Harold’s Blog: Mask Mandates & Indian Independence Day

Cary, NC — The first half of the week was slow, but the second half was exhausting.

Meeting with Candidates & Local Leaders

My first meeting was on Wednesday. It was a zoom interview with a candidate for council in Mebane. He was very interested in talking about growth-related issues and battles we had won and lost. I talked about our past Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances, how we had grown, how we have (and are) dealing with infrastructure, roads, schools, and parks. Our conversation ended after 30 minutes.

Wednesday evening I attended the Cary Chamber’s Leadership Dinner. In addition to having council members Smith and Robinson in attendance, there were numerous business leaders and elected officials. We were honored to have our Congresswoman, Debra Ross, in attendance. After the dinner, I provided brief remarks and talked about the community’s partnership that is key to our past and future successes.

Wake County & Raleigh Move Forward with Mask Mandates

Thursday the county and Raleigh announced their intention to mandate masks. Since that time, and while I write this, I have been inundated with emotional emails for and against mask mandates.

NC Metro Mayors Meeting Recap

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

Federal Update

Bipartisan Infrastructure bill

  • The US Senate passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill.  It now moves to the US House where its fate is likely to be linked to the negotiations on the $3.5T Budget Reconciliation “human infrastructure” bill that is in process as well.
  • Senators Burr and Tillis supported the infrastructure bill.  Please consider reaching out to their offices to thank them for their support.
  • We now need to encourage the US House to support this effort.  We encourage you to reach out to your Democratic House members and inform them of how important this measure is to cities.  Some folks are inviting House members to their communities during the August recess to learn about the infrastructure investments being made.  Please let Beau know about any feedback you may receive from your outreach.

General Assembly

General Update – Budget Update

  • The House budget passed on Thursday with a final vote of 72-41.  Nine Democrats voted in favor, enough to override a veto from the Governor.  Democrats voting in favor were: Reps. Brockman (High Point), Farkas (Greenville), Graham (Pembroke), Hunter (Northampton/Halifax), Lucas (Fayetteville), Pierce (Hoke/Scotland), Richardson (Fayetteville), Willingham (Edgecombe), Wray (Northampton/Halifax) – those votes were undoubtedly the result of critically important local funding in the budget bill.
  • The Senate will formally vote not to concur with the House version on Monday which will trigger the conference committee process.  Members from both chambers will negotiate behind closed doors on a final compromise plan.
  • Both chambers have indicated they will include the Governor in the conference process.  It remains to be seen what that will look like or how long the conference process will take.
  • The Governor has indicated that he likes the House budget more than the Senate, but the House budget contains many more policy provisions.  Several of those provisions are concerning to cities (detailed below).
  • Action item for policy provisions (below) – We will be working diligently to remove the provisions that are harmful to cities during the conference committee process.  We would recommend reaching out to the following Democratic members about your concerns: Reps. Richardson, Lucas, Farkas, Brockman and Sens. Clark, deViere, and Lowe.  Also consider reaching out to the Republican suburban members as well.  In your conversations, be prepared with a good concrete argument about the impact this will have on cities and use specific examples.  Please share any insight you get from these conversations with Beau.

Budget: House Version of S105 with special provisions


  • Transit/SMAP: Fully funded in House AND Senate versions
  • Powell Bill transportation funds – Fully restored in Senate version, 8% increase in House version
  • Bike/Pedestrian projects eligible for funding from STI at the division level in House version
  • Transportation grants-in-aid/earmarks to specific cities in House version only

Economic Development

  • Both the House and Senate versions provide Viable Utility Fund ($500m) and Water/Wastewater grants ($980m in House version and $500m in Senate)
  • Local Parks and Rec $60m, Land and Water – $60m in House
  • Workforce Housing – $200m in House and $40m in Senate

Local Control/Local Revenues

Below are the policy provisions in the house budget that we are working to remove from the any final budget(s) as the House, Senate and Governor begin negotiating.  Please, focus on these topics in your conversations with legislators.

