One Confounding Questionnaire

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday October 01, 2005

In Greek mythology, the villain Procrustes kept a house by the side of the road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers, inviting them for a night's rest in his very special bed. Procrustes described the bed as having the unique property that its length exactly matched whoever lay down upon it.

This "one-size-fits-all" was no supernatural phenomenon. It was achieved by Procrustes stretching his guest on the bed if he was too short or chopping off his legs if he was too long.

Figuratively speaking, candidates for local office have run into a Procrustes of our own this fall. The Chamber of Commerce has once again crafted its questionnaire to reduce complex issues to answers limited to yes/no/unsure and seek commitments to vague policy formulations.

Consider the question for Chapel Hill candidates, “Will you vote to continue to fully fund the Downtown Economic Development Corporation?” It is unclear whether they mean the DEDC deserves funding under all circumstances. What if it continues to have no significant achievements? What if there is a serious budget crisis? The forward-thinking candidate would have to answer “unsure” but the last thing a candidate wants is to appear uncertain.

Or how about “Do you generally support the future use of the Horace Williams Tract as a mixed-use UNC research campus (Carolina North)?” There are many problems with this question perhaps most fundamentally that it overlooks the uncertain tenure of James Moeser. A new chancellor could have very different ideas for that property.

Imagine a chancellor arriving with a vision of environmentally leading-edge live/study academic colleges without the emphasis on research spin-offs. Would the Chamber then expect elected officials to adopt the “anti-university” position and oppose the new plan?

The Chamber would also like to know if candidates “Will vote to change existing zoning to increase density along identified transit corridors?” Does that mean the entire corridor and all corridors? Does “transit corridor” mean any Chapel Hill Transit route or only where TTA plans a route? Is placing the corridor on a map sufficient to trigger increased density or should there be an actual, funded transportation plan in place? When the question is so vague, the answer can hardly be other than “unsure.”

The Chamber seems to expect Carrboro Aldermen to “play an active role in supporting the redevelopment of the ArtsCenter project.” But elected officials shouldn't be “actively supporting” a private project that will come before the board for approval. The proper answer must be “no” but somehow I don't think that's what they are looking for.

A recent convert to the gospel of sustainability, the Chamber asks: “Do you think a healthy growing economy is an equally important component of community sustainability as environmental protection and social equity?”

It seems to elude the Chamber, but perhaps not the candidates, that without the natural environment humans cannot survive. Environmental “protection” must be fundamental. Beyond that, a healthy society ensures that human needs are met while providing opportunity for education, recreation, enrichment, and leisure. Economy is part and parcel of that but not necessarily with that little word “growing” inserted into the equation. Economic growth is the gravy for those who can reap its rewards, so long as growth is effectively constrained from its tendency to undermine the social and environmental foundations of sustainability.

An answer of “no” here would hardly place a candidate in the “anti-business” camp though that is probably how it would be read. Understanding that natural ecology is fundamental does not mean you cannot support economic growth. It just means the resulting growth is more likely to be “healthy” and sustainable.

Running through the Chamber questionnaire is a single, over-arching question: do you support the ideology of growth as reflected in the Chamber's framing of the issues? The questionnaire is posed in a way that places a false dichotomy of pro-business/anti-business before candidates, citizens, and Chamber members alike.

Chamber Director Aaron Nelson argues that the questions are an improvement over two years ago. This is a debatable point but the effort must be acknowledged.

The Chamber will publish the candidate responses next week along with supplemental information from interviews. Unfortunately, candidates report that they did not know the interview was an opportunity to flesh out their answers. Nonetheless, if the Chamber staff does a good job, they may provide a more rounded view of the candidates than the questionnaire alone would allow.

Ultimately, Procrustes' bed did not serve him well and he met his own demise thereon. Similarly, the Chamber may find that it is ill-served asking candidates questions that, in the end, tell us more about the Chamber than about the candidates.



By the way, all of the candidate responses (and the Chamber positions) are listed on their site at

It seems to me that if a candidate had a problem with the yes/no/unsure format of the questionnaire, he/she would do his/her best to set the record straight in the interview. I personally would have had no problem not choosing from answers if none reflected my fully considered opinion. I would have put an asterisk by the question and noted to the Chamber that I needed to elaborate on the nuances of the question.
It looks like Mark Chilton chose not to answer some questions. I think it's a legitimate choice. I also think not answering the question will be read by most as an equivalent response to 'unsure'.

A recent convert to the gospel of sustainability, the Chamber asks: “Do you think a healthy growing economy is an equally important component of community sustainability as environmental protection and social equity?”

