About Mayor Harold Weinbrecht
At first glance, Harold Weinbrecht seems like just another person from Cary. He’s a husband and a father, and he holds down a full-time job (in software, of course). He teaches Sunday school and loves to play tennis and run.
What makes Harold Weinbrecht just a little bit different from the rest of the men in Cary is that he’s also the Town’s Mayor. But in Harold’s family, even being Mayor isn’t so unique. Mayor Weinbrecht’s uncle was former Mayor Fred Bond. Clearly, service runs in Harold’s family.
A native of Augusta, Georgia, Harold has spent most of his life in Cary, coming here first as a child with his family then later as an adult while attending NC State University. Since their marriage in 1987, Harold and his wife, Belinda, have lived and raised their two daughters in Cary. And over these many years, Harold and his family have stayed in Cary because of its charm and sense of place, its natural beauty and its people.
Wanting to keep Cary the wonderful place he’s called home for so long, Harold became active in politics in 1997 when he helped start a website called Citizens for Balanced Growth where he wrote about Town government meetings and issues. It was during this endeavor that he discovered that there were many people interested in the same things as he: a slower growth rate; a stronger focus on roads, parks and schools; and an increase in communication between citizens and their government.
In 1998, Harold was chosen as the first chairman of the Town Council’s newly formed Information Services Advisory Board, and in 1999, he was named to the Town’s Planning and Zoning Board.
Harold ran and was elected to the Cary Town Council for the first time in 1999 as an At-Large representative.
Then, and now as Mayor, Harold believes that the role of local government is to maintain a high quality of life for its citizens by providing crucial infrastructure and valuable amenities. And then as now, faith, family and hard work are the things that keep Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht grounded and in touch with the real issues Cary citizens face each day. Mayor Weinbrecht remains committed to managing growth, and he also believes in an open government where citizens have a strong and relevant voice.
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You know that the town is set up like an organization. The board is like a board that runs a corporation and the mayor's like the Chairman of the Board and the stockholders which are the citizens they own this all and they should be telling us what to do not the other way around.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Gov Gab Radio podcast. I'm your host Brian Ondrako. Thanks for being along at Episode 1. Excited to have you and really excited to share our interview with Mayor Weinbrecht of Town of Cary, North Carolina. But before we jump in, I didn't want to do a little table setting with everyone just to share the background, the vision of why this exists, you know.
There are so many incredible communities around this country that are doing some great things to grow and prosper and improve the lives of their citizens. So we want to talk with a lot of different government leaders about their particular communities, you know, some of the challenges they're facing, but also some of the opportunities for, you know, growth and development you know, along with learning about their past, you know, why did they decide to really dedicate their life to serve in their communities and maybe some things out of that you guys can learn especially you know, folks that want to get involved more but don't know how he may pick up a couple great tips from each of these interviews that we have so excited for you guys do listen in on this episode today if you want to check out the town of carries website it's townofcary.org and again, Mayor, one brick, his last name is spelled w e i n b r e ch t.
So without further ado, let's jump into our interview today with Mayor Weinbrecht.
Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining this morning. Well, thank you for having me. Yeah, this is this is great to get you on. Obviously, as a resident of carry, this is special for me to get a chance to talk with you. So excited to kind of chat through your story a little bit, some of the things that are going on, you know, I want to take a step back really to start the conversation because I'm always curious, because there's a lot of different folks that are listening to this, whether it's, you know, kind of civic leaders, whether it's just, you know, citizens, etc. And I'm always curious, how did you get your start in, in getting involved in the community? What did that idea originate in your head, like, hey, maybe this is something I like to do. Can you take us back to that time?
