Chapel Hill Looking at Options to Expand Downtown Parking

For anyone who has visited downtown Chapel Hill, it’s no secret that parking can be a headache. That’s what the Town Council had in mind when discussing the possibility of adding more parking options at Monday’s public hearing.

Town Manager Roger Stancil presented the council with options of where more parking could go, how much it would cost and what type of parking the land could yield. He said Chapel Hill should balance parking with other modes of transportation.

“It can include transit and bus riders, of course,” he said. “But we also have lots of bicyclists and pedestrians and drivers that we need to accommodate if we’re going to have a healthy and vibrant downtown.”

Two of the main areas for parking expansion that Stancil presented were at The Courtyard off of Roberson Street, and the lot on the corner of Rosemary and Columbia Streets. While he said building a parking deck could provide over 400 more parking spaces, it could also be expensive. And building more surface parking could be an option.

“One of the advantages of surface parking is number one, we could acquire the land in a number of ways so we wouldn’t have to own it in order to improve it as we have in place now,” he said. “And that does not preclude building a deck there at a future date if the demands show that we need to build additional structured parking.”

But councilwoman Maria Palmer said the town should research other ways to make downtown a pleasant experience for people who don’t live close by.

“We had talked about a tram,” she said. “There has to be a way to stop more and more cars coming because it makes walking and biking more difficult.”

Councilwoman Jessica Anderson said although a shuttle system could work smoothly in the future, she said that won’t work for downtown visitors right now.

“I can say with two kids now that I don’t shuttle in from anywhere,” she said. “And I grew up outside of Boston, so I’m not somebody who’s opposed to public transit. But I just don’t see that happening.”

Stancil said whatever the town decides, the whole point is to make sure downtown is a good place to visit.

“We want to create a pleasant experience for people who come downtown for whatever reason,” he said. “Let them visit multiple locations without being worried about their car and what’s going to happen to their car and to find places where we can support public parking.”

The town is looking into options for surface parking first, but is also looking into the potential options for another parking deck.

Town Manager Upholds Firing Of Lee Thompson

CHAPEL HILL – Town Manager Roger Stancil has upheld another firing challenged by a former town employee despite the Personnel Appeals Committee’s recommendation to reverse the decision.

Kevin “Lee” Thompson was fired on October 1, 2012 after multiple written warnings of wrongdoings. The final one—and the one gaining the most attention—is from July 30 of that year when Thompson removed a fallen tree limb from private property of the State Employees Credit Union on Pittsboro Street in Chapel Hill. He removed that limb while on the clock for the Town, and while using Town-owned equipment, including a chainsaw and truck in which it was hauled away.

In a memorandum from Stancil to Thompson in which he announces his decision, according to Stancil’s own investigation, Thompson stated in a hearing in front of the Personnel Appeals Committee that the limb was between the sidewalk of the bus stop and the right-of-way of the credit union, not on private property. He also stated that he did not profit from the service and that he did not have a deal with the bank manager.

The memorandum goes on to say that the investigation found that Thompson was in fact paid $2,500 by the Credit Union for that service plus a return trip the following weekend to finish the job. Thompson owns a private tree service he used on the weekend; the Credit Union is a regular customer of Thompson’s.

Stancil states he was able to take his investigation further than the citizen-run Appeals Committee was able to which resulted in the additional findings.

Thompson claims that he was not fired because of wrongdoings, but instead for racial reasons and retaliation of ill will built up against Thompson since he joined a union.

Thompson and two other former town employees, Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark—also union members, were fired after an investigation and subsequent recommendation by Raleigh-based human resources and compliance agency, Capital Associated Industries said the recommendations of the employees’ supervisors were accurate. In a statement, the Town stated the Human Resources Development Director decided it would be fair to the investigation to hire the outside agency since the HRD had already investigated allegations brought forward by Bigelow.

Attempts to reach Thompson’s attorney, Al McSurely, as well as Town of Chapel Hill representatives were not immediately returned.


