This week in government: Wilmington City Council, New Hanover Boards of Education and Commissioners
This week, the Wilmington City Council, New Hanover County Board of Education, and the New Hanover Board of Commissioners will hold regular meetings. On the agendas: updates on the vaccine process and the ambitious rail realignment project, approval of new development, and likely a debate over the New Hanover County Schools elementary school suspension policy, following calls by the NAACP and other groups to change those practices.
WHQR’s Ken Campbell and Ben Schachtman preview the week ahead.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, in-person attendance to these meetings is still limited, but you find the meeting agendas and watch the meetings live using the links below:
KC: Joining me right now is WHQR’s managing editor Ben Schachtman to talk about the local government week that lies ahead of us. Good morning, Ben.
BS: Good morning, Ken.
KC: So well, we start off today with the New Hanover County Commissioners who meet at four o'clock today what's on the agenda?
BS: The big item on this week's agenda is a very large, 65-acre plot of land on South College. If you've driven down South College, and you've gone past Cape Fear Academy, you'll notice that development kind of stops there. So for years, it has been a back and forth -- back in 2019, the Planning Commission was split four-three and just barely approved this. The latest plan to come out of this actually rezones the entire 65-acres, and the planning board seems to like this more. So the final decision of all planning things is always up to the commissioners. So that's what we'll see them debate tonight. And obviously the concerns will be traffic and fitting in with the sort of local neighborhoods. We'll also see them give an update on the vaccine process. So that'll be interesting as well.
KC: Okay. And also this week, Wilmington city council has a few things to look at.
BS: Yes. So one is a resolution. This is sort of a proposal from the Wilmington Sharks, a local baseball team, if you're familiar with them, they still owe about $15,000 from 2019. They pay the city usage fees for the field they use. And obviously COVID has been hard on professional sports at all levels. So they're proposing to use that money for upgrades for the Buck Hardee field instead of paying it directly to the city as part of longer ongoing negotiations about repairing that field. The other thing Wellington City Council will see and -- I'm excited for this -- is an update on rail realignment, this is a really ambitious billion-with-a-B dollar plan to move the CSX freight rails -- if you ever been stuck at a rail crossing -- that would move all those out of the city of Wilmington across the river, and ultimately turn those rail lines in the city into a light public transit rail.
KC: Any idea what that update includes? Because this has been considered for quite a while, quite a few years.
BS: Yeah. So the latest thing is we've seen a series of grants from the federal and state government that paid for early planning, environmental research to make sure this isn't impacting, you know, the ecosystem in any way. And then moving in the direction of some preliminary designs. I mean, it sounds wild, but it really is moving along.
KC: Okay. And the New Hanover County Board of Education meets later this week.
BS: They meet Tuesday night. There is, you know, there's always going to be some discussion of the reopening process. But I think what people will be looking for at this week's meeting is a discussion of some new policies. And these are centered around student behavior and you know, discipline. And there's been a lot of questions from the NAACP in the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, about the use of suspensions, especially in pre-K through fifth grade. The racial statistics appears to be skewed; one study showed about eight times more likely for a Black student to be suspended than a white student. So there's going to be some questions about that. I think the board is amenable to changing this policy a little bit, but it's just a matter of how that conversation goes.
They will also be in closed session, which we won't see. And there'll be discussing several civil lawsuits against the district, by the victims and alleged victims of Michael Earl Kelly and Peter, Michael Frank. And we know that those trials are now moving into sort of the deposition and scheduling phase. So we'll have some more information on those trials separately later this week.
KC: Okay, well, that's it sounds like a lot to cover this week in local government. Managing editor Ben Schachtman, thank you so much for joining us this morning.