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ABOUT THIS BLOG: The Raleigh Report is your one-stop shop for everything Raleigh. Check here for the latest on city government, planning, the arts, roads, Falls Lake, events and more. We’ll also share stories about interesting people and places throughout the Capital City, keep you posted on public hearings and neighborhood meetings, and tell you how to communicate with your council members and city officials. And, most importantly, we want to hear from you.

This blog is maintained by Midtown and North Raleigh News reporter Colin Campbell and other News & Observer staff writers.

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An election eve look at Raleigh races

Tuesday is election day in Raleigh, and with hours to go in Raleigh City Council campaigns, here's what's happening as the races near the finish line.

Firefighters' group snubs Stephenson: The Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association touted their endorsements for Raleigh City Council over the weekend. The group of current and retired firefighters endorsed Mayor Nancy McFarlane and all but one of the council incumbents. At-large Councilman Russ Stephenson didn't get a nod from the group, which declined to endorse a second candidate in the at-large race. Association President Keith Wilder did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Pearce backs Stagner: Gary Pearce, a longtime North Carolina political consultant and former aide to Gov. Jim Hunt, voiced his support for District A Raleigh council incumbent Randy Stagner in a blog post Monday morning. Pearce said he was initially critical of Stagner after hearing about his exchange over parking spaces with City Manager Russell Allen. But he changed his mind after hearing from fellow Democrats. "Stagner is impressive," Pearce wrote. "A 28-year veteran of Army Special Operations, he struck me as tough, fearless and independent." Read the rest of the post here: bit.ly/1fUYg5x.

Challengers split on new city manager: Several challengers in Raleigh City Council races have blasted their incumbent opponents for firing longtime City Manager Russell Allen without explanation. But they disagree on Allen's replacement: Ruffin Hall, who was named the new city manager last week. District A challenger Wayne Maiorano met Hall on Friday and issued a statement about the hire: “While I remain critical of the motives behind the firing of our former city manager, I congratulate the mayor and city council for a great result in hiring Mr. Hall." Mayoral candidate Venita Peyton, however, wasn't impressed, arguing on her blog that Hall's "resume is thinner than the interim manager and decades thinner than former City Manager Russell Allen."

Mysterious signs appear: Someone put up yard signs throughout Raleigh that feature what appear to be messages from Chinese restaurant fortune cookies. The signs appeared next to council campaign signs over the weekend at intersections throughout the city. No one seems to know who's behind them.

Fact-checking the Raleigh District A council race

North Raleigh residents have seen their mailboxes stuffed in recent weeks with advertisements from the two District A City Council candidates, Randy Stagner and Wayne Maiorano.

Both sides are distributing attack ads, and like most political campaigns, the accusations aren't entirely accurate.

Here's a look at what the candidates are saying about each other and how the claims hold up.

Maiorano: Stagner has no plan to address greenway safety. While it's true that Stagner hasn't pushed for more police officers on the greenway, he has made the safety concerns a priority. Stagner helped start the city's greenway volunteer program, which trains active greenway users to spot suspicious activity and serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for the police department on the trails.

Stagner: Maiorano opposes the city's 2030 Comprehensive Plan, which governs future development in the city. Maiorano has called for new plans for the city's future but calls the existing Comprehensive Plan "well done."

"When I talk about creating a vision and plan for managing growth, I am talking concrete plans for what we want to become as a city and how are we going to get there," Maiorano wrote in an email. "It only just starts with the Comp Plan; it does not end there."

Maiorano: Stagner "instigated the firing of the city manager" after a tense exchange about his reserved parking space. Email records show Stagner called for the council to "discuss (Russell Allen's) future with the City of Raleigh" in January. Stagner has said the parking issue had nothing to do with the firing, which took place four months later and had the support of five other council members.

Stagner: Maiorano was recruited by the Wake County Republican Party. While he's been endorsed by the Wake GOP and is a registered Republican, Maiorano says the claim is false. "A group of Democrats and independents recruited me to run against Mr. Stagner," he said. "It has never been about party or politics for me."

Maiorano: Stagner voted to fund the troubled Raleigh Business and Technology Center. Stagner joined all seven other members of the council in voting for budgets that included an annual appropriation for the Southeast Raleigh business incubator. The funding was established long before Stagner was elected in 2011, and there's no indication he or anyone else on the council was aware of financial troubles until the city's audit was released in July.

Stagner: Maiorano is a "real estate and commercial development lawyer" whose firm "regularly appears before the council." While Maiorano's online legal profile shows he represents developers on construction-related legal matters, he says he's not a land use or development attorney, and his firm Smith Anderson has only two of 120 lawyers who represent developers at the Raleigh City Council. He compared his situation to that of former Mayor Charles Meeker, who had to recuse himself whenever colleagues at the Parker Poe firm came before council.

