Au Revoir Steve Stewart

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Unlike snobaristas, in my experience Carrboro’s current Town Manager Steve Stewart has consistently provided professional service with a friendly and personalized touch.

Tuesday Steve announced he was moving on. Hired in 2003, he helped add resiliency and flexibility to Carrboro’s management structure – the qualities the fast growing Paris of the Piedmont needed to survive and position it to thrive in today’s economic environment.

While Steve and I haven’t always agreed on Carrboro policy, he showed me abundant courtesy (even when he realized I was a Chapel Hill interloper), was quick to respond to my queries and was always willing to talk a bit of shop when I ran into around town (most recently before Carrboro’s 100th Anniversary kick-off party).

Steve plans to hang around after the transition – so I hope he’ll pipe up occasionally and continue to provide a bit of practical wisdom for both our communities.

Thanks Steve, best of luck in your new endeavors.

Coverage from the Chapel Hill News, Carrboro Citizen and WCHL1360 with more on Steve’s recent announcement.

Snobarista

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Which leaves level of service.

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

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

I’m not willing to settle for near contempt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Splash in Lake Jordan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Quick update on last week’s post Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

After midnight last Monday the Council decided to revisit the issue which creates an opportunity for more nuanced analysis and broader community input. That opportunity hasn’t been scheduled as of yet.

Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].

In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.

That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.

Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.

Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.

The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.

Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).

In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.

Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.

OWASA: Penalizing Conservation

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

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

I was bothered by this passage:

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

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

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

Carrboro: 100 Hundred Years Young

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Our neighbors across the tracks are celebrating their 100th birthday today.

Carrboro, “the little community that could”, has still managed to keep itself, as local radio icon Ron Stutts likes to say, “one degree cooler than Chapel Hill”.

Celebrations start this evening around 7:30pm at the Century Center across from Weaver St. Market.

More information at Carrboro.com.

Bolin Creek Beauty

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

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).

IFC Community House: Balanced Social Services?

Friday, August 13th, 2010

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

Is that the case?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Two Birthdays, One Dude

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

One local dude, Kirk Ross, definitely abides.

March 23rd, he celebrated the 2nd anniversary of the Carrboro Citizen, a hyper-local newspaper he bootstrapped online and migrated, partially, off-line to real, physical print.

Strangely, it feels like only a moment ago I posted on the kick-off of this growing outlet (a reverse of the sad trend at the McClatchied N&O).

Kirk recently posted this rumination on the genesis of the ‘Citizen and why he pioneered the melding of online and print presentations.

Two years ago amid this maelstrom, The Carrboro Citizen published the first issue of the first volume.

Robert Dickson and I started this paper in part because we saw an opening in the market and in part because we thought Carrboro and surrounding environs should have a locally owned and focused paper. But mostly we started The Citizen because we believe in newspapers.

To be honest, when we started that was a pretty lonely place. Some of the better business minds in the area were quick to point out that we were daft since print is a dying part of the information industry. Our contention was then, and is now, that print may be shrinking, but it is hardly dying. Having the opportunity to start from scratch, post Internet, provided us with the chance to incorporate a lot of hard-learned lessons.

So yes, we’ve got blogs and Twitter and Facebook and Flickr and, according to the N.C. Press Association, operate the third-best website in the state for papers our size.

But all that and the print product too would be worthless without the one thing that gives purpose to our endeavor: journalism. It is quality work, solid reporting and good storytelling that empties the racks each week. Technological advances can enhance that, but not replace it.

The other anniversary? Kirk nailed the big 50!

Congratulations Kirk on both your public service and your ability to abide a Lud-icrous rock-n-roll life!

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.

Somewhere I Read….

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Forty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. As you might guess, I’ve been encouraged by his words and his actions for more than four decades.

The night before his death Dr. King observed a nation in distress:

The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.

He rejected the quelling of dissent:

All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

But, in the end, he was silenced.

