The founding of Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs)

I conducted my first East Citizens Advisory Council (East CAC) meeting for the first time in years. It’s been a year since the CAC met but it felt good to be doing something again.

I thought it was prudent to create a presentation about CACs, since there are new neighbors in the area who aren’t familiar with them. I’m also slated to talk to the Wake One Water group (a Wake County board) about CACs this Friday and a presentation could be useful for that call as well.

I slapped some slides together at the last minute, putting in the “facts” that I had assembled over the years of participating in CACs. There were holes in my knowledge, though, that drove me to do some research today on the murky early days of CACs. What I found surprised me.

I was able to finally view archives of the Raleigh News and Observer through the State Library and searched these for mentions of CACs. Of course I found mentions from 1974, the year commonly stated as the birth year of CACs. As I kept digging, I was surprised that more mentions came up. Earlier.

Many of them in 1973.
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A Requiem for Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils – Letter to the Editor

After some back and forth with the N&O editorial staff, I have trimmed my CAC op-ed into more of a long letter. Hopefully it will run in Friday’s edition.

A Requiem for Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils

Amid concerns that rapid growth was distancing city leaders from the community, Raleigh launched its Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs). For 46 years, CACs were a forum where citizens and government officials could exchange information and concerns until Raleigh City Council abruptly ended this decades-long partnership in a vote that demonstrated a shocking lack of transparency and good governance.

Much has been made of the (merely advisory) role played by CACs in rezoning cases but CACs were so much more. CACs stepped in when neighbors needed help, organized school supplies drives, and provided a forum where wary neighbors met with Raleigh Police officers to build connections, and the list goes on. It didn’t matter who you were, if you were a resident your voice counted.

All other city advisory boards get their direction from the top; work must first be approved by the City Council. In this model, how do we ensure citizen concerns are adequately addressed? Who’s doing the listening and who’s doing the talking? Absent the independence of CACs, community engagement quickly devolves into a one-way conversation. The partnership is no more.

CACs had their challenges but they also represented one of the most basic forms of democracy: neighbors coming together to work things out. We will be hard-pressed to do better.

A Requiem for Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils

Update 12 Feb: After some back-and-forth with the N&O editorial staff, I have trimmed my op-ed into a long letter.

I wrote and submitted this 500-word Op-Ed to the News and Observer tonight. I hope they run it. I will be forever passionate about citizen engagement (real citizen engagement) and oppose any efforts to water it down.

A Requiem for Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils

In 1974, amid concerns that Raleigh’s rapid growth was distancing city leaders from the community they served, Mayor Clarence Lightner launched Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs). CACs offered a forum where citizens and government officials could share information and concerns. For over 46 years, the city’s 18 CACs and their parent organization, the Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council (RCAC) was the only advisory board not appointed by City Council, a unique status that granted neighbors the freedom to discuss what was important to them and a means to provide unfiltered insight to City Council. Sadly, in a vote that demonstrated a shocking lack of transparency and good government, Raleigh’s mayor and City Council abruptly ended this decades-long partnership with nothing ready to take its place.

Much has been made of the (merely advisory) role CACs played in rezoning cases but CACs were so much more. When a neighbor lost her home and husband in a tragic fire, CAC neighbors pulled together to collect clothes and furniture. After the April 2011 tornadoes ripped through Raleigh, CAC volunteers were in the streets clearing debris and distributing water. In response to crime concerns, CACs worked with landlords to implement after-school activities for their teen residents and worked with the Raleigh Police Department to open neighborhood offices. CACs provided a neutral forum where police could meet with wary neighbors and build new connections and trust. CACs organized community events that promoted health and distributed school supplies to neighborhood kids. With CACs it didn’t matter what race you were, how wealthy you were, what your age was, or whether you rented or owned your home: if you were a resident your voice counted. You had a seat at the table.