Well, in 1997, I received a postcard from a guy who was running for office. Now, keep in mind, I'm a software engineer. And most software engineers are introverted, and I'm very introverted it was. And so the postcard say, Hey, are you displeased with A, B, C, D, E, F, if you checked any of those boxes, you oughta email. So emailing was pretty safe back in 1997. So I sent him an email, and then they call me up and asked me if I would get involved in this, that and the other. And I said no to all of it, because being an introvert, I didn't want to do anything. And so they said, Well, okay, well, we're having organizational part. If you want to hear more about what we're doing, and what this candidate is doing, please feel free to show up. And so I went, and I thought it was fascinating. And the candidate got elected. And afterwards I said, you know,
you ought to let people know what's going on in your campaign means a lot because it's telling information that people don't have. So why don't you start a blog and he goes, I'm not a software engineer you Why don't you start a blog. And so I did. And that was called citizens for balance growth. And it took off in 1997. And then about a month or two, we had like, 1000 people engage. And so we started covering all the council meetings since they weren't televised, they weren't on the computer. The only way you found that what happened is if the media showed up, and they usually showed up on big issues. So there was a lot of things people thought were very interesting. And the so to make a long story short, the candidate that was
a high help get elected, asked me if I would
get on the planning and zoning board. And I said no, and after about a dozen knows he beat me down. And I finally said yes. And then on that board, they are making decisions like how much to allow how or a plot a private property into the floodplain and I remember asking the question, why are we putting things in a floodplain that makes no sense and and today we're paying for that actually because we allow people to put things in a floodplain. Anyway,
after that, this guy decided to run for mayor and he asked me if I'd run for Council. And again, I said, No, at least a couple of dozen times, and he beat me down, and I finally ran on his coattails. And he was elected mayor and I was elected on council serve for years. After a couple years, I felt that I was just going along with a lot of what he said and started doing more and more research. I was totally dependent on him in the beginning, because I really didn't know what I was doing. And then after a couple years, I knew a lot of what I was doing. And he went to war with all of our neighbors on certain issues, they demand them. So Korea, a lot of distrust demanded a lot of council demanded a lot of staff. And, and so there was this environment that wasn't nice. And at the end of four years, he ran for reelection, and he finished the distant third. And, of course, of course, I was on his coattails originally, and so they threw me out with them. Even though I voted against any more than anybody last two years, I was in office anyway, that was fine. I was done. I was going back into software engineering, where I was where I was comfortable, and I was going to live happily ever after.
So the next guy that came in the first guy, by the way, was all about slowing growth or stopping growth, which he enacted a bunch of ordinances which were labor later overturned in court, and cost carry a lot of money to do that. So the second guy that come in is, is pedal to the metal, we're building in, in in anything and everything as fast as we can. And we became the fifth fastest growing community in the nation in 2005, or 2006. And I go, you know, this is nuts, this oscillating thing, right, left slow, fast as a none of that's good for this community in South trying to recruit somebody. And I spent probably six months trying to recruit somebody to run for mayor in 2007. And finally, one of my friends and I were having
soda and in and I said, you gotta run he goes, I don't have the resume you do you gotta run. Well, I said, Well, I'll ask my wife knowing that my wife said in 2003 when I lost that I would never run again and I said, hey, that's fine. And I asked her what do you think she's what you got to do this like I was floored, so I signed the the entry fee and pay my $50 and at that time.
Within about a week or so I started getting phone calls from people that read in the paper that I was running. And I found out that not only were we growing at a fast pace, when people went to speak to counsel, they were treated rudely you like we're in charge, and you need to just get over it and do it we say, you know, kind of attitude and I'm like, well, that's really wrong because you know that the town is set up like an organization the board is like a board that runs a corporation and the mayor's like the Chairman of the Board and the stockholders which are the citizens they own us all and they should be telling us what to do not the other way around. And so I felt that was very wrong. And so those were the main issues.
I ran on, have some balance in the way we're growing, use some common sense and make sure that everyone is heard, and especially the citizens. So I committed at that time that I would always answer emails, which I've kept through 11 years have done that. If you send me an email, and if you cut and paste a group email, I'm probably not going to answer but if you send me an email individually, I will. And then I said I would answer to the citizens once a month. And a program which I started as carry matters still runs today. And then I would blog every week like a report to the stockholders exactly what I did, and I've done that every week since 2007. So you can go out and read all that online if you want to go to sleep real fast, but it takes into account everything that I've done.
