(original article can be found at The News and Observer)
As voters make up their minds ahead of the Nov. 7 runoff election, The News & Observer asked readers to submit their own questions to the candidates. McFarlane is seeking her fourth term as mayor, and Francis is challenging her for the seat.
Here are some of the questions readers asked. Some of the questions and answers have been condensed for brevity and clarity.
Q: There is a local and national mental health/opioid addiction crisis. Why is land not set aside for a mental health/addiction center on the 300-acre Dix Park site?
A: McFarlane: When we purchased the park, part of the stipulation was that the $52 million had to go to mental health services. Of course, that money went to the state of North Carolina, so it was really dependent on the state to decide what they were going to do with that money. I will say, as a pharmacist, I’m probably more acutely aware of this than many other elected officials. I owned a pharmacy, and we had a box in the pharmacy where any time anything was returned to the box it was picked up and incinerated. I think every pharmacy should have a box, every day, behind the pharmacy. Every time you go to the pharmacy you should be taking your old stuff and getting it out of the house. It’s not a solution, but I think it’s an important step.
A: Francis: One of the items I’ve campaigned on is that the city ought to take the lead in solving the mental health care crisis we have in Raleigh. The emergency rooms are full of people waiting days for a bed. I think it’s a great idea to look at space on the Dix campus for a treatment facility. Whether it’s there or not, the city needs to take the lead in increasing the number of inpatient beds. Holly Hill (Hospital) and the few places we have around town are just not enough, and the city needs to take a strong lead in creating more beds.
A: McFarlane: You’re right, we are a growing city. A lot of times, people think that bigger crowds are more crime, but a lot of time, more people is more eyes on the street. Our downtown is incredibly safe. Something like that, though we hate to hear about it, is pretty rare. It’s not something we hear about very often. It’s very difficult. So many people have guns, and that’s a huge problem we face not only in Raleigh but in the whole country. We have really increased things like community policing and having police in areas like downtown and Glenwood South. You can’t predict every situation, but our police force is doing a great job of constantly training and constantly learning. They’re out there in ways we don’t even know about.
A: Francis: We do have a growing public safety problem in Raleigh, because the city is growing and because the size and compensation of the police department has not increased commensurate with the size of the city. One thing I would do is make sure that police officers are properly paid and properly benefited. The delay of a year and a half under McFarlane while that unnecessary (wage structure) study was done was unfair to police officers, it damaged morale, and it caused good men and women to leave the force. That put all of us at greater risk. The second thing we need to do is step up our efforts at diversity within the force. I know Chief (Cassandra) Deck-Brown has been working on this, but the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. We need more black officers, more LGBT officers, more Latino officers. I would also work to increase access to housing for everybody, including police officers. I think if the officers can live closer to where they work, instead of in Johnston County or Franklin County, then we’re going to recruit and retain more good-quality officers.
Q: What have you done to promote renewable energy in your career? If elected, how will you promote wind, solar and energy efficiency in buildings?
A: McFarlane: We’ve done a lot. We have lots of solar arrays. The top of the convention center is a solar array, and we have one just to the south. I think the most exciting thing we’re doing right now is our buses are being converted to compressed natural gas. Even better than that, we’re producing it with the byproduct from our wastewater treatment facility. So eventually, we will be fossil-fuel free.
A: Francis: We are sitting now in (the Francis Law Firm’s) new law office, which is in a building that was built in 1903. We tore this building down to the studs, and when we renovated this building, we put in the most energy-efficient package that modern technology has. We replaced all the light fixtures in the building so every one of them is an LED fixture. The city needs to do a lot more of that, too, so we can reduce our carbon footprint.
Q: In light of Raleigh’s ever-increasing population, what are you doing – or what will you do – to ensure an adequate supply of water?
A: McFarlane: We do have long-range plans. We’re currently working with the (Army) Corps of Engineers. In Falls Lake, which is our main water supply, there are different levels … that are spoken for. But there is room that’s not allocated, so we’ve been working for over a year with all the surrounding municipalities and counties and the Corps of Engineers to increase our allocation out of Falls Lake, which would be a huge help. We do have plans to build a Little River reservoir.
A: Francis: That’s an issue I need to study. Maintaining the quality and integrity of our water supply in Falls Lake and future supplies is the most important thing. I don’t have an answer for the reader right now, but I’m committed to learning about it.
Q: The city of Raleigh is not well lit. Could we please get more street lighting in the darker areas of the city?
A: McFarlane: That’s actually a Duke Energy situation, but if you have certain areas that you want to be lit, you can contact the city and we can pass that on to Duke. We’re happy to get that done.
A: Francis: I think there are a lot of places in town where it doesn’t look like a city; it looks like the small town Raleigh used to be. I think there are a lot of places the city does need to be more lit. It is, in part, a safety issue.
Q: How would you make it easier for citizens to make public comments to the City Council and to attend and participate in committee meetings and subcommittee meetings?
A: McFarlane: People work, they have different things going on, and you can’t always be there to speak about that certain item on a Tuesday evening. People email and call and write letters, but there’s so much technology available now that we’re trying to figure out how can we enhance that, so people do have more opportunities to speak up.
A: Francis: I agree that we need to make it easier for citizens to comment. Maybe one of the things that we should do is think about moving the City Council meetings around different parts of town. I don’t see why all the meetings have to be in (City Hall). I also think sometimes the time limits that are placed on comment are artificially low, because some issues are not complex and you can say what you have to say in three minutes, but some issues are just much more involved and citizens ought to have more than three minutes to comment. The third thing I think I would do is listen to what citizens have to say – I mean, really listen to what they have to say, and make sure that’s reflected in policy decisions. Frankly, I have watched this council in action, and in my opinion and in the opinion of a lot of citizens, this council is not listening, really listening, and taking in what citizens have to say.
Q: While I have nothing against her, I do think the current mayor has been in office long enough. There are term limits on the presidency. I want to know if you are willing to commit to only one or two terms for mayor.
A: McFarlane: That might even be a legislative decision, I’m not sure. I know some mayors across the country are term-limited and some are not. But the term limits happen at the polls. Sometimes we have long projects that take a long time from start to completion. It doesn’t always happen in four years. I was glad I was (on the council) for 10 years to get the Dix Park deal completed.
A: Francis: Well, I agree with a part of your reader’s questions – I agree that the mayor has been in office long enough and that it’s time for a change. What I can say is that I don’t have any intent to stay in office for many, many terms. I enjoy my life as a lawyer in private practice, as a businessman, and as a father and a husband. I enjoy my private pursuits, which I don’t have enough time for as it is. I don’t want to stay in the office for five or six terms. I want to go in there long enough to do the things that need to be done and then move on to the next phase of my life.