CivilLiberties


Last night I made a few remarks to Council before they codified a series of restrictions on the use of Peace and Justice Plaza Downtown by organized and disorganized activist.

We renamed the small patch of ground outside the Downtown post office to Peace and Justice Plaza to honor its central place in Chapel Hill’s progressive history. Before the Town acquired the property in the 70′s, its unique status as a slice of Federal land front-n-center in our community made it an invaluable refuge for local civil rights activist who wanted folks to see what others didn’t want to be seen – that even educated Chapel Hill bore the stain of racial inequality.

Why did Council slide these changes altering a historical dynamic through, undermining the meaning of Peace & Justice, without reaching out to the community? Why the desperate speed?

It appears because the Town couldn’t figure out how to evict one remaining protester who by most descriptions was a homeless man using the Occupy movement as an excuse for staying. Rather than address that specific issue, Council chose to hastily adopt a potentially very chilling approach.

Until we see specific guidelines, drafted out of sight of the community – chiefly by the Town Manager – we will not know.

For at least 50 years, a small patch of ground outside Downtown’s Post Office has served as our Town commons. This historical precedent was set by local civil rights activists who sought to circumvent Town and State attempts to shutter the voices raised against racial inequality.

They sought refuge on that small piece of Federal land because efforts to evict would become – literally- a “Federal case”. Sadly, they expected Federal courts would be more sympathetic in supporting their Constitutional right to assemble, to speak, to petition and to ask for redress of grievances than our local community.

Over time, protection of those fundamental rights has shifted towards local governments. Chapel Hill citizens, some at great costs, have stood up and fought to maintain and expand key civic values including equality in their recognition of same-sex partners.

I was reminded of how unique our community is during a 2003 anti-war protest in Raleigh.
While his supporters got a front-row seat, protesters were herded into a chain link enclosure well away from President Bush’s cavalcade. Out of sight, out of mind. By then, the Federal courts had decided that a bureaucratically proscribed “designated free speech zone” was acceptable.

Tonight you are being asked to make what appears to be a few “minor” changes to Town ordinances. That is not the case.

The suggested changes allow the Manager to dictate what neatly fits into a particular idea of reasonable discourse. Times, locations and extent of exercise of Rights will be determined by the somewhat vague guidelines he as his staff deem necessary.

I’m disappointed that the recent occupation of the one place in our community reserved and cherished for free assembly didn’t serve as a lesson in how to preserve and even promote more civic discourse. Rather it seems to have served as a call to arms to cordon off what makes some folks uncomfortable.

In a free and democratic society we must err on the side of openness and access to the public commons. We must tolerate a process that can be a bit unsettling and untidy.

There are vanishingly few public spaces left for assembly of citizens. If not Peace & Justice, where?

During the Chapel Hill 2020 process Downtown has been touted as the place for the community to come to meet with many proposals for an enhanced public square.

Now is the time to ask – “How public?”

Please put off further amendments constraining our public commons until our community has fully weighed in.

I got into a bit of a discussion with Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt about a loaded equivalence described in the Town legal brief.

The memo describes a scenario where two groups at polar extremes want to occupy the plaza. The examples used: Nazis and Jewish community, KKK and NAACP members, Anarchist and peace officers.

Of course, the hatred expressed by the Nazi and KKK members against the Jewish and African-American communities is well-documented and exemplified by horrendous acts.

I learned a little about Anarchism in university 30+ years ago and have since endeavored to learn more after the recent Yate’s Motor occupation and police raid. From what I’ve read and learned from some of the local adherents, Anarchism is not a political movement but, rather, a political philosophy with many avenues of expression.

There is nothing intrinsic to that political philosophy requiring vilification, especially at the level suggested by using the KKK and Nazis, of the police.

It was inappropriate of staff, and surprising of the majority of Council, to endorse such an equivalence.

Among the many other activities going on today was the Orange County Democratic Party all-precinct convention. Quite a turnout with many familiar faces.

Local heavyweights US Rep. David Price, former State House Speaker Joe Hackney and House colleague Verla Insko along with State Senator Ellie Kinnaird (who changed a tire on the way to the meeting) attended.

