Robin Cutson, a fellow 2005 candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council and, more recently, a candidate for Orange County Board of Commissioners, has decided to spur local change outside of the “established system”.

She say’s she’s frustrated with the inability of our local elected folk to solve problems in a common sensical fashion:

…it appears that citizens are being asked to provide services and functions that once were provided by local governments—in essence, citizens are acting as their own ad hoc unfunded local government—-while at the same time existing local governments are expanding and becoming bloated bureaucracies—adding more government positions and seemingly semi-permanent consultants.

SqueezeThePulp, Aug. 7th, 2006

She doesn’t think the current political process is too effective:

Is there anything that can be done? Well we could vote in responsible elected officials. . .but from the consistently low voter turnout and the continual re-election of incumbents it appears that the majority of people either don’t care, or that the majority of people like the way things are going—or that the majority have simply given up. Or maybe people are too busy trying to lead their private lives and fulfill their duties as an ad hoc citizen government to get organized and effect change.


and has suggested a “fun” alternative:

So maybe its time for a new approach. Not just more guest columns and letters and blogging trying to push change or the election of a common sense political candidate—this obviously didn’t help in the last election cycle. And not just another citizen group or task force—there are so many of these now that no one pays attention anymore.

Maybe it’s time for something more fun. . .something designed to get the notice of busy average citizens who are disenfranchised and disillusioned with politics as usual. Maybe we should start a media campaign to elect a Mayor and council for an ad hoc unofficial citizen government and let them represent our interests and needs to the dysfunctional existing government bodies. It could be fun. . .


Robin and I share some common concerns; preserving our local environment, shepherding local resources wisely, the troubling direction UNC’s Carolina North development is taking, the course our stormwater management utility is charting, the lack of progress in forging ahead on real budget reforms.

We also disagree on causitive factors and suggested solutions.

And that’s OK.

For me, running for Council was an enjoyable and exhilarating experience. I delighted in every opportunity I had to meet with citizens and discuss my vision of Chapel Hill’s future.

Robin, your style of running, of getting your message out, was distinctive – fairly full on – and, I’m guessing, a bit rocky at times. I believe I understand why you “only half” jest in suggesting an ersatz governmental body to “sensibly” rule the local roost.

But you have folks that share your point of view. You have been a strong advocate on their behalf.

Why disengage from the current political process?

…I have personally sworn off ever running again for any office real or imagined and feel my casting a vote in existing local elections and hoping for change is like dropping a feather down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo…

Engagement, Robin.

Hands-on engagement. Discovering, discussing, debating the issues – fighting for Chapel Hill’s better future.

Isn’t that why we ran?

Citizens aren’t geese and, for most, the golden eggs they pay in taxes don’t come easy.

While I’ve been critical of both the county’s and town’s 2006-2007 budgets, it’s Chapel Hill’s efforts that have disappointed me the most.

Why? The advertised “balance” was based on reductions in fiscal responsibility, a “lucky” sales tax windfall and some other sleight-of-hand. Beyond that, last years political promises to directly include our saavy citizenry in improving the cost-effectiveness of services were not followed through on. Additional campaign-promised expenditures made it into the budget but not the concomitantly discussed reductions.

I believe that a realistic appraisal of our community’s financial future should start with our elected officials weening themselves off the idea that real-estate values in our community will constantly accelerate. Both Orange county’s and Chapel Hill’s 2006-2007 budgets forecast a continued growth in real-estate values – a projection that belies macro-economic events.

To wit. Gross (as in vulgar) national debt. Accelerating energy costs. Potential war-related chaos. Stagflation. And the very real possibility of the real-estate boom busting.

Today’s rant on locally short-sighted taxation trends comes via UNC Prof. Eric Muller ( who tipped me last week to another excellent local pool of talent – a group of UNC Law School folks ‘blogging on credit, debt and bankruptcy ( Credit Slips ).

From today’s post Deregulation Drags Down Economy

The NYT ran a story that connects two dots—the housing bust and a slowing economy. Because housing has been a big employer, as new home construction comes a standstill, the effects will reverberate through the economy. Thus comes the answer to a question I’ve heard many times: So long as I’m not strung out on some crazy mortgage, why should I care if the housing market implodes? Because it affects the whole economy.

Not just the whole economy but the whole financial infrastructure of our country. This, of course, includes our local ability to fund required programs, let alone “nice to haves” (intern programs, swimming centers, etc.).

