The season for campaign speculation

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday June 11, 2005

With the filing period now just a few weeks away, speculation is rampant about the upcoming municipal elections in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Rarely have we gotten this late in the pre-election season and known so little about the prospective field.

The mayoral races are the easiest to handicap. In Chapel Hill, the position will again be Kevin Foy's if he wants it. If not, Bill Strom, a tough campaigner, looks unbeatable and might even run without opposition.

In Carrboro, Mayor Mike Nelson has said he won't be running for another term and the only affirmative steps toward a mayoral candidacy have come from Alderman Mark Chilton. This week Chilton mailed out a questionnaire to gauge voters' priorities for the town.

Should Chilton choose to run, he would be an odds-on favorite to win. He came in first among alderman candidates in 2003 with 1,709 votes, a big number for Carrboro. Chilton seems to relish an active grassroots campaign and can be expected to again be knocking on doors throughout Carrboro.

After that it gets tough, particularly given that none of the incumbents has formally announced any plans.

In Chapel Hill, Mark Kleinschmidt has indicated that he will run and no one will be surprised when he is re-elected.

Edith Wiggins has said she will probably retire. That will help black challengers with Chapel Hill voters who are committed to having racial diversity on the council. Possible candidate Bill Thorpe is a veteran of two separate stints on the council and could garner broad support, but he'll have to run a much stronger campaign than he did in a losing effort back in 1991.

Neither Ed Harrison nor Dorothy Verkerk has announced plans for seeking a second term. Both will have the advantages of incumbency. For Harrison or Verkerk to lose, there need to be some strong challengers. So far, only Laurin Easthom and Robin Cutson have publicly indicated an intention of running.

Easthom, a transportation board member, has been outspoken on a wide range of issues and appears poised for the kind of strong campaign that Sally Greene ran two years ago.

Cutson also has been outspoken on a wide range of issues, and has run a highly critical precampaign that has included attacks on funding for the Women's Center and her campaign against the Carbon Reduction Initiative of Douglas Crawford-Brown, director of the Carolina Environmental Program.

In Carrboro, Diana McDuffee says she is "98 percent sure" she will retire. Many expect both Jacquie Gist and John Herrera to seek another term as aldermen. Granting re-election to these two incumbents, one seat would be available to a challenger.

So far, only Catherine Devine has committed to running. Devine is well-known for her work on the Carrboro Music Festival and has served on several town advisory boards.

Randee Haven-O'Donnell and James Carnahan are also considering a run. Carnahan chairs the planning board. Haven-O'Donnell serves on the Horace Williams committee (along with Devine) and is active in Bolin Creek preservation efforts.

Carnahan is an ardent proponent of high-density development. Haven-O'Donnell is deeply involved with environmental preservation. These values collided not long ago with the Winmore project.

A key question for the campaign could be which candidate can articulate a vision that convincingly incorporates both.

Jeff Vanke, a 2003 write-in mayoral candidate, announced recently that he will not be running this year. That leaves the constituency identified with Vanke, Steve Rose and Jim Porto without even a speculative candidate at this time.

Similarly, the Chapel Hill constituency that rallied around fifth-place finishers Dianne Bachman in 2003 and D.R. Bryan in 2001 has not yet been heard from.

The real fun begins when filing opens at noon on July 1 with the slates finalized at noon on Aug. 5.



Here's my scorecard:

Gist--running (alderman)
Herrera--running (alderman)
McDuffee--retiring (alderman)
Nelson--retiring (mayor)
Chilton--running (mayor)
I know of one other candidate who was "pretty sure" to run last time we spoke but he still hasn't gone public.

Chapel Hill
Kleinschmidt--running (council)
Wiggins--unknown (council)
Verkerk--retiring (council)
Harrison--unknown (council)
*Cutson--running (council)
Foy--running (mayor)
I know of one other definite candidate but she hasn't yet publicly declared.


In theis morning's CHH, Ray Gronberg reports:

"Meanwhile, in Chapel Hill, Councilwomen Dorothy Verkerk and Edith Wiggins confirmed that they won't seek re-election."

Terri, as Fred as just pointed out, it appears that Mayor Pro Tem Wiggins is following through on her earlier statements and standing down.

It's been stated the Mr. Jensen and Mr. Baker have decided to pass - they both post on OP have they confirmed this?

And, of course, you left Transportation Board member Ms. Laurin Easthom, DDS off your list.

How could you do that Terri, she sat right next to you at Monday's Council meeting and then, echoing the personal petition presented on behalf of some members on the Tech Board, presented a citizens petition on expanding Wifi in town!

