OrangeCounty


I did a recent WCHL 1360 commentary reiterating my reasons for voting NO this year for Orange County’s .25% sales tax bump.

Basically, it comes down to a lack of fairness and skewed spending priorities.

For some odd technical reason, my commentary isn’t posted on WCHL’s website. I have a copy here (MP3) for readers who have requested one.

This Nov. 8th, I will be voting NO on Orange County’s ¼ cent sales tax.

Promoters promise us increased jobs, better schools and possibly even a deferred property tax increase.

But we know that any positive impact on jobs or revenues from improved County economic zones will take time – it is a real stretch to claim near term benefits in this down economy.

Suggesting the quality of local education is at risk and linking the tax benefits to our popular schools is certainly a clever sales tactic. But lets be honest, the $600,000 going to the schools is a raindrop in a sea of spending.

On the other hand, if 2/3rds had been dedicated to restoring prenatal and dental care services – to back-filling State cuts in mental health, housing and hospice care – the impact of that $1.6M would have been tremendous. Not a drop but a bucket of help.

As a parent, I understand that the example you set is more important than the words you use – that do as I say and not as I do – is a sure path to undercutting trust.

It’s a lesson so many candidates and local officials seem to have forgotten.

Holding this costly single issue vote during an off-year election was a calculated divisive tactic to minimize the impact of our rural neighbors who have already demonstrated a distaste for further taxes.

As the Chapel Hill News noted, the County’s effort to get the message out appears to have gone over the line from legally allowed education into outright advocacy.

Both undercut our democratic principles.

This is why even if all the revenue raised from this sales tax went to human services, I would still vote NO this year.

Because, as we teach our kids, the ends do not justify the means.

To summarize:

Targeting revenues to human services should have been priority. If defeated, I will ask the Board of Commissioners to consider changing the mix of funds to 1/3 economic development and 2/3 critical human services.

The campaign to “sell” increase wasn’t conducted properly.

Scheduling referendum vote in off-year election instead of county-wide election amounts to “gaming” the democratic system. The County Commissioners were clearly “vote shopping”, recognizing that if they got the same level of support in the municipalities as 2010 and if rural voter turnout was 25% less than May’s primary – which is what the local Board of Elections predicted – they would get their way.

I’ve consistently supported access to the vote – super-precincts, same-day registration, early voting – and defended voter rights – fighting Voter ID Act, etc.

I’m not going tacitly support an attempt to disenfranchise our rural voters this year.

The “education” campaign has clearly over-stepped legal bounds and strayed into clear advocacy.

  • Improper school district endorsements: fliers sent home with students essentially endorsing referendum, website promotion.
  • Video ad which over-emphasized benefits of tax and downplayed negative impact of tax was certainly not even-handed.
  • Assistant County Manager suggesting only choice was either pass sales tax or suffer a $.02 bump in the property tax rate to fund plans (there are other options to finding funds).
  • BOCC members, who have every right to support the referendum personally, not distinguishing “official” from “personal” support – including comments during public meetings.

I spoke before the Commissioners this year about the advocacy vs. education issue when they were discussing a plan to try the referendum once again. They acknowledged the problems with last year’s “education” campaign – stumbling into advocacy (which is not allowed under NC law) and said they would do better this round. I suggested they invite a wide spectrum of folks who had both promoted and opposed the previous referendum to review County “education” materials and evaluate their balance. Unfortunately, the County not only didn’t try to do an initial “sniff” test of those materials but went way beyond the trespasses of last cycle.

In the end, each voter will have to decide if they are willing to support the “ends” despite the clearly inappropriate “means” to get there.

I’m not, which is why I will vote NO this year for the referendum.

A last minute request of support for Orange County’s agricultural community. The PFAP program is working “to create a strong base to help launch and grow new food-businesses in the Piedmont, focusing on a 75 mile radius in all directions.” Orange County is home to a wide variety of farms producing specialty items for the local market.

Strengthening our local choice is critical to our community’s long term success. Please take a moment to review the program, their grant with an eye towards lending your support.

Letters of support needed by noon tomorrow! The Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center is collaborating with Piedmont Grown on a USDA/NCDA specialty crops grant . We could use a few more letters of support. The goal of the project is to increase knowledge and consumption of specialty crops by children and adults.

The project has four deliverables:

1) Monthly educational programs at PFAP,

2) Monthly outreach events across the 37-counties served by Piedmont Grown,

3) a public awareness campaign using mass media, and

4) a children’s activity and coloring book featuring easy to prepare recipes that use specialty crops.

