September 2006


Or are we waiting on the real battles to begin?  This election season I have two goals: to squash the mediocre Orange County districting referendum and to get Judge Baddour elected.

Here’s my latest Chapel Hill News column “Election referendum doesn’t fly”:

How much does it cost to unload a real turkey? This month, our county commissioners are struggling with that question as they try to sell their foul bird of representational reform to local voters.

Reform? Over the last few months, with little public involvement, they have cobbled together an ill-tasting electoral melange — two geographical districts, two distinct primaries, district and at-large seats — that owes more to satisfying short-term political goals than to promoting democratic ideals.

Not a surprising outcome given the coercive genesis of the reform project.

In a March 29 guest column in The Chapel Hill Herald, ironically headlined “Give voters the power of choice,” state Rep. Bill Faison wrote how proposed legislation would carve our county into new electoral districts that would recognize the ” the distinct diversity of our county” and “provide for district representation to reflect that diversity.”

Yet, rather than strengthening our community’s bonds, Faison’s bill promoted a brittle, mediocre, contentious reapportionment scheme codifying one of the worst of political practices, divisiveness.

By favoring a small constituency unhappy with its current rural representatives, County Commissioners Stephen Halkiotis and Barry Jacobs, Faison’s plan invited disenfranchisement of other geographically, economically and socially distinct voting blocks.

Fortunately, because of state Rep. Joe Hackney’s command of the legislative process, Faison’s attempt to weaken one person/one vote died, though the impetus to continue with some type of representational reform remained.

Yes, some inequity exists under the current system, but the measure now before voters on the November ballot is no remedy.

Possibly lulled by spring’s promise of renewal, I asked the Board of Commissioners March 21 to accelerate the roll out of super precincts, to listen to Faison’s call to broaden their membership to seven and to make two major changes in our current voting process: non-partisan elections and cumulative or proportional voting.

I frequently help Orange County Democrats with their get- out-the-vote drives, usually support their candidates and am generally sympathetic to their goals. I’m not troubled by the board’s current political composition.

I am against rigging the game so that near perpetual control rests in their party’s hands.

Have you noticed how quiet the commissioners race is? This time last year, during my non-partisan run for Town Council, I was incredibly busy getting my policy message out through forums, neighborhood meetings, personal outreach and media events.

Considering the county commissioners’ taxing authority, responsibility for schools and other duties, you would think the race for the Board of Commissioners would raise twice the hullabaloo of a simple municipal race.

Yet, nothing. Political calm. Why?

Of the currently 88,944 registered voters, 47,152 Democrats and 19,629 Republicans can nominate candidates, hold primaries, turn out a small percentage of party loyalists and, in this strongly Democratic county, fill the seats.

May’s primaries are a Democratic “fait accompli.” Some 22,163 citizens, Independents, are limited to participating from the sidelines.

That’s not healthy for our local democracy.

Non-partisan elections would solve at least three of our electoral problems: ease independent candidacies, reduce the chance a party will “game” the system early in the cycle and force candidates to reach out to a broader spectrum of voters (and maybe work a bit harder for their votes).

Unlike the current “winner-take-all” system, where numerically disadvantaged voting blocks cannot influence outcomes, proportional voting systems amplify minority input — but only if disparate groups truly collaborate.

Simply, united we stand, united we win.

The cumulative system, a system suggested by a 1993 Orange County advisory group to redress voting disparities, gives each voter as many votes as there are seats. Four seats up for grabs? Cast all four votes for one candidate or cast one vote for each.

The strength of this system lies in collaboration. For example, a natural coalition, based on a common interest in sustainable agricultural policy, could be built between feared southern Carrboro liberal elites and supposedly conservative northern Orange County farmers. Each group could cast two of its four votes for the candidate most supportive of their single-issue goal. Their remaining two votes could be cast quite differently.

United they stand, united they win.

Faison, absent adequate study or effort to legislate, said proportional representation was “not viable in any way.” I disagree.

What is not equitable, not acceptable and definitely not viable is November’s representation reform referendum.

Congratulations to Ruby, the editors and many commenters that have made local ‘blog OrangePolitics such a vital forum for our community.

