NRG Posts Candidate Interviews

In an amazing feat of citizenship, the Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (NRG), an all volunteer organization, has posted a summary of responses to eight interview questions with Chapel Hill candidates on its web site. Audio of the interviews is also available.

Chapel Hill has four Town Council seats and the Mayor's seat up for election in 2005. NRG asked all ten Chapel Hill Town Council candidates to participate in an interview on topics of interest to local citizens. Nine of the candidates accepted, and one candidate withdrew from the race on October 6. The responses from the remaining eight candidates are presented here. NRG as an organization is not endorsing candidates for this election. We are posting the candidates' responses here in the hope that this information will help citizens make an informed decision this November. No comment or statement on these pages should be seen as an endorsement of a particular candidate.



Wow- I didn't listen to the audio, but the ability to compare responses sure cleared a lot of things up for me about the differences between the candidates. Hats off to NRG!

I really like the format of this website. However, as one of the minority members of the OWASA Board of Directors, I am dismayed that one of the candidates feels like "Chapel Hill controls this organization (OWASA) and can change leadership if dissatisfied."

Well, that was me Terri. One thing that should be pointed out is that I also expressed my high confidence in OWASA and their ability to respond to water crises as well as their entrepreneurial efforts at water reclamation, development of on-going water conservation efforts, and grey water use. I've even personally expressed this confidence to you directly.

But, should there come a time when people are dissatisfied with OWASA, I think it's important that the people are aware of the avenues through which change can occur.

The question was a little bit like a push poll. Instead of asking the candidates how they viewed our current and future water supply and OWASA's past performance and plans for the future, they were asked if they would support a review of OWASA.

At any rate, after serving on the OWASA Board for almost six years, it is clear that many of the candidates would benefit from learning more about OWASA. To the extent that a "review" would do that, maybe it would be a good thing.

In fact OWASA was restructured in the late 70s or early 80s to allow Chapel Hill to control it. The original composition was 3-3-3, although Chapel Hill ratepayers had funded a majority of the capital. (totally left out of the organizational process was the Dogwood Acres Sanitary District, which had an elected board and a supplemental tax and actually owned water lines which were turned over to OWASA, instead Orange County which owned NO water or sewer lines got 3 seats) After a short period, the composition was changed to 5-2-2, and the law clearly states "any member of the authority may be removed, with or without cause, by the governing body appointing said member". It was clearly designed to be a regional authority, but with the Chapel Hill Town Council retaining ultimate authority. At the risk of pulling a Bill Thorpe and not clearly remembering how I voted, I think I may have voted against the initial creation of OWASA on a 3-3-3- basis the basis that there was TOO much lack of responsibility.

The question is indeed poorly designed: "Would you support a review by the Chapel Hill Town Council of OWASA's mission and a reassessment of the impact of future development on OWASA's ability to meet its obligations to this community? Explain." My answer, were I a candidate, would have been "Huh?"

I liked Laurin Easthom's responses though. "There should be a more detailed assessment by OWASA for new developments that goes beyond just getting the water and sewer lines to it." "OWASA should take a closer look at Carolina North and work with UNC to assess the water impact Carolina North will have."

To me these responses assume a collaborative relationship between OWASA & the council vs. the oversight relationship implied by the question. I do agree with Mark K though that the BOD should be accountable, not just to the elected bodies but also to our rate payers.

Just to clarify this issue a little - the elected governing bodies make zoning decisions. An obvious component of making plans for future development is our water supply. They should (and do as far as I know) obtain the necessary information from OWASA and utilize that to make good decisions. To state Terri's point differently with the appropriate chain of responsibility, the Chapel Hill elected officials & staff should take a closer look at Carolina North, review their information from (and with) OWASA, and work with UNC to assess the impacts.

OWASA's responsibility is then to provide the services made necessary by these governmental decisions. There seems to be a misunderstanding among some of the candidates that OWASA has some sort of guiding role to play in development issues.

As far as Board accountability and communication with elected bodies, much of the communication in the recent past has been instigated by the OWASA Board. Many times over the last few years, fellow board members and myself have wondered at the minimal attention paid to OWASA by elected officials and candidates. I think it is good for the community that water issues are part of the campaign. The next step is to enhance the issue with good information.

Last spring, OWASA held its First Community Outreach meeting. It was very well-received by the 15 or so people who showed up. Over the past two years the Board has been a catalyst for expanded outreach to the community and the list of organizations that we communicate with has grown considerably.

I would recommend that all the candidates contact OWASA and get a copy of the Capstone Report (a great overview of OWASA and the systems it operates). Also they should feel free to contact OWASA staff or Board members to learn more. You will discover that the people you deal with will be gracious in providing you information and that all the information will be accessible.

I appreciated the fact that Laurin Easthom contacted me and met with me a few weeks ago in order to learn about OWASA.

To follow up on Mark's comments. About a month ago I asked OWASA for the water usage profile of UNC over the last decade, anticipated demand profiles for Main Campus (vis-a-vis the grey water project) and the projected water usage profiles for both the Town and Carolina North over the near term future.

Their response was rapid, thorough and came with an open invitation for further engagement.

Ironically, the information Will obtained is the information that Robin Cutson has been claiming for months is secret and unobtainable. A couple of months ago I told her it was available and invited her to attempt to get it. She did not and continues to make statements about secrecy and UNC water use.

One modification to Mark's comments above: The Orange County, Carrboro and Chapel Hill "elected officials and staff should take a closer look at Carolina North, review their information from (and with) OWASA, and work with UNC to assess the impacts." OWASA is represented by three governmental entities, each with its own unique interests and concerns.

I am glad to see that NRG's presentation has stimulated some conversation - that is after all its intent. Thanks, Dan, for your post.
We worked hard to be as objective as possible in crafting our questions, but (since humans are involved) I am certain some bias crept into the questions. It truly was our goal not to "lead" the candidates anywhere, but rather to get them to go wherever they wanted with the topic. I think we succeeded well for the first go 'round.
It is NRG's hope that this approach will make it possible for citizens who can't/don't attend forums to learn about the candidates, as much or as little as they want to, and on their own schedule, and hopefully get them more engaged in the process.
I look forward to any and all suggestions for improvement.


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