Like any organization, CACs had their challenges. The unvarnished feedback CACs gave was not always welcome (especially to some developers, though almost all projects won CAC favor). CACs faced a continual fight for shrinking city resources and support. And, yes, CACs were known to butt heads at times but it is precisely this independence that gave CACs their strength: chairs were answerable only to their neighbors.

It is this independence that Raleigh will miss the most. Every other city advisory board is driven from the top down; its work must first be approved by the City Council. How can we ensure citizen concerns will be adequately addressed when city council alone controls the conversation? Who will be doing the listening and who will be doing the talking? Without the crucial independence enjoyed by CACs, community engagement quickly devolves into a one-way conversation. Partnership has been fatally wounded.

Raleigh’s CACs represented one of the most beautiful forms of democracy: neighbors coming together to work things out. Our city will be hard-pressed to improve on it.

Deed to the Christmas property

I spent a little time earlier this year traipsing through the Wake County Register of Deeds records, trying to find out more about the history of my community. I traced the ownership of my property back to the mid-1800s, including this deed for 109 acres for what became known as the Christmas property, filed in January 1899. Bridges was the owner of the Oak City Dairy Farm, if I recall correctly.

The property was sold for $2,616. According to one inflation calculator, $2,616 in 1899 dollars is equivalent to $80,731. An acre of land here appraises today for $43,200. You could say we’ve seen some growth. 🙂

Below is the deed as transcribed by me. Here’s a scanned PDF of the original handwritten version at the Wake County Register of Deeds.

North Carolina
Wake County

This deed made by Mary M. Christmas Executrix of the late Thomas B. Bridges to Lewis J. Christmas of Charleston, West Virginia. Witnesseth:

That whereas by his last will and testament the said Thomas B. Bridges directed that all his real estate be sold for cash after giving thirty days notice and appointed Mary. M. Christmas his Executrix, which will was duly admitted to probate in the Superior Court of Wake County before the clerk and said Mary M. Christmas duly qualified as executrix and letters testamentary were duly issued to her as such and whereas it being necessary to sell the lands hereinafter conveyed in order to pay the debts of said T. B. Bridges the said Mary M. Christmas as Executrix as aforesaid after advertisement for thirty days in the Times Visitor a newspaper published in Raleigh, N.C. and the court house door in Raleigh, N.C. did on the 27th day of December 1898 expose the lands hereinafter conveyed to public sale to the highest bidder at the court house door in Raleigh, N.C. for cash and at said sale said lands were purchased by said Lewis T. Christmas be being the last and highest bidder for said lands and whereas said Lewis T. Christmas has paid the purchase money for said lands in cash to wit the sum of $2616.00 for the tract of 109 acres known as the Home Place and the sum of $150 for the tract of about 58 acres known as the Brown tract:
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Rep. Joe John statement on Abe Zeiger’s arrest

NC House District 40 Representative Joe John was the person Abraham Zeiger was due to meet on Friday before Zeiger was arrested for carrying a pistol and two fully-loaded magazines into the North Carolina General Assembly building. Rep. John read the following statement on the House floor Monday night:

This gentleman actually had an appointment to see me. I made the following statement on the House floor Monday night:

Members, last week I had an 11:30 AM Wednesday constituent appointment with a resident of House District 40, whom I had not met previously, to discuss some fairly non-controversial issue. 11:30 came and went without the appointment being met, not all that unusual as many of you have experienced. When I went to lunch at 12:30, he was still a no-show.

We learned later that day the reason my appointment never arrived. He had been detained at our legislative building security check-in while attempting to enter this building with a loaded handgun and two full clips concealed in his bag, and had consequently been arrested and charged accordingly. He reportedly gave no explanation for his actions and was actually remarkably silent.

I want to thank publicly the members of the NC General Assembly Police Department who were on duty last Wednesday and acted expeditiously and appropriately. I would also like to thank the Legislative Services Officer and the Rules Chair for their follow-up and the many of you who expressed your concern.

