Shedding stereotypes

If the members of the political salon that organized the panel discussion had wanted to set up Nancy OatesSunday afternoon’s event at Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist as a game-show spoof, they had all the elements. First the title: “Straight Talk With Real Muslims.” Then the cast: two hijab-wearing women, one black and one white; a redneck man raised in Mississippi; a red-headed woman raised a Southern Baptist; two swarthy men, one middle-age, the other college-age. The emcee was a blond woman who looked suspiciously Midwestern.

If we in the audience had to pick out the “real” Muslims, we would have fared poorly. All of the people on stage were Muslim, diligent in the practice of their faith.

The program aimed to raise awareness of our stereotypes and prejudices and to distinguish media archetypes from actual people. As panelist Muad Hrezi, a Carolina alumnus preparing for med school, said: “I turn on Fox News and see Muslims as wild suicide bombers with explosives strapped to their chests, and I’d be afraid, too.”

The discussion took place only hours after we learned of the mass murder of at least 50 people in a gay bar, with more than 50 others critically injured, reportedly by a man who professed allegiance to the Islamic State who was upset after seeing two men kissing. Hrezi said when he heard the news, he braced himself for another period of having to defend the Muslim faith.

Panelist Tanzeel Chohan, a teacher who wears a hijab, recalled how people reacted to her on 9/11. She had to defend her beliefs and all other Muslims, too, she said. “And I still have to, 15 years later.”

Emcee Krista Bremer, author of My Accidental Jihad: A Love Story, urged the audience to lay aside political correctness and ask what was in our hearts. Questions ranged from “What is the Muslim stance on apostasy, blasphemy and secularism?” to “What is the difference between muslim [lowercase], Muslim [uppercase] and Islam?” to “How can you condemn the shootings in the gay bar when Islam preaches against homosexuality?”

The answers varied, because the panelists all had different experiences and viewpoints. In addition to Hrezi and Chohan, the panel was composed of Nsenga Knight, an artist from an Afro-Caribbean family in Brooklyn; Deonna Kelli Sayed, who wrote The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women; Shane Atkinson, a ball cap-wearing hospital chaplain and imam; and Dr. Mohammed Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist whose daughters and son-in-law were killed last year in Chapel Hill because they were Muslim.

I hope all of us in the audience realized by the time we left that Muslim extremists don’t represent all Muslims anymore than Christian extremists represent all the varied sects of Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism. As Dr. Abu-Salha said, “Your faith is how you treat people.”
— Nancy Oates

Make time for budget talks

We need to talk — council members with one another and with key staff. By the end of June, we Nancy Oateshope to pass a budget for Fiscal Year 2017, which starts July 1, and we still haven’t had those all-important discussions about the best way to spend taxpayers’ financial resources. Guaranteed we won’t agree on spending priorities. Think how hard it is to work out with your spouse the best use of household funds. These talks take time, and we haven’t started.

Council has had several budget work sessions, dating back to the beginning of the calendar year. But those sessions consist only of PowerPoint presentations by various departments. We have asked the department heads questions about alternate funding sources, revenue fluctuations and speculation of future costs, but we have not done any long-term planning or strategized about how to maintain or enhance quality of life and what priorities must be shifted to get where we want to go.

For instance, the manager has recommended a 3.5% across-the-board pay raise for town employees. However, that will widen the wealth gap. A 3.5% increase would raise the pay of a $30,000-a-year worker to only $31,050, while a $150,000 worker would be bumped up to $155,250. Legally, all government employees must be treated equally when it comes to pay (though the state seems to have found some workarounds). Why not spend the same aggregate amount as the 3.5% raise by giving a dollar-figure raise instead? Every employee might get a $2,000 raise, say — part-timers’ increase would be pro-rated — which would benefit low-paid employees more than high-paid workers, yet everyone would be treated the same.

On another issue, a council member suggested spending $8,000 to replace signs along MLK Jr. Boulevard that omitted “Historic Airport Road” in small letters under the street name. We could wait a year on that project and instead spend $7,000 restoring the community swimming pool hours. Three days a week were cut from the schedule 7 years ago due to the recession. Swimmers want them back, now that the economy is recovering.

In the area of human services spending, some of us believe that Kidzu should not be rewarded for once again missing the funding request deadline. Last year, council granted Kidzu’s request of $10,000, even though the children’s playspace had missed the funding application deadline. Kidzu wants another $10,000 this year but again busted deadline. Given that the town’s Housing Advisory Board denied a funding request by Empowerment because the minority-run affordable rental agency did not turn in a complete application by deadline, council would have some ’splaining to do if we applied different rules to Kidzu.

