Nov. 23: The History of Chapel Hill’s Dead Tree Media

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The troubled News and Observer posted this reminder:

The Chapel Hill Historical Society will present The History of Print Media in Chapel Hill and Carrboro on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.

The featured speakers will be Don Evans, an editor and writer at The Chapel Hill News for three decades, and Kirk Ross, former managing editor of the Independent Weekly and co-founder of The Carrboro Citizen.

“Our event will look at the history of newspapers and print media in our towns and will surely spark a discussion about the future of newspapers here,” said Chapel Hill Historical Society Chairman Terry Barnett.

The program is free and open to the public and will be held in the lower level of the Chapel Hill Museum, 523 East Franklin St. Parking is available in the museum lot [MAP].

Chapel Hill has been blessed over the years with a variety of media outlets. Their evolutions and declines, reformations and restorations a harbinger of what comes next in journalism in the on-line age. Don’s (and formerly Kirk’s) Chapel Hill News has a ‘net presence via OrangeChat. Kirk is a pioneer – creating a newspaper, the Carrboro Citizen, on-line first then moving its content to the quaint dead tree distribution network.

Unfortunately I have a previous engagement on Sunday. This should be an interesting presentation where, I’m fairly sure, some curious back-stories of Chapel Hill will emerge.

Indy Endorsement: Letter to Editor Strom

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

I called Jennifer Strom last week to see if the Indy would provide me the courtesy of a response to their endorsement comments. She said they would. Here’s my response:

I’m baffled by the Indy’s comments on my and Mike Kelley’s candidacies.

I’m mystified by your endorsement of Indy editor Jennifer Strom’s husband Bill Strom, incumbents Sally Greene and Cam Hill, all who voted to build extensively into the Booker Creek resource conservation district.

I’m perplexed. I haven’t called for environmentally insensitive development on Booker Creek let alone authorized it.

And I’m disappointed. How do you chastise Chapel Hill School Board candidate Mike Kelley’s attendance record given his personal circumstances? Beyond insensitive, it was ill-informed.

Where was the balanced investigative journalism we have come to expect from the Indy?

I used to give the Indy’s endorsements automatic credence. Any readers who do so this year will be misled.

I’ve written here and here why I think the Indy missed the boat on my candidacy.

As far as Mike, here’s what happened February, 2006 (N&O)

Police charged an elderly driver they say injured a mother and daughter selling Girl Scout cookies when she backed into a troop’s cookie booth outside a grocery store over the weekend.

Chapel Hill police charged Thelma McBride Holloway, 77, of 105 Elizabeth St., Chapel Hill, with failure to reduce speed to avoid collision.

Holloway was backing her 1991 Lincoln out of a parking spot Saturday afternoon in front of the Harris Teeter at University Mall when her foot slipped off the brake and onto the accelerator, according to a police report.

The car ran up the sidewalk and hit Elise Michelle Hoffman, 44, and her daughter Anne Katherine Kelley, 11. Both were taken to UNC Hospitals. The hospital would not release their conditions Monday afternoon.

On Sunday, Lt. Leo Vereen said the accident broke both of Hoffman’s legs, and Anne’s collar bone and one of her legs.

Hoffman and Anne are the wife and daughter of Mike Kelley, a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education.

Since reading the Indy’s strange comments on Mike I’ve had some time to talk to folks I know and trust about his candidacy. Overwhelmingly they say he’s meticulous, has responded to folks concerns and, even with a family tragedy, discharged his responsibilities in full.

Here’s what one of his opponents, and Indy endorsee, Jamezetta Bedford, said on the Indy’s website:

…I feel compelled to disagree with the statement that Mike Kelley’s job “has prevented him from attending many forums and activities beyond his basic duties.” Each board member volunteers to serve as liaison to two or three school improvement teams (SITs) and various district committees. Some are scheduled during the work day, some in the early morning and some in the evening. We divide them up at our first December meeting each year based upon the interests and schedules of our board members.