Personnel Appeals Committe Findings

Personnel Appeals Committee Additional Recommendations

A Note from Town Manager to Personnel Appeals Committee Regarding Its Recommendations


Discharged Town Employees Get Hearing – Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark


A Note from Town Manager to Chapel Hill Mayor and Council Regarding the Next Steps in Attracting and Retaining Excellent Employees

Happy Boss Day to Chapelboro Bosses

It’s tough to be a boss.  Today is a good time to thank those who have taken on the challenge.
So – Happy Boss Day – to all Chapelboro bosses.

It’s  also a good day for bosses to remind themselves of the duty they  have  to work at becoming better bosses. A good way to do this is to observe other bosses  in action. Not just on Boss Day – this is year round work.  Here are a few good Chapelboro bosses that I’ve observed and written about in recent years.

By the way, I highly doubt that these bosses are (or were) good bosses every minute of every day. More likely it occurred (or occurs) in bits and bites. And it seems to be about…well…read these stories and see what you think. And then – will you add a story or two about bosses you’ve admired?

1.. Chancellor William Aycock – Chancellor at Carolina  from 1957-1964.  

Chancellor Aycock commanded great respect.
Find out how  in: Kudos to Chancellor Bill Aycock.

2.  Basnight Sons & Daughter – Owners of S.H. Basnight & Sons.

SH Basnight & Sons was founded 87 years ago by Stein Basnight and is now run by two of his grandchildren, Jesse Basnight Jr and Terry Hamlet. 
Their secrets to success?
 Eight great ones are revealed in Basnight Family Secrets.  
Secrets 5-8 in particular are outstanding reminders for bosses everywhere.

3.  Bill Blackman & Jim Sloop – Founders of Blackman & Sloop, CPAs, P.A.

Bill Blackman and Jim Sloop were good at hiring, training  and coaching people; and making them feel good about the work they were doing.  Evidence of this?  Many current staff members have been there twenty, even thirty plus years.  Read more in Secrets of Success from Blackman & Sloop.

4.  .  Chris Derby – Owner of two UPS Stores.

A visit to mail packages at one of Chris’ stores made me curious. 
What were his secrets to success?
UPS Stores Do Good Business reveals secrets shared by Chris and his team.
And demonstrates one of the most important reminders for bosses everywhere.

5.  Coach Larry Fedora – Head Football Coach at Carolina.

Coach Fedora is high on energy, has high expectations and he makes them clear to players, coaches, fans – all stakeholders.  Find out how in Good Business Fedora Style.

6.  Mac Fitch – Owner of Fitch Lumber Company.

Fitch Lumber Company is 104 years old, the oldest business in town. 
Freddy Foust has worked there for 27 of those years. When asked why he has stayed at Fitch for 27 years, Freddy’s immediate answer was “Mac Fitch”.  
Hmm – sounds like a good boss to study. Read more in Fitch Family Secrets.

7.. Berkeley Grimball – Owner of Grimball Jewelers.

Like many bosses, Berkeley has learned to be one through the school of hard knocks.  Read  great messages from him on the importance of: communication, systems, crisis management, role definition, delegation, persistence and passion in The Shining of Grimball Jewelers.

8.  Joe Hakan– Architect for the Dean Smith Center.

Most bosses think they make their expectations clear. Most people reporting to them disagree.   This disconnect causes much discord. 
In Great Expectations at the Dean Dome,  learn how  Joe cut off potential discord by making expectations clear from the start.

9. Jim Heavner, Kay Norris & Bob Woodruff – The Village Companies (now known as VilCom).

From 18 years of working with these three, I can tell you that they are stellar bosses in many ways.  The aspect I wrote about most recently was their commitment to professional development.  You can read about it in Mess in the Middle.

10.  Al Jeter – Manager of UNC Surplus Store.

Al sets a positive, high energy  atmosphere.   Team members seem to know what is expected.  They jump in a help without Al saying a word.  You can read more about it in Furniture & More for Less.

11.  Matt Lawrence – Chapel Hill Fire Department.

Here’s another boss making his expectations clear AND keeping everyone posted on progress. 

12. Chancellor Carlyle Sitterson – Chancellor at Carolina from 1966-1972.

Being a good boss during peaceful times is hard enough. 
Even in tumultuous times, Chancellor Sitterson got kudos for being a good boss. 