Three years ago, less than a week into OP’s life, Ruby graciously permitted me to blather on about Chapel Hill’s red-light scamera fiasco. Over the years, though I know I’ve tested her patience, she’s continued to host my and other folks contrarian, at least to her, viewpoints.

Yes, there’s been some controversy over content. Some folks opening up dialogues on other forums. Others going silent. Yet others moving on to their own gigs. All together, though, OP, through the efforts of Ruby, the editors and its community, have maintained a high signal to noise ratio.

As I noted elsewhere, the “long tail” of OP reaches back through time to help folks work today’s current issues. It continues to be a critical resource for local activism.

Once again, congratulations Ruby.

And if you move OP to a CivicSpace platform, one small request: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t break your links!

At least, not much snoozing as participants have reported on local ‘blog OrangePolitics.org.

I appreciate the time and effort Mark Chilton, Gene Pease, Fred Black and Dan Coleman put into real-time reviews.

I hope some of our other “known” blog commenters (Anita, Linda, Aaron, Andrea, Diane ?) get in to the act.

[UPDATE:] Anita and Frances Henderson joined in.

UNC trustee and local developer Roger Perry said his sense was that UW-Madison officials essentially tell the community that the university’s mission requires it to do a certain project, and then everyone goes to work on preventing negative impacts, without trying to stop the project in general.

He said he’d like to get to that point in Chapel Hill, and that it can be somewhat “insulting” when someone not connected to UNC says they really aren’t convinced the university needs to do what it says it needs to do.

HeraldSun 09/27/06

Perry is insulted when someone outside of UNC questions the whys-and-wherefores of campus development?

What the hell? Near quoting from the authoritarianism playbook, Perry says he likes a community that doesn’t question the diktat of the university – a community that just “deals” with the university’s negative impacts.

Perry appears to long for the day when citizens “shut up” and STOP SAYING they aren’t really convinced about what the university needs to do. My guess? It isn’t the citizen taxpayer questioning the “needs” as much as the citizen taxpayer that questions the “hows” that really inflames his ire.

The obvious sub-text is Carolina North.

The fine residents of our community, the hard-working taxpaying citizens of our State, deserve more than the University’s current flimsy assertions of positive financial, economic and social impacts. From a straight business perspective, for the investment demanded of our community and State, the return is hardly clear.

While I believe the University needs to expand, I have been quite clear that the justifications UNC, to-date, have offered up for Carolina North are, at best, fundamentally weak, at worse, downright disingenuous.

Roger Perry and the rest of UNC’s Board of Trustees absolutely must address the glaring absence of any reasonable, documented, calculable return on investment before I, a single North Carolina citizen taxpayer, will be convinced of the soundness of their plans.

Of course, this is the board Carolina North’s designated quarterback Jack Evans claims can’t handle reading a 15 page list of development principles for Carolina North.

What a trip for the Carolina North boys. Perry’s “shut up” is a fine bookend to Moeser’s reaction to “freelance dissent”.

The fit 80+ year-old Robert Seymour has a short WCHL commentary [*MP3] on the Human Services Advisory Council’s 5-year master aging plan to help manage the greying of Orange County. He notes our county already has more than 18,000 residents over 60 years old – a figure sure to explode as the “baby boomers come on-line.”

More from Robert’s commentary [*MP3], tha Aging Advisory Board, the Orange County Human Services Advisory Council and county department on Aging.

There are numerous vacancies on the various aging related advisory boards. Please consider getting involved.

Applications for these and other County advisory boards are here.

*MP3 with the kind permission of WCHL 1360AM

Freelance dissenters?

What an odd turn of phrase, Chancellor Moeser.

From today’s soon to evaporate HeraldSun, a story from the Madison smoozefest.

Alan Fish, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UWM) associate vice chancellor for facilities planning and management, describing UWM’s “Good Neighbor” policy:

In many instances, the university now goes to residents to talk before it even begins to design a project, Fish said. It sometimes negotiates detailed “memorandums of understanding” with the joint committees, so that the neighbors have spelled out critical concerns before the elected board votes on the project.

“These things are very difficult to do, and everybody has to engage in the process,” Fish noted.

Eleven years ago, UWM was the 1,000 pound badger arrogantly siting new development over existing neighborhoods. Sound familiar? That’s what UNC’s current administration has done, for instance, to the Mason Farm Rd. neighborhoods. Unlike the Moeser administrations historical track-record of creating faux community outreach groups, Madison’s community-university committees sound quite democratic.

