ChapelHill


Last night Mike Collins and George Cianciolo (current and former heads of the Planning Board) laid out an interesting plan of action to move the Town’s planning process forward.

Most importantly, they underlined the need for a more measurable, nuanced plan that works as an adjunct to the current Comprehensive Plan. Their plan also emphasized “consensus from all stakeholders” – a bit difficult if the members of the task force (if there is one) can’t compromise.

Achieving compromise was one of the more difficult things the Sustainable Community Visioning Task Force faced given the wide diversity of interests and motivations expressed by the group. An unfortunate downside of a “consensus only” approach – key issues were not addressed because of vested interest in a particular outcome. Most notably, when a significant portion of the group pushed to make measurable goals and an acknowledgement of constraints to growth a key tenet, a couple of folks were able to derail that effort.

With such a diverse membership and a widely divergent set of agendas, I expected the group to have difficulty coming to some kind of consensus which is why I proposed we first create a framework for discussing development trade-offs. I thought that we should create a decision-matrix that would factor out those things we could objectively measure, those things we could effectively estimate and those subjective things – like the value of natural beauty – which will probably forever be in the eye of the beholder.

How do we measure those impacts (if they are measurable)? Are the consequences localized or not? Given limited local resources, what upper limit exists if we want to live within our own footprint? How much brown-field is available for redevelopment? Are there restrictions on redevelopment is an area based on the Town’s resource conservation or neighborhood conservation districts? If we overlay all the restrictions imposed by conservation and watershed protection ordinances, by the LUMO (land-use management ordinance) and the underlying development zones, what does Chapel Hill look like?

A very select minority of members, along with staff, did not want to create a decision-matrix to help the group find their way. There was some argument, for instance, whether measuring impacts mattered or if resources, like water, were a limiting factor when the community could purchase it from neighboring municipalities or draw if from Jordan Lake.

Matt Czajkowski made the same argument last night when he said that the new effort would succeed if the membership had a way to discuss, evaluate, measure various trade-offs – to decide what course best to chart.

For that, as he pointed out, consensus would be great but not required. Compromise, though, should fully be expected.

Having gone through one recent iteration of this effort with the SCVTF, it is clear we must start from first principles – establish those elements which are measurable, those which aren’t – and create a clear process for working towards a consensus without requiring a consensus.

Big agenda this evening. I also commented on the proposal for creating a range of housing options as a consequence of implementing the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

Other folks commenting included Anita Badrock, Operations Manager of the Community Home Trust and Rob Reda, the local director of Habitat for Humanity.

For the last 6 years, I have argued that our Town’s growing reliance on in lieu monies to sustain the affordable housing program was short-changing the community’s desire for more living space – especially family-oriented homes.

I understand the occasional need for in lieu payments but as the Council scrambled to create the missing housing maintenance fund – that need seem to drive some unhealthy compromises made in approving projects like East54. It is far past time that the Council finds a way to fund the affordable housing program in a more consistent and predictable manner.

Tonight’s proposal moves our Town one-step closer to that vision – codifying an emphasis on square footage – today’s housing – over accepting funds that rarely translates into affordable living space. I want to thank the Council tonight for making a substantive shift in policy that squarely prioritizes homes over programs. Thank you.

While tonight’s recommendations represent a distinct change in course, I believe we can improve the proposal to help us meet both the needs of our current community and diversify access further.

First, instead of expressing a preferences express priorities. What’s first, second, third when it comes to the goals the Town is trying to achieve? As far as off-site housing, please make it more acceptable than cash.

Second, while I understand Robert and Delores concerns about moving housing stock, there should be a bias towards providing a different mix of housing – housing for our workforce – housing for folks – like my wife and I – who wanted to get their foot-in-the-door and establish long term roots in the community – housing for folks who already have deep roots in Chapel Hill – many who have served our community for decades – who want to or are being forced to downsize into more modest housing but want to and deserve to stay here.

That means units larger than 1 or 2 bedrooms in the Town Center. That means housing uniquely oriented towards an aging population. You responded to the same call with the Lot #5 project and created a broader mix there….if the Town needs to invest to make that happen, let’s build in a mechanism to do that…

I was encouraged by Council member Ward’s recent call to review current utilization of the affordable units provided by developments like Greenbridge to see if we are meeting the goals our Town has set forth. As he put it – to tell if there’s a bias towards grad students over others.

