Cary, NC — This was another exhausting week with more insults and hate mail.
Monday – Face Mask Mandate Discussions
Monday the Wake County Mayors Association held their monthly meeting in person, socially distanced. The mayors of Raleigh and Knightdale joined remotely. The mayor of Raleigh introduced the idea of requiring face masks. All the attending mayors strongly agreed that while everyone using face masks is a great idea, enforcing a mandate would be impossible. Only Raleigh and Knightdale agreed to move forward with this mandate. More on Cary’s position later.
Late Monday it was announced that an Amazon Delivery Station would be in Cary. Here is an excerpt from that press release:
Cary to Welcome Amazon Delivery Station
June 15th, 2020 | Cary, NC – The Cary Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce that Amazon will become a new corporate citizen for the Town of Cary in the coming months.
Based on the company’s expansion plans, they will be opening and operating a new Delivery Station in Cary, adding to their existing presence in the region.
Amazon’s Delivery Station in Cary expects to hire and employ hundreds of associates as they ramp up their operations in 2020.
“Amazon has been one of the key lifelines to so many during this terrible pandemic, and we’re grateful to them for that as well as their decision to locate a portion of their logistics operations in Cary” – Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht
“We look forward to having Amazon be part of our community and corporate family in Cary and will be assisting them in any way needed, as they make their transition into Cary,” said Mark Lawson, Vice President of Economic Development for the Cary Chamber of Commerce. “The strengthening of supply chains and providing consumers and businesses with fast and efficient delivery services is more critical now than it ever has been, and we are greatly appreciative of the commitment and investment Amazon is making into the Town of Cary.”
We are exited to see more jobs coming to Cary and especially a company that is providing a vital service during the pandemic.
Tuesday – Cary Decides Against Face Mask Mandate
Tuesday the media started announcing that Raleigh would begin requiring face masks. Cary decided not to require face masks. Mayor Pro-Tem Frantz did an excellent job explaining the town’s position:
“Thank you for writing. I appreciate your concern and will consider your request as we contemplate next steps.
As I am sure you are aware, Cary’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and council are monitoring the Covid pandemic closely. At this time, we are following state orders and recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force/state health professionals and Cary’s EOC.
Regardless of county or state mandates, or lack thereof, Cary continues to recommend that our citizens wear face coverings, practice social distancing whenever possible and wash their hands often.
I do wish that requiring masks was as simple as it sounds. It isn’t. My primary concerns regarding any mask order are enforcement, equity and exemptions.
Enforcement: Regardless whether a state, county or Cary order, local law enforcement would be tasked with enforcing what is essentially an unenforceable “law”. A law with no teeth or penalty. We simply do not have anywhere near the number of officers required to respond to every call we would receive. I have seen the volume of social media posts/emails regarding this matter – I would imagine that if Cary enacted a mask order that 911 would experience similar call volumes. And if Cary PD could respond, how might that impact response times to other calls? Should Cary PD not respond (as most likely would be the case) does that then place the burden of enforcement on business management who may/may not agree with said “order”? (who btw already have the right to enact store policies requiring masks should they wish to).
Equity: A patchwork of “laws” that varies from city to city or county to county is not good public policy. Why should someone not have to wear a mask in Apex for example, but in Cary it is required? Very confusing. Any mask order – should there be one – should come from the state or Governor Cooper himself so that at least it is consistent state-wide…. But back to enforcement….
Exemptions: What about those who, for medical or religious reasons for example cannot wear a mask? How would others know that they can’t wear one and not bully, harass or call the police on them? How would law enforcement know? To that end, what then would also keep someone who could wear a mask from just saying they can’t because of asthma or something?
Yes, Raleigh, Durham and others have passed a mask order. None of them are enforcing it. Durham even went so far as to say, “While face coverings are required, no one will be removed from or denied entry to public transit for failure to wear a face covering.” Not much of an order is it?
