Backbone

Council members showed some spine and some dignity during the contentious start of what could have been a very long meeting last night. The crowd in the audience spilled out into the hall and a conference room and even outside, the vast majority interested in a petition submitted by Jim Neal, calling for an independent, third-party investigation of how police handled the incident of miscreants breaking into the Yates building and announcing plans to, in effect, steal it from the owner.

Comments from the numerous people signed up to speak ranged from the common sense – if a reporter could go into the building and look around and talk to the trespassers, why couldn’t plainclothes police do the same undercover – to the off-beat – objecting to the UNC men’s basketball team playing on a military vessel – to the sarcastic – suggesting that a SWAT team be used to enforce parking and panhandling regulations. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt had to remind the audience several times not to clap and cheer their favorite speakers, so most in the audience resorted to raising their arms and wiggling their fingers instead.

Once the speakers were done, Kleinschmidt seemed anxious to receive and refer, but Sally Greene wanted to talk. She voiced concern over a lack of trust between residents and the police who protect them, and she saw that tied to several incidents elsewhere in the nation where people were prohibited from videotaping police actions. Laurin Easthom proposed a resolution in which the town apologizes to the reporter detained. When Kleinschmidt said he wanted to wait until he heard what the internal investigation revealed, some audience members booed loudly.

That got the mayor’s hackles up. He not only told them who they were dealing with, he showed them as well. He has a 25-year record of striving to move civil rights issues forward. As a student, he occupied South Building on campus (where the chancellor and top administration have their offices) to pressure for a black cultural center; he made a career fighting for inmates on death row; he ordered protection for the Occupy Chapel Hill movement on Franklin Street. And he was not going to issue an official apology until all sides had weighed in.

Donna Bell asked how Neal’s investigation committee differed from the Police Advisory Committee. She did not support an ad hoc committee duplicating efforts the town already had in place. Penny Rich supported Bell, urging a measured response of using the system already in place. In the end, Greene, Easthom and Ed Harrison were the only votes to adopt Neal’s and Easthom’s proposed resolutions. The remaining six votes were to receive and refer.

Some in the audience began jeering at that, preventing council from continuing with the public hearing next on the agenda. Matt Czajkowski made a motion to briefly adjourn, which passed unanimously. Most council members walked off the dais. When the meeting resumed about five minutes later, the crowd had settled down and council settled into the next matter.

Clearly passions ran high, but council members disagreed with one another without snide remarks or caustic put-downs. They behaved like the people we wanted them to be when we elected them. Last night, they gave us good value for our tax dollars.
– Nancy Oates

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20 Comments

  1. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2011

    Thank goodness for Laurin, Sally and Ed. I felt like they were the only ones on the dais with any understanding of how to lead a community in the midst of significant conflict last night.

  2. John Kramer

     /  November 22, 2011

    Here’s hoping the CHPD forgive them for their vote next time they are pulled over for speeding, Ha Ha Ha!!

  3. Chris Jones

     /  November 22, 2011

    Terri, I have no clue as to why you would say that. First and foremost, I thought that Mark’s aside to the dissenters in the audience was one of the best statements to ever come from a member of council. He spoke passionately and eloquently to what, should be, known: Many people in this town believe in some of the same principles that the protesters believe in; however, you lose all credibility when committing a crime or acting like an ass.
    If members of the council want to say “I’m Sorry”, as Laurin and Sally, in particular, seem to want to, then go do it. But for the Council, as an entity, to take a public, recorded, official position of “I’m Sorry” without a full, comprehensive review of the facts would be irresponsible. There are plenty of members of this community, who live, work, and/or play here, who DON’T feel as if the town owes the N&O writer an official apology. Mark’s, Donna’s, and others desires to actually examine all of the facts before taking a official town position is good, if not great, governance.
    It’s the difference between empathy and sympathy . . . . you can feel bad that someone went through an experience without apologizing for the actual experience. There are plenty in this community that believe that the CHPD did nothing wrong on that fateful Sunday . . . for the town to issue an official apology is a tacit admission of error. To do so, without examining all of the facts from ALL of the sources, would be unfair to everyone involved. It DESERVES to be referred for further examination, and not acted upon hastily. I applaud Mark for making the recommendation, and for the 6 members of council who voted in favor or referring it to staff.

  4. Anon

     /  November 22, 2011

    If Chapel Watch comments were representative of chapel hillians we’d have Mayor Matt Cz and Council Member Dehart; I suspect a lot of people should be sorry if core press (e.g. the N&O) are prevented from documenting Town actions.

  5. Chris Jones

     /  November 22, 2011

    Anon –
    I assume you would be correct, if, in fact, core press had been prohibited from covering town activities. Since they (she, specifically) weren’t prohibited from fulfilling their job responsibilities, your point is moot.

  6. Anon

     /  November 22, 2011

    the N&O reporter was told specifically to stop taking photographs. so you are wrong.
    Also, in today’s political climate video/photographic evidence carries more weight than reporters’ notes. Just look at presidential TV ads. ‘I voted for it before I voted against it’.
    given your political leanings I doubt you’d take a lamestream medias written account over video evidence.

  7. Anon

     /  November 22, 2011

    This blog post is a prime example. Jim neal’s petition had nothing to do with the other; however, unless you actually read the two petitions in their entirety and watched the council meeting you might not be clear on that. First hand visuals are far superior to someone else’s account even if it’s chapel watch etc…

  8. Terri Buckner

     /  November 22, 2011

    I agree, Anon. If I hadn’t watched the session last night, I wouldn’t think anything about Laurin’s petition being pushed over to staff. But the speed of the Mayor’s attempts to move off the topic and prevent further council discussion was very telling. Referring these two petitions to staff, in the face of the manager’s decision to conduct an internal investigation, is a delaying tactic. It felt like the whole incident was being swept under the rug. I hope the defensive positions of the manager and the mayor, with support from some of the council, will ease off quickly, and they will all recognize that complete transparency is critical for helping the community heal.

