Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

[UPDATE:] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend has a great summation here.

Over a decade ago, just as I was beginning to get involved in local issues, I heard then local NAACP President Fred Black and Roger Road resident Rev. Robert Campbell brief Council on the fairly extensive list of negative impacts our landfill was having on the Rogers Road neighborhood: rats, buzzards, landfill leachate spilling across lawns, tainted water, debilitating odors, broken sewers, dangerous roads, among others, plaguing the area for decades.

They referenced a 1972 unrecorded pledge (since disputed by local governments) by then Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee that the small community would get new services for taking on, at the time, Chapel Hill’s garbage burden. Further, they stated Lee claimed the landfill would only operate 10 years (1982) and that he promised obvious negative impacts would be mitigated over the whole lifespan of the project.

As of early 2000, after several extensions of the landfill’s lifespan, the small Rogers Road community still waited on those new services, necessary remediation and a time-certain for closure. Fred and Robert made a convincing case that given the dearth of leadership from the County that Chapel Hill should lead the way in finally addressing these issues. The Council wrung their hands but did little more than pass the buck back to Orange County claiming impotence in discharging that long held obligation.

The struggle to get some kind of reckoning has been long. Its been tough. There have been setbacks ( background).

Tonight, though, with unanimity the current Orange County Board of Commissioners vowed to finally make good on that 40 year old debt. What started out as a discussion of a proposal to extend the landfill’s life, again (through 2017), became a solid consensus to delay any further action contingent on the formulation of a firm, specific plan of remedying the Rogers Road community’s problems.

It started out with more than a dozen folks, including Rev. Campbell, standing before the Commissioners highlighting environmental problems like air and water pollution, describing the 42 illegal waste dumps surrounding the landfill, reporting on the 2+ tons of litter recently removed by volunteers from the nearby roadsides.

I focused on the process. Why, I asked, hadn’t the County included a specific mitigation plan in tonight’s proposal? A call Commissioner Valerie Foushee echoed minutes later. Where would the funds come from given the County hadn’t been setting aside funds as per the 1997 landfill extension agreement? Why hadn’t, given the breathing room last year’s decision to ship waste to Durham’s trash transfer facility, the Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) taken on the task of capping of the landfill in a socially responsible fashion? What would the Rogers Road community get from yet another extension of their problems?

As I put it – irrespective of whatever promises made or not by Chapel Hill Mayor Lee in 1972, the County and the Commissioners now owned the problem.

The Commissioners, after taking in these comments, each took a turn explaining why they couldn’t endorse an extension that didn’t include a specific plan of action for mitigating the decades of harm caused by the landfill.

Relatively new County Manager Frank Clifton said as someone who hadn’t been involved in all the discussions, hadn’t heard decades of problems, as an outsider, he was mystified that the County Commissioners hadn’t taken advantage of the 1997 stipulations to fund mitigation. He said he and his staff had long been ready to take all the studies, advisory board reports, commission results, etc. and formulate a plan of action. He also said – clearly – that this had to be a County staff driven effort and that the County’s partners – Chapel Hill and Carrboro – would be advised but not counted on in moving forward (the municipalities have been missing in action for decades though the Council finally did appoint Jim Ward as liaison to the SWAB).

Brief summary: the BOCC accepts full responsibility for what should be an obligation borne by all the local leadership. They have instructed staff to create a specific plan of action and to seek funding for it. That plan will identify mitigation strategies the County can legally carry out. The municipalities will be advised but not relied upon (a sorry comment on current affairs) in moving forward.

Quiet elation – a strange feeling – and a reasonable outcome after a long, long haul. More than ten year’s in the making the final chapter, hopefully, is being written on the Rogers Road landfill story.

Lift up your hearts, all will come right

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

“…lift up your hearts, all will come right. Out of depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind…”

PRIME MINISTER WINSTON CHURCHILL’S SPEECH TO THE ALLIED DELEGATES
St. James’s Place, London, June 12, 1941

I’ve been thinking about my Libyan friend Ish’s family the last couple weeks. Finally, a promise of freedom from oppression but at a steep price. As the daily death toll mounts in the Libyan countryside I can only hope that they come through unscathed.
(more…)

Purest Form of Democracy: Raging Grannies to the Fore

Monday, January 24th, 2011

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….”

