June 2006


I’ll be off-line for awhile.

By the time I return Chapel Hill will probably have a new town manager, I will have been appointed to zero or more additional advisory boards and Chapel Hillian’s – especially those on the wrong-side of the digital-divide – hopefully, will have a new muni-networking task force to take that bull by the horns.

Council is ready to take a break and so am I.

Local IndyWeek reporter Fiona Morgan covers the story of a “copyright comic” in the tech-oriented magazine Wired.

Fair-use is an important tool for online activisim, as is copyright. Many online authors, for instance, use a Creative Commons content license to ensure widest dissemination of their message.

To make the issue a bit more digestable, three law professors (two from Duke) created the comic book: Bound by Law.

Practicing what they preach, the comic book is freely available under a Creative Commons license.

Fiona routinely covers tech-related issues for the IndyWeek, for example, this week’s important coverage of NC ‘net neutrality and media consolidation.

Just as consumers are becoming aware of things like net neutrality and media consolidation, Congress and the North Carolina legislature are acting like nobody’s paying any attention.

on June 13, the Finance Committee of the N.C. House passed the Video Service Competition Act without amending any of the no-brainer changes suggested by public interest groups that would have made it a little less of a travesty. A state version of the Internet TV provisions currently winding through U.S. Congress, this bill would abolish the current rules governing cable television service. Telephone companies such as Verizon and BellSouth have been pushing hard for this bill, because it would allow them to expand from broadband Internet to video service without having to negotiate with local governments. The bill will soon go to the full House for a vote; the Senate version, having passed one committee, makes one more committee stop before going to the floor.

Thanks go to ibiblio’s Paul Jones for the story tip.

Council once again reviewed local businessman Michael Rosenberg’s (Health Decisions Inc.) Meadowmont palace Castalia. Castalia is a proposed mixed-use building, currently sited prominently in Meadowmont.

Tonight’s discussion focused on visibility.

Councilman Cam Hill gave a bit of a mixed message, saying in part that if the building really would be as hard to see from N.C. 54 as the architectural drawing purported, then that might be tempting. But he said he really didn’t think it was going to be that well screened.

HeraldSun, June 20th

Meadowmont? Not visibile? Where have I heard that before?

Let’s turn the wayback machine’s dial to Oct. 5th, 1994:

Design Review Board member Bob Stipe inquired whether proposed commercials buildings on the north side of NC 54 would be visible to passing vehicles. Mr. Davis said yes, adding that the buildings would have a maximum height below the area’s existing tree line. Julie Andresen inquired whether the developer was proposing a mixture of office and retail uses. Mr. Davis said yes. Ed Harrison inquired whether existing trees on the site would be preserved. Mr. Davis stated that the majority of trees up to three hundred and fifty feet into the site would be preserved.

Where did those trees go?

I’ve read that Castalia is the source of sacred waters used to clean Delphian temples . Maybe those waters could be used to clean out another mythic mess, Meadowmont’s Augean stable of promises.

I asked the Council to look into LFG two years ago and then made it part of my environmental proposals for the 2005 Council campaign. Recently, UNC has suggested using the old 35 acre Horace Williams landfill site to produce clean energy for Carolina North.

Now, from the June 17th Chapel Hill News, comes this Letter to the Editor outlining successful uses for LFG.

Landfill gas projects (LFG) have been around since the late 1970s creating cheap renewable energy to citizens. When landfills decompose they create a gas called methane, which is 23 times more effective at trapping atmospheric heat then carbon dioxide. This gas can remain in the atmosphere for up to 15 years, increasing the speed of global climate change.

LFG projects capture 60 percent to 90 percent of methane released from landfills and help to improve the air quality of the surrounding communities as well as creating more jobs for the community. Each LFG project is equivalent to removing the emission from 14 million cars and will decrease the use of oil by 150 million barrels, which is a nice thing to hear since we have depleting natural resources.

Cost savings have helped companies such as General Motors save more than $5 million per year from their five LFG projects and SC Johnson in Racine, Wis., is saving $1 million per year. Of the 140 projects taking place in the United States, more than 700 landfills can cost-effectively install LFG projects.

Why don’t we do our part in helping the environment and increasing the change in our pocket? More information: 888-782-7937 or www.ncgreenpower.com. — Ronna Fischer, Chapel Hill

Thanks Ronna for pressing forward on local LFG.