Mike has faithfully attended the SIT meetings most months (board members are only expected to attend once a semester) and has served on our technology advisory group, one of the health advisory committees, as well as liaison to the Special Needs Advisory Council this past year. I would not want a board composed of only retired or unemployed members. By the way, our board will receive an award next week from the NC School Boards Association to recognize that all of our members completed at least 12 hours of board development training this past year, again showing the investment of time each makes to this service.

I like her point about a balance board with more than “retired or unemployed members”.

There are many more statements of support here.

Here’s what UNC Law professor Eric Muller said Are the Indy’s Endorsements Heartless or Worthless? It’s One or the Other over on his ‘blog Is That Legal?.

Bill Strom, at the recent Democrat Candidate Forum, used a quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan to try to make some point “…you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Maybe he could share that quote with the Indy’s editor (and his wife) Jennifer Strom.

The Indy is free to express an opinion but it shouldn’t ignore the facts – which, in my case, I did the opposite of what their endorsed candidates did and in Mike’s, that he had an obvious and completely understandable reason for his actions.

Election 2007: IndyWeek Endorsement,Booker Creek and the Incumbents

Friday, October 26th, 2007

X-posted from my campaign website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The resource conservation district was established by Chapel Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracey Coleman on Rogers Road: Most Popular Video To Date

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

At 1460 hits, this video is by and far the most popular one I’ve posted on youTube. No surprise to me as Tracey did an incredibly eloquent presentation on the flawed Solid Waste Advisory Board’s search for a new trash transfer site.



CitizenWill: September 2005 to July 2007

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

[UPDATE:] As one reader notes, I’ve also created content hosted elsewhere, notably on youTube and Google Video.

Content includes the Weaver St. lawn dance protest, a “fly by” animation of what the Town’s Lot $$$5 downtown development debacle, the District 15B Superior Court forums and Rev. Campbell on the Rogers Road trash transfer station issue.

I’m particularly fond of this post (“Downtown Development Initiative: The Debate”) covering a veritable “who’s who” of interested parties supporting or criticizing the Lot $$$5 development effort.

Want to hear how not to negotiate on behalf of the citizenry? I published the sounds of seduction in this post – “Downtown Development Initiative: Listen and Learn How Negotiations Went Awry”.

[ORIGINAL POST]

The number of new visitors to CitizenWill.org has ramped up of late (maybe because I’ve had time to post again?).

For folks new to this ‘blog I’ve added an improved archive page that will reveal, at a glance, what local, state and national topics I’ve covered these last two years.

Besides CitizenWill.org, I’ve maintained my 2005 Chapel Hill Town Council campaign site, the ironically named Will Raymond Stands and Delivers, and a personal ‘blog WillVerse.

I’ve even been a guest author on the local on-line political salon OrangePolitics.

There’s some overlap between various incarnations, though each has a variety of unique postings.

Over the next week or two I will be tinkering with the innards of each to upgrade the plumbing and freshen the look. In the end it will be the same content, different wrapper. I expect the %40 (and growing) number of folks subscribed via RSS will not even notice.

News & Observer: Old Dog, New Tricks

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

First we have the N&O’s local property, The Chapel Hill News, jumping on-board the new media train – with video, their OrangeChat ‘blog – maybe in response to some citizen efforts and new outlets like the Carrboro Citizen.

Now, the N&O’s Leah Friedman takes it to the next level, reporting a scant 3 hours (3:05pm to be exact) after the Cindy Sheehan event with audio and video to boot!

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan stopped in Carrboro today and had lunch with about a dozen supporters and Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton.

Sheehan was invited to Carrboro by the Grassroots Impeachment Movement or GRIM, which wants to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The group dined at Panzanella, known for its use of local ingredients.

“I’m holding elected officials accountable,” Sheehan said to a horde of media before she sat down for lunch.

Audio, video and still photographs here. Well done Leah.

The tools of new media journalism, to wit a video capable digital camera, are cheap and effective and should be part of any newsprint journalist arsenal.

By the way, the Carrboro Citizen’s Kirk Ross weighed in at 12:52pm, just 13 minutes after CitizenWill did.

