Supporting Youth for a Stronger Community

School is back, and so are all of my memories, regrets and appreciations, having growing up in one of the most impressive school systems and one of the most educated towns in the southeast. “Chapelboro” was a smaller place back then, with only one high school, two ‘junior’ highs, and not a laptop or cellphone in sight. With new technologies, changing demographics, lots more schools, and even more to do and consider in and out of the classroom, young people experience student life in a very different way than I did.

But some things haven’t changed much, including the level of socio-economic and academic disparity between white students and students of color, specifically African American and Latino students. And spaces, places, and civic engagement opportunities in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro remain fairly limited, especially for teenagers. In some important ways these things are linked, and I’m interested in exploring this as a town.

What Do Young People Say?

When I ran for office last year, I conducted a non-scientific Survey for Kids to get a better handle on how young people experience Carrboro. (The full results are here.) While the sample size was pretty small and I did not ask about race or economic status, some key findings were interesting:

–When asked how adults other than those at home treat young people their age, nearly 50% of respondents said I think adults care about us, but they don’t pay enough attention to include us in community life.

–More than 60% of respondents agreed with the following statement: Adults treat young people differently depending on their age, gender, race, or the language they speak.

–A consistent theme was that Carrboro needs more things to do and more places to go. When given a list of options that would make Carrboro a better place for young people, the top three choices were:

  • Safer ways to ride bikes in town, or to skate or skateboard
  • Volunteer or internship opportunities
  • More parks, playgrounds or playing fields

I’ve had several subsequent conversations with advocates for children and youth, particularly those in middle and high school, and they are quick to echo the survey results, especially the final point. There is not enough for kids to “do” in our towns, especially not kids with limited family resources or support systems.

The Role of Town Government

We all know that the largest proportion of our collective public resources goes to the schools: roughly half of Orange County property taxes. If you live in Carrboro or Chapel Hill, an additional 12% of your property taxes are assessed by the city schools.

As taxpayers, voters and elected official, adults expect a lot for that school money, creating a very large silo effect when it comes to thinking about our youth. But outside of school funding, adults make plenty of long-term development and resource allocation decisions for our towns that have lasting impacts for youth. The schools don’t invest in downtown, design our parks, sponsor concerts and events in public spaces, or prioritize our grantmaking for human services. Town government does. And these are just some of the valuable tools at our disposal to affect the lives of our children.

5 Things We Can Do

When young people can participate and thrive in our civic, social and cultural life, they are more likely to stay in and succeed in school, and to seek higher education or vocational opportunities. That makes our families and community stronger. So here’s my take on just five things we can do in Carrboro to better support young people and their parents, make this a great place to live at any age, and reduce disparate academic and social outcomes for children of color and those in poverty.

  1. Support Food Programs for the Hungry

A huge indicator of economic inequity is the proportion of children who receive free or reduced lunch in public schools. 2015 data is not yet posted, but last year 24% of children systemwide qualified for free and reduced lunch—or about 2,500 kids. (For perspective, that’s enough children to fill almost every seat in every school in Carrboro!) Carrboro Elementary had among the greatest proportion of qualified students at 32%, just behind Northside Elementary.

If one in four of our children can’t afford lunch in school, their parents or guardians are struggling to feed them at home, too. Studies show that hungry kids can’t learn as well as kids that can eat when and how much they need to.   Studies also show that adults who are hungry can’t take care of their kids as well as those who are not.

In my opinion, the number one thing we can do to support kids and families is to support programs that feed them. In both its out-of-agency funding and other policymaking, the Town of Carrboro should support the hunger relief sponsored by PORCH, TABLE, and the IFC, including its efforts to relocate the Community Kitchen to headquarters in Carrboro. Access to healthy food should never be a barrier to success for children and their adult family members.

  1. Develop Spaces and Places for Young People

While Carrboro has some spaces that offer programming for young people, including the ArtsCenter, the Century Center, and parks and mini-parks, we need more places for kids with different needs and interests to hang out. I’m particularly interested in spaces and enterprises run by youth, programmed by youth, or simply supervised in a way that best supports diverse youth, especially middle and high schoolers. The Youth Community Project is showing potential as a hub for youth-run programs. There also are two immediate opportunities for the Town to help make good spaces happen.

The first is finding a suitable location for the Southern Branch of the Orange County Library in Carrboro, which county officials have pledged to do. As important as location is creating and supporting programs that encourage kids and their parents to use the library, including adequate operating hours, staffing patterns, and spaces designed specifically for young people. Locking in a site has been difficult enough, but so is Carrboro’s development review process. The Town can prepare now by ensuring it has the capacity in place to inform the building site design and absorb and move along related permit applications at a satisfying pace for taxpayers.

