By The Horns | January 2, 2024

An anti-climactic start to the year, and what's next for the city's budget process.

By The Horns | January 2, 2024
The new city council after Mayor Williams and Councilors Caballero, Rist and Baker were sworn in.

Welcome to the newest edition of By The Horns, a newsletter covering the Durham City Council. This series is intended to help guide those attempting to understand the mechanics of Durham city government, stay informed on issues throughout Durham, and learn the tools necessary to be a more engaged citizen.

The Meeting Agenda for January 2, 2024 can be found here.

The By The Horns Resource Guide can be found here.


It’s been a long time. I should’na left you. I had this whole plan to impress you.

After months off due to the rigors of my fellowship at the INDY, By The Horns had been on hiatus. But with a new year comes (re)new(ed) beginnings! I was prepared to make a big splash after the first meeting of 2024 with a deep dive into your favorite municipal rules, procedures and processes.

…and then the meeting was only an hour long. Two development cases were pushed back, and the third was intriguing but light.

Now who would fuss about a short meeting? I’ll tell you. Me. Last Monday’s meeting was one of the few I’ve watched virtually instead of camping out in City Hall which means the next one will undoubtedly last four hours. By The Horns is no doubt the target of the journalism gods because I’ve been away too long. But like Kratos, I will walk fearlessly down the arduous road to redemption.

Let’s get started.

Call to Order

A Brief Summary of the Meeting

  • Mayor Williams delivered a proclamation uplifting January as National Mentoring Month. Williams, who was a councilor this time last year, read a similar proclamation in 2023. Increasing mentorship opportunities and young adult programming has been a priority for Williams.
  • Councilor Middleton brought attention to the comments he has received from residents regarding the discontinuation of ShotSpotter. City council opted not to extend the city’s contract with ShotSpotter at the December 18th meeting by a vote of 4-2. Middleton says residents have questions about what will take the place of ShotSpotter in communities where gun violence is still prevalent. Residents have also told Middleton they are being harassed online for “having a different point of view” regarding ShotSpotter, but that “these folk who are living under gun fire constantly, if you think they’re going to be intimidated by keyboard gangsters, you’ve got another thing coming.” (10:58)

East Club Gateway

The lone development that council heard was for a rezoning project down on East Club Boulevard. Gander Development, a new development firm in Durham that started just two years ago, requested to annex and rezone the 13.96-acre property to build commercial space. (33:46)

Councilors Javiera Caballero and Nate Baker pushed back on the request, citing a lack of housing and misalignment with the new Comprehensive Plan as causes for scrutiny. Katie Hamilton, the design director at Gander Development who represented the project, said they designed the project to leave open the possibility of including residential long term if more services like a transit stop came to the area in the future. Still, the two councilors had enough unanswered questions to remain firm in their disapproval of the project as it stands.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton was more sympathetic toward the local project. He said he’s less willing to hold developments, especially local ones, to design standards that have yet to be fully-conceived or adopted into the city’s new Unified Development Ordinance.

I’m reading in the staff report that this is consistent with the Designated Future Place Type map. I know we just passed the Comprehensive Plan and I’m excited about us keeping fidelity with it. The UDO has not be rewritten and I’ve said time and time again I want to be consistent in making decisions that are based upon what the rules are right now as opposed to anticipatory rulings particularly when its smaller outfits that are local to us. I’m gonna take you at your word. I’m gonna support this rezoning. - Council Mark-Anthony Middleton (53:43)

Making individual decisions about each project that comes to City Hall can be tricky for developers, city staff and city council without consistent guidance from the UDO, so Middleton’s point is well-taken. But the Comprehensive Plan does forecast what direction the city is moving, and thanks to an exhaustive conversation recently about the SCAD amendments, city staff, developers and residents should have a better understanding of what revisions are being introduced after the UDO is updated. Councilor Baker said the city council can still use the tools it has now to achieve future design goals.

I also think we can achieve some of the goals in the Comprehensive Plan, particularly in cases like this, through commitments being made by applicants. I don’t see those commitments here and I did raise them during the Planning Commission meetings so I’m still a no on this one. - Councilor Nate Baker (55:00)

The project ultimately failed the vote 2-4, with councilors DeDreana Freeman and Carl Rist joining Caballero and Baker in opposition.


The 2024 budget process has officially begun for Durham city staff. You can read about the March 2023 city budget public hearing here, and the May 2023 budget presentation from City Manager Wanda Page here for a refresher on the process.

I’ll be covering more about the city’s budget process for the INDY as it unfolds over the first half of this year. To get you started, here are two useful bits of information:

  • The city’s 2024-25 fiscal budget schedule can be found here.
  • Budget and Management Services is looking for community input on the city’s budget priorities. You can sign up for those meetings here. The meetings are being offered in-person and virtually.


Going forward, I’m going to title the posts to match the corresponding city council meeting. The posts themselves are already timestamped with the publishing date. This way, if you missed a post or want to check back on previous entries, it should be easier to understand which post goes with which meeting.

Another important note: Buddy Ruski, and by extension By The Horns, continues to be an independent venture. My work is not subsidized by anybody but you loyalest of readers. It’s also still edited by me, so don’t hold any errors in grammar or judgment against my colleagues at the INDY. Hopefully, their influence on and support of my writing will show up positively throughout Buddy Ruski over the coming months.

Feels good to be back! As always, thanks for reading.

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