That being said, in light of very recent events, I would ask each of you, for a moment, to imagine that the gentleman’s appointment was with you, in your office, rather than with me in mine. This incident after all took place, not hundreds of miles away in the distant states of Ohio and Texas, but right here, not only in our North Carolina capital city, but in this very building where we work and govern and spend so many hours. And as you reflect, I would ask you to consider whether it is now not time to throw partisanship and ideology into the trashcan, and to sit down for a full, frank and open-minded conversation about reaching a North Carolina common sense consensus with regards to role of firearms in our state.

I considered this often over the past weekend which Evelyn and I were able to spend at the coast with two adult children and three young granddaughters. I, for one, greatly enjoyed being “Pa” at the beach, I look forward to many more such weekends, and I am more than ready to have the conversation of which I spoke. If any of you feel the same, please let me know.

AP: Man with gun stopped by security at N Carolina legislature

Here’s an uncredited AP story on the arrest of Zeiger. It includes a quote from his attorney:

“It is unfortunate that any malice be attributed to such an upstanding citizen who merely made an oversight,” Gibson wrote.

Nice spin there, counselor! At the checkpoint, Zeiger was specifically asked whether he had any weapons in his bag. That should’ve been enough to trigger (so to speak) Zeiger’s memory that perhaps he did, in fact, have a weapon in his bag and that he should take it back to his vehicle. Oversight, my ass.

I look forward to Zeiger’s day in court.

August 2, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A man faces charges of carrying a concealed handgun into North Carolina’s legislative building, which this year implemented airport-style security measures for people seeking to interact with lawmakers.

Abraham James Zeiger, 36, of Raleigh was charged with trying to carry the gun into the building on Wednesday, police records show. He sought to enter the building to speak to his legislator and didn’t realize he was carrying the gun, attorney Emily Gibson said in an email Friday.

“It is unfortunate that any malice be attributed to such an upstanding citizen who merely made an oversight,” Gibson wrote.

The General Assembly’s police chief and its chief management officer didn’t return a call Friday seeking more details about the arrest.

Zeiger was stopped by officers who spotted a suspicious item as his bag passed through an X-ray scanner, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported . Officers found a 9 mm handgun and two magazines, each loaded with 15 bullets, General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock told the newspaper.

The arrest marked the first instance of a gun being found during the screening process at the entrance to the state’s legislative building, which hosts staff and legislative offices, hearing rooms and the chambers where the 50-member Senate and 120-member House meet.

Legislative activities were minimal this week as lawmakers try to overcome Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the two-year state budget. On Wednesday, House members discussed a commission to oversee the purchase and sale of milk and approved legislation to expand the requirement for adults to report claims of child sex abuse to the authorities.

Letter to the editor on assault weapons

I sent this letter to the editor to the N&O today. I hope it gets printed.

I served four years in the U.S. Navy never having heard an AK-47. Then a week ago, hotheads brought their gun battle to my neighborhood. It became crystal clear hearing that cannon-like booming that these assault rifles are nothing less than weapons of war.

There is no justification for anyone outside of the military or law enforcement to posses assault weapons. Can we get to the well-regulated part of our “well-regulated militia” now?

Man who brought gun to NCGA expressed far-right views

Update 2019-08-14: I have been pondering Friday’s arrest of Abe Zeiger for bringing a gun into the North Carolina General Assembly and it’s possible that I was wrong about his intentions. Yes, I certainly did find a number of gun-themed and seemingly anti-government posts on his Facebook page but to be fair, these were all forwarded and not authored by Zeiger himself. Other photos portray Zeiger as a family man and I found no evidence that things weren’t going well with his life. I am sorry if I misinterpreted the digital breadcrumbs I was able to piece together.

On the other hand, I hope he sees how someone could draw this conclusion. The Bundy item was especially disturbing – celebrating the pointing weapons at law enforcement officers is no joke – and what’s more it wasn’t even remotely truthful. To repost this on Facebook a week before showing up at the state legislature with a pistol and 30 rounds is enough to put a community on edge.