Third, to create a framework for deciding when off-site housing is preferable and should be prioritized. This framework would give specific guidance to developers for determining when such provision makes sense. I believe we can agree, in retrospect., that Greenbridge’s initial offer to provide housing off-site was probably the superior choice. I understand and fully support diversity efforts but as the character of development in Chapel Hill changes I believe that off-site units represent a choice that can better meet the needs of the wider community in some circumstances.

The former and current Planning Board chairs made a concerted call for a long overdue refresh of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.

This refresh and elaboration on the existing plan is long overdue. I started calling for a re-evaluation 6 years ago when the original plan had an already scheduled a review of the underlying assumptions and requirements.

Tonight former Sustainability Task Force members Del Snow, Madeline Jefferson and myself suggested a few ways to achieve a usable product in the not too distant future.

Below, my comments:

I welcome the Council’s interest in refreshing the Comprehensive Plan – it’s been a long time coming.

By 2004 it was obvious that the generic quality of many of the plan’s aspects were not achieving the goals originally expressed by the community. Anyone who has reviewed development applications over the last decade will note how the same language in the plan is copy-n-pasted into those applications to justify wildly divergent developments.

In January, 2005 there was an effort to get the Council to refresh the comprehensive plan in light of the many changes going on in Town – including a move from the previously favored MVU type developments like Meadowmont and Southern Village to the more high density, multi-modal projects like East54. Council initially expressed support for the effort and by October, 2006 the Planning Board had made a series of recommendations which, unfortunately, ended up being rejected.

Over the years since there have been several attempts to resuscitate that effort and – more importantly – fill in the gaps between the goals of a plan that, by necessity, remain broad and the need for more measurable requirements.

Most recently, March 2010, part of the Sustainability Task Force called for an effort to not only review some of the tenets in the plan (Sustainability Task Force: The Whole or The Sum of the Parts?) but to look at introducing a further level of refinement – including objectively measurable goals and a core recognition that there are constraints to growth.

Now, nearly a year later, it appears the Council is ready to move forward.

I’m a bit concerned that Council will rely on internal staff and consultancies to drive the process. Whatever you decide the community must play the dominant role in moving forward.

The current plan is quite broad, has a lot of moving parts, took years to formulate. I strongly suggest that while we remain aware of the inter-play between various components that the refresh is broken into distinct parts.

Council needs to prioritize and set clear expectations while also dividing the work into pieces that can be dealt with in a timely way – in a way that will have direct impact sooner than later.

Having said that, I also remind you of what Amy, Del, Madeline and I said last March: look at the big picture, provide specificity, acknowledge constraints and plan from the beginning for iterative community input.

Finally, we can no longer pretend what happens in one part of the community doesn’t affect another part.

Development impacts do spread beyond the property line.

We, the citizens of Chapel Hill are all in this together – so as we develop small area plans for Ephesus Church Rd. or development agreements for Glen Lennox or revisions in zoning for Obey’s Creek, these efforts must mesh with the new set of planning tools and approaches called for by the Planning Board and former members of the SCVTF.

Once again an item with significant budget implications appeared on the consent agenda. This evening’s dealt with buying 40 more pay stations to finish covering Downtown’s on-street spots and increasing the cost of parking %25 to $1.25 an hour.

The discussion has been rather disturbing because two efforts have been conflated: the staff led Downtown Parking study which was done with a consultancy and the efforts of the Downtown Parking Task Force (which I and Councilmember Jim Ward were members of).

The Task Force most certainly did not recommend raising rates, as the Town Manager, Finance head and Downtown Partnership director suggested, while the study and staff led effort did.

The other confusion was the duration the meters run. The Mayor thought they had been shortened Downtown when they actually have been extended to 8pm.

The memo (here) was also light on the same kind of analysis the Downtown Parking Task Force did.

For instance, while suggesting that higher on-street costs will drive parking to cheaper off-street locations, there was no supporting analysis of that contention. The DPTF reviewed studies that show that increased rates can be effective in encouraging off-street utilization in highly urban environments (like Downtown San Francisco!). It appears that a more likely scenario for Downtown Chapel Hill would end up with driving some folks away while increasing off-street utilization during off-peak hours (can’t park in some lots at peak times).

A wash so to speak.