Price, just returned from the budget breakdown nonsense in Washington, gave a rousing call to arms pointing out that the Tea Party express was bearing down on the nation – and last night’s buffoonery was just the first in many salvos aimed squarely at middle America. Verla and Joe sketched out the dire legislative morass they face in the State house and related how the turnover in control of the House has actually brought the Democratic caucus closer.

There were 44 prepared petitions put before the convention – a long list to dispense with in less than the budgeted 4 hours. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running the proceedings, was able to work through a good chunk by getting collective assent upfront.

Though it has been a long time since I participated in a convention, I came prepared to offer an amendment to the petition calling for support of the Board of Commissioner’s [BOCC] recent plan to hold a Nov. 2011 referendum increasing our local sales tax 0.25%.

The BOCC has proposed splitting the anticipated $2.5M per year evenly between economic development and education. I asked the gathered folks to support a change in that allocation from 50/50 to 33% for economic development, which would adequately support the economic initiatives the BOCC has already laid out, and 66% to restore and support the many human service programs curtailed by the County these last 5 years.

My neighbor Tom Henkel seconded the call and an interesting discussion followed. Unfortunately, my suggested changes were completely shot down. It was great to get a strong dose of participatory democracy even if my effort was for naught. I appreciate the kind and thoughtful consideration the convention offered.

Afterwards, BOCC member Steve Yuhasz came over and graciously encouraged me to keep on pressing the BOCC to find money for human service programs. I told him I wasn’t going to give up.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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First big meeting of 2011 and, pre-meeting, an example of how Chapel Hill’s community expresses democracy in one of the purest forms as ten Raging Grannies filed in singing “We will not be moved…”. They and about 20 other supporters are here to remind Council that concerns over the Clark-Bigelow dismissal.

This concerted effort sends a clear message – the underlying tensions still exist because the reasons still exist and they won’t go away without a clear and open review. That could start by supporting the two workers request to have a public review hearing of their case.

Tom Monk steps up to the podium. “The Town generally does a good job with sanitation – things smell good – this doesn’t smell good.” Asks for the men to receive unemployment benefits.

Samuel Monk chimes in – “this is a case where the workers have been discriminated against” because of labor organization efforts.

John Heuer concerned about reports of dismissal calls for unemployment benefits.

Wes Hare steps up – came here when Howard Lee was Mayor – he’s been part of the problem for forty years. It just doesn’t make sense, from what he hears from the folks he trusts this is a mess. Agrees with Monk that “this does stink”.

Michelle Laws – reflects on what Mayor Kleinschmidt said in State of the Town and the reality of town. Believes we are following national trend of two nations – one white, one black. We are moving towards two towns – one minority, one white. One rich, one poor. Heard nothing about the poor, the low wage worker, the two towns. Back to Bigelow/Clark – can’t believe that they were fired during the worst recession since the Depression – left with little financial support. Calls out Town on unemployment benefits – says that inspite of protestations of not intervening the lawyer representing the two has received a pile of documents from the unemployment commission that clearly was aimed at dissuading the commission from granting aid.

Robert Campbell – “I come tonight to call for justice…” I come tonight seeking justice for the two workers – it is about human rights and doing the right thing. “I thought scrooge was dead” but in the middle of the holidays we fire these two because of the outcry of one citizen. Since when do we allow one citizen to start a process that deprives the two of their due process. “I don’t need to remind of what happen yesterday….” in the ’70′s when a black student was killed and Chapel Hill was fire bombed….

Kerry Bigelow – Holds sign up that says “I am a Man”. Thanks for support of the folks that turned out. Disappointed on citizens who aren’t paying attention. They ["the Council"] count on citizens “on the sideline” being asleep. It is time for folks to get off the side-lines. His daughter gets up and asks Council to “get on the right side of history”.

