New And Young Leaders Learning To “Disagree Well”

CHAPEL HILL – Orange County has seen a great deal of recent political turnover, with a newer, younger generation of legislators and community leaders emerging to replace the old.

But how do those new leaders navigate the political realm? How do they make a difference, in institutions still dominated by older legislators and older ways?

“I walk in, first of all, as a student – a student of the game,” says newly appointed State House Representative Graig Meyer. “How am I going to play this game? What do I need to learn? Who do I need to align myself with? Who do I need to emulate? Who do I need to stay away from?”

First-term Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils agrees, adding that finding one’s place involves not only the need to learn how to play the game – but also the chance to elevate the discourse.

“One of the things that I found myself doing – while not intending, necessarily, to do it – was to come to the role with a kind of posture of wanting to demonstrate how to disagree well,” he says. “I think that, in itself, has value.”

Other young or first-term legislators agree that ‘being the new guy’ also offers a rare opportunity to shake things up.

“I think all of us who are new elected officials have one opportunity, which is to really see how things have been done and to ask questions about why,” says first-term County Commissioner Mark Dorosin. “Why do you do something like this? Why is it like this? And maybe that’s the right way to do it, but you have the opportunity to say, ‘Explain it to me – and in doing so, explain it to the constituents.’”

Fellow first-termer Renee Price agrees. “If I have to say something that’s going to ruffle somebody’s feathers, I’m sorry,” she says. “Well, no, I’m not sorry, really.”

And first-term Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer says she can also take advantage of her status as a demographic outsider as well.

“I’m an immigrant,” she says, “so sometimes I can say things that other people are too embarrassed or have been told all their lives you can’t say in polite company.”

Palmer, Price, Dorosin and Seils all occupy seats on elected boards that serve Orange County alone – so all four can say their own values adhere fairly closely to those of their fellow board members.

Not so Meyer, a Democrat in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. “I just drove back from Raleigh,” he says, “and I was in an education policy hearing…(and) most of the people in the General Assembly don’t know a darn thing about education. And I cannot believe they’re making some of the decisions that they’re making.”

Among other things, he says, those decisions include a continued reluctance to raise teacher pay – and, on Thursday, a task force recommendation to eliminate the Common Core standards.

Those moves and others have left him frustrated, Meyer says – and it can be no less frustrating for new and young officials seeking to make change in Chapel Hill.

“We’re a progressive community – (or) at least we like to think we are,” says Laura Morrison, the associate vice president for membership at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. “That’s an issue we often don’t talk about because it’s not fun and we don’t like to talk about it.”

But despite the frustration, Meyer says it’s possible to be hopeful for the future, simply by looking back to the recent past.

“On the days that I’m mad and angry – and today sitting in chambers was one of the worst days that I’ve had – I tend to think about Terry Sanford and Bill Friday,” he says. “Those gentlemen came out of World War II together…and they decided that they were going to fight racial segregation and build the prosperity of this state based on having a strong public education system.

“And there is no reason why today’s leaders shouldn’t be able to come together around the same goal of building our long-term prosperity on a well-educated populace and the ability to stand up against the continued existence of institutionalized racism and other forms of inequity.”

And it’s that hope that sustains local leaders – young and old and newcomer and veteran alike – as they continue to push for change.

“Change is hard,” says Dorosin. “It’s very frustrating. But, you know, every day you start to push the rock up the hill – and you hope that today, it gets all the way to the top.”

And in the end, Renee Price says, that activism pays off in its impact on people.

“There’s something very interesting that happens, I think every single time I’ve had a meeting (where) I’ve been frustrated,” she says. “The next day someone will call me up, or they’ll see me in the grocery store, and they’ll just say ‘thank you.’

“And you know…it makes it worth it.”

Dorosin, Morrison, Price, Meyer, Seils and Palmer made those comments in the “Tomorrow’s Newsmakers” panel of the 2014 WCHL Community Forum.

