Today at BCR: Answers to the first three of the seven questions posed to the Durham City Council candidates at last week’s NCCU/Young Democrats forum. Tomorrow, the remaining questions, and on Friday, we’ll cover the candidates’ closing statements.
As before, these are paraphrased answers. If the paraphrase doesn’t make sense – the original answer might not have, either. (If any candidate wishes to offer corrections or clarifications to these answers, please feel free to do so via email or in the comments.) Our analysis appears below each answer.
See this article from last week for a wrap-up of the forum event.
Question #1: How would you remedy the uneven state of neighborhood planning in Durham, and how would you make sure that neighborhood plans are followed? Would you support an expansion of historic districts?
- Farad Ali: The City has a chance to take some of the neighborhood plans that are out there and consolidate them into a strategic plan. Noted that he didn’t think all Durham’s neighborhoods had had the opportunity or advantage of putting together local plans that would be accepted by the Office of Community and Economic Development, or Neighborhood Improvement Services, or the City Council. Whether the plan is about development, historic preservation, etc., Ali noted it was important for the City to provide formal and informal help, including a timeline.
- Eugene Brown: Noted that he lives in a one hundred year old house in Trinity Park, and that the opportunities exist for neighborhoods to come to the City and to set up historic districts through overlay planning. Brown noted he was the former president of the Historic Preservation Society of Durham, and that he’d encouraged neighborhoods to set up plans, including the most recent to do so, Cleveland-Holloaway. Closed by stating he didn’t think the City had been an obstacle to creating neighborhood plans.
- David Harris: Reiterated his concern of improving communication, here between neighborhoods and city agencies (citing Neighborhood Improvement Services), and noted he’d include Preservation Durham as well. Stated that the key was getting everyone to the table and putting their cards on the table to come up with an acceptable solution to all parties. Party A often doesn’t know what Party B is doing.
- Melodie Parrish: Mentioned that the UDO is in place for the City and County, and that that is where the two governments [City and County] work together. Stated that she had been talking with State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. that evening about how the Hayti Heritage Center got preserved, and how it had taken a lot of work to make sure it wasn’t demolished like the houses around it were. Noted that departments do have to communicate, be it for populations of citizens like seniors, or for specific activities. Also noted the City should put tens of millions of dollars into one part of Durham and have blight across the street.
- Victoria Peterson: Stated the need to have an Economic Development Commission, and that many of the people in these communities do not have the skills necessary to create an economic development plan. Those who do, she noted, can go to the City and ask for $6-10 million, but that the people in North-East Central Durham don’t have the skills to do this. For instance, she noted the presence of a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Durham, but asked why there is not a plan for all of Durham, to provide recommendations to help lift up the entire community.
- Joe Williams: Stated he agreed with what two of his colleagues said [unclear which]. Stated that we have our wants and our needs, and that these areas represent the best of what makes Durham special. Diversity, unity, pride, confidence… because our city has the loop of history, and has had historical buildings here in Durham, but if we look around we don’t have them anymore, because development comes in and wants to destroy them.
BCR’s analysis: Ali, Brown and Harris all get points for answering the question in reference to neighborhood plans per se. All referenced existing neighborhood plans and the City interaction, though Harris’ answer was more generic in discussing communication as a gap that can be solved by people sitting down and talking (especially in light of the issues with City agencies in the Cleveland-Holloway area.) Parrish and Peterson both gave answers focused on issues of important to them, but neither referred to neighborhood plans. In Parrish’s case, the UDO/City-County answer felt vague; in Peterson’s case, economic development for underserved neighborhoods is an important theme of her campaign, but again addresses a different topic than neighborhood plans. Williams did not touch on the issue of neighborhood plans at all.
Question #2: What is the relationship today between Durham and NCCU, and what should it be?
- Brown: Should be the same type of relationship that Durham has with Duke. Noted his belief that we need to bring more people into the political process, mentioning his own experience working on Capitol Hill in the 1970s when the voting age was lowered to 18, and getting to personally interact with Senators like Bayh and McGovern across the hall. Felt this would be a revolution in national politics, but it didn’t happen; if you look at demographics and age, youth rank last in terms of those who turn out and vote.
- Harris: NCCU is a great asset to Durham, and the City wouldn’t be what it is today without the university. Many students stay here and add to the community, and Central is a vital part of Durham. Felt that the Council and City should work to improve the relationship, especially with the energy of the new chancellor.
- Parrish: Concurred that NCCU was a valuable part of Durham, and noted that she earned her masters degree there in 1992. Enjoyed evening classes and felt the school had a lot to offer. During her time there she did feel it was an island to itself instead of being a part of Durham and that that needed to change. Believed the City could collaborate with NCCU students and professors when there were environmental or budgetary issues that Central could help analyze or work on. Also noted that the City needed to take advantage of Durham Tech and Duke as well.
- Peterson: Noted that she had gone to many joint City-County meetings, particularly Crime Cabinet, and that she had asked where NCCU was. If she gets voted onto Council, she noted this was an issue she would look for. Noted that she graduated from NCCU, and that NCCU and Duke students and professors need to get involved with Durham’s government. Many NCCU students and professors are not involved downtown. Stated that she would like to see the political science and criminal justice students shadow some members of Council, come down and volunteer in departments… [Time.]
- Williams: I attended and graduated NCCU, and am in the hall of fame there for tennis. Noted he tried to bring a lot of kids there when he went to speak in the city. Stated the relationship would be a lot better if the City would give NCCU students a break on parking, a big problem. Stated that students call home, get $20-30 from their parents, and then have to give it up on parking fines.