I’m impressed with what I’ve read by and about Sean Stegall.

With Sean we have a candidate for town manager that celebrates openness, wants to make community a cornerstone of his efforts and recognizes Chapel Hill’s need for some “conflict resolution”.

He has a flexible management-style – a trust in the folk working at all levels in our government and within the community.

But, as the town manager, the work of leadership is more about tapping into and leveraging the collective energies of those who work for the community, are served by the community and who are elected to govern.

The manager must create a sense of purpose that connects people together and drives the organization to a higher level of performance. This is best accomplished by assimilation of the collective “visions” held within the organization and community.

HS

As a person that can pinch the meanest of pennies – I heartily welcome a candidate thoroughly experienced in budgetary matters.

Sean is responsible for the preparation, execution and monitoring of a budget of $277,000,000. In addition, Sean is charged with development of the five (5) year financial plans for the City’s major operating funds.

c.v.

We could definitely use more than a spritz of entreprenurial spirit

If an organization is not constantly looking to improve its processes and procedures, it is falling behind.

- and the background and desire to use technology to drive operational efficiencies.

Stegall also is developing a wireless Internet program for Elgin residents, something that interests many Chapel Hill leaders as well.

Already, Elgin employees are using a Motorola system to communicate with each other, filing reports from the field, etc.

Wireless transmitters are on all city water towers.

“Being familiar with technology that may be one of the benefits of being 33,” Stegall said. “Technology is not an end in and of itself. It should be used for other ends.”

N&O

And he understands that the relationship between manager and Council is nuanced

The old saying goes, “Council makes policy, staff implements policy.” But policy making and policy implementation are not separate and distinct functions. In reality, policy making/implementation is a continuum of thought and relationships that transform ideas, policies, goals and plans into observable outcomes or ends such as a new street project, homeless shelter or park improvement. Because of this fact, council and staff share this continuum and are partners ensuring each other’s success. Because of this partnership, there must be open and on-going dialogue among the town council and department heads. Finally, this dialogue must include all community partners whether it is media outlets or neighborhood associations.

The Chapel Hill town manager must create a sense of purpose through a shared vision and open dialogue by and between the council, staff and community.

HS

Yes, he’s young. So what? We need a candidate with vitality and a fresh perspective to help our community make the next step in its evolution. Sean’s capabilities and diversity of experience are more than comparable to our current manager’s when he was selected.

Though I’m not a big fan of his take on TIFs (tax increment financing)  or the joy of gambling profits, I liked his current perspective on town and hope his responses are more than “window dressing”.

Good luck Sean on your interview. Remember, Chapel Hill, for all its age, is still a youthful community – expect a fair hearing.

OrangePolitics (OP) is covering Council’s (injudicious?) final sprint to hire a new manager.

OP’s Ruby Sinreich commented June 2nd on the quick narrowing of the field to a handful of white males.

Robert Peterson, June 5th, put on his tin foil hat and, I believe with some accuracy, laid out a scenario where one of the three putative candidates is a “ringer” . As he observed What we have here, on paper at least, is a superstar. What better way to insure his getting the position than to pit him against someone mired in controversy and someone with 20 years less experience.

This week, Council will spend 38 hours reviewing and then selecting, with minimal opportunities for direct public interaction, a new Town Manager. Unless, as Council member Mark Kleinschmidt avers with all confidence that if there’s any doubt at the end of the week that we’re not hiring the best person for this job, we will hire no one.”

What role will Chapel Hill’s citizenry play in the evaluation of “what’s best”?

With the limited information before us; the Herald Sun’s Q&A’s of Ragan, Stancil and Sean Stegall – their bio’s ( Stegall,Ragan, Stancil) posted on the town’s manager search site – an article from the News and Observer – some Googled references – one wonders how the greater citizenry is supposed to evaluate these candidates.

They won’t have much of an opportunity this final week as 36 of the 38 hours set aside for candidate consideration are closed, closed, closed.

“The Council will move that this session be closed under North Carolina General Statute 143-318.11(a)(6).”

