Ombuddies

Just so we’re all on the same page here, as Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt likes to say, “ombuds” is not in the dictionary. Neither is “proclaimation,” but that hasn’t stopped the town from using both. On the whole, we’re a fairly well-educated citizenry, and town staff probably figure we know what they mean.

Council member Donna Bell figured the two items at the end of last Monday’s Town Council meeting would be trouble. Shortly before 10 p.m., she reminded the mayor of the time, stating she wanted to allow plenty of time to discuss town manager Roger Stancil’s proposal of a community policing advisory board and an ombudsman’s office.

In April 2008, citizens petitioned council for the formation of a citizens’ review board as a safe place to examine complaints about police officer behavior. Ten months later, in February 2009, Stancil responded, saying that his investigation showed that town residents had confidence in the police department and that he saw no need for a review board. Instead, he suggested a proactive approach of a task force that would promote the concept of community policing.

In November 2010, outgoing Police Chief Brian Curran recommended that a community policing advisory committee be formed, along with an office of ombudsman to handle concerns that arose internally, from town staff, and externally, from the community. Such a committee would serve as a venue to address complaints while preserving the morale of the police department that generated very few complaints overall.

At last Monday’s meeting, Stancil endorsed the police chief’s recommendation and said that UNC’s ombudsman, Wayne Blair, had agreed to serve as the town’s ombudsman on a consulting basis until the town could set up its own office.

Bell needn’t have worried. Perhaps harking back to the beginning of the meeting, when several citizens implored town staff and the council to pay attention to the firing of the two sanitation workers, council passed both resolutions with almost no discussion.

Now if we could only get town staff to remove the ungrammatical “comprised of” from their vocabulary. And maybe buy a dictionary.
– Nancy Oates

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7 Comments

  1. According to the Free Online Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/comprised), “…in 1996, only 35 percent [of their Usage Panel members] objected” to “comprised of”.

  2. Brandon Rector

     /  January 31, 2011

    I don’t understand the proclamation/proclaimation joke. Does the Town mispell “proclamation?”

  3. Nancy Oates

     /  January 31, 2011

    Brandon —
    I often watch the council meetings on TV, and whenever the mayor issues a proclamation, a caption appears at the bottom of the screen declaring, “Proclaimation.” In a town built around a university, and a top-rated one at that, that is embarrassing.

  4. Did anyone notice Mark receiving and referring each individual comment during the Sanitation 2 petitions? I understand why the Council wanted to refer to staff but wondered why they couldn’t “bundle” the two sets of petitions – the Sanitation 2 and the request for some kind of fee structure to discourage littering at housing complexes – at the end of the period as they’ve done before.

  5. Ed Harrison

     /  January 31, 2011

    The original citizen’s review board for which the petition was submitted in 2008 needed enabling legislation
    for its membership to have access to personnel records, something which was requested.
    Some background : A local bill introduced by State Representative Verla Insko in Spring 2009 was never given a public hearing in the House committee to which it was referred. She told me that statewide law enforcement groups had heavily lobbied the committee
    chair for that result. Since a fully-empowered board did not appear to be
    feasible. Town staff developed the alternative approach endorsed last week. Given the significant shift in the General Assembly, I can’t imagine any more attempts at enabling legislation.

  6. Terri Buckner

     /  February 1, 2011

    Additional background: The defunct technology committee proposed the town employee an ombudsman to improve relations and communications with town citizens (in general, not specifically around policing or any other function). It was part of a proposal to improve communications through social media and a better website. Cal Horton agreed with the recommendation and said that would be part of Catherine L’s position. She never heard another word about that responsibility.

  7. Terri, maybe more specifically, “she never heard another word” from within the organization. I know that the need and the recommendation didn’t stop when Foy pulled the plug on the Tech Board.

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