Kindly send them to nranells@co.orange.nc.us by 2 pm on Friday May 20th to ensure they are included in the grant packet.

I haven’t been a big coffee drinker since my days on the engineering mezzanine at Northern Telecom (I never met a bunch of folks that could guzzle joe like Northern’s engineers).

The last decade, though, I easily go a month without drinking some form of coffee; a double bang cappuccino with extra foamy milk being my current favorite.

Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Hillsborough are blessed with an abundance of decent cafes serving the best in fair-trade brews. When it comes to choosing a place to get my occasional cupped lightning, the three key differentiators, at least for me, are price, quality and service.

Price, with the exception of 3-Cups , is roughly the same between the locally-owned and operated places I’m willing to go.

Quality varies but having grown up on road warrior jitter juice I’m willing to tolerate a broad spectrum of results. As long as the raw bean comes from socially just source, is not priced out-of-line with its ingestability, is reasonably hot and is prepared somewhat hygienically, down it goes.

Which leaves level of service.

Coffee, though I know some folks feel differently, is a discretionary purchase. While I sometimes need, like many of us, an energy boost, I’m not so dependent a draught of “rocket fuel” that I’m willing to forgo courtesy at the cash register.

When I belly up to the bar, I’m happy to get the most minimal of attention and courtesy – a short grunt of acknowledgement and a reasonably fast turn around is all I’m looking for.

I’m not willing to settle for near contempt.

As the local market for good coffee has grown, so, it appears has the spread of boorish baristas.

Look guys, I’m not going to apologize for not seeming hip enough, not slangily ordering the trendiest drink or not paying slavish attention to your choice of clothes/music/politics – I’m here for a simple drink delivered as professionally as possible.

Which is why I most often go to Timberlyne’s Cup o’Joe, Carrboro’s Looking Glass, Estes/Franklin’s Carribou Cafe and University Mall’s Southern Season’s Weathervane.

From all of these (plus Lex’s 3-Cups), I have reliably received top tier courteous service from clean and well-kept breweries at a price point that my family is comfortable paying.

There is a reason I don’t go to Driade, Open Eye or a handful of other highly touted caffeine distribution centers anymore.

When I’m shelling out 2+ bucks for cooked bean shards soaked in hot water, I don’t relish the risk of having even one brutish encounter.

When it happens, again and again, I always wonder why owner/operators are willing to put up with such behavior. Are they so disconnected from their business they don’t realize that its harder to acquire a new customer than cultivate and retain a loyal customer?

To be clear, in my experience even the worst of the bunch have employees that care, that deliver the level of quality and service I’m looking for.

But why play the odds, sometimes quite long, that a you will stumble on one of the happy few?

Maybe there is a natural evolution to coffee joints: care and attention slowly giving way to complacency and antagonism followed by a fall only buffered by new customers ignorance, cushioned only by previous credibility before a slide into inevitable failure.

Or maybe there is a cycle of birth and rebirth – even the worst returning from the ashes to the heights they once enjoyed.

Whatever the trajectory, I have no doubt that the rise and tolerance of the snobarista signals the end of the ride.

I’ve had several folks ask me about my suggested and rejected changes to the recent Democratic Party resolution supporting the 1/4 cent sales tax increase (Orange County Dems: Thanks for the Consideration…).

This is a terrible year to raise any tax yet the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) decided 4/5/2011 (VIDEO [my comments at 48 minutes and 103 minutes]) to hold another referendum, at a cost of $105K to $125K ($85K election +$20-40K “education”), trying to succeed where they failed just 6 months ago.

I and others appeared before the BOCC arguing that 1) scheduling the vote this year amounted to “vote shopping” and didn’t serve their professed commitment to “small-d” democracy:

“I do understand that there’s a need for the revenues sooner rather than later,” said Chapel Hill resident Will Raymond. “The turnout is not representative of what the impact is for this tax. You’re looking at dis[en]franchising the rural voters. In terms of integrity of the process and confidence in the process, it feels a little bit like you’re doc[k ]shopping, you’re vote shopping. The reality is that the referendum did very well down in the municipal areas.”

Not only did the referendum pass overwhelmingly in the cities last time, but turnout in the rural districts will likely be low, Raymond said. And, according to Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams, off-year general elections typically boast a lower turnout than presidential primaries—something to the tune of 25 percent compared to 40 percent, respectively.

