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Harold’s Blog: Washington DC Trip

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From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Photo by Jason Ippolito.

Cary, NC – This week was an important week for me and the Town of Cary as I traveled to Washington to talk with our Congressional delegation and federal agencies. My journal this week details many of my activities in Washington in hopes of giving a better understanding of why I go there and what I do. I apologize for the wordiness.

Monday

The week started Monday with calls to council members to see if there were any questions or concerns about agenda items for Wednesday’s council meeting.

Later in the afternoon I met with management, directors, legal, and administrative to go over the agenda. The meeting’s discussion was mainly to prepare for questions council members might have on the interim ordinance changes to replace the APF (Adequate Public Facilities) ordinance. Recent court cases made our ordinance questionable so the council began the process of repealing the ordinance several weeks ago.

It was determined that questions would be answered in the work session scheduled Wednesday before the council meeting. Based on the length of the agenda and the fact that we were holding a work session to discuss the most difficult item I estimated the council meeting would last one hour.

Cancelled Flight

Monday night I was booked on a flight to Washington for meetings starting at 8 AM Tuesday. The flight was cancelled and rescheduled for 6 AM Tuesday.

Meeting with Mayor Pro Tem

I used the open night to meet with Mayor Pro-Tem Adcock to catch up on issues. We discussed a variety of things including how each viewed the other’s performance. I think Mayor Pro-Tem Adcock is doing a great job and Cary is blessed to have her in our service.

Purpose of the Washington Trip

The purpose of the trip to Washington was to meet with the Federal agencies that we would be applying to for grants. The goal of the meetings was to obtain specific information from the various agencies to help us with our applications.

In addition to meeting with agencies we were meeting with our Congressional delegation which includes three members of the House of Representatives: Price, Elmers, and Holding, and Senators Burr and Hagan.

Representing Cary in these meetings were our staff legislative liaison, our federal lobbyist (located in Washington), and me.

Tuesday

Since my rescheduled flight was at 6 AM and knew that I wouldn’t have an opportunity for exercise, I decided to get up early and run before my flight. While it borders on being crazy, I got up at 2:30 AM and ran five miles before heading to the airport.

As we were boarding the plane I noticed Congressional member Elmers who we were scheduled to meet with later in the day. She didn’t look up so I didn’t bother her. Our plane was on time and we checked into the hotel in plenty of time to make the 8 AM meeting with our federal lobbyist.

Strategy Meeting

The 8 AM meeting was our strategy meeting for the day. That is, what points to make at what meeting and issues to emphasize or avoid. I was to be the presenter in the meetings, our legislative liaison would provide information as needed, and our lobbyist would take notes and fill in information about our last applications for various grants.

Making the Case for Federal Grants

Our first meeting was with the Federal Legislative Program Coordinator for the NCDOT in Washington. Their presence in Washington was to obtain grants for the state of North Carolina which were to be distributed by the state. Our goal was to give them our goals and needs to basically provide them with ammunition in their arguments to get money for the state.

Two topics we focus on were our Walker Street tunnel under the railroad and the connection to regional greenways.

Senator Burr

After the meeting we quickly grabbed a cab, went to the “hill”, through security, and to Senator Burr’s office.

In my five visits to Washington I have only been able to meet with Senator Burr one time. This time was no exception. However, we did have a good meeting with his Legislative Assistant. In our meeting I hit on a variety of topics that included: transportation, water resources, public safety, and parks.

I did make a special request that the senator oppose efforts to repeal tax-exempt municipal bonds as part of the tax reform negotiations. This is extremely important to Cary and would potentially cost Cary taxpayers millions if it were repealed. We left Senator Burr’s office and headed over to Senator Hagan’s office.

Senator Hagan

Senator Hagan was very kind and receptive as usual. We met with her and went over all our federal legislative items. I asked that she re-introduce the Community Parks Revitalization Act that she introduced last year. That Act would provide opportunities for communities to build new and rehabilitate existing parks and outdoor recreational spaces.

In my presentation and subsequent conversation we talked at length about Project Phoenix. She was impressed not only by the project’s reduction in crime but in the public-private partnership which includes one business paying college tuition for one student.

EPA

After our meeting we jumped in a cab and headed over to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and through their security.

Attending the meeting at the EPA were the Office of Water, the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations, the Region Chief, and several others including regional offices on the phone.

My presentation focused on water resource projects that included: our water plant expansion under design, our irrigation water metering, water reclamation expansion, aeration at Jordan Lake, and assessment management for our water systems. The EPA officials complained about the “CR” or Continuing Resolution.

A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used by the United States Congress to fund government agencies if a formal appropriations bill has not been signed into law by the end of the Congressional fiscal year. The legislation takes the form of a joint resolution, and provides funding for existing federal programs at current or reduced levels. The federal government of the United States operates on a budget calendar that runs from October 1 through September 30. Each year, the Congress authorizes each department, agency, or program to spend a specific amount of money, and the President signs the bill into law. This money may not be spent, however, until it has been appropriated for a given purpose.

The EPA did say if money became available they would grant it quickly. The topics they seemed most interested in were water reclamation and so that dominated our discussion.

Representative Elmers

We left EPA, jumped in a cab, headed back to the hill, and through security again.

We were supposed to meet with Congressional member Elmers but her staff said that she was not there and that they had us scheduled for another day. This was very disappointing since the plans had been made well in advance and the meeting confirmed before our arrival. So we made the best of it and met with two staff members.

My presentation focused on positive things going on in Cary and how our strong relationship with the Chamber of Commerce has allowed us to have 36% job growth in the last ten years and that we continue attract international companies. My focus was on job creation and the economic environment. I urged her staff to provide help in any way they could.