Will--I didn't realize Laurin had made a public declaration. I stand corrected:

Revised CH scorecard:

Chapel Hill
Kleinschmidt–running (council)
Wiggins–retiring (council)
Verkerk–retiring (council)
Harrison–unknown (council)
*Easthom--running (council)
*Cutson–running (council)
Foy–running (mayor)
I know of one other definite candidate but she hasn't yet publicly declared.

Anyone else??????

I know of one other definite candidate but she hasn't yet publicly declared.

Hmmm, I thought that was Ms. Easthom but now.......

Guess I'll have to tune back in when you break the news Terri!

I believe that there are other candidates. Should all be resolved by August 5th at the latest!

There was an article by Matt Dees in the April 24 CHN about Easthom and Cutson running. (can't get link to work) At that time Cutson was undecided if she would run for Mayor or Council.
I received a call from someone asking me to be their trasurer.

WillR, good question about smart economic growth. Raising the privilege license fees as much as 1000% (from 75 to 750 dollars), as the Town Council did last night, would not be my suggestion.

If I remember correctly, since 1981 when I started following
local elections,
the smallest number of candidates for a CH
Town Council election was 9 and the largest number was 13. Hence, there are still a few to come out of the woodwork. If any election data junkies have real data, please let us know.

when I ran in 1973 I know there were 5 candidates for 4 seats on the Chapel Hill Board. When I ran in 1977 I think there were 12 for 4 seats, but my memory is a bit fuzzy on 1977.

According to the Orange Co website "All businesses must obtain a local privilege license before beginning. Any needed zoning or building permits must be approved before the privilege license will be issued. For further privilege license information in your area, please contact the appropriate local government office." But then on another page it indicates that only businesses that have to have a state ABC license must have a privilege license. Can someone explain the difference between a privilege license and a business license?


To be fair, shouldn't you include a context for the privilege license sound bite?

The old PL schedule had every business with gross receipts over 100K paying $75.

Now gross receipts of 100K pay $100 and are graduated (7 levels for gross receipts ranging from from $0 - $500K, with corresponding fees of $25 to $750) so that gross receipts of half a million dollars and over require a fee of $750.

While there may still be arguments against the new schedule, the previous one had the lowest rates in the triangle by far! The new one at least has a maximum fee (like Cary and Morrisville). Go ask Carrboro, Durham, or Raleigh what their max PL fee is?

Here's the budget working paper on the issue:

Thursday's Daily Tar Heel (online edition available now) has an extensive writeup about Jason Baker. Sure sounds like he is running.

Joining them in pursuit of the vacant seats this November will be UNC sophomore Jason Baker, a 20-year-old political science major.

Baker said he is strongly considering filing July 18 ­— his 21st birthday. He said students, who comprise 32 percent of the town's population according to the 2004 Data Book, deserve to have a say in community affairs.

“I feel that if you look at the council, it is not nearly as diverse as the Chapel Hill population on a whole,” Baker said.

His campaign will depend heavily on the student vote, which former student body president candidate Tom Jensen said is historically about 1.5 percent.

But Jensen said he hopes to have a turnout approaching 20 percent this year. The ability to get out the vote and utilize existing student political networks will add legitimacy to Baker's campaign, Jensen said.

“We came up with some really sophisticated techniques for getting people to vote last year, and we'll put those to use for Jason this year,” Jensen said.

Baker, whom Jensen referred to as a “voter registration fanatic,” solely registered 3,000 new student voters last fall as a part of the UNC Young Democrats voter drive.

Mark Chilton was the last student to be elected to the council in 1991.

I met Jason last October while I was assisting a voter registration drive on the NCSU campus here in Raleigh. Jason had come over to help oit. I was impressed with his energy level.

Good luck, Jason! Don't forget that there are a lot of non-student voters and you need their support too.

Gerry, that's a cool trick citing a June 30th article that doesn't appear on the DTH's front page (at least for me). How did you find it?

Jason, I add my best wishes. I agree with Mark Chilton's
statement and would add that Mark didn't win his
seat in 1991 by the student vote. He won because lots of
people all over town liked the way he performed in the many
forums at which we all performed. So if you want to win,
you'll have to appeal to the bulk of Chapel Hill people who are
not (current) students.

WilR, I subscribe to the DTH weekly headline newsletter, it comes out Wednesday night and has links to the stories before they actually publish the full paper

Thanks for your friendly support all. I suppose it's pretty safe to say that for all of those keeping score, you can move my name from the "considering a run" category to the "preparing to file."

