Harold’s Blog: NC on Track for Phased Re-Opening, Cary’s First Virtual Town Hall and More

Cary, NC — This week was the first time the council held a meeting in about two months and it was a historic event.

Monday – Wake County Will Not Extend Stay at Home Order

Monday I had my weekly one-on-one meeting with town manager Sean Stegall via phone call. We talked about logistics for the upcoming council meeting. We also talked about COVID-19 data provided by the county which showed Cary with only 75 cumulative cases. That puts us at 6th out of 12 for per capita infection. One other topic discussed was the Biobot information. They have promised to do weekly measurements. If they do this, then the data would be very valuable.

Monday I participated in a meeting of the Wake County Mayors. We mostly discussed a draft sent out by Wake County which described how they would not extend their order and would default to the state’s order. We all agreed this was the right thing to do.

Tuesday – Prepping for the Council’s First Virtual Meeting

Tuesday the council practiced our virtual town hall with five council members present and two remotely attending. The seating arrangements had us at least six feet apart. The purpose was to iron out logistics for Thursday’s meeting. We decided to turn on our laptop cams so that council members could see each other whether they were in attendance or remote. We went through the agenda just to see how votes would be taken and how to have discussions without talking over each other.

Thursday – A Recap of the Virtual Town Hall

Thursday the town council held its first virtual meeting in Cary’s history. The meeting opened with me providing a few remarks. Then each council member provided words of inspiration. I spoke from these words:

“In January I gave the State of Cary address with a message of Transformation. Little did I know that the transformation would be in the ways of suffering and loss on a scale that is hard to imagine.

I did not realize it but there would be a transformation in the way we do business at the Town of Cary. Our staff seems to have moved to the virtual world without missing a beat. Projects are still moving forward, inspections and permitting are occurring, our community is safe thanks to our fire and police departments, some parks and greenways remain open, and our public works is doing an amazing job (including picking up yard waste which no other municipality is doing).

Cary is strong organizationally and financially and I believe that we can emerge from this time as a stronger, better community. We have all the components to make this happen: a well educated and involved citizenry, a business community that is committed and invested in making Cary great, a staff which is made up of some of the best in the nation in their fields led by one of the most remarkable leaders I have ever met, and a council that has close to a century of experience.

I believe together you and I can make a difference during these times. Why?

Because we are strong. We are kind. We are Cary!”

I was followed by the inspirational words by all the council members.

The meeting included three decisions related to virtual meetings and mayoral powers. The first decision was to suspend policy 143 which required council members to be present to vote. The second decision amended the policy to allow virtual voting if the town is under a State of Emergency. Our final decision amended Chapter 12 of the ordinances to allow Cary to have the authorities that the state law gives municipalities. While we already had some of these authorities, we did not have all.  As a result, the mayor now has full powers given by the state.  These include the ability to impose curfews, evacuations and controlling access to emergency areas by closing streets.

The town hall portion of the meeting was last. There were 44 questions submitted by the public. Unfortunately, we could not answer them all. Each council member answered two questions from the public. Those responses, as well as answers to the other questions, will be posted on the town’s website.

Our meeting concluded in less than an hour.

Friday – NC on Track for Phased Re-Opening

Friday I joined a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors. Here is a summary of that meeting from the Executive Director:

Beau’s Opening Remarks: The Governor has indicated that NC is currently on track to begin Phase 1 on May 8: Phased Re-opening/Easing of Restrictions for the state. If the specifically identified indicators and trends continue, Governor Cooper will amend the Stay at Home Order for Phase I to allow for a broader set of activities that are outlined in his re-opening plan.

Federal Update

The U.S. Senate and House have been out this week. The Senate is set to return next week and the House expects to come back the week after to take action on COVID legislation and other issues.

We are at a critical point for local governments as there is no funding allocated to replace revenue in COVID aid bills so far. The U.S. House has made it a high priority and we are hearing from Senators that they are wanting to take a look at this issue as well.

We will have more information regarding a federal strategy in the near future. In the short term, if you have the opportunity to talk to your federal delegation, stress the need for local government funding and share the specifics of your budget.

Legislative Schedule Update

The NC General Assembly convened this week to take up COVID related legislation. The Senate rolled out its own package (S704) that passed unanimously on Wednesday. The House had their own package (H1043) that passed almost unanimously (117-1) on Thursday.

The House and Senate Appropriations Chairs are now negotiating a compromise. The plan is to have the final compromise provisions split up into two bills. Each chamber will roll out a proposed committee substitute of the other chamber’s bill, hold a floor vote, and then send to the other chamber for a concurrence vote.