And we’re still awaiting information on the budget for consultants.

All of these things and more need to be hashed out publicly. The final budget work session scheduled for tonight has been cancelled because the town manager believes the budget is in good shape.

But, really, we need to talk.
— Nancy Oates

Add to pre-vacation to-do list: Vote

Your vote in the June 7 primary for N.C. Supreme Court candidates Nancy Oatesmatters more than you might think. The seven-judge panel at present has four Republicans and three Democrats, and their votes on civil rights and quality-of-life issues have followed party lines.

The top-two vote-getters in the June 7 primary will vie for the seat now held by Robert Edmunds, a Republican who voted to overturn the state law preventing taxpayer funding of school vouchers. Thus, public tax dollars now subsidize children going to private and religious schools, draining funds that would otherwise go to benefit all public school students. Edmunds also wrote the majority decision to uphold gerrymandered voter redistricting maps that have been challenged in federal court. In fact, the reason we are having a June primary is because a federal panel found two of the 12 congressional districts had redrawn maps that showed unconstitutional racial bias.

Edmunds recused himself from the vote on allowing judicial incumbents to remain in office unless at least half of the voters want the incumbent judge out of office. No one could file to run against the incumbent unless that set percentage of voters first voted to oust the incumbent. The three judges on the state Superior Court were unanimous in finding that law to violate the state constitution. The state Supreme Court heard the appeal, and with Edmunds not voting, the court split 6-6 along party lines, not sufficient to overturn the Superior Court ruling. So the retention-election law was voided.

Edmunds wants to hold onto his seat. He faces three challengers: two registered Democrats and one registered as unaffiliated. The Democratic Party has endorsed Mike Morgan, a Wake County Superior Court judge for the past decade who also has experience as a Wake County District Court judge, an administrative law judge and an assistant attorney general. The other Democrat, Daniel Robertson, and the unaffiliated Sabra Faires both were motivated to run for office by the N.C. General Assembly adopting a law that the Superior Court unanimously determined was unconstitutional.

Early voting has begun already. The Seymour Center on Homestead Road is open this Tuesday through Friday (May 31-June 3) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the Board of Elections in Hillsborough opens at 9 a.m. those days. Both sites are open Saturday, June 4, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Remember to bring your valid government-issued photo ID. You may register to vote during early voting but not on Election Day.

The Republican ballot also asks voters to select a challenger to U.S. Rep. David Price.
– Nancy Oates

Do-good discount

You get what you incentivize, or so hopes Todd Neal, a Northside Nancy Oateslandlord. Neal sees the benefit of having more people in the neighborhood who care about the community. To attract those civic-minded tenants, he is offering a rent discount of up to $50 a month to tenants who will volunteer up to 6 hours a month at St. Joseph’s food bank, across the street from one of his properties.

Neal said his goal is to create a tighter relationship and better mutual understanding between student and non-student residents.

Over the past several years, Northside has been losing the battle to remain a family neighborhood. Northside is the historically black neighborhood whose residents in years past provided the manual labor needed to keep the university and hospital functioning — laundresses, groundskeepers, cleaning staff, orderlies, and other modestly paid positions. But over time, as Northside homeowners retired, moved away or died, they or their heirs often sold their homes to investors who rented the compact homes to students.

Landlords found they could increase their profits by renting by the bedroom, which caters to students, than by the house, which fits families better. Thus a three-bedroom, one-bath house that in any other neighborhood might rent for about $1,000 to $1,500 a month would rent for $1,800 to $2,400 a month at the going rate of $600 to $800 a bedroom.

As the mother of two former college students, I’m not going to issue a blanket criticism of student behavior. Some students are loaded down with responsibilities and take their commitments seriously. Others are exploring the limits of their freedom for the first time in college and don’t think about how their actions affect others. Northside residents have had to contend with more than their share of long, loud parties, more parked cars than there are spaces to park them and trash piled near, rather than in, trash receptacles.

Neal hopes other landlords will pick up on his marketing idea. He’d love to see a volunteer workforce of, say, 50 students connecting with some of the need for mentors, tutors and other service work at the Jackson Center and neighborhood nonprofits and churches. Right now his offer is only for prospective tenants in his two vacant properties, but he may extend the deal to some current tenants. As the discount comes out of his profit, he has to work out the details as he rolls out the program. He says he is open to ideas.

