Municipal Networking: Eyes on the Road

Friday, June 1st, 2007


I asked Town Manager Roger Stancil May 17th how the CCTV (closed-circuit TV) packaged in the Town’s first steps towards municipal networking (Municipal Networking:Could We Have a Little Less Big Brother?).

Roger and Kumar Neppalli, our Town’s traffic (and now streetlight) point person, both clarified the bullet item. The CCTVs will be used strictly for monitoring traffic flows.

Roger apologizes for taking 3 days to respond – which might seem strange if you dealt with Townhall before – but Roger has set a goal of improving the flow of information into the community, a refreshing change.

Thank you Roger and Kumar for a quick turnaround (now, if we can just get a 7 day warning on those Council agendas).

From: Roger Stancil
Sent: Mon 5/21/2007 4:27 PM
Subject: RE: Clarification on CCTV usage

I apologize for the delay in responding to you. The cameras are generally for monitoring intersections for traffic management purposes. I am sure it will be done in accordance with this community’s concern for privacy and policies that ensure privacy is not invaded. Thank you for your questions. By copy of this email, I will ask Kumar if he has additional information.


Roger L. Stancil
Town Manager
Town Manager’s Office
Town of Chapel Hill
405 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-5705

Phone: (919) 968-2743
Fax: (919) 969-2063

Note: Mail sent to or received from the Town Manager is subject to publication under the provisions of the North Carolina public records law.


Mr. Raymond,

Mr. Stancil is correct and the cameras are used strictly for the purpose of monitoring traffic and provide guidance to motorists using variable message signs. These cameras are similar to the traffic monitoring cameras on I-40. Privacy of the motorists and passengers are protected and the cameras will not be used for enforcement of traffic regulations such as speeding, signal violations.

I will find the State Policy for use of these cameras and will e-mail you. Thanks.

Kumar Neppalli
Engineering Services Manager
Ph: (919)969-5093

—–Original Message—–

Subject: Clarification on CCTV usage


I notice that the use of CCTV was mentioned in this resolution:

Could you clarify where and for what use closed-circuit surveillance will be deployed in Chapel Hill?

I’m thrilled we’re making a smart tactical move to improve our information infrastructure. I’m
hoping that deployment and usage of CCTV, for whatever purpose, will be guided by a policy grounded in transparency and informed by a strong commitment to preserve our residents

Thank you,


Giving Kiosk Out, Panhandling Meters In?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Last year, the Downtown Partnership (DPC) commissioned a “giving kiosk” for Downtown. Callie Warner, my neighbor and metalsmith, designed what Liz Parham, Direcor of the DPC, described in this May 16th, 2006 Chapel Hill News column [PDF] as an “economic development tool”:

This past week the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership carried a concept proposal for a privately funded “Giving Kiosk” to the Town Council for review. The purpose of the Giving Kiosk is to provide downtown visitors with an alternative to giving money to panhandlers by directing their giving to human service agencies that provide beneficial services to those that are in need in the downtown area; to educate the public on the services that are needed and those that are offered; and to educate the public on how social and behavioral issues are hindering the economic vitality of downtown and our community’s growth.

The Chapel Hill Town Council saw this more as an “art project” – introducing a bureaucratic muddle as local curmudgeon Roland Giduz noted last June

This plan is to install a giving kiosk is as an alternative to donating to panhandlers. It will be completely privately financed. It won’t cost taxpayers a penny and should relieve the popularly perceived image of beggars harming the aura of Chapel Hill’s public shopping area.

An anonymous donor has offered to pay the $17,000 construction cost of building and installing this small sidewalk structure downtown. As tried and used elsewhere in similar circumstances, it offers people the option to contribute to designated charities instead of enabling panhandlers. The Chapel Hill Town Council recently considered this proposal, seemed to like it, and commissioned a local artist to submit a design. The resulting design by Callie Warner shows a securely- built rectangular structure, simply roofed and with slots for contributions. It is purely a functional kiosk, both in design and appearance.

As all too often happens when something is caught in the maw of bureaucracy, the kiosk idea has been shoved aside ‘til it can be considered as art, rather than as a functional structure. It now awaits a decision — yet-to-be considered or approved – as to whether it is art instead of a simple structure for its intended purpose. Until then there’ll be no giving kiosk and no donation of it or to it.