I hope they cover this year’s elections in a similar fashion.

Where is the Herald-Sun? Falling further and further behind…

Broadcasting Localism, a People’s Channel Fundraiser

Friday, July 13th, 2007

As many of you know, I have a particular interest in employing technology to boost our citizens’ voices cost-effectively and in ways not otherwise possible. I met a kindred spirit in the The Peoples Channel’s director Chad Johnston many years ago when we both started attending the Town’s now defunct Technology Advisory Board to encourage facilitating democracy from the grassroots level.

As our Town’s “ONLY public access channel”, the Peoples Channel is dedicated to an informed, involved electorate.

For a democratic society to function properly, citizens must participate in their government, be educated to think critically and be able to freely communicate their ideas.The Peoples Channel’s mission is to advance democratic ideals by ensuring that people have access to electronic media and by promoting effective communication through community uses of media. Through this mission, we aim to provide the means and promote the opportunity for area citizens to exercise free speech through media production, education and distribution of cable television programming.

Cost-effective doesn’t quite capture how hard Chad and his fellow citizen media producers have done to squeeze value from the small allocation of funds their organization receives. And I’d be hard challenged to identify another local activist that has worked as diligently as Chad to forestall corporate efforts (IndyWeek’s 2005 “Big cable wants public access denied”) at the State and Federal levels to strangle avenues of citizen discourse.

One example is the Orwellian-name “Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act” which the Technology Advisory board discussed in 2005 (side note: Whom, now that the Mayor and Council disbanded that group, within our local government is spear-heading that discussion?).

That is why I was pleased to see today’s announcement over on OrangePolitics of a joint celebration of localism and fund-raiser for the Peoples Channel.

Co-sponsored by both the Preservation Society and OrangePolitics, the July 21st event will bring folks together to “learn about the importance of keeping it local”.

When: July 21st, 6-8pm,
Where: Horace-Williams House [MAP] (parking available on-site or take an easy stroll from Downtown),
What: Fundraiser for the Peoples Channel and gathering to discuss “keeping it local”. $15 donation suggested.

June 6th’s Closed Council Session

Monday, June 4th, 2007

As we wind down the planning for this fiscal year, Council’s deliberations take on a bit more gravitas, thus demand even more attention by the public.

As one might observe listening to last year’s Lot #5 closed negotiations ( “Downtown Development Initiative: Listen and Learn How Negotiations Went Awry”), going too long or waiting until to an eve of a decision without public participation or oversight does not serve the public interest.

Looking back through my recent notes, I didn’t find a reference to the purpose of this Wednesdays closed door Council session.

With the Lot #5 deal still a bit wobbly (now up 17 fold from $500K to $8.4M), disclosure that our just hired economic development officer was charged with embezzlement in 2003 (charges subsequently dropped), a probable $0.02 hike in town taxes and a raft of other issues before them, I would hope the Council takes more counsel and welcomes more public oversight as the year closes than try to wrestle with their problems out-of-sight.

With that in mind, I’ve asked for a clarification on the purpose of this Wednesday’s meeting.

Catherine, Roger,

Excuse me for asking both of you the same question, but I wasn’t quite sure whom to address
this question to.

What statutory reason is Council using to hold a closed session June 6th?

Our town’s website suggests it must be one of the following:

# Confidential information
# Consultations with an attorney
# Business location or expansion
# Real property acquisition
# Employment contracts
# Certain personnel matters
# Investigations

and that the specific reason for going to closed session have been adopted in an open session.

Quoting from our town’s website:

“The statute provides that a closed session may be held only on a motion adopted in open session by a majority of those present and voting. The motion must state the purpose set out in the statute that permits the closed session, such as “to consider matters relating to the location or expansion of industry.” In addition, two of the purposes require a more detailed motion. First, if the purpose is to discuss some matter that is confidential by law, the motion must cite the law that makes the matter confidential. For example, if an area authority meets to consider matters relating to a specific patient, the motion to go into closed session would have to cite G.S. 122C-52, the statute that makes patient information confidential. Second, if the purpose is to discuss pending litigation, the motion must identify the parties to the litigation.”

