CitizenWill


I submitted my formal application to fill Bill’s seat (not his shoes) this afternoon.

Along with my application, I provided some examples of my recent activism, a list of advisory boards I would like to represent Council on and some suggestions covering a few of the issues that Chapel Hill faces next year.

I’ve served on three Town advisory boards, the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee, the Technology Board and the Downtown Parking Task Force.

A few of you know I attend many more advisory board meetings, Council meetings, relevant Orange County Board of Commissioner meetings, UNC community outreach events (including all the Carolina North meetings, most Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee meetings) and other community-related events (like the recent Preserve Rural Orange County airport or the Hillsborough OrangeAwareness waste transfer station meetings).

I show up to learn, to contribute and to meet folks working for change.

Of the next 13 months, the first 7 are key. Between the budget process, the creation of Carolina North’s development agreement and the pile of normal business, Council will be busy. Part of a Council member’s duties involve liaising with various advisory boards, a task I take quite seriously.

I’m not sure if Council plans to re-balance representatives to various boards, so I submitted a list based on where I believe I could allocate the most time and do the best work:

  • Orange County Solid Waste
  • Human Services Advisory Board
  • Stormwater Management Utility
  • Sustainable Committee
  • Orange County Economic Development Commission
  • Land Trust Affordable Housing Maintenance Task Force
  • Citizens Budget Advisory Board – new
  • Downtown Parking Implementation Task Force – new
  • Liaison to internal technology, website and budget staff groups.
  • Liaison for fiber optic deployment to DOT and other relevant groups.

Two of the boards – the Citizens Budget Board and the Downtown Parking Implementation Task Force – don’t exist yet. A few others are internal work groups pursuing specific tasks.

I submitted my formal application to fill Bill’s seat (not his shoes) this afternoon. Along with my application, I provided some examples of my recent activism, a list of advisory boards I would like to represent Council on and some suggestions covering a few of the issues that Chapel Hill faces next year.

The additional material is representative but by no means exhaustive (I tried to keep it somewhat brief).

Here’s some supporting material listing some of the contributions I made these last few years. I listed proposals I made, proposals I assisted on and proposals created in collaboration with the advisory boards I served on. On other issues I’ve flown solo, like requesting that the process of siting a new landfill begin and on others I’ve been one among many pushing for change.

  • UNC

    • Main Campus development

      • OI4 creation – mainly concerned about creation process and time
        limits.
      • Attended most UNC outreach and progress reviews
      • Provided feedback on modifications

        • Noted disappearance of residence halls
    • Carolina North

      • Lobbied for a new negotiation dynamic. Endorsed LAC negotiation framework.
      • Attended every Carolina North meeting.

        • Posted online video of many meetings for broader community review.
        • Feedback on process and proposals.

          • Many suggestions, to numerous to list, representative examples:

            • Shift CN focus to “green”, treat new campus as
              “green” laboratory
            • Parking ratios, metrics on “greenness” building
              heights
            • Development agreement, traffic management, Bolin Creek
      • Attended many Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee meetings

        • Lobbied for environmental assay, continued environmental monitoring
    • Innovation Center

      • Design review sessions.
      • Feedback on detachment from Carolina North plan.
    • Methane gas project

      • Asked Chapel Hill and OC BOCC to team on LFG recovery for TOC
      • Attended LFG proposal meeting and provided feedback

        • Constant environmental monitoring as per Cameron Power Plant
        • Noise abatement
        • Impact on Mens Shelter project
    • Horace-Williams Citizens Committee member under Julie McClintock’s leadership

      • Drafted HWCC response to Chancellor Moeser’s letter
      • Environmental Sub-group

        • Pushed for process to use “best in class” metrics and
          continuous environmental monitoring of site
        • Help draft environmental guidelines and proposed specific criteria
      • Draft of new work proposal fleshing out the HWCC principles adopted 2004
  • Finance

    • Technology Board recommendation saving $50K yearly
    • As citizen, contributed to Citizen Budget Committee efforts
    • Suggested specific improvements 2003-2007
    • Multi-year budget horizons
    • Lobbied for permanent Citizen Budget board
  • Downtown

    • Called for decent bathrooms, water fountains, sidewalk handicap accessibility,
      family-friendly pocket park, WIFI, comprehensive policing plan, way-signs
    • Downtown Parking Task Force

      • Pushed for new parking study – Downtown Partnership commissioned
        one
      • Use of new customer friendly technology
      • Re-balance parking allotments – lease remote, preserve prime
        spaces
      • Implementation team proposal with Aaron Nelson
      • Better signs, less signs
  • Town Operations

    • Technology

      • Comprehensive evaluation of technology use

        • Council commissioned technology assessment report
      • Operational efficiencies

        • Got $50K yearly savings on leases
        • Proposed $100K+ license fee reduction plan
        • Proposed trouble ticket with online access so citizens could track staff
          activity/responses and management could measure proficiency
      • Website overhaul

        • Non-proprietary design with eye towards permanent presence
        • ADA usability standards
        • Privacy provisions
        • On-line payments
        • On-line access to Council and public communications

          • Council and other relevant email posted
          • On-line video of Council, Planning Board and other meetings
          • Audio of all advisory board proceedings
          • Seven day deadline for Council agendas
          • Pushed adoption of David Lawrence list-serv/’blog process for advisory board
            communications
        • Planning/Inspections tracking system
        • Trouble ticket process for residents to ask for and track issues

          • Streetlights out
          • Waste removal
          • Inspections
      • Open documentation and open source systems initiatives

        • Ensure Town documentation is openly available irrespective of computer
        • Use free and open-source software to reduce cost and promote open documentation
          initiative
      • Communications upgrades/deployments

        • WIFI
        • Fiber optic collaboration with DOT
      • Emergency Operations review

        • Suggested consolidations at TOC
    • Resource use

      • 2004 Green fleet modifications
      • Bio-fuel use – Public Works subsequently purchase 1,000 gals.
      • Proposed targeted reductions and staff reward process
      • Requested fuel/energy/water records to be posted on-line for citizen analysis
    • Staff training/development