Steve Bader – Emphasizes there is no legal requirement for the Town to send the ESC a pile of documents. Many employers don’t send any documentation. Also asks that the Town doesn’t send any managers or staff to the ESC hearing being held in two days. Says someone in Town has violated rules by signing a contract they shouldn’t of – including 10′s of complaints – no movement on that – but on one citizen’s complaint these two were discharged. “These two brothers were stewards” – they were trying to be good stewards of the Town. If the Town doesn’t show up Thursday then they will get their benefits. Why are we just hearing today about an ombudsman – that’s a crime.

MiriamThompson – “We elected you” – we didn’t hire the Town Manager, you did. A Town Manager that hires a notorious union busting group like CAI – who created a bias report. We didn’t hire a Town Manager that hasn’t let the employees confront their accuser. You were elected to support all of us…let’s not enter the year with a stain on our hearts…..

Clyde Clark – The same discrimination is going on. To him it seems one man is running the Town and the Council is “dropping the ball” and following his lead. [CW:presumably the Town Manager?]

The Raging Grannies file out singing “…we are all in this together….”

Following up on yesterday’s post(Chapel Hill Council: Union Busters?) the Chapel Hill News reports (Solid waste workers under investigation are fired) that Clark and Bigelow have been fired.

They will have 14 days to appeal the decision.

It appears Council was informed Wednesday night but, as per the Town’s rules, played no part in the decision.

Looks like only one of the five potential internal candidates for Police Chief expressed interest in the position: Chris Blue.

Chris’ evaluation “will focus on the characteristics that have been identified that we need in a chief and the extent to which his behavior fulfills those characteristics. The basic characteristics we are looking for were defined in an extensive public input process in 2007 when Chief Gregg Jarvies retired.” according to Town Manager Roger Stancil.

From what I know of the 2007 process, what I know of the direction the department is heading in, Chris has the required characteristics Roger is looking for.

Best of luck Chris.

From a late breaking Town news release:

Chapel Hill looks within to fill police chief position
Posted Date: 10/29/2010

The new police chief for the Town of Chapel Hill may be selected through an assessment process that is expected to conclude in November 2010.

Brian Curran, who has served the Town for nearly 30 years, announced his retirement in April 2010 and will serve until December 2010. Town Manager Roger Stancil has commended Curran’s achievements as chief, including his work to create a leadership development program, create a diverse command and supervisory structure, expand community policing efforts, and take the lead in innovation and teamwork to find solutions to community issues.

“Chief Curran has been the epitome of community policing throughout his career,” Town Manager Stancil said. “Under his leadership, the department renewed its commitment to community policing. His thoughtful promotion process created a group of emerging leaders in the department. His current focus is on a strategic plan for the future of the department and development of leaders who can implement the plan.”

Town Manager Stancil informed the Town Council in June 2010 that he believed the best way to continue this momentum of progress in the department was to first consider internal candidates for the chief’s position. Internal candidates eligible to apply for the position were three captains and the two assistant chiefs. One of those five individuals expressed an interest in the chief’s position, Assistant Chief Chris Blue.

“A rigorous set of experiences and expectations has been established to assess Assistant Chief Blue’s skills in real time with real issues,” Town Manager Stancil said. “As with other assessment processes, this one will focus on the characteristics that have been identified that we need in a chief and the extent to which his behavior fulfills those characteristics. The basic characteristics we are looking for were defined in an extensive public input process in 2007 when Chief Gregg Jarvies retired.”

The assessment center process is not new to the Town of Chapel Hill. The process has been used to fill numerous positions, including the review in 2007 for a chief to replace Gregg Jarvies. Assistant Chief Blue was the second highest ranking candidate in that process.

Because the assessment process is now under way, Assistant Chief Blue will not be available for comment about his experience with the assessment center.

[UPDATE] Oct. 29th, 2010 Chapel Hill News reports that Clark and Bigelow have been fired. They will have 14 days to appeal the decision. It appears Council was informed but as per the Town’s rules played no part in the decision.

The Council chambers were definitely rocking last night.

The strange issue of Town employees Clyde Clark’s and Kerry Bigelow’s suspension took center stage as a coalition of local social justice groups and supporters presented their grievances to Council.

According to their petition (OrangeChat) three (Stan Norwood, bus driver) employees were disciplined in “retaliation against workers …for filing grievances relating to racism, abusive management, and health and safety concern”.