I couldn’t find a reference in my recent notes to indicate for what purpose this particular
closed session was being held, any information you can provide would be appreciated.

Thank you,

Will

If you’re interested in open meetings and the free flow of information from the governing to the governed, check out NC Open Government, an organization sponsored by some of the top press outlets in our state.

Here’s their two cents on closed meetings.

Kerplunk! Chapel Hill Herald R.I.P?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Via Jon Ham at the infamous Locke Foundation’s Right Angles:

I just heard a rumor that the Paxton Media folks are going to kill The Chapel Hill Herald. If that’s true, then I guess I can cancel my plans to attend the 20th anniversary of the starting of that paper. I was the first editor of the CHH and I remember the six months leading up to our first issue (on June 6, 1988) as the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. A lot of good people worked on that project. Sadly, most of them no longer work at The Herald-Sun.

Last Fall I wrote (“Herald-Sun Editor Robert Ashley gets an earful from CitizenWill…”) that the Herald-Sun’s online policiy of

“cutting the community off from their historical narrative is not only selfish, it is bad business. Robert disputed my “bad business” assertion, telling me the HS makes plenty from their archival content.”

I challenge Ashley to incorporate and cultivate more community involvement. Instead, as the N&O’s local outlet, the Chapel Hill News improved, the CHH failed to take my challenge and has become less and less relevant to our community’s discourse.

Paxton might’ve been angling to kill off the CHH from the beginning, maybe we’ll find out soon. Running a daily is a daunting task, as Jon recalls from an early meeting:

“Remember,” I told all the young reporters and copy editors (most of them right out of school or close to it), “when this starts, it will never end.” From the looks on their faces I don’t think they had ever thought of the CHH project in those terms. A daily is, after all, put out DAILY, 365 day a year, no breaks. It scared us all.

In any case, it is a sad day when we lose another venue – even if it has been severely diminished in quality and increasingly biased in content – for local coverage. At least we now have the Carrboro Citizen.

I wish Rob, Emily, Beth, Jamie and the rest of the great reporting staff (who I think have been hobbled in their desire to provide excellent service to our community by Paxton’s policies) good fortune.

May you land on your feet.

The Power of Sorry: A Local Apology to Get the Ball Rolling

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Over the last six years, I’ve learned more than a tad about how our local political sausage is ground. The manufacturing of poor public policy for political gain adds a distinctively bitter taste to that meaty melange.

Yes, at times, pettiness, spite, gamesmanship and ego overwhelm good sense and reasonable public policy. For a few of these “powerful” folks, public disagreement at any level, is a line-crossed forever – a sin never to be forgotten.

Fortunately, at least as I’ve discovered, most of the local “movers-n-shakers” operate using a different calculus – follow their own internal compass – center their arguments more on solving problems – than working to belittle those philosophically opposed. Sure, sometimes the waves of disagreement toss the boat of local discourse about. Maybe a few intemperate barbs about “tone” are thrown around. Debate can and sometimes does devolve into vileness.

In the end, though, whether at OrangePolitics (OP) or SqueezeThePulp (STP) or the Chapel Hill New’s OrangeChat or BlueNC or even on a WCOM radio show, valuable signal seems to punch through the noise of mean-spirited divisiveness.

I don’t buy all the hype about “the wisdom of crowds” but I do know that the folks participating on these forums – whether I agree with them or not – have provided me a new perspective and an invaluable education on local, state and national issues.

There is wisdom in yond hills.

It’s a shame, then, when a healthy dose of disagreement descends into the provinces of puerile, petty vindictiveness (or worse).

Heck, I don’t want to see a group hug or a chorus of Kumbaya but maybe, in these, our country’s current troubled days, just a small crumb of Rodney Kings “can’t we all just get along”.

That’s why I’m happy to see this Geoff Gilson post over on STP:

People, we are lucky that we live in a community that cares enough to be as active as it is. And we are all of us intelligent enough that we should be able to engage in that activity without needless vitriole.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone of getting a few cheap laughs out of a local politico’s discomfort. But the events of yesterday have got me thinking.

