came up with several concerns, including consent, retention, privacy and access. 

And last November, the Atlantic reported that, “while no city police department was ideal. Two departments stood out in particular as having especially dreadful rules: Atlanta and Ferguson, Missouri. In every category that researchers examined, Atlanta and Ferguson either had a poor policy or failed to specify any policy at all.”

Atlanta has delayed its deployment of body cameras while a lawsuit over the bidding process works its way through the courts. 

Tomorrow we’ll look at Major Michael Jay Smathers’ public record. If you have more info on either of these candidates, email either Lisa Sorg (lrsorg@gmail.com) or Kevin Davis (ksdavis@gmail.com).

A night of high drama — and scolding — in the Farrington Road rezoning case

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Like most people in City Council Chambers Monday night, Durham attorney Ken Spaulding was doing the math. After more than an hour of Council debate and public comment, a controversial rezoning case of 19 acres along Farrington Road would soon be put to a vote. At this point, there were three for, two against, and two unknown. 

This was Spaulding’s last chance to win over the two question marks on behalf of his client, developer Wood Partners. 

“I’m going to throw away my notes,” said Spaulding, who last week lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary. And with that, he also threw away his statesmanship.

In a tone reminiscent of a parent scolding a 12-year-old for failing to clean his room, Spaulding unloaded on Council. “It’s fine to say what fine developers we are,” he barked. “The goals of the city are the goals that we’ve met [on this development]. I’m speaking up because you’re trying to set a precedent in regards to placing a moratorium on development in Durham.”

Councilman Don Moffitt did not appreciate what he called Spaulding’s" bullying" tactics.

Earlier in the meeting Moffitt had noted that of any project he has considered as a councilman, and in six years as a planning commissioner, “I’ve spent more time thinking about this one.”

Moffitt was leaning toward a yes vote, but after Spaulding’s diatribe, he told him, “You’re making this really hard.” 

The case before Council was a rezoning of 19.5 acres at 5708 Farrington Road, near N.C. 54, from a low-density designation to higher density. This would allow Wood Partners to construct  a mixed-use development, including 500 to 600 apartments on four of those acres. 

The developer would spend $1.7 million on road improvements — although they really would only offset the traffic impacts of the development. The service level of N.C. 54 would remain “D,” which is defined as “speed and the maneuverability are severely reduced. Low level of comfort for the driver, as he must constantly avoid collisions with other vehicles.”

Last December, the planning commission had voted against approving the development; Council had continued the case from February, in order to hear a March 10 affordable housing presentation from city consultant Karen Lado. Council wanted to consider her findings because  the Wood development would be near a proposed light-rail stop — Leigh Village. And just 20 of the 600 apartments — 4 to 5 percent — would be affordable, and built in Phase 2. That falls short of the city’s goal of 15 percent of affordable units within a half-mile of light-rail stops.

Also, Leigh Village area will eventually be in a compact neighborhood tier, a designation that allows for greater density, but whose actual implementation is still at least three years, if not more, away.

Part of the problem was not a legal one, per se — Wood Partners had checked off all of the city’s boxes for a rezone — but an existential one. For at least the past year, both the City Council and County Commissioners have maintained that Durham, now an attractive place to live, no longer has to cave to developers’ requests, even reasonable ones. 

Councilman Charlie Reece, one of the no votes, restated that point. “I could have supported this had it not been in the transit zone,” he said. “We have to be willing, as hard as it is, to look developers in the eye and say, ‘This time and this place that doesn’t work for us.’”

Continue reading "A night of high drama — and scolding — in the Farrington Road rezoning case" »

Why we need a renovated downtown Durham library: A case for a bond


Bob Thomas of Vines Architecture with a 3-D model of a proposed library design

Photo by Lisa Sorg

The last time fresh air reached the upper floors of the Main Branch of the Durham Public Library, Ronald Reagan was president. That’s just a guess, of course, but the air feels like 1982 — oppressive and stuffy, and possibly wearing shoulder pads.

This spring, the Durham County Commissioners are expected to vote on whether to place a bond referendum on the November ballot, which, if passed, would help pay for the estimated $40 million in renovations to the downtown main branch. 

Earlier this year, I read Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library by Wayne Wiegand. (Ironically, I had to buy it because of the long wait list for the book at all of the Durham library branches.) It’s a wonderful read, if redundant in parts, that explains the importance of the public library in civic and social life.

“Libraries had broader communal functions, including providing space for the emotional experience of community,” the book reads, “enabling discussion groups and at the same time cultivating a sense of freedom, status and social privilege.”

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That is why this investment is not only about upfitting a building. It’s about how a historically democratic (with a small d) community space figures in the overall scheme of a revived and largely privatized central business district. Libraries are one of the last non-commercial spaces, where people mingle, regardless of race of class. 

