I haven’t been reticent in my criticism of the process Council used recently to manage the approvals for Greenbridge, the environmental uber-project and possible end of the traditional Northside neighborhood. Adopting a new zone, TC-3, developed and refined during the months bridging Thanksgiving to Christmas, within the context of Greenbridge’s approval ill-served our citizens.

Claims, most notably by Bill Strom, that Greenbridge’s TC-3 is somehow unique (video coming soon) and folks won’t have to worry about another use will be tested all too soon.

Most of the Council members are aware of the public discussion and scrutiny of the 90′ limit and 1.97 density ratio. Unfortunately, the minimal opportunity citizens had to respond within the public hearing process didn’t reflect those hard learned lessons. Only two citizens spent any of their 3 minutes of public comment suggesting the impropriety of making a major change to Downtown’s future geography within the narrow context of Greenbridge. Doubling the density, raising the height limits by %30, with the SUP establishing a height precedent fully %50 above the previous 90′ will carry serious consequences for “human scale” Chapel Hill. Now that door has been opened, does anyone truly believe developers on our doorstep will not press for even more consequential change?

I recall Sally Greene, prior to being elected to Council, making numerous appearances before Council on OI-4 (the most probable zone for Carolina North) counseling not only greater public outreach but public education. She argued process, process, process and was obviously aware that a significant change in public policy demands a significant effort to build understanding.

Yes, the effort to build understanding can also build opposition. One might argue that the best “political” strategy “playing the approval game” is to keep your head down, limit public understanding and bull on through. Good strategy for a “player”, maybe, but terrible public policy.

Tonight, the Chapel Hill News’ breaks the story, on their ‘blog OrangeChat, that the son of one of our Council members sought to represent the developer of Greenbridge.

Sometime last fall, the son of Town Council member Bill Thorpe approached the developers of the Greenbridge condominium towers and offered to work as their public relations consultant.

Thorpe said his son, William Thorpe Jr., is a grown man and did not consult him before making the pitch.

UPDATE:
From today’s followup in the N&O

Thorpe said his son, William Thorpe Jr., is a grown man and did not consult him before approaching the developers. Thorpe said he only heard rumors that his son had asked for a $40,000 consulting fee.

“He was trying to get a contract with them, but I haven’t done anything with them,” Thorpe Sr. said this week. “It had nothing to do with me.”

Yes, we’ve seen our share of national problems with relatives representing interests before their elective relations but certainly this doesn’t rise to that level. Bill spoke of his son during the 2005 election, I don’t recall his saying he did PR. In any case, Bill made it clear his involvement was nothing to be troubled by: “I ain’t got nothing to hide,” Thorpe said this week. “I can tell you right now, I have not asked anybody for no money.”

[UPDATE] GeorgeC over on OPsays the Mayor and Attorney reviewed this, not the Council, yet the article and post both say “Foy said the council did not pursue the matter further…” Now, was that the Mayor using the royal “We” or did the Council know? I’ll ask either the reporter or a Council member next time I see them. If this was the Mayor acting as the lone “decider”, well, that’s a bit troubling in itself.

[ORIGINAL]
The Mayor and Council, it appears, reviewed the issue on discovering it:

Mayor Kevin Foy learned of the situation before a public hearing on the downtown condo project Jan. 17 and asked Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos for advice.

Foy said the council did not pursue the matter further because Thorpe Sr. was not personally involved. Foy said he believed that his colleague’s hands were clean in the matter.

That January 17th meeting was a key public hearing for Greenbridge.

This is most troubling. I can accept Bill Thorpe’s assertions about his son’s involvement. I can appreciate Council and (?) the Mayor responding immediately with a legal consultation and review.

What I can’t understand, and will not accept, is the absence of public disclosure.

Yes, the appearance of impropriety can sting. Trying to mitigate the possible embarrassment and pain of a friend and colleague is laudable. But these are public servants. Many of these Council members, one time or another, during elections or otherwise, have pledged to increase openness and transparency within our local governance. They (?) The mayor had an obligation to reveal, for Bill’s sake, in as tactful a fashion as possible, this story and not leave it to the 4th estate (Chapel Hill News)

The process of openness and transparency must be consistent to be reliable. The public trust demands and deserves disclosure.

And yet another lapse in judgment related to a development deal.

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