  9. runner

     /  November 22, 2011

    I also applaud the Town Council for voting to refer the 2 petitions to staff. This action does not put an end to the process, but rather kicks off the process.

    I will add that Donna Bell really stepped up in her comments on this item. She used logic and thoughfulness when framing her stance. It should also be noted on this blog that Penny Rich also came down on the side of logic and process.

    Now, contrast that with Lauren’s comments. She could do little more than reread what other people wrote for her.

    I may still not agree with the eventual outcome, but I’m glad they will be going about it in a professional manner.

  10. Anon

     /  November 22, 2011

    @runner ; shifting from the content of government actions to the personality of the government officials is a sure sign of a weak argument.

  11. Linda Convissor

     /  November 22, 2011

    Although I often will chose to watch the live-streaming of the Council meetings rather than physically attend, I am well aware that what I see on my computer screen does not always fully represent what is going on in the Chambers. Last night was a good example.

    The most out-of-control moment came when the Council took the recess and all moved away from the podium. Keith Edwards, present to speak about Northside, thought that Council had adjourned the meeting (when they recessed it was hard to hear what they’d said and not everyone was clear what was going on) and stood up from her spot near most of the protestors and interrupted their loud call and response with her own shouts that she “was fighting for her life” and they had taken away her chance to fight for her neighborhood (it was hard to hear – I’m not sure I have her words exactly). The room got louder, people started moving around, and there was no one in charge. It felt like the room might erupt into physical chaos any at any moment. The police walked to the front of the room and then back into strategic positions in the aisles, Council walked back in, and slowly order returned.

    I felt it best not to get out of my seat so I couldn’t see 360 degrees of what happened. But everyone I spoke to after felt that that moment, when the tension was so palpable that the crowd could have become physical, was scary. Like on an airplane, I checked out the closest escape route. Just an observation of what happened just before, during and after the recess when your video screen might have been blank.

  12. Anon

     /  November 22, 2011

    the police were surrounded and had to pepper spray their way out for their own survival according to initial statments of the police chief and chancellor; oh really?
    http://thepoliticalcarnival.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/ows-uc-davis-pepper-spray1.jpg

  13. Mark Marcoplos

     /  November 22, 2011

    The irresponsible arrest of journalists should be easy to apologize for. All the rest of the stuff that happened can and should be reviewed comprehensively. Not only was an apology the right thing to do, it would have communicated that the Council was taking a fair approach and not just appearing to circle the wagons.

  14. Chris Jones

     /  November 22, 2011

    “The irresponsible arrest of journalists” would have been a great story too, had it actually occured. Instead, one legitimate journalist and one purported journalist were detained. In my opinion, just as you are entitled to yours, they were detained responsibly (as opposed to your perception of arrested irresponsibly).

    That dichotomoy is EXACTLY why the Council was correct in not taking action based on emotion. It’s critical to understand all of the facts, from all of the potential sources, before the Town takes an action that is a tacit admission of guilt. Tell the reporter from the N&O that you empathize with her concerns all you want . . . just don’t sympathize until the Citizen’s Review Board have a chance to review the facts, and render their input to Council, along with the CHPD’s internal review and Stancil’s assessment.

  15. Anon

     /  November 22, 2011

    @ Nancy Oates – you need to correct your reporting.
    “In the end, Greene, Easthom and Ed Harrison were the only votes to adopt Neal’s and Easthom’s proposed resolutions. The remaining six votes were to receive and refer.” = is factually wrong.

    Everyone agreed to receive and refer Neal’s petition. Greene, Easthom, and Harrison voted to pass Easthom’s petition to apologize to the reporters. You should make your post accurate.

  16. Mark Marcoplos

     /  November 22, 2011

    I consider handcuffing to be an arrest. The rest is semantics.

  17. runner

     /  November 22, 2011

    Seriously Mark? You’re own facts are the only facts?

    With that logic, you’re making your opponents’ case for them.

  18. Mark Marcoplos

     /  November 22, 2011

    So Runner – no handcuffing involved? That’s what I’ve heard, but fill me in – I’m not close-minded. If she wasn’t handcuffed, I can easily acknowledge being misinformed. I’m not trying to create a narrative. I’m just reacting to news reports.

  19. John Kramer

     /  November 22, 2011

    All the Chapel Hill Liberals are such experts on this. How silly, yet entertaining.

    Kudos to the Town for showing some much needed fortitude and leadership in the face of the usual whiny entitlement demanding “occupants”.

  20. Ed Harrison

     /  November 25, 2011

    The votes cast by Easthom, Greene and myself were for only one resolution, the one which Laurin had submitted. I would have not have written it in the same language that she used, but it was so close to my position that it merited my vote. In the next vote, the entire Council voted to receive and refer Jim Neal’s petition to staff. If you were paying close attention, you heard me ask “what are we voting on?” in order to get clarification on the order and content of any upcoming votes. Kleinschmidt responded accurately that we were voting on Laurin’s resolution, and then on Jim’s resolution.

    In the case of this incident, a memo from Stancil earlier in the day had made clear that he was sharing the internal review with Town Attorney Karpinos. So conceivably both could be involved in any external review.

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