13.   Roger Stancil –  Town Manager, Town of Chapel Hill

Bosses need to be in charge, take a stand and often make unpopular decisions.   Sometimes they get stuck in that mode and forget that they don’t have all the information and answers.    And sometimes employees are scared to offer information and solutions to the boss, so encouragement is needed.
Roger encouraged input with his  “If I were boss” program.  Read about it Good Business by the Town of Chapel Hill.

14. Ray Austin –  Former manager of Western Auto.

In just two words, Ray Austin sent a strong career lesson to 15 year old Mick Mixon.
It’s a message all bosses need to hear. Read and listen to Mick in Kudos to Ray Austin .


What do you appreciate about a current or former boss?

Write it in comments section below or send to
And what about you? 

  • Are you a boss? 
  • What makes you a really good boss?
  • What could make you better? 
  • Will you adopt a strategy or two from one of the above bosses do or did?
Note:  You can find additional ideas for leadership and team development in this eeek-book designed especially for October.

Good Business by the Town of Chapel Hill

There’s a story on my wall which is on my wall as an important reminder.  It goes like this.

A boy was working on a project in the garage. He was trying to lift a big box but couldn’t budge it.
His father passed by and asked, “Are you using all of your strength?”
“Yes,” the boy replied with that tone of voice that usually goes along with rolling the eyes.
“Are you sure?” said the Dad.
“Yes, Dad. I am trying as hard as I can”.
The father responded calmly, “No. You’re not. You haven’t asked me for help.”

Business leaders are often hesitant to ask for help.  They feel like they should have all the answers.   And if they don’t, they often turn to a consultant.  There can be value in that.  There can be even greater value in asking the people who are already right under the same roof.  Those who deal with the nitty gritty of the business every day. 

And that’s why I applaud the town’s “If I were the boss” program, set up to solicit feedback from employees about the best ways for the town to save money.

Town Manager, Roger Stancil said:  “We’re encouraging them and handing out cards and giving them ways to give us their ideas.  It’s generally true that the best ideas are in their heads. We want to encourage them to give us those ideas so we can find a new way to do things. We’re calling that the “If I Were The Boss…” campaign.”

The cards referred to in the quote are simple index cards – blank and ready to be filled up with new ideas.

This is an excellent strategy that any business can put to work for the purpose of saving money, streamlining systems, improving customer service – anything.

A few variations I’ve seen on this approach include gathering the staff around the conference table for a brainstorming session or two or three.   Or even having each person come prepared to present an idea which starts with the phrase, “If I were the boss, I would….”   I like this approach because it requires every person on the team to participate in the process.  A  mixed approach of presentations, brainstorming and privately submitted suggestions is especially effective.

Time after time, I’ve witnessed staff members coming up with far more ideas that the manager could develop on his own.  One time a group I was working with came up with a list of 100 ways to save money!.

An added benefit:   when the group is involved in coming up with the ideas, they are much more committed to implementation.  They may even be excited about it.

Managers may worry that involving staff could open up a can of worms. Or worries. Both possible. Both valid concerns.  But most likely – the staff is already worried. About financial stability of the organization. About job security. And if they are getting no information from the manager, they are most likely making it up in their own minds or in little discussions by the water cooler and in the parking lot.

Wouldn’t it be great if that energy was focused on something that could have a positive impact on the financial health of the organization?

Then again, there’s that can of worms.  And those worms can’t help but be messy.  So here are a few lessons learned from the school of hard knocks and messy worm can management.

