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Kevin Davis
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DeDreana Freeman has called us to order at 7pm sharp, followed by John Martin introducing the ten candidates, in the order that they appear on the ballot -- which is something far from anything resembling alphabetical order. Turnout is about two-dozen residents, INC forum members and media folks, which is not many multiples greater than the ten candidates. This year's forum will ask all candidates questions on the same topics (like schools) but different questions to different candidates, preventing the repetitiveness that sometimes happens with fora of these size. 1 minute per answer. And each candidate gets a chance to give their view on the performance of the existing BOCC -- starting with the incumbents. Q: BOCC good, average, fair, poor in the past four years? Howerton: "That's quite easy, excellent job." Uses words conscientious and accountable, and says she's been a "very good steward" of the tax dollars. Jacobs: "I believe our board has done a good job." Approved important projects, supported local services, worked in a respectful manner. Page: "done an excellent job working together in the past four years" -- praises the "teamwork" of the board. Reckhow: "I believe we've done a good job, I'm proud of what we've accomplished" -- AAA bond rating, new jobs, new courthouse and human services complex, Whitted School renovation, Rougemont clean water supply, among others. Foster: "I would say we've done an excellent job," noting 1,600 jobs in community, working on drinkable water, completing projects, serving on multiple boards. Hill: "Average... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Bull City Rising
We're gearing up for election season! What's that you say? Yeah, we just had elections in November. No, we don't live in I-oh-way or New Hampster. And yes, we know the general election is in the fall. But given that Durham is bluer-than-blue, the Democratic primary in March will decide... well, straight-up, the Board of County Commissioners race, plus the one contested slot on the Board of Education. Thursday night, Durham's InterNeighborhood Council (INC) will host a candidate forum for the candidates in next month's Board of County Commissioners race. Ten candidates are invited to sit in the BOCC's seats; only five will be moving on to a seat on the county's legislative body. The forum will be held in the County Commissioners Chambers, 200 East Main Street, second floor. Doors open at 6:30pm, with the forum starting at 7:00pm and ending at 9:00pm. If you can't make it and haven't joined the legion of cord-cutters yet -- well, the Durham Television Network (DTN) will hold the forum live as well. We'll be there and will have the highlights and lowlights after. If its election season, it's also endorsement time, and local bodies are beginning to give their nods and recommendations for various candidates. Durham's People's Alliance (PA) has released their County Commissioners endorsements, and to no one's surprise, the progressive action committee has endorsed a slate that would bring significant change to the board, if elected. Incumbents Fred Foster, Brenda Howerton and Michael Page all failed to earn the... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Bull City Rising
This article was reported by and written with Alex Modestou. One of the lingering questions for us at BCR after our week-ago series on Durham Public Schools performance and finances was how our analysis held up beyond the single 2014-15 point-in-time we analyzed. So what happens when we look further back? DPS’ own Comprehensive Annual Financial Report sheds a bit more light on the picture. In 2014-15, DPS spent more than $2,600 more per pupil -- a total of $110 million more than the district spent a decade before. Once we control for the effects of inflation and increased charter outflows, we estimate that this translates to nearly $50 million in real (i.e., non-nominal) spending. While there are about 2,300 more students in DPS in AY2015 than AY2006, however, the total instructional staff numbers are actually down -- with 21 fewer teachers in the just-concluded school year. More students, fewer teachers, but a one-sixth increase in spending. We think that as DPS prepares to undertake a significant scrutiny of its budget, it’s more data suggesting that a very close look at administrative spending vs. classroom spending is needed. In her 2015 book The Prize, Dale Russakoff tells the story of how Facebook-chairman Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to Newark schools was spent. The bottom line: in the absence of a clear plan for how to use the money to meaningfully improve student outcomes, the infusion of cash to the public school system was largely unsuccessful. When discussing her research on... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Bull City Rising
