Back to our year-in-review series (after finally making it back to Durham after a rather extended out-of-state trip). Today, a look at the 'bottom five' of our ten top stories in government and politics that happened in '07; tomorrow, a look at the top five.
In some ways, tomorrow's list -- which, naturally, includes the current water woes and election results, plus everyone's favorite sticks-to-suits story -- is more predictable than today's. Setting the top-of-the-headlines aside, these sixth through tenth place stories may be inside-the-paper stories from a year's-end perspective, but some of these could have a major impact on the Bull City in the years to come.
#10: NCDOT wraps I-85, casts an eye to the East End Connector. Mercifully, the years of suffering on I-85 has come to a long-awaited end with the completion of the freeway's widening, which as much as doubled the road's width in areas and which smartly shunts Richmond/Atlanta through traffic to the leftmost lanes, minimizing the impact of (and on) local traffic. In the long run, however, the NCDOT's steps this year to bring the East End Connector closer to reality marks the transportation story to watch in the new year. With Alignment #3 selected and a shrinking number of homes and businesses impacted, the state's creeping closer towards starting the road -- that is, as soon as elected officials find some solution to the ever-worsening problem of financing roads in N.C., which added 1 million new residents since 2000. Should a Hail-Mary road financing save from Gov. Easley not take place, look for the EEC in the 2014 timeframe... but watch for final design and environmental statements in the next 12-18 months.
#9: Frank Duke leaves City/County Planning for Norfolk. Duke's departure for the Tidewater region of Virginia this fall leaves him with a mixed legacy: the mastermind behind Durham's UDO development ordinance, but an official stepping out of a key role just as squabbles and intepretation questions began to rise in volume and temperature around Durham. The oft-Byzantine processes and procedures in the local governmental development and planning process have proven adept at frustrating developers and residents alike (leading to such snafus as the Morreene Road/Turnage Heights debacle this year). Look for Duke's replacement to be tasked by his county and city managers with shoring up the staffing within Planning -- and to start illuminating some key precedents and interpretations for the UDO.
#8: Crime trends down overall as homicides tick up. Overall, 2007 has seen a general decline in crime rates in the Bull City through the third quarter, continuing a decade-long trend. Murders grab the headlines in Durham (especially in the friendly Raleigh media), and homicides are up significantly over last year's mark -- with the caveat, however, that 2006's numbers were unusually low, and 2007's increased numbers still stand as the second-lowest in four years. Meantime, nominal drops in rape, robbery, auto theft, assualt and larceny even as Durham's population continues to rise marks a positive step forward for law enforcement in the city.
#7: City, County leaders continue capital investments and revitalization incentives. As a general theme, City and County elected officials have been willing to continue supporting and asking for bond- and tax revenue-funded improvements to Durham's infrastructure, portions of which had been allowed to lag behind in recent decades (leading to the perverse use of bond funds to cover deferred maintenance in some cases, among other things.) County leaders won voter support for almost $200 million in school construction bond funds and smaller issues for Durham Tech and the Museum of Life and Science, though county commissioners backed away from the red-hot transfer tax issue. Meanwhile, City leaders won voter support for $20 millon in street and sidewalk bonds and re-issued $12 million in bonds to support CIP projects, the American Tobacco Trail, and City Hall renovations. Just as importantly, the City Council continued to support incentive and investment dollars for downtown and neighborhood revitalization -- including several million in support for Heritage Square and Golden Belt, up to $6 million for buying out struggling property-owners in Rolling Hills, and finding extra funding for the Durham Athletic Park renovations.
#6: Jose Lopez becomes Durham's new top cop. Sure, it seemed like Steve Chalmers couldn't wait to get out the door fast enough. But the early signs on his replacement, Jose Lopez (like the NHL's Whalers a decade ago, now transplanted from Hartford to the Triangle) have been generally very positive. From deftly handling the minefield issue of illegal immigration and Durham's so-called 'sanctuary city' status during a contentious mayor's race, to his much more adept handling of the media and limelight, Lopez has made a strong start as Durham's new police chief. An early challenge for the chief lies in how he resolves the police-prostitutes scandal uncovered at the beginning of his tenure, and investigated (to the consternation of the local press) out of the public eye.