All that said, I DO believe that we can, and we must do a better job of educating our citizens about the benefits of wearing a mask and encourage everyone who can to do so. I spoke with our town staff about this a few days ago and they agree that we can, and we will do more – a lot more.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. I realize that some or all of what I have offered may not be what you want to hear, but I hope that it helps folks understand the complexities of any mask order at this time.
I would also encourage you to contact the Governor’s office and or your state legislators should you wish to pursue a statewide mask order. That would at least address the equity issue and create a consistent requirement across city and county boundaries.
Mayor Pro Tem
Cary Town Council, District B
Well said. Unfortunately, many people still disagree and think that an ordinance, which would be mostly symbolic, is the way to go. Thus, the insults and name-calling began.
Wednesday – NCDOT Supports Program to Improve Travel Costs & Convenience
Wednesday I participated in a meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Executive Board. There were six consent items, one public hearing, and five discussion items. The Board endorsed a resolution to encourage NCDOT to continue to support of the Triangle Travel Demand Management (TDM) Program.
The Triangle Regional TDM program is an ongoing effort that has grown over the past 15 years to support a network of regional and local service provider partners who work directly with employers and universities to reduce congestion and Vehicle Miles Traveled by making it easier, cheaper and more convenient for commuters and students to cut travel or use transit and active transportation modes.
The rest of the meeting can be summed up as reports of doom and gloom. That is, little or no money for road maintenance, no new projects, and uncertainty for the future. The meeting concluded after about an hour and a half.
Thursday – Cary Celebrates Juneteenth Holiday
Thursday I had the joy of taping a proclamation designating Cary’s Juneteenth celebration. The proclamation reads:
“DESIGNATING JUNE 19, 2020 AS CARY’S JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION 2020
WHEREAS, June 19, 1865 was the date when Union solders landed in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War was over and thus represented the last notification of the end of slavery; and
WHEREAS, that date became known as Juneteenth and has grown to become a national event celebrating this significant day in our history, with special meaning for our African American community; and
WHEREAS, Juneteenth celebrations emphasize education, achievement and reflection; and
WHEREAS, Cary values diversity and its multitude of races and ethnicities within its citizens and seeks to celebrate our shared heritage; and
WHEREAS, Cary citizens came together to find additional ways to commemorate our diversity by advocating for a Juneteenth Celebration to joyously embrace freedom.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Mayor Weinbrecht Jr. on behalf of the 165,000 Cary citizens and the entire Town Council, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2020, as Cary’s Juneteenth Celebration 2020 and call upon all citizens to join in the celebration
PROCLAIMED this 19th day of June, 2020.”
I was able to do the proclamation in three takes.
Friday – Mayor, Governor, State and Federal Updates
Friday I participated in a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors. Here is a summary of that meeting from the Executive Director:
Update on Governor’s Office
Executive Orders Update:
We expect the Governor to issue an Executive Order next week that would move the state into a new phase.
Based on the fact that the state’s numbers are not trending in the right direction (the number of cases, percent of positive tests, and hospitalizations are all increasing), it is unlikely that we will move to the full Phase 3 plan.
It is more likely the Governor will move forward with some “re-openings” more akin to a Phase “2.5,” where more businesses are allowed to re-open but with restrictions, including significant restrictions on larger gatherings.
Extension of “Virtual” City Council and Board Meetings
The question was raised about extending the legislative endorsement of virtual/electronic meetings beyond August 31, 2020. Subsequent to the call this morning, we reviewed the law on this topic (S704) and determined there is no end date for this – other than the conclusion of the emergency declaration (it also applies to future declarations).
General State Legislative Update
Overview and Schedule:
- The legislature moved a significant number of bills through committees and the floor this week.
- The House finished their work yesterday, but the Senate is still meeting today.
- We expect committees to begin shutting down and for the legislature to try to adjourn next week.
