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Charlie Reece bids adieu to Durham City Council

After nearly seven years of public service, Charlie Reece will join his last Durham City Council meeting in less than a week. The city clerk will present Reece’s letter of resignation to the rest of the council at its next meeting on Monday, March 7. 

Reece, who was first elected as an at-large council member in 2015, is resigning in order to move to Paris with his family. He announced his resignation on Feb. 21. 

Reece’s wife Laura Helms Reece is the CEO of their Durham-based clinical research company Rho, which recently acquired a European business. The family will relocate for Laura’s job with their two children, Gwyn, 10, and Rose, 13, at the end of this school year. 

The Reeces plan to return to North Carolina eventually. “Even while we’re living far away for a little bit, Durham will always be our home,” Reece said in a statement last week.

“I’ll miss it like you wouldn’t believe,” Reece said of leaving his position on council. “It was the hardest decision I’ll ever make as a politician. But at the same time, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made as a husband and father.”

Reece’s resignation will allow him to support his wife and their business while keeping their family together, he said. His alternative option – to remain in Durham with his children while Laura works in Europe – didn’t line up with his priorities. 

“That’s just not the family life we all signed up for,” Reece said. 

Reece was re-elected as an at-large council member in 2019, and his current term was set to end on Dec. 4, 2023. 

In his statement to city council and constituents, Reece expressed appreciation for his colleagues and his time serving Durham. Announcing his resignation was “emotionally challenging,” Reece said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. But he said he’s leaving Durham in capable hands. 

“I am confident that this council is moving our city in the right direction,” Reece said. “I know that they will appoint someone who loves Durham as much as I do, and that’s what matters.” 

Once Reece officially resigns next week, city council will have 60 days to appoint his successor, as required by Durham’s city charter. The council will choose a replacement from a pool of applicants. Any adult living within city limits and registered to vote in Durham is eligible to apply. 

The process of appointing Reece’s successor will be quite similar to previous years’, according to Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, who will oversee the procedure. The council had to fill a vacancy in 2018 when Mayor Bill Bell retired, and again in 2020 following council member Vernetta Alston’s resignation.

Council will post an application online shortly after Reece’s last day, Middleton said. The list of applicants will be made available to the public, he added.

Durham citizens will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on candidates for Reece’s seat, Middleton said. Finalists selected by city council will be invited to an interview with current council members, he said, and each finalists’ interview will be broadcast online.

After the interviews are complete, citizens will be able to submit comments as in past years, Middleton said. In 2018, the council held an in-person public comment session. In 2020, due to the pandemic, Durhamites were instead invited to call in or email their comments regarding the finalists. 

After receiving public comment, council members will vote to select Reece’s successor. A finalist needs four votes from the six council members in order to be appointed.

“I think it’s a really strong process,” Reece said. “It provides transparency and allows anybody who wants to to apply, and it allows the public to weigh in with us about their thoughts and concerns about the various applicants, especially at the finalist stage.”   

Reece said he chose to announce his resignation now so that his successor will have ample time to get acclimated to the role ahead of city budget decisions this June. 

“I want the appointee to have enough time to dig into what is a pretty dense process,” he said. 

While his wife conducts business with their company’s new partners, Reece does not plan to work when his family arrives in Europe. He will miss serving Durham immensely, he said, but he’s ready for the change. 

“I’m going to be a stay-at-home dad for the next little while,” Reece said. “There are pleasures and rewards for that life as well, and I look forward to discovering them.” 

Above: Durham City Council member Charlie Reece, who won reelection in 2019, will depart the Bull City later this spring. Photo by Cameron Beach – 9th Street Journal

Rent relief program shutting down — less than a month after opening

A program that helps Durham residents struggling to pay rent because of the pandemic will close on Feb. 6 after just 25 days of operation.

The Durham Rent Relief Program’s closure was announced Jan. 31 by Legal Aid of North Carolina.  

The program’s overwhelming popularity during its brief lifespan tells the story of a housing crisis in Durham that preceded the pandemic and was exacerbated by it. City officials say there simply isn’t enough federal funding to meet the needs of the many renters struggling to make ends meet. 

“We already had a challenge before COVID being able to provide affordable housing,” said Reginald J. Johnson, Community Development Director for the City of Durham. “We already had a high poverty rate for a city of our size, despite the growing economy here. Then you add COVID on top of that, and here we are.” 

Residents and landlords have until Feb. 6 to apply for assistance with rent and utilities on Legal Aid NC’s website. Renters who are at “imminent risk of eviction” or are unemployed will be given priority, according to the agency. 

The Durham Housing Authority and Legal Aid will host a rental assistance event to aid residents with their program applications from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the T.A. Grady Recreation Center..

The program, which is funded by the City of Durham through the federal American Rescue Plan Act and administered by Legal Aid of North Carolina, opened on Jan. 12, 2022. Within three weeks,  it received 1,700 completed applications, with 1,400 applications still in progress according to Legal Aid.

Many Durham residents have struggled to keep up after losing their jobs or taking pay cuts because of COVID-19. Meanwhile, rental prices have soared. According to a recent report, Durham’s median rental price jumped 39 percent between March 2019 and August 2021, the second-highest increase among all cities surveyed.  