Participant Gene Pease reports over on OrangePolitics that “the committees have town appointed neighborhood representatives, city council members, and university representitives. Once it passes this committee, it appears most projects get approved rather smoothly.”

The HeraldSun’s Rob Shapard reports Moeser liked what he heard:

The committees caught the ear of UNC Chancellor James Moeser, who said it sounded to him like a way to get key issues and possible solutions on the table early, so that “freelance dissenters” couldn’t derail a project late in the process. Therefore, he said, “The person with the loudest voice who complains isn’t able to override a constituted process that’s really representative.”

How could honest dissent be anything but freelance?

Historically UNC’s Board of Trustee’s (BOT) have derailed more university-community commitments on development than any other local entity.

I wonder if Moeser thinks “appointed” (UNC’s Board of Trustees) or “salaried” (UNC’s administrators) dissent is qualitatively better?

National:

Newsweek, in their Oct. 2nd issue lead story “The Rise of Jihadistan” reports on Afghanistan’s continuing “reversal of fortunes”:

Jabar Shilghari, one of Ghazni’s members of Parliament, is appalled by his province’s rapid reversal of fortune. Only a year ago he was freely stumping for votes throughout the province. Today it’s not safe for him to return to his own village.

Taliban gather with impunity:

“One year ago we couldn’t have had such a meeting at midnight,” says Sabir, who is in his mid-40s and looks forward to living out his life as an anti-American jihadist. “Now we gather in broad daylight. The people know we are returning to power.”

While the madministration continues to ignore the growing problem:

Some critics point to a jarring mismatch between Bush’s rhetoric and the scant attention paid to Afghanistan. Jim Dobbins, Bush’s former special envoy to Kabul—he also led the Clinton administration’s rebuilding efforts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Somalia—calls Afghanistan the “most under-resourced nation-building effort in history.”

of this burgeoning narco-state:

NATO officials say the Taliban seems to be flush with cash, thanks to the guerrillas’ alliance with prosperous opium traffickers. The fighters are paid more than $5 a day—good money in Afghanistan, and at least twice what the new Afghan National Army’s 30,000 soldiers receive. It’s a bad sign, too, that a shortage of local police has led Karzai to approve a plan allowing local warlords—often traffickers themselves—to rebuild their private armies. U.N. officials have spent the past three years trying to disband Afghanistan’s irregular militias, which are accused of widespread human-rights abuses. Now the warlords can rearm with the government’s blessing. Afghanistan is “unfortunately well on its way” to becoming a “narco-state,” NATO’s supreme commander, Marine Gen. Jim Jones, said before Congress last week.

Where’s the gaff?

For the next week, newsstands around the world will shout “Losing Afghanistan”, acknowledging America’s madminsitration’s failure. Domestically, for casual consumers, the reality-based meme that the US Afghanistan effort is lost will not be visually reinforced. Instead, Newsweek will feature the “feel good” family-friendly Annie Leibovitz cover.

Another MSM failure, another “Nothing to see here, move along, move along…”

Regional:

Blue-bee Anglico joins with Exile on Jones Street’s Kirk Ross in highlighting our local McClatchy-owned news properties death pirouettes.

Anglico (Jim Protzman) writes News and Observer’s publisher Orage Quarles with his concerns in “It ain’t just me:

What on earth is going on with your newspaper? It’s like the wheels are falling off … and a once-admired institution is devolving into a parody of itself.

Your editorial page is good for maybe one strong opinion a month, if that. Your political reporters carry water for Art Pope and the John Locke Puppetshow nearly every day. You have a staff columnist who recycles right wing talking points from the Carolina Journal as often as not. And now you’re selling the front page of what used the be the only decent paper in Chapel Hill.

I know, I know, these are “economic decisions.” Of course they are. They’re the natural consequence of the decisions your company has made. This is what happens when a newspaper goes from standing for something to standing for nothing in the course of a couple of years.

