Frustrating Forums

It is almost midnight and I really need to go to bed since I have to get up at 5 AM. A little over an hour ago I finished the third forum of this Town council race and I'm a little too wired. I did poorly, which is totally my own fault. I am frustrated with the forums. There are too many candidates and it is really getting dull listening to all of us prattle on. The CAN forum tonight started with a question on school merger and went nowhere from there. All of our answers are too long, in most cases not substantive and occasionally insipid. This should be providing voters with a glimpse of their choices, if anyone is watching. After seeing us all in action I know who is repeating rehearsed pablum at every opportunity and who is actually trying to answer the question, but I only get one vote and my mind is made up.

The formats could be adjusted to speed things up. Maybe someone will try something new, encourage candidates to ask questions of each other, mix it up a little.

Given the small number of people in attendance, who knows how many watching TV and the nonexistent newspaper coverage; I wonder if I wouldn't do better addressing envelopes instead of participating in the forums.



I don't understand why various organizations -- in forums, and in their questionnaires -- keep asking the merger question of candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Yes, school merger is a topic of concern to Orange County residents -- maybe even _the_ topic of concern at the moment. But I fail to understand why anyone should care what the council and the aldermen think about it, except as a sort of proxy for where they fall out on issues of education, civil rights, development, population growth, minority education, etc etc. And if that's the case, why not just ask those questions directly?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the two city governing bodies have no formal role in the decision to merge the school systems, or about how to allocate money between them. Electing a council member based on where that person falls on the merger issue will mean exactly nothing when the decision is finally made by the Board of County Commissioners. Do the members of the towns' governing bodies have some influence with the county commissioners? Sure -- they all know each other, and they have to cooperate periodically, so they generally hear each other out. But this merger decision is in the laps of the county commissioners because of the way they've set up the process, and I don't see them inviting the town governing bodies into the discussion.

Therefore, why the hell do they keep asking this question of the people running for the town boards? They might as well ask you, running for the Chapel Hill Town Council, what you think of Winmore. Or how you would have handled the art controversy in town hall. Or how you would vote on density development decisions in downtown Carrboro.

I mean, damn, the school boards themselves are getting marginalized in this merger process. What the heck do people think the Chapel Hill Town Council is going to be able to do about it? I didn't watch this particular forum, and so I don't know exactly how that question was put to you. But it seems like there's a lot more facing the town of Chapel Hill, things that Council members actually have some power to effect.

Duncan wrote, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but the two city governing bodies have no formal role in the decision to..."

But rather than finish with "merge the school systems," I could fill in a number of different issues on which our local governments have chosen to take a stand - "place a moratorium on using the death penalty," "conduct war in Iraq," "store nuclear waste at Shearon Harris." Local political leaders have little, or no, direct influence on these decisions, yet their opinions still matter.

The reason is that when people elect their representatives, they want to choose people who will represent their views on a myriad of different issues, not just people to solve relatively small local problems.

In essence, people want to elect leaders, and specifically ones who will give them a voice, regardless how large the issue or how indirectly it impacts the Town Council or Board of Aldermen.

Well, that's wonderful, but the school merger issue _is_ a local issue, and it only serves to confuse the issue by roping in every elected official within reach as if they might be part of the decision. The questions should be directed at the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.

What do you mean by "give them a voice" on this issue? There isn't a single thing the Chapel Hill Town Council can do to "give them a voice" on the merger issue, except in the ways I previously mentioned -- informal discussions with their colleagues on the other board. There are no hearings to be held at Town Hall, no charette to be led.

I don't subscribe to your theory of the politics of local government. I've never met another person in the world who could "represent [my] views on a myriad of different issues." I _have_ met people who represent my views on a few specific issues, and those are the people I would elect to office.

And I take great exception to your characterization of the Town Council's work as concerning "relatively small local problems." Homelessness, poverty, environmental degradation, and sprawl are local problems and they are not small.

Interestingly, this subject came up at the Chapel Hill Town Council meeting tonight. A number of Councilmembers expressed frustration at being lobbied by constiuents on this issue. The Town Manager confirmed that the Council has no legal role to play in the school merger question.

I can see why people want to talk to them about it, but it really is a waste of time. It's also a silly way to choose who you would vote for in the upcoming Council race since it will have NO impact on the merger question.

If you really care, and apparently many of you do - quite passionately, tell the County Commissioners and the School Boards.


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