Indy Week: The Case for a Full-Time Raleigh Mayor

The Raleigh mayor’s office pays $23,720 a year for an ostensibly part-time job that isn’t. That alone prevents people from running. Council member Nicole Stewart and former county commissioner John Burns have both said they can’t afford to be mayor because they can’t afford to give up their day jobs. We’ll never know who else might have run—businesspeople, activists, entrepreneurs—or what ideas they could have brought to the table.

And that raises a larger question: Raleigh is approaching a half-million residents. Why is it still governed like a small town?

Actually, it’s governed like a nonprofit. The council is the board of directors, which the mayor chairs. They appoint a city manager, the CEO, who runs the day-to-day. The mayor doesn’t have much power; she’s just one of eight council members.

In Raleigh, that became clear in December 2017. Members of the new council’s ascendant anti-development faction rejected McFarlane’s committee assignments—historically the mayor’s prerogative—and replaced them with their own, a show of dominance. Since then, McFarlane—the city’s highest-profile elected official—has often found herself frustrated in a minority.

This form of government is referred to as council-manager, and it’s most popular among cities with populations of less than 250,000, according to the UNC School of Government—in other words, what Raleigh was in 1995. It’s designed to take politics out of local government. But as cities grow, politics becomes inevitable—and inevitably ugly. And politics will eventually make a job with little power and a lot of hassle unattractive, even if money isn’t an issue, and especially when it is.

Raleigh needs a stronger mayor, someone who can present voters with an agenda, has the authority to put it in place, and then is accountable for the results. That sort of change, though, will require help from the General Assembly, which seems unlikely.

So let’s set a more reasonable goal that Raleigh can achieve of its own volition: Give the full-time mayor a full-time paycheck. Start making the job worth the bullshit.
— Jeffrey C. Billman - Indy Week
Brent Woodcox