A prudent step would be to evaluate local tax revenue against longer time frames and a broader, maybe a bit more negative, perspective.

Polls are open 6:30am to 7:30pm.


Several months ago I went to Hillsborough for a demonstration of the ESS voting equipment. I saw the tried and true, paper ballot optical scan code machine and the fancy, complex and, I think, easy-to-tamper-with, touch screen unit. Wisely, the Board of Elections recommended the optical scan over the touch screen.


I will be posting a much more extensive thank you’s, some ruminations on the outcome and various other miscellany fairly soon. For now, I’m busy fighting one heck of a cold from Tuesday, catching up on some work and pulling together some loose ends from my run.

Speaking of loose ends, I’m looking for some very modest contributions to retire my debt of $1,500. You can still donate to my campaign for the next few months.

So, change is on the way, please stay tuned.

By 7:21AM, my signs were out of almost every precinct (Frank Porter Graham/Scroggs were the last two I got after dropping E. at school) and off most of the roads. By 9:30AM, every sign I knew about (and I kept a log!) was safely retrieved.

If you have a sign or see a sign waving around out there, please send me an email or give me a call 932-1380 – I’d like to hang on to them.

Oh, why the quick pickup?

I said early on in my campaign, win or lose, my signs would not linger throughout our Town.

If there’s one discriminator the electorate takes away from this election, I hope they recall that I said it, then I did it.



At this point, with 38 precincts reporting, it appears I’m headed for a solid 5th place. If the trend of a vote for Thorpe is a vote for Harrison continues, I imagine that by the end count I’ll still be out of the running. Of course, it isn’t over until it’s over – 45 of 45 reporting.

Win or lose, the campaign has been great. I’ve had an opportunity to express some ideas and viewpoints not generally found in our races. I’ve also had an opportunity to see some interesting character emerge in our candidate field.

I also made the unprecedented move of releasing all my financial and contributor information prior to the election. I hope this is something the current candidates will do ASAP and that the next slate of candidates will do as a matter of course.

To the 2005 SPCH endorsement class; Laurin and Mark, great top of the ticket. Jason, good experience for your next run. And thanks for all the Pit sits.

I’m sure there will some great post-analysis: Was turnout a factor? Did more money equal more votes? What was the role of all the signage?

That will all be interesting but in the end the Town will have spoken.

Thank you to all my supporters, the folk that voted for me and all the folk that turned out to vote on one of the loveliest election days I’ve ever experienced.

Finally, thanks to my great family – E. and Ellie. Without your support I would’ve never gotten as far as I have….

Goodnight folks, it has been a long day.

The balloon is going up! Headed out from campaign headquarters 😉 to take a quick tour of the key precincts in town. Putting a few last flourishes on and checking for sign “corruption”.

Wednesday, 8:30am, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Recently, in a local paper, someone tried to create some FUD (fear, uncertainy and doubt) around the proposal to boost Chapel Hill into the ranks of those municipalities that understand that an investment in their technological infrastructure is a required investment in their future. (more…)

In today’s mail:


I spoke with some of the folk working at Aveda today and got a clearer picture of the situation. The manager was pleased that a police officer came by to ask about the problems and to clarify what the Town could do to protect our Downtown business folk.


I work in downtown Chapel Hill above a company called Aveda.

I’ve worked in that location for nearly five years. I’ve wandered those downtown streets for over two decades.

You might be able to tell from my picture that I’m a big, bear-like guy. In all my years around downtown, I’ve experienced a minimum of hassling or attempted intimidation.

My neighbors don’t appear as lucky:

From the News and Observer

CHAPEL HILL — Some Franklin Street business owners warned a downtown group Monday that if safety doesn’t improve, they may take their businesses elsewhere.

Though reported crime in Chapel Hill’s downtown business district is down this fiscal year over last, those working downtown say their employees and customers don’t feel safe.

Patrick Thompson, owner of the Aveda Institute at 200 W. Franklin St., said that his students and clientele, mostly women, are frequently harassed and that one employee was assaulted downtown.

“If one of those students gets attacked, our business is done,” he told the board of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, formerly known as the Downtown Economic Development Corp.

and the HeraldSun

CHAPEL HILL — Members of a downtown booster group heard repeated charges Monday that the town needs to do a lot more to enhance public safety in the downtown business district.

