CHAPEL HILL- Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt announced the Chapel Hill Town Council vacancy in early December, after Penny Rich stepped down to serve on the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Since then, eleven residents have applied to fill that seat.Just days after the vacancy was announced, Southern Village resident Gary Kahn became the first to put his name forward in a three page hand-written application.

Kahn’s been ardently following local government since he moved to Chapel Hill in 2011. He says with months of council meetings under his belt, he’s up to speed on all the major issues facing the town.

“My experience attending all the town council meetings from the cell phone ban up until the ads on the buses I think qualifies me to serve on the council because I’m probably the most well-informed person that they’re looking for,” says Kahn.

He says development and transportation issues loom largest on the horizon, with the proposed Obey Creek project front and center.

Kahn hopes to be a voice for residents in the southern end of town, and if he’s not appointed, he says he plans to run for office in November.

Education consultant Maria Palmer announced her intention to apply early on and she made it official in mid-December. She says she’s concerned that Chapel Hill is losing touch with minority residents.

“A big issue for me is equity and fairness, and the opportunity for every resident’s voice to be heard,” says Palmer. “I think we can do better, and I know that our council is concerned and wants to do better. I think I can help.”

Palmer has served in a variety of leadership roles, from co-chair of the transportation theme group in the Chapel Hill 2020 process, to a member of the State Board of Education.

Aaron Shah was the last to file in 2012, submitting a scant 20 word application just after Christmas. As both an IT technician with the university and a member of the town’s Sustainability Committee, Shah says he’s particularly concerned about the lack of affordable housing in Chapel Hill.

“I think the door should be open to all citizens, but mostly and more importantly to the people who serve this town,” says Shah. “Town employees, fire department, police department, hospital and university employees: these people make our town go and make our town function. To be able to provide this opportunity so that they can get back and forth to work with more simplicity would be great.”

Shah also submitted his name the last time the council made an appointment to fill Bill Strom’s vacant seat back in 2009, but he says as a single parent of three children, he doesn’t see himself running for office anytime soon.