Considering that studies show underground lots have lower utilization rates than above-ground or ground-llevel lots, I’m not sure how the extra $70,000 in revenue is derived with the new Lot #5 moneypit mixed in. Unfortunately, that analysis was also missing.

Laurin Easthom did a good job trying to get behind the reasoning for increasing the rates now – including deferring the expected costs of dealing with Lot #5’s closure. Matt Cz. highlighted one of the recommendations of the DPTF, making parking fare free during the holidays and other periods of time when utilization is very low (think Christmas).

As far as the new meters, they are kind of neat but I’ve found their uptime a bit questionable (Chapel Hill Watch has a post on it here).

One positive of the units not emphasized by tonight’s presenters is that spaces tend to yield more revenue per space because folks can’t tell how much more time is on the meter so two parkers pay for the same space during the same time period twice.

Luckily the public will have an opportunity to weigh in again during budget season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council has been quite patient with their development partner RAM Development.

The Lot $$$5 project has seen delay after delay, the basic tenets under which is was justified shifted substantially over that time. For instance, developers apparently didn’t need the Lot $$$5 project to whet their appetite for Downtown projects as three are on-going.

Even though Council has had opportunity after opportunity to cancel the project because of RAM’s contractual breaches, they have continued to support the fiscally imprudent project – a project which neglects the changing realities Downtown.

It is a shame that our Town’s leadership didn’t take the time to rework the project – fix its many policy and practical problems – during the long hiatus. Looks like it might be too late as, according to the Town’s PR flack, the clock has started ticking again:

Town gives 140 West go-ahead
Posted Date: 11/22/2010

The Town of Chapel Hill issued a zoning compliance permit on Friday, Nov. 19, for the 140 West project consisting of condominiums, retail and parking on Town-owned Parking Lot 5 at the intersections of Franklin, Church and Rosemary streets in downtown Chapel Hill.

This is the regulatory action that is required for the project to start work.

“Our primary interest in our review of the developer’s submitted plans was safety for all users of the public rights of way, as well as the possible impact on nearby residents and businesses and the safety of the workers on the site,” said Town Manager Roger L. Stancil.

As part of the permit review, Town staff reviewed information submitted by the developer and additional information provided by residents and business owners who were interested in the project. A public meeting was held in July to solicit comments and concerns.

The project includes 140 homes (18 of which are in a trust for affordable housing), 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 337 parking spaces. Ram Development Co. is the project developer, and the general contractor is John Moriarty & Associates Inc. Completion is projected in about two years.

The 140 West Franklin building will stand four stories tall along the street and steps back to eight stories tall at the center. The project includes 140 homes (18 of which will be dedicated to the Community Home Trust), 26,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 337 parking spaces. There will be a two-level parking deck including a dedicated public parking level which will be owned and operated by the Town of
Chapel Hill. The project also will feature a large outdoor public plaza with art by landscape artist Mikyoung Kim.

The municipal parking lot at the site is expected to close on Jan. 16, 2011. The Town has anticipated a need for replacement spaces downtown and developed a plan to replace all hourly spaces being temporarily
lost due to construction. Please see attached map map.

Parking in Downtown Chapel Hill includes the following:

On-street parking spaces on West Franklin Street: The Town negotiated with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to provide 14 new on-street parking spaces on West Franklin Street.

West Rosemary Street: The West Rosemary Street Lot (formerly Lot 4) is located west of Old Town Hall. The Town has paved and striped the lot, and has installed hourly meters for 17 spaces in that lot.

West Franklin-Basnight Lot: The Town has leased 66 spaces for hourly parking in the West End behind the old University Chrysler building. (These spaces are currently being used as monthly parking. We plan to
convert them to hourly parking as need dictates.)

415 West Franklin Street: The Town has converted 8 leased spaces in this lot to hourly parking.

The developer initially proposed closing Church Street for the duration of the project, or about 24 months. They also proposed closing the sidewalk along the Franklin Street frontage of the project and installing a mid-block crosswalk on Franklin to redirect pedestrian traffic. The SUP stipulations dictated additional sidewalks for the north side of Rosemary Street and the west side of Church Street along the limits of the project. The approved SUP also includes plans that show Church Street being closed during construction.

The approved construction plan anticipates closing Church Street for about 12 to 15 months, including closing the street later and opening one lane of the street earlier than originally proposed. In addition,
the dimensions of the closed area were modified to preserve better visibility of the businesses at the corner of Franklin and Church Streets and we will provide a new, temporary loading area in front of that same building by relocating a bus stop farther west on Franklin Street.