1.  Set a specific goal.    A dollar amount by which you would like to increase revenue, reduce expenses, reduce time spent, etc.  This is very important.   A common mistake is setting out to cut “as much as possible” instead of starting with a specific goal.  Why is that a mistake?  Ask someone to reach as high as he can on the wall and mark that spot on the wall.  Now mark a spot about six inches higher and ask him to reach it.
2.   State how decisions will be made.  Asking for group input can sometimes lead to the assumption that the group will make the decision about how to proceed. If that isn’t true, it is important to say that in advance.  Something like:  “I’d like your help generating a list of possible ideas for saving money.  Once we’ve made the list, I’ll review it with the management team to determine which ones will have the biggest impact.  I’ll share the final decision with you in two weeks.”
3.  State parameters.  If there are any musts, like preserving the customer experience or maintaining staff morale, say so.  If there are any products, programs or services that are off limits, say so.  If jobs are protected, say so.  If you aren’t sure,  you might say something like,  ”  In case any of you are feeling nervous, my first choice is to accomplish this goal without cutting jobs. I cannot promise that at this point. But it is my preference. If you have been thinking about quitting and haven’t told me or if you are interested in reducing your hours, please tell me ASAP because it will make this process easier.”
Notice the careful word selection.  Not cutting jobs is a “preference”, not a “promise”.
4.  Come up with a long list of possible ideas.  The more the better.   Tell your team you want as many ideas as possible.  Oops – that goes against tip #1.   I challenge you to come up with a list of 100 ideas like the group I referred to earlier.  Some of the ideas will be wacky.   That’s good.  Actually – that’s great.
5.  Be quiet.  While working with your team to create a long list of ideas, avoid the tendency to interrupt the creative flow with long explanations about the reasons things are the way they are.  Or responses such as  “we can’t do that”, “we’ve tried that before”, or “that would never work”.     Such comments shut down the flow of ideas.  Save them until #7.   
6.  Take action – Avoid the common mistake – I’ve certainly made it – of gathering a long list of great ideas on the flip chart, white board or file folder and letting them sit there.
Decide and implement as many of the ideas as possible – as quickly as possible. Some of them are no brainers. They will save you money. They don’t affect quality or service or value or morale.  What have you got to lose?  Start NOW!
On some of them – you might feel you need additional information.  Use all your strength. Ask someone (not a committee!) to get the information and bring it and his recommendation to you tomorrow at 2:00pm. Not to leave it on your desk. It will get buried there. Instead review it with him then – at 2:00pm. Ask questions. If more info is needed, ask him to get it for you by a certain time.
If you don’t have time to cull through all the ideas right now, ask someone on your staff who knows the business and its finances real well to go through the choices and make recommendations to you.
7.  Decide and communicate.  If any promises were made to the staff – like the one in #2, getting back to them in 2 weeks – fulfill them.   Explain what decisions were made and why.  Otherwise credibility will be lost. As well as support and enthusiasm for the plan. And a huge loss of much needed strength to implement the plan. And you can’t afford that.

If the manager makes it safe. If the manager asks encouraging questions to draw out more information. If the manager doesn’t interrupt creative flow with long explanations about the reasons things are the way they are. Then it’s amazing the ideas and solutions that can come from these efforts.

Things like:

  • realizing duplication of effort that someone had noticed but was afraid to mention
  • or an antiquated system that no one had questioned because it was so ingrained in “the way we do things”
  • discovering a time consuming report system that no one reads or uses
  • finding volunteers willing to reduce hours or benefits
  • holding meetings via telephone or web conference
  • getting rid of the office water cooler
  • gathering office supplies into one central place instead of having multiple “silos” that are being stocked
  • stapling paper from the recycle bin into notepads instead of buying pads of paper for in house use

I look forward to hearing what comes out of the Town’s “If I were boss” campaign.
And would love to hear from you too.
Have you ever done something like this?
And if so, what were the results?
Will you tell me about it in comments section below?  Or send an email to

A Joke, And The Mayor Is Laughing

The latest incarnation of the Chapel Hill Town Government’s fumbling quest to cover up the Yates incident is a joke, and may be the most politically revealing. Town Manager Roger Stancil, and presumably the Mayor and Police Chief, have come out with their newest attempt to prevent the truths of this incident from receiving credibility.

Tasked by the Council last week with providing a potential budget for an independent investigation, requested in an 11-page report by the Town’s Community Policing Advisory Committee, Stancil instead presented a counter-proposal in four documents, which he sent to the Council at 4:42 PM this Monday, barely more than two hours before the meeting would start.

Despite this 11th hour release, the Council was ready to vote on Stancil’s proposal not two minutes after discussion began. For such a charged issue that has divided the community and brought national scrutiny upon the Town, this seems like a rather hasty decision – unless, of course, they’d already made up their minds, say, on November 13?

Instead of an investigator, trained to ask the right questions to the right subjects, and equally skilled at piecing together hundreds of stories into a factual timeline, Stancil proposes a website where anyone can post information about the incident, with the CPAC left to pick up the pieces.

