Durham mayor addresses hot topics in State of the City address
Posted February 15
Updated February 16
Durham, N.C. — Durham Mayor Bill Bell opted for a sit-down discussion format for the 14th annual State of the City address Monday night, creating a more intimate and personal feel as he talked about what he considers to be top priorities.
Bell sat down with lifelong Durham resident Bill Shore for the address, and although it had a conversational feel, the mayor was prepared for questions. One of the top concerns was crime.
“When we came into office in 2001, we looked at incidents of crime per 100,000 people, probably at a high, and we’ve seen that constantly go down until the year 2013 and we saw an uptick in 2014,” said Bell.
Bell noted that the peak of violent crime was seen last year. He said violent crime numbers consist of aggravated assaults, robberies, rapes, and homicides. Although the rate of homicides doubled from 2014 to 2015, Bell noted that they accounted for the smallest portion of those four categories.
Bell said the U.S. Department of Justice came in at his request to look at solutions to the recent peak in crime and he has looked to cities including Baltimore, Maryland and Kansas City, Missouri as examples for solutions.
Another hot topic throughout the city was transit, which is an issue in Durham and around the region.
“We developed corridors for a light rail system between Orange and Durham County. We just recently received news that the environmental impacts statement that we accepted was accepted by the FTA and is now open on our website for people to look at,” said Bell.
The light rail line, which was approved by the Federal Transit Administration in 2014, would run from Chapel Hill to East Durham with proposed stops at UNC Hospitals, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mason Farm Road, Friday Center, Hillmont, Leigh Village, Patterson Place, South Square, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center, VA Medical Center, downtown Durham and Alston Avenue/NC Central University.
If the plan succeeds, a light rail could be in operation by 2026.
Affordable housing was also on the minds of many in attendance Monday night. Bell said the city has recently hired a consultant to look at the issue and expects to get a report during the next city council meeting.
Following the State of the City address, the city council discussed the issue of body cameras in their regular meeting. Several comments from the public- including comments from the ACLU and a local criminal defense attorney- expressed the view that the cameras shouldn't be purchased until it is made clear that the public will have access to the footage.
City council members Charlie Reece, Steve Schewel, and Jillian Johnson agreed with the sentiments expressed by members of the public.
Bell agreed to move the vote for approval on the cameras to March 7, so that city council members have time to make suggestions to the city manager about how the public will be able to access footage.