The Council’s actions to fill this key position with much less public discussion and involvement than other recent issues, for instance the renaming of Airport Rd. to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., seems counter to our town’s stated desire for maximum governmental transparency. To cap the current process off by cloaking a majority of the discussion behind 143-318.11(a)(6), well, it puts the fine point to folks concerns.

The remaining two hours for public input? The Mayor will be juggling Council and public participation.

I don’t quite understand Mark K’s response to Ruby S’s rushed feeling by saying “I don’t know why you insist on calling it a runaway train” when so many of the search committee’s meetings were ill-scheduled (for reasonable public participation) or closed under 143-318.11(a)(6).

  • 10am, Weds. Mar. 15th, Mar. 22nd, Mar. 29th
  • 10am, Tues. Apr. 4th [CANCELLED], Apr. 11th
  • 8am, Tues. Apr. 18th; Sat. Apr. 22nd (the 1st possible one for me to attend)
  • CLOSED Mon. May 8th 10am ; Fri. May 19th, 2pm ;Tues. May 30th, 9am

Missing an opportunity for greater openness, the minutes of the open meetings were only available at Townhall and not published on the town’s website.

As someone that closely followed the process (as well as one can without easily accessible minutes of the search committee’s meetings), I disagree with Mark’s comment that

“The decisions regarding the development of the selection process were all held in open public meetings–I think there were at least two of those–and there was a public meeting to assist on development of a profile.”

Feb. 27th, Council discussed some exciting options like “a website with questionnaire for public comment” and a process structured so the “Community to meet with all finalists“. But, sadly, these proposed mechanisms for community outreach were subsequently discarded (the public commentary) and watered down (this week’s two-hour, Mayorally-filtered, candidate meet-n-greet).

Direct citizen commentary was limited to the regular 3 minute slot.

By the Mar. 6th meeting, OP poster and local personnel expert Anita Badrock (VP, Smithers and Associates) suggested two possible “processes” for selecting candidates. As she observed:

I recognize that we have a culture of openness in our community that the Council wants to respect, but I believe the citizens would understand and be better served by a process that would allow the best qualified candidates to confidentially explore this career opportunity to the maximum extent possible. Many of the most highly qualified applicants are probably the kind of professionals that aren’t unhappy with where they are currently, but are excited and intrigued about the possibilities and opportunities that exist in Chapel Hill. That’s the type of person that probably would not want his/her current employer to know (s)he’s looking.

As someone that’s hired their share of sensitive workers, I also recognize the need for some discretion.

Unfortunately, the concern for candidates confidentiality out-weighed public necessity and the more citizen-interactive options, factored into Process #2, were soon to be dispensed with.

As per Process #1, 30 or so folks – Council members, staff, the local political “usual suspects” (former Council members, business folk, the Chamber, etc.) – were “interviewed” to develop a candidate profile. These interviews constituted, I guess, a surrogate for the public feedback via website or a general solicitation for written/oral comments.

In another blow to timely transparency, it was only recently that the candidate profile was published.

Ruby is on to something when she remarks that the Council

has set-up this entire process without actively engaging or even encouraging the public’s input in a meaningful way (ie: before we were down to a choice between 3 straight, white, males). I’m not saying we should be sitting in on confidential meetings or anything, but it really shouldn’t surprise the Council if most Chapel Hill residents don’t even know this is going on, and rest of us are annoyed about how it’s going.

I’m concerned this is becoming a trend rather than an anomaly…

The Council was elected to make decisions. NC statute and local ordinances require minimal public participation in one of the hardest decisions a Council will make.

Only a growing Chapel Hill custom of transparency – part of what folks seriously or sarcastically call “Chapel Hill values” – obliges the Council to widen participation – to cast sunlight into the deepest shadows of the decision-making process – to reach beyond conservatively expedient approaches – in selecting a person, if recent history serves, that will have more influence on our community as any ephemeral elected Council member.

This week, to echo Ruby, the citizens of Chapel Hill will have a chance to see if Council continues a growing trend away from greater transparency and participation or if their behavior is an anomoly in their pell-mell rush to fill this key position.

Are you an early morning person? Interested in Downtown’s evolution? Like to interact with political heavy-hitters? Chapel Hill’s Downtown Partnership, a confederation of UNC, Town and business interests, is looking for two new members.

ALL CALL

The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership has two available board positions beginning July 1, 2006.