Johnson said city officials weren’t surprised by the large number of applications.  Federal funding ultimately was dwarfed by the vast needs of renters, he said.

“We don’t pretend to know all the answers to this issue,” Johnson said. “But what we do know is that amount of money that the federal government gave was fairly significant, and it was still not enough to meet the challenge.” 

With federal funding running out, organizations such as Stop Evictions Now, Community Empowerment Fund and Legal Aid are working to keep residents housed.

Kevin Atkins, a former housing access coordinator for Community Empowerment Fund, works closely with Durham renters looking for help. Legal Aid North Carolina kept many people from being displaced and evicted during the pandemic, he said. Still, the problem is daunting.  

Last year once funding started to go out, we knew there was going to be an overwhelming number of people going through this situation,” Atkins said. “And nothing’s changed, and it’s been two years now. It’s a lot of people that have very high rents that they haven’t been able to pay.”

Atkins says it’s likely that there are many more Durham renters facing eviction who simply don’t know about rent relief programs.

These numbers are a reflection of what’s been going on the last few years,” Atkins said. “There’s going to be a lot of people evicted, so I think that’s something that you can’t ignore at this point.”

The shortage in rent relief funding extends beyond Durham. A similar program in Wake County stopped accepting new applications for relief in January, according to reports on WRAL. 

Legal Aid of North Carolina is helping other cities with rent relief programs similar to the one in Durham. The agency also operates the statewide Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Eviction Program.

After the Durham program closes on Feb. 6, renters facing eviction can call Legal Aid of North Carolina’s toll-free Housing Helpline at 1-877-201-6426. In addition, Legal Aid’s Housing Helpline webpage offers free legal resources on eviction and renters’ rights.

Above, a rent relief program run by Durham’s Community Development Department and Legal Aid of NC has been flooded with applications. Photo by Kulsoom Rizavi – The 9th Street Journal

At a public hearing, views clash on proposed development near the Eno

​​Laura Jaramillo’s front yard turns into a huge lake every time it rains. 

Kimberly Hernandez watches as babies splash and play at West Point on the Eno, wondering whether the water will soon be unsafe for them to do so. 

Mary Sule fears that the thousands of hours she and fellow Eno River Association volunteers spent protecting the Eno will go to waste if the river is degraded.

These were a few of the worries expressed at a public hearing Thursday night by 26 citizens who spoke out against a large development proposed at Black Meadow Ridge, an area just south of West Point on the Eno city park. Developer Terramor Homes hopes to build about 400 housing units in the area.

“This development puts a huge environmental and financial stress on North Durham residents,” Jaramillo said.

Ten people spoke in support of the development, including five who are involved with Terramor Homes’ project. Supporters said that the project would enable hundreds of new families to come enjoy Durham—and the Eno. The hearing was conducted by the state Division of Water Resources, which is weighing whether or not to grant the project a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.

“This development parallels the growth of the city of Durham,” said Pastor Ronnie Northam Jr. of Faith Community Church, which borders the Eno. “It’s a game changer.”

According to Rick Trone of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, the project will result in almost 16,000 square feet of permanent riparian buffer loss. Riparian buffers are areas that border streams and protect water quality by reducing erosion and filtering pollution.

Opponents pointed out that the Black Meadow Ridge area was identified in the city’s 2018 Critical Areas Protection Plan as a “keystone” parcel that should be protected. 

They also expressed concern over the increase in impervious surfaces that will result from the development. Impervious surfaces are hard areas, like roofs and parking lots, that force water to run off until it reaches a storm drain or body of water. Residents of the nearby Argonne Hills neighborhood said more runoff can mean more flooding.

“We’ve got more flooding than we can handle as it is,” said John Lloyd. “There’s already too much pressure.” 

Runoff can also collect pollution, other speakers said. “The development will bring more cars, lawns, parking lots, pet waste, fertilizer, pesticides and oil,” Nick Tansey said. “It will run off newly paved surfaces and nosedive the quality of the river.” 

Preston Royster, a designer for the project, said the project has been designed in order to minimize environmental harm and other negative effects.    

“The development meets all local stormwater ordinances and won’t result in flooding,” he said.

“Our clients are doing everything over and above what they need to do to be in compliance with the regulations,” added Bob Zarzecki, a consultant on the project.   

But opponents of the proposed development argued that compliance with regulations is not enough. 

“This plan might be above and beyond,” said Cathy Lewis. “But it’s above and beyond old standards. We have climate change. This plan follows the letter of the law, but it doesn’t follow the spirit of the law.” 

Ryan Vu said the plans fail to take into account other new developments in the area, such as the nearby new Northern High School under construction on 227 acres near the Eno. Once the school is complete, opponents pointed out, it will add to the impervious surface in the area, contributing to more runoff.

Several members of nearby Faith Community Church spoke in favor of the project.

“As a member of the church, I think a new subdivision with more people will assist the church in reaching the masses,” said Carena Lemons.

Alexander Fields also praised the project as a way to bring people to Faith Community Church. “It’s a catalyst to help people find Christ, community and financial freedom.”

