Read Paul Stam’s Letter (It’s a Different Kind of Common Sense.)

OK, Springsteen fans. Late yesterday Representative Paul Stam, Speaker of the NC House, sent a letter to every local elected official outlining the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act (SL 2016-3, or HB2) and how it corrects for the “big government overreach” of the Charlotte City Council.  Apparently his office has received a few phone calls asking for clarification on some questions related to the economy, Title IX funding, and veterans.  (If he has received inquiries about other things, such as equal protection, employment discrimination claims, and federal constitutional issues, he doesn’t let on.)

After ticking off the five provisions in the law, of which only one addresses public bathrooms, he neatly summarizes it:

The common sense law assures North Carolina residents, businesses and visitors that their reasonable expectation of privacy in public restrooms or changing facilities will be honored.

Oh, the irony.

You can read the letter here. And I suggest you read between the lines, too.  You will learn that:

  • HB2 enhances the economy because…Squirrel! Squirrel! Squirrel!
  • No school district, university or state has ever lost Title IX funding, because the US Department of Education is just a big bully.  And as you know, North Carolina stands up to bullies.
  • While SL 2016-3 might quite possibly but sort of unclearly discriminate against Veterans, there are more than two dozen other ways the state supports them. For example, did you know that G.S. 113-174.2(c)(6) grants a lifetime fishing license for resident disabled veterans? Besides, federal law prohibits discrimination against veterans, so it’s OK if the State didn’t think that part through. You’ll win in court.
  • Non-veterans that need employment protections, such as women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and seniors? Good luck with that, if you can find a way to get to court in the first place.

Stam’s letter is non-responsive to the specific questions he seeks to address, and it evades the many others we know he and his peers have received in the weeks since HB2 passed.  It is perhaps indicative of the pressure that state legislators are facing each time a company pulls up stakes, a law suit is filed, or a local government passes a resolution condemning the law. It is also indicative of the deep privilege of denial afforded to people in power who use the system simply to keep it.

I’m feeling more irony coming on. Because I think North Carolina does know how to stand up to bullies. Early signs:

  • Our statewide delegation isn’t having it. (Don’t let that 32-0 Senate vote fool you. Those who chose not to vote unfortunately register as a yes.) Senator Val Foushee walked out of the ramrod vote and Rep. Insko and Rep. Meyer voted loudly no.
  • Local governments are pushing back. Read about Carrboro’s resolution calling for repeal here, thanks to the leadership of Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Alderman Damon Seils. Orange County, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Durham also have their own resolutions, along with many others rippling through the state.
  • Citizens are taking initiative. Hooray to Fiona Mathews of Carrboro’s Bowbar, who worked with friends to make the No Bigots Served poster available to anyone who wants one. I think I’ll use it as my screen saver.
  • And the lawsuits are beginning to flow.

None of this is enough, of course, and the Boss could cancel a million times to nary a legislative blink.  But we have primary and general elections coming up this year and other organized and informal opportunities to show our strength as the true blue state we are. We have our work cut out for us.

And so does Paul Stam.





Carrboro Takes a Closer Look at Social Equity


Like many local government bodies, each year the Carrboro Board of Aldermen holds a day-long retreat to enable more concentrated discussion about one or more strategic issues. This year’s retreat was held on Sunday, February 28, in a sunny room at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill, just past the pool tables downstairs. (Believe me, the pool tables were tempting.)

The topic, social equity and how to consider it in local decision-making, was mutually agreed in advance, and Alderwoman Michelle Johnson and I were tasked with setting an agenda, finding guest speakers, and, best of all, picking the caterer. (We chose Mediterranean Deli.) With skillful input from facilitator Andy Sachs of the Dispute Settlement Center, we agreed to the following objectives for our retreat:

  • Clarification of what equity can mean in the context of leadership and local government.
  • Understanding progress and disparity in Carrboro and Orange County, utilizing Triangle J COG’s Equitable Growth Profile recommendations as one comparison.
  • Appreciation for concrete tools that can be used at the department and municipal level to advance equity in operations and policy making.
  • Board priorities and next steps with regard to equity.
  • Identification of possible ways the Board can work even better together as it addresses the community’s challenging issues.