So. Let me start the ball rolling. Dan Coleman, I apologize. I know you are a good and decent man. What happened on ESP was cheap. I’m sorry. On my new show, I will ask you tough questions. But the histrionics will be…well, history.

That bit of radio theatre was a hard listen.

I know Dan. I had listened to and read Gilson’s work. My (quite extensive) stomach sank as the show unrolled. I knew these two had significant disagreements on policy. They had an opportunity to publicly sharpen their cases for and against. Maybe even a better than good chance to shed a little light on the local scene.

All lost in the noise.

Sure, Geoff is working on a new show for WCHL 1360.

Cynically one might presume that this fence-mending is more about dissipating potential guest’s concerns than an honest attempt at rapprochement.

I’m taking Geoff’s bridge building on face value. I think he wants to restart a conversation and not a shouting match.

Good for us. We all win when our local “movers and shakers” expound and sharpen their arguments over local policy in the arena of public debate.

CarrboroCitizen: Better Late

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

I bumped into the new CarrboroCitizen’s Taylor Sisk and Kirk Ross this morning at Carrboro’s Weaver St. Market. “Where’s the paper?”, I asked. Kirk said that more than 20 folks had already called him asking the same question “Where’s my paper?” Well, they had a few bumps on the road to their premier issue. All’s well, though, as the first content ladened and ad packed edition hit the bricks.

By 3:28pm the papers started appearing around Carrboro – at “the Weave” (inside by the cash registers), at the Orange County Social Club, hand-delivered by Mary Beth to her customers, tossed in the drive of the first 18 home subscribers (all signing up early by “word of mouth”).

I like the CarrboroCitizen’s home delivery model – “don’t ask, don’t get”. The first few times I called Ted Vaden, who ran the Chapel Hill News, was to complain about the 3 or 4 copies of each edition showing up in our drive. We lived on the corner of Wyrick and Barclay, sharing a house with another apartment. For some reason the U-shaped drive attracted multiple deliveries – one of which was sufficient (my neighbors usually pitched the paper directly into the recycling bin or, rarely, used it to scrape up the dog poop along Barclay). I thought about that when I was writing the “My View” column for the Chapel Hill News: just how many of my columns went straight to scraping poop up off the roadway?

What a year for Kirk Ross, the editor of the CarrboroCitizen. I’d run into Kirk a few times over his many years in Town, and though he is a friend of my brother Steve, never really talked with him at length. That changed last year when we both camped out at my brother’s house during SxSWi 2006. Over the week we talked about new media, citizen journalism, citizen activism, developing a brand as a journalist, leveraging the wisdom and interests of the community to better our community, newspapers – living, dying, lost and in-limbo, music, Austin’s “scene”, BBQ Texas-style, politics (lots and lots of politics – local, state and national) and, along with ae [arsepoetica] and her boy-toy db, the incredible Las Manitas.

Coincidentally, it was that same week that CitizenWill really got started.

I think he was casting about for a new direction, a new vibe. I had a few conversations with him since about his developing “brand”. Over the last year he’s traveled the State reporting back via the Cape Fear Mercury, kept his finger on the fibrillating pulse of our somewhat nutty North Carolina legislature via his Exile On Jones Street ‘blog, continued to publish at his former gig – the Indy – and, now, not only help create a new Carrboro newspaper from scratch but inverted current conventional wisdom – using the paper’s ‘net content to deliver a physical product.

Wow! A bold experiment worth the support of the Carrboro community. Congratulations and good luck guys, the news keeps on rolling and you only have 147 hours, 21 minutes until the next edition is due.

CarrboroCitizen: T-Minus 6 Minutes And Counting

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

I walked over to the offices of the Carrboro Citizen this afternoon to see if Kirk and company would make their Mar. 21st D-Day. Fingers were flying as the staff wrestled multiple streams of content onto the Triangle’s newest newspaper.

