Rational decisions, or not

After almost a year of tracking the Chapel Hill Town Council and how it works, I’ve concluded that the folks on the board are not especially smart.

Many times during the year the board members had to decide on an issue, and rather than base that decision on the facts, members chose to vote by how they felt or how they believed the outside world would judge the town. Common sense and the facts of a matter – what I would call being smart about things – didn’t seem to affect the decision as much as personal outlook or inner perceptions.

This is not leadership, and it sure isn’t healthy for the town’s future.

The deer question comes to mind. Sally Greene cast her vote against a much-needed deer cull because she was more worried about how the town would be perceived by non-residents than she was about the obvious environmental impact of the deer and rising tick disease threats. She worried more about the town’s image than the health of the residents and the environment.

The decision to go ahead with the massive borrowing to expand the library is another example of faulty decision-making. Despite the economic slump, a majority of the council voted to borrow the town up to its debt limit just so some folks on the various library committees wouldn’t be mad at them. We have a perfectly fine library. It would be nice to expand it at some point, but I would hope the council would have enough sense to wait until the luxury of an expanded library matches the town’s ability to provide funds without raising taxes to support that facility.

These are not the actions of particularly smart people – they are the actions of people more concerned about what people think of them than of what is best for the town.
Greene said at one meeting that she and her colleagues were elected to make decisions. I would suggest that the council members were elected not just to make decisions, but to make rational decisions based on facts, not on just how a member feels.

Which raises the question: Do the voters elect these folks based on each council member’s record of feelings rather than sound decision making? I’d bet that most voters haven’t a clue about what goes on at the meetings, and if the voters did know, there’d be a whole lot different make-up of the board.

I know it would come as a pleasant surprise to a lot of Chapel Hillians if the council started making decisions based on the facts, not on their feelings.
–Don Evans

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  1. You’re using the term “fact” simply to label the facts that you approve of or give weight to. Ticks are no more “factual” than public opinion, for example.

  2. George C

     /  August 3, 2010

    Dan, you state “I’d bet that most voters haven’t a clue about what goes on at the meetings, and if the voters did know, there’d be a whole lot different make-up of the board.”

    Well, on most issues that the Council votes on there are at least two public hearings. The Council meetings are televised live on cable tv and on the Town website and all of the televised meetings are also archived on the Town website.

    So if voters haven’t a clue as to what goes on, whose fault is it? Democracy is what the citizens make of it. The fact that you don’t like the results doesn’t mean the system is flawed. It simply means that until the voters say otherwise, you’re in the minority.

  3. George C

     /  August 3, 2010


    Sorry for the misspell on your name. Problem with not proof-reading.

  4. Steve Brown

     /  August 3, 2010

    What a well done article. I agree, if most voters only knew. The fact that it is televised does not excuse their behavior as other posters seem to think. Most voters are too busy with life to focus on small town politics, as unfortunate as that is in this case.

    Good Job, Mr. Evans. Muchas Gracias!

  5. Don Evans

     /  August 3, 2010

    Making a decision based mostly on how you feel is just irresponsible. These folks are elected to study the facts and then make decisions. If they ignore trends and the advice of experts, they might as well be rolling dice.

    And the availability of council broadcasts is no justification for hazy, ill-informed and irresponsible decisions.

  6. Mark

     /  August 4, 2010

    I agree with Don’s post.

    The homeless shelter siting is yet another example. Many of the town council members are basing their comments on the perception of support for homeless and not whether the site is appropriate for that usage and whether it is safe or fair to put the 3 highest at risk facilities around a single park, concentrated in 1/5 of a square mile, and beside 2 large (200 kids total) preschools. The town has no ordinance limiting the concentration of at risk social service facilities and there is nothing to prevent future shelters, soup kitchens (in case Carrboro CUP falls through), additional drug detox facilities, etc. from continuing to be sited around Homestead Park. The town council voted down going for an ordinance (which has flexibility with a simple “public finding”) and decided to pursue a toothless guideline via the shelter siting subcommittee. Expect the result to be gutted by the council to practically impose no limits.

    The town council (esp Donna Bell in the last meeting) is also trying to distract people from the fact that town staff conducted a closed door search for the latest property in Sept 2007, looking almost exclusively at town properties (not the 60 UNC nor any County properties) using criteria that explicitly excluded downtown properties from making the cut. I asked for these documents many months ago and it took town council member prodding to produce them after the last council meeting. The town staff and attorney concedes that the town’s role in approving grants and its role as lessor of the property give it the right to require whatever process or stipulations it so desires above the normal SUP process. Thus, the town could tell IFC that it will not act as a lessor until a true site search has been done.