Opponents of the development also acknowledged the need for growth. Tansey said, “We definitely need more housing—but there are few worse places to develop it than here.”

Hernandez agreed, saying the park provides a clean, inexpensive space where families feel welcome and safe. 

“The Hispanic population often doesn’t have access to this kind of forum,” Hernandez said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but the people I know and the families I have spoken to are definitely against this.” 

Information about the online hearing was not widely disseminated, several speakers said. Additionally, many who had registered for the hearing were unable to join. 

Douglas Dowden of the N.C. Division of Water Resources stated that the department will accept written comments until 5 p.m. on February 21. Equal weight will be given to written comments as to the oral comments voiced during the hearing, he said. No additional public hearings are scheduled for the project, but comments can be submitted by email to PublicComments@ncdenr.gov.

Dowden said he will make a recommendation to Danny Smith, director of the Division of Water Resources, based on public comments and input by Division of Water Resources staff.  

Smith will then make the final determination, considering the written record, Dowden’s recommendation, and any concerns expressed by other commissioners, Dowden said. 

The stakes are high. 

Proponents of the development spoke excitedly of what they see as an opportunity for necessary growth. “This area has to grow if you expect to bring in more money and develop these communities,” said Christine Lutterloh.

Opponents spoke in anxious tones as they called upon the Division of Water Resources to deny the proposal. 

“West Point is a jewel and it will be horribly damaged by this development,” Jennifer Nygard said, her voice shaking.

“Green spaces like West Point won’t continue to exist if we keep eating away at their edges like this,” Tansey said. “We have the responsibility right now, me and you, to protect the one that we have some say in—the one close to home for us.

“The Eno River is the inheritance you can leave to my generation.”

 

 

 

Council approves pay raises for police, firefighters

City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve pay raises for police officers and firefighters of every rank, in an effort to counter staff shortages in Durham’s police and fire departments.

The raises, which take effect immediately, are intended to bring Durham’s public safety salaries up to competitive levels, after years of falling behind. Police officers and firefighters will begin receiving increased pay as soon as their next paycheck, on Jan. 28. 

“Durham will be where I believe it belongs, right at the top of the list of our peer cities in terms of compensating our first responders,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton. 

Before the raises, pay for Durham’s police and firefighters trailed behind market levels. Market research conducted by the city in August across 13 municipalities in North Carolina and Virginia found that Durham Police Department salaries lagged behind that of other cities by 12.4%, while fire department salaries lagged by 10.4%. 

Police recruits will receive a 10.6% raise, increasing their annual pay from $38,511 to $42,593. Firefighter recruits will receive a 14.3% raise, from $35,592 to $40,682 annually. Employees of higher ranks will receive proportionately equal increases in pay. The raises will cost the city a total of just over $4 million for the remainder of the fiscal year. 

Many Durham community activists have advocated for reforming or defunding the police, and reform efforts are underway, including the city’s new Community Safety Department. However, advocates for police reform did not comment during Tuesday’s meeting. 

Instead, Durham community members voiced their support for the raises in the public chat alongside the meeting’s livestream. The commenters included numerous police officers and firefighters. 

“Hoping to see the right thing done for Durham’s firefighters tonight,” wrote one firefighter ahead of the vote. 

The new compensation plans were developed collaboratively by the Durham Human Resources Department and the city’s public safety staff. 

Under the newly approved pay plan, Durham’s police and fire departments now offer the highest or second-highest salaries among a group of peer cities including Fayetteville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. City officials said they hope the increase in pay will help attract and retain new recruits to fill vacancies in both departments.

Turnover rates among police recruits have increased from 43.3% to 55.6% over a 12-month period as of November 2021. To make up for the lack of personnel, Police Chief Patrice Andrews announced in December that high-ranking officers and detectives would temporarily join patrol units.

The pay raises also come during a spike in crime and gun violence in Durham. A recent rash of shootings has taken the lives of many community members, while the city recorded its highest number of homicides ever committed in one year in 2021. 

Durham’s police and fire departments were overdue for a boost in salaries, based upon previously announced city goals.

A city pay plan adopted in 2017 calls for regular market adjustments to police and firefighters’ pay scales, along with merit raises for employees based on effective job performance. In recent years, however, both market adjustments and annual performance-based raises have been lacking.   

In 2018 and 2019, pay rates for police and fire department staff went unchanged. In 2020, due to pandemic-related budget constraints, there was again no market adjustment, and employees also failed to receive annual merit raises. In 2021, the city once again did not offer annual performance-based raises.

The new compensation plans approved on Tuesday will help the city recover ground lost in the past two years. 

“It’s not a final destination, but it’s an incredibly important step towards closing disparities in compensation for our workers here in Durham,” Middleton said.

As Martin Luther King Jr Day approaches, a new city councilman reflects on race and more

Leonardo Williams, co-owner of the Durham restaurant Zweli’s Kitchen and former educator, was sworn into office as a Durham City Council member in December. As he begins his work representing Ward 3, COVID-19 is exacerbating racial inequalities in Durham. Looking ahead to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, The 9th Street Journal asked Williams about some of the complex challenges facing Durham, including wealth disparities, police reform and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

9th Street JournalDurham has obviously had prosperity in the last decade, but there’s a disparity: Roughly 18% of Durham’s Black residents and nearly a third of Hispanics live under the poverty line, while far fewer white people do. How can we heal these wounds?