This isn’t the first allegation of racism within the public works department (here is my post from 2008, Council Oblivious:How Long Must This Go On?).

I’m waiting with interest to see the results of Town Manager Roger Stancil’s “complete, thorough and fair investigation.”

The petition alleges that the Town hired Capital Associated Industries (CAI) in an effort to derail worker efforts to organize. I know a few of the sitting Council members – Mark Kleinschmidt and Sally Greene, for instance – have been quite clear in their support of labor.

Hiring a consultancy at odds with the declared intent of the Council seems strange but I have observed such inconsistency before – just another case among many (it’s not always clear why a particular consultancy is hired, sometimes it appears that a consultancy is hired to “bless” an existing policy, rates paid are out-of-whack at times, existing relationships between principals of the consultancies and the Town aren’t always disclosed, etc.).

As far as the presenters this evening, Al McSurely stated we were paying $60,000 to CAI, a group notorious for its “union busting”. I spent a few moments googling CAI to see how the claims of “union busting” held up.

I found much of this material on CAI’s website www.capital.org. [BOLDs are mine].

From an event they hosted:

WHAT: Capital Associated Industries, Inc., (CAI), the largest employers’ association in the state, in conjunction with the Employers Coalition of NC, will be holding a legislative breakfast to discuss collective bargaining in North Carolina. CAI anticipates over 30 legislators to attend the event, called The Difficulties in Governing With Unions. Speakers include Greg Mourad, director of legislation for the National Right to Work Committee.

Invitation to Event (PDF)

Their CEO Bruce Clarke on the Employee Free Choice Act:

Business leaders contend that the current process for forming a union is both fair and optimal. If secret balloting is optimal for every other election in America, they say, why not union elections? Union organizers and businesses are both able to make their cases in those elections, says Bruce Clarke, president of Capital Associated Industries. “If a decent employer has time to do that, they’re going to win the election,” Clarke says. Clarke adds that unions want to circumvent secret ballots because they don’t want to lose the elections. (CW: debatable at best)

Triangle BizJournal

From CAI’s online white paper Welcome to CAI’s “Employee Free (Forced) Choice Act” Guide

What Might the New Union Card Look Like?

Unions claim that EFCA preserves the secret ballot and that EMPLOYEES, not EMPLOYERS, would then control whether there is a secret ballot election or just a public “card check”. This is untrue. The fact is that the actual language on the union card itself controls how the card can be used. It is a binding legal document. Guess who designs the card and prints the copies? Yes, the labor union controls the card language. There is NO possibility that unions will print cards which give employees the option to choose a secret ballot election. Further, nothing in the law requires them to offer that choice. (CW: really debatable)

From CAI “constituent” letter template they ask folks to send to the Legislature:

Federal Arbitration of a Collective Bargaining Agreement is an Oxymoron

This bill imposes arbitration of all undecided contract terms after a brief 120 day period of failed negotiations. Every aspect of the work, the pay, the benefits, the rules and the work processes can be put before this panel. This is not bargaining in any sense of the word and it would lay a foundation for future relations between the parties that is fatally flawed. American entrepreneurs and business leaders should not and will not stand for outside determination of their work methods and expense levels. They will shrink US operations and grow in non-union facilities. In Canada, where they have experience with an EFCA-like law, companies have actually closed after dissatisfaction with an arbitrator’s decree (see the E. Gagnon Ltee case).

From their 2010 Summer update:

“Organized Labor Reaches a Roadblock”: Will Focus More on Influencing Executive Orders and Appointments; Watch for a November Surprise?

A senior union official, Stewart Acuff, says labor hopes to get EFCA-like changes from the NLRB:

“[If] we aren’t able to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, we will work with President Obama and Vice President Biden and their appointees to the National Labor Relations Board to change the rules governing forming a union through administrative action to once again allow workers in America access to one of the most basic freedoms in a democracy–the freedom of speech and assembly and association so that workers can build the collective power to challenge the Financial Elite and Get America Back to Work.”