- Most of the major pieces of legislation such as business liability protections, reopening bills, DOT funding, and other appropriations bills have been completed or are working their way through the process so there is not a lot left for the legislature to address.
- After adjourning, we expect the legislature to come back at some point. They may return in August to address education issues and in September to manage federal COVID funding and deal with more funding issues following tax collections, but exact timing is unknown at this point.
DOT Budget/Governance H77:
- The bill makes DOT budget adjustments and reductions in an effort to balance the Department’s $700M+ shortfall for FY20/2.
- One of the cuts included funding for SMAP (transit operating assistance). The planned $32m in SMAP funding was zeroed out. The rationale, as we are told, is that the state SMAP appropriation for this program was supplanted by a significant amount of federal money from the CARES Act.
- The flexible CARES Act transit funding, in many cases, doubled, tripled or greater than the amount that would have been received from SMAP. Given the dire position NCDOT’s budget is in (DOT staff furloughs, contracts left unfunded and numerous contractor layoffs), a reduction in funding in SMAP was not unexpected – but to zero the line item out is of major concern.
- While most CARES Act funding has been very restrictive in how it can be used (ONLY for COVID specific purposes), the CARES transit funding is uniquely flexible in how it can be spent (including fare replacement, capital projects, etc.).
- Metro Mayors Lobbying team had discussions with the Transportation Chairs. If more flexibility is granted by Congress for the $300M in reserve for DOT, once outstanding liabilities have been paid, the legislature will be revisiting programs that have been zeroed out – including SMAP. We will also continue to seek assurances this is a ONE-TIME reduction ONLY.
- In addition to funding, the bill also changes the composition of the Board of Transportation.
- The new Board would comprise 20 members. The Governor would appoint 14 Highway Division members, with at least three of another political party, and the Senate President Pro Tem and Speaker of the House would appoint three at-large members each.
- Due to the new Board provision, there is a possibility the Governor Cooper may veto (unless they address his concerns as it moves forward).
- The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on second reading Thursday and is expected to pass third reading later today. It will then head to the House for a concurrence vote.
Fire Fighter Separation Allowance -in Coronavirus Relief S805:
- A motion was made on the House floor to re-refer the bill back to the House Appropriations Committee.
- The bill currently appropriates federal CARES Act funds to state agencies, but the minority leader was interested in adding flexibility for presumptive eligibility for workers compensation.
- As a result of that conversation, Rep. Jason Saine mentioned adding the firefighter’s special separation allowance. This is the proposal that would cost cities statewide over $300 million/year once fully implemented.
- It is an unfunded mandate.
- We will be tracking this bill closely and working with NCLM on this issue.
- Please keep an eye out for any action alerts on this issue. We will have to act quickly!
Open Skating Rinks/Bowling Alleys S599
Open Amusement Parks/Arcades/Venues H258
- These bills will allow wedding and private event venues, amusement parks, and arcades, skating rinks and bowling alleys to reopen.
- Each bill contains a provision that would allow the Governor and the Secretary of DHHS to close establishments under public health authority with the majority approval of the Council of State.
- S599 passed through the House and the Senate and is now waiting to be sent to the Governor. H258 will be discussed in Senate Rules today.
- H258 requires wedding and event venues to collect and retain guest information in order to assist NC DHHS in the contact tracing efforts.
- We expect the Governor to continue vetoing these measures. The reopening of each of these businesses could potentially be addressed by the Governor in future EOs
Local Revenues/ Local Control
Foreclosure Prev./Rental and UTILITY Assistance H1200
- The bill includes a total of $200M appropriated from the federal CARES Act funds.
- $100M for foreclosure assistance program for traditional home mortgage
- $100M rental and utility payment assistance
- $28M of the $100M Rental Assistance funds to be used by the Housing Finance Agency to administer utility assistance grant fund. The money would go directly to utilities (up to $1,800 per household) on behalf of specifically qualified individuals – eligible for water/sewer, electric and gas.
