Elections


Semi-live blogging from tonight’s Sierra Club/Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce Town candidate forum.

[UPDATE:] Comments on candidate responses are mostly paraphrases. Comments in quotes are verbatim from candidates. Comments in parentheses or brackets are mine. I didn’t capture all comments or questions. The People’s Channel video taped the forum and should have it posted sometime soon.

Someone recently remarked to me “What strange bedfellows!” when we were talking about tonight’s forum sponsors. Ten years ago that might’ve been true but not today.

The Sierra Club leadership, as distinct from its membership, has been AWOL on many of the most pressing environmental issues of the last decade. Most troubling for an organization founded on justice, the element of social justice has been missing as they have fully endorsed projects like Greenbridge and West140 irrespective of those projects broader consequences.

The Chamber’s Director Aaron Nelson has worked hard to position the Chamber as the gatekeeper on sustainability. The “triple bottom line” that Aaron lauds continues to be heavily weighted towards development and developers irrespective of broader considerations. Teaming up with the Sierra Club helps create an additional appearance of green even if the facts belie it.

All the candidates sans mayoral Wolff in attendance. About 32 folks in the seats though only a hand full are not involved in the sponsoring organizations, the press or candidate groups.

Mark Shultz, Chapel Hill News editor, is running the show.

Opening 1 minute statements, a good chance to see if candidates can hit their marks. Jim Ward, who gave me hell a couple years ago about going 19 seconds long, dragged 28 seconds over. OK by me, I well understand how hard it is to compress a dozen years of service into 60 seconds.

A few themes so far – transparency raised by DeHart, experience and fiscal responsibility by Matt Cz., continuing the Town’s sustainability initiatives by Storrow and Schuler, Baker on balancing economic development and environmental progress.

Some “usual suspects” – Fred Black, Nancy Oates, Mark Peters, Lynne Kane, Bernadette Pelissier.

How do you balance economic development and the environment? What is the priority?

Tim Sookram, Mayoral candidate – focus on environment, not concentrate on LEEDs certification.

Moses Carey, former OC BOCC member just came in.

Jason Baker – Council candidate and committed “smart growth” supporter. Doesn’t think that environmental and economic issues are at odd – both values are important.

Donna Bell – Council candidate and incumbent (appointed) – thinks that posing the question misses the point – shouldn’t be in conflict.

Augustus Cho – Council candidate (CC) – also agrees that the two aren’t in conflict – he believes if “we cut a tree down, we can plant one somewhere else…”

Matt Czajkowski – CC – observes that over the last 4 years there’s been an evolution from either supporting the environment or supporting economic development to one which they are seen by the candidates as complementary…

Laney Dale – CC – “doesn’t want to see any trees cut down” though he does understand development must occur

Jon DeHart – CC – also doesn’t see the two as mutually exclusive – realized that when he was labeled “pro-business” last round and he had done a poor job of responding to that critique – that he has a more nuanced approach – thinks that rehabilitating the Planning process is key to making the two work well together…

Lee Storrow – CC – brings up the urban boundary – gives a quick definition – wants to build dense in Chapel Hill – transit key – thinks C.H. is headed towards Atlanta style density and we need to have transit to support that…

Jim Ward – CC and incumbent – “the question is so last century” , “it isn’t an either or” proposition – 10 years ago the team sponsoring this forum would’ve been shocking

Mark Kleinschmidt – Mayoral candidate and incumbent – thinks that every project needs to take both in consideration – need to measure results of development decisions [Why has he drug his feet and resisted every attempt to make measurabilty part of the process? Will he support making metrics a key aspect on the Comprehensive Plan rework?]

How to increase jobs?
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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.

[UPDATE 2]

The referendum is shelved with a margin of over 1,000 votes. Next up, the transit tax referendum.

[UPDATE 3]

Just listened to a really inept analysis of the sales tax referendum problems on WCHL. WCHL is usually ridiculously deferential to Aaron Nelson of the local Chamber of Commerce – rarely calls him out on his BS – and tonight was no exception. They left unchallenged his contention that many local folks are too stupid to understand the consequences of voting against the tax or that it was a knee-jerk reaction (disregarding the likelihood that people knew that the BOCC DID NOT promise to keep property taxes down if the referendum passed).

Further, no one, including OrangePolitic’s Ruby S. questioned the difficulty of selling the necessity of increasing the local tax bite when the BOCC was able to find $610,000 to buy a new Library site in Carrboro last week or the BOCC’s lack of political will to redirect a one-time $4.6M windfall to projects outside those outlined in the referendum.

