Piling the $$$ on Cemetery Repairs

According to the right, liberals love to throw money at things. This is just what Dorothy Verkerk and Edith Wiggins did with the cemetery repair issue last Monday night. There was controversy over how to spend the $150,000 allocated to the repairs, so they came up with the idea of spending another $70,000. And, thanks to Mayor Foy's readiness to bang the gavel, a $40,000 cost savings proposed by Cam Hill was not even discussed.

Here's how Cam Hill described the problem in a letter to Foy:

I had met with Gaines Steer (of the Last Unicorn) and Bill Wyatt (an associated welder) and they had assured me of two things:

#1. That the Di/Phi fences are in no immediate danger of irredeemable deterioration. We need not be in any hurry to restore these fences; we can explore all possible options.
#2. There are lower cost alternatives to the proposed $52,000 restoration proposal.

Last night Bill Wyatt appeared before us and eloquently explained both points. I spoke briefly to my belief that we could save money by using a different approach than the one that had been suggested by the cemetery committee. I said (and still believe) that spending $52,000 to restore these fences was fiscally irresponsible when the job could be done for less than $20,000. I proposed that we use the savings to fix the gutters at the east end (the African American section) of the cemetery. I had a motion ready to such effect.

I will have more on the dynamics surrounding this discussion in my Saturday Herald column. For now, it seems that Hill is the fiscal conservative on the Council; Verkerk and Wiggins the "tax-and-spend" liberals.



Bravo, Fred!

I'd encourage you to write a letter to the CHH about this. I think you and Terri B. have nailed this and the readers of that paper should hear your perspectives.

I was going to write a letter myself, but I've changed my mind. A political parody that I posted on this thread was rejected for being "obnoxious." :( I think I will see if CHH can appreciate my creative effort.

Ok, Fred. Let's give Wiggins the benefit of the doubt and, even though many people took her to be calling Strom racist, assume she was describing the funding of the downtown economic development project as racist. So, here's the scenario:

Verkerk is adamantly defending a funding proposal that gives the lion's share to the Di-Phi plot and practically ignoring the historic Af-Am section. There's your example of institutional racism in the matter at hand, if you need to point one out. Yet, Wiggins selects one unrelated project out of scores that the Council funds, one that she herself supports and will support again later that very evening, and labels it as “institutional racism.” I believe that her intention is pretty transparent.

Yonni Chapman, by the way, talked about institutional racism in describing the way historic processes have led to the configuration of the cemetery. When he addressed the current proposal, he said merely “our values today would suggest giving equal respect to the two sections.” How do you do that? he asked. By equalizing funding.

Among everyone present, it was only Wiggins who raised the term institutional racism as an accusation. The timing, tone, and subject of that accusation are all quite telling.

Where could the Council meeting have gone from there in lieu of “spiraling downward”? Here are some possibilities:
1)discussion of possible savings identified for fence repair
2)discussion of possible fundraising by Di-Phi
3)discussion of possible broader planning process
4)discussion of deferring decision until impact of chiller plant was better known

My understanding of Council procedures is that those discussions could indeed have been properly curtailed. That would have required a motion to that effect and a super-majority in favor.

I made two comments, so let me address them in reverse order. Regarding what I thought the whole affair was really about (the 2005 election.), I agree Mark, the cemetery maintenance is not going to cause anyone to vote a certain why. Why I am getting at is this constant “we-they” with UNC and who can be tougher with them. People are staking out their territory. Some might even conclude that your Dec 4th letter in the CHH is part of the “staking out” process.

And Ruby, elsewhere in the CHH editorial on Dec 9th makes this point: “Of course, Strom isn't exactly an innocent party. He contributed to the tone of the debate by encouraging or allowing the faction he leads to use the occasion to settle scores with Councilwoman Dorothy Verkerk, a one-time protégé whose only sin apparently is having a mind of her own.” This 5-4 stuff isn't just numbers, it's about power politics. And Ruby, where do I even suggest that the is something wrong with politicians “jockeying for position?”