- Ali: There is and should be a direct partnership between NCCU and Durham. Noted that NCCU is a major employer, and a major center of intellectual capital, and that the students and faculty there mostly live in Durham and are part of the tax base. Singled out the BRITE program, a center dealing with biological and technological research, as a major future initiative for the good of Durham and Central. Noted the school’s success with academics and athletics as well, and that the Ciy needs to do more to solidify relationship.
BCR’s analysis: Most of the answers were fairly even in many ways. Ali was the most specific in naming the high-profile BRITE program and in tying in both economic and academic opportunities. Parrish and Peterson had fairly similar answers, with Parrish going into the somewhat more detail and having a slightly more organized answer. Brown’s answer did not focus on NCCU per se and more on the participation of youth in politics, though he was gesturing to and seemed to be speaking towards the NCCU student government reps in the audience (in what felt more like avuncular advice than canned candidate-speak.) Williams’ answer, it must be noted, drew great interest from NCCU students when the issue of parking was raised.
Question #3: What can be done to increase employment opportunities for Durhamites with high school degrees but no advanced degrees?
- Harris: Economic development and bringing new industry to the area. Noted that Durham had lost many skilled labor jobs and it was important to bring in companies that would require skilled labor. Also noted that the City could start looking those unemployed individuals who are able and willing to work, and seeing whether employment opportunities with the City were possible.
- Parrish: Noted that Durham does have an agency in town called TROSA, which works to rehabilitate addicts and other people with problems. Noted that there are many men who are leaving prison and can’t get a job without training, or because of their criminal background. Noted that the City could find ways to employ many individuals at minimum wage in the summer, when they can learn to earn money and get started on a cycle that’s productive for the rest of their lives, versus sitting around with nothing to do.
- Peterson: For the past several years, stated that the City and County has given companies incentive dollars to come to Durham, but that the City had not followed up to make sure that these companies who come here are hiring local Durham citizens. Stated that 63,000 people came here from Raleigh and other communities for employment, but that she would like to see local taxpayers, be they grandmothers who own their own homes and pay taxes, have a shot at getting these jobs. Also noted that we don’t have any training facilities, and that Wake County has a community college but also a vocational center. States that Durham needs a free vocational center.
- Williams: [Asks for a repeat of the question.] Answers that the City has passed behind those who have been in and out of jail, but that we cannot stand and say the City will not hire you. I have a problem. We need someone on the Council who will go out into the community, and talk to these kids about their appearance. Stated that he could do this, adding, “You got to hold up your pants in order to work.”
- Ali: Noted that the question was really one of job creation and being able to understand what there is in Durham. Noted the need to take advantage of Durham Tech and its skills while also looking at workforce development. Emphasized that Durham should not look just for minimum wage jobs, but also livable wage jobs. Added that it was important to develop more transferable skill sets in the workforce, so that if companies downsized, employees would be more easily able to move on to new jobs.
- Brown: Stated he’s not running for school board, but that there are key things there that need to happen. Emphasized the plan to open a vocational school in East Durham, and also noted that the Mayor’s summer youth programs are bringing hundreds of people per year and introducing them to the job market. Also noted the presence of a workforce development department that is only six years old. Finally, noted a University of Washington study whose conclusion was ‘five and five’ – increasing the high school graduation rate by 5% would reduce social costs of those not graduating by $5 billion.
- Williams (Follow-Up): The school is just not teaching the curriculum and skills that kids need to have, and that’s why you have drop-outs. Case in point: we used to have carpentry, auto mechanics, and tailoring courses, and we need to give youth things like this.
- Parrish (Follow-Up): Having been in education for 32 years, I don’t want to see any child fail. The AYP standards gave unfairly labeled our schools, and it’s difficult to make the standards with Durham’s level of diversity and the large numbers of ESL students. Stated that the AYP doesn’t reflect what really goes on in terms of positive things in the schools.
- Peterson (Follow-Up): Noted that she spoke in 2002 about Durham needing a vocational center, and that Council members always say they’re planning to do something. Stated that last year 16,000 people passed in and out of Durham County jail, of whom 10,000 were African-American men, and 2,000 were white males. Stated she was tired of hearing what people have already been doing, and that if we can spend money on things downtown, why not on vocational education?
BCR's analysis: The answers ran the gamut here, both in terms of ideas and the criticism/defense angle on Council’s work in this area to date. (For the record, the vocational school in East Durham is, I believe, moving along, although Councilman Stith expressed concerns in the spring about opening a school in its chosen location within a high-crime section of East Durham.)
Both Parrish and Harris suggested City employment opportunities, though as Brown pointed out, there’s an existing program to offer this. An interesting contrast exists between the answers of Williams, Harris and Ali on job creation and training; skilled labor jobs are a shrinking element of the national economy, while transferable skills recognizing frequent career changes are perhaps more mainstream modern economic thinking.
Parrish’s answer was a bit surprising at first – addressing graduates of programs like TROSA and their employment challenges, not high school graduates per se – but she recovered on follow-up with a widely-accepted (but little-known outside Durham) perspective on Durham’s diversity and the impact on No Child Left Behind testing.
Peterson’s answer conflated a bit the role that the City and County play in bringing companies to Durham (economic incentives are largely a county role, with the City helping out with infrastructure in some limited cases.) It did provide her an opportunity to focus on vocational education, which is a major theme of her campaign.