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Q and A: Many cities face similar challenges

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, incoming chairman of the N.C. Metropolitan Coalition, spoke recently at a luncheon held in connection with Salisbury City Council’s annual goal-setting retreat.
Foy came at the invitation of Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, a member of the coalition, which brings together the mayors of the state’s 25 largest cities.
The mayors promote statewide policies, rules and legislation that ensure that urban regions remain quality places to live and are environmentally sound and economically feasible.
Foy is in his fourth term as Chapel Hill mayor. Some of the issues he has focused on include the downtown, transit, recreation, crime, planning and Chapel Hill’s relation to the University of North Carolina.
After the luncheon, he spoke with Post reporter Mark Wineka.
Q. What were your drive-by, window-view impressions of Salisbury when you came into town?
A. Downtown?
Q. Yes.A. We weren’t just driving by. Carlo (his assistant) and I walked around because we got here early, so we we had the opportunity. To me, it’s got great bones. That’s what I would say.
Q. First time here?A. Never been here before, yes. Susan (Salisbury Mayor Kluttz) has always said, “Come to Salisbury,” but you know how that goes. You got to find the time. It’s just beautiful, these beautiful old buildings, and it’s just got a graciousness that’s very appealing.
Q. You’ve mentioned you’re dealing with downtown issues in Chapel Hill. What kinds of things?
A. Our downtown, like all downtowns, I suppose, is the historic heart of the city. Therefore, everybody in town has an opinion about it. It’s not like any other neighborhood. Everyone views it as their neighborhood. It’s changing as a result of market forces. It used to be there was nowhere else to go. Well, now we have a lot of alternatives. And it used to be that students, especially, but also faculty and staff, were pretty much captive, and downtown almost had a monopoly. Well, no more. So we started seeing vacant storefronts, and that has just shocked everybody. How could that be? Then we have an issue with parking. People who know Chapel Hill know that the university and downtown are contiguous. We’ve got 30,000 students on that campus. We’ve got 10-, 15-, 20 thousand more faculty-staff. We’ve got the hospitals. It’s hard to accommodate everyone in their car. We have an issue much larger cities have in regard to parking, and people complain about that.
Q. Pat McCrory could be the next governor. I know he had a lot to do with establishing the metropolitan coalition … What would that mean to the coalition if Pat McCrory is governor? Is that important? Would he be a great voice for cities?A. Yes, a mayor who becomes governor is going to have the perspective of mayors, and Pat’s been the mayor for eight years. I’m sure if he’s elected he’s not going to forget that. As I said, part of the virtue of the Metropolitan Coalition is that it gives us all exposure to each other. All the mayors know Pat.
Q. Has Gov. Easley been someone the mayors could talk to easily in the past?
A. We kind of crashed his party back in 2001. You know, he was put in a bad position when he inherited that terrible financial difficulty, and he did what he had to do. We made our voices known. So the answer is, yeah, we sat around a table like this and we talked to the governor. He had a group of very unhappy people on his hands, so we had a dialogue with the governor and we’ve been able to keep that up. He has excellent people in his office ó Dan Gerlach and Franklin Freeman and people like that, I think, have really been accessible and willing to talk with us.
Q. Gangs have been an issue here in Salisbury, and outsiders find that hard to believe ó that we have gangs in Salisbury. Does Chapel Hill have any gang issue?A. Yes, we do. Everybody does and, as I said, Susan really sounded the alarm on this. Over the last several years, in the background (one heard) “Well, the gangs are tagging and that’s gang activity,” and this kind of thing. Well, the pace of that has been accelerating. Apparently, the most recent numbers indicate there are probably 10,000 gang members in North Carolina. That’s a lot of people involved in gang activity.
People in Salisbury know, but people through the rest of the state don’t know that gangs don’t mean Spanky and the Gang. It means evil, and once it spills into your community it can really tear the heart out of a community.
Q. We’re going to have a major annexation coming through this year, and it’s going to be controversial. Can you just repeat again where you think annexations go wrong?
A. I’m not commenting on Salisbury, because I don’t know anything about it. I only know what I’ve seen in the past. The pattern tends to to be that emotions run high. They start out at a flashpoint. Everybody says something they later regret. People take positions and move off of them. It becomes ugly, and emotion carries the day. The way to do it is to make sure everybody has the same information. Make sure people who are proposed to be annexed understand why that is. What is this about? Let them have a lot of time to process that. And then people who are inside the city have a very strong interest in understanding why this is beneficial to the city, why it’s beneficial to the county and why people who are being annexed are so vehemently opposed as a rule. Hash that out.
The fact, from my point of view, is that the annexation laws in North Carolina have been very beneficial. You can see a different model, and the model is many northern states where you have inner cities, which are the core historically, with little suburbs that grow up all around them. They have their own fire departments, their own police departments. Everything is duplicated. It’s expensive, and it tends to suck the life out of the center of the city. Then, people start pouring millions and millions of dollars into trying to rehabilitate a city which is the center of the area.
I think, if you look at that model, you would reject it, and you would say we have been well served. We don’t see that kind of development pattern in North Carolina. Raleigh is not like that. Greensboro is not like that. It’s not an accident. We have to think long and hard about what does our future look like. People who are here today have a lot to say about that. My advice is don’t just take a position and be knee-jerk on it. Think this through and think what is best for the whole community.

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