A Tall Order

Yes, those objectives were a tall order, but we all recognized that this first conversation would not be last. To get us started, we asked Aspen Romeyn of the Triangle J Council of Governments to provide us with some local level data to see where Carrboro and Orange County equity indicators stack up. You can see her excellent presentation here.

Some of the data is not surprising; some is eye opening. All point to the undeniable fact that people of color living in Orange County, no matter their economic or educational standing, are having a much harder time than white people of the same means. If you are a person of color and poor, you are poorer than your white peers. If you are a person of color struggling in the middle class, you’re losing even more ground than your struggling white peers. Race matters in some big ways in progressive Carrboro and Orange County, beyond the policing and educational disparities that are the focus of much of our collective equity conversations.

With data as a backdrop, Dr. James Svara of UNC’s School of Government offered up a framework for conducting a local government equity inventory that includes an analysis of:

  • Access and Distributional Equity
  • Procedural Fairness
  • Quality and Process Equity
  • Outcomes Across Population Groups

His discussion, as well as some auxiliary reading he provided before the retreat, offered concrete steps for evaluating our local government system and its contributions or roadblocks to social equity. Vetted by the Social Equity Panel of the National Academy of Public Administration, this framework and similar ones have been adapted and adopted by a few, but not many, local governments across the country. Perhaps the most notable is Seattle, which, with assistance from the Racial Equity Institute (REI) and its racial equity framework, developed an equity analysis to inform its long-term comprehensive plan.

My Takeaways

Ultimately it was a rich discussion in line with the retreat objectives. Everyone contributed positive ideas and valuable perspectives. Immediate next steps will include continued data review, various training opportunities for staff and the Board, and continued work on a number of relevant issues and policies that were already on our plate (like policing). Here are my personal takeaways as we work toward the longer-term:

  • Developing a shared language around equity is necessary if any governing body is to be effective and consistent in evaluating and implementing decisions toward equitable outcomes. But it’s also difficult to agree on that shared language. While every member of the Board of Aldermen would describe themselves as progressive, each of us brings to the table distinctive racial, ethnic and personal identities, life experiences, privilege, and practices in discourse that will make coming to agreement on any set of terms an interesting challenge. But getting past the difficulty is part of the process.
  • Assessment is key, starting with the ‘self.’ In the case of Town government, that means assessing personnel practices, service delivery, policy, operations and communications across departments, including the Board of Aldermen. It means we have to be mindful of the quality of system that good policy needs in order to succeed. Investing in data collection and review has to be part of the process. So is investing in people and their professional development.
  • We can’t act in a vacuum. The economic data is clear about that—the regional system needs to change, not just our slice of it. Happily, Aldermen Damon Seils and Sammy Slade, along with Planning Director Trish McGuire, attended a recent local government equity training sponsored by REI and report back good things. Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Orange County also were represented there, among other Triangle counties and municipalities. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can make happen together thanks to opportunities like these.

Finally, while it may seem obvious, it’s worth repeating that no one in Carrboro or Orange County has a lock on the equity conversation, or a lock on what it means to be a progressive decision-maker in 2016. It’s hard to find a politician, advocate or activist in Orange County who can’t recount their defense or advancement of any number of progressive principles. I’ve certainly done that myself. But being progressive isn’t enough. We can’t blame a system that is continuously marginalizing an increasing number of people on external forces. The system, and all its racial bias, is us.

Every formal and informal leader in Orange County, no matter their long tenure or good track record or personal lens into identity, must own the widening disparities happening on their watch and take the risks needed to turn around those trends. We need humility (and sanity, Mr. Trump) now more than ever.

I know our Board of Aldermen is up to the task, despite our differences and oft-competing priorities. I’ll look forward to another update on our equity discussions and actions very soon.