In the past, I’ve been critical of some of the harsher aspects of Denver’s Give a Better Way campaign , echoing our local Council champion of homelessness causes Sally Greene’s concerns :

Narayan thus argues, and I agree, that a concern that the presence of panhandlers in a downtown district discourages foot-traffic and therefore undermines the economic health of downtown is not a morally valid reason for the further regulation of panhandling.

On the other hand, the impulse behind the idea of the giving kiosk had much to recommend itself. I think it represented a genuine wish to be helpful, to reach out as a community to help those in need. The trouble is that we don’t have natural connections with panhandlers; they appear to us as strangers, one at a time, seemingly cut off from the community. We really don’t know what a pandhandler will do with the dollar we give him, and we have reason to fear the worst. The initiatives that the Downtown Outreach Work Group is about to embark on are potentially good ones–as long as they include a recognition that in the end we cannot control the lives or wills of others, that not every panhandler is dishonest or deceitful, that there is genuine need staring us in the face. (The Denver program’s home page is pretty harsh: a picture of an upturned palm, inscribed, “Please help. Don’t give.”)

Yes, the impulse to give, to help is commendable and should be nurtured.

That’s why I’m willing to follow Denver’s lead while Council works out the finer points of art, and suggest we trial Denver’s practical approach of using recycled parking meters to collect funds:

The city of Denver has recycled old parking meters to help in the fight against homelessness.

The old parking meters have been placed at various locations in downtown, including Skyline Park.

The idea is to encourage people to put the money into the parking meters instead of giving to panhandlers. Money raised from the meters will go to organizations fighting homelessness.

Mayor John Hickenlooper said the city’s 10 year plan to end homelessness is working.

“Denver’s 10 year plan to end homelessness, what we call Denver’s road home, has really become a national model,” Hickelooper said. “I think we’ve had the greatest success in getting the whole community to buy in, to believe this is something we can tackle as a community.”

Officials unveiled 36 of the homeless meters on Monday.

Denver’s CBS4 Mar. 5th, 2007

The lede of this story – “help[ing] the fight against homelessness” – highlights yet again an unfortunate conflation between panhandling and homelessness.

They’re not equivalent.

I hope that it is a distinction the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership Work Group on Homeless shares as they move forward.

Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership: Nov. 28th State of the Union

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

First, kudos to the Downtown Partnership (CHDP) for finally pulling together a decent website (though disabling ‘right clicks’ is cheesy).

There’s a nice calendar widget, some news of the day, list of eats and drinks, services, shops, fun, etc. that are both fairly extensive and accurate.

Way to go Liz and company.

Today the CHDP is presenting their “State of the [Downtown] Union”:

CHAPEL HILL, NC, November 15, 2006: The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership (CHDP) is hosting an Annual Meeting and Public Forum on November 28, 2006 from 4:30pm to 6:45pm at the historic Varsity Theatre, 123 East Franklin Street.

During the meeting, the Downtown Partnership will share the progress made in downtown and by the nonprofit organization over the past year.

“The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership began our work last fall with a series of surveys designed to better understand the needs and concerns of the downtown businesses, property owners and consumers. We’ve spent the past year focusing on four of their top concerns: safety, cleanliness, panhandling, and parking,” explained Downtown Partnership Executive Director, Liz Parham. “We’ve incorporated the methodology of the Main Street Program to build partnerships and bring people together to find new solutions to some old problems. We look forward to reporting on our initiatives.”

After CHDP highlights the progress of the past year, facilitators Andy Sachs and Peter Filene with the Dispute Settlement Center will encourage attendees to express their ideas and concerns that they feel should be addressed. The Downtown Partnership will use this information to develop the 2007 Plan of Work at the CHDP Board of Directors Annual Retreat on December 6th.

Ruby, over on OrangePolitics, notes that the CHDP has sponsored several forums with problematic start times and locations.

Other than catering to the Downtown merchants, who else is supposed to attend what amounts to a public forum put on by a taxpayer funded organization? A 4:30pm start time is tough for a Chapel Hill citizen working in RTP, but, I have to admit, great for me.

The last update forum was well attended, so I hope to see a similar turnout today.



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