Recap from the Nov. 3 Town Hall at Nolia

What a night! It was a privilege to host Nolia’s first Town Hall meeting on November 3, 2019 in an effort to help create space for Durham residents and local candidates to dialogue about the important issues of this city and the local Nov. 5 election.

The following are some brief notes recorded from our time together, this is by no means a full “meeting minutes” version of the evening. Too much was covered to share in an article format. The goal of this article is to promote more awareness on the issues and candidate platforms.

*This is NOT an endorsement for any particular candidate(s).

Voting takes place Tuesday, Nov. 5. Find your nearest polling location here:

Notes from each candidate’s opening Statements:

Sylvester Williams (mayoral candidate):

Is a retired financial analyst, life long Durhamite. He is a pastor with a strong emphasis on financial accountability and community engagement.

Jackie Wagstaff (city council at-large candidate):

Has 31 years of Political experience and feels she understands issues in the Durham community. Her approach is to be boots on the ground in real relationships as an engaged community member.

Charlie Reece (city council at-large candidate):

From Winston Salem, family has roots in Durham for generations. Has been on city council for 4 years. Wants to make Durham livable for everyone and support small business. Primary issues areas of focus are housing access and affordability, as well as economic development.

Daniel Meier (city council at-large candidate):

Criminal defense attorney who wants to represent what the people want. Safety for all communities is his priority. He feels we should support law enforcement in the short term, with a strong focus on economic growth in the long term. 

Javiera Caballero (city council at-large candidate):

Has been serving on city council for 20 months. Has lived in other cities like Chicago. Believes gentrification is a major issue. Wants affordable housing. She is a former teacher and education consultant. Priorities are housing, expanding democratic engagement in Latinx and Asian community which makes up an increasing portion of Durham’s population, and sustainability. She mentioned a need to think about the long-term in decision making on issues like crime and climate issues.

Joshua Gunn (city council at-large candidate):

Is a 4th generation Durhamite. He wants to grow Durham’s economy and address income inequality. He also believe more needs to be done to address crime. His areas of focus are economic development, workforce development, and public safety as the first priority

Not present: Mayor Steve Schewel, City Council Member Jillian Johnson.

Additional dialogue from the evening: 

All candidates mentioned safety, housing, and economic development as priorities in their platforms, but there was a lot of difference in how they thought these should be addressed. The The citizens of Durham in attendance also mentioned public safety as a primary concern. 

Jackie criticized the three members currently serving on city council along with Mayor Steve Schewel, who reportedly “said no” the Chief Davis’ proposal to hire more to the police force to address the crime issue in Durham. Charlie expressed that he felt the community did not want to see increased police presence in their communities and that in his understanding, statistically more police does not correlate with lower crime. Many voices in the audience expressed the opposite, saying that they definitely wanted more police presence (through relational-style policing) and availability in their communities. 

It seemed all the candidates agreed that better economics and job opportunities for the black community and other minorities would lead to lower crime in the long term. Charlie wants to support a bill that will support minority women small business owners because statistically they hire more women and minorities. As far as supporting economic development in Durham, Charlie and Josh Gunn had differing views. Charlie was more interested in supporting small businesses and local entrepreneurs and criticized Joshua saying he wanted to ‘give millions to big companies”. Joshua, in response, said he’s interested in supporting bigger industry as a part of the economic strategy because “people need jobs now” and feels that ultimately this creates increased entrepreneurial activity for people who rely on day jobs to fund their ventures.

A community member brought up the statistic that black males are 2.5x’s more likely to be unemployed and asked the incumbents what their plans were to address this issue. Jackie proposed more development projects and job-retraining programs. Charlie also listed job re-training and outreach to hook people up with those programs and economic incentive grants. Joshua said it is important to use financial incentivization as a means to encourage companies to hire more minorities. Javiera talked about how the City is currently compiling a vendor list of minority owned business in an effort to get them access to government contracts. 

As far as the policing issue, we got the impression that Jackie, Sylvester, Daniel, and Joshua expressed they do want to see more police. Sylvester proposed that we ought to hire police from the community within Durham and increasing their salaries. Charlie rebuttled by saying that the solution isn’t as simple, because one can’t legally hire just from Durham, but rather that it can be incentivized through pay incentives. Daniel wants to see more trust building from the police force with the community. 

The Durham Affordable Housing Bond:

This was a major point of contention, sparking a lot of debate in the forum.

Supporters of the bond include Charlie, Javiera, and Joshua. 

Charlie and Javiera (along with Mayor Schewel who sent his regards via email) believe that the Bond is key to keeping Durham diverse and affordable for all its citizens.

Joshua specifically mentioned that the key to success with the Bond is to elect the right officials who are in effective relationship with the people of Durham. He encouraged us to look up the Urban Renewal Bond as a warning of how NOT to execute this project.

Daniel didn’t have time to speak to this issue in detail, we’re not sure of his exact stance on it.

Jackie and Sylvester are in stark opposition of the Bond, saying that they don’t believe it will accomplish its goal of diversity and inclusion, primarily because of financial mismanagement and because of who would be constructing, and benefiting from, the project.

The general consensus from the audience in attendance is that if the Bond is passed during this election, there needs to be strong accountability measures in place ahead of time to avoid some of the same pitfalls from the Light Rail failure. 

Here is more information on the current housing strategy:

Sylvester also encourages readers to visit his FB page where he explains why he believes the bond is flawed. 

For more on Public Transit issues:

For more info on the candidates positions, IndyWeek has published questionnaires on each candidate:

The takeaways:

1) Get informed on the issues. Do your own research.
2) Be sure to make your voice heard in the upcoming local election. Go vote!

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