  • Stormwater

    • A proposal that would eliminate local stormwater rules that prevent flooding. (A proposal that has had no committee hearings in House or Senate.) 361
  • Billboards

    • A measure removing local authority to determine the location of relocated billboards required by new road construction (a proposal that has had no committee hearings in House or Senate.) pg. 621
  • Short-term rentals:

    • A proposal that could harm the ability of local governments to regulate short-term rentals like AirBnB.  (Approved in a separate House bill; not yet considered by any Senate committee.) pg. 38
  • Trees:

    • A measure eliminating local tree ordinances, only allowing local tree removal and protection rules by local legislative act. (Approved in a separate House bill; not yet considered by any Senate committee.) pg. 37
  • School zoning preemtion:

    • A proposal allowing the siting of schools in any residential or commercially zoned area of a city, without consideration of appropriateness or infrastructure. (Approved in a separate House bill; not yet considered by any Senate committee) pg.168
  • Small cell wireless:

    • Measures that would limit fees on the placement of small cell wireless equipment on local taxpayer-owned poles, forcing taxpayer subsidization of telecommunications companies, and that could affect local oversight of the installation of wireless facilities in local rights-of-way. (No committee hearings in House or Senate.) pg.352

Public Safety

Prevent rioting and civil disorder H805

  • Speaker Moore has championed this piece of legislation. The bill would increase the penalties for rioters and looters.
  • This bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee and is expected to pass out of the full Senate.

Law Enforcement Duty to Intervene H536

  • This bill would create a duty for a law enforcement officer to intervene when they observe a policy violation and require them to report it.
  • The bill has received bipartisan support and passed Senate Judiciary with a unanimous vote. The language from this bill is included in S300, which has already been approved by the full Senate.

Support Law Enforcement Mental Health H436

  • H436 requires law enforcement officers to undergo pre-hire psychological screening examinations and participate in regular mental health training.
  • This bill has received bipartisan support, passing through both the Senate Health Care and Senate Judiciary unanimously.

Census and Redistricting

This week the General Assembly received data from the Census Bureau with NC’s 3-decade trend for urban growth in migration and rural out migration continuing:

  • Wake County (1,129,410) surpassed Mecklenburg County (1,115,482) as the most populous county in North Carolina. These two counties alone are home to 47% of the decade’s total population growth in NC (combined for 424,000 of the total 904,000) and their metro regions.
  • 12 Counties (6 counties in metro Charlotte and 6 in Triangle metro) accounted for almost 80% of the growth, while 50 counties saw their populations decline.
  • Johnston (27.9%), Brunswick (27.2%), and Cabarrus (26.8%) counties saw the largest increases in the state, followed by Wake (25.4%) and Durham (21.4%)
  • The City of Charlotte grew by more than 100,000 people in the last decade.
  • This week, the Senate and House Redistricting Committees adopted the criteria that will be used for drawing the maps. The criteria exclude race and election data from being used to draw political maps and largely looks like criteria used in 2019.
  • It will take Legislative Staff approximately three weeks to certify and clean up the date received from the Census Bureau.
  • While staff works through data, the committees will work on creating a public hearing schedule by the end of August.

The meeting concluded after about 30 minutes.

Celebrating Indian Independence Day with HSNC in Morrisville

Sunday I attended the Indian Independence Day celebration in Morrisville’s HSNC (Hindu Society of North Carolina). It was a scaled-down outdoor masked event but was still a great celebration.

In attendance were NC Senator Jay Chaudhuri, NC Representative Gale Adcock (former Cary Mayor Pro-Tem), and several other elected officials. The celebration included national anthems from India and the United States as well as flag raisings. The event lasted about 30 minutes.

Letter from NC Retail Merchants Opposes Mask Mandate

This week I received the following email from the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association:

Dear Local Government Officials:

Since March of 2020, the State of North Carolina, its local governments, its citizens and its businesses have fought tirelessly against COVID-19. Earlier this summer, thanks to the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, North Carolina had progressed to place where all restrictions on businesses were eliminated – including mask mandates. With the Delta variant of COVID-19 resulting in increased COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, many counties and cities are revisiting mask mandates. The North Carolina Retail Merchants Association (NCRMA) which represents more than 2,500 members totaling over 25,000 store locations in North Carolina continues to oppose mask mandates especially at the local level. With that said, NCRMA does acknowledge the decision to implement a mask mandate is within the statutory purview of local governments and if a local government chooses to go this route it is the policy decision for the local government to make in the best interest of its community.

