Concerns raised over AT&T

At the March 20th City Council meeting, council voted to authorize the City Manager to enter into multiple license agreements with subsidiaries of AT&T.  Council's hands were largely tied by legislation at the state level, but several members expressed their frustration with the service provider.

Why this issue matters:  AT&T and its subsidiaries are laying new cable to bring hi-speed internet to Durham residents. This work has already been underway, and over 500 complaints have been raised and 7 work shutdowns have occurred since June 2015. Due to new state legislation, inspection fees are no longer charged to the utility provider though the providers do have to contribute to a general fund of which the City of Durham gets a portion, though not as much as the previous inspection fees.

What are elected officials had to say about it:

Charlie Reece requested that these be put on the business agenda because he had some concerns about AT&T service complaints (500+ since June 2015) and lobbying by AT&T and other utilities companies to the NC legislature last year that resulted in the elimination of permit fees that those companies had been paying until then. An AT&T representative was present to answer questions.

Schewel, followed by Reece and then Moffitt, expressed concern about the complaints, the legislation at the state level prohibiting permit fees (would taxpayers have to foot the bill for inspections related to new utilities now that these permit fees no longer exist?), and the fact that AT&T can pick and choose where high-speed internet will be made available throughout the city, potentially excluding low-income neighborhoods from those services. All 3 items eventually passed (7-0) with reservations given that not granting the licenses could result in litigation against the city. The City Attorney noted that AT&T would likely object and have grounds for litigation (discriminatory license granting if, for example, AT&T does not receive license but Google does).

Applaud-a-bull Comments:

Schewel - “I just want to tell you I think it’s wrong.  I am disappointed in the utilities...I think it is unfair to taxpayers.” Additionally, Schewel commented:

  • What information do we have about the number of times AT&T had to stop work or make changes because of complaints?
  • Utilities inspections will cost the city $4 million over the next couple years, something that permit fees used to cover (2007-2016); with those fees prohibited by the state legislature, who will pay? Taxpayers?
  • AT&T can pick and choose where they offer service, and they are unregulated/for profit. No guarantee that they will offer service to low-income neighborhoods. Taxpayers should not have to pay for the required utilities inspections. AT&T and Google are not the only utilities companies but still the primary drivers of current action in Durham.

Reece & Moffitt agreed with Schewel.  Reece's move to pull these items from the consent agenda made the public discussion and questions possible.

Support our local news.  Read more about this story at the N&O.

Ask City Council to Support Paid Family Leave

FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION: Contact City Council Members today and ask them to lead the way in making sure all of their employees have access to paid family leave.

Paid Family Leave allows parents to take time off work to care for new children in their home -- either by birth or adoption -- without having to sacrifice their paycheck.  According to the NC Justice Center, the period of paid leave typically ranges from 4 to 12 weeks.  Only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to this benefit, and Durham make a positive stride forward in becoming a model progressive city in the South by leading on this issue.  In a progressive Durham, parents should not need to choose between what is best for the health of mothers and children and a paycheck.  Paid Family Leave is an important policy for those who believe a progressive community is defined, in part, by the degree to which it welcomes children into it. 

Learn more about why this is right policy for Durham by reading the NC Justice Center's fact sheet here.  

An applaud-a-bull note of thanks goes out to the PA Economic Inequality Team that has worked to bring greater visibility to this issue.  

Ask City Council to Support Living Wages for Non-Seasonal Part-Time Workers

ITEM FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION: Please contact your City Council members today and ask them to carefully consider the benefits of this policy change to the workers in question and to the local economy, and to approve this recommendation as part of the 2017-18 budget. 

The Durham People’s Alliance seeks an economy that works for all and advocates for policies that ensure that all Durham residents have access to high-quality jobs that pay a living wage with benefits.  For the 2017-18 budget, we recommend that the City include all non-seasonal, part-time workers in the City's living wage policy.  In last year’s budget, the Council raised wages for all full-time workers, which we wholeheartedly supported.  At that time, the Council also committed to revisiting and considering the inclusion of part-time workers in this year's budget.

Across the Triangle, the City of Raleigh and Town of Chapel Hill, and Wake and Orange County governments all include at least non-temp/non-seasonal part-time workers in their policies, if not all part-timers. This recognizes the fact that part-time workers are often critical contributors to household income and stability. 

We recommend that, in the budget for the coming year, the City include approximately 120 part-time employees (out of about 217 total part-timers) in the City's living wage policy. We estimate, with some assumptions, that this would cost the City about $525k per year. We also urge the Council to consider including all part-timers, including seasonal, in the City’s Living Wage policy.  This incremental cost would be approximately $800k.

Sustaining Durham's Tree Canopy: Did you know this was an issue? It is.

