Come Wednesday, I will cross over, moving from the spectator side of the council 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