Should a local government choose to implement a mask mandate in your community, NCRMA strongly urges the local government to not force retailers or other businesses to be the enforcement entity for the mask mandate. The number one priority of North Carolina’s retailers is to provide a safe shopping experience for both its customers and its employees. Earlier this year, enforcement of mask mandates by retail employees subjected many front-line retail employees to both physical and verbal attacks by customers who chose not to wear a mask. Just over the North Carolina/South Carolina line, a grocery store employee had a gun pointed at their head due to a dispute of wearing a mask and a security guard was shot in a dollar store in Michigan. In addition to potential violence, there is a tremendous labor shortage in North Carolina and retaining employees who are required to enforce mask mandates is very difficult, further straining an already fragile labor force. Retailers lost an entire class of teenage employees because either they or their parents were afraid, not that their child would contract COVID-19 but rather they would face verbal or physical abuse. Many teenagers get their first work experience at a retail store working a cash register, stocking shelves or bagging groceries and many of these teenagers did not get that opportunity during COVID-19 due to the mask mandate issue.

Additionally, we have heard from numerous retailers that they, as employers, worked with their employees to convince them to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For many employers these were difficult conversations that may have cut against the employee’s personal, political, health or faith beliefs. Part of the conversation was that getting vaccinated would get us to a place where masks would no longer be required. Now those employees are second-guessing their employers as mask mandates return. Again, these employer-employee relationships are being strained at a time when there is a tremendous labor shortage and retaining and recruiting employees has never been more difficult.

Many businesses, including those businesses most impacted by mask mandates, were also the most detrimentally impacted by COVID-19 restrictions including mask mandates and forced shutdowns. These businesses need the support of local governments to continue to recover and stay in business, providing jobs and collecting and paying taxes in your community. Adding additional requirements on these businesses or placing these businesses in a position to enforce a divisive policy, such as a mask mandate, will only make it more difficult for these businesses to survive post-COVID-19.

NCRMA strongly encourages local governments to:

1) Impose any civil or criminal penalty for failure to comply with the mask mandate squarely on the individual.

2) Exempt retailers and other businesses from any civil and/or criminal penalties as long the retailer or business makes a good faith effort to implement a mask mandate. Posting signage informing customers masks are required within the establishment would demonstrate such good faith.

3) Support your local businesses and make policies that are manageable and not detrimental to them.

We thank you for your consideration and would be willing to talk with you further if you would like. You can reach me at [email protected] or (919) 389-0136.


Andy Ellen

President and General Counsel

North Carolina Retail Merchants Association

As I mentioned above, it seems that everyone has been asking me about Cary and a mask mandate. I have spent many hours and several days talking with the staff, experts, council members, county officials, etc. I have been provided very, very, concerning health data. According to the data, over 90 percent of local hospitalizations with COVID are with the unvaccinated. In addition, they are much, much younger and much, much sicker. This is scary and upsetting.

I have been told that after a year and a half of the pandemic, the health care workers are beaten down and discouraged. But they continue to be heroes. They are once again in crisis mode with Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care Units at capacity. And I am talking locally not in Florida. What is frustrating about this peak is that it was preventable.

So what do we do as local municipal leaders? That question has been weighing heavily on me. I can tell you that I have spent a lot of time on both sides of the mask mandate argument. I can also tell you that I will continue to consult with other mayors on Monday night. In the meantime, please, please, please get vaccinated. And regardless of a mask mandate, please wear a mask indoors. If you have been vaccinated like me, please wear a mask to protect those that aren’t vaccinated especially those under 12 who can’t get one yet.

Town Manager’s Report

The town manager, Sean Stegall’s report for this week included:

Sean’s Message

The US Census Bureau released its basic data on Thursday. Cary’s Redistricting Team has reconvened, and our consultants have begun the required analysis. Assuming there are no technical issues with the data, we should know before the end of August whether any changes in our new map will need to be made. You can view the news conference here.

In other news, the Infrastructure Bill was passed by the Senate, approving President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Staff will continue to analyze details of the bill and report back. I look forward to discussing more with you in my one-on-one meetings.

Have a great weekend.


Downtown Park Website Launch

The splash page for the Downtown Cary Park website is live. Additional content will be developed over the next several months. This is another step in the branding and positioning work for the park.

We’re Talking Trees

Throughout the year, citizens will have the opportunity to receive tree planting and maintenance tips from Urban Forestry Manager Katie Rose Levin. The virtual Tree Talk Series highlights seasonal topics and begins in the fall with proper tree planting techniques and continues with pruning in winter, soil care in spring, and watering and pest management in summer.

The talks will be announced through social media, the website, and BUD, and participants may register through myCary.

Regional Anti-Litter Efforts

Cary collaborates with Wake County on many aspects of waste management, including litter reduction education and outreach efforts. Over the past few months, Wake County engaged municipalities including Cary to discuss the possibilities of coordinating a one-year pilot anti-litter campaign using the Litterati app .

