The replacements

(I almost called this post "Who's filling the gap, II.")  With the tragic death of Chapel Hill Town Council Member Bill Thorpe and the certain election of Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board Member Pam Hemminger to the County Commissioners, both bodies will be selecting replacements to fill those seats in the coming months.

As has been customary for all elected boards around here, the groups in questions will solicit applications, interview candidates, and vote to select a new member to join them. In the 90's there was a consistent practice on the Town Council of appointing African Americans to fill seats that were vacated midterm by other African Americans. This ended when Edith Wiggins stepped down in 2003 at the end of her term instead of the middle of it. The Council was all white until Thorpe was elected in 2005.  The need for a continued black presence on Council was a part of Thorpe's 2005 campaign when Edith Wiggins retired.  

There will be an information session about filling the seat on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board on October 21st with interviews on November 13th (C. H. Herald). 

So who do you think is in line for these seats? Who will apply and who would you like to see apply?


Edith Wiggins' term ended in 2005, not 2003.  The Council has consistently had an African-American through this decade as well.

You are quite right, Jason. As a candidate in 2005, I'm sure your memory of that is better than mine.

Strange note on my slack research for this post: when I went to Wikipedia to check/confirm my memory on this, I found that someone had moved Bill Strom to the list of former Council members and had terminated his service at 2008, while Bill Thorpe was still on the active list. I'm sure this was a well-intended but mistaken update, which I corrected. 

Actually, I think there has consistently been an at least one African-American member of the Chapel Hill board since 1953, when Hubert Robinson was elected.  There might have been a gap between Hubert Robinson's retirement and R. D. Smith's election, but I don't think so.  Per wikipedia:

Hubert Robinson  1953-?
R. D. Smith   1966-1987
Bill Thorpe   1977-1981
Bill Thorpe   1983-1987
Roosevelt Wilkerson, Jr 1987-1992
Barbara Powell   1992-1996
Edith Wiggins   1996-2005
Bill Thorpe   2005-2008

Also notable are 19th century African-Americans on the Chapel Hill governing Board: Greene Brewer, Thomas Kirby, and Wilson Caldwell.

Received this email this morning:

Hey folks,

I'm formally announcing my intent to seek the seat on Chapel Hill's Council that was opened by Bill Thorpe's tragic death.

I'm no Bill, but I do have a set of skills, an open perspective and the depth that will be needed to help address the two major issues - financial crisis and Carolina North - facing our community these next seven months.

Official announcement and background follows in text and RTF formats.


I do not believe that the announcement is on his web site yet.

Thanks for posting, Fred.  I hadn't seen anything official, but Will was the only person I could think of that seemed obviously likely to apply. I'd consider him a very long shot, but of course it depends on the competition...

Ruby, I'd say most former candidates ought to pursue this opening.  You've studied and campaigned hard enough to compete with other applicants.  Most former candidates wish they had won on the first pass, right?  Will certainly does.  Not all former candidates have sufficient cred. 

I truly wanted to win when I ran for Town Council in 1999, but in 2001 I realized I had lost interest in having a seat at the big table.  Other people do a better job of it than I would.

Being an elected official represents a lot of thankless work and I honestly can't afford to give up the amount of time and energy it would require. Plus, I feel that I am able to influence the many issues I care about from here at OP.  If I was an elected official, OP would lose a lot of it's legitimacy and might just be seen as a mouthpeice for me as a politician (some people think that anyway, of course).

But I'm flattered by the thought, Cat. Maybe in a decade or two...

I have no idea how the various members of the Council or School Board are thinking about this, but I agree with Friday's CHH editorial and hope that we do not have a contentious process:

We hope both current vacancies can be filled in a more cordial manner. We also hope that the respective boards take into consideration a number of factors in choosing their candidates.

Perhaps the most important factor is diversity. Both boards should reflect the broadest spectrum of the local community. Both should have people on them from all parts of the community, from all walks of life.

In both cases, we are talking about an appointment until December 2009, so whoever gets the appointment will not have a lot of time to learn the ropes if they will be effective participants in the work facing the boards over the next 13 months. The question becomes, do the current members want to "jump start" a campaign in the next election or appoint someone they see as "safe" or even predictable. The voters send candidates to office using a variety of decision criteria. What criteria do people believe is at the heart of the decisions made by sitting members of a body in choosing someone to join them?

