Getting to No*

Town Council doesn’t have the option of remaining silent in uncomfortable Nancy Oatessituations. Sometimes saying “no” can be extraordinarily difficult, far harder than not saying “yes.” Saying “no” can be more difficult still when you have a relationship or connection with the other party. What are the expectations? The personal responsibility? The implied agreement? What are the consequences of disappointing the other party? Of changing your mind? What constitutes a valid reason? Do you need a valid reason?

Think how much easier it is to say “no” to a telemarketer than to someone you’ve interacted with and shared information with in moving toward a transaction.

Town Council members show signs of this stress during votes on whether to approve developments. Obey Creek is a case in point.

Young Ben Perry took the lead in presenting the developers’ plan, until council members started asking tough questions. At those points, his father, Roger Perry, stood up and leveled a “don’t make me stop the car” glare at council members, who then clammed up. Who knew what, if any, threat existed, but council members apparently felt one and acted as if they no longer had the right to say “no.”

Council approved Perry’s mammoth plan, rather than consider either of two smaller plans that would net the same revenue for the town and greatly reduce traffic jams. The vote was 7-1; thank you, Ed Harrison for your resolve to represent the best interests of constituents.

The following week, The Edge developers came back before council. Adam Golden was spokesman for the developers, and his boyish demeanor was nowhere near as imposing as Roger Perry’s. And The Edge is the only project currently before council that Golden represents. Council members pushed back on aspects of The Edge that had not troubled them when similar issues appeared in Obey Creek.

Perhaps council was simply reacting to community outrage over the Obey Creek vote and had nothing to do with Golden’s lack of scowling and growling. But for me, it underscored how badly we need council members who have the strength to say “no,” even when it’s difficult to do.
– Nancy Oates

*This post has been modified from the original to delete a reference to the “Yes Means Yes” policy that UNC adopted this year. The connection the reference had to sexual assault was upsetting to a reader who had been traumatized by sexual assault. Because I listen to the community, and it was not my intent to cause anyone distress, I have removed the reference. — Nancy Oates

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  1. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  June 29, 2015

    50 acres of forest between Wilson Creek and 15-501, and between SolarTech and Dogwood Acres Drive are to be entirely cut down, re-graded, and paved; 15-501 lined with 75-200 ft. building and widened to accommodate 16,000 new car trips per day, new traffic stop lights at Sumac Drive and Oteys Road.

    Is it any wonder why UNC Healthcare moved 300 jobs to Hillsborough this year? If the UNCH planners are reading local news, they’ll move more jobs out of Chapel Hill.

  2. Other Steve

     /  June 30, 2015

    Chapel Hill has a government almost exactly like the one in Havana.

    There are “elections” but with candidates only from a single party. They all act and talk the same; there is only an illusion of democracy. Fully 25% of the local electorate has no chance of representation whatsoever.

    Whether you vote or not doesn’t really matter anyway. Heck, the current mayor was effectively appointed. It’s not really an election when there’s only one name on the ballot, is it?

    Given this situation, I don’t know what else Nancy expects to happen. There are zero repercussions for the council ‘members’ doing what they are told to do.

    Until the situation changes, what’s there now will only get worse. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  3. anon

     /  June 30, 2015

    @Other Steve – it used to be a “leftist” proposal to protect the environment; the Edge developer wants to develop in a conservation district and divert a stream bed under a building. So the council if they allow the developer to build in RCD is not even really representing typical “Democratic” voters

  4. many

     /  July 3, 2015

    Nancy what you seem to be describing is a form of confirmation bias where people are slanted toward confirming a theory rather than trying to disprove it. Many restrict the universe of possible questions to those that yield yes because it is already their belief.

    Problem solving is not generally an area where one is trained to ask questions that produce a negative answer Answers to questions that do produce a negative are often reflexively spun positive or ignored by those with a confirmation bias.

    When good leaders test a theory, they don’t just look proof they also think in detail and ask questions about how things might go wrong. The advantage to this more rigorous method is that seeking to disprove a theory, sometimes proves it and sometimes it avoids costly mistakes.

  5. Minerva

     /  October 1, 2015


    Your edit to this post is quite possibly one of the best (worst?) non-apology apologies I’ve ever seen.