Kirk Ross, former Chapel Hill News reporter, notes in “Less News is bad news”:

So McClatchy and the N&O management have finally implemented the next phase of their plan to turn their community weeklies—the Chapel Hill News, the Durham News and the Cary News into something closer to a shopper than a newspaper. All three have started running front page ads as of this weekend—chewing up more of the dwindling news hole and, frankly, insulting the readers by saying ‘hey you’re getting a free paper so suck it up.’

and further cautions:

We are all losers in this and the N&O is going to one day realize it made not just a horrible error in judgement, but that it has ruined a newspaper with a great tradition of journalism, independence, and commitment to community. Unlike Dow Jones, whose overly-clever management royally screwed up the paper in the 80s, the N&O can’t just turn around and sell…

To McClatchy, the Chapel Hill News is property, not a community institution.

I’m enjoying my stint as a CHN “My View” columnist but the recent moves to close the CHN online archives, the new front page advertising and McClatchy’s disdain for one of the pillars supporting our community is troubling.

Local:

I’m a fan of UNC’s Daily Tar Heel. Former editor Ryan Tuck’s reforms have not been for naught. Local kid gone big, editor Joe Schwartz, has not only picked up the reins but has made some interesting, innovative changes that have vitalized the DTH institution. Yes, I miss the front page City column and regret the diminishment of town-oriented analysis, but, with some exceptions, this years DTH is doing well.

One exception, as Jake Anderson underlines in his recent DTH LTE Bush isn’t seeing a spike in approval, nor should he:

The DTH should be ashamed for its story on the Bush approval “spike” in N.C.

For one thing, the poll cited was commissioned by the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a right-wing think tank chaired by a former North Carolina Republican Party chair, and funded by the N.C. Republican Party’s biggest donor.

The DTH failed to report other approval rating polls, most of which showed very different results.

Hey guys, it’s a Pope-lar problem; McClatchy property the News and Observer just apologized for making the same kind of mistake.

Hat tip to Matt Gross’ Deride and Conquer for stirring the pot.

The Chapel Hill News (CHN) just posted Lisa Hoppenjans’ initial article on the Madison trip (Lisa is one of three reporters bird-dogging the event).

Aaron Nelson once again weighs in on the importance of building personal relationships amongst the delegation:

“There’s certainly room to improve the quality and tenor of communication when we are in disagreement. When you have breakfast with somebody, it changes the nature of the relationship,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t change your disagreement. It just means you’re more likely to talk about it before you throw a brick.”

How much will that brickless breakfast cost?

With a few more details and “facts” than the HeraldSun article, the CHN provides the following nice breakdown of governmental expenditures:

Money spent so far by local governments to send public employees and elected officials to Madison, including airfare, ground transportation, hotel rooms and most meals.

Carrboro………………………….$6,920
Chapel Hill…………………….. $11,805
Hillsborough………………………$2,490
Orange County…………………..$5,588

The $26,803 doesn’t account for the nearly 20 UNC employees (at $1100-$1300 a pop). While the CHN mentions the $26,803 is the cost after the organizers “scholarship award” reductions, it doesn’t list who got the discounts. I’m interested. Maybe the organizers, in the spirit of transparency, will publish the complete breakdown of who paid out-of-pocket, who used institutional funds and who surfed on the public’s largesse.

Included is a funny recollection by former Chapel Hill Mayor (and my neighbor) Jonathon Howes’ of the power of a similar trip:

Former Chapel Hill Mayor Jonathan Howes went on several of the Public-Private Partnership trips. Howes, now at UNC as special assistant to the chancellor for local government relations, said things residents see now in Chapel Hill were specifically influenced by those trips.

The idea for the Downtown Commission, which has evolved into the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, came from what a similar group of participants learned about in Boulder, he said.

Well, that trip to Boulder was over 25 years ago and not all the folks on 1991′s Council were happy about it.

Council Member Andresen inquired about the Town’s annual membership dues to the Public-Private Partnership. Council Member Werner said approximately $1,200. Mayor Howes stated that the Public-Private Partnership was an organization composed of community leaders, serving as a forum for discussion of ideas of mutual interest. Council Member Werner expressed concern that it was not a Council-wide decision to join the Public-Private Partnership. Mayor Howes said that specific information on memberships was outlined in budget detail information. Council Member Andresen suggested that Council Members provide reports on the out-of-town public official trips in the future. Council Member Herzenberg noted that a full report had been made on the PPP’s trip to Boulder, Colorado. Council Member Andresen said that decisions concerning memberships such as the PPP should be made in a more open manner. Mayor Howes said that if the PPP took any future trips, the Council might wish to consider a resolution on funding and related matters.