Thank you, Catherine, for your support. I do feel somewhat vetted in that I had 3-4 months to explain why I would be a good council member for the town of Chapel Hill. Although as a woman I am a minority (and we sure know we need more women on the council), I am not black.

Mayor Foy suggested in the Chapel Hill News that he would like to appoint a black person. I am a true supporter of diversity, and would love to see an African American citizen fill this position, but as Ruby stated, some folks can get more done in lesstime, and influence the masses in different venues regardless of color. I have strong opinions about 3 issues that will be voted on by December 2009: the budget, Carolina North, and the continuing upward cost of parking lot#5.

Each of these issues will impact the pockets of the citizens of Chapel Hill and yet I feel they are not transparent to the public. These are lean times and the town needs to realize this and cut back on expenditures. Chapel Hill residences no longer have open wallets and it will be up to the council over the next year to reel in spending.

I would like to see this kind of fiscal responsibility in the new council member. Not someone of a particular race or gender, and not a yes woman, but someone who understands that our wallets no longer have extra cash to fork over.

This is from a summary of last night's Town Council meeting provided by the Town's public information officer:

The Council established the process for filling the vacancy on the Town Council since the death of Bill Thorpe on Sept. 27. The Town Charter provides that this vacancy be filled by appointment of the Town Council. Printed and signed applications will be accepted through Oct. 31, and should include a written statement (500 words or less) outlining his/her view of issues facing the Town of Chapel Hill. There is no official form for applications; applications must include the name, residence address, and signature of the applicant. Applicants will have an opportunity to make brief remarks regarding their interest in serving on the Town Council at a future Council meeting.  The Council is scheduled to make a decision regarding the appointment on Nov. 10. 

Being a law student, I went looking for the municode that applies to filling vacancies.  (I don't know how to get rid of the highlighted search terms!)  Here it is:

Sec. 2-24.  Provisions pursuant to the charter and general statutes.

A vacancy in the council which occurs in the first year of a four-year term of office, or during the portion of the second year which ends on the third day before the end of the filing period for that office as provided by the General Statutes, shall be filled by appointment of the town council only until the next general election, at which time the candidate receiving the fifth highest number of votes (and, if necessary, the sixth, seventh and eighth highest number) shall be declared elected for the remainder of the unexpired term. A vacancy occurring at any other time shall be filled for the remainder of the term.
I can't say I fully understand it, but wouldn't that mean that the town council's appointment would only stand until the next general election (next month) at which time the top five rather than the top four will be declared winners?  Correct me if I'm wrong in my interpretation.
*Brooks Rainey Pearson


Brooks, the next municipal election is in November 2009. Ditto for city school board. That is why each of these appointments is for about one year, as Fred said above.

Laurin has some important things to say in her blog post today:

I am not trying to scare anyone off for applying for the position, but aim to present some cold hard reality about the amount of time and energy.   The Council member WILL be rewarded with the ability to have that “seat at the table”  (Bill Thorpe’s words) in deciding how to make Chapel Hill a better place.  Working hard for your community, in my opinion, is one of the most important things one can do in life.  It is truly a pleasure to serve, and to make a visible difference.  It feels great to help others in this way.  

I look forward to working with the next new council member who has chosen to make such a contribution.  The choice will undoubtedly be very difficult, and perhaps all candidates are good choices.    It will be quite an interesting year.  Good luck.

Surely the sitting Council members have an open-minded policy re diversity.  Racial diversity is desirable, of course; but so is diversity of lifestyle, age, personality, and opinion.  Otherwise this would not be an equal opportunity appointment.  All applicants must convincingly demonstrate that they have the time and energy to serve the Town of Chapel Hill in this capacity.  As I've noted before, candidates who have run for the office in recent years have an edge on newcomers in terms of experience.  Very few bosses are inclined to hire a novice for a challenging position.  (Except possibly Senator McCain.) 

The upcoming Presidential election will either distract us from a November 10th appointment to the Chapel Hill Town Council or remind the deciders how really wide open the field is. 