I like the crew at WCHL but tonight’s review of the referendum – their inability to probe the supporters contentions, not entertaining any contrary viewpoints – was a FAIL.

[UPDATE 4]

10:15pm and the crew at WCHL continues to suggest that the failure of the referendum was a knee-jerk reaction “my daddy voted against taxes and so will I”. OUCH!

Elizabeth Friend, thankfully, did make a great point about needs vs. wants – we want more technology in the schools, we need to improve EMS. That the next round of discussions should center on what absolutely needs to be addressed vs. what is a nice to have that can be postponed for better times.

Finally, Fred Black made the point that the school boards haven’t set aside sufficient funds for maintenance, that the lottery contributions can’t cover the expected costs and that money will have to be found. Unfortunately, he still suggests that we need to raise additional monies instead of finding it within the current budget.

[ORIGINAL]

As of 8:25pm, 36 of 44 Orange County precincts reporting, the sales tax referendum looks to be in trouble.

Of 38,980 votes, 48.18% (18,780) are for the incremental increase and 51.82% (20,200) are against it.

I’ve been discussing the issue with folks the last few weeks and had a sense that in spite of a concerted effort by the Chamber sponsored PAC (which was running interference for the NC Realtor association), the referendum could be defeated.

I thought this version of the referendum was flawed for a variety of reasons: not using the revenue in a focused manner for economic development, not dedicating the lions share of the allocation to human services (which includes EMS), sugar-coating the measure by sending a chunk to the schools, etc. (read more here, here [ChapelHillWatch], here [CHW] and here [CHW]).

What happens if it goes down?

If the County plans to reintroduce the measure it should reassess the purposes it will be put towards – folks are looking for maximum impact not a diffuse flow of new monies.

The Board of Commissioners (BOCC) should also calibrate their rhetoric more carefully – avoiding claims like those by Barry Jacobs this evening that passing the tax would keep property taxes down – an unsupported contention.

If the Chamber or some other local entity sponsors a new PAC to sell the measure, I hope that the local media will probe the reasons why a group like the NC Realtor association threw so much money behind this year’s PAC – was it a cheap way to keep the land transfer tax off the table?

Finally, the BOCC should understand that if you plan to ask folks for more money to address critical needs because the budget cupboard is bare, they can’t turn around and plunk down $610,000 on a new piece of property or funnel $4.6M in debt savings to other purposes.

[UPDATE]

As of 8:43pm, 40 of 44 precincts reporting, 48.27% (19,576) FOR and 51.73% (20,977) AGAINST – 40,553 votes total.

As of 6pm Lincoln Center was at 241 voters, a better than expected turnout for this year’s mid-term.

As of 6:35pm the Library weighed in at 647 voters, lagging Caldwell. Considering that Estes Hills precinct had a large early voting contingent, the numbers on the ground there are not necessarily indicative of voter disinterest. I expect a very robust final number.

Quick update on Caldwell precinct located in north Orange County near Rougemont.

I handed out Democratic party voter guides from 9:30am until 4:00pm to a steady and heavy stream of voters. With over 680 voters clocking in by 4pm, the precinct was trending towards a very healthy showing – a possible total for today of over 900+ folks. Add in the nearly 30% of early voters and the totals will be approaching 2008′s general election.

Well done Caldwell!

I’m headed to Lincoln Center in Chapel Hill for the 5-6pm shift After that it is a quick stop at the Library to vote.

If you haven’t voted yet there is still plenty of time Get out and make a difference.

In case there’s any confusion, Morgan Freeman had nothing to do with this post!

I’ll be helping the Orange County Democratic Party over at the Caldwell precinct in northern Orange County from 9:30am to 4:00pm. Drop by if you’re in the area.

Over the last week I’ve received emails asking my recommendations for the judicial races. Here’s who I’m voting for:

US SenateElaine Marshall

I know, Elaine isn’t running for the bench but since I have your attention….

A lot has been made of the apparent Democratic electorate malaise this year. We are still involved in the longest war of our country’s history. We still haven’t punished the use of torture or kidnapping as tools of war. Affronts to our Constitution, to basic human rights continue to be promulgated. Backroom deals derail chances of improving our populaces health and welfare. Billions are bilked and the public coffers milked. Spying and lying are now commonplace insults to our country’s democratic well-being. So much of the same old, same old with nary a peep from so many Democratic “yes we can change” Congress folks.

I understand that immense lethargic unease the folks that turned out in 2008 must feel. Does that mean we need to suffer with a Burr under our saddles another 4 years? Hell no.