      • Proposed “spot award” program
      • Merit-based raises
      • Turnover problem with up-and-coming staff
  • Arts

    • Promote more community arts opportunities

      • Founding member of Friends of Lincoln Center Arts Program

        • Expand Chapel Hill’s hands-on arts program
      • Locate new community arts center at Community Park or other central location
      • %1 Art Program – more funds for local artists
    • Reform Arts Commission
  • Development Process

    • Greater community outreach

      • “Bang the drum loudly” – neighborhood presentations
      • Use of 3D models and other on-line tools to show scale/placement
    • Comprehensive plan reform

      • Evergreen process so new ideas/standards can be incorporated more frequently
      • Discuss metrics for measuring compliance with goals
  • Orange County issues

    • Waste management

      • Siting of the transfer station
      • Request that the process for siting new landfill or incinerator begin
    • UNC Airport – volunteered to be the Orange County representative on
      the Airport Authority

I’m formally applying for Bill Thorpe’s Council seat this week.

As I said before (Filling Bill’s Seat, Not His Shoes), serving the community as a Council member is a responsibility I take quite seriously. It is an awesome privilege, an incredible honor, a humbling trust that promises personal satisfaction if one serves to improve the lot of all our residents.

There are many ways to serve ones community: hands-on volunteering, member of an advisory board, working within or creating a community organization, direct advocacy, issues analysis, drumming up support via the local media, etc. Some folks enjoy and are quite effective working behind the scenes. Others pursue solutions to their own neighborhood’s problems. Others work to achieve specific goals – better bicycle access, open space preservation, Bolin Creek’s restoration – that impact the wider community. Some press our government to be better, set an example whether as proponents of equal rights for all or in the conduct of our law enforcement.

Though lately my efforts have mostly fallen more to analysis, outreach, organization and advocacy – I’ve worked with a variety of folks in a variety of ways to address a broad spectrum of community issues these last seven years. And though I haven’t always been successful, I have, I hope, helped move our community forward to some measurable degree.

Council has incorporated my contributions on a variety of issues – preserving the Lincoln Arts Center, Downtown WIFI, environmental metrics for Carolina North, online video of Council meetings, cost reductions, character of affordable housing, economic development, budgeting for hazardous waste removal, etc. – why, then, not continue working issues from the “outside”?

One advantage of having “a seat at the table” is staff support.

As you might expect, with a steady flow of information and thoughtful assistance from our Town’s staff those 30 or more hours a week I currently spend researching and analyzing issues can be utilized more efficiently. On some issues, like Dr. Owens on the Carolina North development agreement process or Amy’s on the application process (see below), I’ve had no difficulty in getting rapid, detailed responses.

On others, like my quest for detailed public records documenting our Town’s fuel, water and electricity consumption, almost four years have passed with no progress. I expect that backlog, and others, to be resolved as a sitting member of Council.

Another advantage is being able to contribute directly at the policy meetings I frequently attend.

For instance, at yesterday’s (Oct. 22nd) Carolina North development agreement meeting, UNC’s proposed landfill gas recovery project (LFG) came up as an issue. There was some confusion concerning the impact of this particular project on the Carolina North plan.

I attended UNC’s presentation last week (more on that soon), and knew what the specific proposal included: gas lines from the existing landfill on Eubanks supplying methane to a 1 mega-watt (Mw) generator at the old Duke Energy site whose output was going to be used to supply UNC’s Airport Drive facility (which currently consumes 1.2Mw daily). As a Council member, I could have quickly brought my colleagues up-to-speed. Instead of meandering through misconceptions, the Council could have focused on what I think is a core issue in developing the Carolina North development agreement: how will out-parcels that will support Carolina North’s development, like the old Duke Energy facility, be incorporated under the provisions of the agreement?

Council’s workload over the next seven months is daunting. Juggling Carolina North and what promises to be the most critical budget process of the last couple decades is work enough, but those are just a few of many issues hurtling forward. Economic development, Downtown’s revitalization, a slew of moderate to large-scale developments, facility expansions, housing ordinances – a whole panoply of public business mundane to game-changing faces the next Council member.

Even with a seat at the table, to effectively discharge the duties of Council member at a level our community deserves over these next six or seven months will take a concentrated effort that I think most citizens would be surprised by.

Laurin Easthom isn’t kidding about 11lb. meeting agendas. Matt Czajkowski wasn’t joking about meeting until 1am.

I did a quick check of the scheduled official Council meetings from Nov. 11th (the date the Council set to select a new member) until June 22nd (the date the Town and UNC set to finish the Carolina North agreement): 30 or more. As Matt and Lauren both recently noted, the workload has increased to the point that meetings go 5 or more hours.

With the additional Carolina North related informational/community outreach meetings scheduled by either the Town or UNC’s administration (including UNC-BOT/Orange County BOCC meetings), there is another 8 (as of Oct. 23rd).

I am one applicant that will come prepared to be, as Council member Laurin Easthom says, “proactive…on the council” and “have areas that they really want to work on making changes and spend extra time on those issues that are important to them”.

I have the advantage in that the Council should have a fairly good grasp of the portfolio of issues I wish to work on (more on that portfolio in my formal application). Common themes – improving our Town’s budget and budgeting process, extending our Town’s community outreach efforts, using technology more effectively to drive cost out of and improving delivery of Town services, working along-side UNC to make Carolina North a “win-win” proposition for both our community and the University – have been well-established over the last six years.

If I add in all the advisory boards and staff groups (like the internal technology steering committee) I would like to be appointed to as Council liaison, the number of meetings jumps to 76. All together, considering both time spent preparing and meeting, in order to diligently perform my civic duties at a level I believe this community requires, I will spend more than 280 hours over the next 7 months, or more than an hour a day on Town business.

Of course, that is my commitment to the community. Other possible applicants might not want to invest that much time , wish to involve themselves so broadly or obligate themselves as deeply.

Finally, the most significant reason to seek a seat is the possibility of directly influencing and deciding the direction our Town moves.

