Chapel Hill Library Funding: Orange County Commissioners & Council Committee Meet

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Went to this afternoon’s Council committee meeting to see how Orange County’s Commissioners would respond to Chapel Hill’s demands to increase Library operational funding NOW rather than later.

A few general observations/comments before my notes.

First, an apology to my loyal readers. I have spent much more time accumulating content than presenting it.

For instance, I went on the recent Town sponsored walk through Northside, led by Empowerment’s Delores Bailey (whose mother lived along the route), to review various NCD (neighborhood conservation district) violations and missteps (which generated these Council concerns the following Monday). Took lots of pictures, made lots of notes, hope to turn it into a post “sometime soon”. Given the huge backlog of content, I’ll try to pick up the pace over the next month.

As far as the Library funding issue, it’s clear that Chapel Hill has been subsidizing access to the %41 of County residents who hold library cards for too long.

The portion of that expense, calculated simplistically as a straight ratio, totes up to almost $7 million over the last decade. Given that there is a huge gap between the level of service our community has demanded and paid for those last 10 years – at a yearly cost now of $3 million dollars – and the level of service offered county residents – funded to the tune of $1 million – one could argue – as Orange County’s Manager Frank Clifton did – that the putative subsidy’s scope is distorted by Chapel Hill’s historical level of extraordinary support. While I agree with Council member Gene Pease, that the whole of the county deserves to have a library system more akin to that of Chapel Hill’s, I also agree with Frank’s analysis – comparing Chapel Hill’s caviar diet to the more modest appetite of County residents is an apples to oranges comparison.

As I’ve noted before (Library or Lot #5?), even though Chapel Hill has been unfairly subsidizing service for years, the demand for more operational funds NOW is being driven by the majority of this Council’s stated desire to imprudently issue $20.1M worth of bonds in June rather than addressing a fundamentally inequitable situation.

Given that the Council will not shed the ridiculous Lot #5/West 140 financial liability in order to deal more effectively with the fiscal strain a Library expansion will place on the budget, their demand to the Board of Commissioners, especially given the deep hole ($6M+) Orange County finds itself in, rings hollow.

Why the emphasis on increasing operational funds then?

To make the case for doing the expansion now irrespective of foreseeable economic conditions arguing otherwise.
(more…)

Municipal Networking: AT&T, Another Brick in the Wall

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

I’ve been pushing for our local government to invest in community-owned networking as necessary infrastructure for the 21st century. Communities that provide neutral and widely accessible communications infrastructures will reap the benefits of greater economic activity, level the playing field vis-a-vis the digital divide and help create a new Town commons open to all our citizens irrespective of their political or other views.

To date, the Town has ear-marked $500,000 to tag-along with NC DOT’s traffic signalization upgrade project.

One argument in favor of a municipal network is that the community has direct oversight and input into its operating policies.

So, unlike a mega-corp telco like AT&T, our local community can adopt policies which don’t siphon off our emails without due legal process and protect our 4th Amendment freedoms. Or, again unlike AT&T, can sustain network neutrality, repudiate online censorship and preserve our ability to exercise freedom of speech.

AT&T did their part this weekend to make the abstract threat of mega-corporation censorship little more concrete:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the “Blue Room” Live Lollapalooza Webcast. When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them. During the performance of “Daughter” the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” but were cut from the webcast:

– “George Bush, leave this world alone.” (the second time it was sung);
– “George Bush find yourself another home.”

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media. AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media. Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of “NetNeutrality.”

Check out The Future of Music or Save the Internet for more information on this issue.

Pearl Jam News, Aug. 8th, 2007

Pearl Jam? Hey, whatever you think of their music or RIAA issues, they have a point. If their performance can be censored in real-time by the only conduit carrying their message, well, it can happen in pretty much any other venue.

AT&T was caught this time. What of the next when, say, they are tempted to prune a few unflattering comments made about their monopolistic practices during the telecast of a Congressional oversight hearing?

I’ve taken a break from pushing the community owned networking agenda for a short while. Folks like fellow ‘blogger and net-activist BrianR have picked up my slack and moved forward.

I have a post coming up singing the praises of these local activists who have striven to protect our community’s ability to deploy a counter to the AT&T communications monopoly.

Until then, please hop over to Brian Russell’s Yesh ‘blog to catch up on what has been happening on the local scene.

Election 2007: Candidates Line Up

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Filing for office begins noon July 6th and ends noon July 20th.

Confirmed candidates for Chapel Hill Council and Mayoral races are:

  • Kevin Foy, current incumbent Mayor.
  • Sally Greene, 4-year incumbent Council member, ‘blogger.
  • Cam Hill (yes, quite a scary snapshot but there was no official site I could find), another 2003 winner and incumbent Council member
  • Bill Strom, another incumbent and current Mayor Pro-Tem (foiled, it seems this round in his quest for the Mayoralship)

As far as current Council members, that leaves Jim Ward yet to declare.

According to local political pundit and Chapel Hill Herald columnist Tom Jensen “this election is probably going to be a snoozer in Chapel Hill” (OP) because “it will be an uphill battle since incumbents rarely lose in Chapel Hill and I don’t think anyone on Council has done anything to outrage any broad segment of the citizenry.”

Interesting spin from Tom but maybe he’s right – no one will rise to the challenge.

I helped Bill, Sally and Cam during the 2003 election, so this year presents some interesting contrasts. Strangely enough (cough, cough), Bill, Sally and Cam represented the Town in the RAM Development/Lot $$$5 debacle.

One might assume that they saw this as a career enhancer – it’ll be interesting to see how their white whale plays during the election cycle.

Tom, maybe possible contenders, like the Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (NRG) Mike Collin’s or frequent OrangePolitics poster and the Planning Board’s George Cianciolo or a few more locally active folks will be scared off by the awesome weight of incumbency.

We’ll see, as July 20th is a short two weeks away.

In the “cooler” (at least according to WCHL‘s Ron Stutts) ‘berg of Carrboro

are on deck. Current BOA members Joal Broun and Alex Zaffron haven’t officially said which way they’ll jump though I’ve read that Alex might pass.

Who else might run?

In Carrboro, folks are looking North to Katrina Ryan, a 2005 candidate that more than a few folks thought deserved Dan Coleman’s seat.

Carrboro’s NTA (Northern Territories) have more than a few possible candidates to draw upon, including the newly announced Lydia Lavelle. Lydia, who is coincidentally a partner in Foy and Lavelle (yes, that Foy), threw her hat into the appointment ring with Dan and the Village Project’s James Carnahan.

Will James or former well-liked candidate David Marshall make a run? I haven’t heard though the cool ‘berg of Carrboro would be well-served by their entry.

[UPDATE:] Someone asks “Is that all the potential candidates I can think of?” Not really, but I figure time will tell and, hopefully, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

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.

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