Her staff did the best they could in understanding but I gathered they had never been to Cary and didn’t really get our concerns or understand the grants we were after.

Department of Transportation

Once we left the meeting with her staff it was back in a cab, to the US Department of Transportation, and through their security.

At the US Department of Transportation we met with the Deputy Assistant Secretary and the Associate Director. My presentation gave them a good understanding of the traffic situation in the Raleigh metropolitan area. I also discussed the major employers in the area and how a railroad splits our downtown.

We asked about grants that could help us in transit and/or capital projects. Like other agencies, they cited the Continuing Resolution. We gathered good information from them but potential grants from them do not look promising.

Representative Price

After the meeting we caught a cab back to the hill, went through security, and headed to Congressman Price’s office.

Visiting Congressman Price’s office is much like visiting a family member. He knows so much about Cary, about our issues, and about what is going on in our town. In addition, he has actively supported us for years and has had a major role in bringing federal dollars back to Cary.

Rather than go over issues we talked about new issues and projects he might not be that familiar with. I presented the success story of Project Phoenix and talked about how we asked agencies for federal dollars for more officers. We also talked about the repeal of the tax exempt bond status.

He took the time to talk to us about the climate in the House of Representatives and upcoming battles which I thought was fascinating. After our meeting he was headed over to watch the State of the Union address. His guest was the new police chief of Raleigh.

I had the pleasure of talking to the new Raleigh chief in the lobby, congratulated her, and pledged cooperation from Cary. She said that Chief Bazemore of Cary was a mentor of hers. Wow! That says a lot about our chief.

After the meeting with Congressman Price it was time for dinner. We were able to get away from the Capital just in time before the streets down (they do this before the President speaks). We had a delicious Mexican meal and I was in bed by 8:30.

Wednesday Morning

The next morning started around 5 AM thanks to construction under my window (can’t do that in Cary – thank goodness). I took that opportunity to catch up on emails and exercise on the elliptical for an hour.

Department of Agriculture

We once again held a strategy meeting before heading out to our first meeting at the Department of Agriculture with the Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

My presentation focused on sustainability and the future Cary Farmers Market. In my discussion on the Farmers Market I talked about Cary’s population demand for unique meat and produce from farmers within 50 miles provided by the West Cary Farmers Market and other small markets. I added that this farmers market would be a significant economic boost especially if it were located in our downtown.

Representative Holding

After the meeting we caught a cab to the hill, went through security, and headed to newly elected Congressman Holding’s office.

I have to admit that I didn’t expect much from this meeting knowing that Congressman Holding and I have many philosophical differences. However I was pleasantly surprised. Congressman Holding was very engaging and I found that he knew a lot about Cary and has even been to Ashworth’s for a hotdog. We found that we had a strong common interest in bringing high paying jobs to Cary. And we both believed in a strong relationship with the Chamber was important in recruiting.

He pledged to contact the chamber and help recruiting efforts. I found out when I got back to Cary that he had indeed contacted the chamber and was setting up a meeting. Good for him!

At the end of our meeting we took pictures together (a first for me).

Department of Homeland Security

After the meeting we jumped in a cab and headed to the Department of Homeland Security. Their security was the most sensitive of all the security we visited. My shoes even set off an alarm and I am not aware of any metal in my shoes. Hmmm.

The meeting at the Department of Homeland Security was with the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and several other staff members. My presentation included four main topics: a permanent Emergency Operations Center, a new cyber-crimes investigator, CAD to CAD communications to reduce deployment times, and additional police staff for Project Phoenix. Once again the Continuing Resolution was brought up.

Back to Cary

After the meeting we caught a cab back to the hotel to grab our luggage and head to the airport.

Our plane was scheduled to arrive at RDU around 3:00 but was about 15 minutes late. My next meeting was a work session at town hall starting at 5 PM.

But the 15 minutes made all the difference in the world to me personally. You see, my wife had been in Europe for two weeks and was scheduled to be back around 4 PM but her flight was about 20 minutes early. So I was able to go to the gate and blow her kisses as she headed to customs. Of course that made my day!

Work Session

I then headed to town hall for the work session to discuss items related to the repeal of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance for Transportation. In our work session we discussed and agreed that we would: repeal the current ordinance, require traffic studies at rezonings, and require subdivision and site plan reviews for projects with 100 units or 100,000 square feet. Our work session lasted about an hour.

Council Meeting

After the work session we held our regularly scheduled council meeting. Our council meeting was a short one and included: a resolution for “National Engineers Week”, a resolution for Open Data Day Hackathon, direction to have staff investigate changing the sign ordinance to allow hanging signs, and approving the changes related to the repeal of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

Our meeting lasted twenty seconds over one hour and missed my prediction missed by twenty seconds.

Thursday

Thursday was Valentine’s Day and my wife and I finally enjoyed time and dinner together for the first time in two weeks. We celebrated at Enrigo’s in Waverly Place and the food and spirits were incredible as always.

Mailbag

Emails from citizens this week included several invitations, a complaint about the condition of flags on private property, and requests to support Gig U.

Gig U is a RFP Process with the City of Raleigh, City of Durham, City of Winston-Salem, Town of Chapel Hill, Town of Carrboro, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University, and Wake Forest University to help the construction of a high speed (gigabit) fiber network by a private company.

This Week

This week will be much slower than this week. Highlights include a meeting of Wake County Mayors, a meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization for transportation issues, and a conference call with the North Carolina Metro Mayors Coalition.

Get in Touch

Well that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday February 24th. Please feel free to email me with a comment. Email all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org. Email personal comments to augustanat@mindspring.com.