Both downtown business owners and those who work in the area complained vociferously about crime in the town’s commercial center, and spoke of a “deep-seated fear” of violence against customers and employees.

Patrick Thompson, owner of the Aveda cosmetology school and retail shop on West Franklin and Church streets, said his director had been assaulted and three students harassed in the downtown since the business opened last year.

Speaking to the board of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, Thompson said most of his students and customers were women, and that many had a certain “deep-seated fear” about the possibility of attacks that was real but hard to express.

“If one of these students gets attacked, our business is done,” said Thompson. “It’s that simple.

“I want to speak the truth,” he added. “I hope everyone here gets committed around putting more police on the streets. There is no police presence on the streets, at least in my experience, and I’ve been here fairly regularly.”

Though separated by mere inches in the same building and navigating the same geography, we work in two neighborhoods.

In their neighborhood, the owner tells us of his women student’s, customer’s and employee’s real “deep-seated fear” of possible attacks.

In my neighborhood, I enjoyably amble about from West End to Downtown day in, day out.

In their neighborhood, their local and out-of-town students have been harassed and an employee assaulted.

In my neighborhood, whether day or night, I walk bear-like along their dangerous avenues, recognizing the reclining regulars, rarely hassled even for change.

And though the fear is about the possibility of attacks – the perception of impending danger instead of the danger itself – the results can be equivalent. As candidate Jason Baker pointed out during tonight’s forum, if we lose a business to reality or to a misperception of reality, we’ve still lost a business.

And while the loss of a business is bad, worse is the thought that we can’t build a bridge from their dark Downtown-scape to the safe and vibrant Downtown my family and I enjoy.

I’ll see if I can walk the streets as a visiting Aveda student instead of a longtime Chapel Hillian. I’ll visit their neighborhood. Then, maybe, I’ll understand how to bring our two neighborhoods back to one.

For those readers that can take a looong lunch or want to skip the Daily Tarheel forum Oct. 6th, UNC will be presenting their current Master plan for campus.

Last May I had the opportunity to ask why they had quietly removed 3 residential halls from the plan and what that meant for the promise of a “bed for every head”. Of the few citizens attending, only a handful were prepared with detailed questions – like Diana Steele’s about “why had UNC sited buildings on top of her house on Mason Farm Rd.?” – quite possibly because there was no real lead time to evaluate the materials presented. (more…)

One of the incumbents in our campaign is very adept at dodging issues.

While it is wise to take counsel, to study an issue and weigh alternative resolutions, at some point, as an elected official and leader, you must take a stand. Maybe it will upset your neighbors, maybe it will generate bad press, maybe it will hurt your long term political prospects – but you must eventually form and express an opinion. In the bureaucratic world, when pressed to answer, you might be able to dodge by endlessly shuffling paper or invoking important sounding harrumphs – such as our incumbent – about his quasi-judicial standing.

There is such a thing as quasi-judicial standing. As a Councilmember you must weigh all sworn evidence and testimony entered at a public hearing before making a “ruling” on an issue. Until the hearings are closed, due process demands that you can’t make a fixed decision.

But, as Chapel Hill’s Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos pointed out in this 1995 memo, and in every subsequent election year, that doesn’t preclude an incumbent from commenting on open issues that have quasi-judicial standing.

When asked about the merits of…[a] pending quasi-judicial application, preface your response with some comment to the effect that:

1. “This is a matter which is pending before the Council…
2. the evidence has not all been presented…


Having so prefaced your remarks, I think it would be reasonable and acceptable to proceed with your comments on the merits…

The memo is very clear on how an incumbent can bracket their statements and still use their First Amendment right to speak and be heard.

So, fellow citizens, it’s time to pull that quasi-judicial veil aside and talk to the man behind the curtain.

He has every Right and responsibility to answer.

Is it true that effective conservation almost needs to become a reflexive act?

I’m lucky I had adults in my life – my parents, my friend’s parents, relatives, neighbors – that internalized the lessons of economy and reflexive conservation. Maybe they were like my father, who hailed from a large family whose generosity never flagged though they were more than pinched by the Depression. Maybe they were like my next door neighbor, a Cherokee, that grew up not only in severe circumstances but suffered the privations of a second-class citizen. Maybe they were farm folk, like the Finleys, that understood you saved this years bounty because next year might be a bust.

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