Raleigh City Councilman Randy Stagner compares opponent to a fox

We're just over a week out from the Raleigh City Council election, and the tightest race in North Raleigh District A just got more heated.

Incumbent Randy Stagner has been sending out near-daily mailers highlighting accomplishments like a new stop light on Lead Mine Road and the upcoming rebuild of Sandy Forks Road. But his latest ad is a personal attack on opponent Wayne Maiorano and his ties to developers -- telling voters "don't let the fox guard the henhouse."

"When it comes to decisions that impact your neighborhood and property values, do you want the developer's lawyer making the call?" the mailer asks.

Maiorano recently released a statement criticizing Stagner's characterization of the race as "neighborhoods versus developers."

"Regrettably, my opponent has chosen to continue to divide Raleigh through an unhealthy and combative environment of pitting neighbors against developers," Maiorano wrote. "We are a community of developments. We should celebrate the successes, demand greatness and strive for mutual respect in how our city grows. I have worked my entire life trying to bring people together."

Maiorano also notes that Stagner was among the council members who voted for his appointment to the city's appearance commission, the board that regulates the design of new development.

Stagner's mailer also says that "nearly 90 percent of Maiorano's campaign contributions come from real estate and commercial development interests or his own law firm."

I tallied the campaign finance reports earlier this month and came up with a different number. That analysis showed that Maiorano has received $16,000 – one-third of his total – from developers, real estate brokers and development-related professionals such as architects. Stagner has received $3,000 from the same category of donors – about 16 percent of his total so far.

I didn't include Maiorano's co-workers at the Smith Anderson law firm because most of the 100-plus attorneys who work there don't represent local developers. They may have donated to Maiorano as colleagues, but with fields like corporate and bankruptcy law, they're not likely to ever appear before the Raleigh City Council.

An anecdotal look at the local impact of bluegrass week

While the projections for the week's bluegrass festivities show 60,000 in attendance and more than $5 million in visitor spending, we won't know the exact tally for a few weeks.

But it's easy to see the economic impact while hanging around downtown this week. Today I met an IBMA participant from Canada who spent 15 minutes raving to me about her meals at Ashley Christensen's restaurants, her purchases at Holly Aiken's handbag store (apparently she's selling banjo purses) and her visits to downtown art galleries.

I think she likes us better than Nashville, the event's previous host.

Downtown's venerable Mecca restaurant was unusually busy Wednesday night, and nearly half the tables had folks wearing bluegrass conference nametags.

The Bluegrass Ramble, a series of nightly concerts at six downtown venues, has been packed, not only with the out-of-town visitors but with plenty of locals eager to check out nationally known bands for a $10 cover.

Downtown Raleigh usually goes to bed early in the middle of the week, but the bluegrass shows had the bars full -- and slinging drinks -- from 6 p.m. on up to closing time.

I checked out the shows Wednesday and ended up at the Lincoln Theater until 2:30 a.m. I'm not sure when these bluegrass folks sleep, but it's not during IBMA week.

Tourism officials are out collecting data about where the visitors are from and how long they're staying. The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau plans to release the final numbers in a couple weeks.

We'll see if the boost to Raleigh's economy beats the projections.

Raleigh mayor featured in National Journal

This week's issue of the National Journal features an interview with Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

The article is titled "How Does a Popular City Avoid the Curse of Success?" and it features McFarlane's thoughts on the challenges that come with growth and "best place" rankings.

The mayor's answer? Transit. "Transportation to me is key," she told the magazine. "We're looking at a planned regional light rail eventually, which really opens up the potential of the region. Nothing produces economic development like rails in the ground."

Of course, that plan is pretty much stalled until the Wake County Commissioners put a sales tax referendum on the ballot to fund transit efforts.

Still, the article is a welcome bit of positive press for Raleigh in the national media, coming on the heels of the Moore Square homeless feeding scandal that grabbed headlines across the country.

Most of the article features McFarlane listing off the city's strengths. But one answer stuck out to me: the magazine asked her what city Raleigh wants to emulate.

"There is no city, honestly, that I would like us to be a lot more like," she said. "But we do have a great music scene. I would really like us to own that, like Austin, [Texas,] has."

Read the full interview here: http://bit.ly/189aphd

Cher weighs in on Moore Square food flap

Two weeks after Raleigh made national headlines when several charities were reportedly threatened with arrest for feeding the homeless, the story is getting some celebrity attention.

Pop singer and actress Cher voiced her concerns about the incident on Twitter Sunday night.