This is the last in a six-part series scrutinizing performance, spending and priorities in Durham Public Schools. We’ve seen this week a set of data that’s hard to stomach. Despite an extremely generous comparative level of local funding -- and total spending levels that are, on a per-pupil basis, at the top of those in peer counties -- Durham students’ academic performance lags other North Carolina counties, by numerous measures. We’d argue that this is no less than an enormous risk factor for the future success and well-being of the community. Look at all the attention paid in recent years to finding ways to saving Durham’s “disconnected youth,” the tranche of Durham’s youngest residents who are not connected to schools, jobs, civic structures, and the like -- and, therefore, those most likely to find connection in gangs or other antisocial outcome: Or look at the names, faces and ages of those who have been arrested in so many of the shootings and murders plaguing our community in recent months: almost all were young men, often accused of crimes at an age where one would hope they would be in school, not the detention center. As MDC noted in their report on disconnected youth: Young people who fail to complete high school earn lower wages and are much more likely to become long term unemployed than their more educated peers. In 2006, the median weekly wage for high school dropouts 25 and older was $419; for holders of an associate’s degree,... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2016 at Bull City Rising
So we're not saying that this was because of the big-ticket sales tax snafu that The Durham News broke late last year. But, it's sure gotta be at the top of the speculation list given the timing -- i.e., soon after the announcement, and on a snowy Friday afternoon to boot. We don't know any more than has been in the funnies about the tax issue (though I'm still curious how this squared up, IIRC, with the state changing taxability of theater tickets, museum admits, college meal plans and a range of other adjustments.) And we'd be remiss if we didn't give a tip-of-the-hat for Nocek's role in revitalizing both a facility and its programming, both much more vibrant since his tenure. Update: Per the H-S, it was the taxes. The theatre’s board of directors “felt new leadership was needed to restore confidence and get us back on track,” said Ellen Reckhow, who represents the Board of County Commissioners on the theater board. “Unfortunately, the board was not aware of the challenging financial situation until fairly recently,” Reckhow said. The theater’s board of directors named businessman and philanthropist Dan Berman interim president and CEO. Berman served as board chair for the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and is a board member and finance chair of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. From local architect and Carolina Theatre board prez Scott Harmon: Dear Theatre Supporter, As chairman of the Board of Trustees of Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc., I... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This is the fifth in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today: a closer look at teacher allocation and school leadership services, and a wrap-up to our series. Later today: we'll wrap up our scrutiny with some closing thoughts. Over the last two days, we’ve seen that DPS’s position of financial strength seems unbalanced in its uses within the system. For instance, comparatively little of the district’s extra spending on instructional programs goes to the use of regular classrooms, with alternative/special population programs and administrative costs taking a much greater cut. And, DPS’s administrative costs well outrank the three school systems closest to DPS in size. Today’s we’re going to drill in further to an analysis of classroom and school-level instructional resources -- since most people seem to agree that teachers and principals are the most essential and consequential individuals in a school system, it’s crucial to understand where DPS is resourced at the individual school level. In the context of the student achievement crisis discussed in the first post in this series, today we’ll explore the following questions: Does DPS prioritize classroom teachers? Do high-needs schools in DPS have more teachers? Is teacher and principal compensation sufficient to attract and retain high quality educators and school leaders? Although many external factors affect student learning, an adequately staffed force of high-quality professional teachers supported by strong school-based leaders is the foundation a school system needs to provide a sound education for all students.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This is the fourth in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today: a deeper dive into how Durham's spending compares with three close peers. Tomorrow: a closer look at teacher allocation and school leadership services, and a wrap-up to our series. As we saw yesterday, Durham Public Schools (DPS) spends more per pupil than any of the other large urban districts in the state. Out of all 115 NC school districts, only Asheville, Chapel-Hill/Carrboro, and Dare County contribute more local dollars (per pupil) to public education. Yet DPS’ leadership in spending isn’t matched by high or even acceptable performance outcomes, relative to large districts, peer districts, or low-SES/high-need districts. This paradox presents the linchpin of the troubling data we’re trying to understand in looking at DPS: With such a striking lag in performance, and such a glaring difference in white vs. minority performance, how can DPS be meeting its requirement to provide an equal educational opportunity for all? And, if Durham is outspending its peers for poor results, where are we “spending in the wrong ways,” or where could taxpayer dollars go to create better outcomes? In today’s installment of the series, we’re going to drill in further to the spending question to try to explain the significant gap in spending between DPS and its most similar North Carolina peer districts -- Cabarrus, Johnston, and Gaston. While 77% of Durham’s spending surplus versus those three systems does go to what the NC DPI... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This is the third in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today:comparing DPS spending against other districts. Coming up tomorrow: a deeper dive into how Durham's spending compares with three close peers. As we noted yesterday, Durham Public Schools trails many to most other North Carolina school systems in numerous standardized measures of performance almost any way we slice things -- by looking at the largest/most urbanized districts, or all systems, or isolated for demographic or income characteristics. There’s another comparison that’s worth looking at: how much does Durham spend on its public schools, relative to our peers? After all, given Durham’s bleeding-blue reputation and reality, it’s hard to imagine our community not being willing to pay any asked price for better schools. The curious reality, though, is Durham’s last-place finish contrasts with the district spending significantly more local augmentation funding than any of its peers. To me, the data that we’ll discuss over the next couple of days is hard to explain. (We’ve been trying to make sense of it ourselves.) And it puts some of DPS’ challenges in a different, and important, context that we don’t always see. For instance, many Durhamites have raised equity concerns over the amount of resources that leave public schools for charters. And we concur that it’s a big figure, equating to more than $500 per pupil in 2014-15. Yet DPS’ central administrative/system overhead costs far surpass the three NC large, urban districts closest to it... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This is the second in a six-part series of articles scrutinizing Durham Public Schools performance and financial priorities. Today: evaluating DPS's academic performance relative to other NC school districts. Coming up tomorrow: comparing DPS spending against other districts. First up: how does Durham’s academic performance compare against its peers? The short answer isn’t comforting. If you’re white, the answer seems to be that you’ll do just fine -- if you’re not, you’re literally at the bottom of the pack. Before we go there, let’s look first at the aggregate data. With over 33,000 students, Durham is the eighth-largest school district in the state. For a starting point, it’s useful to look at the ways in which DPS’ performance compares among the ten largest N.C. school districts. Naturally, such an analysis depends on standardized test results from NC DPI. There’s plenty of reason to be worried about the testing-heavy regimes in school districts throughout the country, including in Durham, and some will argue this is a poor benchmark for learning achievement. We’ve got a hunch this is not the method that DPS would choose to measure its performance by. In fact, based on the district’s response to the last round of test results, we’re pretty sure it isn’t. Looking at school performance through a slightly different lens, the state uses complex statistical algorithms developed by SAS to measure growth for individual students and schools. After N.C. DPI found 21 out of 53 DPS schools to be “low-performing” earlier this year, the... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2016 at Bull City Rising
Durham’s public schools often feature in the headlines and the editorials of our local papers. There’s a range of tropes that we hear frequently, and often without debate: Charter schools, we are told, are draining funds from Durham Public Schools’ educational resources and impacting the quality of DPS’ education, while not having to offer the same services that public schools do; An unfair conservative state regime seeking to destroy public education through encouraging charters and by a death-of-a-thousand budget cuts at the state level; A perceived tension between the school board and Durham County on schools funding, with seeming annual debates and disagreements between the boards, culminating in some years with marches on the County Commission to fight for funding; Scrutiny over discipline and suspension rates, with the district recently pledging to curtail out of school suspensions; The demographics of DPS, sometimes used as an explainer in some folks eyes, an excuse in others; The local and national focus on standardized testing, under attack and likely to see some reform in the post-NCLB era, yet still seen as crowding out classroom time and impacting learners. Reasonable people may agree with some or even all of these tenets -- or disagree with them. Still, it hasn’t escaped my notice that all too often, we seem to spend more time in these meta-conversations around our schools than in asking perhaps a more important series of questions: Setting aside the politics of debate, are our schools performing as well as we can expect?... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2016 at Bull City Rising