    No town council member who votes for this site due to the backroom deal can ever truthfully advocate for “process” in a future election because actions speak louder than words.

    Had there been a public process, this site never would have been chosen.

    I think that this example fits perfectly with Don’s post.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  August 4, 2010

    I don’t see any evidence of council members not being smart. They may vote in ways that I disapprove of, they may choose to use criteria that I find shallow, but sitting as an elected official is more about judgment than intelligence. When I watch their meetings, I see situation after situation in which there are multiple sides to every issue that comes before them. The IFC has their set of facts and figures and the neighbors have theirs. Both are right. That means decisions have to be made based on judgment. Same for the deer culling. If someone got shot during the cull, those who opposed the cull in the first place would call the council not very smart for not having anticipated such an outcome.

    They were elected to read the reports, listen to the various opinions of all those who claim to have “facts” and then make a decision using their best understanding and judgment. If you don’t like their judgments, don’t vote for them in the next election. But personally, I think it’s unfair to question their intelligence or claim that they make decisions based on their feelings alone just because you don’t agree with some of their judgments.

  8. Steve Brown

     /  August 4, 2010

    Sorry, Mrs. Buckner, but a response of “no way, no how” to an issue hardly comprises an intelligent response. Mr. Evans is right. I am guessing you would vote for all the incumbents given a chance, and thus your completely unsupported comments are made.

    See you at the next election.

  9. Fred Black

     /  August 4, 2010

    We.hear ”the voters will punish” comments all the time.. Who can name the incumbents defeated in the last 25 years?

    Low turnouts and short memories is what we have here, even when the hot button issues rile people up.

  10. Terri Buckner

     /  August 4, 2010

    Mr Brown–you would guess wrong.

  11. Steve Brown

     /  August 4, 2010

    Well, perhaps Mrs. Buckner, but certainly not based on your comments.

    Mr. Black- are you from Chapel Hill? Do you live there? And why is reelecting the incumbents a sign that the general population is in agreement with them? It is my understanding that voter turnout is very low, which indicates that the large majority of those paying for the Town’s operations are not engaged in politics.

    If Chapel Hill follows the national trend, that is certainly going to change, and as Don has stated, perhaps the new town council will base its decisions on facts, rather than “no way, no how” rhetoric.

    Although I must say in my short time here it seems that there is severe entrenchment of the progressive liberals, thus the attacks that naturally occur when their turf is threatened.

  12. Terri Buckner

     /  August 5, 2010

    My biggest complaint about politics, whether conservative, progressive, or somewhere in between, is the crushing need to vilify anyone you don’t agree with. Sally Greene isn’t “not smart” simply because she reacted to a proposal that is anathema to her. Those with business credentials don’t “lie” because they see the world differently than the more radically “progressive” members. Assigning those negative labels says more to me about the assigners than the assignees. I know it’s standard behavior at the national level, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s anti-community building IMHO. I personally would be thrilled to see all local politicians and political junkies take an oath of tolerance. Different is good. Hashing out different opinions on council leads to decisions that more accurately reflect our entire community.

  13. Jon DeHart

     /  August 5, 2010

    I can name one, Cam Hill .

    Yes, Fred lives in Chapel Hill and probably knows as much about Chapel Hill politics as anyone in town.

  14. Mark Marcoplos

     /  August 5, 2010

    Allen Spalt – incumbent defeated in Carrboro.

  15. Terri Buckner

     /  August 5, 2010

    The Coffee Party Movement offers this civility pledge. Any one here want to pledge for a local version:

    “As a member or supporter of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree. I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process.”


  16. Fred Black

     /  August 5, 2010

    Thorpe, Reimer, McClintoc and Hill are the ones I can name for the last 25 years.

  17. Steve Brown

     /  August 5, 2010

    And hopefully more to fall this fall. Keep pushing, Senor Evans!


  18. Fred Black

     /  August 5, 2010

    Problem for your glee, Mr. Brown, is this is not a muni election year. It is the County, and some State and Federal offices.