The second is the final design of Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on Hillsborough Road, which the Town’s Recreation and Parks Department and the Recreation and Parks Commission has been working on for some time. The Board of Aldermen will receive an update on the process and some recommendations at our September 1st meeting. There has been some discussion about whether the park should be a place for passive recreation only, but I hope the recommendation that comes to the Board includes ample active, creative recreational opportunities suitable for young people of all ages and backgrounds. I won’t support any plan that doesn’t.

  1. Promote Leadership Development

Carrboro Recreation and Parks offers a number of programs just for teens, including a Carrboro Youth Council that helps to inform certain events and initiatives led by the department. I support all of these programs, but I am particularly interested in seeing the Council elevated in the public eye and with the Board of Aldermen. The Council does not have the same “clout” as other citizen advisory boards, and to my knowledge the Aldermen have never invited recommendations or true conversation with the Youth Council to help ensure our decisions include their input. Let’s put them on equal footing with other Advisory Boards in their direct access to the Board of Aldermen and demonstrate that civic input from young people is just as important as that of adults. I think we can find ways to do this without asking too much of the young people that have volunteered to serve.

Let’s also make sure the Council represents the diversity of youth in our town racially, by neighborhood, by school, and so on, and ensure that the curricula and tools available to staff and other mentors help develop leadership skills that are transferrable to other aspects of life. Finally, I’d like to consider whether youth representation on other Advisory Boards – even the Board of Aldermen — might be possible, and to adopt best practices for training and utilizing young leadership in primarily adult decision-making bodies.

  1. Offer Employment and Training Opportunities

Many municipalities, including Chapel Hill, set aside funding for summer youth employment programs, usually funded with federal block grant dollars targeted to families earning 80% or less of area median income. Carrboro does not receive any of these kinds of funds directly, and finding alternative funds is challenging. Luckily, Carrboro youth can participate in Chapel Hill’s program, but I’d like us to examine ways to expand summer work opportunities, unpaid internships paired with work readiness curricula, and responsible volunteer opportunities within our Town limits. It’s not just about the spending money – it’s about helping young people who lack social capital to gain work skills, develop healthy connections with adults, and learn about and contribute to our community in new ways. With a burgeoning Carrboro Business Alliance, lots of great non-profits, and some willingness to devote a little more budget to youth, we can do this.

  1. Elect Carrboro Representation to the School Board

While the data hasn’t been presented in formal ways (but hopefully will be soon), hearsay has it that schools in Carrboro, while not populated exclusively by children who live in Carrboro, have slightly higher levels of academic disparity than schools in Chapel Hill. I’d like to see some actual data, and I’ll ask for it when we meet with the School Board this fall, but the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and its education allies have been conducting their own analysis of academic disparity this summer. Results will be presented as part of a community-wide forum on equity in the school system on September 26th (I’ll post details as I get them.)

In the meantime, take heed, Carrboro voters—this one is in your court! Only one of the eight candidates running for the four open slots on the CHCCS School Board lives in Carrboro, although others certainly have lived here in the past. Carrboro needs representation in a big way, and former Alderwoman Joal Broun wants to help fill that gap. Check her out as well as all the other candidates at multiple candidate forums sponsored by such organizations as the League of Women Voters, Orange County Democrats, NAACP, Orange Politics, and more.

 

There are certainly more than five things that Town government and residents can do to support our diverse young people and help them all succeed, regardless of their resources. Email me if you want to talk about your own ideas, or if you think I should write about a particular youth-oriented issue. I want to hear from you! (Bethany.e.chaney@gmail.com)

It’s an Honor to Serve. I’d Like to Again.

I’m pleased to announce that I am seeking re-election to the Board of Aldermen in November.  Hot off the presses!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 2, 2015

Contact:

Bethany Chaney, 919-360-4346

bethany.e.chaney@gmail.com

Twitter: @ChaneyforCarrboro

Carrboro Alderman Bethany Chaney to File for Re-Election

Carrboro, NC.–Just one year into an 18-month term earned in a May 6th, 2014 special election, Carrboro Alderman Bethany Chaney has announced she will file next week for re-election. Chaney, who served on the Town’s Planning Board prior to her election, wants a full four-year term to put into action the ideas she’s gained from her service to date.