City of Durham staff updated downtown residents and business stakeholders last night on the ongoing replacement of water mains in the city center and nearby downtown areas. It's been a necessary but controversial project, one that's brought a new wave to business owners inside the loop -- many of whom opened shop after memories of the downtown streetscape rebuild had faded. As Virginia Bridges noted in The Durham News a few weeks ago, several businesses complained to City Council about the level of noise from jackhammers and equipment, blocked streets, impact on peak hours, and the occasional instance of roads closed without work going on. City water management staffer Bryant Green updated downtown's Partners Against Crime - District 5 (PAC5) group last night on a project he noted was now 80% complete, but which would continue to impact downtown off and on until summer 2016. Greene sympathized with the concerns businesses and residents had raised, and shared both some of the rationale for project decisions along with steps the City was taking to minimize impact where possible. Still, in replacing infrastructure that was more than a century old, surprises abound and some disruption is inevitable, according to Greene. "Unfortunately, with a lot of these [closure] decisions we can't pick... something that adversely impacts only a small number of people," Greene said. While many sections of waterline were replaced in the late 2000s on those streets most impacted by the downtown streetscape and traffic realignment -- including much of Main, Corcoran,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2015 at Bull City Rising
At tomorrow's City Council work session, Karen Lado from Enterprise Community Partners will share a housing profile report developed as part of her company's contracted work to help Durham with its strategy on affordable housing. This first step in Enterprise's work gives intriguing details and data about the state of Durham's demographics -- and demographic change -- along with the nature of Durham's affordable housing stock. We'll summarize some of its key findings here, though I'd very much encourage readers to dive through themselves, as it's a fascinating read. (The document is available on the City of Durham's web site.) A note of caution: this is my first-pass interpretation based on what's in the report, and doesn't benefit from the consultant's presentation, which will take place at work session tomorrow. (The errors of the interpretation lie with me, et cetera.) With that said, the report raises some intriguing findings about the need for and supply of affordable housing. Population Change in Durham Between 2000 and 2013, the study period in the report, the City's population grew by 26%, outpacing both the overall County growth rate (19%) and the state's (20%). This jives both with recent findings that Durham is one of the fastest-growing US cities, and that most of the community's growth is happening in the urbanized, incorporated city limits. Of the nearly 75,000 households in the City in 2000, the data suggest 52.2% of them had incomes greater than 80% of the area median income (AMI), the threshold for... Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2015 at Bull City Rising
I've been trying to make sense of this odd story emerging about Cocoa Cinnamon's recent, and quickly regretted, partnership with the Durham Police Department to reward folks obeying crosswalk rules. As part of the operation, bike officers gave a coupon for a free coffee from the popular Durham business for those it spotted obeying the law -- a positive reward, instead of the usual warning or citation. The response was... swift. On Instagram, for instance, many of the comments to Cocoa Cinnamon's partnership announcement were apoplectic. "This post is problematic," said one. "Disturbing, insensitive, and harmful," said another. "The police are terrifying," said a third. "Get woke. This is supremacy," said a fourth. Which led to a Herald-Sun article capturing the backpedaling of Cocoa Cinnamon in the wake of the criticism, and to this post from a Cocoa Cinnamon barista/brand-new Clarion Content editor. And, most unfortunately, a tweet from an Indy Week writer, which manages to use a popular, problematic porcine pejorative in referring to Durham's police, a line I'm surprised to see crossed. So let me be direct. It really seems worth stepping back a bit from the rhetorical extreme to put this campaign in context. The Durham community has been extraordinarily vocal, and effective, in expressing its disdain for the D.P.D.'s leadership and behavior in recent cases -- disdain that's driven the City to turn out its police chief, and which is driving moves towards reform in drug enforcement prioritization and conditions for those incarcerated. And more voices... Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2015 at Bull City Rising
A team of Durhamites has partnered with Y.E. Smith Elementary to bring a pioneering anti-poverty effort to the Bull City -- creating savings accounts for kindergartners in one of Durham's lowest-wealth schools to encourage families and children to plan ahead for their post-high school education. And as part of the kick-off, donations made today (Tue., Dec. 1) are matched 2-for-1 by the 1:1 Fund, a national platform linked to the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a non-profit championing the model. The idea stems from research that finds low-to-moderate wealth families who manage to save even small amounts for college -- as little as several hundred dollars for a student -- are several times more likely to attend and graduation from post-secondary educational programs as those with no savings. And given that only one in ten children from low-income backgrounds graduate college by their mid-twenties, any innovation that increases access to this crucial opportunity is welcome. Kids Save Durham, an initiative linked to the Mayor's Poverty Reduction Initiative and which is a program partner of the East Durham Children's Initiative, is aiming to raise $10,000 today -- seed funds that will be trebled to $30,000 thanks to the 1:1 Fund's matching pledge. Donate up to $500 today via the 1:1 Fund's web site to help Durham Kids Save earn the maximum match: With these funds, every kindergartner at Y.E. Smith, a school where every student qualifies for free or reduced-rate lunch, will receive a $100 deposit into a Self-Help Credit... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2015 at Bull City Rising