And then Ruby, you ask, “Besides, Dan (or any editorialist) agreeing with Bill's (or any Council person's) position on something is far from an endorsement. It's hardly even notable. Again, why does that sound like an accusation coming from you? It's an opinion column!” Accusation? Read what I wrote again: “What's not clear yet is who will run for reelection but it sure looks like there is a councilman who acts like he wants to be the mayor and a columnist who appears to be in direct support.” What am I accusing him of other than being in direct support? I wish you would take the advice that you offered Donna: “Instead of trying to interpret it, please just read what I wrote.”

Actually, I think he is being pretty consistent, including in the lines that you might have missed: “That Wiggins and Verkerk went to bat for the university's Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies is not surprising. They, along with university employee Jim Ward and the ever-deferential Ed Harrison, have been reliable votes in the university's pocket.” Really helpful? Is it even accurate? Remember that being a UNC employee was an issue for some in the last election, but not being married to one.

I think that there are a lot of people in this town who feel that UNC and the Council should and must work together, because together they are both better. It looks like some are angry with our Mayor for doing just that, and I appreciate him trying to make us better.

Now as for the “intuitional racism” statement, I think you might want to review the tape. In the CHN story by Matt Dees, he writes: “Councilman Bill Strom said he didn't see a parallel between the two issues. Wiggins countered, ‘That's exactly what institutional racism is. Yes, it is.'”

Rob Shapard of the CHH wrote it this way: “Strom said he didn't see the connection between the issues, a statement that prompted Wiggins to charge that the failure to see that connection was an example of institutional racism.”

One quote and one interpretation.(Note: The DTH story did not provide a quote or an interpretation of this exchange.)

I stand by my earlier statement: I did not hear Edith call anyone a racist, rather I heard her say someone was demonstrating what institutional racism was about. There is a big difference. He is not an institution (yet?) so if some conclude from Wiggins' statement that she called Bill Strom a racist, then we have to agree to disagree.

Finally, the other troubling point that raises its nasty little head from time to time is the desire by some to make a judgment about who is or who isn't “black,” and who is or who isn't “black enough!” I for one am tired of hearing these self-anointed “exerts” make these kind of judgments. The fact of the matter is that their “evidence” usually is about personalities, disagreements over political positions and strategies, rather than the essence of what being black in America is really about.

Whew, there are many good comments here that I haven't fully digested. However, I want to thank Cam Hill for exploring other options regarding the ironwork repair at the cemetary. Cam is doing one of the primary functions of an elected official---he is being a good steward of the people''s money.

I don't know if the person whom Cam contacted can properly repair the fences. But I do think, given the limited resources available, the Town Council should listen to alternate options. I was personally put off by some of the remarks that implied that only someone with a 'degree' in historic preservation is qualified to comment on the project. While I respect education (being a voracious comsumer of the product myself) I nonetheless think that the taxpayers, represented by Cam Hill, should be permitted to ask questions and understand how the committee arrived at its budget for the repairs. And I also know that sometimes it doesn't take a rocket scientist to have a good idea. Sometimes it's difficult for a BMW designer to realize that a Chrysler can be sufficient.

Dan, I appreciate your comments on this topic.

You wrote, "Verkerk is adamantly defending a funding proposal that gives the lion's share to the Di-Phi plot and practically ignoring the historic Af-Am section. There's your example of institutional racism in the matter at hand, if you need to point one out."

I don't see how you can draw a conclusion from this. I have not read any sort of evidence, aside from the strictly circumstantial. Are there no other possible reasons for the funding levels recommended, and if so, why are you rejecting them and concluding that racism is involved?

I'd ask the same question of Edith Wiggins about funding downtown development planning versus the AA grave restoration. You think it's racism? Why?

You might find this website useful. It converts long URLs into very short ones. It can save a lot of headaches.


