New Raleigh leaders sweep in, ready to make change

RALEIGH, N,C, (WTVD) -- At an energetic pace, Raleigh's new city council got to work Tuesday, bringing the change its new members and mayor promised to deliver during the campaign.

Among the items brought to the table: a stay on restrictive rules for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, a review of the city's regulations for 'granny flats' or backyard cottages, as well as its rules for scooters as one way to ensure Raleigh is an innovative leader in public transportation.

Affordable housing, which was the top issue during Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin's campaign, will have to wait, but not for long.

During the council's swearing-in ceremony at Raleigh Union Station on Monday night, Baldwin proposed a "quality of life initiative;" a bond referendum next November asking Raleigh taxpayers to cover phase 1 of the Dix Park build-out, new funding for parks and greenways, and housing affordability.

Baldwin called a special work session for December 17 to address affordable housing, inviting Durham Mayor Steve Schewel to attend and provide insight on the Bull City's strategy behind its recently-passed $95 million affordable housing bond.

Council members, four of whom were marking their first day on the job, also made a point to discuss ways to improve accessibility and equality, bringing ideas of changing the time of meetings, moving works sessions out into the city, and providing translation services for its meetings.

David Cox, who won re-election, asked the council to look at ways it can improve Raleigh's Equality Index score through the Human Rights Campaign.

"I think there's an awareness that probably wasn't discussed before, but it's there," Baldwin said. "It's real. I saw people in the audience today who never come to city council meetings, sitting there with pride that they have representation now on our council, people from our LGBT community, people from our Latino community."

Baldwin also offered the city's letter of consent which was unanimously approved, officially opting Raleigh into the federal government's Refugee Resettlement Program.

"We were contacted by refugee organizations who were concerned that they would no longer be able to take in family members and others who were released from the refugee program, all legal, and all legitimate," she said. "So we just wanted to make sure that we show our concern and compassion for others."

Baldwin has been open about her desire to change the tone of city council, which was previously plagued by what many members referred to as a toxic political culture.

During her opening remarks, she reemphasized to the new council the importance of abiding by their code of conduct when it comes to properly interacting with city staff.

In an effort to show staff how valued they are, Baldwin moved to instate a monthly award that would put a $500 check into the hands of one employee who comes forward with the best big idea to move the city forward.

"We want to reward employees, empower them and make sure they are bringing forward their big ideas and what they can do to improve efficiency, government service," she said.

The new mayor also shared details on an upcoming "ideation session" she's referring to as Raleigh Unleashed -- where boards and commissions will gather to discuss ideas without the pressure of the city council's presence.

"I don't want city council influencing their work," she said. "This is about them and their ideas."

The December 17 work session will take place at 11:30 a.m. in the municipal building.
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