I certainly agree that my campaign needs to be about more than just the student vote, and while I'm working hard to dramatically expand student turnout this November, I fully expect that I'll be able to garner just as much of the vote from the rest of the town as any other candidate. While I am a "student candidate," I don't think that alone should be the reason that people vote for or against me.

I do think, however, that my experience as a student is beneficial in many ways beyond just being able to get a paricular sector of the vote. As a student, as opposed to a business owner or a university official or someone else on top, I get to see Chapel Hill from a "user's perspective." I understand what town-gown issues mean to the people who be affected by them rather than the people to whom projects are just part of their legacy. I know what the high cost of living and housing in this town mean to someone who's scraping by on a low income - in my case mostly student loans and odd jobs. I ride my bike from my apartment to campus every morning and know what the realities of what works and what doesn't towards keeping this town pedestrian friendly. And perhaps it doesn't kill me that I still regularly visit my hometown and can see first-hand what the result of improper planning is: uncontrolled sprawl.

I look forward to the next several months. Win or lose, I hope my campaign makes a positive difference in this town.

Fantastic Gerry, it doesn't require any divine intervention/ I'll add a subscription.

Jason, I look forward to the different perspective your campaign will add to the election. I don't know if the student forum was recorded last election, but Rudy Juliano had some thoughtful and interesting comments about student participation in the election. Given the number of seats "in play", do you plan to form an informal coalition of candidates to rally that new influx of student voters around?

Bringing in a new voter and leaving them with only one candidate's name to check would be wasting three quarters of their power as a voter. But I suspect that many student groups in addition to myself will be active in this coming election and will likely have just as much influence on the remaining three choices as I.

That said, I would promote other candidates alongside myself to the student population if I feel that they have similar and intelligent positions on the issues. I don't think the candidate field has filled yet, though, and I think it's wise to see how things play themselves out after August 5.

Mark K good request. I am happy to flesh out my comment further. My research about privilege fees shows the following. For a business that does 500K in annual turnover, here are the fees I was quoted by the various municipalities

Carrboro 200
Charlotte 300
Raleigh 340
Durham 292.50
Hillsborough less than 100 (unless you are a fortune teller, then it's 200)
Salisbury 300
Morrisville and Cary 450 (cap)

I have calls out to Asheville, Brevard, Marion, Morehead City, and Fayetteville. I picked those cities because they were areas that had some of our highest average unit volume Subway stores when I worked as a developer for Subway.

So it appears that Chapel Hill has just enacted one of the HIGHEST privilege license fee for a business with 500K in annual turnover in the state of North Carolina.

And Mark, another context, since you asked--many Chapel Hill businesses don't even pay the privilege tax because they are exempt by order of the North Carolina General Assembly. So our local attorneys, doctors, banks, office supply stores, architects, therapists, bail bondsmen, day cares, real estate agents--any group with the funds to hire a lobbyist in Raleigh---don't have to pay for a privilege license locally AT ALL. I don't even know what % of businesses have to pay this tax in Chapel Hill, but it's clear that many of them won't.

I am not personally opposed to some type of privilege license fee increase, but a 1000% increase overnight to selcted Chapel Hill businesses, resulting in what seems to be one of the highest fees in the state, seems ill-considered to me.

What is a privilege fee anyway?

I've paid them for years. Whose privilege? What do I get? Is home-grown local economic activity like my building business not a good thing that should be encouraged rather than have fees added to work in a certain area?

Local businesses are the back-bone of a healthy economy, so why levy extra fees on them?

I'm glad you reviewed the working paper.

Yes, the PL is the highests around at THAT PARTICULAR range. But the Chapel Hill PL is the lowest around for 0-25K and much, much lower than the surrounding no-limit jurisidictions for very high receipt businesses.

What I was attracted to was that the new schedule is much more progressive (although not as progressive as I'd like, to be honest, I would have considered a no-limit PL license for very high grossing businesses). Some got a break from the new schedule and some will pay more, but I think it's a fairer way to handle the process rather than the way it was before --

The way it was before: Businesses were divided into only 3 groups and the divisions only occurred at relatively low levels -- receipts of less than $100K.

Just a couple of points of the privilege license fee. First, comparing the fee rates to other towns doesn't really provide much information unless those towns also have similar costs for property rents and similar costs for garbage collection, stormwater fees etc. If Chapel Hill's rents and fees are higher, then obviously even if our PL rates were comparable we would still be the most expensive location for new businesses.