Any why was the gun in his bag when he didn’t have a concealed carry permit (CCP)? Why didn’t he declare the gun when asked by officers at

While his intentions could have been completely innocent when he showed up with a gun, the truth is that no one could know that for certain. It only takes seconds for a mass shooting to occur and officers don’t have the luxury of trust.

Zeiger could very well be a stand-up guy, just trying to do the right thing. If so, I applaud his intentions though I’d rather he left the “good guy with the gun” role to law enforcement. At the same time, he made a big mistake by not removing his weapon before entering a secured building, and for carrying a weapon around in his bag without possessing a CCP. While I am not as concerned as I once was that he may be a threat to society, there is no getting around the fact that he was not being responsible with his gun.

Abe Zeiger

On Friday afternoon, a man was arrested at the North Carolina General Assembly for trying to sneak in a 9mm pistol and two magazines of 15 rounds apiece. The man, Abraham James Zeiger, age 36, was charged with unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon and violating legislative building rules. The story by Lauren Horsch in the N&O quoted the N.C. State Capitol Police as expressing surprise at their catching Zeiger as he was not on their radar, so to speak. The General Assembly implemented stricter security measures at the General Assembly in April of last year.

“I can’t be more pleased with the (screening) process,” General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock said of the security measures that caught the gun. “It could have easily been missed.”

Since this story took place on a Friday afternoon – a time when news stories tend to get lost in the lull of the weekend – there didn’t seem to be many in the media who were asking just who is Zeiger? Also since I happen to know several people who work in the General Assembly, I wanted to know what might have motivated Zeiger and what he may have been planning to do with that gun. It didn’t take me long to find the answers.
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New York Times story focused on Raleigh gentrification | Raleigh News & Observer

Ned Barnett’s opinion piece last week, downplaying the damaging effects of gentrification, was incredibly tone-deaf.

Indeed the Times story called attention to the implication that there is something wrong with downtown neighborhoods gaining new homes and more value as white flight reverses.

Well, yes, yes there is. There is something wrong with it, Ned. Surging property values are great for owners, unless those owners are unable to pay the soaring property taxes. Surging property values aren’t too fun for the renters who get pushed out by skyrocketing rents or by the flipping of homes.

We can improve neighborhoods without pushing out the long-time residents – the people who actually contribute to the character of any neighborhood. The question we should be asking is: how can everyone benefit from prosperity?

Raleigh is now almost blase about being cited in the national media as a city on the rise, but a New York Times report last week cast that growth in a less flattering light. It used Raleigh as exhibit No. 1 of how well-off whites are moving into traditionally black neighborhoods near urban centers and converting longtime nonwhite areas into white enclaves.

The story stressed that Raleigh’s pattern is part of a national trend, but its focus in photos, videos and quotes was on North Carolina’s capital. The theme was that poorer blacks are being pushed out and those who remain feel their neighborhood is being usurped.

The coverage put a spotlight on an issue Raleigh’s leaders know about but have not directly addressed: How much should growth be allowed to displace residents and transform neighborhoods?

Source: New York Times story focused on Raleigh gentrification | Raleigh News & Observer

The Neighborhood Is Mostly Black. The Home Buyers Are Mostly White. – The New York Times

A sobering read on gentrification of downtown Raleigh from the New York Times.

RALEIGH, N.C. — In the African-American neighborhoods near downtown Raleigh, the playfully painted doors signal what’s coming. Colored in crimson, in coral, in seafoam, the doors accent newly renovated craftsman cottages and boxy modern homes that have replaced vacant lots.

To longtime residents, the doors mean higher home prices ahead, more investors knocking, more white neighbors.

Here, and in the center of cities across the United States, a kind of demographic change most often associated with gentrifying parts of New York and Washington has been accelerating. White residents are increasingly moving into nonwhite neighborhoods, largely African-American ones.

Source: The Neighborhood Is Mostly Black. The Home Buyers Are Mostly White. – The New York Times