Cary, NC — This was a very tough week for me.
Decision Process for the Cary Mask Mandate
Monday, after hours and days of talking to experts, officials, and staff, I decided to declare a State of Emergency and institute a masked mandate. Almost immediately this made me the most hated man in Cary. I have received some of the most nasty, hurtful, emails in my 18 years as an elected official. I will share some of them later but first I would like to explain the decision process.
Looking at the Data
It is important to understand that my training and profession is in mathematics and computer science, so I very much believe and value science. I have been described as data-driven and I think that is a fair assessment. Some people may not agree with the following points that I used to base my decision, but there is overwhelming data to back them.
I realize that there are studies that contradict the use of masks and vaccines, but I go with data from proven, credible sources. They overwhelmingly state that vaccines are the best protection against the virus. And without a vaccine, masks and social distancing are the best ways to prevent getting and transmitting the virus.
The data points I believe:
- Masks protect the person that wears them somewhat but mostly protect others.
- People that are 100% vaccinated can still carry the virus and give it to others.
- Children under 12 cannot get vaccinated.
- Over 80% of Cary residents are fully vaccinated. Most of the remaining are children that are not eligible for vaccinations.
A Plea From Local Healthcare Workers
Initially, I was not going to do a mask mandate because I believe it should be statewide and I still do. The turning point for me was late in the week when I was sent a message by healthcare workers from our local hospital.
Here is what I was told: They were running out of ICU beds and ventilators. They had just intubated a 19-year-old. Almost all their COVID patients are unvaccinated. Those patients are much younger and much sicker. Their healthcare workers have been battling COVID for a year and a half.
They are exhausted, frustrated, angry, and demoralized especially since this wave was preventable. Nevertheless, they continue to take care of sick patients. They “begged” for the mayor to PLEASE do something. To institute a mask mandate for indoors.
This request (from our healthcare heroes) had a big impact on me. In addition, I knew that most of the unvaccinated in Cary are children who are not yet eligible for vaccinations.
Making the Call
I spent the weekend calling and talking to experts, other elected officials, and staff. I knew that if I instituted a mask mandate, I would face the wrath of the anti-vaccinators and the anti-mask people. I knew that with a mask mandate I would face the wrath of people that are tired of restrictions. I knew that with a mask mandate I would face the wrath of business owners.
My options were to ignore the pleas from the healthcare workers or make a LOT of people unhappy. It was a lose-lose choice. I chose the unpopular option of instituting a mask mandate. Even if it saves one life it would be worth all the nastiness and hatred I have received.
Does a mask mandate cause hardship? Absolutely! If you knew my personal actions, you would know that I do intensive workouts in a gym almost every day. It sucks wearing a mask! But that inconvenience could save a life.
How Long and Why Institute a Cary Mandate in Addition to Wake County?
So, how long will the mandate last? Good question. I watch the numbers daily (they come out after lunch). The positive cases seem to be oscillating with the seven-day average somewhat leveling but slightly rising. However, the hospitalizations are still soaring, and have now reached over 3000 which is what we saw in the winter. It is my hope that the hospitalizations (which lag positive cases by a week or so) will start leveling off and moving downward.
Why didn’t I go with the Wake County mandate? I did a Cary mandate so that I could rescind the mandate when we feel Cary is ready. When we start to see a steady decline in numbers I will once again spend time talking with health care experts and staff to see if it is time to rescind the State of Emergency. I can assure you that will happen as soon as I believe it can.
Doing the Right Thing, Despite the Hate Mail
This process has been exhausting but I feel I did the right thing. So now I am facing the consequences of my actions and I expected that. Much of the negativity is from people that say masks don’t work and the vaccines don’t work. Others think this is an attack on personal freedom.
Interestingly, I was getting hate emails from both sides before the mandate. Now the hate emails have turned personal. People think that just because you are elected that you don’t feel. OH, we feel! It hurts to read emails saying negative things about you or the town you love. And while I am used to personal attacks some of the nastiness this week was out of bounds.
“You pose as a Christian, but I can see through that.”
“You are going to hell.”