“Doing it in November just doesn’t feel very democratic,” said James Barrett, Chapel Hill resident and member of Orange County Justice United, adding he supports the increase. “I think, as we see changes around the world, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s engaged in voting. We have a much greater opportunity to do that in May than we do in November.”

News of Orange, April 19, 2011

“Putting this on the municipal elections is a bad idea … the reality is [that] this did very well in municipal areas,” said Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident. “You’re vote shopping.”

N&O, 4/6/2011

and

2) that the County would be better served by altering the proposed allocation from 50% economic development/50% to education to 33% economic development/66% human services:

Will Raymond said that two-thirds of the tax should go for human services, where the real need is since Orange County is creeping toward an 18 percent poverty rate and the county has cut back on some of the services it provides to citizens who need the most help.

“The only way I’m going to support this is if I see a significant portion going to the human services deficit,” Raymond said.

Burlington Time News, April 19, 2011

By the way, that was doc, as in doctor, shopping and not “dock shopping” as reported.

If the County used 2/3rds of the anticipated revenue, $1.6+ million, for human services the impact on existing programs would be significant. Further, the County would finally have funding to address the emergency housing problem they long offloaded to the Interfaith Council (IFC).

Allocating $1.2+ million to bolster the multi-million dollar school budgets ,though, will not go as far. When you review last year’s proposed educational expenditures the contrast between priorities is stark – repaving running tracks versus bolstering our burdened community health service.

As of tonight (Tues. 4/19/2011), not only will the sales tax appear on the ballot (with a non-binding commitment to the proposed 50/50 split) but the BOCC has floated the idea of adding an additional 1/2 cent sales tax bump to fund regional transit initiatives (including light rail).

That’s an 3/4 cent increase from the current 7.75% to 8.50%.

That could drop to 8.25% if the requested extension of a “temporary” State sales tax hike, currently 1 cent, passes the Republican controlled legislature at Gov. Perdue’s suggest 3/4 cent rate . If that extension fails and both referendums succeed, the new Orange County rate would be lower than today – 7.5% – a possibility the BOCC might leverage to sell the bump to voters.

Last year the BOCC responded positively to a critique of the vagueness of their proposed economic development spending priorities by providing specific projects with fairly well established cost structures. One example – extending sewer and water service into 2 of the economic development zones. I expect them to develop a similar list of very targeted expenditures to fix creaking critical physical infrastructure at the schools.

That said, I don’t plan to support the tax because it further burdens folks during a worsening economic downturn, because scheduling it during an off-year election appears to be “gaming” the electoral process and because the allocation doesn’t address escalating demand for critical core services.

Of course, I remain open to the possibility that my mind could be changed by the BOCC’s new advocacy program.

Below is my revised resolution merged with the original:

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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.

The Carrboro Citizen has another report on Carrboro’s BOA’s decision not to amend the inter-local agreement governing access to Lake Jordan water.

I was bothered by this passage:

Board member Joal Hall Broun said the issue was not the lake water, but freeing up OWASA in the event of emergencies and allowing the utility to find ways to keep the cost of water from rising. Many people in the community can’t afford increases in their water bills like those seen in recent years, she said.

Joal should recall that OWASA bills went up as this community met the conservation challenge. It was not the lack of water that increased fees but the unsustainable cost structure of OWASA and the way capital outlays are financed.

It boggles the mind that five years into our great conservation efforts local leadership still hasn’t pushed OWASA to rework its financial model to reward good behavior.

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

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

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

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

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

After the work session, I sped off to the Southern Human Services building for a review of the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
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[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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In listing the roll of important events this coming week, I accidentally left out one that promises to be quite interesting.

Cousins Properties Inc., which is leading the redevelopment of University Square for Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., will host a public meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, to discuss the long-term vision for the site and the proposed initial phase of the project. Representatives of Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston will provide an in-depth presentation of the development plans, shaped in part by a previous public meeting on Oct. 15, 2009. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Suite 133-G of University Square, next to Ken’s Quickie Mart.

More information here.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this or most of the other events I’ve highlighted and will be relying heavily on our local media and hyper-local media (‘blogs) for updates.

The list as it now stands:

Summer in Chapel Hill can be somewhat slow as far as community initiatives. Council is on hiatus. UNC downshifts. Most folks have their hands full dealing with the heat, their jobs, kids home from school, vacations.