Carrboro Supports Northside Initiative with $55,000 Grant

Very pleased that last night the Board of Aldermen approved a total of $57,500 in grant funding from the Town’s Affordable Housing Fund for two important non-profit efforts. $2,500 was committed to Rebuilding Together of the Triangle for its critical repair program. $55,000 was committed to Self-Help Credit Union to invest in land banking and critical repair strategies in the Carrboro portion of the Northside Initiative, a major collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill’s real estate foundation, Self Help, the Town of Chapel Hill, and the Jackson Center.

This is a particularly significant action considering that between 2008 – 2015 the Town was only able to invest a total of $47,770 in affordable housing project support. Simply put, the Town’s “voluntary inclusionary housing” strategy has not generated meaningful support for the Affordable Housing Fund, and so until now, funding was quite limited. Last year, the Board approved an allocation to the Fund worth the equivalent of 1% on the property tax rate, or basically a penny for housing.  The grants approved last night would not have been possible without that roughly $200,000 budgetary commitment.

The funding we approved will 1) support the sale of at least two land bank homes in the Lloyd-Broad neighborhood of Carrboro to non-profit partners or modest-income homebuyers; 2) support the acquisition or predevelopment expenses related to up to five additional properties in the neighborhood; and 3) pay for critical repairs to at least four homes owned by limited income Carrboro seniors.

As Chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Affordable Housing Task Force, I’m grateful to the non-profit partners who will carry out this important work, and to the unanimous support of my colleagues for the decision. I look forward to seeing what else our non-profit partners will do this year to help Carrboro invest in and advance the Town’s affordable housing goals. A link to a brief article in Chapelboro is here.  Always happy to talk about this important issue, and all of its nuances, with folks who are interested!


Know Your Rights

Wanted to pass on information about a great forum hosted by the Chapel Hill Carrboro Young Leaders Movement and co-sponsored by the Orange Bias Free Policing Coalition, Chapel Hill Carrboro NAACP, Organizing Against Racism Alliance, and the Carrboro Police Department.  Come on out to the Century Center on May 30th from 1 – 4 pm to learn about your rights and how to make sure they are respected if ever you find yourself unexpectedly in the company of a police officer.  Speakers include:

  • A. Brennan Aberle, Guilford County Assistant Public Defender
  • Carolyna Manrique, NC ACLU Staff Attorney
  • James E Williams, Orange/Chatham County Public Defender

Refreshments will be provided.  Bonus: you’ll learn about the NC ACLU’s Mobile Justice App and see it demonstrated.

Hope to see you there.  Please help circulate the fliers below, especially to young people.

Know Your Rights (English)

Know Your Rights (Spanish)


Let’s All Pay the Same for Recycling


On March 26th, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County will discuss two options for funding Orange County’s comprehensive recycling program, which includes curbside pick-up in denser areas and a series of convenience centers that are used primarily (but not exclusively) by rural residents for both recycling and other solid waste.

The first option is to charge every household in Orange County a single $103 fee. No matter where you live, within a municipality or not, and no matter your level of service, curbside or not, you would pay the same fee as anyone else in the county.

The second option is to charge a two-tiered fee based on whether your household is located in a rural or an urban area. In this case, you are rural if you live outside municipal boundaries, whatever the actual characteristics and density of your neighborhood. You would pay a $118 fee under this plan. You are urban if you live within a municipal boundary, no matter how small that municipality may be. You would pay a $94 fee under this plan.

Presumably the second option takes into account the different costs of maintaining a recycling program in rural areas. It costs a lot to keep those convenience centers open, and the case is often made that it is much less efficient to operate curbside services in rural areas given low density and greater distances. Regardless, under both options, the fees would reflect an increase over current levels for any household that does not have access to curbside service.  Single family households in the county with access to curbside services now would see a reduction in fees from current levels.

In the case of trash services, I’ve always liked pay-as-you-throw models. They encourage waste reduction and recycling, and offer a concrete means for pegging price to operating costs. (Some people might say they also encourage illegal dumping.) But in the case of recycling, I don’t think it makes sense to nickel and dime residents based on usage, much less based on where they live. Here’s why.