“I rebuke the evil dwelling in you in the name of Jesus.”
“God help us rid ourselves of people like you.”
And those are the ones I can print. My intentions are, and always have been, to help Cary citizens. I think it is fine to disagree, we do it all the time on council. But we respect each other as brothers and sisters. Personally, I think that is how we should all behave.
Wake County Mayors Meet to Start the Week
Monday night I attended the Wake County Mayors Association meeting in Raleigh. In attendance were the mayors of Cary, Garner, Knightdale, Morrisville, Raleigh, Rolesville, Wendell, and Zebulon. Mayors of small towns talked about their populations of less than 10,000 and how their focus was on getting people vaccinated.
Surprisingly, one of the towns doesn’t even have a drug store, so getting a vaccine is difficult for some of their residents. We all gave our thoughts on the mask mandate with some, like Cary, already mandated, others wanting to follow the county, and others wanting to encourage but not mandate.
CAMPO Discusses Projects, Funding Delays
Wednesday I participated in a meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Executive Board. The agenda included 6 consent items and 3 discussion items. The board unanimously approved proposed changes and target a modal investment mix for LAPP (Locally Administered Projects Program) projects.
We also received disappointing information on the funding of projects and programs. Basically, things will continue to be delayed due to a lack of funding. The board also received an update on the 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Our meeting concluded after about an hour and a half.
Speaking at a Fenton Ceremony
Thursday I had the joy of attending the “topping out” ceremony for the Fenton. The event was held outside with people that had a vested interest in the project including town employees, the developers, owners, and contractors. I was honored to give remarks and spoke from the following notes:
“… The Fenton is more than just the latest development in Cary, more than the largest development in Cary’s history, it is the crown jewel of our Eastern Gateway. It is a connected lifestyle. The Fenton will provide a unique experience to those who visit, live, and work here. From upscale retail, exquisite restaurants, and powerhouse office spaces. Hines, Columbia Development, USAA Real Estate’s vision has exceeded all our expectations and we are so appreciative of the successful partnership with the Town.
As Mayor I’m proud that we have bragging rights that Fenton calls Cary home. No other space in the Triangle can compare. In addition to raising the bar of what a mixed-use can look like, this space is a successful example of what a designation center should be, walkable and integrated. We look forward to welcoming residents, employers, employees, and visitors to Cary’s Eastern Gateway crown jewel the Fenton. Each of them will have the opportunity to experience this new way of living and know that THIS is the place to be…”
The event lasted about an hour and a half.
Preliminary Census Data for Cary
Thursday I received information from staff stating that the August 12th release of preliminary 2020 US Census data put Cary’s April 2020 population at about 174,000 people, our Planning Department estimates Cary’s July 1, 2021 population to be 179,000.
NC Metro Mayors Recap
Friday I participated in a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors. Here are a few notes from the lobbyist representing the mayors:
This week, ushered by Kilpatrick Townsend, the Senate passed both the second and third readings of S688, Sports Wagering. Passed with a bipartisan vote of 26-19, 9 Republicans and 17 Democratic members supported final passage.
S688 would authorize, regulate, and tax sports betting in North Carolina. The Lottery Commission would be responsible for regulating and issuing licenses to 10-12 sports wagering operators. S688 also creates the North Carolina Major Events, Games and Attractions Fund.
This Fund, administered by the Department of Commerce, would provide grants for local governments or nonprofit entities working with local governments. The goal is to attract major entertainment, musical, political, sporting, and theatrical events to the State that will stimulate economic activity and create jobs.
Next week, the Sports Wagering bill, S688, will be referred to the Rules Committee in the NC House before further actions are taken.
On August 17th, the North Carolina Senate voted not to concur on the House passed budget, S105. House and Senate appointed conferees can be found here. Budget conference negotiations have already begun in earnest and will continue for the next 3-4 weeks.
Criminal Justice Reform
The North Carolina House has approved S300, Criminal Justice Reform, an omnibus bill that provides numerous changes. Changes that stemmed from the deliberations of the NC House Task Force on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice.
