Craigslist Post Creates Cary Council Controversy

Note: This story is now updated to include a statement from Morningstar Law Group.

Cary, NC – At every Cary Town Council meeting, anyone can come and speak on any topic to give their opinion on a particular Public Hearing. But a Craigslist post suggests some people may have been paid to speak at the most recent meeting in favor of a rezoning request.

A Craigslist post, which has since been deleted or expired, asked speakers to come to the Thursday, June 28, 2018 Cary Town Council meeting to speak in favor of “our construction project” in exchange for $50.

Cary Craigslist

A screenshot of the Craigslist post in question

The specific project, developer or information on the poster is not included in the post, but respondents were asked to call a provided phone number for details.

At the June 28 Town Council meeting, only one Public Hearing had any speakers, which was for a rezoning in the Weston PDD to allow for a hotel, while also getting smaller streetscapes and doubling the permitted height in this location. Nil Ghosh, attorney with Morningstar Law Group who spoke for the applicant at the meeting, said neither he nor anyone else at the law group had knowledge of the Craigslist post and they are investigating the matter.

Additionally, Jason Barron, the lead attorney for the applicant in this case, also shared an email he sent to Town Manager Sean Stegall regarding the matter:

Manager Stegall
 
Thank you for time this morning.  As discussed, Morningstar Law Group and East Coast Hospitality – the applicant in the Weston PDD Amendment – are appalled at the “Paid Advocate” advertisement that was posted on Craigslist last week.  Our team had absolutely nothing to do with that ad.  It is the first time in my 16 year career that I have seen anything along these lines.  It offends my sense of right and wrong, and it has absolutely no place in the rezoning process.
 
With that said, we feel like we were targeted by this advertisement by a person or persons that wants to see the case fail.  We are pursuing whatever legal options we have to ensure that whomever has done this is exposed.  My clients have been in the hospitality business for 30 years.  Their reputations are impugned by even the suggestion that this ad was placed on their behalf, and they will aggressively bring the wrongdoers to justice.
 
We greatly appreciate any support that the Town can offer in the investigative process, and are happy to support the Town in any way that we can.
 
Please let me know if there is anything we can do.  Like you all, we want to send a message to the community that this type of chicanery will not be tolerated.
 
Best regards,
Jason

In the Public Hearing, this project had three speakers who were unequivocally supportive, as well as the representative for a nearby business who said she and the business were fine with the hotel usage but were concerned about the height, streetscape and generated traffic. There were several other speakers who expressed concerns or opposition.

In total, there were nine speakers, so fewer than the 20 the Craigslist post asked for.

There were two other Public Hearings on the agenda. Glenda S. Toppe of Glenda S. Toppe and Associates was the applicant for both and in a statement to CaryCitizen, she said she was not involved in the Craigslist post.

Also, for the three speakers at Public Speaks Out, none spoke in favor of any construction or development project.

The Craigslist post has also been shared on social media by some Cary Councilmembers and Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said he got emails about the controversy in his latest blog post. When posted by Cary Councilmember Don Frantz, he captioned the screenshot by adding “So yeah, good luck with that…”


Story by Michael Papich. Photos courtesy of Craigslist and Hal Goodtree.

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12 replies
  1. johnny jones
    johnny jones says:

    A posting like this would put the developer in such a bad light if found out, it makes one wonder if it wasn’t placed by someone opposed to the project for exactly that purpose. Has the paper confirmed that this was a legitimate posting & that the recipients were actually paid $50?

    Reply
  2. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Agree with the above poster. Cary has a large number of vocal NIMBYs who are absolutely opposed to any form of development in the town. An example is the fervent opposition by a few ardent NIMBYs over the gas station at Penny and Kildaire Farm. It is conceivable that such a person posted this and then reported the post to the Town.

    Reply
    • Janet Couture
      Janet Couture says:

      I disagree with your statement. People are voicing their concerns but to say they are totally against any development is a stretch. People are giving voice to prevent Cary from having high buildings next to one story or two story structures. Also people want to see controlled growth with something for everyone. For instance many people would like to see residential neighborhoods downtown not be swallowed up by town homes and condos in their backyard. Nor do they want to have 5 story buildings next to their home. I think it is reasonable to say that they wish to protect their property values and not just develop for development sake without considering property owners near by or unsightly structures.

      Reply
      • johnny jones
        johnny jones says:

        Just seemed odd, a CL post is so easy to place & there’s probably a better chance than not that it would be found out. So why would someone do something that would put them in a negative light when they could easily round up proponent speakers another way….no dog in this fight, just seemed odd.

        But criticism to our council is uncalled for. Nothing is perfect, but this is a will run city & an awesome place to live! I appreciate you’ll service to the community.

        Reply
        • Don Frantz
          Don Frantz says:

          If someone were trying to negatively impact a specific proposal I would think that the ad wouldn’t be so secretive and ask folks to “call for more details” vs calling out the specific case one is trying to oppose. Not to mention that it at least appeared that 3 speakers at the public hearing were paid actors as they offered nothing remotely meaningful in their remarks and could not speak to any specific issues as the other speakers did. They couldn’t speak to any specific issues because they don’t know what the issues are as they aren’t invested in or a part of the community. I don’t know of too many young adults who would sit through a few hours of a council meeting to just get up and say something generic like, “I think we need more hotels – I support this” or for a high school student to get up and say we need more affordable area hotels. In the 11 years I have sat at the council table I have seen a lot – but I hadn’t seen anything like this until now.

          Reply
          • johnny jones
            johnny jones says:

            Point taken, I wasn’t there & didn’t actually hear what was said by the speakers. Like I said, no dog in this fight. I guess I’d like to think that no one would lack the basic wisdom to post something that would most certainly backfire….but then again….ha

  3. frank lazzaro
    frank lazzaro says:

    I’M NOT SUPRISED THAT THE COUNCIL WOULD PAY TO HAVE PEOPLE VOICE A POSITIVE AS IN GENERAL VERY FEW IF ANY RESIDENCES ATTEND THESE COUNCIL MEETING. WHY ? BECAUSE THE COUNCIL VERY IF EVER LISTENS OR MOVES ON THE OBJECTIONS OF THE RESIDENCES. IN FACT ONE COUNCILMAN ACTUALLY IN RESPONSE TO A VERY GOOD SUGGESTION, ” NO MATTER WHAT i WILL NOT ALLOW IT “NOT ON MY WATCH”. . REMEMBER OUR TOWN IS INFLUENCED BY “SPECIAL INTEREST” NOT THE RESIDENCES.

    Reply
    • Janet Couture
      Janet Couture says:

      Regarding Chatham street condos: We protested a zoning request at a public hearing. The Town Council sent the Zoning Board a request for review and recommendation concerning the rezoning. It pertained to our downtown neighborhood in relation to Chatham Street condos and rezoning a property next to it which would give the condo building the additional land needed for an exit onto our street. The Zoning Board agreed with us and recommended against rezoning with one descending vote from the chairman. The Town Council ignored their recommendation and approved the rezoning any way. We had over 60 signatures opposing the rezoning and attendance from the neighborhood which fell off because it was obvious the Town Council was going to approve no matter what we did. Money talks.

      Reply
      • Don Frantz
        Don Frantz says:

        Read the story again, Frank. And maybe try it with the “everything the town does is terrible” blinders off this time.

        Reply

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