Leonardo Williams: I’m a Black small business owner. I didn’t give up my job to run for office; we are still running our business. It’s important to have that perspective on the council. Folks naturally govern and analyze situations from their own perspective, their own lived experiences. And with Omicron being as transmissible as it is, when we shut the city down, you lose businesses, you’re going to lose jobs, and poverty is going to smack you harder than ever before. 

In regards to race and racial equity, the city made a significant move in establishing the Racial Equity Task Force. They’ve done their work and we have to follow through on those things. But also, it’s very important to ensure that we create equity. We can all do this together. We can fight for more equitable pay, pay transparency, pay worth and all of those things. And also, ask questions: Who has access to what jobs? We can be conscious of that. We can have a body of government say, “You may have a criminal record, but you can still work for the city, to a limit.” We have to shape the government to be more agile.

9th Street: The Racial Equity Task Force released some suggestions about how to deal with the wealth gap: for instance, a local reparations program, guaranteed basic income and raising the minimum wage. Do you think those are likely to take shape this year? 

LW: Those programs are great. They’re good ideas, and they’re in the right direction. But I think when we incorporate the community and partner with the private sector, we can go a lot further and can be a lot more sustainable and accountable. About reparations—for me, I do not think the most effective way to adhere to reparations is to have a one-time payout. Because our history and our disenfranchisement is so much more valuable than one payout. Generations have been taken away, I want generations back.

9th Street: The gun violence uptick has been central to the experience of Durham youth recently, including recent deaths of children. And, again, there are significant racial disparities in who is affected. What can the city do going forward on this issue?

LW: What is the most direct gateway to our youth? Education. So first of all, the city has to get more involved in  education. We can’t be disconnected from our youth because we don’t fund the education system. Teaching and learning is beyond the classroom—it’s everywhere. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has funding for afterschool programs that they are looking to disperse—additional funding that came in due to COVID. So I’ll be looking to see how we can get some of that funding in Durham. 

Our youth do not have enough to do. That’s why we find them going where they’re accepted, and that’s on the streets. I’m a Black male, a professional, I need to be spending time with other young Black men in this community. I start with my son, and just being present with him. And I have to do that for young boys in my neighborhood as well. It’s going to take engagement, basically. And I think the city can play some very formal roles in that.

9th Street: In terms of criminal justice reform, there’s the Community Safety and Wellness Task force, as well as the new Community Safety Department here in Durham. Is Durham looking towards more community-led initiatives to de-center policing?

LW: Those task forces are necessary, because if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have those ideas to build on. Ultimately, we do want to grow ourselves to be less reliant on policing the way we know it. 

We need good policing. And we have to make bad police officers feel very uncomfortable and unwelcome. You have to build a culture of policing internally where they are calling out their own. You also have to have the community doing its part. And I think that’s what the Community Safety and Wellness Taskforce does and I think that’s what the Racial Equity Task Force does. 

We’re gonna need institutional policing. I want us to rely on community policing more, but that’s the long game. 

9th Street: Housing in Durham has obviously been a huge issue that falls along racial divides, for instance when you look at who is evicted most often. And, this has been exacerbated by COVID. What can the city council do to more intentionally hit this issue? 

LW: Yeah, that’s a loaded one. I literally just got off a call with one of the residents at Braswell apartments—gosh, just emotional. I’m calling to the table property owners, residential and commercial. I’m passionate about this. First of all, housing stability is the basic foundation of doing anything that you need to do such as a jobs and transportation. 

You know, this woman I was speaking to is supposed to be looking for an apartment, but she can’t because she’s in her apartment right now with COVID. I can go on and on about these stories. So what I’m doing right now is I’m pulling together a few [leaders]. I want the government to be a partner with the private sector in  economic development. Yes, we’re gonna make money. We’re gonna be strong economically. But we’re not leaving anyone behind. We’re not pushing anybody out. And that’s what I’ll be working on. If I don’t get anything else done on city council in these four years, you will see that happen.

And what that looks like is developing a small, robust business support apparatus, where we’re not only providing technical assistance, but we’re actually going out finding business and building businesses. We’re going to honor risk-takers, we’re going to identify talent here locally, and invest in it. We’re going to bring venture capital firms here that invest in ideas here locally.

We have all of what it takes to be a beautiful, economically strong city without leaving anyone behind.

9th Street: Obviously, there’s a lot of pain there. Where is there hope for the future? 

LW: You know, COVID has provided us somewhat of a reset. And while it’s, yes, survival of the fittest, it’s also a time where the playing field gets even, is leveling out, where it’s hard for everybody.—where you can take a chance and better yourself. Because it’s hard for everybody. So I think that’s a reason for everybody to be hopeful, just creating more access to opportunity. That’s what we’re gonna focus on.

Officials, activists clash over plans to expand youth detention center

Durham officials clashed with prison abolitionists Thursday night over a $30 million plan to more than double the size of the county’s juvenile detention center.