Bubba told me that they had to have all the magic bottled by 10PM, just 6 minutes from now.

Good luck folks, I look forward to reading your Mar. 21st inaugural edition.

I might even pick up a couple extra to save for posterity, hope they factored that into the first run 😉

Where can you get a copy?

….free in-town home delivery for Carrboro (and the contiguous Northside neighborhood in the big city).

To sign up give us a call at 942-2100 or send an email to delivery at carrboro citizen dot com. We’ll need to know where you live, of course, and where you’d like the paper placed.

A couple of things to note:

• We plan on opening up delivery options throughout our coverage area as demand increases. If your neighborhood is outside the Carrboro limits and you’d like to be included, please let us know.

• Since we’re a free publication, most apartment complexes do not allow delivery. If you’d like a rack in your complex, though, we’re happy to bring one over.

There will be a box at the park and ride. Also, Weaver Street Market and some of the shops and eateries are on the list. I was asked this week if we’d consider adding Southern Village to our delivery area. Like a lot of neighborhoods not in 27510, it’s likely we will open Southern Village up to home delivery if the interest is there.

Easthom Update on Chapel Hill WiFi

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

In case you don’t subscribe to Council member Laurin Easthom’s ‘blog The Easthom Page, she has an update on some possible forward motion on implementing a municipal network.

Updated staff report on wireless with council discussion is tentative but hopeful for April 23. Such a report will be pretty inclusive and give us the staff’s full range of realistic possibilities for the council and public to consider at that time. I’ll update accordingly, or if things change.

She tagged it to her recent post on “Wifi and Economic Development”.

Thanks for the update Laurin.

Chapel Hill’s Public Forum on Information Technology

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

If you would like to see our Town use technology to more effectively address social issues, improve operational efficiencies and drive the cost of doing government business down, then make a date to attend the rescheduled Public Forum on Information Technology 7-9pm Mar. 21st, 2007.

The event will be held in the Conference Room of the Chapel Hill Public Library, 100 Library Drive, Chapel Hill [MAP].

While the invitation by “the Town of Chapel Hill to the public to offer comments and suggestions on how it can use information technology to provide more effective and efficient services” is encouraging, given the consultant-oriented agenda

The purpose of the focus group is to provide citizens an opportunity to comment on the components of an information technology environment that would assist Town government operations to provide for the effective and efficient delivery of services to the community. Receiving public input is a part of the process of developing a needs assessment, which is being developed by RHJ Associates Inc. under contract with the Town.

I’m a little concerned that this is more about checking off the “public participation” requirement than soliciting real input.

Council approved the RHJ proposal for a needs assessment [PDF] Nov. 6th, 2006.

Who is RHJ Associates, Inc.?

RHJ Associates, Inc. (RHJA), a Delaware corporation, was established in March, 2000 as a follow-on to the discontinued public sector business unit of The Network Address, Inc. (NAI), Annapolis, Maryland to continue serving the local government community. RHJA focuses on information technology issues confronting municipal governments, is managed by Robert (“Jake”) Jacobstein, formerly Vice President of Client Services of NAI’s public sector business unit, and includes other experts in fields of technology relevant to accomplish day-to-day municipal operating objectives. Upon formation of the company, RHJA expanded its services by teaming with seasoned consultants who possess depth and breadth in virtually all areas of applying technology to government operations. RHJ associates have a minimum of ten years working experience serving the local government sector. RHJA consultants offer a holistic set of services in addressing municipal technology needs. These services include strategic planning, needs assessment, telecommunication planning and design, including voice, data, video and multi-media, organizational development, project management, enterprise resource planning, vocational systems acquisition, and institutional network specification and development,. Collectively, RHJ associates have served hundreds of public entities by assisting them with their information technology challenges.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Strange thing – the only website I’ve found for them (http://rhjassociates.com/) list their address as:

1124 Ragsdale Ct.
New Port Richey, FL 34654
(301) 332-2300
(646) 225-7777 (fax)
Jake’s Email

The site is rather, ummm, elegant in its simplicity.