Also, if we really want to attract businesses to Chapel Hill to improve our tax base and to provide vitality then what do we even care what the other towns are doing? Offering the lowest PL rate could be viewed as an economic incentive. It doesn't make much sense to use taxpayers' money to form a downtown economic development corporation to “brainstorm” how to attract businesses to our area if we just ignore the ones we already have.

In short, keeping a low PL could attract businesses to our area, but instead we will raise the rates and then use the extra money generated to fund an economic development corporation so they can think of ways to provide economic incentives to attract businesses to our area. This seems illogical. Also, offering a low PL rate as an economic incentive seems much more fair than an economic development corporation taking tax dollars from citizens and then awarding the money in the form of an economic incentive package or “seed” money to whatever business it deems its favorite. I also agree with Anita that it seems unfair than some businesses are granted exemptions.

"keeping a low PL could attract businesses to our area, but instead we will raise the rates and then use the extra money generated to fund an economic development corporation so they can think of ways to provide economic incentives to attract businesses to our area. This seems illogical."

Right on Robin! Tax more, get less.

Robin seconds Anita comments that:
"many Chapel Hill businesses don't even pay the privilege tax because they are exempt by order of the North Carolina General Assembly. So our local attorneys, doctors, banks, office supply stores, architects, therapists, bail bondsmen, day cares, real estate agents–any group with the funds to hire a lobbyist in Raleigh—don't have to pay for a privilege license locally AT ALL."

it's not as if those professions don't pay privilege taxes. I just paid my mandatory $250.00 State Bar Dues (which is in reality a privilege tax) and my $50.00 privilege license tax to the State today. We pay our privilege license taxes to the State, rather than to local government.

On another note, pity for a moment, if you will, the plumbers and electricians who are required to buy a privilege license in every town they work in. That is, a plumber who works in Hillsboro, Pittsboro, Carrboro, Chapel Hill etc. etc. is supposed to have a privilege license in each and every one of those towns - or so I understand it.

Would someone PULEEZE explain what a privilege license is and how it differs from a business license?

Mark, while I respect you and your reasoning, I do not know how you can call this privilege license increase "progressive" when not all businesses pay it, and especially when some of those exempt businesses --i.e. legal practices, medical practices, architectural firms, investment advisors, banks, and real estate firms--have some of the highest profit margins in the marketplace.

Also, what services does a business receive for a business license? It seems to me that the license should simply cover the costs associated with maintaining the database so that we know what businesses exist in our community. Please correct me if I am wrong. I don't think a business license pays for any other service except documentation and monitoring. It's a license, the same way a driver's license is, the exception being that there are loopholes about what businesses have to be licensed big enough to drive a bus through. What is the rationale for charging some businesses for the "privilege" of operating in our community, but not all?

In fact, I don't think a town has to charge a privilege license fee at all. It is a voluntary decision--the state guidelines are simply that, if a town wants to collect a privilege fee, here are the busineses you can't charge.

We notifiy people when property owners near them want to change zoning or build something unexpected, why can't we notify business owners who hold a privilege license about proposed changes to the license fee? Why don't we ask for input from businesses that help our town pay its bills? Soliciting input means you have more information=-it doesn't mean that you automatically rubber stamp that position---what it means is that you educate yourself to make an informed decision.

Mark, I started my comments as a response to you, but not all my comments are directed to you specifically. I appreciate you and your colleagues' service on our behalf, but I just don't think the Town Council always get enough information on business issues before it. I respect that the business community is not the only constituency in this town. What I would hope is that it would at least be invited to the table or positioned on the radar screen as worthy of soliciting input about issues that directly impact it.

Terri, I don't think they are different. It's simply a license that allows a business to open its doors---unless of course your business is exempted by the state--you really should review that lengthy exemption list----- in which case a town cannot make you buy a privilege license.

Gerry, be happy your fees are less than 1/2 what a similar retail business would pay in this town---and that is just to operate in one town.

At one point I had three retail stores in Chapel Hill, one in Carrboro, and one in Hillsborough--each of which had to have a privilege license. (same owner, same business, different locations===separate licenses). I would bet good money that all 5 of those stores combined did not net 5 times to me what one flourishing legal or consulting practice would--and my businesses pumped in sales tax to the county economy and gave citizens a local shopping options that reduced car trips to distant shopping destinations. I liked my business, but I worked hard and the profit margins are much thinner than many people think---just ask Kate Branch or the folks at Great Harvest Bread company.

I respect that you, Gerry, pay state licensing and professional association fees. You could have an office in every town in this state for that fee--think about what it would cost you if you had to pay a license fee based on your turnover (not your profit, your BILLING) in each of those towns?