The actual evolution was: Downtown Commission (strangled by Mayor Foy’s lead to defund), the unfortunately acronymed Downtown Economic Development Corporation (DEDC/”dead sea”) and, now, the Downtown Partnership (DPC).

Though quite effective sponsoring downtown events, handling recycling, sprucing up Franklin St. the Downtown Commission hit a bump when they endorsed a draconian panhandling ordinance (and produced the interesting 2002 Kaufman report on downtown’s homeless “feeding frenzy of bars, casual restaurants and tourist/university gifts”).

The DEDC, much more University oriented, hit a major bump, including the principled resignation of their chairman – attorney and former officeholder – Bob Epting, when they insisted on carrying out the public’s business behind closed doors.

The DPC, under Liz Parham, has done a much better job. Excepting some inherited issues with 501c3 status/conflict of interest, the DPC, more than a couple decades after the Boulder trip, is living up to its promise.

May the flowers of Madison bloom somewhat more quickly.

Fred, one of the Madison attendees, over on OrangePolitics said he didn’t like my suggestion, given the organizer’s professed desire to “build relationships” – establish “synergies” amongst the group, that, for a few folks, there was a bit more to the Madison trip than simple learning or altruistic desire.

Chamber of Commerce director and trip sponsor Aaron Nelson pegs it pretty well: “”You get to spend a lot more time with each other,” Nelson said. “And there’s something really important about the shared experience.”

“The second reason is to build relationships among our community leaders,” Nelson added. “The hope is that when you get back, and you have an issue you need help with, you can pick up the phone and call the guy you sat next to on the plane for four hours.

Once again, as we see from today’s soon to evaporate HeraldSun, the “shared experience” (smoozing) was of driving importance to the organizers of this event.

Now, of course, other attendees have different primary goals: inclusionary zoning, how a university building a research park deals fairly and honestly with neighborhoods, downtown economic development – even panhandling.

Again, we have a great crew attending. I fully expect the time, effort and more than $100,000 spent on this trip to yield benefits for our community.

But let us not pretend that Aaron Nelson’s “phone call” isn’t part of the calculus of the Madison event.

Whether that “phone call” benefits the community, as I imagine one between Mike Collins of Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (NRG) and UNC’s Chancellor Moeser might, or not, will be measured in time.

Wonder if this Carrboro event will end up in Chapel Hill Magazine?


Stringband goodness from the
Carolina Chocolate Drops

This weekend’s Carrboro Music Festival should be great especially if the weather holds.

The 9th Annual Carrboro Music Festival is September 24, 2006. Our day long, free festival will feature numerous musical styles at 21 indoor and outdoor venues including The Carrboro Century Center, Cat’s Cradle, Weaver Street Market, Armadillo Grill, Open Eye Cafe, The ArtsCenter, and the Carrboro Town Commons. The outdoor sites will feature music until dark, while some of the indoor venues will go until midnight. As always, the event focuses on a myriad of musical styles with 150 different musical aggregations, ranging in size from solo artists to a seven piece World Music band.

Following up on my post Shearon-Harris Offline: Who Tripped Over the Wire?, I’d like to direct your attention to two of our wonderful local ‘bloggers.

Sally Greene has two great posts on the Shearon-Harris nuke plant safety issues and the resulting spin.

First, FAIRWarning

Tonight I went to the briefing in Pittsboro on the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant, its serious and repeated fire safety violations, and the legal action that was taken today by NC WARN, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and the Union of Concerned Scientists to seek an emergency enforcement action from the NRC.

Second, today’s absolutely wonderful deconstruction of Progress Energy’s spin, in Shearon Harris: beneath the spin

In response to this week’s events, the community relations manager of Progress Energy was kind enough to write yesterday in an effort to persuade me that the Shearon Harris plant is safe and law-abiding. But I am sorry: this version doesn’t fit the facts. Here is Mr. Clayton’s memo, annotated by Pete MacDowell of NC WARN.