The first is a Town of Chapel Hill appointed position. It is a three year term, running July 1, 2006 – June 30, 2009. Eligible applicants are downtown property owners that contribute to the Municipal Service District Tax. Town Council will appoint this position on June 26, 2006.

The second is a CHDP board appointed position. It is a one-year term, running July 1, 2006-June 30, 2007. Anyone can apply for this position. The Board will appoint this position in June 28, 2006.

To apply for either position – please go to http://www.chapelhilldowntownpartnership.com/ and link onto the link at the bottom of the page for the application. The application should be sent to the Town Clerk’s office ASAP.

Liz Parham

Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership
308 West Rosemary Street, Suite 202
Chapel Hill, NC 27516
(919) 967-9440 office
(919) 967-9475 fax

They’re soliciting two members though the terms of Fine, Perry and Alexander, at least based on the website are up. Also, UNC representative Suttenfield is moving on to greener pastures.

[ UPDATE: ] Via Liz Parham – UNC has appointed Steve Allred and Linda Convissor to replace Nancy Suttenfield and Roger Perry.
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Following up on my earlier post on RAM Development’s “425 Hillsborough Street” 335 condo megaplex, today’s HeraldSun reports:

Foy acknowledged that a good prior experience with the town might give a developer a slight edge.

“If we’ve had a good experience in the past, then we might know we can negotiate in good faith,” he said.

Someone that you trust – someone that delivers – usually does have an edge in business.

But our town leaders have responsibilities that transcend “business as usual”, as Foy acknowledges:

Mayor Kevin Foy said Friday he hasn’t seen plans for the project, which is being called 425 Hillsborough Street by the developer. But, he said, the plan will be judged on its merits alone and the town’s handling of an application will not be affected by the official relationship with Ram Development.

“We view every development through the prism of what’s best for the town,” Foy said. He added that the town will judge the developer’s project against the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which describes where growth should occur.

The project’s expanse, as reported by the HeraldSun, is greater than that reported in the New & Observer:

According to the Ram concept plan, the new development would have 390 multi-family units on 15.6 acres. The site, just north of the university campus, currently holds 111 rental units, most of which are occupied by UNC students.

That’s quite an increase in density. Luckily, the plan will require a rezoning – putting it squarely before Council and local citizens.

The article also mentions the problems with Lot #5′s development

Recently the town sent a letter to Ram indicating the Lot 5 project wasn’t fully meeting expectations for the redevelopment of that town site

and quotes out-going Town Manager Cal Horton:

Horton said Ram’s performance wouldn’t impact the town’s handling of an application on the Hillsborough Street project if the developer chooses to submit a formal proposal.

“In our process, every development stands on its own,” he said. “There are many occasions when we work with people who are doing multiple developments. This situation is pretty ordinary.”

The current Council hopes that ceding prime public properties to RAM Development (for, what I believe, less than their longterm value) will spur a downtown economic renaissance (a rebirth that’s proceeding apace without RAM’s help). Taxpayer monies have and will continue to flow into this project. Further, the Council is closely partnering with RAM in the overall design of their $90+ million buildout.

And, then, as the downtown development plan nears kick-off, RAM proposes what has been reported as the largest condominium development in Chapel Hill’s history? A development that will surely benefit by its proximity to the same project Council is partnering on?

Ordinary? Try unprecedented.

RAM Development, our town’s partner in an increasingly troubling downtown development project, is now looking to build the largest condominium project in Chapel Hill’s history. Sited along Hillsborough Rd. on the current Townhouse Apartment parcel, the project would include 335 condos in 6 story blocks.

Without a site proposal, it’s hard to envision how such a massive development couldn’t harm the Bolin Creek watershed, create an incompatible juxtaposition with nearby charming historic residential areas and pressure the already difficult Hillsborough/MLK transit corridor.

Considering Council is knee deep in on-going negotiations involving RAM’s design for downtown’s Lot #5 behemoth (next meeting June 19th, 2PM), what leverage, if any, does RAM have in getting approval for what I expect to be one of the more controversial developments in town’s history?

CHAPEL HILL – Townhouse Apartments, a wilting, close-to-campus haven to UNC-Chapel Hill students for four decades, may be demolished to make way for one of the biggest condominium projects in town history.