There is a ton of work to be done over the next seven months. As a Council member, someone with a “seat at the table”, I will focus on the many tasks at hand. I don’t expect to create major new initiatives over those seven months. I do expect to pitch in, fill in the gaps,work hard to shape and refine effective policy,keep our citizens aware and involved as issues progress and apply my expertise as a former corporate technical and information officer to make sure we continue to deliver quality service at a price our community can afford.

I also fully know that I will be one among nine other committed colleagues. Their viewpoints don’t always mesh with mine – and that, I believe, is the strength I will bring to this Council. Delay is not our friend but neither is the lack of informed deliberation.

Sometimes, in the pursuit of “cohesiveness”, our citizens are left behind. I am frequently asked how a particular policy was adopted, how a particular decision arrived at – questions that arise because the give-and-take necessary for shaking a policy out – making sure it is viable – is not always readily apparent. Not all issues demand debate but our citizens must be confident that, when necessary, debate – even public debate – will be embraced.

So, little time, if any, to start new major initiatives. Plenty of work without revisiting the past. Prepared, experienced and ready-to-roll on Carolina North, the budget and a passel of other key issues. Incredible opportunity to contribute effectively and directly to the major game-changing projects. Exciting times to be part of Chapel Hill’s leadership.

Plenty of reasons to apply.

Amy Harvey, from the Clerk’s office, sent me this further explanation of the selection process. Five to ten minutes sounds like a long time but I’m sure I’ll have no problem filling them up ;-)!

The Council will receive brief remarks from applicants at a Special Meeting on Monday, November 3, 2008 at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber at Town Hall.

Applicants should be present at 7 p.m. and will have a 5-10-minute time limit to make their presentation. Time for presentations will be limited based on the number of candidates; it is anticipated that the time for each presentation will be not less than five minutes per candidate and not more than ten minutes per candidate.

Applicants should submit electronic presentations (e.g. powerpoint) by 10 a.m. on Monday, November 3rd. Powerpoint presentations can be emailed to the Town Clerk’s office at clerk@townofchapelhill.org

This meeting will air live on cable television on Chapel Hill Government Channel 18 and by streaming video on the Town website at www.townofchapelhill.org.

Applications are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, October 31 and will then be forwarded to the Council.

Sabrina M. Oliver, CMC
Communications and Public Affairs Director/Town Clerk

The agenda just went online (a full 5 1/2 hours before the meeting 😉 ). The good news is that the various foundational studies are nearing completion.

The Council and Trustees have concurred that the current Carolina North discussion should build upon rather than replicate this prior community, Town, and University work. The additional background data and analysis requested in these prior discussions is now complete or nearing completion. The ecological foundation studies are complete and will be formally submitted by the University next week. The University has revised its long range development plan and will also submit that next week. The consultant reports on fiscal impacts and transportation are nearing completion and will be submitted over the next six to eight weeks.

Two major areas of discussion tonight: schedule and scope of work.

Now that the schedule is laid out, my concern on both managing the workload and dealing with community outreach effectively has grown. For instance, both the tardy fiscal and transportation studies are slated to be delivered November 26th and December 8th respectively, which doesn’t jibe with the 6 to 8 weeks quoted above.

If these studies are as comprehensive as Council, the BOT and community requested then time needs to be built into the process to evaluate their contents. These studies haven’t been characterized as “foundational” on a whim.

The schedule references “public comment” periods but no community outreach events. I’ve asked the Carolina North Joint Working Group to go beyond the normal “invite and we’ll listen” approach to community involvement. If we are going to serve the public well, we need to get out in the streets and bang the drums loudly. Time needs to be allocated to make this extraordinary effort.

The first public hearing is scheduled for May 11th, 2009, really late in the process. We shouldn’t backload a public information dump but feed a steady stream of updates – via the website, community outreach, roundtables, charrettes – as the particulars of the development agreement come together.

It isn’t clear if the informational meetings scheduled Nov. 20th (before the studies are submitted), Jan. 29th, March and April 1st are one way affairs or if the public will be able to participate actively. Mayor Foy did suggest “workshop” type events.

As far as scope of work, there is high level outline that needs to be further fleshed out. Big bullets like “traffic”, “parking”, “sustainability” have to broken down into workable subcomponents.

The biggest omission? The new “base” zone. Dr. Owens, our UNC mentor, suggested that the “base” zone could be simply constructed – basically saying that this zone’s requirements are controlled by the development agreement and any secondary legal obligations the development agreement is contingent on.

I respectfully disagree.

We need a “base” zone that acts as a safety net. Unlike traditional land use management, where property can be rezoned to tighten or loosen restrictions at nearly any point in the development approval process, the Carolina North development agreement will lock the Town into a particular set of requirements that cannot be modified.

The most prudent course is to design a catch-all zone that establishes baseline conditions for developing Carolina North. This way any issues not anticipated by the development agreement will be managed successfully using the “base” zone safety net. While UNC’s master campus OI-4 zone should inform the development of this new “base” zone, I don’t believe it is an appropriate model for the new “base”. OI-4 was developed to manage growth on a nearly mature, well-encapsulated campus going through its last major building throes.

The new zone needs to manage piecemeal growth spanning decades. Not an equivalent task.

There is a lesson to be taken from OI-4 – we must avoid the mistakes made in its creation process. If Council decides to create a new zone that will act as a safety net, it will have to do so fairly rapidly. As I suggested at last weeks meeting, the zone should be sketched out independent of but in cooperation with the existing Planning Board. A new task force – hopefully with a few members of the Horace-Williams Citizens Committee who helped develop the Carolina North guiding principles – should work concurrently to establish this “base”.

The other night I found out that while I was the only citizen to speak, I wasn’t the only community member at the first development agreement meeting. Bob Henshaw, Cindy Henshaw’s husband, a resident of Piney Mountain Road – the neighborhood first affected by Carolina North development – came in a little late.

I’m hoping that more folks join us this evening.

Councilmember Laurin Easthom sketches out the scope of work required to diligently discharge a Council member’s civic responsibilities.

