Chief Blue?

Friday, October 29th, 2010

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.

Brother, can you spare a quarter percent?

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) opened up discussion this evening of putting a %0.25 increase in local sales tax before voters in November (Levy of a One-Quarter Cent (1/4¢) County Sales and Use Tax [PDF]).

The tax, if approved, will bump our local sales tax to %8 with all the additional proceeds going directly to the county (it seems like it was mentioned several hundred times that the municipalities would get NADA from the increase). Best estimates, and only if a pending state bill is passed, has the county reaping in $500K in 2011 rising to $2.4M in 2012.

I spoke before the BOCC on the issue – raising a few concerns, suggesting a possible course of action.

I acknowledged the Commishes quandary in filling the current $9.4M hole in the County’s budget and the near certainty of dealing with an even deeper one in 2011. I recognized the appeal in making a seemingly small increase in a tax that is spread across a wider arc than property taxpayers. I understood it probably seemed an easier sell especially given the recent turmoil over our hefty property revaluations and the failed attempt to create a land transfer tax.

I also pointed out even though it doesn’t apply to food or medicines that the increase represented an additional burden on those folks living here who can least afford it (the characterization in the press that “what the heck, it’s only a few more bucks week!” really bothers me).

By its nature, it is a regressive tax.

Given that increased burden, I asked the BOCC to commit in as legally a binding way as possible, to dedicating the new revenue to funding the rapidly growing demand on social services. That revenue should bolster the existing commitment and go well beyond this year’s baseline (not to rely on it, as many counties have with the NC lottery and education).

Steve Yuhaz and a few other commissioners suggested throwing this modest amount of money – $2.5M at best – at the schools or pouring it down the current economic development rat-hole.

Spending $2.5M on needed social services would have a much more profound effect than adding to the considerable school system overhead or to funding economic incentives during this downturn. And it’s the right thing to do given the rather dire outlook for next year.

Other than clearly dedicating the use of the funds, I also asked for two additional provisions:

  • that the tax increase be time limited – maybe 3-4 years at most – in order to emphasize that this wasn’t a case of avoiding fiscal discipline but a response to some very difficult circumstances
  • that the public be given plenty of opportunity to weigh in.

At the conclusion of the topic it was clear that public input beforehand will have to come quick – June 15th to be exact.

Some quick observations/comments.

Several counties, like New Hanover, were used as success stories for the referendum. New Hanover, of course, has much lower property taxes and with its tourist draws has much greater outside revenue flows. Orange County’s increase will be borne mostly by Orange County residents.

Comments by several commissioners that this broad 1/4 percent sales tax would bring revenues in from residents not currently “paying their fair share” made very little sense given that a pretty good chunk of the existing %7.75 sales tax paid by all residents ends up in the county coffers.

It was also strange how quickly the discussion settled on two options – raise sales taxes or property taxes. The obvious third option – raise no taxes – didn’t make it onto the table.

My suggestion to time limit the measure didn’t get traction. Long time NC residents probably recall that a fair portion of the existing %7.75 sales tax was supposed to be “temporary”. Like many of the current “usage fees” and other tax burdens, government claims on our income tend to take on a life of their own and rarely get rolled-back (at least on middle and lower income folks). The rates might get adjusted but the real outlays stay the same or increase.

It’s hard to dodge the appearance that raising the sales tax rate has more to do with an inability to prioritize spending than fiscal discipline when the increase has an open-ended expiration date.

Sales tax revenue is sensitive to prevailing economic conditions. Without a dramatic upturn in the economy or a steep expansion in the County’s commercial tax base – both unlikely in the near future – the dependability of this revenue stream is not sufficient to fund core services.

Finally, the oddest arguments of the evening circulated around the reason for raising and the commitment to restrict the expenditure of the funds. Many commissioners argued (and then voted for) a course of action that essentially boiled down to this: put the referendum on the ballot with little public discussion and then invite the community to speculate on what the funds are to be used for and how firm the obligation to spend them accordingly will be.

Strange inversion.

I pushed for public participation first, a clear statement on the use of the new revenues (I lobbied for human services first, debt reduction – as County Manager Clifton pointed out – a good second) and a legally binding obligation to use the funds for that specified reason.

That way the community would have a clear idea early on as to what they would be asked to vote into being.

Feels like, at least at this point (with June 15th weeks away), public participation is an afterthought.

May 4th, 2010 Primary: Go?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Started working the Library polling station at 7am, voted 7:45am (voter #21) and left about 10:15am.

Got to meet Senate candidate Ken Lewis and his family. His wife’s energy was contagious – lots of positive vibes coming from her and Ken. Their teen daughter stayed to work the polls and I had an opportunity to discuss her involvement, what she thought of her father’s race, elections in general. She was quite invested and had a good command of the issues – quite encouraging given the level of local involvement in politics.
(more…)

May 4th, 2010 Primary: On Your Marks, Get Ready…

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Been awhile, November 2006, since I scrambled around trying to cover all the precincts in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapel Hill’s First Budget Meeting of 2010

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

I want to quickly respond to Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s comments this evening.

First, spending $8-12M on the Lot #5 project, building luxury condos and enriching a private developer, is not the same as “protecting our Town’s infrastructure”.

The Lot #5 (West 140) project is discretionary – the push to keep it going is not based on sound economic fundamentals.

Putting Lot #5 on par with filling potholes or expanding the Library is a great political speaking point – but certainly not grounded in reality – suggestions otherwise does the public a disservice.

At the same time, other probable debt-related outlays aren’t included in the analysis. Mark suggesting the lump of general obligation (G.O.) debt covers the whole gamut of obligations minimizes the challenge before us.

Beyond that bit of misdirection, Mark knows (or should know) that our Town’s current reserves are low compared to historical reserves on a percentage basis.

That $1.9M increase Mark bandied about sounds big but isn’t considering the $55M hole we’re in. No matter how hard fought the battle to get that $1.9M last year, weighed against future operational and capital demands – like trying to expand the Library – the percentage improvement in overall reserves was slightly better than negligible and doesn’t position us any better to deal with MAJOR outlays (if you use a more reasonable debt ceiling).

To use the credit card example several Council members relied on this evening, there is a qualitative difference between the following two scenarios:
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Chapel Hill 2010: Snow, Snow, Snow

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Chapel Hill has a new tool to track road conditions during adverse conditions, like today’s 3 to 6 inches snowfall.

The GIS map showing roads salted, cleared and relevant services is here.

Good to see this finally in place. The Tech Board discussed just such an application of the GIS system about 6 years ago.

Current weather conditions, courtesy of the Weather Underground, are available here.

The Town’s NextBus service, which usually shows current locations of the buses on their routes is available here.

Big caveat, though (from Chapel Hill Transit):

CHT’s NextBus system estimates the next arrivals for buses in real time, based on each vehicle’s location and average speed. But when many vehicles are off-route or significantly delayed, it cannot make accurate arrival predictions. NextBus can, however, tell you if your line is delayed, or the location of the next vehicle.

Longtime readers might recall that was one of the criticisms (beyond the expense, lack of WIFI and rejection of a local vendor) I had of the NextBus system.

Latest updates on the transit system here.

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