The app can be used to encourage citizens to pick up trash, participate in data collection, and provide insights into local litter. Staff sought input from the Information Services Advisory Board and the Environmental Advisory Board and continues conversations with Wake County while exploring the options to incorporate the app within the Cary Spruce program.

Transforming Trash with NCSU

Cary has been engaging with North Carolina State University (NCSU) regarding innovative ways to improve solid waste and recycling operations and management. Early this spring, staff shared with Council that NCSU included Cary as a partner in its Department of Energy (DOE) grant project proposal to develop AI technology that analyzes waste materials that have potential to be diverted from the landfill and used to produce alternative fuels.

This week, NCSU shared the good news that it was awarded grant funds and will be launching the bioenergy technology project. Cary is excited to support this advanced research by providing insight into solid waste and recycling operations, creating opportunities to identify and characterize waste stream organics, and facilitating connections within the waste industry. Click here to learn more about the DOE grant projects.

Delineators Installation Complete

On August 8, delineator devices were installed on the centerline of Hampton Valley Way between Cary Parkway and Farmington Woods Elementary School.

During the school season, vehicles were crossing the centerline in order to pass vehicles waiting in student carpool pick up and requiring additional law enforcement resources. Staff will be studying the aftereffects and monitoring operations using Cary’s Intelligent Transportation System’s CCTV camera at the intersection.

2021 Legacy Award Recipient

On August 8, Chief Toni Dezomits was presented with a 2021 Legacy Award at the White Oak Foundation’s 12th Annual Scholarship & Community Awards Program at the Embassy Suites in Cary.

In a celebration of local heroes and in recognition of this being the “Year of the Woman,” Chief Dezomits was recognized alongside her colleagues in Retired Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Fuquay Varina Police Chief Laura Fahnestock, Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins, Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson, and Morrisville Police Chief Patrice Andrews, who was unfortunately unable to attend the event.

In his remarks to the honorees, Reverend Charles R. Tyner, Sr., said the White Oak Foundation wanted to, “salute those heroes among us who have borne us through this tumultuous time in our Nation’s history.”  Please join us in congratulating Chief Dezomits on this well-deserved honor and recognition.

Anniversary of Excellence

This week marks the 7-year anniversary for the Western Wake Regional Water Reclamation Facility (WWRWRF). Since sewer started flowing in 2014, the 18 MGD facility now treats up to 7 million gallons a day from Cary, Morrisville, Apex, and portions of Research Triangle Park.

WWRWRF continues to meet and exceed all federal and state permit requirements and with an exceptional facility, staff call the plant the “Greatest Place on Earth”.

Upcoming Meetings

Virtual Cary150 Task Force
Tuesday, August 17
6:15 p.m.

Virtual Greenway Committee
Thursday, August 19
6:00 p.m.

Mayor’s Mailbox

Emails from citizens this week included:

  • A request for LGBTQ nondiscriminatory ordinance
    • I regularly get this type of request. NC municipalities do not have the authority to enact that type of legislation. Having permission isn’t the same as being able to do what we want until we’re told not to. It means asking before doing.  In my humble opinion, the communities that created formal non-discrimination rules in the past didn’t ask for permission before enacting their rules, and that led to a swift and certain negative reaction by State government leadership with HB2. That bill was estimated to have cost Cary about $6 million in economic benefit. Even though the HB2 moratorium has expired, that’s not the same as the State giving its permission. And with the General Assembly relatively the same in both party and ideal, I believe taking action locally would simply produce the same result or worse. Having said that, anyone who knows me will tell you that I believe in treating every person equally. It’s part of my upbringing and the way my wife and I have raised our children. It’s also part of my religious beliefs. And it’s what I think America is all about. I believe I see value in each and every person. That’s who Harold is.
  • A question about the future location of the Ivey-Ellington House (not decided)
  • A complaint about rezoning cases in the Green Hope School Road area
  • A complaint about parking on Old Penny Road
  • Dozens of emails “demanding” that there be no mask mandates and no vaccine requirements (still coming in as I write this blog)
  • Dozens of emails asking for mask mandates with statements like “do the right thing” (still coming in as I write this blog)

Next week’s activities include staff meetings, a Wake County Mayors Association meeting, a zoom meeting with 3rd-grade classes from a local school, a meeting of the CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s) Executive Board, a “Topping Out” event at the Fenton, and a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors.

Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, August 22nd.  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 [email protected] and email personal comments to [email protected].

From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Images from the Town of Cary.

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