The deal is a win-win-win: His offer appeals to more civic-minded, responsible students who presumably will treat his rental property with respect. More serious students moving in leaves less room for hard-partiers. The neighborhood benefits from a small influx of young people interested in contributing to the community.
– Nancy Oates

What makes a house historic?

Last week, the Historic District Commission reluctantly pulled the plug Nancy Oateson a house in the Gimghoul Historic District by approving a request by the owners of 704 Gimghoul to demolish the home.

The couple had purchased the house in March 2015 and had come to the HDC with a plan to make it live better for them — adding a main-floor master’s suite so they could age in place and adding space so they could entertain easier. The HDC approved the plan in August, pleased to usher this home, built in the 1920s, into a new generation.

But the estimates for the renovations came in double what the couple expected, so they returned to the HDC asking for permission to tear down the historic house and build a new one in keeping with the neighborhood.

Yet even if the owners were to build an exact replica of the original house, it would not be historic. It would be beautiful; it would fit in with its neighbors; but it would chip away at what is both a National Register historic neighborhood and a local one.

The HDC essentially had no choice but to approve the demolition. Had they denied the request, state law allows the owners to wait a year, then tear it down. The commission decided it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to ask the owners to pay for an engineering report to document that the house was structurally unsound, nor to allow the house, which is vacant, to deteriorate into a neighborhood eyesore for a year, given that it was inevitable the owners would tear it down.

Such situations illustrate the pressure Historic District commissioners face in their decisions. Many historic homes are in very desirable, expensive neighborhoods. These days, buyers of historic properties have to be well off financially, and the wealthy often live differently than the rest of us. They entertain large groups frequently, for instance, and want more interior space and outdoor living space for entertaining; they want extra parking, fences for security and outbuildings for guests.

Often the buyers of these homes are well-known in town, perhaps are well-connected and may have made significant contributions to the community. They may have worked hard all their lives and now are in a position to afford their dream home. That makes it all the harder for the HDC to have to turn down requests for expansion and renovation that change the character of the historic property.

Historic District commissioners bring nuance and balance to their work. They are protecting something intangible that goes beyond cost and design. They preserve structures that carry the story of our community from the past, through the present and into the future.

Especially as our town grows and changes, we rely on those preservationists to escort us from who we were to who we will become.
– Nancy Oates

The Woman Card

It didn’t take long, after Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of gainingNancy Oates an advantage in the presidential race by playing the Woman Card, for an editorial to circulate on the Internet delineating the advantages of having a Woman Card — like receiving a 25% discount on your salary and paying 10% more for personal care products identical to men’s only pink.

Last week the NCAA followed suit, playing a Woman Card in its new Notice of Allegations. Even though the long-running academics and athletics scandal first came to light when a football player’s tweets implied he’d received impermissible benefits, the NCAA has cleared the revenue-generating football and men’s basketball teams of any untoward involvement, blaming it all on women’s basketball, which doesn’t make much money for the school or NCAA teams.

Into this atmosphere comes Anne-Marie Slaughter to give the Commencement address to UNC’s class of 2016. Slaughter wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” published in The Atlantic in 2012 and ranked as the magazine’s most-read article. Chancellor Carol Folt had billed Slaughter as “absolutely magnetic.” Her Commencement speech was short, though, so maybe she edited out the riveting parts.

Basically, Slaughter’s message to the graduates was: Care is as important as career; career is investing in yourself, and care is investing in others. She proposed that men be allowed to spend more time in caregiver roles, saying that it’s time to break the mold of expectations for how men should lead their lives as we have broken the molds for women.

Slaughter’s most interesting insight was that despite the importance of caregivers, we pay them on par with what we’d pay someone to walk our dogs or park our cars. Maybe her point was that if we paid caregivers more, then society would begin to see the value of caregiving, and that, along with higher pay, might draw more men into caregiving roles.

I wanted something more inspiring. I’d spent the previous several days talking with people who had graduated decades ago, and some who were set to graduate on Mother’s Day. And despite all the differences between those generations, kids today are fighting the same battles I fought when I was their age — the ability to obtain a safe, legal abortion; electing a woman as president; equal pay for equal work — and that the 50th reunion alums fought — for civil rights and against state legislature obstruction to our choices.