The Franklin Street sidewalk will remain closed to allow trucks entering the site to be segregated from both vehicles and pedestrians along the street. The sidewalk on Church Street will remain open during construction so access to the offices that front on Church Street can be maintained.

The Town has created a new dedicated web page for construction information and timelines at www.townofchapelhill.org/140west

For more information, please contact:

Jon Keener, Ram Development Manager, 919-942-3381 or 888-310-1409
Jay Gibson or Mike Taylor, Town of Chapel Hill Engineering: 919-968-2833
Catherine Lazorko, Town of Chapel Hill Public Information: 919-969-5055

E-mail: 140west@townofchapelhill.org

Last month I took my concerns about the proposed recreation fee structure amendments to Council (Parks Impact Fee: How Many (More) Goodies Do High Density Developers Need?).

Tonight, Council revisits the proposal for possibly the last time.

Unfortunately, the issues I raised Oct. 18th were ignored by staff.

The reason I petition Council at their meetings is too make it more difficult to push problems with policy out of sight. I know that there are not that many folks watching but a public plea is harder to reject directly. It is easier, though,to blithely claim that the issues brought forth were dealt with in a memo – few folks beyond Council really read through the agendas supporting documentation – fewer spend the time to analyze the claims.

I expect that Town Manager Roger Stancil will make some generic statement this evening to the effect that “there’s nothing to worry about, move the ordinance forward” even though his staff has not addressed the concerns I raised.

I won’t be able to make this evening’s meeting so I submitted the following to Council via email (another easy to ignore avenue for public access, when are we going to get a Town sponsored ‘blog?).

Mayor and Town Council,

I’m concerned that the staff did not address some of the comments I made Oct. 18th on the proposed amendment to Section 5.5 (Recreation) of the LUMO.

I raised several broad issues and made three specific critiques, none of which were directly addressed in the staff memo before you.

From a broad perspective, I argued that the new proposed formula would not be equitable, that the majority of cost that should be borne by a developer are shifted onto the community and that delaying implementation for some zones means the Town will miss the best opportunities for equalizing funding of services between the developers and the community.

The staff memo doesn’t directly address these broad concerns.

You might recall that I asked that two contentions, that developers would not pay the fee at parity or that the delay was necessary, be supported by factual detail. A month later, staff has still offered NO SUPPORTING EVIDENCE that a higher fee – say %75 – or immediate implementation will impact proposed or ongoing projects.

This really bothers me. I hope you share my concern and, considering that the recommendations staff has made are based on these key assertions, will ask for documentation supporting their belief.

As far as an equitable allocation of costs for services, I suggest you look at the proposed fee schedule in light of the %1 Arts fee and the requests for %15 affordable housing.

At %80, the Lot #5 project would yield roughly the same amount as the %1 Arts requirement. If we use RAM Development’s figures for the costs of affordable housing (including parking), even at %100, the recreation fee is a fraction of the affordable housing cost.

Council must recognize that the cost of providing recreational opportunities in the TC zones is substantially higher than providing them elsewhere. Council has pledged to increase the number of residents Downtown and has even created the new TC-3 zone to promote higher density development to accommodate those new residents. Beyond creating a new zone, Council continues to be quite generous in stretching existing and new zones to accommodate developers and increase their profit margins, East54 and Greenbridge both being notable examples.

Unless the Council plans to siphon off funds from these zones to subsidize services elsewhere, leaving those new residents high-and-dry, the fees collected from the developers should match to some degree the costs of providing these services within Downtown. Shifting those costs off onto residents, some who are still waiting for new recreational opportunities, is not fair.

Again, there has been no direct evidence – no documented conversations, etc. – that asking developers to pay at a rate comparable to the Arts fee is a show stopper.

As far as delaying the implementation for a select few projects, the Town will miss an opportunity, as with the fee reduction, to equalize funding of needed services between the developers and the community. Projects like the University Square redevelopment are rare. There has to be a firm, factual justification for delay.

Please wait to make a final decision on this amendment until: one, staff documents their underlying assertions; two, a comparison is made between other fees/requirements Council levies on developers and a higher recreation fee allocation; three, an analysis is made to show how much revenue is lost by delaying implementation of the ordinances for projects in the pipeline.

Thank you.

