Correcting the Record on the IFC Good Neighbor Plan

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.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Howe, Good Neighbor Committee Member

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Total votes: 5

8 Comments

Damon Seils's picture

"Good neighbors"

Thanks for posting this. There is some irony in a permitting process that requires the IFC to prove itself a good neighbor even as some neighbors prove themselves to be anything but.

Response sent to council

Mayor and Council,

Attached are the emails that Eleanor Howe and I exchanged.  Our position on following open meeting law is crystal clear in those emails.

As I stated on September 12th, with so few members with a personal stake and with so many members from organizations that financially support the developer as well as handpicked members who supported the shelter (such as Mrs. Howe), it made no sense for us to attend the meetings unless there was an accurate and immutable record of exactly what was said.  These meetings are mandated by town resolution convened for the purpose of creating a public document and, as such, should follow NC open meeting law.

Mrs. Howe states "Anyone is welcome to attend any GNP committee meeting".  However, as I told you on September 12th, that was not true for the first meeting (or at least that is not what we were told).  Prior to the meetings, we asked "Will the public be allowed to observe the meetings?" and the developer answered: "The meetings are designed to get advice and good ideas for a Good Neighbor Plan from an active advisory committee and we believe that discussions will be most productive if limited to participating members." (emphasis added)  (email from Chris Moran on 6/29/2011 11:58 AM - Page 6 of this pdf)
 
Mrs. Howe states that "committee documents (including drafts) are posted in advance on the IFC’s GNP blog", but this is not true.  The notes and agendas on the website talk about drafts being discussed, but there are no draft documents on the website and there never have been (see the attached snapshot of the developer webpage).

The "expense and practicality" arguments against following open meeting law are not applicable because we are merely asking to be able to record the meetings.  There is no expense associated with that and recordings can be done in a very unobtrusive manner. 

We have stated that we would come to the table if the transparency issues were quickly addressed.  At the same time, we would ask that the developer appoint the constituencies which we have documented as lacking on www.abettersite.org

We look forward to discussing this tomorrow night with you.

Sincerely,
Mark Peters

Committee's hard work

Thank you Eleanor for posting this.  I have been on many committees and know how much time and effort it takes to do a good job-and all of it motivated only by a desire to help the community you live in. I especially noted the fact that Andy Sachs was running the meeting and goes a long way in underscoring the point that this is an impartial process.  I think it might have been helpful for Mr. Peters to actually attend one of these meetings so that he could speak (or write) from actual observation rather than speculation.  Hopefully, he, or other like-minded citizens, will show up in the future. Del Snow

Moderator = Impartial Meeting?

I especially noted the fact that Andy Sachs was running the meeting and goes a long way in underscoring the point that this is an impartial process.

13 ardent supporters + 1 opponent of this site + 1 moderator + closed meeting = impartial?Del, I attended a meeting once where you mentioned that some portion of the Northern Transition Area plan had been co-opted via the way that the membership had been structured.  Am I remembering that correctly?This situation has the same issue.  It's one thing to have biased membership, but it is much worse to have biased membership plus no accurate record of what was said in the meetings.  We documented two situations where the meeting notes from neighbors being in mediation with IFC resulted in an inaccurate record.  A person can be a great meeting moderator and a great note taker, but one person can't be both at the same time. Even Andy Sachs admits that doing both can be problematic. If you look at the email chain of communications between ABetterSite and IFC which has been posted on www.abettersite.org, then you will see that open meetings have been an issue from the start.  Ditto for the conversations that I had with Mrs. Howe since late July.If the committee members want to make sure that their efforts will be fruitful and create a result that the neighbors and community see as a legitimate work product, then they should operate just like any other committee which is serving in an advisory capacity to the town is doing and follow North Carolina Open Meetings Law.  There is also a discussion on this taking place on chapelhillwatch

Sorry-your memory is wrong

Sorry Mark-I never said that the membership of the NATF was co-opted and it is not something I would even imagine thinking.  It was a good diverse set of people. What I have said, and posted here on OP is that the driving force behind the growth projections was federal funding for transit.  Without that motivation, it is questionable if the growth projections would be as high.  THAT was the co-opting motive behind the Task Force, changing its focus from concern about over development to justifying density. Del Snow

penny rich's picture

I am Sorry also.

I am sorry for yelling out of turn last night at the council meeting. I let my level of frustration with the conversation get the better of me. I also apologized to the Mayor. What was left out of last night’s conversation was a thank you to the citizens who have been working on this committee and encouragement to continue working with a goal that is in-line with Resolution C of the SUP owned by the IFC. I think the committee and the public have to move forward. We are not discussing the SUP anymore, that was already granted. Let's stop labeling people pro or con the IFC Community House and come up with a positive Good Neighbor Plan that neighbors and the IFC can agree on. 

IFC Seeks Applications for the Good Neighbor Plan Committee

On September 26, members of the Chapel Hill Town Council suggested that the Community House Good Neighbor Plan Advisory Committee expand its membership . Hence, the IFC is seeking applications for committee membership. See http://ifc-gnp.blogspot.com/ for more detail. The application form can be found at http://ifcweb.org/GNP-app.htm. Applications should be submitted to the IFC before October 14.