Three cheers for Laurin Easthom!

I have been so incredibly upset since I heard about the Chapel Hill Town Council's swift decision to retire the Technology Advisory Board and the Horace Williams Citizens Committee last week, that I couldn't even write about it. I have been waiting to cool down, but the more I think and the more people I talk to about it, the madder I get.

So I will let Jason Baker do the talking for me (from his blog):

Last week, the Chapel Hill Town Council opted to end the service of both the Horace Williams citizens' committee and the technology committee.

Doing so was a mistake. With her sole dissenting vote, apparently only former citizens' committee member Laurin Easthom saw the value of the hard work and diversity of perspectives those folks would bring to the town in the years to come.

As a town, we're far behind where we ought to be in the technology realm, and disbanding our technology committee without a thoughtful replacement is only going to put us farther back.

And killing off the citizens' committee before we even have a plan for Carolina North is like firing Roy Williams just before our first game.
- box14 » Stop Playing Games with my Town

Although the Tech Board was so screwed up that I sometimes thought it did need to be put out of it's misery, I think this solution just continues the Council's apparent policy of not taking responsilbity or providing direction to the volunteer advisory boards. How do we know the promised new tech board will be any better?

Some people have theorized that stopping the work of the HWCC will somehow slow the development of Carolina North. I think these are the same people that refused to engage in the discussion about Meadowmont rather than trying to make it better. Look how great that strategy turned out! Sticking your heads in the sand only leaves you out of the crucial decision-making will be moving along without you.

And not only is this strategy potentially disastrous, but the Council didn't even take the time to discuss with the two boards the Mayor's proposal to disband them. After 14 years years of volunteer service to the Town of Chapel Hill, including 4 years on the HWCC, I was truly shocked to be treated this way.

But anyway, let's hear it for Laurin Easthom who had the guts to argue (and vote) against this lunacy! Somebody buy that woman a drink, and tell her I said thanks.



Just 15 minutes after posting the above, I received this e-mail:

Subject: Horace Williams Citizens Committee
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 16:50:15
From: Kevin Foy
To: ...

To the members of the Horace Williams Citizens Committee -

I spoke with Julie last Friday and understand from her that some committee members were surprised at the Council action to bring your work to a close at the end of June. Let me apologize for not communicating directly and earlier with you about this.

The Council has very high regard for the work of the committee. This is reflected in more than just words -- your report is now the town's policy, and also provides a foundation for the university to work with as it moves forward on Carolina North. In addition to the report itself,
we appreciate the work you provided in developing the foundation studies. I hope that work on the transit master plan will begin soon, as will the fiscal equity study. I know from Julie that your work on the foundation study on natural resources will also come to the Council this term.

As you may know, the Council considered retiring the committee once its initial charge was completed a couple years ago, but opted to keep the committee operating in case we needed further advice. However, until UNC comes forward with a plan, the Town's position is that the principles and foundation studies stand for themselves, and that progress needs to be made on these before we undertake further efforts.

It is not clear what direction the Carolina North planning will take. Depending on what the University decides, and when, we may need to begin work on some aspect of Carolina North. I believe that it will be of benefit to the Town if the Council has the flexibility to decide how
that work should proceed, including whether to establish another committee and how to shape the charge of any such committee.

Again, I thank you for your work, and I look forward to the report on natural resource protection.


It's disappointing that the Mayor continues to suggest the HWCC was at loose-ends. He knows quite well we submitted a reformed charter to Council in January outlining roughly a years worth of ongoing research and work on a variety of issues.

As far as the HWCC, the environmental sub-committee is still chugging along developing a proposal for May 17th's Council meeting.

The Tech Board is working to document the 7-8 on-going projects, like the electronic meetings trial program and the FOSS (free/open source software) pilot, initiated under its advisement in the last year to make sure they're not lost in the shuffle.

I'd like to suggest folk interested in promoting technology-related efficiencies to carefully review the upcoming budget submission. We need to keep a lid on taxes while promoting better service - productivity enhancements via technology is the way to go.

In either case, assembling a set of folk conversant with either Carolina North or tech issues and getting them quickly up to speed is a bit of a pipe dream.

Hey, the committees are still staffed, so it's not too late to ask them to consider lingering on ;-)!

Since that's fairly unlikely, I guess the best possible outcome is a firm commitment by our Council to take over the work of the two boards.

Oh, one last kudos for Laurin.