And so that's kind of the thing I did is running for mayor what led up to it now. I got to where I was today. One of the biggest challenges right off the bat was you had council members that were for or against previous mayors. And it was an us versus them. And there was some very unpleasant conversations in the first two or three months. And it took me several months to get people to understand that, hey, you can be politically left you can be politically right. But most of that has nothing to do with what we're doing and carry what we're doing in carries providing services at the basic water, sewer fire police and we ran parks, and we need to make sure that businesses thrive and prosper. We need to make sure that citizens are heard and we make need to make sure that they're part of the process and if you take away all the other state in federal issues like gun control, or abortion or whatever, that really doesn't have a lot to do with what we're doing. And if we focus on just what we're doing, then we can get a lot done and I was amazed.
they took me for that. And so the council started working together. And I thought it was a honeymoon. And here we are 11 years later. And we're still working together. And I'm so proud of the Council for actually taking that position. So when we get requests to do a resolution, you know, against this or that we say, No, we're best practice not to do that we don't get involved in federal and state issues with one exception. We got involved in HB two because it had a direct impact and carry have about $5 million a year and economic benefit. So anyway, that's a quick rundown of how I got to where I am today.
That's good. What What was the, you know, curious, you mentioned that kind of period of uncertainty, kind of getting the position or running from what were you most nervous about running for mayor that maybe has been confirmed sense or maybe been debunked, and you're like, I don't know why I was worried about that.
Well, I almost had a feeling of embarrassment thinking that you know, I'm going to sign up and everybody's going to laugh You know, you're running against him, he's got all the money, all the power all the people behind him and you're running against him how ridiculous and that's not true. If you really believe in something in your heart. And you know that there's a lot of other people that believe in that it doesn't matter how much that person has no money or endorsements I was outspent eight to one or six to one and not beating 60 to 40%, it was a slaughter and it had nothing to do with money and had to do with people believing in your message. And my message like I said, was one of having the people are having a balanced growth and using common sense and taking care of the environment and a lot of things that people in Cary want to see, help businesses thrive and prosper. All those things can be done. You don't have to be one or the other, you can be all of them. And we are very glad to do that. So that the banking the debunking part,
I guess I was thinking that money and power, you don't have a chance to run against money and power. And you do. So I'm kind of curious because you mentioned you're an introvert, right? And you kind of bright hid behind the computer and maybe didn't get on top you What did you do to overcome that? Because obviously as mayor, you have to be in front of people all the time, you know, doing different speeches and those type of things. Are there any practices you did to improve that or.
I laugh because I could speak for 30 seconds would be my task. And I would spend two to three hours practicing and audio learner. So I had to say it over and over and over and over. And so in the beginning, it was very memorized. And it didn't come across very well. And now I'm being told that I'm a good speaker, which is really surprising and shocking, but now I can get and it is happened in the past staff will say, you know, that
We provided you some remarks. Here's some other ones at the last minute. Now, you look it over and read it and go, Okay, we're gonna be talking about this, I need to make, you know, ABC D points, let's go. And, you know, just wing it. For the most part. There's very rare that I'll read from us set of remarks. I usually I asked staff to provide me remarks, mainly because I don't want to forget anything, you know, show me what you're thinking, and then I'll show you what I'm thinking and then I'll just talk from it. And that's kind of the way I give remarks. So to answer your question, it just came with practice. I used to be terrified to speak in public, mainly because
I don't remember what and, but everybody thinks it's fine now, and I don't have any problems. But the first year was a struggle.
And then I'll create that. That's what I'll be doing over the holidays, by the way, is writing my state of carry address, which I'll get at the end of January, and then that's good is the right time for it. Well, and then how do you go about juggling? Because obviously, you know, you will full time job, your mayor, how do you go about and family, obviously, how do you juggle that? How do you prioritize things? I'm curious, especially for those not in the position, what's the time commitment look like? Yeah, that's, that's and everybody makes fun of me. But I have to schedule every minute of the day, pretty much. I'm lucky to work in a group that is very flexible. And my group is called globalization. So the people I work with are in Beijing and Tokyo so they're like, you know, 12 hours difference so I can work at nine o'clock 10 o'clock at night and there is morning time that all kind of actually works to my benefit.
To them, I can transition back and forth seamlessly all day. And that again took a lot of practice because in the beginning I go Okay, back to writing code where was I have to get in that mindset again? Where's mowing just go back and forth and it doesn't bother me at all.