Legislators had originally anticipated voting today (Friday 5/1/2020), but they are still negotiating and hope to reach a compromise by the end of the day with the expectation of floor votes being held Saturday. It is unclear at this point what the final language will look like.

After the passage of the COVID legislation, we anticipate the General Assembly to recess anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Upon their return in late May to early June they will have a more substantive policy session before taking up the budget in July.

Keep in mind when reviewing the specifics regarding the state COVID legislation below that the bill is specific to dealing with federal funds from the CARES Act.

Transportation

Allocation to DOT

  • Both chambers have agreed to allocate $300M to DOT  from the federal COVID funds
  • The Senate has not yet decided if they are going to lower the cash balance floor to $125 million like the House did which would give DOT flexibility to keep some work going.
  • Under current federal guidelines, COVID money cannot be spent on replacing lost transportation funds. The General Assembly is setting aside this $300M in a reserve fund in hopes that Congress will give them future flexibility.

S704 – (Page 3, Section 2.3)
H1043 – (Page 51, Section IVC.3, Subsection 34)

Public Safety

Nothing new to report.

Economic Development

Golden Leaf Foundation Funding for Small Business

  • Loan program that serves as a bridge to SBA funds. It is being served through NC Rapid Recovery program.
  • Speaker has indicated he is comfortable with Senate allocation.

H1043 allocates $75M (Page 3 – Section IC.1(a))
S704 allocates $125M (Page 10 – Section 4.2(a))

Local Revenues/Local Control

Local Government Allocation

  • Congressional CARES Act has money set aside for state and local governments to respond to the crisis, but money can only be spent on responding to the crisis.  It cannot be used for revenue replacement based on specific guidance from the S. Dept. of Treasury.  All cities (except Charlotte) have to go through the state to receive money.  Both chambers of our General Assembly proposals for this.
  • Senate Bill 704 allocates $300M to local governments (Page 3 Section 2.4)
    • $100M to counties
    • $50M to a grant program (Grant program is for communities most impacted)
    • $150M Reserve pending Congressional amendment to the CARES Act allowing flexibility for money to be used for revenue replacement (Page 3 Section 2.4)
  • House Bill 1043 allocates $350M to counties (counties may disperse to cities in accordance with the CARES Act and Treasury Department Guidance)
  • While it is appreciated that both proposals allow for a share money to local governments, there is no specific set aside for municipalities.
  • NCLM is leading an effort to take a hybrid from the two chambers in the final proposal.  Specific request from NCLM (and your ask of your legislators, if you can make contact today):
    • $300M set aside for local governments
    • $75M to cities
    • $75M to counties
    • $150M set aside in special reserve fund that would be distributed if Congress provides flexibility
  • We expect this first COVID legislation soon – feedback to GA members is TIME SENSITIVE.
  • It is important to keep in mind that federal legislation related to COVID will continue which will in turn mean the state legislature will have the opportunity to provide to cities later, so this is not our last chance at direct funding.
  • It is important to continue the message that cities need to be specifically included for assistance.

Remote Meetings

Language was vetted by local government attorneys and NC Press Association helped to craft this language.
Prescriptive language allows remote meetings to continue during this and later States of Emergency and is retroactive to actions taken beginning March 10.

  • S704 – Page 47 Section 6.24
  • H1043 – Page 89 Section 5.27

Gaston County Order

  • Order issued yesterday by Gaston County Commission Chair encouraged businesses to re-open.
  • Mayors in Gaston County issued a statement only hours calling on citizens to abide by the State Executive Order and would enforce that.

Mixed Beverage Provision

  • The House version allows restaurants to sell two mixed drinks for each takeout order.
  • Must be part of a food order, must be sealed, and cannot violate any existing laws.

The meeting concluded after about 35 minutes.

Later Friday I taped a PSA for high school seniors. We all must find a way to congratulate and honor our seniors in a special way this year.

Town Manager’s Report

 

The town manager, Sean Stegall’s report for this week includes the following:

Manager’s Message to Council

Last night’s Virtual Town Hall was an evening with you all that I will never forget. Your dedication to our community was visible to everyone that tuned in live or watched the recording. I am extremely thankful for your continued support and flexibility during this challenging time. Last night was a reminder to me that good things happen when people are close together. I look forward to seeing each of you again on May 7, at 6:30 pm for a virtual Council Meeting.

Sean

Operational Framework & Update

This week’s message to staff from Deputy Town Manager Russ Overton reinforced an operational update I sent to staff about the extension of working remotely through at least May 15, the continuation of special performance awards for fieldwork in April and May, FY21 budget updates, and the cancellation of May boards and commission meetings. He also shared messages from our Human Resources department about April retirements and upcoming open enrollment. The last message of each month during this pandemic brings some clarity and vision for what lies ahead for the next month.