It seems to elude the Chamber, but perhaps not the candidates, that without the natural environment humans cannot survive. Environmental “protection” must be fundamental. Beyond that, a healthy society ensures that human needs are met while providing opportunity for education, recreation, enrichment, and leisure. Economy is part and parcel of that but not necessarily with that little word “growing” inserted into the equation. Economic growth is the gravy for those who can reap its rewards, so long as growth is effectively constrained from its tendency to undermine the social and environmental foundations of sustainability.

As the only candidate in any of the races to answer a flat "no" to this question (though, nods to Will Raymond for acknowledging that the question requires some further thought), I'm glad that Dan pointed this out.

I'm not anti-business. I think thriving business is very important to our town and when I join the council I hope to foster environmentally and socially responsible business growth in any way possible. But I will never place any business interest over the goals of environmental protection or social equity, and therefore I could not in good conscious claim that I felt a healthy growing economy is as important to our town as either of these two values.

I do not support economic growth for the sake of itself. As the Edward Abbey quote goes, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. I support economic initiatives up until the point at which they serve to promote environmental and social goals - not visa versa. Though I explained this in depth to the Chamber, I'm a bit saddened to see that none of my explanations of responses to any questions made it onto their

Thanks, Jason. Irrespective of your agreeing with me, that's a beautiful statement. Environmentally-minded voters will take note of a candidate who can quote Edward Abbey!

I heard privately from another candidate who shared your disappointment that the Chamber's summary of the interview left out key points. Sounds like Procrustes was at work in that part of the Chamber process as well. Too bad.

I noted this comment in the write-up about Catherine DeVine:
"Devine notes that affordable housing is not a priority for her and she does not support residential density bonuses for affordable housing projects."

I don't know much about her but figured she was a regular ole Carrboro progressive--this seems to suggest otherwise. Does anyone have any insight?

Catherine's answers to the Sierra Club were disappointing as well. I had expected more particularly given her association with A. Spalt's last campaign.

Consider (from Tom Jensen's blogging):

The impact of development on our streams can be reduced by using storm water control methods. If elected what sort of low impact measures would you add to our development ordinance?

Catherine says the town's planners and engineers know what they're doing and will prevent mistakes. There are some guarantees built into the land use ordinance already.

What have you done in the past on the environment that distinguishes you from other candidates?

Catherine Devine doesn't claim to have done anything to promote the environment.

I hope, win or lose, she will take environmental issues more seriously.

Dan, the Chapel Hill Herald reported her comments this way:
"Catherine DeVine admitted she didn't have a strong history of working on environmental projects but she said she favored protecting Bolin Creek and then figuring out a way to do a light rail system, which could run through the Bolin Creek corridor."

I tried to find the Herald interview with her but could not find it online or through UNC library's databases (I think there's a lag time between publication and availability in news databases, and I'm not sure when the article appeared). In any case, I heard she mentioned something about wanting Carrboro to have fewer restrictions on what people can do with their property. That's also a bit disconcerting, but I'd like to find the article itself. If anyone can find it, please let me know. Thanks.

I imagine this is what you're referring to:

CHH: Many politicians have "pet issues." What is yours?

Catherine DeVine: It's going to be development, and streamlining our development approval process. Carrboro has a reputation of being developer unfriendly. I want to change that reputation. I want Carrboro to be known as a builder-friendly town. Commercial and residential.

Is the chamber going to support Kevin Wolff for Mayor?

He seemed to have the highest agreement with the chambers views.

If the chamber isn't endorsing what is the point?

The Chamber doesn't endorse but their members vote. And probably at the 90% level.

The Chamber is interested in helping our members, their employees and greater community make well informed decisions. To that end, and in addition to our questionnaire and interviews, we will be partnering with EmPOWERment Inc. and WCHL1360AM to present two candidate forums.

The first will be held with the Carrboro candidates tomorrow, October 5 from 6:00pm-8:00pm at Carrboro Town Hall and broadcast live on WCHL beginning around 6:30. Our second forum will be with the Chapel Hill candidates on Tuesday, October 11 from 6:00pm-8:00pm at the Hargraves Center in Northside. This will also be broadcast live on the radio. Both events are open to the public.

On a separate note, if folks are interested in learning more about the Chamber and its new Foundation for a Sustainable Community, please join us this Thursday, October 6 at 6:00pm at the Sonja Hanes Stone Center for Black Culture and History as we present our 4th Annual Community Service Awards.