As she notes, agendas can weigh in at 11 lbs. Meetings are more frequently going until 1am. Preparation takes hours and hours. And the work expands well beyond what most folks usually see – liaising with other community groups and governmental entities, special sessions, representing the Town in all sorts of contexts, meetings with concerned citizens – much of which can be scheduled at most inopportune times.

Laurin has done a great service not only outlining the amount of work, but also how prepared a new member must be, as Mayor Foy has said the Council wants, to “hit the ground running”.

Beyond that, she suggests a new member must be ready to forge ahead with their own agenda:

Decide what you want to do in a proactive way on the council. It would be easy to sit up there and just vote on things as they come along in reactive mode, but most council members have areas that they really want to work on making changes and spend extra time on those issues that are important to them. These are not always items on the agenda and things the public might see every day.

Laurin is right. Not all the issues our community faces appear on the Council’s agenda. Serving the community as a qualified Council member requires more than a passive approval of the status quo. Active engagement is a necessity – an applicant should consider if they have the fortitude to take the lead where none is currently offered.

That said, Council is appointing a new member for six months. If I’m appointed, I expect the lion-share of my effort going towards reducing our Town’s financial exposure, supporting and improving the on-going Carolina North negotiation process and a handful of issues I’ve contributed to over the years like economic development, environmental metrics, Downtown’s revitalization, human services and teaming up with our existing internal technology team to rework our Town’s Internet strategy. There are also Town and County boards I wish to serve on (more on that in my formal application).

Realistically, though, there is a mountain of work to be done in a very short time. An applicant wishing to excel needs to understand that. I also hope that an applicant is willing to put aside their near-term political ambitions and concentrate exclusively on the tasks at hand.

In any case, I well understand and respect the amount of work – those many hours it takes – to discharge ones Council duties at a level that our community deserves.

I spend upwards of 30 or more hours a week reading and researching UNC, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County agenda items. I attend board meetings, UNC community outreach events and other community functions to better understand the context in which policy is formed. My opinion on many issues evolves as input from our talented community pours in, as time reveals nuances not immediately obvious, as debate (yes, some issues get public debate) deepens my understanding.

I also try to engage our community, here on CitizenWill and elsewhere, by providing not only a particular, hopefully informed, opinion but links to or copies of the primary source materials I used to arrive at a particular policy endorsement.

I applied for the position knowing that I’ll miss dinners, start early and go late, in order to perform my civic duty at a level our community deserves. Luckily, I have a very, very understanding family, a flexible work schedule (as a full-time software engineer working Downtown) and nearly a decade of practice wedging civic activities into a pretty full life.

Laurin, I wish you posted more often. Providing an insiders viewpoint is a great assist to any citizen thinking about applying.

I write my ‘blog knowing full well that there are many folks more eloquent, more on-point than I will ever be. Jim Protzman, former Chapel Hill Councilmember, BlueNC’r sent this simple request to Representative David Price about the Bush Administration’s $700 billion long con.

Dear Congressman Price

We were told last week that the world would end if the bail-out didn’t pass immediately. It didn’t pass, and the world didn’t end. Then we were told we had a few days. Then we were told next Monday would be okay. Some even say a few weeks would be okay.

The truth is, no one in Congress has any freakin’ idea what you’re dealing with here. The $700 billion figure was pulled out of Paulson’s ass. It has no grounding in reality whatsoever. It’s not even clear that a bail out is absolutely necessary…..

Dead on. Thanks Jim for articulating, if even a little freakin’ off-color, what I want David to do – reject the Bushies final grift.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that David’s efforts, if he should take Jim’s sage advice, will be subverted by his own party’s leadership, ala Salon’s Glenn Greenwald’s recent observation what the Democratic Leadership
(The complete (though ever-changing) elite consensus over the financial collapse) will probably do:

Leave aside for the moment whether this gargantuan nationalization/bailout scheme is “necessary” in some utilitarian sense. One doesn’t have to be an economics expert in order for several facts to be crystal clear:

First, the fact that Democrats are on board with this scheme means absolutely nothing. When it comes to things the Bush administration wants, Congressional Democrats don’t say “no” to anything. They say “yes” to everything. That’s what they’re for.

They say “yes” regardless of whether they understand what they’re endorsing. They say “yes” regardless of whether they’ve been told even the most basic facts about what they’re being told to endorse. They say “yes” anytime doing so is politically less risky than saying “no,” which is essentially always and is certainly the case here. They say “yes” whenever the political establishment — meaning establishment media outlets and the corporate class that funds them — wants them to say “yes,” which is the case here. And they say “yes” with particular speed and eagerness when told to do so by the Serious Trans-Partisan Republican Experts like Hank Paulson and Ben Bernake (or Mike McConnell and Robert Gates and, before them, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell).

So nothing could be less reassuring or more meaningless than the fact that the Democratic leadership has announced that what they heard scared them so much that they are certain all of this is necessary — whatever “all this” might be (and does anyone think that they know what “this” even is?). It may be “necessary” or may not be, but the fact that Congressional Democrats are saying this is irrelevant, since they would not have done anything else — they’re incapable of doing anything else — other than giving their stamp of approval when they’re told to.

This will be the third “big scare” used to justify the most corrosive of public policies. 9/11 led to the hasty adoption of the Orwellian Patriot Act. Fabricated “intelligence” of Iraqii WMDs led to the worst foreign policy and humanitarian disaster of the last few generations. And now, with the implosion of financial institutions whose underpinnings were based on incremental movements of trust in instruments spun from less substance than cotton candy, we have the rush to payoff the indefensible ripoffs on Wall St.

By every and any measure, the American public, prodded by fear and ignorance over 7 years, have emptied their, their childrens’ and grandchildren’s pockets – trillions of dollars – in the largest transfer of public weal to private hands ever.

Never have so many given so much to so few.

And as the Cheney/Bush madministration draws to a close, this third and final act seeks to strip the America’s cupboard bare, dot the final i on the most incompetent Presidency in our Republic’s short history and end, it seems, by drowning the Neo-Con’s favorite whipping boy – a Federal regulatory government – in the bathtub.