- Citizens would be eligible for both grants (mortgage or rental and utilities), if they meet certain income thresholds.
- The bill was heard in House Appropriations on Tuesday for discussion only.
- We anticipate this provision will be rolled into a larger COVID package next week, so that it can move more quickly.
- This is a bill the Coalition plans to actively support – PLEASE encourage relevant city staff to review the bill (housing and community support staff).
Federal Funding Update
Update on Congressional Funding for Local Govts:
- There is little to no chance that anything will be moving in Congress on the flexibility of COVID funding or additional funding for state and local governments until the end of July.
- We are confident that Congress will act on the flexibility piece, but whether or not more money will be directed to state and local governments is an open question.
- Great work has been done by members speaking with their Congressional delegation on this issue.
Our meeting concluded after about 30 minutes.
Friday – Town Plans Big Celebration for Cary’s Graduating Seniors
Friday the town announced how we will be celebrating high school graduates in Cary. The Town of Cary will be recognizing the graduating class of 2020 high school seniors through a showcase of graduate photos.
Throughout the month of July, larger than life student portraits will be projected onto the exterior walls of the Cary Arts Center. Graduating class of 2020 high school seniors who live in the Town of Cary are invited to submit a photo to be included in this showcase. The submission deadline is 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.
The photo showcase, along with the fountain at Downtown Cary Park being lit representative of the school’s colors, will be displayed from 9 PM – 11 PM on the front of the Cary Arts Center following the schedule below:
Middle Creek High School: Wednesday, July 8, 2020 – Sunday, July 12, 2020
Cary High School: Wednesday, July 15, 2020 – Sunday, July 19, 2020
Panther Creek High School: Wednesday, July 22, 2020 – Sunday, July 26, 2020
Green Hope High School: Wednesday, July 29, 2020 – Sunday, August 2, 2020
Cary Seniors from Other High Schools: Wednesday, August 5, 2020 – Sunday, August 9, 2020
The Cary Theater will display a message of congratulations all day in accordance with the schedule above. Those coming to view the displays will need to follow laws and regulations set forth by the State of North Carolina, Wake County, and Town of Cary regarding COVID-19. If large crowds begin to gather, the showcase may be stopped or postponed for the night.
There was no town manager’s report for this week since the town manager was on vacation.
Get in Touch
Emails this week were numerous to say the least. Because of the volume of negativity, I will not summarize emails this week. I will say the following about the emails:
For those of you who sent positive, kind, emails (some with encouragement), thank you so much!
Since the pandemic has begun, we (council, management, police officers, staff, others) have been getting waves and waves of emails, calls, and complaints about all sorts of topics. Many have lashed out at us assuming the worst of us, in many cases without really knowing what they are talking about. While we are used to that, having weeks and weeks of that takes its toll. Some are beat down, tired, and exhausted. Others are even questioning why they are in public service. So, the positive emails are, in the words of a former pastor, filling that spiritual cup. We sincerely appreciate them.
For those that are lashing out, we do not know the burdens you carry. We are sorry for your pain and frustration. We will continue to support you even though some of you have stated you will never support us again. I, along with my fellow public servants, love Cary. We believe this is a very special and unique place. We will, to the best of our ability, continue to make Cary beyond remarkable. A community that is safe with the highest quality of life because that is the Cary way!
It is my hope that all of us will find peace and happiness in our lives and learn to look for ways to bring us together rather than divide us. Look for ways to have civility in our conversations, meaningful dialog, and meaningful solutions to problems. It will take all of us working together to make that happen. But if it can happen anywhere it can happen in Cary. That I am sure of!
Next week’s activities include staff meetings, a regularly scheduled 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, June 28th. coAlthough I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communicating with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org and email personal comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht.
Featured image from the video Juneteenth Proclamation, Amazon photo courtesy of Amazon, Governor Cooper photo courtesy of his public Facebook page, Cary Arts Center photo by Hal Goodtree, all others by Ashley Kairis.
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