Awards will include public services officers of the year from Chapel Hill police and fire, Carrboro police and fire, Orange County EMS, UNC Public Safety and Orange Co. Sheriff. The Jim Gibson Volunteer of the Year, Community Enhancement, Community Enrichment, Town Gown and Citizen of the Year Awards will also be presented. Finally we'll partner again with the Orange County Partnership for Young Children to present the Family Friendly Employer Awards (the only partnership of its kind in the state).

The event and the reception following are free and open to the public (and its right on a bus line and has free parking). RSVPs are encouraged to

Wait, are we saying "growth for the sake of growth" is the same thing as a "healthy, growing economy"? It seems to me that those two things are very different -- and that one of them isn't nearly as insidious as the other. A stagnant economy doesn't allow for, as Dan wrote, "opportunity for education, recreation, enrichment, and leisure."

Joan et al., I answered "No" to the Chamber question re affordable housing because I think the density bonus is an inadequate solution to a high-priority problem. By increasing the density bonus, we might add a small number of homes to our stock of affordable housing -- not enough to meet demand. As a card-carrying progressive, I worry that the cost of housing in our existing neighborhoods (including rentals) has spiraled into the prohibitive zone. That's not gonna change unless Carrboro suddenly becomes an undesirable place to live. Catch 22 !

Dan et al., I can only claim to care about environmental issues, with no history of having worked actively on that front. I went on WCHL a few months ago to urge water conservation. I praised OWASA when they won a prize for fine-tasting water. I arranged to solar-power this Saturday's Bolin Creek Festival with a generator that doesn't rely on sunshine. I contributed to the Carrboro Parks Shade Project, which looks likely to succeed.

Chris, the key word in that phrase is "growing." I don't think that a healthy economy and a growing economy are the same thing. Perhaps it's a strange position for a politician to take, but I view an econonmy's health by its ability to sustain a high quality of life and minimal resource depletion, not by framing it as trying to constantly increase the rate at which your profits rise year to year.

Good for you Jason! I'd vote for you on that statement alone, but alas, I don't vote in Chapel Hill. One suggestion: for a town, you might want to change "profits" to "revenues".

Aaron Nelson neglected to share with us that the "Platinum Sponsor" for the Chamber event is Progress Energy. A "Foundation for Sustainable Community" event sponsored by Progress is like having a gay rights parade sponsored by the Family Research Council.

This is particularly relevant here in that, on a recent thread, Tom Jensen recorded the candidates' replies to the question: "What would you do if Progress Energy moves forward on plans to build another nuclear reactor at Shearon Harris?"

So here's another question for the candidates: "What would you do if Progress Energy's PR efforts for the above included sponsoring community award events under the banner of 'sustainable community'?"

A question for all: for what other newsworthy body are energy companies "platinum sponsors"?


Answer: the Bush Administration, of course.


Would it be possible for any community to adopt a position of sustainability in the absence of participation by the local power company? I ask this in all seriousness, as a pragmatist not a Pollyanna. We live in a world that is totally dependent on electricity. We are not in a position to select a different power company if we don't like the way our provider operates. So if the goal is community sustainability, isn't there more *hope* of achievement by working with Progress Energy rather than counting them out altogether? Is the best attempt to stop them from moving forward on a new nuclear reactor one that brands them as evil or one that attempts to work with them to change their plan?

Same for the Chamber--do you achieve more by discounting their efforts toward sustainability or working with them to influence their efforts? I personally like the report created by the Council for a Sustainable Community and don't see anything other than politics standing in the way of its adoption. The writers and participants on the committee deserve a big vote of thanks IMHO.

Duly noted, Jason. Thanks for responding!

Oh, man, I screwed up that blog link. :-)

Well, Terri, let's see: most environmental advances have been won only after a protracted struggle with corporate special interests. Those interests continue to fight to roll back what gains we have made.

So, the simple answer is: no. Not only do we not need Progress Energy, we may reasonably predict that our success will be in inverse proportion to their participation.

But, I'll tell you what: you work with Progress and get them to change their plans for building a new reactor and I promise to change my name to Pollyanna.

The smartest thing the fox can do is to get on the committee for protection of the chicken coop. The Chamber is trying to be a smart fox. I'm sure they appreciate your support.

But here's a case in point: in the mid-90s, the Chamber worked to have Chapel Hill RCD regulations weakened, winning on a 7-2 vote (No votes - Brown, Chilton). With LUMO, a different Council attempted to strengthen those regulation once again against the Chamber.

So, now that they have Progress Energy helping with the "Sustainability Foundation", you think something has changed? Not to go all zoological on you, but this is not a zebra that has changed its stripes.