Are there any like daily habits or routines you follower, you know, practices kind of important you to keep the structure? I think it's very important to have physical health and mental health. And so I exercise a lot. I'll wake up in the morning about 530 spend about 30 minutes to an hour exercising if I can, I'll do it at lunch. But I get at least an hour and a half of cardio in every day. And unfortunately, I do that seven days a week but that helps me keep strong mentally and physically and it helps keep me balanced. I believe those are very important so to structure my day.
I tried to do the same routines over and over, I can I know exactly how long it'll take me to get from one part of carry to the other this time of day. And so I have a real tight schedule and the same sort of thing at work on know how long it takes me to do something and finish that and get to the next thing and being able to predict and having a scheduled environment to work and really helps me be able to do all I need to do.
What's your favorite part of being the mayor?
Meeting with people and talking with people and hearing their perspective about issues or hearing what their biggest shoes are. We started a thing about six months ago where the Public Information Office sends all the social media stuff they have search engines and everything they can find and they send it every morning and that's fascinating very you think everybody's happy in their own.
We had one yesterday. I will read the social media and a lady who happens to be an anchor on WRAL was complaining that ash was falling on her Christmas decorations because of construction next door and they were burning something and that shouldn't be allowed. And I'm like, What is that about? And then I read on today how staff responded and corrected the situation she's all happy and you know, that's really important to understand and hear all those types of things. I really appreciate those types of things but that's that's really important to know what people are thinking people are doing and so hearing people talking to people not people are thinking are very important and even if it's me in person, or persuading social media is me answering emails in all places is the important part.
And I think you have to respond to citizens because they are our stockholders, they are taxpayers. So it's important is there you know, one or two decisions I guess in your time as mayor that you're extremely proud of things that you accomplished maybe that maybe that were difficult, you think we're going to be accomplished? I'm just curious your thoughts there, but one that I can really think of is we were in a recession and so everything is basically shutting down and our capital budgets shrunk and we had a message from the school system that Cary elementary school is going to be sold or torn down would be we'd be interested in they wanted I forgot how many million dollars for which is interesting, since the we went from us city-wide school system in like 1972, a countywide school system we gave that property to them and then here with are selling it back to us. And it was in a state that it was about the fall down.
So staff recommended against it. And they said, it would cost all this kind of money, and we're in a recession, and we really can't afford that. And so the council overrode that and said, well, let's let's buy it less refurbish it, and we'll make it an art center. And not only do we do that, by doing it in the recession, we saved like two to $3 million, because construction workers didn't have any work. And they jumped all over it at a cheap price. So that when you look at a carry Art Center, at least when I look at it, I think about that story about how that didn't happen. And that might have been torn down. And now it's a beautiful building in his signature part of our town. And it was very fortunate that we made the decision we did. Another thing is across the street, where we have the fountain, that whole 13 acre site was bought by the town piece by piece, which is very painful, because property owners didn't want to sell. And they tell us for ransom, almost to buy that property. So we pay a lot of money for that property. And people are some people think that's a bad decision, because seven acres of that 13 acres is going to be a park. And we've got two acres of it so far, but I think is a great decision. Then we're now having the library be built over there, the new library and the parking deck, which will have 600 spaces. And there's a development proposal going through the process, if it's approved, would wrap that parking deck can use the office and residential and retail and all that mix of us right there in downtown and that will generate a lot more activity in downtown which is another thing I'm proud of. I remember being out of council meetings that eight, nine o'clock at night and there wasn't a soul and downtown and be like a ghost town and now and get out at 11 or 12 at night. And they're people everywhere. So we've really flip that around. And we got a lot of momentum in our downtown and we're proud of that. And there's a lot more I could talk about but those are some of the things that come to mind right off the bat
what a lot of those ideas come from top of the Art Center and those type of things is that from the council's that from committees do is that a lot of citizens kind of given their opinions on stuff. How do you guys work that
well, must have that is from staff, we have truly the best of the best people, other municipalities from around the United States come to see how we do things. And we will take trips every other year, sponsored by the chamber to go that to other municipalities see how they're doing things and see if there's anything we can gain from them. This coming March, I know we're going to go to right outside of Dallas, there's a community there, we're going to go look at we've been to Carmel, Indiana, Franklin, Tennessee,
Greenville, South Carolina trying to remember all the places we've been to a bunch of places. And each of those places has a positive. You know, like, we've also been the places that didn't have a lot of positive what not to do. And I'm not going to name those cities because it wouldn't be fair. But we've been to places and try and traveled around and said, Okay, this is what happens when you do this. And it's like, wow. And so learning from other people's successes and failures really has helped us in making decisions and that and the fact that we have a lot of continuity on our council we have over 80 years of experience on this council which is averages over 10 years accounts a member which is pretty significant. So we kind of seen it all and done at all and know what's good and what's bad. So when we get like a new person into town that was to propose something they're trying to blow smoke we can see right through that. That really helps and you don't have to name the jurisdiction thing, but what was one of those struggles you saw from someone else? And maybe that'll help others listening in that may be going through something similar?