“There’s been a lot to learn in my first year,” she says, “but I’ve proven a quick study, enough to make a few notable contributions to decision-making.” Among these are:

  • Steering the conversation away from a $14 million publically-funded arts and innovation center, an investment she thought would be unwise, to a more comprehensive planning process for right-sized arts and culture infrastructure in Carrboro.
  • Shaping goal-oriented strategies and securing more resources for the Town’s Affordable Housing Fund, which will grow from under $40,000 in 2014 to nearly $760,000 2015.
  • Supporting synergies rather than divisions between urban and rural areas, advocating for an equitable fee structure for the County’s recycling program and supporting new, low-impact land uses in the rural buffer.

Chaney also organized and hosted a public information session about the US Treasury’s New Markets Tax Credit program, with an eye for expanding opportunities for private investment in major development and redevelopment projects in Carrboro.

“The Town has done a great job promoting local business and a very high quality of life for residents,” she says. “But we’re also facing new financial and legislative limitations on funding and pursuing our goals for Carrboro. We need creative tools and some new efficiencies in the face of increasing costs and a short-sighted General Assembly.”

Three issues Chaney says will loom large in the next four years include:

  • Paying for an increasing number of necessary and large capital expenditures in stormwater management, public transit, and Town infrastructure.
  • Shortening the time between development permit application and approval, reducing inefficiencies in the process while supporting quality decision-making.
  • Working toward a more inclusive economy that supports a diverse and resilient Carrboro.

On this last point, Chaney says the Town’s recent focus on police bias suggests the time is right for a deeper dive. “I’m proud of Carrboro’s ongoing collaborative process to prevent bias in policing, but I’d like us also to consider the roots of bias in other parts of our civic life,” she says. “How can our land use policies best support equity and affordability? How can we ensure our parks and cultural scene are safe and inviting for teenagers? Is our focus on environmental sustainability helping or hurting people who have the fewest means? What can we do to make our citizen advisory boards more diverse and engaging? These are questions that we need to attend to if we’re earnest about equity in Carrboro.”

As the Chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Affordable Housing Task Force, taking over from Michelle Johnson earlier this year, Chaney feels she is well-positioned to make a difference. She also serves on the Chapel Hill Transit Partners Committee and the Triangle J Council of Governments Board of Delegates, and is the Board’s liaison to the Northern Transition Area Advisory Committee.

Chaney has twenty years of experience in the nonprofit sector, including program and management positions in community development, homeless services, and youth development organizations. She is a graduate of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.), and Northeastern University (MBA). She is an accomplished writer, a past NC Arts Council Fellow, and a recipient of the William Saroyan Society Centennial Prize for Non-Fiction. Her award-winning pine needle baskets are coiled with longleaf pine needles harvested from a Carrboro back yard.

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Policing Matters in Carrboro (And Other Things That Do)

On Monday, June 29th, at 7 pm at Town Hall, the Town of Carrboro will host the second in a series of facilitated community forums examining Carrboro’s policing strategies and opportunities to reduce racial disparities while ensuring the safety and welfare of everyone in Carrboro.

(The first forum was held on October 6, 2014. You can read Chapelboro’s account here and an account from Alderman Damon Seils, who has been instrumental in organizing the forums, here.)

While inspired and informed by highly-visible struggles in places like Ferguson, Missouri, Carrboro’s conversations are not the result of violent engagement between Carrboro police officers and citizens. We’re lucky to have a highly skilled department, led by Chief Walter Horton (another proud CHHS grad), who is passionate about pursuing justice in the right way: in a best-practice manner that is consistent, that demands integrity from officers, and that is accountable to the community. The CPD strives for transparency, too, utilizing Police2Citizen as one example.

Nonetheless, data has demonstrated that African American and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be stopped by Carrboro police than white drivers, and when they are stopped, they are also far more likely to be searched. The data alone doesn’t tell the full story, but what we know is enough for everyone to take pause, take a closer look, and take action to eliminate racial disparities that could be caused by implicit or explicit bias.

It’s a tough conversation, but what is particularly remarkable is what I perceive as a genuine spirit of partnership between the Police Department, the ACLU, the NAACP, the Orange County’s public defender’s office, and others as the conversations move forward. I’m humbled by the time and hard work each has poured into a robust conversation, some of which has been deeply honest and personal.