It’s also about how the this four acres could help transform downtown. It could connect Cleveland-Holloway with the center city; spark the transformation of the Downtown Loop from one way to two; enhance both the residential and commercial development of downtown’s east side. 

Indeed, libraries are the great equalizers.

To that end, Vines Architecture in Raleigh is redesigning the 65,000-square-foot building from scratch. When it’s finished, the new library will be 30 percent larger, 84,000 square feet, a lot of it glass.

“We’re stripping away everything, not just physically” but conceptually, as library officials re-envision the building’s purpose and function in the 21st century, said Victor Vines, the firms’ founding principal at a public meeting last month. “We don’t see the building being bashful.”

You’d be shy, too, if you were an architectural anachronism. Like suburban homes, the library has two front doors — the real one, facing Roxboro Street, which few people use — and another off the parking lot, out back, which functions as the de facto main entrance. 

Inside, parts of the library darker than a man cave, with few windows and little natural light. It’s hard to determine which floor is which. (More than once, I’ve mused to myself, “Wasn’t I just in nonfiction?”)

The current building was constructed in 1980, when libraries were considered “introverted repositories of books,” said Bob Thomas, Vines Architecture director of design.

However, the personality of the new library, with glass, open space and connectivity between floors and the indoors and outdoors, will be “outward,” Thomas said. “There will be connectivity with the city and transparency within and from the library,” he added.

With Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood, city and county services, the thriving Central Business District and the American Tobacco Campus all nearby, “There couldn’t be a better site for an urban public library,” Thomas said. “The library falls at the seam of all of those.”

The improvements include additional private study and community meeting rooms, an amphitheater, a business incubator, maker space to foster creativity and areas known as STEAM —science, technology, engineering, arts and math education — for both kids and adults. The new building will embody what library director Tammy Baggett said is “a place to learn, share, create and discover.”

According to schematics presented at two recent public meetings, a single entrance would be relocated to the corner of Liberty and Roxboro streets. (And if the Loop becomes two-way, perhaps patrons could cross the street without fear of dismemberment.)

The number of parking spaces will remain roughly the same. However, the lot will move closer to the building, and with green space and a community garden, become integrated with the library. The building will also be LEED certified for energy-efficiency, using natural light and possibly solar hot water.

Inside, visitors could be greeted by a Friends of the Library store, a cafe and a bank of computers. Upper floors would be flooded with natural light; the roof could even include a terrace or small garden.

“We want to physically express the ideas of discovery, community and literacy,” said Vines senior architect Jeff Schroeder. “We want this to be a place where people want to hang out, to be.”

Continue reading " Why we need a renovated downtown Durham library: A case for a bond" »

Veil of darkness: RTI study shows racial bias in Durham Police HEAT unit traffic stops

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 Note: The Durham Police Department is scheduled for a routine accreditation by CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The public can comment at an information session on Tuesday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the second-floor committee room of City Hall. The public can also comment by phone on Monday, March 20, from 3 to 5 p.m.: 919-560-4594.

When RTI International and the Durham Police Department released data yesterday about racial disparity in traffic stops, the conclusions were not news to most of the city’s black residents.

At public forums, before City Council, and privately, among neighbors and friends who have story after story to tell, the RTI study proved — again — what most of us either knew or suspected: That there has been significant racial bias in traffic stops in Durham. 

Several aspects of this study, though, are different from previous analyses cited by other groups, which compared stop data by race against the racial make up of the overall city population. (RTI noted that approach is “insufficient to reliably identify racial disparity in traffic stops.”)

As important, though, the study exposed the gaps in the data that prevented DPD, the city and the public from honing in on the officers who are responsible for racially disproportionate stops. And while not part of the study, the subtext of its conclusions is that without public scrutiny, none of this may have ever come to light.

RTI, based in Research Triangle Park, analyzed DPD data of 151,700 traffic stops conducted from January 2010 to October 2015 — under the watch of then-Police Chief Jose Lopez. The study concluded there was a “Veil of Darkness” effect within DPD: Essentially, during the day, when it is easier for officers to determine a driver’s race, black drivers were more likely to be stopped by DPD. Black males were particularly at risk: Their odds of being pulled over by DPD were 20 percent higher during the day than at night.

RTI found no similar “Veil of Darkness” bias in Raleigh, Fayetteville or Greensboro.

The largest disparity between day and night stops occurred in 2012. That year, there was a 61 percent chance that the driver was a black man during daylight stops compared with 54 percent chance at night.

Yet, it was not the traffic patrol, but the HEAT unit, which focuses on drugs, vice and violent crime that was responsible for these stops. When these officers made a stop during the day, the odds of the motorist being black was 44 percent higher than a stop made at night. Factor in gender — male — and the odds increased to 76 percent for a daytime stop versus 69 percent for nighttime.