I am sorry to belabor a point, but I think many people who aren't small business owners really don't understand what a privilege license fee is, how selectively it is levied, and what it really pays for.

I think business license and privilege license are the same thing, Terri. I have always taken them to be the same. Is that correct, Gerry?

I still don't know what a privilege license is or what real purpose it serves.

Mark C. is correct in that - as a builder, plumber, electrician, etc. - you have to buy a privilege license in Carrboro & one in Chapel Hill. However I can build in Orange County, Chatham County, & Durham without such a license. I can also do work that doesn't require a building permit & thus the governments don't have any leverage over the activity.

I always thought it was a holdover from Olde English days like the phrases that get used in courtrooms, since no-one seems to know what their purpose is (except to nick some businesses for some more revenue).

Could it be that a prvilege license grants you the "privilege" to do business in Chapel Hill? Of course, if a mobster did the same thing, it would be called a "shakedown"...

Well, at the very least it's just another one of those things that make citizens shake their heads in bewilderment and ultimately undermines support for appropriate fees.

And, by the way, I'll tell your fortune for free and thus avoid a privilege license for that.

If a privilege license and business license are the same thing, then there is some purpose to it as the town is obligated to make sure the business owner is complying with environmental regulations among other things. The license (fee) then covers the operational cost to the town of providing oversight. HOWEVER, I don't understand why we don't just use property tax rates to cover all operational expenses instead of all these add-ons. I do believe that businesses should pay their own way in terms of the city/county services they receive, including compliance oversight, but it seems a little contradictory (and unreasonable) to ask them to pay for the "privilege" of doing business.

The privilege license is a tax, designed as a general revenue of the state, county, or city levying it, see:

§ 105 33. Taxes under this Article.
(a) General. – Taxes in this Article are imposed for the privilege of carrying on the business, exercising the privilege, or doing the act named.
(b) License Taxes. – A license tax imposed by this Article is an annual tax. The tax is due by July 1 of each year. The tax is imposed for the privilege of engaging in a specified activity during the fiscal year that begins on the July 1 due date of the tax. The full amount of a license tax applies to a person who, during a fiscal year, begins to engage in an activity for which this Article requires a license. Before a person engages in an activity for which this Article requires a license, the person must obtain the required license.

quoted above was the state law.

By the way, I was not trying to minimize the burden of local privilege license taxes on businesses with my earlier comment, but just to note that most professions DO have to pay them, but to the state.

Jason Baker, You're implicitly committing to serve a full four-year term. Are you willing to make that commitment explicit, and to explain how that relates to your professional ambitions after UNC?

Jeff, didn't see you in Hillsborough this afternoon. Are you planning to run this year?

Will, you must have missed it:

"non-disclaimer: I'm almost certainly not running for anything."
Comment at 9:47pm 6/3/2005 by Jeff Vanke

That is a very fair question, one we should also ask to non-tenured faculty (or those on term appointments) who might be council candidates.


At this point in my life I don't see any reason why I wouldn't be able to serve the entirity of a four year term. My "professional ambitions" would send me in the direction of either graduate school or a job in either the computer industry or political/non-profit work, for which I see no shortage of opportunities locally.

I think the length of terms is an unfortunate barrier to a large portion of the student body, though, and on the long term (no pun intended) I would like to work to make town politics accessible to more than just those students willing to stick around beyond the end of their academic careers.

A slight O/T---I hope every has a happy 4th and enjoys the company of their loved ones. Off to the coast!

There is no reason to think that ANY reasonable candidate would file for office NOT intending to serve a full term.

If a candidate would not PLEDGE to serve the full term if elected, would you no longer consider that candidate "reasonable"?

I'm thinking of a certain NY senator who grew up in IL but for some reason is a lifelong Yankees fan...

Or a certain NC senator who hasn't lived in the state she represents since 1958?

Jason, is that worse than having *NEVER* lived in the State?

I don't particularly value bringing in a politician who's view of North Carolina politics was well shaped as conservative prior to the majority of the civil rights movement in this state. Liddy's background in NC values was from the days when refusing to desegregate was good policy. IMHO, we'd have been better off with a complete outsider.

Seems like an odd leap to make. Are you alleging that Sen Dole is a segregationist at heart? Wouldn't that hold true for every politician from the South who grew up during segregation? Should they all be replaced with outsiders/carpetbaggers?

Interesting turn for this thread. I suggest you take a look at Sally Greene's comments on the new Northerner's influence on the South (I guess Bill might characterize them as carpetbaggers).



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