I've spent a whole lot of time over the years interacting with CP&L, now called Progress Energy. I've done everything from participating in small meetings with top dog management to e-mailing and writing to protesting to researching the incredible scope of their power. They are more powerful than our governments and they have no more important mission than to make huge sums of money and to expand their power in order to continue to make huge sums of money with less trouble and regulation. In genral, they have contempt for environmental and alternative energy activists. The tentacles of this corporation reach everywhere. I can say without uncertainty that working without them will do much more to get their attention and cause them to change than working with them.

I cannot think of another organization in our area (well, maybe Duke Power...) that represents the antithesis of sustainability like PE does.

Long but worth it...


October 5, 2005 919-416-5077

Fire Test Fails for Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant

NRC says “Our concern is that your plant might not be safe”

DURHAM, NC – A second round of tests has confirmed that a key safety system at the Harris nuclear plant is not protective against reactor core damage, according to results discussed at a federal meeting last week. A faulty fire barrier called Hemyc is the third aspect of fire protection in which Harris ranks among the nation's most vulnerable. Fire represents the leading threat of reactor meltdown industry-wide, constituting 50% of overall risk according to federal reports.

The News & Observer on August 25th reported Progress Energy's assertion that tests contracted that month by several utilities showed the fire barrier “works as intended.” But engineers for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission insisted Thursday that results of the industry tests were consistent with those performed in April for the NRC that showed clear failure, a point conceded by Progress and others at the meeting. Both analyses were conducted by Sandia National Laboratory.

“Our concern is that both sets of tests show failure. Our concern is that your plant might not be safe,” Roy Woods, an engineer with the NRC, told Harris plant officials at the meeting. Representatives from Progress Energy's Harris and from Duke Power's Catawba were the meeting's most vocal plant owners; both Harris and Catawba contain large amounts of the faulty Hemyc material that would have to be replaced to comply with federal regulations. The barriers are designed to slow the spread of a fire that could disable pumps, valves and cables needed by operators to safely shut down the reactor.

At one point during the meeting, Mike Fletcher of Harris said the utilities planned to perform more testing, to which NRC's Chandu Patal replied, “No more testing is needed; both sets of tests were good.” NRC's Woods joined the argument against more testing, producing a set of test slides. He then, step-by-step, described how both sets of tests showed similar failures of the fire retardant material.

Harris' Fletcher and others then conceded that the two sets of tests were consistent, and Fletcher stated, regarding a particular test involving electrical conduit, “they all failed thermally around the radial bend.”

Progress then shifted to questioning the NRC's proposed two-year timetable requiring replacement of the Hemyc, with Fletcher pointing out that Harris has “the most in the industry.” An NRC spokesman concurred, saying the plant has “a lot of unique applications” of the material, and “will have to be very creative” to fix the problems.

“This is another serious safety problem at Shearon Harris that Progress Energy should correct now – not delay for years as with other fire violations and design flaws,” said NC WARN Director Jim Warren, who participated in the meeting. “Many NRC technical staff are trying to protect the public but are apparently overmatched by political pressure from above, as NRC commissioners continue allowing Harris and other plants to operate with these known risks.

Warren referred to a similar issue with another type of ineffective fire barrier, called Thermo-Lag; Harris and other plants have, for over a decade, resisted NRC staff efforts to force its replacement.

In still another fire category, federal documents show that Shearon Harris relies on the highest number of “manual operator actions” in the industry; complex procedures are set forth that would send personnel into the plant to operate circuits and valves manually in case fire disables the ability of control room operators to shut down the reactor.

Instead of requiring compliance with fire protection requirements – operative fire barriers – put into effect after an Alabama plant was largely destroyed in 1975, the NRC has for several years allowed plant owners to rely on intermittent human fire patrols as “temporary” fixes. Now the industry is aggressively seeking to roll back the fire regulations, thus allowing plants to operate with the patrols – as “compensatory measures” – indefinitely instead of replacing failed fire barrier materials.

Last week NRC staff announced they are recommending against such rules changes, but NRC Commissioners are expected to grant industry's wish by overruling its technical experts on the matter.

“Shearon Harris has the distinction of ranking number one in these fire violation categories, and number one in the risk of meltdown due to station blackout,” added watchdog Jim Warren. “It has a known but uncorrected flaw in its emergency cooling system, has suffered eleven reactor trips since 2003, and has one of nation's largest stockpiles of highly radioactive waste.”

“The NRC needs to force Progress Energy to comply with the law and reduce its risks before these problems become reclassified as emergencies,” said Warren.


