Crossing over

Come Wednesday, I will cross over, moving from the spectator side of the Nancy Oatescouncil dais to Participant Row. And that means Chapel Hill Watch must undergo a metamorphosis of its own. No longer will I be able to critique content after the fact. If I disagree with a colleague or hear a council member behaving inappropriately, I will have to voice my opinions in real-time.

For six years, I’ve been telling you what I think; now it’s your turn. Chapel Hill Watch will look forward more often than not. I’ll give a heads-up on issues that will come before council, and I’ll welcome — in fact, I’ll rely on — your comments to tell me what people in the community think about those matters. Share your insight into unintended consequences, impact on your quality of life and what action you’d like council to take.

In the years since I started Chapel Hill Watch, I’ve observed council become increasingly dysfunctional. Council members came into meetings as if they’d already promised their votes to someone — an ethical violation, of course, and from what I learned in my new-council-member training, a violation of state law, which prohibits council members from voting in quasi-judicial matters if they have a fixed opinion on the issue or have had any undisclosed ex parte communication. We haven’t even been sworn in yet, and already developers have been contacting council members they believe to be the most vulnerable to persuasion. From what I learned in training, those conversations will have to be disclosed before a council member can vote on a proposal.

I have noticed one thing that all of us on council have in common — and now that I’ve been elected, I have to switch from referring to council members as “them” and replace it with “us.” Each of us believes we are right. As part of our training, council members are given a book by Chapel Hill organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz, who runs a consulting firm advising global and federal organizations. (Council members elected before the book came out in 2013 can get a copy from the town manager’s office, if they haven’t received one already.) The book is a step-by-step guide to moving from trying to manipulate colleagues into agreeing with you, to learning from one another, which results in better decisions.

But making that transformation will require each of us to talk to one another publicly, even when it feels uncomfortable, to take risks and sometimes to make a leap of faith.

I’m hopeful about what our new council can accomplish. We have enough philosophical differences among us to have some robust discussions, if everyone participates and the new mayor allows uncomfortable conversation on the dais.

And I’m looking forward to what you have to say about how we can make sure Chapel Hill continues to be a livable town.
– Nancy Oates

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7 Comments

  1. DOM

     /  November 30, 2015

    “We haven’t even been sworn in yet, and already developers have been contacting council members they believe to be the most vulnerable to persuasion.”

    As a council member, you will also have to back up comments like the above with facts; no more vague insinuations and unfounded accusations. Believe me, your blog will be the better for it.

    btw, I think you’ll be a welcome addition on the dais as long as you treat those with whom you disagree with respect and an open mind.

    Good luck!

  2. Nancy

     /  November 30, 2015

    Always, DOM, always.

  3. Runner

     /  November 30, 2015

    I sure have been a robust critic of this blog, but I did cast my vote for you in this election. My hope in casting this vote was not to merely have another contrarian on the TC to chastise other members, but to have someone create a real dialog in the decision making process.

    Good luck in your new role.

  4. Nancy

     /  November 30, 2015

    The town attorney clarified today that conversations with council members abut projects that will come before council for approval are legal, as long as the application has not been filed. Once an application has been filed, all conversations from that point on must be disclosed.

  5. many

     /  December 1, 2015

    Hey Nancy, good luck. The ban on ex-parte communication after the application is customary and intended to make as certain as possible that all of the communication with decision makers in a quasi judicial process is available to all parties.

    UNCSoG had a good overview for the board of adjustment: http://www.sog.unc.edu/resources/legal-summaries/background-material-board-adjustment

    I hope the TC can get past its differences and focus on the 99% they have in common, Serving the interests of citizens with good government demands it.

  6. Mark Peters

     /  December 2, 2015

    “The town attorney clarified today that conversations with council members abut projects that will come before council for approval are legal, as long as the application has not been filed. Once an application has been filed, all conversations from that point on must be disclosed.”

    According to the town attorney, the applicant can keep the application and the important project details secret from the general public while wooing council members and then file the application. At some later point the town will publish the application and the neighbors will learn of the details for the first time, but it will be too late for them to talk to council members until the quasi-judicial hearing.

    That pretty much sums up the Chapel Hill way. I hope that new leadership can make sure this process stays fair and stop the backroom deals.

  7. Julie McClintock

     /  December 3, 2015

    Nancy

    Thanks for your years of articulate thought provoking articles. Now all we require is thought provoking discussion and wise decisions. Good luck!!

    Glad you mentioned Roger Schwartz book. He is a great teacher, writer and trainer – he would be an excellent person to help the Council set ground rules for yourselves and for public comment. Carrboro has their set of groundrules they developed with him on their chamber wall.

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