I’ve been highlighting the importance of treating the Bolin Creek watershed as a regional resource suffering from our piecemeal approach establishing adequate policies for its protection.

The whole basin requires, and deserves, a greater level of cooperation between Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority(OWASA), the State’s Divisions of Water Quality (DENR-DWQ) and the Corps of Engineers to maintain and enhance its value as natural and vital resource.

Bolin Creek, though impaired from Carrboro to Lake Jordan, still retains many charms.

Andrew Vanderveer has documented a few in the following film (hat tip to The Friends of Bolin Creek).

[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.

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:
(more…)

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

They will have 14 days to appeal the decision.

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

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

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

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

Best of luck Chris.

From a late breaking Town news release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Council chambers were definitely rocking last night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From an event they hosted:

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

Invitation to Event (PDF)

Their CEO Bruce Clarke on the Employee Free Choice Act:

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

Triangle BizJournal

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

What Might the New Union Card Look Like?

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

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

Federal Arbitration of a Collective Bargaining Agreement is an Oxymoron

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

From their 2010 Summer update:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does all this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looks like I’m stuck on “law and order” mode with the latest series of posts.

The Chapel Hill Police Department is hosting an additional community outreach Nov. 4th, 4:30 and 5:30pm at Extraordinary Ventures, Elliot Rd. (INFO).

The meetings present an opportunity to comment on and improve the department’s new strategic plan. The plan’s current high level goals include:

  • Reduce crime through a strategic and data-driven partnership with our stakeholders through prevention, accountability and enforcement.
  • Foster a relationship of mutual trust through consistent, honest, and timely customer service.
  • Foster a relationship of mutual trust through consistent, honest, and timely customer service.
  • Provide a professional and nurturing work environment that promotes accountability through fair and consistent treatment of our employees.
  • Promote vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian safety through education and enforcement.

This is round 2 of the process. Round 1, held this Spring, collected initial public input to help develop the outlines of the plan. Round 2 is an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the draft strategic plan. While this Spring’s meetings were well attended (I went to them all), the community has not responded to the call this Fall.

Trying to generate some interest in next week’s meeting I recorded the following commentary for WCHL’s Ron Stutts this morning.

`Live in North Carolina long enough and you will probably hear that when it comes to addressing an issue there is the right way, the wrong way and the Chapel Hill way.

While some folks consider Chapel Hill’s role as a progressive leader in our State as an oddity deserving of ridicule, many of the positive qualities that attract people to our community are a direct result of our willingness to forge our own way.

Progress though, even for Chapel Hill, can move in fits and starts. As our community evolves, responds to new realities, integrates new ideas, it is important that we understand that we can’t cruise on our reputation – that building a better community is an ongoing process which requires work and public engagement.

You might have heard that Chapel Hill’s Police Chief Brian Curran announced he was leaving his post after serving our community for nearly 3 decades.

Brian’s tenure as Chief was notable for a number of reasons including changing the management structure of the department to cultivate new leadership, encouraging greater responsibility by front-line staff and building better relationships between the community and law enforcement.

Brian understood that our community is different – that we expect our police folks to understand and abide by the Chapel Hill way. He strengthened the forces commitment to that way. Thank you Brian for that and your decades of service.

Setting a new direction for the department, adapting to new realities, is a work in progress. To better address these new challenges, Brian, along with his Assistant Chiefs Bob Overton and Chris Blue initiated a program of community outreach to better understand the issues our residents are concerned about today, to highlight problems in effectively and responsibility providing service and to draw upon the incredible expertise within this community.

The first round of meetings held this Spring were well attended – lots of good interactions culminating in the creation of a new strategic plan of action for our police department. From that input over twenty of our staff worked diligently to create a draft proposal incorporating key goals like fostering mutual trust, improving accountability, using a data-driven methods to determine appropriate resourcing and building relationships in our community.

Unfortunately, this round of meetings our community has not turned out to review and improve this plan of action. Whether you are concerned about specific incidents – like what happened to local barber Charles Brown – or think that the department needs more oversight in the form of a civilian review board – or even if you are satisfied – show up. Brian and his staff did their part, it is time for us to do ours. Building a better community can’t happen if you stay at home.

The next and final meeting for this phase is Nov. 4th. Two sessions 4:30 and 5:30pm at Extraordinary Ventures on Elliot Rd. More information is available on the Town’s website: townofchapelhill.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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