N.C. Waste Awareness & Reduction Network

P.O. Box 61051

Durham, NC 27715-1051


919-286-3985 fax


Dan and Mark,

Sustainability, as John Herrara kept reminding us at last nights Chamber/Empowerment forum, is a three legged stool: healthy economy, environment, and society. If one of our community values, as represented in the Chamber's sustainability paper, is to build an economy based on environmentally responsive and equity based businesses, then I feel we need to work with the Chamber to have a positive force in helping non-responsive businesses change. And if those businesses will not be responsive, then we find alternatives to the services they provide.

Unfortunately we need electricity, we're running out of oil, and we can't just switch power companies. The alternatives are to work within the Chambers sustainability efforts, to oppose them, or to ignore them as the towns appear to be doing.

To me this is like fire. Fire used to be seen as something that should be suppressed in nature. Now we know differently. It can still hurt us but when it is controlled and managed it has a force of good. By working with the Chamber, you can not only help to control and manage those businesses that are not responsive to our community values, but you can also have a hand in promoting alternatives to nuclear power as we begin to explore our options to an oil-based system. I'd not saying embrace Progress Energy, I'm just saying don't discount the Chamber. If the hens worked together, they could take on the fox. And if fire is used right, it brings forth a healthier ecosystem.

I see I'll have to protect the integrity of my metaphor. Hens cannot work together to "take on the fox." The fox always wins (see Mark M's note on Progress Energy above). Hens seek a society that is fox-free.

And, as I wrote above, sustainability is NOT a three-legged stool nor any other kind of stool nor a piece of furniture at all. The three legged stool concept is emblematic of the fractured perspective that characterizes the modern era. As long as we view economy as one leg and ecology as another, we will never have anything truly sustainable. Only when economic activity flows out of a fundamental sense of the embeddedness of humanity in nature will the term sustainability begin to have a meaning worthy of its implications.

My personal axiom is to have as much respect for whoever or whatever I am dealing with as that entity has for me. Progress Energy (and many other corporations of course) will spend more money on public relations over a problem than it would take to fix that particular problem just so they don't ever have to show respect for those who pointed out the problem to them.

What is the connection between the annual community service awards and sustainability? The event is sponsored by the Chamber and they have a Sustainability Foundation, is that the problem? As Aaron said, "if folks are interested in learning more about the Chamber and its new Foundation for a Sustainable Community, please join us this Thursday, October 6 at 6:00pm at the Sonja Hanes Stone Center for Black Culture and History as we present our 4th Annual Community Service Awards."

Is it just Progress Energy that's a problem as a sponsor, the other businesses/organizations that are sponsors, or all of them? Here is the list of sponsors.

Try this link to the Chamber:

151. The number of words, including a nice description of my “detailed policy perspective”, the Chamber used to comment on my candidacy.

143. The number of words in my somewhat detailed response to the question “[What] three specific things you would do to make Chapel Hill a better place to do business [?]“

50. The number of words they limited nuanced answers to that question on their website.

31. The number of words they used to tell readers why they truncated candidates' responses.

0. The number of words within the 151 describing my candidacy used to inform the Chamber membership of my entrepreneurial business background or highlight my work as a successful CIO/CTO of a multi-million dollar

Priceless. Some detail and elaboration for our reality-based community.

As a business person, I understand the value of specificity and detail. Besides elaborating on the above question, I also wrote out specific answers to each of their Yes, No, Unsure questions because I thought the Chamber would also appreciate a level of detail not generally found in elections in our sound bite Society.

Here's the complete answer I provided the Chamber:

As Chapel Hill transitions from Town to City we need to cultivate economic activity throughout Town. That starts with a creating a new EDC, doing a real survey of all business activity and creating a strategic plan for economic development that looks 5,10,20 years out.

We need to get creative and realize we can support innovative economic activity by supporting a municipally-sponsored broadband service. Besides advertising Chapel Hill as a Town on the (technology) rise, it attracts low impact businesses that employ our next generation of consumers.

Finally, we need to revisit some traditional amenities that have all but disappeared in Chapel Hill. Drinking fountains and attractive public restrooms are a good start. And to make Downtown family friendlier, I'm calling for a state-of-the-art, world-class, “mom, do we have to leave” play structure in a prominent Downtown location.

More reflections here.

384. The number of words in this post.

Thanks, Will. Now we know why there were so many "U"s on your questionnaire. It is odd that they chose not to give their members any background on your business experience. Still, I imagine your call (that they did publish) for a strategic economic development plan will sit well with many business leaders.

Biting my tongue about "our reality-based community".


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