Well, one thing to keep in mind is to have a mix of uses. And another thing to keep in mind. If you have a plan, that's a good plan, you have to have the backbone to follow through with that plan. Cary is reaching a point. Now, since we've built outward that is going to be a lot of redevelopment and infill and that's the most difficult part because you're changing what's right next door to everybody. And they're not going to like it more than likely they're not going to like it. Unless it's a dilapidated property they're not going to want to see that change because that's not what they bought into but that's what the plan calls for. And so you get a lot of resistance and a lot of threats threats being I'm going to vote you out office, not physical and that kind of stuff if you really believe in what you're doing and you believe in the plan then you should follow that plan now carries plan was a called.
The Cary Community Plan was created in a three year process and it was really created by the citizens. So what we did is we went out all over town for two years and we got citizen input. And then we had a group of citizens, 30 of them, and they took that and boiled it down to decision points, you know, because you'd have some people that said, this part of town should be urban, this part of town should be a part, this part of town should be rule and so it came down to decision points. And that's all we did as Council on that plan. So the plan we have that we go by, which is very significant, by the way, includes every type of thing related to development, whether it's the environment or livability or walkability or you name it, it's in that plan and staff refers to it on every proposal, but that plan was created by the citizens and that is a reminder.
To me, every time I'm thinking about going against the plan is like wait a minute systems created this plan, you better have a good reason to go against that plan. And so that's the phrase we have is what is the compelling reason to change? And that's the question we asked ourselves and that's a good thing to go by, I think well, so if we had a little inward reflection kind of looking at other cities and what they were doing well and not well what do you think the town and carry what's maybe the biggest strength that has and we're maybe the biggest weakness right now.
So some of the biggest strengths we have one I think we have a backbone to do the right thing to we partner with everyone we are chamber when I say everyone I'm talking about our chamber, our businesses, our staff, if we have disagreements, we take those in private never do those in public, but we work together and try to be united in the things that we do be on the same page. You don't have to always agree but we have to always support each other and understand that growth is coming.
This area of the country will double in size and the next 2025 years. And if you think you're not going to grow, then you're fooling yourself. Because this place is changing and carry just got ranked again, as a number five place to live in the United States this week. But Money Magazine people are coming. They read that they're going to go, I'm going there. And so this is a lot of change. The question is, how do you manage that change? And how do you manage that growth, you can't accept every dense proposal that comes in especially if it doesn't follow the plan. You have to have a plan to go by. That makes sense now what I'm seeing in neighboring municipalities is exactly what I saw in Cary. In the 90s they're struggling with we want to stop growth and we want to grow at all costs and there's got to be a balance there and there's got to be a backbone when people then when there's upheaval.
Like, we don't want this in there, okay? Okay. Okay. If you get it, be able to say why you're supporting what you're supporting, and stand by it. Believe in yourself and believe in the plan. And if you can't, should be in office, I mean, if you just OK bye, somebody's complaining and I get complaints on a daily basis, I'm kind of used to it. But you got to know in your heart what's right and what's wrong. And at the same time, you gotta listen. And so I mean by saying, you got to have a backbone. I'm not saying you don't listen, a lot of times what you hear from the citizens are correct, and you got to go with that. But there are some that just don't want anything around them. Why can't you just buy that land and make it a park? You hear that a lot. So those are the types of things you have to keep in your head. And that's what I think our neighboring municipalities are struggling with because they've been small towns for their entirety.