A Common Goal for Orange County

We must recycle. There is no other option that makes good sense in today’s techno-world, in our progressive county, or on our burgeoning planet. But we also need to make recycling easy for people to do. That’s why universal recycling services are, to me, critically important and should remain a countywide responsibility.

Back in 1997, Orange County put a stake in sand and said as much itself. With the blessing of the municipalities, county government set a goal to reduce solid waste by 61% per capita. The county upped its investments in a multi-faceted recycling system to meet different needs of county residents, and by 2011, the county had the highest waste reduction level of any other in the state, at 56%. That’s amazing progress, and it represents lots of cooperation, education, and hard work by residents and businesses in all three municipalities, unincorporated areas, and of course the university and hospital. But more needs to be done, and not everyone has access to the service they need to maximize their participation in the program.

It takes everyone in the county to meet our county-wide goal, but it’s also a goal we have to pay to meet. Traditionally the county maintained a fee structure that took into account different costs and nature of services in municipal and unincorporated areas, but last year a court case in Cabarrus County called those fees into question. The Solid Waste Advisory Group, or SWAG, a body comprising representatives of all the key stakeholders, was asked to take up the question and determine a new fee structure that meets legal muster. The two options outlined above floated to the top. Because fees are finalized by Inter-Local Agreement (ILA), Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County must come to agreement by the end of spring or risk eating into precious reserves to pay for our recycling program.

Let’s all Pay the Same

I’m in support of the first option for a number of reasons.

First, we have asked the county to be responsible for providing recycling services, and it has done a great job meeting our goals. I think the summary language in the 2012 Comprehensive Review of Solid Waste Collection and Disposal Options commissioned by the Town of Chapel Hill sums it up and applies to every municipality in the County, not just Chapel Hill:

SCS recommends that the Town continue to participate with Orange County to provide recycling services to its residents and businesses in lieu of creating its own program or independently contracting with a new third party for all or part of the recycling services. Initiating a new Inter-Local Agreement with Orange County that identifies metrics of success and governance for the recycling program is recommended. SCS did not identify significant cost savings or improved operational efficiencies resulting from the alternatives considered. Furthermore, ongoing participation with Orange County’s program promotes continued regional cooperation and the economies of scale that result. [Emphasis is mine.]

Second, municipal boundaries are just a line, not a fair measure. If you live in the unincorporated area of the Rogers Road community, you recognize both irony and injustice in being asked to pay more for recycling than your incorporated neighbors. If you live in Heritage Hills, you’re wondering whether density really does set you apart from Briarcliff, which looks a whole lot like your neighborhood. If neighborhoods like these that are located in Extra Territorial Jurisdictions were annexed tomorrow, their recycling fees would go down, even though the costs of doing business in these areas presumably would not.

Third, while I’m sympathetic toward urban residents who don’t like the thought of subsidizing rural services, I can think of any number of services and amenities that are weighted toward urban places that are subsidized by state and local taxes extracted from rural residents. Schools. Roads. Economic development. Transit. Human services.

In fact, many rural families subsidize public services like trash and recycling with their non-tax dollars, too—they pay for the extra gas and wear and tear on their vehicles as they lug their trash and recycling to convenience centers. I’d rather have two trucks doing this job each week than 10,000 cars, wouldn’t you?

Urban communities in Orange County rely on their rural neighbors to constitute their buffer, to shield them from development, to protect their water system, and to preserve their bucolic views and recreational opportunities, among other amenities. We prevent many of our rural places from becoming denser, and thus from becoming more ‘efficient.’ At best, urban areas contribute to the high cost of offering public services in rural areas. Let’s own our contradictions.

I don’t want Carrboro to play the “urban rural divide” hand along with the NC General Assembly, and that’s why I voted for a universal household recycling fee. I don’t care if it’s actually cheaper for me to recycle than for my father, who lives in Efland. I need him to keep his plastics and paper out of our waste stream, just like he needs me to do the same. After all, we each lose when we don’t recycle. We pay higher transportation and landfill fees to store recyclable trash–in someone else’s rural county—and we damage our environment and quality of life while we do.

Let’s share the costs and rewards equally, and meet our Orange County recycling goals together.