Carrboro Looks at Relaxing Setback Rules for Roofs

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen is considering whether to give builders a break regarding roof overhangs, when it comes to setback rules for buildings.

According to a current sub-section in the town’s Land Use Ordinance, setback rules apply to parts of any building including “overhead canopies and roofs.”

The language is important, because a roof overhang is included in the measurement of distance from the street.

Allowable distances are regulated according to a table in the ordinance.

The Planning Board recommends that the first three feet of a residential roof overhang should not be subject to building setback requirements.

But that recommendation only applies to internal setbacks of new major subdivisions.

The Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the matter during its regular Tuesday meeting at Town Hall.

According to an email to the town government from a citizen – which is included in the alderpersons’ information packet – the relaxation in the building rule would prevent the construction of buildings without proper roof overhangs.

The writer of the email pointed out that overhangs provide shade and shelter, as well as diverting water from the building.

The meeting begins Tuesday at 7:30.

Carrboro Town Hall is located at 301 West Main Street.

Carrboro Board of Aldermen to Consider Parking Remedies

Finding a parking space in Downtown Carrboro can be a problem, and The Board of Aldermen is getting ready to sort through some possible solutions.

At Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting at Town Hall, the board will discuss comments and outcomes from a Parking Summit conducted by the Planning Department back in late January.

The daylong public event at the Century Center gave business owners and other citizens the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions about parking challenges downtown.

A recurring question was raised that day: How can The Town of Carrboro help provide parking for employees of downtown businesses, and free up more spaces for shoppers and diners?

Another issue that’s sure to get some public attention is whether paid parking is in Carrboro’s future.

Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen could provide direction to the Town staff for moving forward on those and other parking issues.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen meets at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, located at 301 West Main Street.

And you are invited.

Carrboro Board of Aldermen Getting Closer to Affordable Housing Plan

CARRBORO – The Town of Carrboro is working on a long-term plan to make affordable housing more available to residents.

While discussing options for creating and funding affordable housing in Carrboro, Alderperson Jacquelyn Gist reminded her colleagues that affordability isn’t just about low mortgage payments.

“We’re not talking just affordable to buy, but affordable to stay in and maintain, and I think we need to be really cognizant of that.”

Her remarks came during a Board of Aldermen work session Tuesday night that included about a half hour of brainstorming, as Aldermen reviewed goals for affordable home ownership and rentals.

The main goal is for 15 percent of housing in Carrboro to be in the affordable range by 2020. The town has an Affordable Housing Task Force working on it, and there’s still a lot of fleshing out to do before there’s a final plan.

Alderperson Damon Seils said he likes the idea of re-developing the Jones Ferry Road corridor, which is already home to a lot of affordable housing. He said it’s also attractive to developers.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle offered this idea:

“We’ve talked about exploring other ways to come up with affordable housing, like reaching out to landowners of older housing in Carrboro and incentivizing them in some way.”

And Gist inquired about the desirability of manufactured housing in Carrboro:

“It’s affordable, it’s very nice, and it’s verboten around here. I just wonder if we want to look again at easing our rules on manufactured housing.”

A lot of ideas and incentives were offered for discussion, but as Alderperson Sammy Slade pointed out, no plan for affordable housing will become reality without some money behind it.

“In talking with the manager, one possibility – just exploring and brainstorming – was to have a bond referendum so we’d have the money up front,” said Slade. “But we could allocate a penny tax that could, over time, pay that off, and become a constant revenue stream after we pay it off, too.”

Gist wasn’t on board with the idea of raising taxes.

“There are many members of our community for whom the tax rate is making living here unaffordable,” said Gist. “And they tend to be our older residents, people who have been here a long time, people who have owned their houses for a long time.”

Slade answered that he shared those concerns, but at a time when both federal and state government are cutting back on subsidies for affordable housing, finding the money for it locally is tricky.

