February 2011

Spent a tad more than 5 hours discussing zoning and zoning related issues today.

Had an incredible work session with UNC’s Counter-Cartographies Collective (www.countercartographies.org), who “seek to create collaborations for engaged research and cartography — transforming the conditions of how we think, write and map and the conditions about which we think, write and map.”

Got a quick refresher on ArcGIS and then got some excellent practical advice on how to work with our local GIS (geographical information) to tease out socio-economic trends within our community. The technical know-how of the UNC students is impressive, the commitment to rethink cartography’s role in shaping our world view even moreso.

Maps, as one of the CCC members noted, are presented as fact. We habitually consume their content without due consideration, assuming the scientific trappings they come bundled with convey a solid certainty.

But maps can lie. They are often stripped of social context and employed to force a particular narrative. The CCC is interested in expanding the capabilities of maps – integrating a wider community-based context – exposing a richer variety of stories within our community.

After the work session, I sped off to the Southern Human Services building for a review of the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

As Anita Badrock kept reminding us this evening, the Personnel Appeals Committee doesn’t operate like a court – loose evidentiary rules, committee questions and witnesses, multiple cross-examinations, commentary from both parties.

If tonight’s hearing was cast as a made-for-television movie, the writers had a ready made character in Chapel Hill government’s own Voldemort. “He who must not be named” was not only responsible for starting the cascade of events leading to Clark/Bigelow’s termination but also stifling attempts to intervene before catastrophe struck.

The man in the shadows is a convenient trope but not a likely explanation for the evident failures in the Town’s disciplinary process.

As much as it has been discussed, the fate of the workers doesn’t hinge on whether race played a role in their termination or possible union busting efforts by the Town or documented poor performance or complaints by citizens over debris handling or offhanded remarks or “flinging arms” or rude remarks or angry calls for water or almost any of the other points/counterpoints flung about the last few months.

Their fates, I think, hinge on whether the P.A.C. thinks the two were afforded proper due process.

Tonight’s Personnel Appeals hearing for Clyde Clark is more sparsely attended than last week’s for Kerry Bigelow (Personnel Appeals Hearing Kerry Bigelow: Evidence and Process). Roughly 40 folks in attendance, 5 from the local press (Elizabeth [WCHL], Katelyn [Chapel Hill News], Greg [HeraldSun], Don and Nancy [Chapel Hill Watch]). About 2/3rd’s are clearly supporters of Mr. Clark.

Unlike last week, I’ll be posting more abbreviated comments about testimony, tenor and process as the hearing progresses.

Anita Badrock has once again been chosen as the Chair. She reminds the audience that the committee is “not to replace the judgement of management” as per the Town’s ordinance (here).

(a) Conduct grievance and appeal hearings and render advisory opinions to the manager.
(b) Develop and maintain adequate records of all its proceedings, findings, and recommendations.
(c) Inform the employee(s) and the manager in writing of its findings and recommendations in all cases referred to it.

Clyde Clark is here tonight to ask to be reinstated, to get the safety and racism problems in Public Works fixed.

Some quick thoughts on tonight’s hearing (Personnel Appeals Hearing Kerry Bigelow: Evidence and Process).

Was there clarity? No. Are some issues more understandable? Yes.

Both the Town and Mr. Bigelow agree that he was a solid worker with a “good attitude”. Both agree that something changed when Mr. Bigelow filed an EEOC complaint when he was passed over for a drivers job, a job his supervisor Larry Stroud said he was well suited for, a job that went to a less qualified candidate.

While the Town and the Appeals Board skirted the issue numerous times, it is also clear that the Town agreed Bigelow’s initial review process for that job wasn’t handled appropriately, that the deficiency in that review rose to the status of a “serious incident” and, apparently, led to the dismissal of a public works manager.

From that point on both sides construct a completely different, but strangely congruent, narrative of Bigelow’s employment.

It’s interesting to see the Librsary Meeting Room set up for tonight’s hearing on Clyde Clark’s personnel appeals hearing. There are 87 seats prepared for the public, four police cars in the front parking lot (one unmarked), six uniformed officers downstairs,me and fellow local activist Terri Buckner.

Folks are trickling in – as of 6:40pm there are still plenty of seats.

I’m here this evening to see, after all these months of back and forth, the evidence the Town will present to justify the firing of Kerry Bigelow.

To date, the Town has said, justly, that they cannot reveal the details or specifics of the allegations in order to provide due process for the workers. On the other side, the workers have claimed retaliation for filing grievances, racism and a pattern of general disregard. They and their supporters claim the Town has persecuted them through a series of dirty tricks and deceptions.

I follow local events fairly closely and, as of this evening, I’m still unclear as to the factual basis for either sides claims. I do know, though, some of the folks making the claims and they’ve always been trustworthy.

A couple weeks ago, the “Sanitation 2″‘s supporters made their final appearance before Council ( Purest Form of Democracy: Raging Grannies to the Fore ) to plead their case (background here (Clark-Bigelow Out).

I made the following comments then:

I’ve been asked numerous times where I think the truth of the matter lies by folks who know I try to keep up with what is going on in Town and will call it as I see it. Simple answer? I don’t know. Lots of questions. Many raised over and over by the two’s supporters. I’m certainly sympathetic to Mr. Clyde and Bigelow’s situation – it is a very tough economy and getting a new job with a cloud hanging over their heads will be difficult to say the least.

I definitely think the Town made a boneheaded mistake in hiring CAI, a firm known for its anti-union bias.

From what has been reported, the case against the two workers seems tenuous and more deserving of management intervention than dismissal. Their reported grievances, unfortunately, are nothing new to me. Over the last decade, I’ve spoken to several dozen employees throughout our Town who have claimed similar malfeasance, discrimination, abuse and impropriety.
At that point, I expect the Town to lay its case out fully – with great specificity. I expect the Town to establish why normal management procedures failed, as they seemed to have (and, afterwards, explain how that failure is being remedied) and explain clearly why the workers were fired. I would hope that the Town also explains what yardstick they judged the two’s actions against. Is it true, as has been claimed by some of the workers’ supporters, that other employees with far more serious infractions (even criminality) haven’t been dismissed?

As I said then, some of the claims are, unfortunately, old news ( Council Oblivious: How Long Must This Go On? June, 2008).

7pm. Anita Badrock, Personnel Appeals chair, stands to address what is now a full house.