As far as I can tell, she's been the only Councilmember pushing for a standing citizen's budget review board. Folks thought it was a damn good idea last year, but without an apparent budget "crises", it seems leadership would rather dispense with further citizen input.

It's a shame as there's pennies to trim now and looming out-year deficits to consider.

Thanks for the kind comments, and I do appreciate it. I don't deserve it! It's tough to be the dissenting vote, but I didn't get elected to sit back and go with the flow. I feel strongly about the Horace Williams Committee in particular, having sat through hours of very thoughtful meetings and much hard work...and having seen the hours put in by members before me. What a great, talented group of individuals, whose work has become town policy. But I differed from the council because I thought that such a group would be of great use as the Town participated in the University's Leadership Advisory Committee. I felt totally uncomfortable dissipating the Town citizen's committee while at the same time having the Town on a University Committee! What great benefit it would be for the Town's representatives on the LAC to have the resource of the Horace Williams Citizens Committee. I am all for citizen input, and I'm trying very hard to see now, how that can best be done in this year of discussions on CN.

This is O/T, but since we don't have an open thread...

Have you seen this article about the new digital signs for our bus stops. As a regular rider I think this is a great idea.


The bus signs proposal was the impetus for the technology committee's pursuit of a municipal network. We all liked the concept of real-time bus tracking and schedules. The problem with this proposal is that federal funding will be used to purchase a proprietary system that can be used for no other purpose.

Typically, that kind of dedicated system is quite expensive to maintain and keep updated with new software/hardware upgrades. I haven't seen the financials on this proposal, but like the 'free website' I am highly skeptical that this will be a financially sustainable investment. The town could have applied some or all of the $1 million federal grant to developing a multilayered dynamic municipal network that would not become yet another maintenance burden in future years. That's what the tech committee was aiming for anyway when the proposal was first broached.

Robert, I commented earlier today on the issue. Terri's dead right on our discussions of sustainability (use standards based-tech instead of proprietary lock-in, etc.).

There's also plenty of examples, like Cedar Rapids, of using a standards based approach that provides mobile internet access on the bus, ETA info, security for a lot less money - a dual-use approach that police, fire, government network traffic can piggy-back on.

I specifically asked staff 4 times in the last four months if tech proposals, like this, were on the plate. Not a peep.

More on the problems with the NextBus, Inc. approach here.

Earlier comment on OP:

I'd love to follow Portsmouth UK's lead:

Portsmouth scoops innovation award for pioneering wireless transport services

31 October 2005

Portsmouth City Council has been awarded this year's INFORM Innovation Award at the annual conference and dinner recently held at the Arora Gatwick Hotel.

The award was made in recognition of the Council's pioneering use of MESH radio, its integration of wireless broadband and innovative use of the latest generation of digital bus shelters, to provide the communications and delivery infrastructure for its Automatic Vehicles Location and Real-Time Passenger Information Systems (RTPI).


The use of MESH communications was a first in the UK and the system architecture has provided sufficient flexibility and capacity to allow it to be used for other Council services, like traffic monitoring and CCTV, which previously relied on expensive fixed links, leading to improved performance at lower cost. This state of the art network, combined with the deployment of the very latest bus shelters equipped with RTPI as well as valuable travel and community information, has completely transformed the waiting experience for passengers at bus stops across Portsmouth.

PORTAL provides something for everyone; travel information, free email to help social inclusion, management tools for our bus operators, an effective means of tackling growing congestion and pollution, and, most importantly, re-establishing greater confidence in our city's public transport services."

I'm not thrilled about England's love-affair with CCTV, but the rest is gravy.

So, what your saying is that we could have incorporated the bus signs into a larger network, where they would have only been a small part. That makes sense if it could all be paid for with the pot of money they received.

It seems that now would have been the time to really make Chapel Hill cutting edge with that bolus of money and whatever funds needed to be raised at the local level.

Robert, feel free to write your own guest post or suggest an open thread instead of hijiacking unrelated topics.


Efforts to reach out to the transportation committee (among others) died at the hands of the tech comm's social dysfunction so we don't know whether we could have used the federal funds to help build a muninet. Initial contacts were "no you can't do that," but they were shoot-from-the-hip responses (except for Laurin Easthom who was then a T-board member at the time). Cooperation around the use of technology is not rampant in town operations.