UNC conspiracy theories aside, I don't think there is any downside to having more dialogue about how to best repair the cemetery fences--there must be high, medium, and low options with their various cost/benefits. Again, I think Cam was simply doing his job as an elected official. The reality is that there's a limited budget with which to accomplish multiple priorities. That means that sometimes you have to make compromises, whether in the totality of the projects you fund, or the level to which you fund them. The Town Council has to look at the overall needs and allocate resources accordingly. Sometimes you simply can't afford the 100% solution, and you have to explore whether the 90% one will be sufficient.

And I don't think the Town Council is under any obligation to approve a committee's proposal without debate. The recommendation is just that---a recommendation. In the end, the Town Council is accountable for the decision.

If town advisory boards/commissions were required to keep and publicly post meeting minutes, we would all have a clearer understanding of what the committee was thinking about when they made their recommendations.

According to Steve Moore's guest column, the UNC faction on the task force dominated their meetings, and had a series of secret meetings to figure out how to divert a whopping 50K back to UNC! Tell me it was half a million, then I might buy it. Let's not forget that Steve Moore was the only dissenting member of that committee.

The minutes of the cemetery task force are available on the town's Web site.

Those for the Sept. 22 meeting (the last one before the council began considering the issue) are here.

Those for the Nov. 23 meeting (the one held at the council's direction to reconsider the task force's recommendations) are here.

NOTE: The links in Ray Gronberg's comment have been repaired.


With all the criticism and back-stabbing this committee has had to endure, I don't know what citizen or UNC employee would volunteer to be a member of a new one.

By back-stabbing, I mean the variety that Steve Moore is engaged in. I originally thought he voted his conscience on this one because I had no reason to believe otherwise. Then I read his column alluding to intimidation by the so-called UNC faction on the task force. How offensive is that to the other citizen members? Conspiracies!
Sinister plots! Please! This was a committee formed to restore a graveyard!

The $52,000 cost estimate is a place holder, not a contract. Town staff and the Historic Preservation Officer are in the process of preparing bid documents
that will be reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office and then
made available to interested contractors on a cost competitive basis.
The original estimate was received from Allen Architectural Metals, of
Talladega Alabama, one of three foundries referred to us by that office.
This estimate was based on restoring the fences using a process that
leaves all undamaged sections of the fence intact. It is possible that
one or more of the actual bids for the work may come in at less than the
original cost estimate.

The minutes of the Oct. 11 meeting where the task force first presented its report is at


Thanks Ray. Based on my reading of these minutes, I am further satisfied that the committee isn't just throwing away money. They clearly see the fences as a high profile project that can be used to leverage future contributions for additional projects.

I realize this doesn't get at the accusation of institutional racism, but strategic planning may be the first step in ensuring coverage of the full cost of adequately protecting and respecting in the entire cemetary into the future.

Since repair of the fences must go out on bid, it will be interesting to see the request for bid and the credentials required for making the repairs. Will staff require some type of historical preservation credentials or will they leave room for Cam's lower cost solution?

First of all, it is highly likely that everyone who cares about this debate ultimately wants the same thing.

That this is so contentious says something—what, I'm not sure…

Maybe the original committee did not have clear enough goals? Was it their job to figure out how best to fully restore the cemetery at the lowest cost to tax payers?

I don't know… but if the Chapel Hill Town Council can't agree that a better job could have been done on this then maybe it's time for them to do one of those retreats where council members learn how to listen to and hear each other!

How hard would it be to start over? So many people seem genuinely fired up about this cemetery now. Maybe a new committee with zeal could get more done for less.

Donna, how offensive is it for you accuse this man - a volunteer, serving the community - of lying? Has it occurred to you that what he says may be true? And if so, that he is incredibly brave to stand up and speak the truth?

And how offensive would it be for the University to unduly sway this citizen committee? I think it's a credible charge and it deserves to be heard. You attitude seems shockingly partisan in the apparent assumption that UNC can do no wrong. Pretty offensive to me.

It's clear that some of us here disagree about the cemetary, but I don't think that justifies the long and heated discussion. I think Dan put his finger on what is really underlying this conflict. How come everybody wants to keep talking about the damn fence?