That the HEAT unit is making these stops is especially disturbing because of the nature of its work: Dealing with often highly volatile situations in which a clear-headed, unbiased response can be a matter of life and death. 

However, several key conclusions couldn’t be made because of a lack of data. From 2010-2014, there was a dearth of location information regarding the stops, which RTI called “problematic.” Without that information, RTI could not whether the racially disproportionate stops were occurring in particular districts or throughout the city in general. Nor was there sufficient information about the length of stop and the outcome — whether a driver was arrested, ticketed or merely warned.

The department is now required to keep more detailed data, after public complaints prompted several reforms within DPD. Although it’s difficult to definitively establish a cause-and-effect, public scrutiny of DPD appears to have worked.  RTI noted that the rate of racially disproportionate stops declined in 2014-2015. While RTI drew no conclusions for this decrease, it was precisely these years when citizens’ groups and social justice advocates demanded that city officials — the mayor and city manager, the Human Relations Commission and the Civilian Police Review Board — to scrutinize the behavior of DPD.

At the time, then-Police Chief Jose Lopez denied racial bias existed within DPD, and essentially dismissed community concerns. But after the city intervened, DPD was required to collect more data, more regularly, and publicly disclose them. 

The Human Relations Commission decided that despite Lopez’s assertions, racial bias was present at DPD. Other changes, such as written forms for consent searches, were put in place — although there are still questions about the rate of probable cause searches.

Last fall, Lopez resigned under pressure from his boss, City Manager Tom Bonfield. (Bonfield did not hire Lopez; now-City Attorney Patrick Baker brought Lopez on in 2007.)

Since December, Interim Police Chief Larry Smith, a 27-year veteran of DPD, has led the department. Publicly, anyway, Smith has inspired more confidence than his predecessor. He does seem less defensive and more transparent, for example, providing the public with more fine-grained data last month in DPD’s 2015 fourth quarter crime report.

After 18 drafts — literally — the Council walked back the general order on body cameras over civil liberties and transparency concerns; Smith complied, and without the protestations that characterized Lopez’s administration.

As for the study, Smith and DPD initiated it to evaluate if any policy changes are alleviating the problem of racial bias.

“This is a study that the Durham Police Department requested to determine the possibility of bias being a factor in our traffic stops and examine if the changes we’ve put in place sufficiently addressed those concerns,” Smith said in a DPD press release. “It’s essential that we get an objective view of our operations and in turn be willing to not only accept the findings, but continue to work toward putting the necessary tools in place to correct the issues this analysis revealed—and ensure that bias of any kind is never a part of police operations.

“We believe the improvements in the disproportionality are a result of the changes in our policies, procedures and training that we’ve instituted in the past few years. This shows that we are willing to listen to our community and make adjustments in our policing practices when necessary,” Smith said.

When more data become available, hopefully Durham will have a better handle on what’s happening, where. Nationwide, we already know how biased policing can damage minority communities, jailing black men — or worse — upending families, and by extension, perpetuating generational poverty. With that as a backdrop, building police trust with minority communities could take years.


Jacobs, Reckhow, Carter, Howerton, Hill take BOCC lead; Unruhe wins BOE

With all 57 precincts' tallies in, the unofficial Durham County Board of Elections results are in.

And it looks like two newcomers to the County Commission will take their seats after the general election in the fall.

Heidi Carter (third place) and James Hill (fifth place) have bested incumbents Michael Page (sixth) and Fred Foster (eighth) to join the county board.

Wendy Jacobs just edged Ellen Reckhow for the purely-symbolic first place win, while incumbent Brenda Howerton retained her seat with a fourth place finish.

The race for fifth wasn't settled until all the ballots were in -- Hill held a 1,200 to 1,400 point lead throughout most of the evening as returns came in. 

Hill and challenger Elaine Hyman, both People's Alliance endorsees, saw small surges when PA strongholds in west and southwest Durham reported in the late evening hours, but at night's end, Page retained a sixth-place finish and Howerton bested Hill by a little over 1,300 votes, though she trailed Carter by about 2,700 votes.

Meanwhile, veteran Riverside High teacher Steve Unruhe coasted to a win over Fredrick Ravin III, 62% to 37%.

Technically, these results are still unofficial; we wouldn't expect to see them change in the final tally, though we'll be interested to see if the impact of voter ID led to any greater numbers of provisional ballots than usual.

And, questions still remain as to the presence of very long lines at Forest View and especially the South Regional Library, where several hundred voters waited for hours past the 7:30 polls closing time, per this story in the Herald-Sun.

It's not clear that delays were universal -- when I went to my precinct at the Durham School of the Arts right at 5 p.m., I was in and out in five minutes -- making it all the more important to understand if equipment challenges, differential voter turnout or some other cause drove the delays.