Though it seems we’ve come a long way from the days of Crow, recent reminders, like the racist subtext flowing through the local blog-o-sphere after Eve Carson’s murder or the continued government supported gentrification of Chapel Hill demonstrates how far we’ve yet to go…



What would Martin make of our world today? Principled dissent is no longer an American bedrock principle. Surveillance, wiretapping, water boarding part of our everyday experience. “Incarceration over education” ( 1 in 9 young black males according to the recent Pew report), poverty surging and a war even more ridiculously off-kilter than Vietnam ever was…

Martin said that night (I’ve been to the mountaintop) that we should “develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness”, to help folks not questioning “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” but rather “If I do no stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

That is the question, as ever, before us this tragic fortieth anniversary.

(more…)

Election 2007: Carrboro’s League of Women Voters Forum

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

What! Chapel Hill isn’t the only election this year?

The League kindly allowed me to post Carrboro’s forum to googleVideo. Interesting overlap in themes this year….



Morris Grove Elementary School

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Mia Burroughs is reminding folks that they have until October 31st to help name the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools (CHCCS) newest elementary school out on Eubanks Road, near the Rogers Road neighborhood

The newest school is located adjacent to the former Morris Grove elementary school, a school created to serve the educational needs of the local black community.

The Morris Grove school was created in the late 1800s by Morris Hogan, son of a female slave and her owner. A farmer and local statesman, Hogan put his own land and money into the one-room wooden schoolhouse. The state paid the salaries of two instructors, who, depending on the decade, taught six, seven or three grades.

Patrick Winn, Chapel Hill News, Feb. 10th, 2007

Morris also had a long-standing passion for education as a passport to a better life for his own and other black children. Yet in the late 1800s, the Orange County school board had few funds for school construction and operation. To fill the void, the board sanctioned the opening of many simple, usually one-room, segregated schools that were built and operated by local individuals or groups.

Morris won permission to create the Morris Grove Elementary School, using his own land and funds, at what is now 402 Eubanks Road. It is remembered as a simple frame structure with only pump water, outdoor toilets and a Spartan interior heated by a wood stove in cold weather. Instruction for six grades was taught by one teacher. The school probably stayed in operation from the 1880s to the 1920s, until tax-based public schools took over. All of the Hogan children and some of the grandchildren attended it.

Doug Eyre, Chapel Hill News, Nov. 17th, 2006

Naming the new school Morris Grove would not only honor a slice of our community’s history but serve as an excellent educational reference point for students. Even in the supposedly progressive environs of Chapel Hill, we’re still working to bridge historical divides.

And only knowing where you’ve been can you get where you are going.

Please cast your vote in favor of Morris Grove by answering this CHCCS online survey.

Election 2007: Recycle, Reuse

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Recycle and reuse are two environmental principles our local community follows fairly well. In that spirit, I believe our citizens will appreciate my putting frugality over novelty.

Signs are sprouting up around Town. Several of mine, it appears, were saved by some of my 2005 supporters and trotted out a little early. Thanks folks for showing some early enthusiasm.

My specialty, since 2001, is to round-up campaign signs after the election. No reason to clutter our road-sides after the deed is done.

In 2005, as I wrote here, I managed to pickup all but two signs of my signs by 7:21 am the day after the election – the final two by 9:30am.

I said then:

Why the quick pickup?

I said early on in my campaign, win or lose, my signs would not linger throughout our Town.

If there’s one discriminator the electorate takes away from this election, I hope they recall that I said it, then I did it.

I said it and then I did it. If you look at my activism on behalf of our community, you’ll see a clear track record of “walking my own talk”.

In 2006 I managed to pick-up over 2,000 signs (and several bags of adjacent litter – unfortunately, I’ve already filled two this year!).

Every year I offer to pickup any candidate’s sign and, once again extend that offer to everyone – my colleagues in the Town Council race – Carrboro races – the school board (contact signs AT citizenwill.org ).

It’s a fun way to do my part to keep our community attractive.

A common question I get is “Who designed your sign?”

I actually did, using a variety of free software tools – including GImp (Gnu Image Program) and OpenOffice. These are the kind of tools I’ve been asking our Town to adopt for the last six years. Using OpenOffice, for instance, would save hundreds of thousands in Microsoft licensing fees, something our Council is well aware of, something our Town continues to drag its feet doing.

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