We have so much serious work to do that we can’t afford to get sidetracked by semantics, excuses and blame. That’s true for Town Council as much as for presidential candidates. Flashing a Woman Card won’t help. We need to look at the facts and the data and do what needs to be done.
– Nancy Oates

Voices Together

I breezed into the Stanback Middle School auditorium last Wednesday to Nancy Oatescatch the Voices Together Spring Concert. The nonprofit music therapy program works with kids who are autistic, developmentally delayed or have other serious communication challenges. Through music and rhythm, the therapists help students interact with one another and to emerge from their own worlds to be part of a group.

The concert featured special needs students from elementary and middle schools in Orange County. Each group performed a song or two as an ensemble, with opportunities for each child to shine individually. What I saw moved me to tears — not the performances by the students, who expressed different levels of enthusiasm as the microphones approached, but by what I recognized in the parents, that pride and joy all of us take in our children’s accomplishments.

The last time I went to an elementary school concert was about a dozen years ago, when my daughter (and Sally Greene’s son) were in a talent show in a gifted program at Glenwood Elementary. The main difference between the Stanback and Glenwood audiences was that in the Glenwood gym, I’d bet that most of us parents expected our children would stand out; at the Voices Together concert, I sensed parents wanted their kids to join in.

Parenting a special needs child is infinitely more taxing than raising a child who can function normally in the world. And the parents in the Stanback audience had figured out, perhaps earlier than the rest of us, that what makes life worthwhile is interacting with one another and being part of something bigger than ourselves. Those were the messages they hoped their children would incorporate.

Parents at the Voices Together concert cheered the performances not because a child remembered all the words to a verse or hit the right notes. They celebrated the children wanting to participate and for being able to pay sufficient attention to repeat back sounds in the right sequence or know at what point in the song to make a sound. Not to show off individual gifts, but to engage with those around them.

The concert helped reorient me, just in time for a council meeting that night. We are meant to be part of a community. Our worth comes not in excelling as individuals, but in engaging with one another to make a strong community, to be sufficiently in tune with the greater good that we know at what point in the song to make our voices heard.

To find out more about the excellent Voices Together programs, go to: www.voicestogether.net.
– Nancy Oates

Shout Out!

A T-shirt affixed to the wall at the library during the Orange County RapeNancy Oates Crisis Center’s Shout Out Against Sexual Violence last week read, “Being drunk and wearing skimpy clothes does not equal consent.” I wondered how many men don’t believe that.

April has been deemed Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and the event last Thursday was one of a handful aiming to break the silence about the pervasive attitude in our society that unwanted advances are somehow the victim’s problem. At the Shout Out, women read essays and poetry about their experiences; one person sang a song and another showcased a “sound performance.” The open mike section, when all of us sat rooted in our chairs, locked in our own thoughts, demonstrated how strong the need is to break the silence, and how difficult that is to do.

The overall theme celebrated the strength of survivors, but of course, that wouldn’t be necessary if they hadn’t been subjected to the experiences they had in the first place. You couldn’t escape the evening’s dark side. The most discouraging aspect, for me, was that the sexist attitudes my generation tried to eradicate through the Women’s Movement in the 1970s still plagued young women my daughter’s age. Ideas like: It’s a woman’s job to tame a man; fake a laugh to deflect and reframe an assailant’s boorish behavior.

A teenager told of a sexual assault in her shop class that was interrupted when the teacher came in, but not before the girl was hurt. When she reported the assault to school authorities, she was told, “We want everyone here to feel safe — so don’t tell anyone what happened to you.” The boys weren’t punished, but they were told who ratted them out, leaving the young woman vulnerable to new forms of derision.

A college student told a friend about an encounter with a frat boy at a party, and her friend brushed it off with, “Yeah, everyone knows he’s creepy.”

He’s a creep; she pays the price. That’s not a transaction any of us should tolerate.

“Everyone knows” turns too easily into “everyone tolerates.” Those of us who know what’s right and what’s wrong need to break our silence.
– Nancy Oates

Horsetrading at the Council Corral

Two weeks ago, Chapel Hill hired a new planning director, Ben Hitchings,Nancy Oates who came to the April 11 Town Council meeting. Much to my surprise, he did not resign immediately; in fact, he participated in our work session two days later. That says he’s a man undaunted by challenges.

In a nutshell — we embarrassed ourselves, council and planning staff alike. That Monday night meeting revealed some of what needs fixing about our development approval process.