Our Next Police Chief

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

[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).

Well Done Rogers Road Coalition!

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Some welcome news on the Rogers Road front.

The Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association has been awarded a Federal EPA Environmental Justice grant to help address some of the long term environmental issues that neighborhood has faced as a consequence of taking on our trash disposal burden.

Recipient: Roger-Eubanks Neighborhood Association
Project Name: PITCH (Partnerships in Transforming Community Hope)
Project Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Issue:
The Rogers-Eubanks is an African-American, low-income community and has served as the host of the Orange County regional landfill since 1972. The community was promised basic amenities when the landfill site was originally purchased in 1972, however, amenities such as water and sewer service, storm drains, curbs and gutters, sidewalks, a recreation center and greenspace have not been forthcoming.
Summary:
The focus of PITCH is to achieve reductions of waste inputs to landfills and repair household energy and water inefficiencies. This will be achieved by reducing household solid waste, composting kitchen waste, recycling mixed paper, and using compost in a local community garden.

In addition, the project will educate the residents on conserving water and energy through weatherization improvements, repairs of small-scale plumbing and sewage inefficiencies, and replacement of incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones. The project will engage Orange Country residents, the broader public, and news media on PITCH-In’s call to action for waste reduction and environmental stewardship.
Project initiation date: July 1, 2010

Partners: University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, Daniel A. Okun Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Coalition to End Environmental Racism

Now the ball is rolling, it is time to fulfill on some of the other promises made on our behalf nearly four decades ago.

More information on the RENA home website.

Rev. Robert Campbell’s Letter

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

I first met Rev. Robert Campbell, an incredibly dedicated advocate for the Rogers/Millhouse community, over 8 years ago. At the time I was attending one of my first Council meetings.

Fred Battle, Robert Campbell, Yonni Chapman
Yonni’s Picassa, Aug. 28th, 2009, Peace and Justice Commemoration

Fred Battle, then President of the local NAACP (and member of the Hank Anderson Breakfast Club), had presented a compelling case for extending sewer and water to the Rogers Road community on the basis of promises made by Chapel Hill’s Mayor Lee decades before. The community had been told that if they accepted the landfills, the County and the Town would provide mitigations, including proper sanitation and potable water, to offset those burdens.

I was moved by Fred’s and Robert’s words that evening, wished I could lend a helping hand. I introduced myself, apologized that as a longtime resident and part of the problem I had not known of their plight and done more to help. Luckily I’ve since had an opportunity to make amends.

The last 4 years Robert, Neloa Jones and many of other other folks working to lift the burden off of this community have set an example that I strive to follow. It is a true welcoming gift that they’ve invited my service on their behalf.

Unfortunately, eight years on, we are still dealing with some of the same issues. The Council this Spring pledged to form a working group to resolve this long owed debt but that pledge, like Mayor Lee’s of decades ago and Mayor Foy’s of this Spring, remains unkept.

Robert wrote this stirring endorsement of my candidacy which appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald and at the IndyWeek.

Thank you Robert for the very kind words:

Raymond has vision; is the voice town needs

Will Raymond is a person that knows the issues and the effect it has on policies making in local government. Will has been and still will advocate for social and environmental justice. Will is one who sees the importance of citizens’ voices and will be the voice of those that are not at the table where decisions are made that affect them.

We are at a critical point in planning for our future of our town. Construction will soon begin in a Chapel Hill planning district, a waste transfer station is part of the development which must be addressed. Will Raymond knows our roads, schools, housing and right to basic amenities will be on the minds of citizens.

Local and political education, accountability, honesty and democracy are the keys to transparency in government. A vote for Will Raymond is a vote for Green initiative and sustainability. We need new vision on the town board. Make the right decision and vote for Will Raymond, a man that sees from within and not from without, one who has been at the meeting and has seen and heard the voice of the people.

I, Robert Campbell, call for all friends, family members, church members, citizens and veterans to vote for community service and experience. Vote for Will Raymond.

Robert Campbell
Chapel Hill

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