An e-mail from Eleanor Howe to the Chapel Hill Town Council:
Dear Mayor Kleinschmidt and members of the Town Council,
I am a member of the committee working to create a Good Neighbor Plan (GNP) for the IFC’s new Community House at 1515 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. As such, I’m writing in response to a “guest column” in today’s Chapel Hill News by Mark Peters, and because a status report on the committee’s work to date is on the Council agenda for Sept. 26.
I take great exception to Mr. Peters’ characteristics of the GNP committee as a “biased committee that lacks transparency.” He also writes:
“The project's developer has stacked the good-neighbor plan committee with its supporters and has limited or denied participation of neighbors who live near the shelter. The last few meetings have been observable to the public, but citizens are prohibited from recording meeting discussions and the drafts documents have not been made available to the public before meeting.”
These statements are patently not true. Anyone is welcome to attend any GNP committee meeting. Anyone is welcome to take notes of committee discussions. And with the exception of the kick-off meeting in July, committee documents (including drafts) are posted in advance on the IFC’s GNP blog, where they are available to anyone who wants to see them.
Mr. Peters was invited to participate in the GNP committee by Chris Moran – and by myself. I had several email exchanges with Mr. Peters urging him to participate in the committee; I am happy to provide copies if you would like them. In addition, I’ve posted email updates on the committee’s work to a neighborhood email list to which both Mr. Peters and I subscribe. Finally, I sent out a broad appeal to our neighborhood (North Forest Hills), again through the neighborhood email list, asking for a volunteer to serve as alternate if I couldn’t attend a meeting. Two people (but not Mr. Peters) responded. Mr. Peters has had every opportunity to participate in the committee either as a full member, as an alternate, or as an observer. To date he has chosen not to attend a single meeting. In addition, any other resident of North Forest Hills is more than welcome to attend, although to date none (except for an alternate) has.
If Mr. Peters were to attend a committee meeting, he would see that the members represent a wide range of opinions and express them freely. We spent two lengthy meetings hashing over our meeting protocols, during which we vigorously debated the pros and cons of video or audio records of meetings (among other issues). For a number of reasons (not the least being expense and practicality), the committee ultimately decided against video and/or audio recordings, but the written minutes in my opinion are quite thorough and extensive. In addition, in response to Mr. Peters’ complaint that United Church is not a “neutral” location, to date we have met in three different locations, all well publicized in advance and close to the site so as to be accessible to anyone from the neighborhood who would like to attend.
Andy Sachs of the Dispute Settlement Center has done an excellent job facilitating the meetings. These meetings are not run by Mr. Moran or the IFC staff; Mr. Moran and IFC staff are there as resources. Except for a brief report on the status of Community House at the beginning of each meeting or when specifically called upon to respond to a question, Mr. Moran and the IFC staff have very little input during the meetings.
Everyone participating on the committee is committed to and serious about our responsibility to craft an excellent Good Neighbor Plan, because we care about our town, our neighborhoods, and the men who will be served at Community House. To date each of us – volunteers all – has devoted almost 12 hours to this effort in meetings alone, plus additional time to read and comment on various draft documents.
While committee members are giving our time, our energy, and considerable thought to this process, Mr. Peters sits on the sidelines, lobbing complaints. Once again, I urge him to come to the table and struggle with the rest of us as we respectfully debate, disagree, and finally resolve many vexing and difficult issues in a good faith effort to do the right thing for our community.
Eleanor Howe, Good Neighbor Committee Member