The government has yet again sidestepped actually voting on this independent investigation, which Jim Neal petitioned on November 21, again on January 9, and which the CPAC petitioned on January 23. According to the Mayor, with whom I spoke after he adjourned the meeting, the investigation is now “in the ether,” and the Council won’t consider it unless yet another petition is brought to them.

Death of a Cynic

     When I attended the first community meeting for Chapel Hill’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan I looked at the hundreds of people gathered at East Chapel Hill High and thought something along the lines of “We’re all wasting our time.”  And I questioned the savviness of the public spending that backed it.  

     It wasn’t that I disparaged the idea or even the good intentions of the architects of the process.  Simply put, I’ve believed always that the larger the number of people involved, the less likely it is that any sort of decision or consensus can be reached.  And to try to create a plan with hundreds of opinions?  Foolishness.  

     Here it is several months later and I’ve continued to attend as many meetings, presentations, work sessions, etc. as possible and you’re probably wondering why I do, if indeed it is a waste of time.  I’m going to answer by describing my journey from cynical skeptic (skeptical cynic?) to earnest believer.  

     That first night my small group was made up of a true cross-section of those who live, work and play in Chapel Hill.  We talked about ideas and ideals and I left thinking- still- “nice words, but…”  And yet, people came in the hundreds because they care about their town and the group was not dominated by one voice.  I gave credit to the architects of the process for getting so many involved but I still thought that path would lead to stasis. 

     Then the word clouds appeared, culled from that first night’s work.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a safe, lively, sustainable place, I wondered, still thinking that all those nice words couldn’t possibly transform into anything resembling a plan. 

     So, why did I continue to participate?  There’s something awfully seductive about being with people who think the world can be made to be a better place and I started to want to believe them.  

     Then one meeting got a bit more raucous.  Not unpleasant; I’ve seen no examples of less than respectful behavior, but a bit less utopian.  It happened to follow Town Manager Roger Stancil’s presentation on our budget woes but most of my fellow work session attendees did not credit that with the change in the tone.  

     From that point on, the group I’ve joined has attacked and dissected big issues (“big rocks”) in a way that seems to be moving toward an understanding of various points of view and an acknowledgement that give-and-take is the way forward.  

     Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone!  

     If you’ve not yet participated in the process, please click this link for the calendar.  It is not too late to join in.  

     Please post a comment below or write to me at  You are free to write about this post but I’d love it also if others shared a time when they were de-cynicism-ed!

Big Issues for 2012 and Beyond

It’s nice to say that we begin 2012 with excitement about Chapel Hill 2020 — and REALLY MEAN IT!

The plan our stakeholders create will take us well beyond the year 2020 in our vision for a sustainable, vital community. The lineup of January presentations is outstanding — health care, retail, housing, economic development, demographics, transportation, Carolina North, and a day devoted to innovation.

The six Theme Groups meet today at 4:30 p.m. January 12 at Glenwood Elementary School; groups then may establish a “final draft” of their goals. We’ve reviewed the draft goals, dropped in on discussions, and we are impressed. We see new thinking; strong knowledge of our community; practical requests for resources and information.

Our stakeholders envision a more holistic plan than the current comprehensive plan — for example, promoting public health and local food sources; exploring economic development and innovation; drilling down on greater waste reduction; staying mindful of our fiscal constraints. More than land use, indeed!

As co-chairs of Chapel Hill 2020 we draw on our past experiences and our contemporary conversations to identify potential Big Issues, which we call the “Big Rocks” — important topics the plan should address. After reviewing the work to date, listening and thinking, we ask the community to consider whether these issues might qualify as Big Rocks, needing attention from our Theme Groups, and a place in the plan.

Some stakeholders have asked in meetings and blog posts, how can we include the schools in our planning? We agree. Any way you cut it, our schools are a major determiner of our community. They relate to the community’s desirability, population, tax rate, real estate values. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system is a major employer. Do they have new site needs? Should we encourage them to grow up (on existing sites) and not out (on new sites)? What about year round school? Are the town and schools maxing out opportunities to share facilities — and save money?