The tech committee surveyed department heads (with the manager's approval) a couple of years ago and found numerous instances of similar wants/needs being expressed, but facilitating the communication that would bring together a larger needs assessment type activity was not felt to be the purview of an advisory board. I'm hoping the council will recognize that operational gap in whatever structure they adopt for the reconstituted committee next fall.

So what's to keep TAB and HWCC from meeting anyway? Just because they no longer have the blessing of the Town Council doesn't mean they can't just continue chugging along. It sounds like you weren't getting timely responses from the staff in any case.

Just find a new meeting space, make sure you develop some kind of charter that still requires members to be Chapel Hill citizens (but advisors on particular topics can be anyone from anywhere), then continue to submit proposals at Council meetings and to the press.

Real democratic commitment doesn't require the blessing of an elected body. It's our right.

Was it the technology committee that this post is talking about that played a role in the digital bus signs? Just wondering.

I've asked this elsewhere and gotten no answer, so here is a question for all of you. Do you think that boards work better with long-term appointments and the ability to respond to many challenges; or, do you think that boards work better with short, specific mandates?

Robert, the Tech committee became aware of the desire for a digital ETA system about two years ago. We tried to keep our hand on the pulse of the project over the ensuing years, but staff wasn't always very helpful in keeping us apprised.

We realized that there were other communities providing an ETA service using standards-based technology with dual-use capability. To wit, WIFI.

Terri, myself and a few others tried to keep up with the project over time. The last I'd heard it was shelved because of some internal issues in transit.

I was flabbergasted to discover not only was it going forward, but that the Tech boards initial suggestions were completely ignored.

Proprietary. Single-use. Outrageously expensive.

As far as boards, it's hard to say. The Town needs to think strategically about technology while also being tactical in its day-to-day operations.

Two examples.

One, the NC-DOT signalization project. Strategically, I (and others) think a municipally-owned network is a "public good" and needs to be incorporated into a comprehensive technology plan for the Town. Anticipating this network, we need to seize every opportunity, like the pennies per foot NC-DOT fibre-optic tag-a-long, to advance that goal. Similarly, whenever we put down a sidewalk, greenway, roadbed, pipeline, we need to anticipate laying fibre to advance the larger goal.

Two, the use of F/OSS for Town operations. At one point, our IT director told us %70 of 3 employees time was spent killing virii. The source of virii centered on Internet Explorer, Outlook and some poor business practices. The Tech Board strongly suggested moving to Thunderbird, Firefox and similar F/OSS toolsets that are much more immune to virii and that would help recover some of the %70 of the time wasted on nonsense.

So, in example one, we have a need for a long term vision and plan to build upon today's actions to get a final result. In example two, we need to take some tactical actions to reduce the immediate operational costs of IT.

Now, I guess ideally, we might have two Tech Advisory Boards that have two charters. The "strategic" board would advise the Council on longterms technology goals and policies and maybe draft a plan to achieve those goals. The "tactical" board might advise IT staff directly on business "best practices" to achieve short term tactical wins ("low hanging fruit").

That said, there's even a place for other kinds of advisory mechanisms. I think there should be a task force with the specific charter and charge to build the municipally-sponsored Town network. By "build", I mean, make it happen.

Interesting take Will. I seem to remember when applying for boards that they asked about areas of expertise. Perhaps a long-standing Tech board, but where folks are forced to rotate off for the sake of new blood; and, also the ability to contact experts when one-time issues arise. Like the IE issue (who uses IE anymore?).


Technology touches every aspect of town operations. Unfortunately, the current techology operations is more focused on desktop operations rather than systemic infrastructure development. At one point some people on the committee felt that we should recommend hiring a CIO to ensure the type of vision Will is referring to. Some of us were pretty sure that would never happen so we tried to provide that vision at the committee level. Lots of reasons why that didn't work.

Before the council appoints a new committee, I feel like they must deal with the gap in leadership at the administrative level. I'm imagine there will be a lot of emphasis on technology leadership in the new manager search.


Wow, a million bucks for 14 fancy bus stop signs, for the free bus service.

Utter waste of taxpayer money. Thanks, David Price. I wonder how many homeless people could be fed instead?

Pizza won't help in my case. I've resigned from the committee.

Last hurrah for the HWCC this evening:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
5:30 – 7 p.m.
Room D, Southern Human Services Center 2501 Homestead Road

I understand pizza will be served. Hopefully that'll help us get a quorum ;-)


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.