The weekly operational report brings a close to the week’s activities outside of the Emergency Command Center (EOC). Please take a moment to review the weekly operational report.

Departmental Updates

Included below is a summary-level overview of the operational activities continuing to take place during this health emergency.

  • Recruitment for Boards & Committee advisory volunteers has been shifted to begin on June 1 and end on July 31. This shift still allows the necessary deadlines to be met for appointing new members by October 1, 2020. The website will be updated, and a reminder will be sent to citizens who have reached inquired.
  • To date, PRCR has refunded a total of $330,500 in cancelled reservations and registrations.
  • PRCR and Fonteva (our partner in the myCary registration Salesforce app), held a post-go-live discovery session this week. Input from front-line staff continues to prove critical in continuing to improve the system and experience for all users.
  • From a development perspective, the current number of plans that are under review remain steady. There are currently 233 building permit applications under review. Since March 16, we have averaged 31 building permit submittals per day. Currently, there are 34 development plans under review.
  • Staff met with the development teams of Fenton, Epic and Cary Towne Center this week and progress continues for all three projects.
  • Cary’s 2020 Census response rate increased to 65.2%. Among Wake County municipalities, Holly Springs leads with a 71% response rate.
  • Approximately 7,300 homeowners received letters this week regarding their irrigation systems as part of our cross-connection program, required by the state to test backflow devices. This goal of this program is to minimize contamination to our water system. The letter was modified to be sensitive to the COVID-19 realities, as well as to include guidelines on PPE and social distancing. Testing is expected to begin June 1.
  • Two new pieces of equipment were installed at the Citizen Convenience Center this week: a large pre-crusher for waste and bulky trash and a compactor for recycling. This equipment is expected to eliminate some of the backlog at the center, as well as minimize the cost we incur from our contractor.
  • New rain gauges were installed at the Cary Arts Center and WakeMed Soccer Park. These are the latest devices currently planned in the Walnut Creek Watershed. More can be added in the future if needed for effectiveness or calibration of the model.
  • The General Assembly reconvened this week, focused entirely on COVID-19. The house and senate both passed their versions of the COVID-19 relief bill. The two bodies are going to conference and hopefully will reach an agreement. The house passed a $1.7 billion relief bill in comparison to the senate’s $1.4 billion relief bill.
  • The WWRWRF completed their first virtual air quality permit inspection on April 30. NC Division of Air Quality met with Facility Manager, Damon Forney, to review facility operating data and overall compliance with state issued regulatory permits.
  • WakeMed soccer fields 5 & 8 are undergoing improvements to replace the artificial turf. This project is in coordination with the upcoming Peace College partnership.

Virtual Fire Inspections for Foster Homes

With assistance from R&D and IT, the Fire Department launched a new app for conducting virtual foster home visits. The app allows foster parents to upload pictures of required smoke alarms (shown below) and other safety features using geolocation to verify the address. The initial submission of these photos allows inspectors to be proactive by informing homeowners of any necessary changes prior to their scheduled tour.

After the inspection, forms are routed through DocuSign to sign-off on the inspection. This innovative process increases the family’s comfort by eliminating the need for outsiders to enter their homes during this health emergency.

Virtual Rap Session Panel Discussion

The monthly Rap Session event went virtual in April! On Thursday, Tru Pettigrew facilitated a panel discussion on Unconscious Bias with two very esteemed guests, Dr. Benjamin Reese, President of BENREESE, LLC., a global diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm and Cary’s very own, Judy Newsome, Operations & Program Supervisor.

The discussion was built upon a weekly video series that was posted to Chatter in April to engage and create dialogue amongst staff on unconscious bias. The panelist shared how unconscious bias has had an effect in their lives both personally and professionally, as well as thoughts on being aware and modeling behavior to counteract bias.

Cary Bike Month

Husband and wife Stephan and Pamela Yannoni take a Friday afternoon ride along the Black Creek Greenway.

While this year’s Bike Month will feel a little different than in the past, our goal is to continue to offer guidance, education and an opportunity for virtual engagement by encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors as we launch our updated Bike Cary website and share our “re-imagined” Bike Month site. The Bike Cary webpage has been reorganized by major topic area to streamline information in a clean layout.

By clicking the “Get Involved” link, citizens can provide input to developing Cary’s new bike facility design guide. Information also includes links to virtual local and national bike month “events” that allow users to track their miles, challenge teammates online, and earn awards and prizes.

Logging Truck Accident

The driver of a fully loaded log truck lost his brakes coming down the hill from a logging operation. Going through the Brickyard subdivision, the truck was going too fast to make the corner, which resulted in the load of logs tumbling into the stormwater basin when the trailer flipped on its side. The driver was unhurt, and no citizens were injured.