I broke my silence at this evening’s Town Council meeting.

All throughout the Spring I’ve tried to ignore the Council’s accumulating messes. It was difficult.

The Mayor and Council acting “shocked” by the financial predicament we’re in – something I’ve been forecasting for the last 4 years. More “shock” that the drought has real impacts on the community’s growth and well-being. Greater “shock” that gas hit $4 a gallon, the housing market slumped, credit is tightening and many of the other underpinnings of a successful, sustainable community are lacking.

I’ve tried these last 5 years to get them to move on the obvious deficiencies but….

Anyway, the recent mountain of excuses that some of them have spewed about why our Town is ill-prepared and the ascendancy of political gamesmanship over good – transparent, accountable and HONEST – governance was just too much to keep quiet any longer.

Here were my prepared remarks:

The criticism the Council has heard surrounding their attempt to extended health benefits seems to fall into two basic areas: one, it is another example of the current Council’s fiscal irresponsibility and two, the impropriety – really, the sneaky fashion – that the extension was introduced: burying it on the consent agenda – introducing it at an end-of-term meeting – a meeting with plenty of distracting issues – omitting previous public discussion or disclosure.

As you are well aware of, I’ve been pushing for greater transparency and accountability in our local governmental process which is why I think a number of citizens have contacted me to discuss both of these issues.

First – let us be absolutely clear.

While the Council has said that putting forward a self-serving policy with no public oversight was a “mistake” – the papers and radio are full of their abject apologies – let us recognize that while it definitely was a “mistake” it was not – in any fashion – an accident.

Tonight, I’d like to focus on this unfortunate continuation of a troubling trend – a growing use of political gamesmanship by some of the longest serving of the Council to deflect public attention from questionable or controversial issues. What may be excellent strategy to the benefit of a few is terrible public policy.

I’m sure the more experienced of our Council are counting on public concern about this issue to abate over the summer – that is part of the strategy. I’m sure that those that have said it will have little political impact on their re-election are quite correct.

We have seen tempests like the awarding of a no-bid contract to Member Strom’s campaign treasurer blow over. We have seen public outcry over the Mayor’s request to remove term limits from his office quiet quickly. Public concern about the Mayor and Council’s recent handling of the possible conflict of interest that one of the Councilmember’s family had involving RAM Development – the Town’s partner in the fiscally irresponsible Lot #5 project – seem to dissipate rapidly.

Over the many years I have observed this Council, I have noticed more and more of late – a willingness to cut ethical corners, to delay or deny public awareness of problems – to drag their feet on practical, needed improvements increasing transparency in the political process.

Yes, it is easier to cut those corners, to delay bad news – as many of you did when you borrowed from the Town’s rainy day funds, drained our much needed fiscal reserves and put our bond rating in jeopardy.

The pattern these last 4 years has been to deny the known fiscal impact of the bonds, to trivialize the financial jeopardy the Lot #5 boondoggle puts our Town in, to pretend that the cost-overruns on the Town Operations center or the foreseeable increase of gas to $4 a gallon and many other obvious trends were not going to affect this community.

Now we’ve seen the culmination of these self-inflicted “mistakes” in this year’s tax increase. Yet, as another example of the same type of political gamesmanship that brought us the health insurance debacle, the Mayor and others on the Council continue to claim this year’s increase is an aberration – knowing fully well that more bad news is on the horizon.

The measure of ones character, they say, is how you behave when no one is paying attention. I’d add that it is also a measure of ones political character if you not only talk about greater transparency in the political process but actually support it with policy changes.

What to do, then? The majority of this Council accepted the recommendations of the now defunct Technology Advisory board on opening the governmental process – shedding more light in greater detail of our Town’s operations. Stop dragging your feet and implement those recommendations.

As I’ve been asking for the last 5 years, deliver a complete and accurate agenda 7 days prior to a business meeting. No movement on zoning or budgetary items requiring modification within those seven days. Stop burying unpopular items – like the health insurance issue – in parts of the agenda that few rarely review. Don’t mix creation of zoning districts with far-reaching affects in with zoning modifications for a particular project – like you did with Greenbridge – something, by the way, Councilmember Thorpe agreed with.

Overall, you should take the summer to think about what kind of political character you wish to be remembered for. Are you going to take the easy way out – continue your growing reliance of political trickery to the public’s detriment – or are you going to push to make your job more difficult – require and respond to greater public oversight?

I tried to keep it less than 3 minutes as I didn’t want Jim Ward – who had already sternly lectured the citizenry about keeping it short – to give me hell for going 19 seconds too long.

I had to shorten my remarks – not sure how they came out. I’ll post the video when it’s available.

[Update:] Quisling Democrats capitulated in a vote 293 to 129. Rep. Price votes NO!!. Good for him.

More here: House Approves Unconstitutional Surveillance Legislation .

Yesterday I couldn’t get an inking of how my local “progressive” Democrat US Rep. David Price would vote on the latest attempt to defend the indefensible. Would he vote to absolve ATT from its culpability? Would he further extend the reach of the US government into our private affairs?

US Sen. Russ Feingold, one heck of a leader, had no such problem:

June 19, 2008

“The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President’s illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home. Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration.”

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Capitulation.

Damn, David is a nice enough guy. He brings home the goodies more often than not but his inability to take a lead on any of the key issues – the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, illegal domestic surveillance, torture – perverting our nation’s foundations is disheartening.

He can be led to the water, tortuously, but getting him to drink is a hell of a proposition.

Called David Price, my local Congressman, this afternoon to see if he planned to vote NO on tomorrow’s House Bill HR 6304 which proffers blanket immunity to those telecoms, like ATT (Bellsouth, Cingular), that knowingly broke Federal and State wire-tapping laws on behalf of our current lawless madministration.

His current stance: no opinion.

In fact, his office said he won’t be expressing an opinion until after his vote!

