April 2011 Highlights

In April, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County kicked off the process of updating our long-term comprehensive development plan.

Legacy Update kickoff:      In 2001, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County adopted the Legacycomprehensive growth and development plan. Over the succeeding decade, we've implemented most of the plan's recommendations to create small area development guidance plans around the city and county, and to create or update special plans and ordinances on topics from parks and open space, greenways, bikeways, and sidewalks, to stormwater management, signage, and tree conservation.

In April, we formally kicked off the process of updating that comprehensive countywide growth and development plan. Two meetings held April 26 were well-attended by diverse and interested audiences. They started the process by listening to overview presentations and then making their suggestions on key issues and needs for the plan. Winston-Salem and Forsyth County are projected to grow by 120,000 residents over the next 20 years. In our year-long Legacy Plan update process, we'll work on the standards and guidelines for guiding that growth. Look for updates on the time, place, and subject matter of further meetings athttp://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Planning/Legacy/Articles/Legacy

Garage rezoning request withdrawn:      A request by Harvey and Chris Davis to rezone property near the corner of Jonestown and Stratford roads was withdrawn in early April. The Davises sought to rezone that property from residential use to a Highway Business classification that would have included garages and vehicle storage yards. The proposed rezoning was strongly opposed by nearby neighborhoods, and both the Planning staff and the Planning Board recommended denial. After reviewing the record and arguments for and against, I had let the petitioners and opponents know that I would recommend denial of the rezoning request if it were not withdrawn.

I understand that there is sympathy for the Davises' rezoning request based on concern that their current garage location is being purchased by the city under an eminent domain process. Unfortunately, they picked as their proposed new site a piece of property zoned for residential use, where a garage and vehicle storage lot would be incompatible with the surrounding area.

I have encouraged the Davises to consider alternate sites for their garage and storage lot. I have offered to ask city staff to assist them in finding good alternatives. The Davises declined that offer at the time, but it remains open for their consideration, and I hope that they will reconsider.

School resource officers:      A "School Resource Officer" (SRO) is a uniformed local law enforcement officer assigned to a middle or high school. The SROs develop positive communications with the students, faculty, and staff, and are present to help deal with any serious problems that can arise on school grounds. SROs are trained staff of a local law enforcement agency (police or sheriff's department), but the costs of the extra officers are paid for by the school system. For the past few years, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools have had SROs in each middle and high school. Most have been staff of the Forsyth Sheriff's Department. During the past two years, the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) (with City Council approval) entered into a pilot project in which four schools within the city limits have WSPD officers as their SROs. By all accounts, this arrange has worked well, including by facilitating smoother communication with the local law enforcement department which has actual legal jurisdiction to handle any serious problem on that school's campus. At our April 18 meeting, the City Council agreed to a contract with the school system to staff each of the middle and high schools within city limits with a WSPD officer as its SRO. The school system will pay for the costs of the extra officers. This arrangement will be phased in over the next two to three years.

Winston-Salem elections legislation:      I normally focus in these monthly reports on city business and issues, and don't address debates at the state and federal levels. However, in this case a proposed state bill (House Bill 523), now under consideration in the N.C. House of Representatives, would directly affect how our city is governed.

HB 523 would move the elections for Winston-Salem city council and mayor from odd-numbered years (e.g., 2005, 2009, 2013) to presidential election years (e.g., 2012, 2016, 2020). In the process, it would arbitrarily cut a year off the current terms of all present council members and the mayor.

I believe that both of those actions would be wrong. First, to bury city elections under the overwhelming noise of the campaigns for president and governor would make it much more difficult for us to focus voter attention to concerns of local services, problems, and issues. Unfortunately, the national political atmosphere has become so divisive and polarized that partisan political hostility at the national level tends to drown out calm issue discussion in the lower-level races.

Even more clearly, for state legislators to arbitrarily cut a year off the terms to which local voters elected us just two years ago is fundamentally unfair and shows disrespect to the voting public. The sponsorship of this proposal further leads to the appearance that it is motivated by partisan politics rather than good government: The three Republican members of Forsyth County's delegation to the N.C. House are its co-sponsors, while the two Democratic N.C. House members from Forsyth County oppose it. We should try to avoid legislating on that basis.

It seems to me that the question of city elections has been plucked out of the blue (with no public petitions or citizen-led effort to bring them up) and combined with the contentious issue of partisan vs. non-partisan elections for the local school board. This same HB 523 would also reverse the decision approved just two years ago which made our county school board elections non-partisan. I have heard reasonable arguments for and against that decision, but at least it came out of a public petition drive to change the method of school board election. Ensnaring the two issues together leaves the impression that our local Republican legislators are seeking to cut short the elected terms of Winston-Salem city officials (most of whom currently are Democrats) in retaliation for the change to elections for Forsyth school board members (most of whom currently are Republicans).

This is not good government, and does nothing to address our real problems involving jobs, the economy, our schools, public safety, transportation infrastructure, environmental quality, and fiscal responsibility. I have communicated my opposition to HB 523 to our N.C. House members, as have other city council members.

If this matter concerns you as well, you can advise your N.C. House representative of your thoughts at the following contacts: 
Rep. Dale Folwell, Dale.Folwell@ncleg.net ; 
Rep. Bill McGee, William.McGee@ncleg.net ; 
Rep. Larry Womble, Larry.Womble@ncleg.net ; 
Rep. Earline Parmon, Earline.Parmon@ncleg.net ; 
Rep. Larry Brown, Larry.Brown@ncleg.net

Little Creek playground completed:      I am pleased to report that installation of the new playground equipment at Little Creek Recreation Center was completed in late April. Parents are invited to take the kids down to Little Creek to play on our new safe equipment there.

Arson Awareness Week:      The Winston-Salem Fire Department, Police Department, and other local partners are holding an Arson Awareness and Fire Safety Fair during national Arson Awareness Week (May 1-7). The fair is free and will be held 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. this Wednesday, May 4. It will be held at the Anderson Recreation Center (Reynolds Park) at 2450 Reynolds Park Road, and offer informational displays and materials, a fire truck, and children's educational activities with "Sparky the Fire Dog".

Youth Citizens' Police Academy:      The Winston-Salem Police Department is now accepting applications from high school students 16 and older for the inaugural Youth Citizens' Police Academy, to be held June 20-24. This week-long program is designed to provide young people with an idea of the requirements and responsibilities of a career in law enforcement.

The application form, recommendation form, and other details are available online at www.WSPD.org, or by contacting Sgt. J.M. Griffin at 773-7857 or mgriffin@wspd.org .  Applications and recommendations must be submitted by June 3.