Well, here is one who is not part of the “everybody” talking about the fence. I have never mentioned the fence because I think it's only a prop in the real drama. My perspective remains unchanged – it's power politics in preparation for the next election season in Chapel Hill. To slice it with a real blunt instrument, one set of four is seen by some as believing UNC and the business community are evil, and the other set of four is seen by some as “in the pocket” of UNC. What then matters is how the mayor votes when these two sets oppose each other.

How did we get to this unhealthy point in trying to govern Chapel Hill? For the record, I don't believe those descriptions are totally accurate, but after a point, they take on a life of their own.


I'm with you. It's hard to believe that a task force on cemetery repairs could be so twisted. Most likely, this is another instance of insider/outsider issues run amok!

Did Steve Moore openly express his grievances on the task force? That would have been the right time and place to emote.

I don't know, Donna.

The Old Cemetary is nothing if not a bunch of UNC plots.

"Donna, how offensive is it for you accuse this man - a volunteer, serving the community - of lying?"

The other members of the committee are volunteers as well. For him to put this nonsense in writing is deeply offensive, implying that the other citizen volunteers gave in to the so-called UNC faction on the committee.

"Has it occurred to you that what he says may be true?" Obviously, no.

"And if so, that he is incredibly brave to stand up and speak the truth." No, I don't think it's brave to insult your fellow volunteers, folks who worked equally as hard.

"And how offensive would it be for the University to unduly sway this citizen committee." What does UNC have to gain from trying to influence a committee that was formed to restore a graveyard?

"You attitude seems shockingly partisan in the apparent assumption that UNC can do no wrong"

I don't believe that UNC can do no wrong. I am very concerned that the petty politics that some members of the council are engaging in is going to do harm to our town. I will admit to being partial to UNC Memorial Hospital because, well, they just rock.

"I think Dan put his finger on what is really underlying this conflict."

I disagree. I agree with Terri B.'s assessment, posted on the other thread. Mayor Foy recognized the futility of any further discussions. He cut off both Edith and Bill and called for the vote. I think he did the right thing.

"How come everybody wants to keep talking about the damn fence? "

Bravo. Tell your friends on the council that.


Sorry, I just saw your comment when I reviewed this thread.

Yes, Steve Moore did express his grievances at two of the meetings. He reiterated his objection to the $52,000 allottment for the fences because he felt one-third of the total amount shouldn't go to one project. He didn't talk about conspiracies or plots however.

Donna--I think Mark was making a play on words: conspiracy...plot. I myself got quite a chuckle out of it.

I don't see any reason for Steven Moore to not make his observations. But he represented 1 voice out of 6 of those on the committee that were not appointed by the university. Maybe he was being brave and maybe he wasn't. There isn't really enough evidence to say is there?

Just a while back the fact that the university didn't heed a citizens committee report yielded lots of rancor. Now there seems to be an acceptance that the Council doesn't need to heed citizens reports. Go figure.


You seem to have forgotten that the cemetery is more than just "a bunch of UNC plots." If I felt like playing into this tired game, I could say something like this:

Why are you so lightly dismissing the contributions of all those African-Americans who built UNC and are buried in the cemetery? Is our bias showing? I really have to wonder what your true motives are in saying that.

I still don't understand where you get the idea that the council is obliged to "heed" committees. When has this ever been the case? If committee-members want to be decision-makers, the way to do so is to run for office. Otherwise, they are advisors, with no more expectation of being "heeded" than Colin Powell has in the Bush Administration.

There was also a lot of good, enlightening discussion on this thread. I loved Donna's persistence in researching the fence and Pat's sharing of his expertise. Who knew fence repair was so complicated! Clearly Gaines Steer is not the only iron lover in this community.


Thanks. Mr. Bozarth pointed that out to me last night.

Mark C.,

I apologize. That was a good one. That I didn't get the pun indicates to me that I've been playing in this yard much too long. I think I'll take my marbles, while I still have them, and split. The holidays are upon us and I've got stuff to do.