If you own a home in Chapel Hill, 32 percent of your property tax bill goes to the Town of Chapel Hill to fund the Town’s operating budget. The balance of your bill is split between the County (56 percent) and the School District (12 percent). Considering that half of the county budget goes to schools, this means that 40 percent of a what a Chapel Hill homeowner pays in taxes goes toward schools.

Our local public school leaders are developing a new strategic plan. We hope to schedule a presentation from them on their key issues.

Solid Waste
“Nurturing Our Environment” has addressed solid waste from some perspectives. In fact, we have a Big Ugly Rock in this road and it is within sight. Orange County assumed management of the countywide solid waste system in 2001. Yet at the dawn of 2012 the county has not settled on a solution for future waste disposal. The landfill closes in 2014. Absent a county solution, should Chapel Hill be seeking its own solution for this important public service?

Capital Facilities
Read that “Police Station.” The current home of the Chapel Hill Police Department is a disgusting, inefficient, poorly designed, ugly facility. Mold. Hot water problems. It is an embarrassment. If you doubt this let us take you on a tour. Council has identified it as a priority but no money is budgeted toward a new home for our police. The other key capital need Council has identified is programming space for Parks and Recreation — for dances, arts classes, etc. We hope a Theme Group (or two) can fold this into their thinking. Creative solutions? Existing spaces we can adapt for classes and dances? And there’s an underused asset — the old library on Boundary Street. What should be its future?

Downtown and Parking
At our initial visioning session with 475 people, “Downtown” was one of the most frequently occurring words. Scores of people cared about downtown, offered ideas, cited problems. How often do we hear, “I can’t find a place to park downtown so I don’t go”? Talk to any business owner downtown and this is Topic One. Either we need more downtown parking or a crackerjack educational program to tell people how to find existing parking. Or perhaps more creative partnerships with owners of private lots. We encourage our Theme Groups to give downtown the high level of attention the community desires.

Last December 1, Town Manager Roger Stancil reported on the town’s fiscal condition. We learned that for this year the town had replaced funding for street maintenance from annual operating expense with the use of bond funds approved for street improvements.  The bond funds will run out but the annual need will continue.. Our road infrastructure is an essential, valuable resource. Beyond function, it’s part of our image and face. We hope the plan will give town infrastructure a priority.

The Greene Tract
In the early 1980s, Mayor Joe Nassif, Mayor Jim Porto of Carrboro and Commissioner Don Willhoit collaborated to purchase this 69-acre tract for a future landfill. The Greene Tract was disqualified as a landfill site but remains a publicly owned resource. It falls under both Chapel Hill’s and the county’s planning jurisdiction. We hope our 2020 stakeholders view this tract thoughtfully as a great public resource for the future. We can share that thinking with the county and Carrboro.

Town-Gown Collaboration on New Built Environment
We have extensive town-gown collaboration — transit, safety, the Downtown Partnership, planning. Can we explore ideas for town-gown collaboration in new development? Opportunities at Carolina North? Joint ventures with the private sector for new student and young faculty housing, either downtown or on transit corridors, so that they will have choices other than living in Northside or commuting from Durham or Chatham County? This is a sustainability goal looking for some outcomes.

Transit Corridor
Here’s a question for “Getting Around” and “Good Spaces and New Spaces.” The current Land Use Management Ordinance has a “placeholder” page called Transit Corridor Development. Once upon a time (12 years ago) town leaders thought we should specify our transit corridors and what type of new uses and buildings, including scale, should be encouraged along NC 86 and NC 54, for example. Twelve years later, that page is still blank. Can we agree on a 2020 goal that allows us to finally write that page?

Framework for Change

A few weeks back I wrote about how a presentation from Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil had made it crystal clear that services would go down, taxes would go up or we could add to our tax base.  With that in mind I attended a presentation Tuesday evening on “Retail, Housing, and Economic Development in Chapel Hill” by the town’s economic development officer, Dwight Bassett.