Summer, though, is not always a time for sluggish vigilance. For instance, I learned many years ago UNC’s favored tactic of launching potentially controversial development initiatives or making, quietly, substantial changes to existing development plans, during the summer doldrums. While UNC’s transparency has improved since the Moeser era, the record is sometimes spotty. For instance, as summer began the sharp contrast between UNC’s commitment to transparency during the Carolina North development agreement process and the quiet introduction of site proposals made June 21st to the Corps of Engineers.

While the cat is away….

UNC, of course, isn’t the only local institution to strategically start or stop potentially unpleasant, at least to the public, initiatives while most residents are off-line. The County, Town and other local groups have counted on a somewhat soporific citizenry ignoring substantial shifts in direction in the heat of the summer. While counter to the many pledges of greater transparency, the trick often works.

Mid-summer policy shifts, though, also happen as staff, freed from pesky community and elected folks intervention, make strides on the pile of work before them.

One good example, the local Municipal Planning Organization’s Hwy. 54-I40 corridor study, has moved forward at an accelerating pace. The MPO, a joint effort by Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham to manage regional growth, is formulating a set of development policies which will have wide ranging impacts on Chapel Hill’s eastern entrance (somewhat marred already by ugly East54, et. al.).

Public comment was to be cultivated during three outreach sessions but that input, at least based on my reading of the current draft, owes more to fitting public commentary to an established agenda than changing course based on valid public concerns. The clock is ticking on this initiative, which simmered during Spring and is reaching full boil now. Council will be asked to review the plan mid-September, and, as of now, hasn’t really set a schedule for Chapel Hill residents to weigh in (in other words, what is before us now might substantially be what is adopted).

While, at first glance, the Hwy 54/I-40 corridor study might seem a bit abstract, of little consequence now, its tenets will come into play quite soon when developer Carol-Ann Zinn pushes Ayden Court v2.0 this Fall. Ayden Court was a proposed development which ran afoul of fowl. Concerns about maintaining a local waterfowl conservation area played a role in v1.0′s demise.

There are many other pots simmering, some of which are beginning to emit steam.

Two meetings, the Glenn Lennox Neighborhood Conservation District which shifted from information gathering to its next phase and the presentation of the latest Campus-to-Campus Connector draft proposal, have already occurred (don’t worry, I made copious notes which I plan to turn into posts …. soon … ).

Here’s is a short list of coming events and meetings which you might want to consider attending as August speeds to an end:

  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 11:30am-6:30pm. Rogers Road Back to School Bash. More here.
  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 5:30pm-7:30pm. The People’s Channel Live from Carrboro’s Orange County Social Club. More here and WCHL1360 report here.
  • Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall Council Chambers. Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th, 5:30pm. 1st floor conference room. Civilian Review Board Council Committee. Controversial citizen review board to monitor Chapel Hill Police Department.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th.

    ORANGE COUNTY, NC – The Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 during its regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Department of Social Services Office, 113 Mayo Street in Hillsborough.

    The Public Hearing during the meeting will provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the potential uses for funds from a possible one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County, NC.

    During the 2007 legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly granted county boards of commissioners the authority to levy, subject to voter approval, an additional one-quarter cent county sales and use tax.

    On June 15, 2010, the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution calling for a special advisory referendum on November 2, 2010 on a potential one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County. The November 2, 2010 ballot question will ask Orange County voters to vote either for or against a local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter cent in addition to all other state and local sales and use tax.

    It is projected the one-quarter cent county sales and use tax would generate approximately $2,300,000 for Orange County on an annual basis. If the voters approve the referendum on November 2, 2010, implementation would not start until April 1, 2011 and generate approximately $575,000 during the remainder of current fiscal year (FY 2010-11) that ends on June 30, 2011.

  • Thursday, Aug. 19th, 5:30pm. HR conference room Town Hall.Planning Board Shelter Committee.
  • Monday, Aug. 23rd, 5:15pm. Chapel Hill Town Hall Council Chambers.Ayden Court Development review.

Let me know if I’ve missed anything!

One of the common criticisms of the Inter-Faith Council’s (IFC) proposed Community House site is that the Homestead area of Chapel Hill already hosts more than it’s fair (“a four letter word for responsible growth”) share of social services.

Is that the case?

The IFC and UNC’s School of Social Work put together this map highlighting many of the social services throughout Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

This contrasts with a more local snapshot of services prepared by the folks at A Better Site – an advocacy group asking for a more transparent siting process.

