As part of profile interviews with the Record, mayoral candidates Nancy McFarlane, Randall Williams and Billie Redmond gave their views on where to house public safety operations in Raleigh.
They discussed the contested Lightner Center, which stalled in a deadlocked city council last year.
When asked what Williams thought the best and worst decisions the city council has made, he believed the Lightner Center was the “worst decision they entertained.”
“I just think that in this economy, to build a $200-million public safety center and raise taxes, that just the economic reality of the times, that wasn’t a good move,” Williams said.
Williams also said he had “problems” with the design of the building and its location downtown.
“I spent a lot of time overseas, and I just think to put your nerve center in a 17-story building a la Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center, I just think there’s probably a better way to approach that,” Williams said.
“I work with the military a lot and when I’m overseas, and when I’m doing that, they call it a target-rich environment, meaning we’re putting a symbol out there to target,” he said.
Although Williams agrees that emergency services need new facilities, he said that if he was on council at the time, he would have voted down the Lightner Center because of the 8-cent property tax increase and the $200 million in debt that would be incurred.
“I worked on a farm one summer and there’s an old saying that when you find yourself in a hole you can’t get out of, the first thing you do is quit digging, and adding $200 million to your debt, you’re just digging more,” Williams said.
Williams said he would support putting public safety facilities in separate areas and “try to keep the costs down.”
Redmond believes “there is no more essential service that the city of Raleigh provides” than public safety and that it “needs to be a major focus” for the investments the city makes.
Redmond supports the Lightner Center’s construction, saying that the city needs “a first-class and appropriate 911 center.”
“That’s just too important to be cavalier about that,” Redmond said.
She believes the center should be scaled “at a way that is appropriate to the time in which we’re living and operating.”
Redmond said the city needs to “live in today’s reality because the only other option then, in my mind, is then that you wait, and you put it off, and I don’t think we have to that.”
“So, how we make those decisions about getting the Lightner Center built, which I believe should be built, I believe we can build it. I think we can build it at a level that is prudent and that we could do it without a tax increase,” Redmond said.
“I think it’s like any other decision, whether you’re buying a house or a car, making an investment in an education or a vacation, whatever it is, it’s really about spending your resources and trying to make the decision about what’s necessary today,” Redmond said.
When asked about what the city should do to house its public safety functions, Nancy McFarlane said the city’s emergency services had a “serious need.”
McFarlane said the 911 system was “overcrowded” and needed to be updated. She said city safety workers need to be given the tools “to do the best job that they can,” and that public safety is the city’s main function.
“Our police are doing an incredible job, but the world is getting more and more technologically savvy, and the people that we’re asking them to protect us from, they’ve got the latest and greatest technology, and I don’t want us to be asking our police force to fight 21st century crime with 1960s technology,” she said.
When addressing the issue of the Lightner Center, McFarlane said the project started before she was elected, but that if she was involved from the start, she “might have done it differently.”
“But I think that it’s something we have to address, and we have to move forward, and we need to own up to the responsibility,” McFarlane said.