The sharply observant Kirk Ross (Exile, Cape Fear Mercury) follows the money in his post from Exile on Jones Street (why “on”?) titled Duke wants you to pay for a plant they may never build

Duke Energy and Southern are working on a new Nuke project in Cherokee County S.C. No permits have been issued, no construction work on the plant has started. They won’t even submit a request to the NRC for another year at the earliest. In fact, the plan is for the plant not to be online until 2016. Then, there’s the whole idea that a new nuke is really going to happen. Some folks like ‘em. Some folks don’t. Some folks really, really don’t.

According to the following Sept. 22nd Town news release, the NextBus system is nearly ready for its trial run.

Suggested online access is through Chapel Hill Transit’s www.chtransit.org site, the blue “Real Time Transit” link.

I suggest by-passing the lame Java-applet and go straight to the vastly simpler and more forward thinking Google Maps interface.


Click Map


I like the idea of a real-time passenger information system [dynamic updates and reports of bus positions within their routes] but I opposed using NextBus for several reasons.

NextBus uses proprietary technology instead of open standards alternatives that could have served both the needs of transit-tracking and blanketed large swaths of town with wireless Internet coverage. NextBus is also charging us more than other communities. NextBus uses cell-phone technology, uses increasingly wretched Cingular for coverage, has caps on cell data transfer [unlike Jane Doe Cingular Cingular customer, they don't have unlimited plans] and will probably require additional financial outlays to remedy coverage problems. NextBus signage, because of the proprietary lock-in, can not be replaced with cheaper off-the-shelf versions.

The PR folks continue to emphasize that the majority of the $950K in tax monies spent came from a federal earmark [the hallmark of many a pork project] as if that means it’s free money – that it’s alright to make a poor deployment decision.

Most Chapel Hillian’s pay federal taxes and even if we didn’t that is no excuse for not really trying to do double duty with the same bucket of funds.

And, as before, Rep. Price is credited for his help though the campaign contributions received by Price from a NextBus executive and NextBus’ lobbyist remains unreported in the MSM.

Transit Ready for Real-Time

Chapel Hill Transit continues to move forward. This time, the local public transportation provider announces that the “real-time” passenger information system is up and running. Five bus stop locations in the community have electronic signage that allows passengers to observe the timing of the next scheduled bus arrival and departures.

“This is an exciting time for us,” commented Chapel Hill Transit Director Steve Spade. “We have been looking forward to implementing this technology. Along with providing convenience for our riders, the system is also a management tool. It will allow us to better manage the timing of our buses and significantly improve the delivery of our transit service.”

Chapel Hill Transit contracted with NextBus Inc. to procure and install an automatic vehicle location and passenger information system. The new signs are currently operating at the following park and ride lot locations: Eubanks Road, Southern Village, Jones Ferry and Highway 54. The stop on Franklin Street in front of the Caribou Coffee Shop also has an electronic arrival time sign. Plans are under way to equip nine additional stop locations with display signs, Spade said.

The “real-time” technology uses global positioning satellites to track buses on their routes. The system estimates the bus arrival and departure times. The information is available through the internet by going to www.chtransit.org, then clicking on the blue “Real Time Transit” link.

The majority of the funding for the system was obtained through a federal earmark requested by Congressman David Price. The total project cost is about $950,000.

I’ll be giving NextBus a month to hammer out the bugs in their system before reporting on its efficacy.

I’ll also keep an eye on service levels, additional costs and any other supposedly unanticipated problems that crop up over the next year.

One of my readers was slightly confused about whether the fly-by of Hillsborough425 documented in my post Hillsborough425: Google Earth Fly-By, Alpha Quality was live or not.

Yes it is!

If you have the proper version of GoogleEarth installed ( GoogleEarth v4.0291.beta ), then opening this link will crank up the application and display the maps.

Alternatively, you can download the KMZ file and open it in GoogleEarth.

In either case, once the fly-over/fly-by is open, you can play around with the map views by toggling Hillsborough425: Existing Town House, Hillsborough425ConceptPlanSept17th and Hillsborough425 GoogleEarth under GoogleEarth’s Hillsborough425 folder.

You can also start with a long view oriented from the North of the site by clicking on North Entrance Chapel Hill.

Any questions? Please post a comment, I’ll be happy to help.

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