UPDATED: The Recurring, Persistent Hypocrisy of Councilor Russ Stephenson

This post shared with permission from raleighyimby.com.

By Seth Hollar


Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!

In 2013 Councilor Russ Stephenson attempted to downzone his property, an action which would have impacted the value of neighboring properties in a negative way. He held a neighborhood meeting on the issue and prohibited me as a YIMBY member from attending at the public library. After this N&O report, Councilor Stephenson dropped his downzoning case.  The councilor responded only when the light of a public report forced him to retreat.

Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!

In 2014 Councilor Russ Stephenson asked to have his property removed from a coming expansion of the Hillsborough Street business improvement tax district even though all the properties around him were included. According to information revealed during the City Council’s Law & Public Safety Committee hearing on the HSCSC (Hillsborough St Community Services Corp, the BID), the councilor asked that his property be removed.

As a city councilor who ultimately would need to vote on the BID expansion, he put those involved with the BID expansion in a difficult situation.  When the controversy was publicized, he finally voted himself in January, 2015 into the tax district.  A Raleigh City Councilor asking for his own property to be removed is a conflict. Nonetheless, he once again resisted doing the right thing until public pressure forced him to acquiesce.

Now he is claiming to be the champion of affordable housing, although he voted again against allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) to move forward despite owning and renting two ADUs on his own property.

Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!

Councilor Stephenson has said publicly that he loves Airbnb and uses it all the time when he travels. Yet once again he has voted against sensible regulations brought forward by a task force of citizens that would allow short-term rentals to legally operate in the City.

Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!

Now, the councilor is leading the charge against the Cameron Village/Hillsborough Small Area Plan, trying to limit the moderate density and height recommended in the final report. His very home is enveloped by the properties which are part of the Small Area Plan (see maps above), and specifically, half a dozen properties sharing the same property line with the councilor would be impacted by his actions.

Has anyone noticed that the councilor screaming the loudest about the small area plan has the greatest personal motivations to stymie it?  This is a blatant conflict of interest, voiding any credibility to his already flimsy, non-fact-based arguments.  It is, however, consistent with his ethically oblique behavior and hypocrisy as demonstrated on affordable housing, short-term rentals, and removing himself from the BID.

Why is Councilor Stephenson not recusing himself?  Certainly these actions do not seem ethical or moral when measured against the commonly accepted community standards we expect from our elected officials.  How is it even legal?  Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!

At the January 10th Growth & Natural Resources (GNR) meeting, Councilor Stephenson insulted, disparaged, and defamed the 30 citizens who volunteered three years of their time to participate on the small area plan advisory committee by falsely claiming that the committee, which could only advise and had utterly no power, had somehow strong-armed the Planning Department and their consultants into modifying the final report to recommend more density than the public had supposedly “voted” for.  Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!

Councilor Stephenson claims to value a public process, but in just two GNR meetings where with twisted data of his own making, he trashed 3.5 years of a public process involving untold meetings, surveys, and thousands of hours of preparation.  Not to mention, very few people, if any, have actually SEEN the councilor’s so-called data.

It isn’t as if Councilor Stephenson wasn’t following the Cameron Village/Hillsborough plan these past 3.5 years.  Councilor Stephenson was the one who actually lobbied City Council to allocate time and resources to start the process.  As a member of the advisory committee I participated heavily, but I know of no public comments he made complaining that the process was not moving forward as it should.  So why now?  As participatory as he was in the process, and as the city councilor to initiate the small area planning process, why didn’t he try to “fix” things then if he thought something was askew?

His present complaints are entirely fabricated.  Is it because the councilor wants to thwart five-story projects like the condos (Z-24-17) proposed at Enterprise and Clark that could be built “by right” (that is, without rezoning) if the final small area plan as it exists now is accepted?  That building would be just a few hundred feet from his own 1.2-acre, RX-3 property with a stunningly low $4,510.98 in property taxes.  Is it projects like these that are the real reason for Councilor Stephenson’s objection to the small area plan final report?

Once again, as he has proved in a consistent pattern over the years, Councilor Stephenson is not recusing himself as he ought in a plain-and-simple conflict of interest case. Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!

If you watched the January 10 GNR meeting, Councilor Stephenson painted the story of a small area plan advisory board run amok that bullied city planning into submission.  What a laugh!  I’m incredulous, as are all who served on the committee, and I have no idea how to respond to such a bald-faced lie.  In reality, the committee had no power whatsoever.  All decisions were made by the consultants and professional city planners in accordance with the knowledge and data as a whole, as opposed to an assessment fabricated from thin air by an anti-development City Councilor.

So why is Councilor Stephenson making the ruckus now and not any time before during the past three years (since 2014) since the small area plan was launched?  The simple answer is because the recent Council election has emboldened Councilor Stephenson into thinking that he can do whatever he wants and that no one is noticing his outrageous behavior and long-term damage he is doing to the public process and perception of Raleigh in general.  The Cameron Village/Hillsborough Street small area plan will no longer be a community-driven product, but instead, it will be the singular product of Councilor Stephenson.  He will own it, and stakeholders will have no respect for it.

Shame, shame on Councilor Stephenson!  Raleigh deserves much better!

UPDATE: City council is scheduled to vote TONIGHT on the "low growth" plan being pushed by Councilor Stephenson! Here is an email from Seth Hollar to the council regarding tonight's vote.

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Brent Woodcox