Elaine is more than the anti-Burr choice. She wasn’t supported by the torpor inducing national Democratic apparatchik, a real win in my book. She will work to bring real change on behalf of all North Carolinians if elected. Do your part today to make that happen.

Supreme Court – Bob Hunter

Both candidates have a strong record on governmental transparency, solid experience and track records of reasonable judicial advocacy. While Jackson served as counsel under Labor Secretary Cherrie Berry during a period of time when that office was less than proactive on a slate of labor related issues, it’s not clear to me if her role allowed her to advocate for better outcomes. Hunter has the edge in experience, great endorsements and, as a Democrat, the background to work towards an equitable decision on Congressional redistricting should it land in the Court’s hands.

Court of Appeals – Gray,Elmore,Geer.

Gray and Geer, Democrats, have solid reputations, been unequivocal that politics will play no role in their courts. Elmore is a solid choice.

Court of Appeals – Instant Runoff version: Thigpen – 1st. Hammer – 2nd. Payne or Middleton or Vesper -3rd.

In other races:

Board of Commissioners – Earl McKee.

I’ve been watching Earl as he has taken on a few County issues these last 18 months. He spent 6 months attending BOCC meetings to get a feel of the office before ever standing up and speaking his piece. His first issue, challenging the expensive remodeling of an office space to serve as a Commissioners chamber, demonstrated the type of leadership he plans to bring to the Commission: he did his research, spoke sincerely and directly to the issue, stood firm on his principles while pursuing the best policy for both his rural district (District 2) and the County as a whole.

Sales Tax Referendum – AGAINST

This is a lousy year to raise any taxes – no matter how small the bite – but that is not the main reason I stand so firmly opposed to this referendum.

Poverty is on a steep uptick in Orange County. Demand for health and welfare services is at an all time high. Long needed structural shifts – from fully staffing our community health system to shifting the emergency homeless shelter burden off the IFC – are not occurring supposedly due to fiscal difficulties at the County level. Yet, when presented with $2.3M from a sales tax or $4.6M windfall from refinancing the County’s debt, the BOCC chose areas outside those vital needs.

I lobbied them to put the lions share towards addressing the needs of those struggling the most – for the 1 in 5 Orange County residents in poverty and other residents who are just treading water. $2+ M new revenue targeted effectively represents more than a life jacket – it would lift folks out of the deep end of the pool and move them on to firm ground.

Again, I appreciate the BOCC making a somewhat firm commitment to spending priorities – I just don’t support the same set of priorities.

The BOCC has been clear, as they should be, that this revenue sharing plan is a firm commitment over the next 5 years and will not change – period. The BOCC has also reaffirmed their stance that this new revenue will not replace existing revenue or cover existing expenses – it is new money for a new purpose )funds will not be freed up elsewhere that could be redirected to human services).

Given that, tomorrow, I’m voting NO for the sales tax in hopes that we will get another chance to set the priorities for that spending, that the new priority will be waited heavily towards addressing human service needs and that core needs – like improved emergency medical services(EMS) and required school facility repairs – be paid out of core budget.

More of my reasoning on voting against the sales tax below:
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Interestingly, as the day ground on (I had plenty of pep, my feet not so much), the Library began to pull ahead of Binkley. At a little after 1pm Binkley’s 171 voters was surpassed by the Library’s (Estes Hills Precinct) 185.

When I left this evening at 6:30, the Library sat at around 350 or a combined early voting and election voting total of 422. A few more folks were trickling in as I left so it looks fairly certain we’ll break %19.
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Started working the Library polling station at 7am, voted 7:45am (voter #21) and left about 10:15am.

Got to meet Senate candidate Ken Lewis and his family. His wife’s energy was contagious – lots of positive vibes coming from her and Ken. Their teen daughter stayed to work the polls and I had an opportunity to discuss her involvement, what she thought of her father’s race, elections in general. She was quite invested and had a good command of the issues – quite encouraging given the level of local involvement in politics.
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Been awhile, November 2006, since I scrambled around trying to cover all the precincts in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.

Visited all 29 precincts, placed 45 new signs for Sheriff Candidate Clarence Birkhead, repositioned another 40+ so that most folks will have to pass at least 3 signs before voting. Started about 5pm in a light drizzle punctuated with a few down burst, ended around 9:30pm under beautiful clearing skies.

Most years the precincts are ready to roll late afternoon but this year I found visible signs of preparation only at Aldersgate, Friday Center and Scroggs.

Most confusing moment? Carrboro High School. Haven’t been there during an election so I was a bit at a loss figuring out where to put signs (what a industrial size behemoth!).

I’ll be staffing the Library poll early and late, Community Center round noon and floating around between Binkley and ?? mid-afternoon.