FY20 Street Improvements

Construction of the 2020 Street Improvements will begin next week. This year we are implementing a phased approach (see graphic below) to minimize the impacts to our citizens during this unprecedented time. Concrete repairs and asphalt patching will be included in the first phase. The project team is evaluating the COVID-19 pandemic in advance of beginning paving and milling phases.

311 Snapshot

311 citizen advocates continue to support Cary citizens with questions and concerns related to COVID-19 as well as traditional service-related questions. The charts below shows some basic information about the inquiries received since late February. One interesting trend is the consistent spike in requests on Mondays.

A spike in requests on Mondays is not itself unusual. However, the degree and level of consistency is significant. With the launch of the 311 in January and an almost immediate need to adapt to the COVID-19 emergency. The learning curve and integration into town operations has accelerated out of necessity. One specific item that has been accelerated through the emergency is the ability for citizen advocates handle 311 requests remotely. This is a significant milestone.

Very few 311 centers possess the capability we have developed and put into practice. Over the next couple weeks, we will continue to provide additional information on 311 inquiries and provide anecdotes from the advocates themselves of what a day in the life of advocate has been like. Their work capturing information in a consistent and standardized fashion along with their collective growth will continue to pay dividends as our emergency efforts evolve.

Cary’s Interbasin Transfer Annual Report

On April 27, Cary and Apex submitted the 2019 Annual Interbasin Transfer (IBT) Report to NCDEQ. The report summarizes the approved transfer of water from our water supply of Jordan Lake to the portion of the service area in the Neuse River Basin. In 2019, Cary/Apex was in compliance with plenty of margin (past five years averaging only about 50% of the limit).

Growth in the west continues to outpace demand in the Neuse Basin, which further supports our strong position in remaining compliant. The 2019 Long Range Water Resources Plan forecasts the current IBT limit to be enough through the 2065 planning horizon. The chart summarizes the monthly average day IBT.

Most-Watched Meeting in Cary’s History

Another first occurred last night with the first-ever Virtual Town Hall. Many of our employees tuned in alongside a record number of residents to watch the live broadcast. The event was streamed live on our website (353 viewers), YouTube (285 viewers), CaryTV, and in another “first” as a Facebook Live event (2,108 viewers). This was the most-watched meeting in Cary’s history!

Click here to see a recap of the viewership.

Additional Information of Interest

I’ve found the following article to be interesting this week and wanted to share with your for your reading pleasure:
What Good Leadership Looks Like During This Pandemic, Harvard Business Review

Get in Touch

Emails this week included a social media campaign from the group opposed to RDUAA’s plan to develop the property next to Umstead Park. The decision-makers for this plan are the RDUAA and the Wake County Commissioners; not Cary. Unfortunately, the leader of this campaign told their followers to fill our email boxes with emails demanding action.

Spamming elected officials with emails on something we cannot control is not a good tactic. It is especially disappointing since we are in a State of Emergency. It also prevents or delays us from responding to the critical needs of the town. Sadly I was forced to use filters so that I could be able to respond to staff and citizens in a timely manner. BTW, spamming someone is never a good motivator. Just saying.

Most of the non-filtered emails were about reopening the government. Unfortunately, I received comments like “I will vote you out”, “I will vote against socialism taking over”, and “You’re just not American.”

It is very important to understand that the state’s Stay-At-Home orders are mandated, and we must comply.

Other emails asked me to “opt-out” or file a lawsuit. We do not have the authority to ignore the state’s orders or “opt-out”. The only authority we do have is to provide stricter local orders.

Regarding the act of filing a lawsuit against the state, our attorney agreed with me that challenging the state in a lawsuit would very likely be unsuccessful. This would result in unnecessary costs to taxpayers in attorney fees.

The remaining emails included:

  • Do something to honor high school seniors. (We are trying to come up with something)
  • A thank you for balancing the health and economic needs. (You’re welcome and Thank You!)
  • The ability to use bike lanes for running.
  • A concern about Wake County cutting funds to Cary EMS.
  • A concern that retention ponds are not safe and to create an ordinance requiring fencing.
  • A complaint about Bond Brothers holding a virtual concert. (Their business is closed, and the performers were socially distant.)
  • A complaint about a group home.

Next week’s planned activities include staff meetings, a meeting of the Wake County Mayors, testing for virtual Public Hearing, a virtual town council meeting, and a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors.

Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, May 10th. Although I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communication with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org and email personal comments to augustanat@mindspring.com.


From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. GoCary Bus photo by Town of Cary, other photos by Ashley Kairis.

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