"Feeding Homeless, Illegal in Raleigh NC.What IS Cutoff Age 4 FOOD…3 Months,82,Preg.16wks? & if They DIE From Hunger on the St..WHAT THEN?" Cher tweeted to her 1.7 million followers on the site. (No, I'm not going to attempt to correct spelling and grammar in these quotes.)

A few minutes later, she revealed her source for the news: the viral blog post written by the Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries. "Go 2 Rev.Hugh Hollowell Blog. “Feeding the Homeless appears to be Illegal in Raleigh NC” THIS LAW IS BEING STRICTLY ENFORCED IN MAJOR CITIES," she wrote.

It appears the singer missed out on subsequent news reports about the incident. No one was ever arrested, and the Raleigh City Council has agreed not to enforce its ordinances banning food distributions in Moore Square following the public outcry.

Still, it appears Cher is interested in taking action on the issue. "U no how I feel re:homeless! But HOMELESS & STARVED? I’ll give portion of ticket sales 2feed Ppl Say,What would Jesus DO? He’d feed ‘em !" she tweeted later Sunday night.

I wonder whether she's thinking about donating ticket proceeds to Hollowell and his crew at Love Wins Ministries. Hollowell said last week that he's expected to take in about $200,000 in donations this year.

A boost from Cher could make a big difference.

Raleigh council challenger blasts manager search process

A challenger running for the North Raleigh District A city council seat said he isn't happy with leaders' approach to replacing ousted city manager Russell Allen.

Wayne Maiorano, an attorney and political newcomer, issued a statement Friday criticizing the decision to keep the finalists for the job under wraps. Earlier local searches for police chief and school superintendent had made finalists' names public, but most Raleigh council members said they worried the publicity could turn off qualified applicants.

Here's what Maiorano said:

“I am very concerned about the City Council’s decision to maintain secrecy around the City Manager hiring process. Putting aside the questionable motives surrounding Mr. Allen’s firing and the lack of thoughtful consideration of the financial and reputational ramifications, the hiring of our new City Manager is one of the most important decisions our City Council will make near-term. As a City, we must get this decision right. The process has already been hindered by the Council’s failure to invite all stakeholders to the table, such as community, business and civic leaders, and the artificially imposed deadline to hire someone. Now to conduct the process behind closed doors without seeking the valuable input of those who certainly have a lot to offer to the decision raises considerable concern over the quality of the process and the likely outcome. I hope this decision is reconsidered and that our City Council does not perpetuate the harm already done.”

Maiorano's opponent, incumbent Randy Stagner, didn't return calls seeking comment on the move earlier this week.

Raleigh mayor opts out of radio singing contest

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane apparently wasn't eager to show off her singing voice on a local radio morning show.

This month, Mix 101.5 WRAL-FM has been encouraging Triangle mayors to sing on the air as the station raises money for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle's BackPack Buddies program, which provides needy kids with healthy food to take home. Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams have both participated, appearing on the station's morning show to croon a few tunes.

McFarlane, however, wasn't quite ready to audition for this mayoral version of American Idol. She declined to participate, and it seems the morning show's new host Mike Chase was a bit pushy with the invitation.

The radio station's management ended up issuing an apology to McFarlane on Tuesday.

"I completely understand your reasons for declining the invitation and have spoken to Mike about being more gracious in accepting it," general manager Ardie Gregory wrote in an email. "His and our intent was never to put you in an awkward situation, again, my apologies."

"I certainly have hands on knowledge of your support for" BackPack Buddies, Gregory added.

Raleigh City Council criticized in national magazine

The Raleigh City Council's leadership style got a critique -- and a comparison to Oakland, Calif. -- in this month's issue of GOVERNING magazine.

The director of the GOVERNING Institute, former Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser, penned the article "Raleigh and Oakland are overdoing hands-on government."

Funkhouser's critique of Raleigh points to a May 12 News & Observer article that highlighted emails showing several city council members want a more hands-on role in the city's operations, from protecting their reserved parking spots to meeting directly with department heads. One email detailed a council member's request for a specific staff member to work on a project that hadn't yet been approved by the full council.

Funkhouser's take on the emails: "In these cities, as in many more across the country, elected council members have confused governing with administering. There’s a reason why these charters are written the way they are: Cronyism and corruption had made many municipal governments ineffective and inefficient. When individual council members are allowed to direct staff, it might seem to empower the legislative body, but in fact it diminishes its ability to work at a scale that can have real impact on community-level outcomes.

"... When they try to directly manage city employees, they undercut the work of the full council in legislating and oversight."

Funkhouser compares Raleigh's council members to their counterparts in Oakland, Calif., where an audit found "a culture of interference" in many city departments from the city council.

GOVERNING is a magazine and institute that focuses on state and local government. Read the full version of Funkhouser's column here.

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