Durham Beyond Policing, which advocates for diverting all funding for police and prisons into social programs, organized the virtual town hall. Over 120 Durhamites attended, many of them  opposed to county plans to replace the 14-bed Durham County Youth Home with a 36-bed facility.

County commissioners and Youth Home Director Angela Nunn pointed to the 38-year-old building’s outdated facilities and limited bedspace. But many community members say that  expanding the juvenile justice system would harm Durham’s youth.

This debate comes as communities throughout North Carolina and the United States grapple with a criminal justice system that disproportionately punishes poor people and racial minorities of all ages. 

“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” Nunn said of the detention facility. “Our families are in crisis and we need to help.”

Said community member Nicole Cooper, “If [detained youth] didn’t have mental health issues when they were incarcerated, they will when they are released.”

The $30 million question

In a 2015 report to the county, Nunn identified several serious problems with the Youth Home.

She described “a dangerous environment for staff and residents,” plagued by faulty plumbing, fire code violations, bad lighting and a failing door control system. But the “greatest security concern” was the facility’s layout, which prevented staff from separating youth based on gender or security level.  

The report also raised doubts about the Youth Home’s ability to house Durham juveniles if the state were to start trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Raise the Age, the law that mandates that courts do this, passed in 2019—resulting in even less bedspace at the detention center.

“The facility is so bad, it’s sad to see anyone in that place, no matter what they have done,” Commissioner Chair Brenda Howerton said at the town hall.

That’s why commissioners agreed to an overhaul of the facility. The new Youth Home, which the city has been planning since 2015, would include an assessment center to determine children’s needs and connect them with programs and services. And the facility would still have enough room to expand into a 60-bed center if it ever needed to.

The expanded detention center would stand on the same plot of land as the current one, which would be demolished once the new one is completed.

But Durham activists argued that the $30-million expansion budget should go to social programs that address the root causes of youth delinquency. In an on-the-spot brainstorming session, community members suggested more than 50 alternative uses for the money.

Ideas included mental health services, counselors, drug rehabilitation programs, universal childcare, universal pre-K and a youth center.

“This is why public input is necessary!” the Durham Beyond Policing admin wrote in the Zoom chat. “Amazing ideas y’all.”

Advocates clash

For the first half of the town hall, which started at 7 p.m and ran until about 9:15 p.m., opponents of the new Youth Home raised a variety of concerns.

Organizer Tyler Whittenberg argued that detention centers isolate children and worsen preexisting issues. And Meghan McDowell, a professor of history and social justice at Winston-Salem State University, pointed out that youth incarceration rates have declined over the past ten years. Since 2016, the Youth Home has never averaged more than 12.6 detainees per quarter.

Other community members spoke emotionally about Durham County’s handling of children’s offenses and mental health crises.

One woman’s daughter was violent, lit fires in the house, showed signs of kleptomania and said she heard voices. But for six years, professionals told the mother that the girl had “no obvious mental health challenges.”

Another woman still grieves the death of her 16-year-old daughter, who died in the Durham County jail before Raise the Age passed.

When representatives from the county government took the virtual floor, however, the tone shifted dramatically.

Director Nunn’s voice was sharp with anger as she addressed organizers’ critiques. She noted that although the quarterly averages don’t show it, the Youth Home’s population fluctuates from day to day.

“We may have 14 [youth] today, 12 tomorrow and by the weekend we may empty to five,” she said.

This means the Youth Home “often” runs out of bed space and must send children to one of the state’s 11 other juvenile detention centers. The nearest of these is in Butner, 12 miles from downtown Durham.

In the chat, Durhamites heckled Nunn as she spoke, repeatedly asking why the Youth Home would ever need to expand to 60 beds. Some argued that having additional beds “creates an imperative” to fill them, even though the courts, not the Youth Home, control who gets sent there. And Whittenberg interrupted Nunn four times to urge officials to renovate the existing facility, rather than build a new one.  

“I just wanted to intervene for a second,” said organizer Ronda Taylor Bullock, closing out the argument. “Let’s take some deep breaths.”

Commissioners respond

In the last portion of the town hall, four of the Durham County Commissioners who attended — Brenda Howerton, Wendy Jacobs, Nida Allam and Heidi Carter — responded to community concerns. 

Howerton, the first to speak, blasted organizers for dismissing the reality of violent crimes.

“I’m a Black mother,” she said. “I don’t want my child to be in jail. But I also understand that when [a child] picks up a gun and murders someone else’s child, that child is in pain. And if you want to put them back on the street to murder someone else before they have a chance to be healed—is that what you’re looking to do?”

Jacobs, Allam and Carter were more conciliatory. All raised the possibility of shutting down the Youth Home if that’s what the public wants, although this would mean sending Durham youth to out-of-county detention centers.

Organizers, for their part, bemoaned a lack of communication prior to the town hall. While the five-member County Commission had discussed the Youth Home proposal at multiple public meetings, many Durhamites said they’d only recently heard about it.

Commissioners agreed to hold another public hearing on the Youth Home soon.  

Said Commissioner Allam, “I really appreciate you guys giving us this opportunity as commissioners to be a part of this conversation and listen.”

 

Rep. David Price reflects on 3 decades in U.S. House ahead of retirement

For Rep. David Price, there will never be a perfect moment to retire. 