If there’s another site, I haven’t stumbled on it yet. This kind of appears to be a one man operation run by “Jake”. The curricula vitae of his staff, at least the staff he had in 2004 looks impressive but his proposal to Council was silent on his 2007 assistants (if any).

How did RHJ Associates get involved? Town Manager Roger Stancil.

Town Manager Roger Stancil had recommended a contract with RHJ Associates Inc., a Maryland-based municipal technology planning company which he had hired in Fayetteville, where he worked as city manager before coming to Chapel Hill in September. The company is managed by Jake Jacobstein, a former executive with The Network Address Inc.

N&O’s Jesse James DeConto, Oct. 26th, 2006

Hey, working with someone you’ve worked with before and trust is a smart idea. The no-bid $37,000 contract – not so smart.

Especially for a guy that seems not to be broadly experienced in building social networks or business systems but, instead, has focused on optimizing telecommunications.

At least that’s what he did for Fayetteville’s Public Works Commission (their hometown power company) Oct. 11th, 2006 .

Consideration of Purchase of New Telephone Switch and Related Components
Presented by: James Rose, Chief Administrative Officer Jake Jacobstein, RHJ Associates
Recommendation: Award contract to Embarq (formerly Sprint) [OUCH!]

Same for Cumberland County, Jan. 25th, 2006.

The committee discussed at length the pros and cons for the phone system being voice over IP or digital. RHJ Associates, Jake Jacobstein will attend a meeting with the Partnership staff to provide an initial consultation for what is best for the Partnership and OFRC tenants.

Or Colonial Heights, Virginia Oct. 26th, 2006

The objective is to replace the entire telephone system with a new system that increases the effectiveness of 911 PSAP systems users and the public safety service level to the citizens. The City Emergency Communications Center desires to acquire a system with a proven technical and functional design and preference will be given to Proposers that have currently installed systems that closely approximate or satisfy the City Emergency Communications Center’s requirements in the major functional areas.

Hey, nothing wrong with telecommunications! I worked many years for Nortel – even programmed telephone gear. Heck, I think VOIP (voice over Internet) is the bee’s knees.

And don’t get me started on municipal networking and WiFi.

Just because it appears Jake is top heavy in telecomm , there is no reason he couldn’t be fluent in the latest tech trends. I went on to help bootstrap a couple .COMs to multi-million dollar status as a CIO/CTO. I’m at ease with the latest-n-greatest the computer field offers.

No reason Jake couldn’t have tread the same path.

Still, it is curious, at least to this former member of the unreconstituted Technology Board (you remember how Mayor Foy peremptorily dissolved those apparently nettlesome citizen groups don’t you?), that a needs assessment tapping the wisdom of our computer-oriented citizenry isn’t being performed interactively on the ‘net.

Where is the online forum?

Geez, one of the great advantages of online technology is to open up the discussion – to create a long tail of collaborative content to help fuel innovation.

A few missteps here but Mar. 21st will prove RHJ Associates mettle. 7-9pm. The Library. Bring your tech wishlist.

Trash Talk: SqueezeThePulp Led Online

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Though I’ve quoted many relevant comments from OrangePolitics, a watering-hole for local pols, the “other” local forum, SqueezeThePulp has been popping with online commentary for months.

Here’s one of the more active threads Proposed Orange County Landfill Transfer Station Survey which led off with this David Richter open letter to the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) and elective councils of Carrboro and Chapel Hill:

An open e-mail and appeal to each of elected leaders of Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro:

Proposed: Eubanks Road and the surrounding areas should be removed as a proposed site for the Orange County Landfill Transfer Station from further consideration for now and for the foreseeable future.

Dear Elected Leaders:

I am asking each of you to take an immediate public and personal position on the above proposal. There was a column in the Chapel Hill Herald on Tuesday, 2/13/07 and the Chapel Hill News, 2/14/07 that talked to all the reasons why Eubanks Road should not be the site of the new Landfill Transfer Station. However, the simple fact is that the Rogers Road community was made a promise in 1972 on placement of the Orange County landfill on Eubanks Road. When the landfill was filled to capacity, the Rogers Road community would no longer be subject to Orange County waste facilities and activities. We should not quibble on technicalities or wording. That was the spirit of the promise.