The agenda included Capkov Ventures’ final public hearing on its high-density housing development on 27 acres along Homestead and Merin roads. The plan proposed 62 detached houses sited compactly on tiny lots, plus nine townhouses affordable to people earning 80% to 100% of the Area Median Income, close to but not in compliance with the town’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, which calls for 15% of new construction homes to be affordable to people making from 65% to 80% of the AMI. (I pushed for the developer to comply fully with the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, but got no support from other council members.)

Capkov built a nearly identical development in Carrboro, minus the affordable housing piece, some years back that has been tremendously successful, as I believe the Chapel Hill version will be, too, and that will bring value to several of our constituents.

The development partner making the presentation last Monday got off on the wrong foot by promising to be brief but wasn’t. Council became restive. Note to developers: By the time you get to the final public hearing, understand we have seen your project at the concept phase and at advisory board meetings, reviewed your written materials and questioned you at prior public hearings. By the final hearing, best to focus only on what’s changed.

Capkov had agreed to all staff modifications, except a nearly $90,000 payment-in-lieu for recreation. Given that Capkov had provided 115% of the recreation space required by town ordinance, the PIL felt to the developer like an impact fee.

Council members were divided on whether to impose the PIL. For a while, it looked like council was going to postpone the vote on approving the rezoning and SUP to give the developer a chance to renegotiate with planning staff. Then a council member made a counteroffer, and the horsetrading commenced. At one point, the development partner threatened to withdraw the project and build the traditional residential subdivision he was allowed by right. My disappointment with that idea would have been mitigated by the fact that the project then would yield at least three houses affordable to people at the 65% AMI level.

Ultimately, the developer agreed to split the difference with planning staff, paying $45,000. Council approved the project, in a 6-3 vote (Jess Anderson, Sally Greene and I voted no). What should have been a celebratory moment, instead left a bad taste for everyone.

Another concept plan comes before us tonight, and once again, the developer seems to labor under the belief that the town won’t follow its own rules. We need to fix our broken process. I’m hopeful our new planning director can help.
– Nancy Oates

Another side of Chapel Hill

I suppose on some level I realized that when I read the staid reports ofNancy Oates drug arrests printed in the newspaper’s police blotter not all of those suspects submitted to custody willingly. But this is Chapel Hill. Those drug busts you see on TV — armed officers surrounding a car or battering down a door — they just don’t happen here, right?

Oh, but they do. And even more typical scenarios — a couple at home in a loud fight; a well-being check on a neighbor who has been going through rough times; a possible burglary in progress in broad daylight — are rife with risk that police officers have to be able to assess in an instant. Overlooking something could cost officers and others their lives.

At the Community Police Academy I attended last week, Chapel Hill Police gave us a peak at a side of our community I was glad I don’t have to see every day. And by the time our classes ended, I felt relieved that we, as a town, are in such good hands. CHPD officers have the training and the tools, along with good judgment and unflappability, to handle just about any situation I could imagine and some that I couldn’t.

A theme throughout the 8 ½ hours of classes was selecting the right tool for the situation. In our session on lethal versus non-lethal force, the bravest among us volunteered to respond as police officers to virtual calls via interactive videos in a simulator. The scenario would unfold differently, depending on the volunteer’s actions. Volunteers had an array of options — pepper spray, a Taser, a firearm — and the choice police rely on most frequently, their mouths. Police often can reduce the risk in a situation by what they say. Not so, the rest of us. Suffice it to say, our volunteers had a high mortality rate. I came away with words of wisdom worth taping on my refrigerator: The best way to win a fight is to not get in one.

In other sessions, we learned what investigators do at a crime scene to collect evidence that will stand up in court, beginning with a search warrant. The officers debunked some elements of TV crime shows: In real life, a DNA analysis can’t be done in 60 seconds.

In other sessions, we saw demonstrations of the K-9 unit and the rescue of a wounded victim by using an armored vehicle and sharpshooters. We learned what the crisis team responds to, including the astounding number of domestic violence incidents and having to inform families of a death. We revealed some of our biases in a session on Fair and Impartial Policing. We saw an amazing array of equipment — cameras to see under doors or up in attics, flashing light balls to distract perpetrators, bars to break windows and doors, a 50-pound armored vest — none of it fresh-out-of-the-box shiny new. And the officers had stories to go with all of it.

Our community survey, year after year, confirms that people in Chapel Hill feel safe. After completing the Community Police Academy, I can see why.
– Nancy Oates