“I don’t think it’s ever a safe time to step down,” he told The 9th Street Journal. “If you’re looking for closure, this isn’t the job for you.”

Imperfect as it may be, Price’s time to bow out of politics has come. He announced on Oct. 19 that he will not run for re-election after a 24-year career serving North Carolina’s 4th District. As his career comes to a close, Price reflected on his accomplishments and offered his thoughts on the future of America’s political institutions.

He had expected to retire earlier, but the 2016 presidential election halted his plans, he said. After spending a decade and a half helping other countries bolster democratic institutions through the House Democracy Partnership he founded, his own country’s democratic norms faced a new threat: Donald Trump. He couldn’t leave, he decided, and instead spent much of the next four years working with other Democrats to restrain Trump. 

Price also postponed his retirement because he anticipated Democrats winning back the House in 2018. With his party in control, he became the House’s Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcomitte’s chair and discovered a “long list of things” he could do as a leader.

“It has been very satisfying to serve in leadership roles and end up getting a lot of things done,” he said. 

The Institutionalist

Price has a simple recipe for success: He gets things done without fanfare. He first ran for office after watching Democrats get crushed in the 1984 election. He was serving as the state’s Democratic Party Chairman at the time, and when his party lost three congressional seats and a Senate race, he wondered — if the candidate’s he worked for were losing, could he win? 

It turned out he could. He was first elected as a representative in 1987.

Of the hundreds of pieces of legislation that have passed through Capitol Hill while he’s been in office, Price said he is proud that he helped enable students to deduct loans from taxes through the Education Affordability Act. He also highlighted how he expanded federal teacher training programs with the Teaching Fellows Act and required political candidates to say, “I approve of this message,” in ads with the Stand By Your Ad Act. 

Locally, Price’s fondest wins include helping to bring an Environmental Protection Agency hub to Research Triangle Park, expanding inner city rail in the Southeast, and elevating the issue of affordable housing.

Price strived for political change through institutional efforts such as campaign budget reform and improved the budget process as a leading member of the Appropriations Committee. On an individual level, he tried to lead through cooperation.

“You choose the way you conduct yourself everyday,” he said. “In your leadership positions, you can either put fuel on the fire or you set another kind of pattern where you can, cooperating where it’s possible to do so. I’ve tried to do the latter.”

Cooperation, however, has not always been feasible, Price added. While he has facilitated bipartisanship through efforts such as the House Democracy Partnership, he has also tried to recognize its limits and not “fetishize” it. Most recently, he refused to compromise with undemocratic components of the Trump-wing of the Republican party. 

“There are times when you need to stand your ground and fight either individually, or as a party,” he said. “You cooperate where you can, you fight where you must. And there’s a real political art in deciding which is which.”

While Price feels more comfortable retiring during a Biden presidency, he still worries about pervasive threats to democratic institutions from colleagues who are seduced by tribal politics and care little about making democratic institutions work. He won’t cooperate with colleagues who refuse to accept election results and want to restrict fair elections, he said.

“We’re in a new territory here with respect to the future of democracy and the ability to make a peaceful transition of power, and to recognize a legitimate election,” Price said. “Who ever thought we’d be worried about that in the USA?”

In the eyes of his colleagues

Asher Hildebrand, Price’s former chief of staff, believes Price is “somebody who probably doesn’t get as much respect as due.” 

That’s partly because he worked as a budget appropriator, a gig that receives little public attention, said Hildebrand, who now works as a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. But that was the least of Price’s concerns, he added. His goal was to legislate effectively. He wanted his staff to push him into unfamiliar policy territories. Price “valued policy entrepreneurship,” Hildebrand said, so he encouraged even his youngest interns to provide substantive input on pressing decisions. 

“His ability to maintain that sense of possibility, hope, and optimism for the future, despite the world burning around us, stands out as remarkable,” Hildebrand said.

Price’s Congressional expertise made him a particularly effective legislator, Hildebrand added. 

“There’s really nobody else in Congress today who understands how Congress as an institution functions and understands the vitality of the legislature as a key part of our democracy,” he said.

 Even now, Price’s experience and expertise carry weight. Folks across the political spectrum should listen to him when he shares concerns, Hildebrand said. 

State Sen. Wiley Nickel, who is running for Price’s seat, said Price is known as the “policy guy.”

The representative excels in the art of cooperation, Nickel said. “He is someone who avoided partisan political games” and has always “focused on making relationships with his colleagues rather than jumping in front of an issue and grandstanding,” Nickel added.

What comes next

The race for Price’s seat will be competitive. Regional political heavyweights like Durham Democratic state Sen. Mike Woodard and former state Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. told The News & Observer that they’re considering running. Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam announced she’ll run on Monday. 

In his bid for the seat, Nickel hopes to continue Price’s legacy of policy-oriented public service focused on what he calls “dinner table issues” that matter most to the district’s families. Some of the core policies he plans to run on are universal health care, universal pre-K, and climate change. 

The primary will take place on March 8, 2022, and the general election will take place on Nov. 8th, 2022. The filing deadline is Dec. 17.