    You also say, “Most voters are too busy with life to focus on small town politics.” Did you mean eligible voters? If you believe this is true, how will the few who do vote (11 to 15%) make the difference you seek? One can win a Town Council seat with 3,000 votes. It’s all about WHO votes.

  19. Steve Brown

     /  August 6, 2010


    More like “Hope”. My “hope” is that there will be a large turnout of voters who usually do not bother to vote so that things really start to “change”. And as Mr. Evans says, we get some elected officials who vote with their heads.

    That is my “hope” Mr. Black.

    I also believe that the next Municipal Elections will be much different than the past, because President Obama will probably be on the national ballot. That will draw out a lot more voters than normal. If it happens it will be a welcome “change”.

    Vaya con Dios

  20. Cam

     /  August 6, 2010

    Listen to Fred. Chapel Hill Municipal elections are every two years on the odd years (2009, 2011, 2013, etc.) They will never coincide with a presidential election…….

  21. Steve Brown

     /  August 6, 2010

    Interesting fact, Mr. Cam, if it is correct. Certainly explains low turnout but I am still ever “hopeful” for “change”.

    Muchas Gracias!

  22. Fred Black

     /  August 6, 2010

    “If it is correct?” Mr. Brown, why not look it up for yourself, or maybe you might believe Don if he told you. Clearly, this is not worth wasting anyone’s time.

  23. Mark Marcoplos

     /  August 6, 2010


    You are a poster boy for exuberance, diversity, and confusion. Best of luck. I guess it was inevitable that Don’s post would bring out the smart ones that have the superior intellect. I’m actually surprised that so many local, arm-chair tea-baggers are holding back during this turkey shoot of our elected (stupid) representatives.

  24. Steve Brown

     /  August 6, 2010

    Wow! I think Mister/Ms. Marcopolos needs to take a “chill pill”. Why in heaven’s name would someone attack someone such as myself in such a mean spirited way? Are you representative of the people of Chapel Hill? I certainly hope not.

    My feelings are truly hurt by your mean and bullying post. I hope you are happy now.

    Vacos Locos.

  25. BGK

     /  August 9, 2010

    ‘Vacos’ no existe, muchacho.

    The words you’re looking for – which are mean and bullying in and of themselves – are ‘vatos locos’.

    If one is going to call folks ‘punkasses’ in another language, accuracy increases one’s credibility.

  26. Jon DeHart

     /  August 9, 2010

    Or did he mean he was a crazy bull ?

    Vaca is cow is Spanish, the o makes it masculine , the s makes it plural.

  27. BGK

     /  August 10, 2010

    I respectfully disgree.

    Either your reasoning is specious or you don’t speak cuello Spanish frequently.

    A crazy bull would be ‘buey loco’ or ‘buey’ or ‘loco’.

    ‘Vaco’ just plain doesn’t exist in the Spanish, Latin American or Mexican dialects.

    That is a fact, not an opinion or emotion. Check it with native speakers if you like; mis-pronunciations can be ice-breakers.

  28. Jon DeHart

     /  August 10, 2010

    I was trying to be funny , I guess I forgot the 🙂 , emoticon .

  29. Steve Brown

     /  August 14, 2010

    “Punkasses”?? Really Mr/Mrs BGK?? How do you get such a rude and foul word from mine? That is disgusting to me.

    I was born as a US Citizen over 50 years ago. Sixth generation All-American. Speak the national language (that is English in case you were not sure) pretty fluently. Studied Spanish in High School, College and on the soccer field- but that does not make me some sort of expert, such as you seem to be.

    It is amazing how intolerant some folks are. And intolerent of my hacking up a foreign language no less, since Spanish is a foreign language in the United States of America.

    Thank you Mr. DeHart for the humor, and BGK how about a little “rainbow type” tolerance? That should include white middle age American males, in case you are confused on the point.

    Oh yeah, and what I meant was “vacas locos” or let me untranslate that- “Mad Cow!”. Take my word for it I do not need another spanish lesson on how wrong the translation is. Save the bandwidth.

    Muchas Gracias.

  30. I disagree with Don about the deer – I think it’s fun to have deer nearby! In fact, a family of 7 deer live right behind my place. Who cares about deer ticks when you have the awesome chance to ride a deer? You read it correctly. Those antlers have many points for a reason – easier to hold on while riding that way.

    I agree with Don about the library – subtraction by addition. Unless it’s knowledge you’re talking about, because that’s always addition by addition.