Their existence and now they're changing. They're seeing more development and they're seeing more demand. And they've got to figure out how to handle that. And I'm here to help if they want my advice.
So I'll let you take on this next one, that you can take the glass half full mentality of glass half empty, your choice, what do you feel for the town of care of the next couple of years? What's the biggest opportunity or maybe the biggest challenge kind of in the way the next several years?
Well, one of the the biggest challenges is what I've sort of mentioned is infill. Every one of those infill projects will have a lot of pushback, and that's especially important you watch odd years, our election year so we have an election year coming up and we're going to have big projects propose next year and it'll be interesting to watch my colleagues see if they can withstand.
The screaming and yelling downtown is one of the biggest challenges right now. Why? Because originally, Carrie was one square miles now we're 60. But it started in one square mile of downtown. And the street is called Boundary Street that shows you where the original boundary was. And it started growing out. So we're seeing a lot of redevelopment in this downtown area. And the people that have lived here 5060 years, like you're ruining the town. Well, that's a perspective Yes, but let me tell you what we're doing how things are better. You know, and if you can't explain that, if you can't defend your decision, then you're making a mistake. But if you can, then you need to express that decision. But I think that's going to be our challenge is the communications with our public of changes that are coming and I'm not saying we're going to mow down downtown and rebuild it. That is not what we're doing at all.
We're doing infill projects, we address them one at a time, what's good, what's bad, what's it's a plan, what doesn't fit the plan? How does this make our community better? And you've got to be able to communicate that and that's what I asked staff when they propose something, me I'll use it here first. And I go, Well, how do I defend that, you know, that's for if you can't defend it to me, then how am I going to defend it. And so that's one thing I've got to be able to do. So that's the to me the biggest challenge is the infill projects coming up the ability to decide what's good, and what's bad. And stick with your decision. And make sure you communicate that to your stockholders, your citizens, your taxpayers.
So to kind of wrap up I'll give you the floor here maybe a parting shot a final quote anything you kind of live by or it could be for other leaders similar to you it could be for citizens could be for it. One I'm just curious kind of is the last day, you know, kind of impression on the interview today, something to end on your thoughts.
I think our nation and our state and little bit of our county is very divided and very partisan. And there's a saying we haven't carried, it doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or Republican, when you're providing water and sewer, putting out a fire, saving your life, it just doesn't matter. And you got to find a way to work together. I can tell you there are members on my council that are huge Trump supporters. And I'm not I'll just say that up front. And we can have that disagreement. We can laugh at each other. But when it comes to carry, we're working on what Carrie does. So we work together every day on making Carrie better. And we really believe that we really respect each other. We support each other when each of the each of us runs for office. That's how much we believe in each other and it's good to have disagreement, we're all different. But when the disagreements become personal, and when the disagreements tear you apart, rather than bring you together, then you're causing harm. And I think that's what we're seeing the state and national level.
And I tell people at my last state of carry address last year as it can you imagine how good we have be as a state if everybody decided to work together? Forget parties. I mean, think about that. It's mind boggling what we could probably do if he just threw the party symbol out and say, hey, let's just work together and make the state best it could be how good it could be. Same thing on the national level. I think it would be amazing and I think that's what we've done in Cary and I would love to see that on the state and national level but I'm not seeing it and I hope it changes in my lifetime because I think we'd be better off to did yeah, I couldn't agree with you more on that point. And that's a that's a good that's a good way to end this. I certainly appreciate taking some time out me.
One record is awesome conversation. Glad to hear your thoughts and look forward to seeing what the town's doing in the in the coming years. Hey everyone. Thanks for joining in this episode. And we really appreciate if you head over to iTunes. Leave us a quick review give us a rating. We certainly appreciate any feedback you can share so we can make this podcast better each and every episode. Thanks again for listening and I hope you guys have a phenomenal day. Take care.