The President has made several pro-labor appointments recently, some on a recess basis. The NLRB now has the votes to make major changes in process, policy and regulations governing a wide spectrum of labor relations topics.

More recently, there is talk of an “November Surprise” where lame duck Members of Congress force through pro-union legislation, perhaps as part of a “must pass” emergency spending bill. Journalist Peyton Miller said recently:

“While he’s stopped campaigning for EFCA, the president may yet have an opportunity to sign it in some form. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka is determined to see card check attached to an urgent bill while Democrats still have decisive congressional majorities. Democratic leaders have indicated that the lame duck session following the November elections may be the best opportunity.”

What does all this mean?

Washington politics and processes are very unpredictable and dependent on the status of seemingly unrelated bills, pressures, perceptions and events. The completion of health reform may open up more time for legislative mischief in the workplace. Stay vigilant and stay tuned!

Call on us if we can help.
Bruce Clarke (bruce.clarke@capital.org)

You might recall that the National Labor Relations Board was weakened by the Reagan administration, ignored mostly by the Clinton administration, gutted by the Bush administration. Obama promised to restore some of its former powers during his candidacy – claiming possible “surprise” is disingenuous at best.

Finally, CAI is a member of the Coalition for NC Jobs (along with other notables like the North Carolina Pork Council, National Right to Work Committee, North Carolina League of Municipalities, etc.).

In January of 2006, associations and businesses concerned about pro-union legislation at the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) joined forces to form the Coalition for North Carolina Jobs (NC Jobs). For the past two years, NC Jobs has successfully stopped every pro-union bill and amendment at the NCGA even after labor unions gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to legislative campaigns.

Unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) are intensifying their lobbying and grassroots efforts at the state and federal levels to obtain collective bargaining rights for public employees, which is currently prohibited under North Carolina law. It could mean tens of millions of dollars in dues revenue to their unions.

To combat the unions’ dollars and clout, NC Jobs must expand our membership and increase our grassroots activity at both the federal and state levels.

If the Council’s intent is to support “collective bargaining rights for public employees”, then they need to explain why hiring CAI makes sense.

[UPDATE:] I blew it! As Fred Black reminded me, the Chief is selected by the Town Manager. While the Council can talk about the parameters and criteria of selection, the choice is Roger Stancil’s.

Just got home from tonight’s Council meeting. The meeting ended with a closed session to consider personnel matters so they shooed the remaining few folks out the door.

There are two hot personnel issues that I can think of that need Council’s attention.

One is the strange and unfortunate story of Town employees Clyde Clark and Kerry Bigelow. Tonight a number of folks joined “the two workers along with Chapel Hill Transit bus driver Stan Norwood” who “have protested what they call management intimidation and health and safety hazards in the workplace” (OrangeChat) to question their work suspension (the Chapel Hill News’ OrangeChat has more here).

The second, and much more pleasant piece of business, involves selecting our next Chief of Police to replace Brian Curran (Farewell Chief!). [UPDATE] It wasn’t to consider a new Chief as this responsibility, as Fred reminded me, falls squarely on Roger’s shoulders.

Comments by Brian and Town Manager Roger Stancil lend credence to the current “conventional wisdom” that the next Chief will be drawn from our current ranks. Both Assistant Police Chief Chris Blue and Assistant Police Chief Bob Overton top the lists of folks I have informally polled.

I met Chris years ago when he was working to strengthen our Town’s response to gang-related issues. I have run into him fairly often since as he worked to build a tighter relationship between the community and the police force. With broad experience within our force, a strong working knowledge of the “Chapel Hill way” and a track-record of reaching out to work beyond a strictly “law and order” approach to policing, Chris would be an excellent member of the Town’s management team.

While I ran into Bob off-and-on over the last few years, it is only recently that I have gotten to know him. Another strong candidate with an extensive breadth of experience and a firm grip on the vagaries of Chapel Hill law enforcement. Bob would also make an excellent addition to our management team.

I’m not aware of any other candidates but if there are any I expect Roger to use both Bob and Chris as the yardstick to measure them by. Brian has already set our department on a new course, we need their type of leadership to forge ahead.