Body-Worn Cameras

Police body-worn cameras have received a good deal of attention in Carrboro, and the Town has budgeted more than $90,000 to purchase them in FY 2015-16. The idea was first proposed by Chief Horton, who has found that dashboard mounted cameras have been highly beneficial but also limited in their ability to document a complete police encounter. Chief believes body-worn cameras will ensure greater accountability between the police and citizens, will reduce conflict when their use is announced, and will offer a critical source of “real-time” data that can make a difference between a good case and a bad one, between justice and injustice.

Nationally, however, there is some not-insignificant controversy surrounding the use of these cameras, as many believe the line between police accountability and surveillance is too thin. Herbert Hoover hasn’t been dead all that long, after all. Just ask Edward Snowden. And then there are other problems and questions surrounding the efficacy of cameras.

A report from the Orange County Bias-Free Policing Coalition makes a very compelling case for body-worn cameras and ten additional recommendations to reduce bias in policing across Orange County. As noted in the report, any purchase and use of body-worn cameras must be predicated on a sound policy and well-trained staff. And we have to acknowledge from the start that the cameras are not a panacea of any kind. But when weighing the risks and imperfections against the urgent need to reduce racial disparities, profiling, and other injustices, I feel we have to try them. There will be mistakes and problems.  I’d rather learn from them than to miss the opportunity to provide some relief to families and communities that experience racial bias and oppression so acutely every day.

More to Be Done

Reviewing policing data and procedures alongside their nuances is critical if we are to craft the best solutions to reduce bias and increase justice across our communities. But we also need to better understand and appreciate the risks inherent in a police officer’s job.  We need to respectfully–and more often–acknowledge the care, diligence and sense of duty that each member of Carrboro’s police department invests in their job while quite literally putting their lives on the line every day. Very few of us choose this kind of job. It is where the rubber of public service really hits the road.

That’s why it’s critical that none of us—the Board of Aldermen, activists, the ACLU, others — be self-satisfied with all the focus on police bias. Don’t get me wrong.  It is absolutely an important focus given the enormous implications for communities of color, particularly young men.

But there is some amount of self-righteousness at play when we don’t also publicly recognize that everyone in the room—most especially every one of the white people in the room—plays a role in perpetuating bias, whether institutionally or personally.

It feels good to off-load anger, complicity and shame when there’s an easy target, one that feels powerful and vulnerable all at once, like the police.  In fact, Carrboro’s own Board of Aldermen—including me—demonstrated how easy it is to succumb to that anger and shame during National Police Week in May.  After a well-read proclamation by Mayor Lavelle, we completely flubbed the opportunity to unconditionally thank and honor our police officers for what they do for Carrboro every day. We made other grand statements, but it was all pretty embarrassing in the end, at least for me personally.

My point is that the solution to ensuring racial justice and racial equity in our communities isn’t with the police, it’s with every one of us. We’re the elephant in the room.

At a very basic level, bias in the justice system starts with the homeowner who calls the police because of “suspicious” black male walking in their subdivision. With the principal who finds hoodies and pants buckled at the knees cause enough for school suspension. Or with the investor who refuses to rent an apartment to a woman holding a housing voucher, leaving her on the street instead.

I might be preaching to the choir, but let me for one more minute.

I want to get policing right in Carrboro, but I also want us to focus a lot more attention on the other ways that bias embeds itself—sometimes quite undetected—in our community.

I want the Town of Carrboro to be intentionally inclusive in our economic and environmental decisions and strategies. To be even more welcoming and accommodating to people who use the services of non-profits like Club Nova, IFC, and El Centro. To make our parks and downtown better and safer for teens to hang out. To attract more diverse leadership to our Advisory Boards and elected bodies. And to get behind efforts to reduce educational disparity in our schools. All of these issues will be raised at Town Hall in one way or another in FY 2015-16, and I hope we pursue these conversations as justly and with as much abandon as we have our policing strategies.

I’ll do my part. Thanks, Chief Horton and the Carrboro Police Department, for inspiring some deeper thinking in Carrboro, and in my own seat.

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)

 

5 Things I Like about the FY 2016 Budget (and a Few Caveats)

I’m really impressed by Carrboro’s staffing team. Not only do they do their jobs with a passion for our town, but they do what they can to keep our annual budgets as conservative as possible. They chase down grant funds, manage their costs, and find ways to hedge against uncertainty, such as executing fuel contracts or bidding out services. So much of our staff’s work transcends a budget year, from development review to public works projects to planning recreation and parks activities, so it’s fair to say that no department sits on its laurels until the last minute when it comes to budget planning.

Stop reading now if you hate budget talk, and simply take away that I’m proud of the way Town staff conducts day-to-day business with an eye always on the future.