Ram Development of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., wants to build 335 condominiums stacked six stories high and 22 townhouses on the 12.5-acre site by 2010.

The company has a contract to buy the 111-unit complex between Hillsborough Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, less than half a mile north of Franklin Street.

The sale is to close next year. Meanwhile, Ram is to submit preliminary site plans for the project, simply called 425 Hillsborough St., this month, said John Florian, the company’s vice president of development in Raleigh.

News & Observer, June 15th, 2006

Townhouse Apartments

[UPDATE:] Please excuse the draft of this post, with broken links, that was earlier erroneously posted.

During my 2005 Council run, I was advised by “folks in the political know” that my optimistic call to UNC to put their 2003 Carolina North development plans aside and start anew would fall on deaf ears. “Don’t waste your time. You set the bar too high. Too ambitious a challenge.”

That plan, with its many deficiencies – 17,000 parking spaces, unimaginative design, lack of transit opportunities – was neither worthy of our world-class University or of the charming Town it occupies.

UNC needed to rethink the initial parameters of this mega-project,to craft a new collaborative development process, to tap their incredible on-campus talent and to assure the local community that our local values would be honored – our zoning authority respected.

Six months later, UNC has set aside their initial RTP-lite development plans, created a new community outreach group (the Carolina North Leadership Advisory Comm.), committed to following the town’s zoning authority and participated diligently (with a few continuing missteps) in the recasting of Carolina North’s design and development principles.

Maybe my optimism wasn’t so misplaced.

Buried in today’s June 9th, 2006 letter to Mayor Foy from UNC’s Chancellor Moeser are some new positive commitments from UNC.

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Those who control the present control the past. Those who control the past control the future.

- Orwell, author 1984

Those who control our modern means of communication are free to manipulate the past, recast the present and shape the future. Powerful, greedy, immoral – the masters of our converging media/medium empires already trample heavily upon the newly emerging Town Commons.

Unfortunately, with today’s House vote destroying Internet neutrality, a vote generally along party lines, the monopolists now have untrammeled freedom to despoil the Commons.

What is Internet neutrality?

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Council member Sally Greene is passionately pursuing a ten year plan to end local homelessness. Her participation, along with other valiant volunteers, gives me hope that the goal is achievable.

Tonight, she reports on the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ efforts.

Of note, they’ve agreed to “emphasize the chronically homeless in our planning (but not at the expense of current efforts to help all the homeless).”

As documented by Sally, folks chronically homeless account for the lionshare of service consumption. Dealing compassionately with this key segment of the homeless population not only honors our better angels but makes excellent fiscal sense – strained resources can be freed up to address the larger population.

There’s more work for the OCPEH but this difficult decision has significantly advanced their cause.

Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy wrote a nice piece for the IndyWeek on friend and local civil rights activist Robert Brown.

I’m not sure whether Robert Brown was a hedgehog or a fox, but I know that he thought about it. He probably had an opinion, although I never asked him which he thought he was. Robert was a thinker, an informed thinker who read widely, and would off-handedly refer to something like Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog & The Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History…

Thanks Kevin for reminding me of Berlin’s essay and Brown’s works. (more…)

When: 6:06PM, 06/06/06.
Where: Mid-town Chapel Hill.
What: Horizontal sheets of blueberry-size hail.

A rapid moving storm front dumped up to an inch of pea to blueberry size hail in our yard.

Not wanting to bike MLK in a tonight’s downpour, I called my wife for a ride home. While on the phone with her, all hell broke loose. All I could hear over the phone was a general din as she and my son ran through the house closing windows – yelling to each other about buckets of rain, pounding hail and tornadic winds.

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Acknowledging the futility of broadly (and blandly) reporting stock and bond closing prices, today the N&O announced:

“Starting Tuesday, The News & Observer is changing the way it provides information on the stock market.”

The good news? They plan to deepen and expand both local coverage and general analysis.

I’ve been wondering how long the local print media would continue with stale stock reports. Real time quotes, company profiles, timely news updates, Edgar on-line and scam-ridden forums are only a click away at places like Yahoo Finance.

I hope the town follows the N&O’s lead and honors its commitment (soon) to publish the Council’s flash reports in real time on the town’s website.

Waiting to publish stale news electronically using an image PDF of a paper newsletter layout is so last decade…