The presentation was filled with information on our expensive cost per acre (highest by far in the Triangle at $175,067), our comparative tax base (lowest at 16%) and the market opportunities available to the town over the next several years.
Statistics are not a language in which I’m fluent so hats off to Mr. Bassett for making this comprehensible to me and also for making it interesting.  During the Q&A session following the presentation, someone referenced these comparisons and asked the fair question of (paraphrasing here) “But do we want to look like those other places?”
I found the answer in the drawings shown of the Downtown Framework and Action Plan (go almost to the end of the pdf linked to here).  In it, I saw a walkable, enjoyable, sociable space with greater access than there is now- no matter your preferred mode of transportation.  By creating more cross streets between Franklin and Rosemary, the town maximizes high ticket street frontage for developers (tax base help) while creating an approachable downtown with shorter blocks, more green space and likely drawing more places we all want and need to go. All this and a reduced dependence on residential property taxes?  Sounds good to me.
To go back to that question of whether we have to give up our character in order to be more fiscally strong, I say the Downtown Framework shows us we don’t.  We can maximize what’s available and still feel like the Southern Part of Heaven.
Where does this plan stand?  From a town press release: “The Downtown Framework remains a draft plan as work has continued to refine it and the Town Manager placed a hold on it as issues related to Northside and Pine Knolls were worked on.”
The only negative takeaway from the presentation came during that Q&A session:  Despite two entreaties that each person should ask only one question to allow for as much participation as possible, some people did not comply.  The town has gone to great lengths to make this a participatory process; let’s not stand in each other’s way.
Finally, a big thank you to the 2020 leadership for organizing so many of these educational presentations.  Chapel Hill has everything it needs to write and build a bright future.  
Do you have a vision for Chapel Hill’s future?  Please share it by participating in the 2020 Comprehensive Planning Process.  Thoughts on the post above?  Leave them below or write to me at

'Tis the Season!

Yes, it ‘tis the season and watching harried people move about trying to do everything that they have on the list proves it, but it’s another season too. This is also recognition season and I’m glad that it is. One of the indicators of a vibrant community in my mind is a place that takes time out to say thank you to people who deserve acknowledgment.
On Tuesday evening, December 13th at the University Mall, The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce took to the Mall stage for the annual “Salute to Community Heroes” program. As they put it in the evening’s program, they wanted to “recognize the men and women who make this community a safe, happy and health place to live, work and play.” Following the opening remarks from Chamber president Aaron Nelson, Nancy Kitterman of University Mall, and Justin Purdy on behalf of program sponsor Time Warner Cable Business Class, we heard musical selections from the United Voices of Praise.
Chris Barnes of First Citizens Bank served as the Master of Ceremony and he called each award recipient forward to receive his or her plaque from Nelson and Chair Board Chair Mark Pons of Chapel Hill Tire Car Care Center. The first group of awards included:
  • The UNC Public Safety Officer of the Year, Sergeant Brian Wilson;
  • The Orange County EMS Employees of the Year, Paramedic Brook James and Paramedic Erin Ray;
  • The Chapel Hill Police Officer of the Year, Officer Stephen Slagle;
  • The Carrboro Police Officer of the Year, Sergeant Joseph Thomas
  • The Chapel Hill Fire Fighter of the Year, Master Firefighter Heather Robinson;
  • The Carrboro Fire Fighter of the Year, Fire Captain Carl Freeman.
Next, Mr. Nate Davis received acknowledgment as the “2011 Cal Horton Service Award” recipient and then special community award winners received plaques. Mary Andrews of “Our Children’s Place received the “Jim Gibson Volunteer of the Year Award;” Bruce Runberg was the “Town and Gown Award” recipient; Drew Melvin of St. Thomas More Church received the “Irene Briggaman Lifetime Achievement Award;” and Jay Miller of the Arts Center was the “2011 Citizen of the Year.”