Sounds like he’s preparing to defend the indefensible – issuing what the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) calls the ” Congressional seal of approval on illegal surveillance” but maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What’s the big deal? The millions of folks that are represented by the EFF in a class-action suit against AT&T because their “private domestic communications and communications records were illegally handed over to the National Security Agency (NSA)” won’t get their day in court (more here).

Not all telcos, notably QWEST (here) went along with this incredibly intrusive and illegal operation. Will Price put ATT and Verizon ahead of our citizenry and strip them of their fundamental Constitutional protections?

Contact David and let him know that warrantless searches are not acceptable.

Washington, D.C.
U.S. House of Representatives
2162 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202.225.1784

Fax: 202.225.2014

Durham
411 W. Chapel Hill Street
NC Mutual Building, 6th Floor
Durham, NC 27701
Phone: 919.688.3004

Fax: 919.688.0940

Raleigh
5400 Trinity Road
Suite 205
Raleigh, NC 27607
Phone: 919.859.5999

Fax: 919.859.5998

Chapel Hill
88 Vilcom Center
Suite 140
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919.967.7924

Fax: 919.967.8324

Barack Obama swung by Chapel Hill tonight in his on-going attempt to clinch his party’s nomination. As David Price noted, for the first time in decades North Carolina is relevant – and we have an opportunity to push Obama over the top.

As with many political events, the rally, scheduled for 9:30pm kicked off promptly at 10:19pm. The Dean Dome was 3/4’s full – the crowd a mix of college students and locals (with a smattering of notable politicos – Mel Watt, David Price, Hampton Dellinger, Alice Gordon).

If you’ve seen Obama speak before, the stump he gave was fairly familiar – tweaked a bit for both the Tar Heel college and North Carolina “blue” crowd. He butchered Chancellor Moeser’s name (quickly corrected with some input from the crowd). He made a small reference to RTP – proposed cloning its success (I suggest better research by his crew). Spoke of mitigating college tuitions using a Americorp type program ($12K per annum -whew!). Talked about off-shoring of jobs and closing of mills. But mostly it was a speech targeted towards a national audience.

He riffed on McCain – “25 years in Congress” and a $25 gas tax refund “is the best he can do”.

After pummeling McCain a bit, he carefully highlighted the differences between him and Hillary.

Obama painted Hillary as the candidate of lobbyists, special interests and the back room party apparatchik. Contrasting his trip to Wall Street to inform CEOs that their personal tax bills were headed up, that under his administration Federal subsidies for their cash cows would dry up and windfall profits (literally highway robbery) were going to be taxed with Hillary’s Union hall pandering, he made the case for his political courage. And, he noted subtlety, she hasn’t been quite honest.

Which brings me back to our local Board of Commissioners race.

Between the two at-large candidates that I know and have seen in action at close range, Neloa Jones is the hands down best candidate.

She’s united her community, built coalitions and been honest and up-front with her concerns. She’s demonstrated her political courage.

She is no creature of the local “rah rah growth at any cost” political clique.

Neloa has not been missing in action and she hasn’t, like her opponent laid claim to positions she hasn’t fought for – kind of our own homegrown Obama. Sharp, with a real sense of purpose, Neloa is the kind of leader we need for Orange County.

Please, when you go to vote for Obama (or Hillary) cast a vote for Neloa.

Here’s some action from tonight’s rally. All photos compliments of my son Elijah.

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As probably most readers of CitizenWill know, I decided to stop posting on locally owned OrangePolitics (OP) for many reasons:

  • an escalating and stifling intolerance of valid though different viewpoints,
  • the site’s authors acting as surrogates for political allies who didn’t have the courage to engage the community directly in an honest, fact-based and open manner
  • and an unwillingness on my part to work hard in “building the brand” of a site that advertised one thing – engaging the wider community in an informative discussion of local “progressive” issues – and delivering another (what I said below the fold).

In many ways, my disappointment in OP comes from the narrowing of that initial promise – to engage the wider community – into a sometimes almost reflexively dismissive platform pushing a particular agenda.

I have no problem with OP’s owner pushing a particular agenda – that is what my site – CitizenWill.org – does. I do have a problem with any claim to being an open and transparent forum for community-wide discussion.

For all that, the site, its owner and commentators have sometimes broadened the discussion of local issues. On occasion, “leakage” – the coverage of particular issues by the local media – occurred because of those discussions. These basic contributions not only informed but stirred debate and even action.

But those wins don’t justify the failures. In November I said I hoped that the next generation – OrangePolitics 3.0 – would represent a change of course –

“Reform is in order and I truly hope that the promise of 2003 becomes the reality of 2008.”

Today, Ruby and company will meet to presumably chart out that new course for “OrangePolitics 3.0” at a “Winter Happy Hour” ( 6:30pm, FUSE).

Following up on my previous comment, I suggest one topic of discussion be how to stick with a reality-based perspective.

Unfortunately, if this recent post by Ruby is any indication of 3.0’s direction, well, the new OP is already off to a poor start:

Here’s a preview of the new “Hall of Fame” function that makes a bunch of stats public on OP 3.0:

Top 10 commenters of all time:
Ruby Sinreich 1359 items
WillR 821 items
Dan Coleman 609 items
Tom Jensen 380 items
Mark Chilton 344 items
jehb 161 items
Mary Rabinowitz 154 items
johnk 125 items
ethan 50 items
admin 42 items

In my “farewell to OP” message, I mentioned the almost 3,000 comments/posts I made over the lifetime of OP. That estimate was based on a dump of the current OP website – showing roughly 2263 comments from 2003-2007 plus some notes I made in 2004 of missing comments from an early accidental purge of OP.

While I made a wide “guesstimate” of those early days, I’m comfortable with what OP currently reports – that I made thousands of comments.

In fact, based on my analysis of OP circa Nov. 5th, it appears I made :

  • 28 comments on stories posted in 2003
  • 178 comments on stories posted in 2004
  • 520 comments on stories posted in 2005
  • 876 comments on stories posted in 2006
  • 661 comments on stories posted in 2007 (slacking off?)

Or 2263 comments over 459 posts (threads of discussion). The particulars are listed below my “farewell”.

