Changes Noted at Town Hall

Those attending the first work session of the new council were surprised to hear Manager Stancil announcing new procedures designed to bring more transparency to local government.  Tammy Grubb summarizes the Council meeting where these changes were discussed in a January 10th Chapel Hill News article here.  Stancil announced these changes and additions:

While we are glad to see these changes, there is still room to improve the transparency of government operations. It’s important that citizens have access to timely minutes, for example. Any effective working group needs to keep written records of discussion points and final decisions, so those discussions can be referenced and understood by all.  Asking citizens with questions to watch a 3 hour video does not ensure that everyone has the same understanding about what has transpired.  While final resolutions are recorded by the Town Clerk,  currently the town’s website as of this date has approved minutes only up to May 4th, 2015. We are looking for a substantial improvement in the future.

Additionally, it would be a step forward toward greater disclosure and transparency to make readily available the fiscal analyses for each project. One might conclude from the project description on the Town’s Ephesus Fordham page that the town had successfully created a district bringing proven economic benefits for the town. {Note:  The town did conduct a  fiscal analysis that concluded that it would take 20 years for the town to gain a net positive revenue stream, but the town left out a number of city costs such as transit, police and fire.}  Another useful piece of information would be to provide an objective count of the businesses gained or lost in the Ephesus Fordham  district as a result of upzoning the property.  So far we’ve observed a net loss. Local government’s job is to provide its citizens accurate information, not just the good news about what it is doing.

A more straight forward story for this page on Ephesus Fordham energy efficiency would have included the May 2014 citizen proposal to gain energy efficiency without cost to the town through incentives. Using incentives would have cost the town nothing, unlike the current voluntary program touted on the town website, which provides development fee rebates in return for a new building design that achieves the National Association of Home Builders National Green Building Standard.

We would have liked to see much earlier information on the behind-the-scenes negotiation involving the American Legion property. The past Town Council could have started an important public discussion in April, 2015 about what should happen with one of the last large tracts of open land, instead of negotiating with a potential developer in closed sessions.  It was rerefreshing that when frustration boiled over at the January 13th, 2016 meeting hosted by Woodfield, Mayor Hemminger invited a room of upset people to send their recommendations to the town for what they would like to see on this property.  See story here.

We offer kudos to Mayor Pam Hemminger for establishing a welcoming tone in her first weeks in office.  We thank the staff for changes made to date for toward providing more transparency in town government.

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