What made this a really special evening was that there were plenty of people there to celebrate the achievements of those who protect us and those who volunteer in our community. Yes, we enjoyed great refreshments and the mall looked extra beautiful, but it was people who cared that made you know this was an important evening.
On Wednesday, January 14 at the Hargraves Center, many of the same people gathered to observe the presentation of the “2011 Cal Horton Service Award” to Nate Davis. Town Manager Roger Stancil recounted the numerous contributions during the Center’s supervisor’s 37 years of service to Chapel Hill’s Parks and Recreation Department, and then relatives, friends, and co-workers recounted their personal tributes. Friends like Fred Battle, another Town legend, told of the early days at Parks and Rec with no budget, but a full program of services to help mold the youth of Chapel Hill. Each speaker added another piece of the story of Nate Davis as a selfless servant to all. The fact that his fellow Town employees nominated him and other Town employees selected him from 11 other deserving nominees spoke volumes.
Clearly, relatives, friends, and co-workers presented plenty of evidence that Nate represents the best ideals of public service in all that he does day after day, and how he has done it year after year makes him especially deserving. The cash and plaque that accompanies the gift is great as an acknowledgment, but the lives that Nate touched over the years made our community a better place. As was stated, when some say Chapel Hill, they think of Nate Davis, and when others say Nate Davis, they think Chapel Hill.
‘Tis the season for sure, and honoring those who serve us and volunteer to make this a better place to live should always be in season.

Why Chapel Hill is Lucky


     I’ve had so much to say over the past few weeks that I’ve found myself virtually (!) tongue-tied.  
      I couldn’t seem to focus my thoughts about so many less-than-savvy spenders:  the staffer of Kansas Gov. Brownback who decided public time and money should be spent threatening a high school student over a tweet.  Not a gun… a tweet.
     Then there’s the possibility that longterm unemployment benefits will run out on almost 2 million people just after the first of the year if Congress doesn’t authorize an extension.  If those in Washington aren’t going to worry about someone’s rent and food bill, they might think about the added drag on the economy and social services if these are not extended.  Not one member of congress will ever lack for healthcare and I doubt any will lack for food nor shelter.  
     Speaking of Washington, the failure of the so-called congressional supercommittee to reach some kind of compromise toward it’s goal of cutting more than $1 trillion from the federal budget deficit left me more than tongue-tied.  I was and am angry about the intransigence of people we elect.  Beyond the Beltway the country is littered with states where solutions to budgetary problems are being found in the pensions of public workers.  Did you hear any member of the not-so-supercommittee offering up congressional pensions to fill the gap?  I didn’t think so.  
     I was startled out of my virtual silence by the presentation of the fiscal conditions of Chapel Hill, given Thursday evening at the 2020 Comprehensive Plan working session.
     What startled me is not that Chapel Hill and its residents are facing tough choices, but the absolutely adult and respectful way this was conveyed.  The examples above from Kansas to Washington are teeming with disrespect for the electorate and that makes me angry.  In contrast, Town Manager Roger Stancil made it absolutely clear that – in his words- “we are at the crossroads of financial sustainability”.  He approached an informed and engaged population and demonstrated how the town has made it through the recession thus far and why we are coming to a crossroads.  His words again: “Some strategies used to balance the budget are unsustainable”, “we’ve run out of rabbits in the hat; there are no more easy strategies” and very specifically if any of us had missed his point: We “can’t sustain paying for road paving out of bond funds”.  
     To further point out the respect Chapel Hill shows its own, all this took place at a meeting where anyone was welcome to come contribute to the future of the town.  Attendees were sent off to work groups knowing the fiscal future of the town requires at least one of the following options: 
  • Change expectations for services
  • Raise taxes
  • Find new revenue
     I had previously attended a town council work session where council members were given a primer on retail sales leakage out of our county and how the town can prevent future leakage.  Also offered in full detail that night was a critique of the town’s arduous, expensive and capricious development process.  The zoning consultant did not advocate approving everything that came through; rather he said it should start from the town writing a set of development standards.  Standards would allow people looking to invest in the town to understand what was expected from the get-go and not be expensively surprised at various steps in the process.  
     It seems that all my silence has led to some circuitous thinking.  I’ll try to straighten it out:
  • Chapel Hill is engaged in writing its own future at the very time when the economy is requiring that we re-write the rules.  In that sense, we are very lucky.
  • Chapel Hill’s leaders have educated themselves thoroughly about the options and plans for changing the revenue picture and hold the power to do so according to the vision of the residents (thanks to 2020). 
  • We are respected enough to be told of the tough choices.  Not for us the pablum from Washington.  If they were listening, even those who prefer Chapel Hill not change heard this week that it will, one way or another.  The good news?  It’s up to us how it will change.
Tell me what you think by leaving a comment below or by writing to me at