Durham County

Bull City Politics: Immigrants, arguments and what to do with downtown land

Downtown Durham in May 2018.
Downtown Durham in May 2018. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Welcome to Bull City Politics, where I tell you what's going on in Durham and what your elected leaders are doing. Follow me on Twitter at @dawnbvaughan or #BullCitypol.

Caballero visits immigrants

As I write this on Friday, City Council member Javiera Caballero is out visiting immigrants taking refuge in churches from imminent deportation.

Javiera Caballero

On Thursday, Caballero presented a resolution the council will likely pass June 4 "in support of the National Movement of Congregations of Faith." It notes two men who are fathers and are taking sanctuary here. Samuel Oliver-Bruno, who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, is living at CityWell United Methodist Church. And Jose Heriberto Chicas, who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years, is at St. John's Baptist Church School of Conversion. The resolution mentions four other people in refuge in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Greensboro and Asheboro.

Caballero, the first Latina on the City Council, has previously spoken up for the U.S. immigrant population after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the Triangle in April. She urged people to be vigilant and "help take care of our neighbors" by warning them when ICE is around.

Read the resolution here: bit.ly/2s92Jfn

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Council disagrees on issue they agree on

The city and county proposed budgets are out, which now means the City Council and county commissioners will iron out exactly what that means for departments and projects before a vote in June.

The county plans to raise your property taxes. The city does not, because all that construction means a lot more sales and property tax income for the city, even more than they thought they'd be getting.

DeDreana Freeman

Speaking of budgets, council members have spent hours talking about how much to spend on "participatory budgeting," which is a plan to let residents 13 and up vote on what projects they want the city to fund. Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson pitched $2.5 million total, while council member Mark-Anthony Middleton wanted the staff-recommended $750,000. Mayor Steve Schewel has said all along that he wants it to be $1 million.

All six council members and the mayor support participatory budgeting, but the logistics — choosing a steering committee this year, deciding how much to spend next year — saw the most disagreement since they starting working together in December. Middleton, DeDreana Freeman and Vernetta Alston were elected in November. The new council appointed Caballero early this year to finish Schewel's at-large term, which has two years left on it.

When the dust-up cleared, the council voted Monday night to make it $2.4 million, with Middleton and Schewel voting no. Freeman voted for the amount but was critical of the process, raising the same questions as Middleton about what their funding priorities should be.

"You’re not listening to your public as they’re telling you they need housing, they need jobs, they need support," she said. "They do not need to play with money."

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What's going on with the DPD headquarters?

Middleton and Schewel were on the same page when the City Council took another look at the soon-to-be-vacant Durham Police Department headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street.

Six months ago, the council weighed options for making sure the future use of the land includes affordable housing, and/or selling it to put money toward other priorities, like, well, affordable housing.

At Thursday's meeting, Middleton and Schewel talked about selling the land for the most money the city could get to put toward affordable housing elsewhere in Durham. Or the council could decide to use some of the property for affordable housing, but that would be a pretty expensive new project in downtown Durham these days.

The council will talk about it again June 7.


City leaders often mention "Durham workarounds," meaning they find a way to work within the state law but also get around it. Schewel used the phrase again Thursday, which didn't sit well with the lawyer at the table.

"I hate the word 'workaround,'" said City Attorney Patrick Baker.

Middleton came back with a quip:

"I thought workaround was a layperson’s version of attorneys’ 'It depends,'" Middleton said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563; @dawnbvaughan