Legislation will be returned to the NC Senate for concurrence next week, before being submitted to the Governor’s office. Other criminal justice reform bills advancing include H536, Law Enforcement Duty to Intervene, and H436, Support Law Enforcement Mental Health, which are also contained in S300.
Our meeting concluded after about 30 minutes.
Town Manager’s Report
The town manager, Sean Stegall’s report for this week included the following:
Two notable events occurred this week including Fenton’s Topping Out Party which provided the opportunity for the community to celebrate Fenton’s latest construction milestone. Mayor Weinbrecht shared his excitement for the project milestone at the event. The Fenton development is slated for a Spring 2022 opening.
Earlier in the week, a team of filmmakers joined Assistant Town Manager Dan Ault virtually for a panel discussion about the documentary General Magic. This inspiring story made such an impact on me, and particularly Dan. The themes in the documentary align with what we want to do here in Cary and what we are doing every single day.
Have a great weekend.
Credit Ratings Received
Credit ratings are in! Cary received AAA ratings from Moody’s, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s this week for the August 31 $125 million bond sale, the first issuance of the Shaping Cary’s Tomorrow bonds. At the same time, these agencies also affirmed AAA ratings for Cary’s existing outstanding general obligation bonds. The agencies cited Cary’s “flexibility” and “strong financial position” among the reasons for the rating. Having the highest credit rating allows Cary to borrow money at lower rates, resulting in significant savings in debt service interest payments. The ratings can be viewed here.
Fire Deploys Water Rescue Team
On Tuesday, Fire sent members of its swift water rescue team to support search, rescue, and recovery efforts in Haywood County. North Carolina Emergency Management deployments typically last for approximately 72 hours, but the state has requested that the team possibly extend its deployment through the weekend due to the widespread damage and destruction left behind from the flooding and mudslides. This 13-member team led by Captain Yoko Sorensen and Battalion Chief Andy Hiscock has been conducting searches in rivers and on riverbanks. Our thoughts are with the citizens of Haywood County and the many emergency responders from across the state as they conduct this tedious and challenging work.
Sewer Rehab and Temporary Greenway Closures
This fall, Cary will begin its largest sewer rehabilitation project to date. The $12.2 million project will repair more than 3.6 miles of critical sewer pipeline. The sewer rehab project will occur in phases over a 21-month period that will affect portions of the Crabtree Creek and Black Creek greenways. While temporary greenway closures are necessary during the project, there will be clearly marked alternate greenway routes. A website was created to keep citizens and greenway visitors informed about the project and greenway detours. To learn more visit www.carygreenwaydetour.com.
Annual Schools In Speeds Out Campaign
On August 23, Cary will begin its annual “Schools In Speeds Out” campaign which focuses on traffic and pedestrian safety in and around Cary’s school zones. The campaign will run for two weeks concluding on September 3.
Cross County Kickoff
Last Saturday marked the beginning of the cross-country season for Wake County public and private high schools. A total of 690 runners from 16 local schools participated in the kickoff event at WakeMed Soccer Park, which will serve as the location for daily and weekly activities for these student athletes as they prepare for the state championships in November.
Compost Education Center Teams Up With Camps
This summer, Cary hosted a series of hands-on composting, waste-diversion and ecology workshops for 240 youth from Cary’s Summer Day Camp. During these workshops, campers explored the Compost Education Center, learning composting techniques and how waste diversion can be used to improve the world around them.
They enjoyed exploring the Center’s organic vegetable garden, native plant garden, and pond habitat, and used hand tools to get an up-close look at the flowers, bugs and butterflies.
Virtual Planning and Zoning Board
Monday, August 23
Thursday, August 26
Emails from citizens this week included:
- Dozens of complaints about the Mask Mandate
- Dozens of compliments about the Mask Mandate
- Examples of charts and graphs using open data
- Complaints about the proposed rezoning for a dentist office in Wellington Park
- A complaint about the popup skateboard park in downtown
Next week’s activities include a staff meeting and a meeting with developers. I will spend most of the week on vacation visiting my oldest daughter.
Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, August 29th. Although I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communications with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org and email personal comments to email@example.com.
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