When someone contacted me about Ruby’s comment (a longtime OP lurker that thought there was an “undercount”) I notified Ruby of this striking discrepancy.

Why? Not because I felt any personal slight but because I thought Ruby would want to analyze the delta and fix her software. I’m sure an analysis of other commentators would show a similar miscount. Unfortunately, to date, there’s been no comment on those erroneous numbers.

Does it matter if my or any other posters contributions were off by a factor of two or more?

Not if this was just a software glitch but if this is an attempt to shape the past to forge the future, well, probably not the best start for a reformed OP. I’ll wait to see if the number of comments carried forward into 3.0 are reflective of the actual discussion carried out on OP over these last 4 years,

As I said before, I hope OP 3.0 sheds the mistakes of OP 2.0 and evolves into its initial promise – an open, honest, informative and inviting forum for discussion of local issues.

I’ll be on the sidelines encouraging the success of 3.0. Good luck folks! And do yourselves proud – try to hit one out if the ballpark.

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Orange County Commissioner Mike Nelson on Marty Ravellette.

He was, perhaps, the most impressive individual I’ve ever met. The world was a richer place because he walked amongst us.

[UPDATE] The Chape l Hill News reports on Marty’s service:

There will be a graveside service for Marty Ravellette at Maplewood Cemetery Thursday at 2 pm. The cemetery is located at 1621 Duke University Road in Durham.

There will also be a memorial service for Marty at the University Presbyterian Church Thursday at 7:15. The church is located at 209 East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill right across from UNC campus. There is plenty of parking in lots and decks on Rosemary Street, which is one road behind Franklin Street.

I’ll be wrapping my election coverage up in a series of posts, including a big thank you for all of you that “had my back”, but, before that, I just read these two items from today’s newspapers that underline why the incumbents strategy of disengagement was so corrosive – and was quite a shameful disservice to our community.

Only two days ago, incumbent candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council claimed Tuesday’s election had no issues, that it was really about the larger matter of how the town’s growth would be guided in future years.

Three of the four incumbents were re-elected Tuesday on that platform. And Wednesday night they took a step toward molding that growth, agreeing with Mayor Kevin Foy’s proposal to clarify principles established by the 2000 Comprehensive Plan.

Foy referred to informal talks with developers interested in projects on U.S. 15-501 across from Southern Village, near Glen Lennox and other areas. “I want us to confront the growth pressures in a way that gives our staff more specificity,” Foy said.

Other council members agreed with his assertion that the Comprehensive Plan now seems too vague.

“We need to be clearer and more precise in our language because it affects what we put on the ground,” said Councilman Jim Ward.

The Comprehensive Plan was adopted on May 8, 2000, and was intended to articulate “a vision and directions in which we want the community to move,” according to the town Web site. “It suggests the ways in which we can invest in our community and build value for the 21st century. And, most importantly, the plan focuses on specific actions that will help us achieve the future we desire.”

Foy was a member of the Town Council that worked on that project. Seven years later he doesn’t think the plan is specific enough. In a memo to the council, Foy explained that a strategic reexamination of the plan could help guide land development.

“For example,” he wrote, “the plan set forth certain criteria for the northwest quadrant of town, but when pressures built we discovered that the council, the neighbors, and land developers had different viewpoints about what the plan called for.”

Councilman Bill Thorpe pointed out the pink elephant in the room, wondering aloud why Foy waited until the day after an election to broach the topic of development pressures in Chapel Hill. He described the mayor as “smooth” and told Foy that the council is not afraid to take on a project like this.

“It’s a new day,” Thorpe said. “Let’s move forward.”

Nov. 8th, Herald-Sun

Smooth? I’d say slick political gamesmanship.

I not only called for a refresh in our comprehensive plan prior to the election but also lobbied for a new process of keeping our plan flexible and adaptable. Sure, the incumbents co-opting my call for adding clarity, specificity and predictability to our Town’s growth plan, at some level, is gratifying but, admittedly, discouraging in that I believe they will give the process the same old superficial shellacking we’ve seen with other policies.

Bill Thorpe says “it’s a new day” but I don’t think so – it is more of the same kind of clever surface manipulation of issues – all sound, little fury – that’s digging our Town deeper and deeper into trouble.

Of course, I guess the ends, for some, always justify the means. If that means running as a block, eschewing an opportunity to engage and educate our community on, say, the comprehensive plan or the coming resource crunch, well, that’s alright by these politicians.

Poor policy, slick politics.

During the election it was obvious that the incumbents wanted to avoid substantive debate on the issues for a number of reasons. On the comprehensive plan, for instance, the fact that I’d led the way on calling for a review would underscore how proactive my stance on development has been.

Oh no, couldn’t acknowledge that a challenger had a good idea – that was an anathema to the incumbents’ “no mistakes” strategy.

For a (former?) activist like myself, someone that works hard to educate and engage our wider community in a variety of issues, I know we could’ve leverage the election to bring focus and attention to our critical growth problems – to explore different approaches, debate various strategies. To see that opportunity squashed so effectively by a political strategy was quite disappointing – and reflects poorly on that strategy’s participants.

The other article from today? Cam Hill’s call to ban watering lawns.

Fellow challenger Penny Rich and I talked about the limits of growth in terms of our ability to provide adequate water. The incumbents were not willing to admit their vision of high density development was at odds with our ability to sustain such development in light of our areas “carrying capacity’.

One of the incumbents was quite flip and dismissive about Penny and I’s suggestion that adequate water supply was one of the largest limiting factors in his plan for “rah rah” growth at any cost. Again, slick political strategy smothered civic duty.

Hill initiated the discussion in the wake of a presentation by OWASA staff showing that southern Orange County will be “vulnerable to severe drought conditions beginning in the early 2020s” if customers do not reduce demand and the agency doesn’t find new sources of water.

Now Cam and the re-elected incumbents can safely talk about our coming water crunch – no concerns about community alarm possibly influencing their quest for another 4 years in office. Again, if you’re desperate for a seat, great strategy for winning but a shameful disservice to our community.