We can talk about how that promise was already broken, but that would not be useful or productive. If the transfer station is located on or near Eubanks Road, it will clearly be a break of the promise and an act of intentional or unintentional “Environmental Racism”. This promise and the decades of contribution by the Rogers Road Community override all the other considerations of cost and expediency. As our current elected leaders, you are responsible to fulfill that original 1972 promise assuring the integrity of our local governments, adhering to the values of our community and just plain doing the right thing.

I am asking each of you to respond to me by March 1^st . The response should be a Yes or No to the above proposal. I will compile all the responses and report it to the local papers. I will also feedback all the responses to those who did respond. Besides each of your names, I will place one of the following entries with no caveats:

– Yes (for the proposal)
– No (against the proposal)
– No position
– No response

I appreciate your attention to this issue and look forward to your responses and a positive result. Thanks.

David Richter

Commissioner Moses Carey responded to David

Mr. Richter;

I am certain that you have followed the process the County is using to make this important decision about the location of the Transfer Station. Our efforts to communicate with the area residents and consider all available sites have been reported in local papers. Additionally the issue of a “Promise ” has been discussed in this community for many years. While you may not be familiar with those past discussions, you may consult the archives of the news papers to become updated on those discussions.

The BOCC has a process to make a decision on the Transfer Station site and I trust we will adhere to it. That process includes listening to area residents and weighing all available information before making a decision. The views of the Towns on the currently considered sites is the next bit of information we will receive for discussion at our march 1st work session during which the public may listen, but not speak. You may wish to attend to be further informed.

However, it would be premature and unethical in my opinion for any elected official to respond to you as you have requested prior to considering all information which must be considered to make an informed decision on this matter.

I look forward to seeing you at our meeting.

and David responded to Moses

Commissioner Carey:

Thank you for responding to my e-mail. I do appreciate your time and consideration. However, I am baffled by your response and disagree with your rationale.

1) I do agree that we have an ethical problem but disagree where the ethical problem lies. Regardless of whether people agree on the reality or the interpretation of the “promise”, it is an undeniable fact the Roger’s Road community has lived with the Orange County Landfill for over three decades in their back yard and all the resulting negative impacts to their quality of life. After three plus decades the fact that Orange County Board of Commissioners is even considering the same area as the site of the Transfer Station is of itself unethical. It is time to look else where to solve Orange County’s waste problems.

2) I do not understand what process you were referencing in your response. I was unable to retrieve any process with a search. If there is a documented process please point me to it. However, in the last posted minutes of the Solid Waste Advisory Board meeting of 11/2/06 it seems there is no current alternative Orange County site list or search of a site in progress. In fact it is my understanding there is no official criteria for a Transfer Station site in place. The minutes clearly promote the Eubanks Road site for the Transfer Station as the path of least resistance. As far as I can tell, Eubanks Road is the “ONLY” site within Orange County under consideration. Please tell me if I am wrong and if so I apologize and where can I find the list? It is also important to note that any “process” leading to an unethical result is far from appropriate.

For our elected leaders to stand up at this time and be counted is not unethical; it is the right thing for them to do. I urge them to be counted, if not through an e-mail to me (I am just a single citizen speaking for myself) then through other venues. I also urge the Orange County Board of Commissioners to take the ethical path and instruct the Solid Waste Advisory board to take Eubanks Road off the table and find another site for the Transfer Station regardless of the convenience factor. After all, the Rogers Road Community has been living with the “inconvenience” for a long time.

David Richter
Carrboro

Yes, SqueezeThePulp snide, nasty and tough at times with a few dust ups that drown the signal out with noise (like the crappy tit-for-tat that Fred Black and Mark Gill had in the middle of this transfer station discussion) but it does serve a locally online community that Ruby’s OrangePolitics doesn’t.

And that online community, on the Rogers Road issue, led the way.

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