Brass tacks, not bronze plaques

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by deadlines, I’ll make a list of all I haveNancy Oates to do, then slip in something that’s so easy to do it’s almost a given. “Wash hair,” I might write, or “check email.” I do that first, then I can feel like I’ve accomplished something, and I’ve managed to procrastinate on the hard stuff, using a “legitimate” reason.

Maybe that’s the frame of mind Orange County Commissioners were in at their Feb. 18 meeting when they approved a Commemorative Plaque Policy, a decision that was several months in the making. The board wrestled with such weighty issues as which buildings and projects were worthy of plaque-hood, and cost, characteristics and language for the markers. Ultimately, commissioners decided that buildings and renovation projects costing more than $1 million deserved a 2-foot-by-2-foot square bronze plaque that would include the names of all sitting commissioners at the time, the county manager, and the designer and contractor. The plaques would cost about $1,300 to $1,500 apiece.

Never mind that we closed the county landfill almost a year ago, and we still don’t have a plan for what to do with our trash, nor do we know how we’ll pay for recycling pickup. Commissioners have yet to schedule a town hall meeting to bring the community into the solid waste discussion.

We can see the writing on the wall with cuts to Medicaid (which reduces the number of school social workers, among other cutbacks) and teacher pay, but what have commissioners done to plan for the fallout when the impact of those cuts hits home? As teachers begin to leave the profession and we can’t attract new ones because of the lack of respect our state government has for teachers, how will we handle the shortage? Year-round schools have been known to mitigate overcrowding, though it could have a disruptive effect on family life. We need to begin that discussion.

Commissioners are planning to put a $100 million bond referendum on the November ballot to cover the cost of building a jail, schools and county offices. County staff have not laid out a facilities plan, though Commissioner Alice Gordon has been asking for one for a year. But commissioners did approve a new meeting room for themselves, which would cost $1.5 million, making it eligible for a plaque.

With 65 percent of our taxes going to the county, we need to feel confident that our county commissioners are paying attention to the most efficient use of our money. We need them to collaborate with municipal governments to avoid duplicating services. We need them to prioritize, deciding what buildings we need before approving plaques for them. And we need them to let us know what they’re doing and why.

Come to think of it, “prioritize,” “collaborate,” “be transparent” might make a good list.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Terrific blog post Nancy. Our elected officials need to spend time on solving the important infrastructure stuff. I know our schools need serious renovations, but do we really need all these new County buildings?

    Similarly in Chapel Hill, the Council is ignoring major problems funding our bus system and Town employee pensions. Huge debts are looming ahead. Instead the Town fathers have decided to max out the credit card by taking a risky bet that by up zoning parts of Chapel Hill such as Ephesus-Fordham and removing those pesky citizens from the review process, that somehow we will grow ourselves out of this mess. But no cost-benefit analysis has yet been produced to show it can work!

  2. Nancy

     /  March 10, 2014

    And I just learned that the $100 million bond issue won’t make it to the November ballot, so commissioners have some time to rethink the best use of resources. I’m sure they’d welcome our input.

  3. many

     /  March 10, 2014


    You describe s sad metaphor that is easily extended to funding the trophy’s and plaques projects rather than the necessary “brass tacks” expenses of government.

    Supporting the plaque industry is not anyone’s idea of economic development. Exaggerated claims, a lack of ambition and a failure to tackle problems in areas where our interests are at stake, such as; economic development, solid waste, planning, affordable housing as well as transportation and communications infrastructure.

    We have bloated and redundant departments that do not coordinate. We pay millions to consultants to tell us only what we want to hear. We have too much property “off the books”. We tend to defer rather than decide, manage rather than lead, placate rather than partner.

    Sticking to the real problem solving takes hard work and planning. Good planning requires vision. Vision is necessary but not sufficient. Executing on the vision takes consensus and building that consensus takes leadership and sometimes years. Too bad we have already spent years with few tangible results. In some cases I would argue we have even moved backward.

    Rather than commemoration we need a system of demerit … Hey! We have one already. It’s called voting.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  March 10, 2014

    “But commissioners did approve a new meeting room for themselves, which would cost $1.5 million, making it eligible for a plaque.”

    The new meeting room will serve multiple purposes. First, it will have a dedicated network so that meetings can be streamed, not just for the commissioners but also for the Hillsborough Town Council and the Orange County School Board.

    There is not currently a large meeting space in that section of the county so while not in use for governance meetings, it will be available for cultural arts performances and other community purposes. Whether it has a plaque or not, I appreciate that the commissioners are funding a truly public space that meets the needs of the local community.

    What would be the point of a “town hall meeting to bring the community into the solid waste discussion? Unless we can site a landfill or a transfer station in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area, there’s nothing to discuss unless it’s another wasted time effort to discuss waste-to-energy (which we don’t generate enough trash to make cost effective even if we didn’t have a great recycling program).

  5. many

     /  March 10, 2014

    Wow, thanks for making my point Terry.

    “………..I appreciate that the commissioners are funding a truly public space that meets the needs of the local community”

    Do you mean to prefer this +million dollar expenditure to the needed Jail? School repairs? Adding to public transportation? Funding the wants and taxing the needs is the oldest bait & switch tactic in politics, time we woke up folks..How about funding the necessary first rather than the “would be nice”?

    “Unless we can site a landfill or a transfer station in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area, there’s nothing to discuss………….”.. Hmmmm, so leading and partnering with other municipalities for WTE is not worth the discussion eh?

    If the real goal was to increase rural recycling rather than creating a problem to justify the solid waste department, then the OCBoCC would find ways to make it easier to recycle not simply more costly.

    Again, managing not leading, placating not partnering, deferring not deciding. We can do better……

  6. Terri Buckner

     /  March 10, 2014

    The fact that you have communicated with me for many months now and can’t spell my name is a clear indicator that you don’t read/pay attention to what others say. You just randomly poke through comments to find whatever you can extract to reinforce what you want to believe. I hereby declare my allegiance to the Fred-credo of not talking to anyone who chooses be anonymous.

  7. many

     /  March 10, 2014

    Terri, my apologies for misspelling your name, however I have to conclude you have nothing of substance to say, otherwise such a slight misstep would not be quite so egregious..Methinks thou doth protest too much.

  8. DOM

     /  March 10, 2014

    Molehill, meet mountain.

  9. many

     /  March 10, 2014

    funny how often faked outrage about anonymity is conveniently used by certain folks to cover their lack of a defensible argument isn’t it?

  10. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  March 10, 2014

    Well,it is disconcerting to think that an anonymous poster could be one’s neighbor, spouse, etc.

  11. many

     /  March 10, 2014

    Only the shadow knows……bwahahahhahah.

  12. Jon DeHart

     /  March 12, 2014

    Maybe they should pass a resolution on cell phone usage while driving that can not be enforced by state law.