Drop by and get a Clarence button if you get a chance.

I have been asked by a few folks who I’ll be voting for this primary season. In the most contested race, at-large County commissioner, the three candidates have unique strengths, each of which appeals to some facet of my concern for where the County is going, each of which makes the decision a bit tough.

In the Sheriff’s race, though, there’s only two candidates, one of which, former Hillsborough/Duke University Police Chief Clarence Birkhead, that deserves your wholehearted support.

I met Clarence several months ago and have had the pleasure of getting to know and support his efforts to lead our County forward. I’m convinced he will work for progressive and cost effective policy changes in the Sheriff’s department to overcome the many existing and new challenges before us.

It is certainly a time for change but not just for change sake. Here are some of the key differences I’ve noted between Clarence and the 28 year incumbent Lindy Pendergrass:
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Went to this afternoon’s Council committee meeting to see how Orange County’s Commissioners would respond to Chapel Hill’s demands to increase Library operational funding NOW rather than later.

A few general observations/comments before my notes.

First, an apology to my loyal readers. I have spent much more time accumulating content than presenting it.

For instance, I went on the recent Town sponsored walk through Northside, led by Empowerment’s Delores Bailey (whose mother lived along the route), to review various NCD (neighborhood conservation district) violations and missteps (which generated these Council concerns the following Monday). Took lots of pictures, made lots of notes, hope to turn it into a post “sometime soon”. Given the huge backlog of content, I’ll try to pick up the pace over the next month.

As far as the Library funding issue, it’s clear that Chapel Hill has been subsidizing access to the %41 of County residents who hold library cards for too long.

The portion of that expense, calculated simplistically as a straight ratio, totes up to almost $7 million over the last decade. Given that there is a huge gap between the level of service our community has demanded and paid for those last 10 years – at a yearly cost now of $3 million dollars – and the level of service offered county residents – funded to the tune of $1 million – one could argue – as Orange County’s Manager Frank Clifton did – that the putative subsidy’s scope is distorted by Chapel Hill’s historical level of extraordinary support. While I agree with Council member Gene Pease, that the whole of the county deserves to have a library system more akin to that of Chapel Hill’s, I also agree with Frank’s analysis – comparing Chapel Hill’s caviar diet to the more modest appetite of County residents is an apples to oranges comparison.

As I’ve noted before (Library or Lot #5?), even though Chapel Hill has been unfairly subsidizing service for years, the demand for more operational funds NOW is being driven by the majority of this Council’s stated desire to imprudently issue $20.1M worth of bonds in June rather than addressing a fundamentally inequitable situation.

Given that the Council will not shed the ridiculous Lot #5/West 140 financial liability in order to deal more effectively with the fiscal strain a Library expansion will place on the budget, their demand to the Board of Commissioners, especially given the deep hole ($6M+) Orange County finds itself in, rings hollow.

Why the emphasis on increasing operational funds then?

To make the case for doing the expansion now irrespective of foreseeable economic conditions arguing otherwise.
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Thanks to Madeline Jefferson, Bob Henshaw, Julie McClintock, Janet Smith, Alan Snavely, Mickey Jo Sorrel and the rest of the membership of Neighborhoods For Responsible Growth (NRG) for both sponsoring the recent Chapel Hill Mayor candidate forum and making the following video available to the wider community.

While Julie did a great job of moving the event along unfortunately the “skip to” feature of this version of the Flash Player doesn’t allow one to move to a later point in the video. The video will start playing and as material is buffered you will be able to move forward.


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Big thanks to the Anderson-Thorpe Breakfast Club for endorsing my candidacy for Town Council. More on my campaign website.

Thanks to Loren Hintz. Matt Scheer, Jason Baker (2005 candidate for Town Council), May Becker, Judith Ferster and the rest of the membership of the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club for both sponsoring the recent candidate forum and making the following video available to the wider community.

Also thanks to my fellow colleague on the Sustainability Task Force Matthew Scheer for moderating the event and James Carnahan for keeping time.


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Quick technical note: the current video doesn’t support “quick search” but will start streaming right away.

Thanks to Madeline Jefferson, Bob Henshaw, Julie McClintock, Janet Smith, Alan Snavely, Mickey Jo Sorrel and the rest of the membership of Neighborhoods For Responsible Growth (NRG) for both sponsoring the recent candidate forum and making the following video available to the wider community.

Also thanks to my neighbor (and former Chapel Hill Mayor) Jonathon Howes for moderating the event.


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Quick technical note: the current video doesn’t support “quick search” but will start streaming right away.

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