If you actually like budget talk, here are just a few highlights of the proposed FY 2016, $21.5 million budget…and also a few scary things to think about.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Here are five things about the budget that I think are particularly good:

  1. No Tax Increase. In contrast, the Town of Cary is proposing a property tax hike of $.03 per $100 of valuation, in part due to debt service from past bond issues and the loss of the privilege license fee (see #1 under “Scary Things”).
  1. Progress on Housing Wage. In 2013 the Board of Aldermen committed to bring salary levels for all full-time equivalent staff to a “housing wage,” a figure that changes every few years but that represents a wage adequate to afford rents in our area. (Currently the figure is $31,158.) It’s a delicate matter to raise salary ranges, and phasing was the right way to go. Although the Town anticipated achieving the goal in 2020, due to cost of living increases and good budget management, we are able to do more this year than anticipated and will meet our goal three years ahead of schedule.
  1. Police Body Cameras. I know there’s lots of concern about this expenditure. Not only is it a big cost—about $91,000—but many people are concerned about the general efficacy of body cameras, particularly the potential for misuse. It’s a pretty robust debate that will continue, but there is consensus among the Board of Aldermen that the Town must take on the tough challenges necessary to reduce implicit and explicit racial bias in policing (and frankly, in other aspects of our governmental and civic life.) With strong policies in place that have been collaboratively developed with the ACLU, I am comfortable with the risk we are taking by authorizing body cameras. I am also comfortable with de-authorizing them if they prove unhelpful or flat-out harmful. (More on this and related racial bias remedies in a future post.)
  1. Substantial Increase in Affordable Housing Fund. Earlier this year, Carrboro’s Affordable Housing Fund was capitalized at roughly $35,000, barely enough to cover the cost of one mobile home. The Town’s Affordable Housing Strategy is raising the bar, and the Board is up to the challenge. This year the Board will proactively ensure the Fund is worth at least 1 penny on the tax rate, similar to Chapel Hill’s commitment to A Penny for Housing. But we’re doing even more than that. Our plans are to devote the proceeds from the sale of an office condominium to the fund as well (the condo had been purchased to facilitate an economic development deal that has now met its goals.) Once the sale is complete, the Fund will be worth closer to $760,000—a real boost to non-profit developers, providers, and individuals who need help staying in their homes.
  1. Planning Software. OK, I could talk about a whole lot of other things, but this is just a guilty pleasure of mine. At $230,000, development services and permitting software is almost three times the price of police body cameras, but it promises to help the Town streamline these critical processes for developers large and small. As with all things, there will be fits and starts, but this is a no-brainer to facilitate a better process and more reliable communication and accountability.

Some Scary Things

Remember what I said about no tax increase? I’ll be honest, it may not last. Here’s why:

  1. The General Assembly. In all sorts of ways, this elected body is demonstrating that big government is no longer a dirty word for the conservative set. I cannot count on my fingers and toes the roll-backs to local authority that have been sent down from the highest horses, including those that affect our ability to diversify revenues and reduce burdens on property owners. The most recent and scariest proposition is the reallocation of sales taxes. Under this plan, Orange County and Carrboro would lose significant revenues, a loss our town could not absorb (upwards of $1 million by one estimate.)
  1. Chapel Hill Transit is in desperate need of capital investment, as I noted in an earlier post. A projected 4.6% increase in operating costs this year do not take into account the purchases and improvements that will need to be made over the next ten years. Costs of maintaining a highly-functional, safe, goal-oriented transit system will continue rise, and at a much steeper pace, if no new federal, state or private funding can be found to assist. Watch this space for more on that in the coming months.
  1. Stormwater Mitigation. Practically every neighborhood in Carrboro has been affected by flooding over the past few years, particularly older neighborhoods with stormwater infrastructure that pre-dates 1995 Town standards. A recent examination of particular problem areas has flagged what a complicated and expensive issue we are facing as a Town. The flooding problems in question could cost more than $1.6 million to mitigate, on top of numerous other capital improvements already in line for funding…when it’s available. Some people expect there to be cost-sharing by affected homeowners, while others feel a more aggressive effort to address stormwater infrastructure should be developed and floated with a bond issue. Either way, we’ll all feel the financial pressure in future budgets.

Next Steps in Budget Planning

The staff presentation to the Board of Aldermen can be viewed here. A public hearing on the budget is Tuesday, May 26th, with an anticipated final vote scheduled for the June 16th Board meeting. Please weigh in!