I'll be the first to admit it: I've often been underwhelmed, like many of you perhaps, at the County's idea of urban development. While the County got a great recession-era price on the new Courthouse, for instance, its entry plaza is a barren wasteland at stark contrast with well-activated, engaging urban spaces elsewhere in downtown. And heck, when the project was under discussion, it took a ton of community grousing from this site and hundreds of other folks to preserve even the glimmer of a street-level retail future for the new Courthouse's parking deck. Similarly, the Human Services building on East Main has managed to be uncharmingly similar to the old Sears department store there that once housed the functions. Sure, there's glass and windows, but it's still a big-box-on-the-block, with all its attractive green space on the inside and no street-level retail to engage East Main -- to say nothing about the big ol' parking lot next door. (Witness the resulting scrutiny over a planned Durham Police HQ just to the east of here.) It's for these reasons, then, that I feel more than a glimmer of optimism about the proposed refresh of the 1978-era County Courthouse, on the northwest corner of Roxboro and Main. Compare this to the structure we've known and un-loved for so long: The old structure -- said by Jim Wise and others to have been outgrown almost as soon as it opened, and brought to obsolescence less than forty years later by the jail-blocking... Continue reading
Posted Nov 29, 2015 at Bull City Rising
A crowd of more than one hundred packed the Mt. Sylvan United Methodist Church's sanctuary on North Roxboro on Thursday night to hear the latest from the development team proposing a Publix-anchored shopping center at the corner of Guess Road and Latta Road in north Durham. The logistics contrast from this fall's last go-round on this subject couldn't be starker: a crowded, uncomfortable elementary school cafeteria where speakers couldn't be heard and unruliness reigned at times, versus the pews-and-pulpit auditorium with PowerPoint, amplified audio, and (Publix-provided, natch) refreshments. Similarly, while the developers were often on the defensive in the first meeting, in this session the agenda (there was an agenda) was tight, the presentation carefully crafted, and unanswered questions that raised hostility the first time were sometimes -- though crucially, not always -- answered in this second go-round. Most crucially, residents got to see the developer's projections on the impact their Latta Road improvements would have on the congested road's traffic flow. It was an argument, backed by simulation data, that seemed to get murmurs of assent from the crowd, but follow up questions from two residents asking for before-and-after vehicular volume counts were pointedly left open. The developer also put forth a working site plan and likely renderings for the commercial district, along with examples of single-family detached homes that Durham-based homebuilder Cimarron Homes is proposing for the site. There were again clear opponents in the audience -- though this time, met by what appeared to be, based on... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2015 at Bull City Rising
If you thought the general election would follow the primary's trends, then last night's election results weren't too surprising at all. The People's Alliance slate of incumbent Steve Schewel and ballot newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece moved on to victory in the general, with all six candidates maintaining their order-of-finish from the primary round. Schewel earned 28.1% of the vote to lead all candidates; Johnson, who put together a model ground-game campaign in her bid, followed with 23.4%. Indeed, from the time the earliest precincts started to report, the only real question was whether we'd see a surprise for third place, where Reece (18.1%) bested Mike Shiflett (13.8%). Reece beat Shiflett by 2,301 votes, according to provisional results released by Durham's Board of Elections. And nearly one-third of that lead (725 votes, or 31%) came from Reece's lead in early voting and absentee tallies, which accounted for only one-fifth of all votes placed. If it sounds like last night was a bad night for the endorsement slates of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the Friends of Durham -- well, that would seem to be a fair explanation. If you ignore Schewel's vote totals, since he was endorsed by all three PACs, and look just at Johnson-Reece and Shiflett-Hart, the latter earned more votes than the former in only seven out of 56 precincts. But in those seven precincts, Shiflett-Hart outpolled Johnson-Reece by a total of only 291 votes. By comparison, Johnson-Reece outpolled Shiflett-Hart by... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2015 at Bull City Rising