Sad. Sad. Sad.

Which leads me back to my role in local affairs.

For more than six years, I’ve been dragging my old soapbox around, stepping up and passionately fighting for causes I believe in. Many times, whether on developing an economic plan for commercial development, setting targets for fuel use and tree restoration, working to save hands-on arts for Chapel Hill, saying we can only import so much water – export so much trash, I’ve been calling for action years ahead of the need.

I’m a proactive kind of guy. One foot in the future – looking for opportunities to improve our community – working to make sure our Town is ready to seize those opportunities. I’ve been effective at times – more than the incumbents were willing to admit – but at a fairly steep price.

Proactive and pragmatic doesn’t seem to be a priority for most local folks. Crisis seems, anymore at least, to be the only motivator.

Under those terms, I’m left with a personal dilemma: do I continue as before – getting some progress but with great effort – or do I just wait until the Town is in crisis and try to pitch in and help?

Or do I follow the recent ‘block’ of incumbents and disengage from any substantive, but politically risky, discussion at all?

X-posted from my campaign website.

The Indy found fault with my style of dissent. I’m a big guy, have a deep voice and am passionate about my well-researched issues. I believe I’m respectful in my appearances before Council (example). Folks have told me that I’m tough but fair. The Indy’s criticism, no matter how emotionally worded, is, in the end, subjective – their job, to shape opinion.

The Indy’s suggestion that I wanted to despoil Booker Creek further is not supported by either the facts or any reasonable inference (as I discuss here).

What inference could the Indy draw about the incumbents – Sally Greene’s, Cam Hill’s, Bill Strom’s – willingness to put development above the health of Booker Creek?

Well, no inference is required as the record clearly shows that all three were willing to contribute to Booker Creek’s ills for the sake of economic development.

I’ve attended many Council meetings over the last 6 1/2 years. Once there, I usually stay to learn about the issues before our Town. That’s why I know that Bill, Cam and Sally voted June 30th, 2004 to approve Eastern Federal’s 10 screen, 38,000 square foot, nearly 200 parking space theater directly adjacent to Booker Creek.

As noted in these minutes from Jan. 27th, 2003’s SUP (special use permit) approval that details this project’s variances:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council finds, in this particular case, that the following modifications satisfy public purposes to an equivalent or greater degree:

1. Modification of Subsection 13.11.1 and 5.5.2.1 to allow a minimum of 154,242 square feet of livability space.

2. Modification of Subsection 14.6.6 (a) to allow less than a five-foot landscaped strip between portions of the buildings and adjacent parking areas.

3. Modification of Subsection 14.6.7 to allow a minimum of 490 parking spaces.

4. Modification of Subsection 5.5.2.2 to allow impervious surface areas associated with this development to encumber 24% of the Resource Conservation District.

Said public purposes being (1) the provision of higher intensity infill development, (2) the promotion of greater pedestrian mobility, (3) the provision of increased landscaping in the parking lot, (4) the provision of less impervious surface area, and (5) the provision of improved quality with Best Management Practices.

The resource conservation district was established by Chapel Hill

To protect streams and to reduce the frequency and amount of flood damage to property, the Town enacted the Resource Conservation District (RCD) ordinance in 1984, with revisions in 2003. This ordinance and other measures taken to reduce flooding and flood damage, are necessary for the Town to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

RCD provisions severely limit or eliminate structures and development in areas likely to flood. These measures pertain in areas including FEMA’s 100-year Floodzones, (areas that have a 1% chance of flooding every year, or in other terms, properties that have a 26% chance of flooding within a 30-year period), as well as smaller streams which have not been rated by FEMA. RCDs also protect or improve the water quality of streams by reserving vegetated areas to slow and infiltrate stormwater runoff and to remove pollutants from runoff.

Yet, in this case, the incumbents Greene, Hill and Strom voted a rather large exception for a movie theater.

Now, you didn’t have to be at these meetings, as I was, to know about the series of votes these three made to build on Booker Creek. A simple Google will quickly turn up that fact.

Speaking of facts, why would the Indy try to extrapolate, without evidence, that I wanted to despoil Booker Creek further when three of the incumbents the Indy endorsed – Greene, Hill and Strom – actually voted several times to reduce critical RCD protections to build a 10 screen theater?

Maybe because the facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story – and the story the Indy is selling is “don’t vote for Raymond in 2007”. The reasons were superfluous to the ends.

What about Jim Ward, who consistently voted against the proposal, as I recall, based on environmental concerns? The Indy thought he was too soft on the environment in 2003, but now he has “proven his meddle”.

Wonder if they considered Jim’s concern for Booker Creek as part of that proof?

More on the history of Eastern Federal’s development woes.

Five years ago, I attended, as a citizen, my first Technology Board meeting. I had prepared a 5 item technology checklist I thought the Town should be addressing. Some items, the municipal networking/WIFI initiative, a technology assessment, broadening civic engagement online our Council has finally started to move on. Others, like moving to non-proprietary software, open document standards, self-service kiosks, we’re still lagging on.

About a year ago, I began to experiment with using video posted to youTube and googleVideo to cover local issues that were getting short shrift.

One of my first experiments involved covering the local Superior Court race. While I supported two solid candidates – Chuck Anderson and Allen Baddour – for the office, I felt it important to give the wider community the option to see all the folks – Carl, Adam, Allen and Chuck – explain their positions in their own words.


I knew I’d never get that level of coverage from WRAL or NBC17, so I took on the challenge to cover all the forums as best as I could (with the now famous wobbly Will-cam).

Since then, I’ve branched out from my own efforts and began converting existing footage from various sources for redistribution on the Internet.

League of Women Voters Forum Sierra Club Forum

I think my passion for civic engagement and drawing the community into policy discussions explains why no one has asked me “Why do you do it?” Over the year, though, I’ve had a few folks ask me “How do you do that?”

Here’s a quick overview of how I currently convert the DVD’s produced by Chapel Hill and Carrboro into a format suitable for youTube or googleVideo. The same process should apply to most other video formats.

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