The Affordable Housing Task Force meets one more time before the next work session of the Board of Aldermen. The plan is to have some real strategies worked out before the summer break.

Carrboro Aldermen Look at Options for Creating Affordable Housing

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen is considering suggestions for making affordable housing more available in the area.

At a meeting Tuesday night at Town Hall, aldermen will discuss options that include re-examining open-space requirements; making some zoning changes; offering incentives to developers; and providing some assistance for first-time home buyers.

The Board could also vote to enter into an understanding with Chapel Hill to make it easier for the two towns to share fiber-optic infrastructure for high-speed internet.

Another item on Tuesday’s agenda is a vote on whether to make school athletic facilities available for local government-sponsored youth athletics and recreational activities.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen meets at 7:30 at Town Hall, located at 301 West Main Street.

Carrboro Aldermen Preview: Take-Out Food, ATMs and Farmers’ Market Hours on Agenda

Tonight at Town Hall, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen could vote on easing town restrictions on the placement of free-standing ATMs and take-out restaurants.

Aldermen may also decide on a resolution clarifying design standards for bike and pedestrian paths.

Also on tonight’s agenda, the Town will get some public input on a new Web site design for

It also looks like the Town of Carrboro is making slight changes to the operating hours of the Wednesday Farmers Market.

Currently, the business hours for the Farmers’ Market are from 3:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.

If Aldermen vote “yes” tonight, hours will change from 3 until 6.

The Board of Aldermen meets at 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall, located at 301 West Main Street.

Carrboro Declares ‘Lady Tigers Day’ in Honor of 3A State Basketball Champs

CARRBORO – March 19, 2014 is officially Lady Tigers Day in Carrboro.

“Whereas several of us on this board know the special joy there is to be found in playing interscholastic basketball,” said Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, “and hope the Lady Tigers will always look back on these playing days fondly;

“Now therefore be it resolved that I, Lydia Lavelle, Mayor of Carrboro, do hereby proclaim Wednesday, March 19th 2014 as Chapel Hill High School Lady Tigers Basketball Day.”

Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting at Town Hall began with that proclamation.

Mayor Lavelle called members of the State Champion Lady Tigers basketball team in attendance up to the front of the room.

The players and their coach, Sherry Norris, received a standing ovation.

Lavelle recapped highlights of the team’s undefeated season this year, including its 69-56 win over the Hickory High Red Tornadoes at The Dean Smith Center on March 15 for the 3A State Championship.

Lavelle also praised the work of Assistant Coach John French, statistician Vanessa Cotton, and parent liaison Patrice Wall.

The mayor had this request for citizens of Carrboro today:

“Take every opportunity to congratulate these players, and their coach, for their remarkable achievement.”

The players, coach and staff members then posed for photos with the mayor and aldermen, who wore black and gold in honor of the team.

Alderperson Michelle Johnson wore the best item: a gold mask.

And in a fun bit of local trivia, it was revealed that Coach Norris once taught P.E. to Alderperson Sammy Slade.

Carrboro Board of Aldermen Preview: Make Zoning Easier for Residents, Businesses

Addressing concerns about the challenges of navigating Carrboro’s zoning laws will be on the agenda for the Board of Aldermen this week.

Tuesday’s meeting at Town Hall will include re-visiting conversations from October 2013 between local government, residents and business owners about zoning regulations.

The Aldermen will go over a report from those October outreach sessions. According to the report, residents expressed frustration about the difficulty of participating in the zoning process for the layperson.

They cited hard-to-decipher technical language in the land use ordinance, and a feeling of “disempowerment” among people not already involved in community politics.

Aldermen will also pick up on a previous agenda item regarding a proposed Safe Routes to School program. The idea is to encourage walking and bicycling to school and related events.

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.

Alderman Candidate Talal Asad: Carrboro Needs More Parking, Business Growth

Talal Asad is one of three candidates competing for a seat on the Carrboro Board of Alderman this year.