The Community House facility, as currently proposed, will serve two purposes.

The primary goal is to house men as they transition from a state of dependency to independence within a highly structured program. Entrance into this program is selective, adherence to its strictures mandatory, monitoring compliance integral.

The secondary function of the facility is to serve as an emergency men’s shelter. It is this secondary function which has caused, at least from what I can tell, concern within the wider community.

While Orange County is responsible for housing folks in emergencies, that responsibility has been IFC’s to shoulder the last few decades. The IFC currently operates a shelter along with a soup kitchen (and other similar immediate services) in the old Chapel Hill Town Hall on the corner of Rosemary and Columbia streets. The long term plan was to move the soup kitchen down to Carrboro and move the emergency shelter out of the old Town Hall.

As I’ve commented before, while I support the mission of the IFC, find the goals of Community House more than laudable, it is the emergency shelter component of the IFC proposal I find most difficult to accept. The logistical issues surrounding moving folks back and forth from the shelter, managing the access to the shelter, etc. seem to make this site unsustainable. I’d like to see IFC rethink this part of the plan and possibly consider combining, as it is now, the new food service facility in Carrboro with an emergency shelter component. If not that, at least split the emergency shelter out of the current plan.

Of course, meeting the needs of those struggling the most is not and never was the obligation of the IFC. It’s incredible that Chapel Hill has such a caring, committed organization that stepped into the vacuum created by a dearth of governmental attention.

In fact, both Carrboro’s and the County’s elected folks continue to sit on the sidelines, quietly keeping out of these discussions, showing little or no political leadership in meeting this joint community obligation.

We are poised to hear more of folks concerns as the Community House initiative starts to move forward.

Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall, the Town will host a Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter followed by a meeting by the Planning Board Shelter Committee Aug. 19th, 5:30pm, HR conference room Town Hall.

The first meeting will provide a current overview of where the Community House proposal is within the Town’s development review process.

The second meeting, which on the face of it, appears tangential to the approval of various stipulations influencing the construction of Community House, might actually be the more important of the two.

The Council, loathe to adopt specific siting criteria prior to the IFC’s request for a special use permit (SUP) asked the Planning Board to create general criteria for siting shelters within Chapel Hill. This bit of maneuvering created a bit of smokescreen which lent nothing to greater transparency (given the rocky start of this project, it’s troubling, even to supporters, that Council missed an opportunity to provide clarity). The Planning Board initially kicked the request back to Council citing the “vagueness” of what they were being asked to do. Tossing the shelter hot potato back, Council suggested a few exploratory paths of consideration.

The sub-text of the discussions between this Planning Board sub-committee and the public, and quite possibly their work product, will influence further the direction the Community House project takes, which makes Aug. 19th the more interesting of the two public meetings to me.

Elaine and Lee are my next door neighbors. I’m usually hesitant to participate in these corporate campaigns but….the need is there and Elaine and Lee are working hard to address the growing demand for recreational opportunities for special needs folks in this community. That was enough to get me beyond my initial trepidation.

Please consider participating in their call to action and help fund recreational programming for special needs individuals in our community.

Hi Neighbors,

Lee and I have spearheaded an effort to develop social and recreational programming for special needs individuals in our community through our local Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center. We have applied for a grant for $25,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Challenge. We have one month to get as many votes as possible in order to be one of 10 winners in our category. Like American Idol, we need to spread the word and have people vote daily. Below is information about the project and how to vote. You can vote once a day between now and August 31. We are currently in 87th place, having climbed from 348th in 3 days, so we know that mass voting makes a difference.

Thanks for you help,

Lee and Elaine Marcus

BRIDGES is a local, non-profit, recreational program that helps people with special needs have fun and learn new skills.

If you and all your friends vote for our proposal, BRIDGES can win a $25 thousand grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project.

How to Vote

  1. www.refresheverything.com/bridgesdch (click) on the web.
  2. Click on Vote for This Idea.
  3. Follow the sign-in steps. (You will be asked to create a password the first time you log in.)
  4. Scroll to the Vote button (bottom) and click. (The vote counter will change from 10 to 9))
  5. Remind your friends to vote daily.

You can vote once a day every day from August 1 to August 31 2010.

Thanks for your support.

Learn about BRIDGES: www.shalomdch.org, click on the BRIDGES logo.

If you don’t want to use a “real” email address, take a look at Mailinator. It’s an online service that provides “disposable” email addresses to avoid spam.

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