As we wait to see if selecting the Chief was actually the reason for holding the meeting, there is another opportunity to meet both the apparent front-runners Nov. 4th at the next community outreach session (INFO).

I was unable to attend the latest Civilian Review Board meeting but according to the Indy’s Joe Schwartz, the process continues to lurch forward.

One point that I thought needed answering, why wait for NC legislative approval, was dealt with. Sally Greene and Mark Kleinschmidt both seemed to endorse moving forward creating a board that had all the powers of review except that of perusing personnel records (which will require statutory approval – something already done elsewhere).

Barry Freeman, one of the protesters arrested 2 years ago at Chapel Hill’s Army recruitment office, laid out the case for not waiting:

“A review board can be set up that receives complaints doesn’t necessarily have to go call some policeman and look up his record,” Freeman said. “That might be nice, but without that you can still have 90 percent of the value of a review board. Waiting for the General Assembly to act is just putting off for longer than the two years we’ve been waiting to get this going.”

I’m still thinking through how to best deal with the issues which sparked the call for such a board.

The current Council/Mayor special review committee is too insular to qualify as an instrument of transparency and greater public overview.

Creating a new overview group, though, also runs the risk of building walls between the community and our police force. In many ways, our current force, and its management, have worked to bridge the gaps exposed by a number of recent incidents.

I participated in the recent community/police forums which was supposed to create a list of issues that the force needed to focus on. There were several problems, unfortunately, with those forums: the process was stilted and forced – crafted to avoid “hot spots”, the output of the forums was watered down substantially at the summary level (distinct critiques were lost in massaging them into more general categories) and instead of an iterative approach – taking input from the first set of forums, creating responses and then bringing the public back in to refine their critiques – the point-in-time sample was seen as complete.

Without regular community engagement, these forums cannot be seen as a substitute for a more formal review board.

There needs to be quite a bit more community discussion on how the board will function, how the membership is recruited and appointed, how the process won’t build walls but bridges between the force and the community, etc.

Oct. 11th the Council as a whole will weigh in with their opinions.

[UPDATE:] Joe had Indy comments opened.

[UPDATE:] According to Chapel Hill News reporter Jesse D. the Council finally agreed to Laurin’s request. Staff will research and report back on the options this Fall, approximately 18 months after her first request.

Quick note from this evening’s Council meeting. Council member Laurin Easthom renewed her reasonable request (reviewed here [THE LIBRARY AND THE FREE LUNCH]) for additional fiscal analysis of the recently approved Library expansion.

Her original April 2009 request to the staff and Town Manager for a range of specific funding scenarios to manage both the transitional and additional operational cost of the Library expansion has been rebuffed successfully over the last year.

Why the delay?

Possible political embarrassment to some of the Council folks who pressed for expansion in-spite of foreseeable negative consequences. A real analysis would reveal the weakness of the current estimates for these costs.

Tonight’s problem, though, is that Laurin is well within her rights as a sitting member of the Council to request staff input and that foot-dragging is not acceptable. Rather than strengthening her call for informed decision making, some of her colleagues have tacitly participated in this delay.

Tonight her re-request for this information spawned a half-hour of meandering Council commentary.

Instead of a clear directive to staff to produce the report, Mayor Kleinschmidt punted the issue to later this evening. Mark, rather than reaffirming his colleagues simple, reasonable request, dispatching it quickly, instead, muttering several times that “folks are waiting” and “we’ll discuss this after 12:30″, pushed it to the Council meeting dead zone.

Anyone that still buys the myth former Mayor Foy touted of a Council grounded in collegiality should take heed how the tactics of the imperial mayoral-ship he fostered impedes respectful dissent even within the Council itself and harms a transparent, reality-based approach to decision-making.

Search engine providers like Google are making cash by building detailed profiles of your web surfing habits.

There is a slew of technologies they use to track usage, following folks as the hop-skip-and-jump across the world wide web. In this “social networking” world it seems like many people wait until an inevitable crisis before taking even the most rudimentary precautions.

Even then it isn’t always obvious who is prying or how much snooping is going on.