In our team's conversations with residents, city staff, and elected officials we have been hearing a lot about an issue that wasn't on most of our radars - Durham's tree canopy.  We live in a region with lots of tree - in fact Durham has been a Tree City USA for 34 years!  However, many of Durham's trees that we love, such as our oaks, are nearing the end of their lives.  In 20 years, if we take no action to replant dying trees, our tree canopy will be far more sparse.  

And let's not forget that trees are inequitably dispersed today - tree planting followed red-lining practices, so that historically black neighborhoods have fewer trees today. Don't know what red-lining is? Learn more about it here.  

We have an opportunity today to plan for and invest in the kind of future tree canopy we want in Durham -- a future that sustains what we love and makes right past wrongs.  Learn more by checking out the March 9 assessment below and the April 2016 report on Replanting Durham's Urban Forest.  An applaud-a-bull word of thanks to Steve Schewel and Don Moffitt for leading on this issue.

- Learn more about the inequity of tree planting in Durham in this 2016 article from the Indy: In Durham, Rich Neighborhoods Have Plenty of Trees. Poor Neighborhoods, Not So Much.

Update from March 3 City Council Budget Retreat

Curious to know what the City learned from its most recent resident survey?  See highlights form the survey below, along with the full report.  It is applaud-a-bull that city leadership invests in such a thorough survey, in addition to numerous other measures they take to listen and learn about the concerns and needs of Durham residents.  The next step: Participatory Budgeting.  Let's make it happen in Durham.  Thanks to City Council member Don Moffitt for sharing this document.

City Council Work Session Key Takeaways - Feb. 23

Did you know that community members came out to express support to Council for the Emerald City Nightclub? Do you know what Durham's walkability score is? Read about these issues and more in our notes from the February 23 work session

Discussion at this session included these topics: 

  • Emerald City Nightclub - discussion of recent efforts to close this club, which is a black-owned business and is supportive of community empowerment
  • Comments from MARK SIMMONS, of Cease Fire Durham recommending increased mandatory training for police officers for all officers in contact with the community
  • RESOLUTION OPPOSING THE PRESIDENT’S EXECUTIVE ORDER signed on January 27, 2017 that substantially limits Immigration and Refugee Resettlement within the United States
  • Presentation on the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and the GoTriangle TOD Planning Grant

It's budget season - now is the time to advocate for affordable housing

People's Alliance will ask the City to increase the budget this year for:

  • Lower income homeowners struggling to keep their homes with rising costs of repairs and taxes.
  • First-Time Home Buyers being priced out of the City.
  • Renters searching for affordable and safe housing.
  • Homeless families & individuals needing stable homes.

Join us and speak out at Monday's City Council budget meeting. All of us knows someone who can tell their story about needing affordable housing in Durham. 

Can't join us a the hearing?  Email City Council:

Want to help the PA Housing Team plan our next action?
Contact:  Lorisa Seibel,

Possible changes coming to Durham municipal elections

Topline:  The following changes to the process for conducting Durham municipal elections are being discussed:

  1. Eliminating the primary and moving toward run-off elections when candidates do not receive a majority of the vote.
  2. Changing the current ward system to a “true” ward system where only people who live in the ward can vote for the candidate who runs for that ward seat.
  3. Increasing the number of seats on the council from 7 to 9. 
  4. Deciding the above issues by council vote or by placing it on the ballot in November for voters to decide.

What you can do?

  • Educate yourself more on and watch excerpts so you have better sense where each council member stands.
  • Contact your council members and express your concerns. 
  • We believe a progressive priority is to increase access to the ballot and to maximize voter turnout. 

On February 6th, council members took public comments on a proposed city charter amendment to change the process for conducting Durham municipal elections.  The change under consideration would eliminate primaries for municipal elections.  Instead, run-offs would be held in the event that a candidate does not receive a majority of the vote. 

Few people attended the meeting. Those present suggested other changes, including increasing the size of the council from 7 to at least 9 and changing the ward system. Under the current ward system, candidates running for ward seats must live in the ward, but must run in city-wide elections (i.e. all candidates run citywide). The few residents who spoke expressed concerns about what changes might mean for representation from black and Latinx communities.

Reece asked the city attorney whether this matter could go to the public for vote in November.  The city attorney commented that it is possible for the city to add it to the ballot, but that he would need to determine whether this could happen by the November election.  

Key Moments

  • Davis supports this change, citing that over the past 30 years, run offs would only have happened four times.  "If Durham were to change its election process ... it is estimated that during most election cycles, we would save well over $100,000 in precious taxpayer money."
  • Schewel opposes this change, and cited evidence from Raleigh that the change from primaries to a run-off system is likely to reduce turnout. “Our highest goal ought to be to maximize turnout … We should not sacrifice turnout to save money.”  