Price said he has not yet planned what he will do post-retirement: These last 14 months in office have his full attention. He still has to fight for Biden’s reconciliation bill, and his committee already wrote a budget appropriations bill that is awaiting senate approval. He will also continue to work on local policy projects such as housing and transportation.

Political uncertainties will loom over his activity up until his final days, but Price knows he will have to move on.

“This political juncture is more of an unknown quantity, but at some point, one has to pass the baton, despite whatever is ongoing,” Price said.

Ahead of the impending handoff, Price hesitates to determine own legacy. That is something he would prefer to leave to others, he said. Still, he has some thoughts about how he wants to be remembered.

“I hope I’m thought of as an institutionalist who has contributed to this institution,” he said. “There’s a mixed report card, I would say, about how this institution is faring. And I’ve tried to be part of the solution. But if there’s anything that’s a work in progress, it’s that: democracy.”

At top: U.S. Rep. David Price represents North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, which includes Durham County. Photo courtesy of Rep. David Price.

O’Neal to face Caballero in general election

Story by Rebecca Schneid and Olivia Olsher; Photos by Josie Vonk

City Council Member Javiera Caballero and former judge Elaine O’Neal coasted to an easy victory in Tuesday’s mayoral primary in Durham. The two candidates will compete in the Nov. 2 general election to replace two-term mayor Steve Schewel, who chose not to run again.

With all 56 precincts reporting, O’Neal had 68% to 25% for Caballero.

In the two contested races for City Council seats, the incumbents finished strong. Incumbent DeDreana Freeman had a commanding lead over Marion Johnson in Ward I and Mark-Anthony Middleton surged well ahead of fellow pastor Sylvester Williams in Ward II. But rather than bask in his victory, Middleton said it was important to focus on the critical issue of gun violence. 

“Not a lot of victory laps will be had tonight,” said Middleton. “Children tonight will be jumping into bathtubs because of gun violence. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The top two candidates in each race advance to the general election.

With only two candidates for Ward III, where current City Council member Pierce Freelon is stepping down, A.J. Williams and Leonardo Williams automatically progress to the general election.

City Council election results with all 56 precincts reporting – State Board of Elections

(See official election results here.)

There were more voting booths than voters at the precinct at St. Stephens Episcopal Church. Photo by Josie Vonk – The 9th Street Journal

Both mayoral candidates spent their day doing last-minute chatting with voters outside polling spots across the city. Caballero sat out front of the St. Stephens Episcopal Church in a foldable lawn chair, next to some signs, catching voters on their way into the polling site. She let them know she was a candidate on the ballot, and asked them to vote for her as they entered.

O’Neal stopped by Morehead Elementary School, where she was surrounded by her close friends and supporters wearing campaign garb, all cheering “Vote for O’Neal” at people who passed by. 

“It takes people, the people who came out of their houses and took a leap for me, and for that I am ever so grateful, and you just cannot take that for granted,” O’Neal said. “Next steps: to rest up and get back out there tomorrow.”

In photo at top, Elaine O’Neal did some last-minute campaigning on Election Day. Photo by Josie Vonk, The 9th Street Journal.

Meet the seven candidates running for Durham mayor, including Bree Davis, Daryl Quick, and Jahnmaud Lane

By Julianna Rennie and Jake Sheridan

There’s one week left for Durham voters to cast their ballots before the primary election on Oct. 5. The outcome will determine the two finalists in each of the four City Council races. 

There are seven candidates vying for the mayor’s seat. Durham’s current mayor, Steve Schewel, is not seeking reelection. 

The 9th Street Journal recently profiled some of the candidates. Check out our stories on City Council member Javiera Caballero, former judge Elaine O’Neal, housing advocate Charlitta Burruss, and youth minister Rebecca Harvard Barnes

Here’s what you need to know about the remaining three candidates: Bree Davis, Daryl Quick and Jahnmaud Lane.

Bree Davis

Born in sunny South Florida, Bree Davis comes from a family of changemakers. Her father worked as a Baptist minister and coordinated outreach for Haitian and Cuban refugees. 

“This is kind of my legacy,” she told the 9th Street Journal.  

After moving to Durham 12 years ago, Davis experienced houselessness, food insecurity, and underemployment. As a single mom and bisexual Black woman, Davis says she knows what it feels like to fall through the cracks.

If elected, Davis promises to make sure that all Durham residents benefit from the city’s recent economic boom. 

“The goal has been achieved, but now we have to pick up the folks that have been left behind,” she said.

Her other policy priorities include affordable housing and community safety. In her INDY Week candidate questionnaire, Davis wrote that she would fully fund the Durham Police Department while exploring alternatives to policing through Durham’s new Community Safety Department. 

Davis currently works as a research coordinator for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She started her own social media consulting company, Social Media Phobia Solutions, in 2011. She’s also a collage artist and filmmaker

Daryl Quick

Daryl Quick is pledging to “make a better Durham by getting back to the basics.”

Throughout the campaign, Quick has talked openly about his experiences growing up in public housing with family members who struggled with drug addiction. 

A native Durhamite, Quick hopes to inspire children experiencing poverty to dream of running for public office.

His platform addresses violent crime, social services, and infrastructure.