I am not a member (and never plan to be) of many social networking sites, like FaceBook, because of the aggressively antagonistic approach they’ve taken towards maintaining a balance between exposing folks personal data and commercial gain. I vehemently disagree with FaceBook’s Zuckerberg that “the age of privacy is over” and that users should just suck it up and let him and his ilk commoditize our private lives for his personal gain (FaceBook certainly doesn’t offer a compelling enough value proposition for me to willingly trade away more of my privacy).

Even the simplest of activities, asking “questions” of the ‘net, can be used as fodder for the anti-privacy grist mill. For every move to secure folks basic right to that privacy, the industry counters – sometimes with the full complicity of the companies that develop surfing technology (think Micro$loth).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to maintaining individual rights online, has teamed with the Tor project (software to “defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security”), to roll out a new Mozilla Firefox browser extension that encrypts your communication to a variety of services.

click here to encrypt the web

Encrypting communication with Google isn’t the same as eliminating their ability to build a profile of you based on your questions. Instead, encryption will make sure that your ISP (in my case ATT) and any other internet service provider between you and the end-service provider can’t snoop on your traffic and build their own profile of your activities.

Other than Tor, which anonymizes interactions with web-based services, there are a wide variety of additional extensions to Firefox available to combat Google and other service providers snooping.

  • BetterPrivacy – removes “super-cookies” which allow sites to track your wandering across the ‘net
  • Redirect Cleaner – new websites can’t discover what site you linked in from
  • AdBlock Plus – the king of ad blocking extensions
  • NoScript – limits sites use of JavaScript and other technologies to work-around privacy protections.
  • Ghostery – actively blocks tracking by a wide range of advertising tracking companies
  • Tor Button – manages use of TOR network which confounds network-based tracking of ‘net usage

While I expect CitizenWill readers are the kind of folks who wouldn’t casually give away financial or personal information to a complete stranger on the street, it isn’t always obvious how what we do online leaves tracks in the wider world – technology can help protect your privacy, the best protection remains a healthy dose of common sense and “eternal vigilance”.

There are no consistent set of laws that dictate basic privacy protections online, especially when it comes to commercial harvesting of what many of us consider personal information. The minimal expectation is that the “contract” between you and the service provider is clearly posted, easily understood and has provisions for terminating access gracefully.

Read sites TOS (terms of service) and privacy policies – including how they manage and protect your personal information – before entering into that “contract”. Understand what 3rd parties have access to your details, how you can opt out or eliminate what you share online. Determine if the benefits of the service are commensurate with the value you receive (you best know the value of your life’s details).

Finally, even though the rules that govern commercial entities are far from complete and our ability to demand fair treatment quite limited, we can demand basic protections on websites our own government provides.

For instance, Chapel Hill’s (now defunct) Technology Advisory Board, strongly recommended 5 years ago that the Town’s own website had a clear and easily accessible terms of service/privacy policy. As of 2010, that more than reasonable request is not part of the Town’s commitment to serve the public’s interest.

Of the few ways one can “exercise” citizenship directly, being chosen as a sitting juror seems most capricious.

Ever since I turned 18 I’ve waited for the call.

Master jury lists in North Carolina are randomly drawn from voter rolls and driver license records. Having been a licensed driver and voting maniac (all elections except one 2nd primary) for over 30 years, I expected to have been selected at least once before now, yet it was only last month I was notified of my first opportunity to serve.

Given my activist background, I imagined that being selected to serve in court was a long shot. Still, getting my chance to discharge this citizen obligation was rewarding enough. Yes, I know it might sound a bit crazy to many folks, especially those who have tried and possibly succeeded in ducking the call, but I was excited my turn finally arrived.

Orange County has a fairly efficient system. You get a letter a month beforehand. You’re instructed to call a particular phone number (919-644-4516 in Orange County should you happen to Google this post) the night before to check your status.

After returning from this evening’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting I made that call.

The disappointing recorded message was short, to the point – “All jurors are excused. This concludes your jury service.”

Excused, yes. Concluded? Just doesn’t feel that way.

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