How Much Does a City Councilor Cost?

By Brent Woodcox

After last week's debacle at the afternoon city council meeting covered by this site and by Raleighite, the council reconvened for the evening session.

At that session, two rezonings were approved unanimously by the council. One twelve story mixed use project at the corner of Dawson and Davie and one for a mixed use project in Brier Creek.

After the meeting, the NIMBY City Council led by Russ Stephenson and Kay Crowder were quick to demand recognition for their approval of these projects and demand that their detractors stop saying that they are anti-growth. After all, they just approved two rezonings for developers.

niles comment 1.jpg
niles comment 2.jpg

So I asked myself, "Self, why would they only support growth that profits these developers? Why would these projects suddenly be moved to the top of the list right after the election?"

And then I followed the money.

The first rezoning case for the property located at the corner of Dawson and Davie was filed by Empire Properties which is owned and controlled by Greg Hatem.

hatem rezoning request.jpg

Hatem, of course, is a long time Raleigh developer and owner of several restaurants downtown. As you can see the rezoning case was first filed in April of this year. In May of this year, Greg Hatem threw a fundraiser at one his restaurants, Sitti, for Kay Crowder. He made an in-kind donation for nearly $2,000 to Crowder.

hatem donation.jpg

And in August of this year, he made an in-kind contribution in the form of food for a fundraiser held for Russ Stephenson. That donation was merely for $811 so apparently Stephenson is a bargain basement deal for a city councilor as compared to Crowder.

stephenson donations.jpg

The rezoning case lingered for a few months after August ultimately ending up in before the city's Planning Commission where it was voted down 8-1 on November 14.

The Planning Commission finds the request is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the Downtown West Gateway small area plan and will have a significant impact on the character of the Depot Historic District. Planning Commission recommends denial of the request with a vote of 8-1.
— December 5, 2017 - Raleigh City Council Agenda

The Planning Commission's vote was promptly ignored. Crowder and Stephenson got the rezoning on the first council agenda after the new council was seated and it sailed through. After all, they had a debt to repay.

Now what about the Brier Creek rezoning? The going rate for a city councilor is significantly less outside the beltline.

This rezoning case was originally filed in 2014 and languished for quite some time.

brier creek rezoning request.jpg

The case was revived this year with Mack Paul of Morningstar Law Group, an attorney who often works on these types of cases for development groups, serving as the listed point of contact and signatory.

This time, it was a $500 donation to Kay Crowder given on the day of the Hatem-thrown fundraiser at Sitti. 

mack paul donation.jpg

And for Russ Stephenson it was a matching $500 donation in September.

stephenson donations.jpg

Whiz. Bang. Boom. And you've got yourself a successful rezoning vote at the December 5th city council meeting.

So that's the solution to fighting NIMBYs and the usual anti-growth city council agenda. Call it the cost of doing business.

With Kay Crowder and Russ Stephenson in charge, the city of Raleigh is for sale and it's not even that expensive.

Brent Woodcox