Quick promotes his campaign heavily on his Facebook page. In a Sept. 8 post, he wrote, “No more status quo! No more gentrification! No more low wage paying jobs! No more kids can’t play! No more walking past a homeless person downtown!”

Jahnmaud Lane

Jahnmaud Lane isn’t just a rare Durham Republican: He’s a highly followed conservative commentator. 

His Facebook page, “Mind of Jamal,” has over 300,000 followers. The clips regularly stretch over an hour. 

In his videos, the adamant Trump supporter pours over a range of far-right topics. He recently criticized coronavirus vaccines and workers’ unions, decried calls for national political unity, and urged his followers to “break out the Old Dixie” because “this union stuff aint working.” Lane often speaks in front of a Confederate flag. 

He streams videos on YouTube, too, but the apparently associated “MindofJamal” Twitter account has been suspended. 

Lane did not reply to a call requesting an interview. He described himself as a former “no-good, piece-of-trash drug dealer” in an interview with The News & Observer

The article noted that he was charged in 2001 with a misdemeanor for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Two years later, he spent over a year in a state corrections facility for assaulting and seriously injuring another person, the article added. 

In the News & Observer piece, Lane also acknowledged that he attended the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, though he said he didn’t enter the Capitol building. 

On Lane’s campaign website, his platform focuses on addressing a rise in violent crime. He would like to pay police officers more. His other policy ideas include building more affordable housing and more intensely inspecting public housing facilities for tenant damage.

***

For more information on when and how to vote in the 2021 Durham city elections, check out our article on important dates and voting rules

The 9th Street Journal will continue to cover the city elections. Check in with us for more candidates profiles, campaign coverage and other important updates. You can submit questions and news tips to our staff by emailing jacob.sheridan@duke.edu or julianna.rennie@duke.edu.

At top: Bree Davis is one of seven candidates running to be Durham’s next mayor. Photo provided by Bree Davis.

Burruss banks on ‘boots on the ground’ experience in her mayoral campaign

As mayoral candidate Charlitta Burruss showed us around her neighborhood, Edgemont Elms, she stopped at the road in front of her house and pointed to the ground where bullet shells had strewn the street the night before. 

“I picked up 15 shells from this parking lot,” said Burruss, shaking her head. 

Having served on the resident councils of several Durham Housing Authority communities – she previously lived in Calvert Place – Burruss is familiar with the gun violence and affordable housing crises facing the city. 

Through her campaign, Burruss hopes to encourage others from low-income neighborhoods to run for political office. She said people like her, who have relationships with residents of Durham’s often-overlooked communities, have an important perspective to share. 

“We don’t consider people who are actually boots on the ground, that are actually in the community and making a big impact,” Burruss told the 9th Street Journal. 

In June this year, after hearing gunfire every night from her home in Edgemont Elms, Burruss organized a community barbecue, inviting district police and local families to spend time together and build relationships. In addition to her resident council responsibilities, Burruss is a member of the Residential Advisory Board of DHA and chairperson for the Consumer Family Advisory Committee of Durham.

In 2018, she received a Neighborhood Spotlight Award for her community outreach effort in Durham, which included organizing food and toy donations and community events. 

This campaign marks Burruss’s fourth attempt at running for political office in North Carolina. She was a candidate for mayor of Monroe in 2007; town council in Marshville in 2011; and city council in Durham in 2019, receiving 1,258 votes. 

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1959, Burruss comes from a family of preachers. After working many different jobs to support her son, Burruss decided to pursue higher education in her late 40’s, receiving an associate’s degree in Human Services from South Piedmont Community College in 2004 and a Bachelor of Sciences in social work from Gardner-Webb University in 2006. 

Though she has never held a political office, Burruss is an experienced community leader; she said her roots in the community give her an advantage over other candidates. For example, Burruss has become frustrated by what sees as broken communication channels between DHA residents and local government officials. In her experience, the local government makes a dangerous presumption that all DHA residents have access to  computers and internet required to find information about affordable housing and employment opportunities.

“Durham officials don’t realize not everybody can afford internet access, and older people are not using computers,” said Burruss. 

Alternative methods of communication, such as electronic billboards and posters containing updates from the local government, could be a better way to reach those without internet access, she said. 

Patching the communication gaps between low-income residents and the Durham mayor’s office, Burruss said, is a vital prerequisite to addressing the issues she is most passionate about — crime, affordable housing, and employment. 

Addressing crime and poverty would be Burruss’s main priority as mayor. She believes investment in education and parental support in communities with high crime rates can help break this cycle. 

Burruss does not support defunding the police in Durham. Rather, she believes police officers should be retrained to better communicate with residents and those with mental health conditions. She also supports paying police officers more so they don’t leave to find work in counties offering higher salaries.

She says her experience as a liaison between local residents, police, and the Housing Authority positions her well to improve city relations as mayor. If elected, Burruss plans to spend time in Durham, speaking to people “on the ground” to inform her policy decisions. 

“If I were in the mayor’s chair, you’d be able to put your hands on me,” said Burruss. 

At the top: Mayoral candidate Charlitta Burruss serves on the resident council for her neighborhood, Edgemont Elms. 9th Street Journal photo by Josie Vonk.