I'm doing something new this election cycle -- since tomorrow's vote is itself an unusual one in the recent history of Durham politics. Outside of incumbent Steve Schewel, none of the other six finalists for City Council have experience in local elected office, and few have experience in the usual junior-varsity types of civic engagement. And, the depth of coverage of the usual outlets on this election has been perhaps thinner than we've seen in the past, save for the sheer number of candidate forums. So, for the first time, I'm -- not endorsing, per se, but seeking to bring a lens of qualification. Based on candidates' answers to questionnaires, and the conversations I've gotten to have with them -- who is best prepared to serve on City Council? I'd suggest that four candidates -- Steve Schewel, Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece, and Mike Shiflett -- are the four who deserve your consideration tomorrow. (You are voting tomorrow, right?) More after the jump, but to summarize: Schewel's depth of civic experience, outstanding service in his first term, and depth of vision for Durham, make him a natural and appropriate choice. Reece, while lacking traditional civic board experience, has reasonable relevant experience, and articulates positions on the issues not dissimilar from the "pragmatic progressive" super-majorities on City Council in the past decade. Johnson also lacks traditional civic experience, and some voters will be concerned that she comes from a full-tilt activism background and the Occupy Durham wing of local politics. But, those... Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Last week, Bull City Rising had a chance to sit down with five of the six finalists for Durham's three open City Council seats. We're bringing you our in-depth interviews with the candidates this week, ahead of early voting. We invite you to watch each and full -- and, to check out our commentary on each candidate's interview and perspectives, after the jump. Robert T. Stephens is a Durham newcomer, having lived in Durham for a little less than a year. Stephens argues that his lack of Durham experience is countered by an understanding of what he describes as systemic oppression, particularly with his involvement in Black Lives Matter activism, his travels to Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere, and what he describes as an organizing role leading a march on the Streets at Southpoint Mall last year. We have a candid and frank conversation with Stephens about his experience and positions, his candidacy's heavy backing from Teach For America alums, and his advocacy for those he argues are left behind in today's Durham. Note: the bottleneck in getting these interviews posted is the transcription and writing efforts; the previous posts have averaged 2,000 to 3,000 words. We're behind and in the interest of time, we're posting this interview without the transcript and narrative-- those will be added this evening. On Why He's Running Those who have heard Stephens speak at candidate forums have likely heard his very personal, difficult story of learning his father, a Raeford pastor, died from a heart... Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Last week, Bull City Rising had a chance to sit down with five of the six finalists for Durham's three open City Council seats. We're bringing you our in-depth interviews with the candidates this week, ahead of early voting. We invite you to watch each and full -- and, to check out our commentary on each candidate's interview and perspectives, after the jump. Jillian Johnson has made a big impact on the Durham political scene in the course of a fraction of a campaign. She placed a strong second to Steve Schewel in the primary -- trailing an incumbent, past school board member, and all-around four-decade political vet by only a thousand votes or so. And if we ribbed Charlie Reece for his ubiquitous mailers, I challenge you to find a street corner in Durham that doesn't have one of her campaign signs. (Johnson told Lisa and me during an off-camera moment in our interview that her young children, unsurprisingly, delight in seeing 'mommy' everywhere they go.) But Johnson's embryonic political history -- she's been engaged in activist movements throughout her sixteen years as a Durham resident, but has not appeared to serve on any City or County boards, and hasn't participated in broad-based civic activities outside deeply progressive movements -- also have raised questions, both about her background and about the apparently extremely well-organized engine to bring a capital-P Progressive to Council. So in this interview, we talk with Johnson about her positions on the key issues she's raised... Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Last week, Bull City Rising had a chance to sit down with five of the six finalists for Durham's three open City Council seats. We're bringing you our in-depth interviews with the candidates this week, ahead of early voting. We invite you to watch each and full -- and, to check out our commentary on each candidate's interview and perspectives, after the jump. Mike Shiflett is making his second bid for a City Council seat; in 1999, he came in fourth in the primary and couldn't get enough votes to make the top three in the general election. It's 16 years later, and Shiflett came in - fourth in the primary, again. This time, he's doubtlessly hoping for a different general election outcome. Interestingly, in that 1999 race, People's Alliance president Diane Catotti publicly backed Shiflett, their nominee, while the now-defunct centrist-left Durham Voter's Alliance considered swapping their support to Thomas Stith after the primary when Shiflett said he wanted to see all the City-County merger details before giving the idea his unqualified support. (Psssst, hey, all you kids with stars in your eyes and Instagram on those shiny phones of yours: Back before we had smartphones; hell, before anyone but realtors and doctors had cell phones; we used to talk about merging the governments. Oh, and how broken local government was, something the nouveau Durhamites have truly not experienced, you lucky dogs, you.) In 2015, Shiflett didn't get the PA endorsement, but earned conservative and Durham Committee support he... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Last week, Bull City Rising had a chance to sit down with five of the six finalists for Durham's three open City Council seats. We're bringing you our in-depth interviews with the candidates this week, ahead of early voting. We invite you to watch each and full -- and, to check out our commentary on each candidate's interview and perspectives, after the jump. If you don't know the name Charlie Reece by now, your postal carrier does: the first-time office seeker has had a fairly ubiquitous presence via mailers, street signs and an active social media campaign. Like his fellow People's Alliance endorsees, Reece's platform includes a heavy focus on campaign themes of equity for all -- including affordable housing and preserving Durham's neighborhoods' character -- along with a focus on the importance of community policing. Reece, the general counsel for his family's contract research firm Rho, sat down with Lisa Sorg and me to talk about his candidacy and his stand on some key public policy issues. Durham's Next Police Chief Relative to the rest of the PA slate, Reece has spent more time talking about policing and community safety issues -- an area where he's focused before the race, too, given his connections to the FADE coalition that successfully lobbied Durham officials on changes to probable cause searches and other perceived inequities in justice. Reece talked about the characteristics he wanted to see in Durham's next police chief, highlighting three: Good experience with true community policing Experience working... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Last week, Bull City Rising had a chance to sit down with five of the six finalists for Durham's three open City Council seats. We're bringing you our in-depth interviews with the candidates this week, ahead of early voting. We invite you to watch each and full -- and, to check out our commentary on each candidate's interview and perspectives, after the jump. Steve Schewel may be in his first City Council re-election bid, but he's no stranger to Durham politics. Besides his first four-year term, Schewel sat on the Durham school board during its stranger-than-fiction dysfunction in the mid-2000s; and, as the longtime and now former publisher/owner of the Independent Weekly, an experienced observer of local politics. Schewel talks with Lisa Sorg and me about why he's seeking re-election, affordable housing and incentives downtown, the proposed new police headquarters, and what's working and what isn't in job creation. We also ask Steve about where he differs from his fellow PA endorsees -- and talk about his interest in the mayor's seat should Bill Bell indeed not seek re-election in 2017. Durham, from Gilded Age to Golden Age? Of all the candidates we interviewed, Schewel was the most positive in tone both on the performance of the current Council and on Durham's future. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given his status as the sole incumbent running for re-election. Not that Schewel didn't express his desire to see certain policies change; in talking about a Council that was often unanimous in spirit... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2015 at Bull City Rising
A crowd of about 40 Durhamites attended last night's InterNeighborhood Council candidate debate featuring the six finalists for at-large City Council seats, along with the mayoral finalists. The entire debate is available for viewing on YouTube -- and it's a must-watch, we'd suggest, for folks who are planning to vote in the general election. After all, newspapers, PACs and blogs can endorse, summarize and critique, but ultimately this election is about finding the candidates each voter feels is qualified to serve and represents the values that they think should be reflected in Durham. Incidentally, next week Lisa Sorg and I will be recording video interviews with each Council candidate. Look for those on the site late next week. Here's a rundown on some of last night's highlights and key areas of discussion. Public Safety and Crime Most candidates agreed that Durham faced a perception of increasing crime and that, in the last year or so at least, crime had seen an increase. Several of the candidates emphasized the importance of repairing citizen-police relationships. Ricky Hart noted that residents and police "do not have that trust, they do not have that fellowship" as car-based officers drive through communities, while Charlie Reece called to "recommit to a policing strategy that gets police officers out of their cars and walking beats in their neighborhoods." The point was echoed by Steve Schewel, who noted that he frequently rides along with "young officers who are out there doing their best" and feel residents don't support... Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2015 at Bull City Rising
Just a reminder that the INC is hosting a debate for mayoral and City Council candidates tonight in the City Council chambers. Doors open at 6:30pm, with introductions starting 15 minutes later. The debate will start at 7pm and is slated to run for two hours. We'll be covering tonight's debate so look for a full rundown of what transpires. Even better, come yourself and have a chance to meet the candidates in the flesh. The event will also be broadcast on public access -- Time Warner Cable channel 8, and AT&T U-Verse channel 99. Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2015 at Bull City Rising