Happy Holidays Everyone

Dan--I don't think I said the Council should unquestioningly accept the recommendations of the committee (in fact I believe I said it was their job to question those recommendations). I did, however, say that Council members should respect the committee members and their efforts on behalf of the community. I also wondered why some members of the Horace Williams Airport committee could be so upset when the university didn't "heed" that group's recommendations and then turn around and be so willing to discard the recommendations of another citizens committee.

I have tried to express concern about:

1) the disrespect (I feel) a certain Council member showed to the Old Cemetery Task Force members through the timing of his efforts (at the end of the groups work) and by introducing that information at a public hearing rather than to the work group. I didn't say I thought the disrespect was intentional nor did I say council members don't have the right to introduce new information to a citizens group work. Why is this so bad?

2) your use of inflammatory / derogatory language about Council members you clearly don't like. I'm more comfortable with disliking actions rather than people in public forums such as this. Your direct language works on actions, but your implications (modifiers, floweriness, etc.) as I read them work against people. That's just my personal opinion. There was a great program on The Connection yesterday with Walter Shapiro, columnist for USA, Fortune etc. He said that he most respected columnists who explore their curiosities rather than assert their opinions. Callers talked about their frustration over the screaming and inflammatory language of columnists during this last election. You are an excellent writer Dan, and I enjoy knowing your opinions. I just think you could accomplish the same purposes, in this case questioning the nuances of a decision of the council, by framing it in less opinionated language. In reading back through this discussion, I see that I was feeling compelled to protect those who I thought you were falsely accusing. I wish we could have explored the decision and/or the process from different angles without all the negative attacks.

3) the inconsistencies of people on this forum toward UNC. It seems that no matter what happens, the university and by default anyone who works for or supports it, is at fault.

Terri, you ask I also wondered why some members of the Horace Williams Airport committee could be so upset when the university didn't “heed” that group's recommendations and then turn around and be so willing to discard the recommendations of another citizens committee.

Actually, Council has yet to implement the majority of the Horace Williams Citizens Committee's recomendations. And the University has pretty much given them the finger. Do you see that committee (or it's supporters) throwing a tantrum? (By the way, the HWCC is an advisory board to the Town, not the University.)

Of course we on the HWCC hope they will take our recommendations, but it is the Council's job to decide, not ours. As Dan said, if you want the final word then run for Council yourself. I'm happy to entrust that work to others who make huge sacrifices to serve the Town in that thankless job.

I share your (and others) concern about the increasingly nasty tone on and around the Chapel Hill Town Council. Trust me, I've been the victim of that kind of crap, and I know how much it hurts personally and how unproductive it is politically. BUT, I also don't like to see people tip-toeing around the truth so as not to offend anyone. I think it's important to be honest about what you think of the job elected officials are doing. If they are screwing up, you've got to say so or else risk them continuing to make bad decisions.

We can all do better to try to criticize actions instead of people, but some of this has been going on for so long it can be hard to separate the two. Also, when Council members appear to make personal attacks, it's is difficult to counter without getting personal. That's is why the Mayor's job is so important at moments like that, and I am very disapointed that he has failed to address this conflict. He has talked so much about racial healing, but the biggest rift appears to be at his own table.

No, I love old iron (cast OR forged) and that is why I would like to see the fences restored. As well as the markers. Seems to me that the town has been remiss in it's job as custodian. Of course, it's easy to defer up-keep on a cemetary...it's not like the residents will complain.

Why, oh WHY is it so difficult for people to behave like RATIONAL ADULTS? I watched part of the meeting on television--until I couldn't watch anymore.


Donna, maybe I have been here too long myself: I didn't get that you didn't get it.

I am so glad to see that Cam has become fiscally responsible on the issue of preserving the historically significant cemetary. At least that's what I read from him on this thread.

Now, where was Cam when the Council funded a $15,000 consultant lead "community hug" regarding the re-naming of Airport Road?

Back to the point. This debate was not about what was best for historical preservation, nor should it have been about another way to extort money out of UNC (aka State taxpayers)...it was a petty show of carving out political territory 4 Council members.



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