  • Mayor Bell said, “I would never vote to make a change about our elections to save money. Never. If there is one thing I think we ought to be willing to do is to spend money to have the opportunity to vote or not vote.” 

  • Johnson supports placing this on the ballot for voters to decide. “It seems problematic to spend money on elections that did not affect the outcome of the races in the majority of circumstances.”  Johnson also supports an instant runoff; however, this is not currently allowed under state law.  

  • Reece expressed interest in learning if it was possible to place these propositions on the ballot in November for voters to decide.  He also seemed interested in learning more about changing the way the ward system currently works, stating that parochialism is not “not a bug but a feature” of a true ward system. 

  • Moffitt suggests that if any changes are made, we should wait until 2019 because this could already be a confusing election. 

  • Cole-McFadden suggests that a true ward system might mean it costs less to run for elected office.

Read more & support your local news: 
Durham City Council considers nixing primary election (News & Observer)

What your City Council discussed at the February Budget Retreat

Account-a-bull team members attended the budget retreat. Click here to review our team's comprehensive notes, including sections on: 

  • Economic Outlook for Durham (page 1)
  • Development Services Center, whose focus is on improving customer service capabilities of the development process for citizens and developers (page 1)
  • What Works Cities (WWC) - a Bloomberg sponsored initiative Durham is participating in. WWC aims to assist cities with open data and performance analytics based on that data (page 2)
  • Innovation Teams Grant Program - Another Bloomberg initiative that Durham is planning to participate in. The program aims to broadly address the challenges that face cities. Durham would be in the third wave of cities that have participated in the initiative (page 2)
  • Capital Improvement Plan - A survey of Durham residents underway asking them to ‘Pick Your Priority’ regarding city services. Survey to be completed in March, and to include input given to City Council in Coffee with Council meetings. To date – highest priority is for sidewalks, trails and greenways (page 2)
  • Employee Health Insurance Fund (page 3)

Here are some of the slide decks presented to council members.  Thanks to council members for sharing:

Go to Coffee with Council to provide input on our 2017 budget & advocate for participatory budgetting

Coffee with Council offers a great way for you to share concerns and ideas with City Council members. We encourage folks to go out to these upcoming sessions to support the participatory budgeting project - the democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of the public budget. Visit the Participatory Budgeting Project for more information.

Enthusiastic volunteers are needed at casual meetings called "Coffee with Council" that are occurring several times in the next few weeks: 

  • PAC 5 - Thursday, March 9 – 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. – City Hall - Council Committee Room, (Spanish translation)
  • PAC 4 - Saturday, March 11 – 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon – Campus Hill Recreation Center, 2000 S. Alston Ave.
  • PAC 1 - Saturday, March 18 – 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. – Holton Career and Resource Center, Child Care Center, 2nd Floor, 401 North Driver Street

While these are designated by PAC, any Durham resident can go to any of the meetings. To find out which PAC you're in, go to this link

The HB2 Compromise

On February 9th, Mayor Bell outlined a compromise strategy to ease concerns of the General Assembly and to encourage the repeal of HB2: work with mayors from other NC cities to pledge that municipalities would not pass local anti-discrimination ordinances if HB2 was repealed.

Bell, Cole-McFadden, and Davis voted in favor of the compromise to pledge a six month moratorium on local anti-discrimination ordinances in return for repeal of HB2. Reece, Johnson, and Moffitt voted against moving forward. Schewel was not present for the vote but indicated that he opposes the compromise because "we need to be able to pass a local non-discrimination ordinance as soon as HB2 is repealed."

Moving forward on his own, Mayor Bell wrote a letter to the leadership of the General Assembly. At the February 20th council meeting, he read the letter aloud: "There really is no downside for the General Assembly repealing HB2 and establishing a moratorium for 6 months or until the Supreme Court's decision comes down"… HB2 "impacts the brand of our community."

Key Moments

  • Bell: “What I’m trying to do is to relieve some pressure now by getting it off the books, allowing some time to see what happens in the next stage ─ which is the Supreme Court ─ and also freeing up the state from these economic pressures that we’re under because HB 2 is on the books.”
  • Reece: “I can’t support a measure that would remove the paper version of House Bill 2 while leaving it still effectively the law of the land and that’s what this measure asks us to do is to leave the force of House Bill 2 in effect on this community while removing it on paper to allow the economic benefits to flow, assuming national organizations will accept that ─ if they will accept this fiction that we’re trying to create that we’ve removed House Bill 2.”
  • Johnson: “It feels to me like we are failing to protect our residents to get an economic advantage.”

Read more & support your local news:
Wrong protest of HB2 (Herald Sun)
Durham City Council debates how to address HB2 locally (News & Observer)
Durham City Council rejects Mayor Bell's HB2 compromise (Indy Week)