“My goal is to facilitate business owners with as easy a process as possible to continue to sell their goods and services, not only to Carrboro, and to provide them not just to the Town of Carrboro, but also to Chapel Hill and other surrounding areas,” says Asad.

“We should become a destination, I believe, as opposed to just an insular community.”

He’s running against Planning Board Chair Bethany Chaney, and youth mentor and IT specialist Theresa Watson in the May 6 special election for a seat on the Board of Aldermen.

Asad is 27 years old, and a 2008 graduate of the Max M. Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University.

“I do have a lot of experience dealing with a wide group of people, especially in an executive committee sort of role,” he says.

“When I was in college, in my student organization, I was part of a national fraternity, and I was the treasurer of that fraternity. And we were one of the largest in the nation.”

He’s referring to the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Asad says that student leadership taught him to work with a diverse group.

Currently, he’s director of operations at Son Information Systems, a software consulting business in Durham.

In 2010, he moved to Carrboro, from London, England. He lived in Toledo, Ohio until he was seven, when his family moved to the Middle East.

Asad attended high school in Amman, the capital of Jordan. According to Asad, he formed the schools’ first student council.

He says his desire to run for alderman was sparked, in part, by what he sees as the lack of younger voices on the Board.

Asad says it also came from speaking to local business owners, who told him about parking problems, predatory towing, as well as zoning and regulatory hurdles.

“My goal, as alderman, is to try to fight for increased access to the town,” he says, “and to allow more business owners to thrive, and to increase the tax base based on our business owners, so it doesn’t have to fall on the backs of the homeowners and the residents.”

He says he generally thinks the current aldermen do a good job of governing. But he has some concerns.

There’s talk of making Carrboro more pedestrian-and-bike-friendly. Asad says the town is already very accommodating to bikers and walkers.

“I do think there needs to be a lot more education given to the actual bikers in town, to protect themselves and to protect cars from actually, you know, impeding in regular traffic,” he says. “I do notice a lot of times that most of the — I want to say, violators on the road, are, in fact, bikers.”

Asad says he’d like to see more structured parking in town, in addition to the new parking garage at 300 East Main Street. He suggests using the lot near Open Eye Café.

In the coming weeks, WCHL will be talking to candidates in all local races.

Carrboro BoA Preview: Rogers Road, Safe Routes For Students on Agenda

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, the town government will consider plans for extending sewer service to the Historic Rogers Road area.

In the proposal up for consideration, Orange Water and Sewer Authority would evaluate and select a consulting engineering firm to survey and evaluate 86 lots in the area.

That firm would also perform below-ground engineering work. Those tasks would require gaining access to private property, but not the acquisition of easements.

This pre-design phase would take six-to-seven months, according to an OWASA estimate.

The estimated $5.8 million sewer extension is a component of the Rogers Road Remediation Plan, now two years in the making.

Orange, Chapel Hill and Carrboro are working together to make amends to a community that has been adversely affected by the county and municipal landfill for the past 40 years.

In other matters:

The Board will take up unresolved business from last week, regarding language in the town’s Land Use Ordinance to define the width of easements along buffers and creeks.

It’s an issue that’s being worked out between Town staff and Orange Water and Sewer Authority.

OWASA workers want to be sure they have the access needed to perform inspections and repairs on utilities, while the Town wishes to maintain tree-and-water protections.

Aldermen will also consider voting on the creation of a Safe Routes to School Implementation Committee.

The proposed 10-member committee would recommend transportation policies, programs, and activities that would make it safer and more convenient to walk or ride bikes to Carrboro schools, as well as school-related events.

The committee would include faculty, school administrators, and three non-voting student members.

Tuesday’s meeting will open with a presentation by attorney Raul Pinto of the American Civil Liberties Union. Pinto will talk about police checkpoints in Carrboro.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall, located at 301 West Main Street.