Aha!  Thanks for clearing that up for me, Ruby.  Now we see why I'm a law student and not a lawyer!  I still have a lot to learn.  :)

Fred Black's comment that the council has the potential to jump start someone's  campaign or to just play it safe by appointing a caretaker for a year (my words) is an important one.  Back in the 1980's there was a councilmember appointed to fill a term with the promise that he/she would not run again when the expired term concluded.  But there was no formal contract of course, and, voila, the person chose to run again.  I would hope that the current council would make a decision whether to ask for a no-run-at-next-election promise (one way or the other) and then make this decision public. 

Hey, that doesn't sound legal.  I'm surprised they got away with such a stipulation back in the 80's.  It certainly is one way to guarantee a do-nothing caretaker. 

Catherine, there was no contract, either then or today.  All I suggest is that the council specify publicly, whether they would like (or not like) a candidate that will promise not to run again.

i still say any applicant who "promises" not to run for the seat must not have a great deal of ambition.  Certainly the Council members can't extract such a promise, even without a contract.  EEO would puke all over it.  Sorry. 

Changing the subject, this regards the question of Lonnie Coleman's age and mandatory retirement.  A very reliable source tells me that Lonnie can only serve six months, as he's about to turn 72.  I hope I look that good when I turn 72!!!  But he has to retire.   






Other than Will Raymond, who will address the Council on Monday night to compete for the vacant seat?

James Merritt has been reccomended by the Hank Anderson Breakfast Club:

That makes just two applicants that I have heard about.

I also have decided to put my name in the hat for Council. My prior work with the Transportation Board and various task forces has taught me many of the ins and outs of local government. My Peace Corps and teaching experiences makes me sensitive to the needs of our diverse population. My involvement with various environmental, neighborhood and community groups makes me aware of many problems and solutions in the area. I guess all of our statements will be released after 5PM today and we will get a chance to share our thoughts Monday for 5-10 minutes. Please listen in.

Happy Halloween.

Loren Hintz


  1. William R. Abb
  2. Amy Chute
  3. J. M. Green, Ph.D.
  4. Loren Hintz 
  5. James Merritt
  6. Gene Pease
  7. Will Raymond
  8. Willard Blaine Rogers
  9. Donald Shaw 
  10. Andre’ J. Wesson
Who do you support?  And more to the point, who do you think we will see appointed?
Based purely on application content and quality, I'd have to go with Rogers; but that's not saying much.  Some of these applicants didn't even try!  I'm very surprised at the lackadasical way they've responded to this prestigious opening.  Is this what happens when there's no form to fill out?  Or does the Town Clerk's scanner make everything look equally crappy?  I guess each of these people will address the Council on Monday.  One can only hope they all present well. 

These application letters do look like bad scans Catherine. Plus this information is locked in a proprietary format that will one day not be accessible. Adobe Inc, the creator of the PDF format, won't be around as long as our public records need to be. Can you remember the last time you read a old deed on microfiche? Do you know how hard it is to get to all the data the Town has locked away in unopenable old word doc formats? (aka no reverse file format compatibility)

This is another reason the Town needs a open data format policy. Without open formats access to important historical information is limited unfairly. At the very least a policy of using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) while scanning paper documents to display important public information. Files like this need to be put online as Text and/or html at the least.

Oh yeah... where is that neat new website public $ is paying consultants to think about? (Sorry for this sidetrack comment.) :)

I thought Penny Rich was in the running?

"Some of these applicants didn't even try!"

Catherine, try for what? Are you referring to previous runs for Town Council? That should not necessarily be a negative IMHO. It's possible that someone didn't have the time to put into being a Council Member previously but their situation may be different now. I know two of the applicants (Hintz, Pease) from serving with them on Town advisory boards and Will Raymond has been involved in Town issues for many years (and run for Council) so these three candidates are certainly not newcomers to Town issues. I don't know any of the others very well so I'm not sure whether they have any applicable experience.

George, I was referring to the rough-appearing submissions.  Neatness counts.  Grammar counts.  Several applicants didn't bother to state their reasons or qualifications. 


Catherine, thanks for the clarification.

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