Is It A Vision or An Illusion: My Response

You may have noticed an editorial in Wednesday’s edition of the Durham Herald-Sun concerning the Chapel Hill 2020 process. It’s author—Chapel Hill resident and writer Joe Buonfiglio—points out some conflicts of interest that may be present in the theme group structure and argues that the public input process will result in a plan with only “the mere appearance of citizens running the narrative.” While Mr. Buonfiglio makes some legitimate points about the weaknesses of the process thus far, I would argue that the 2020 process features more involvement than past planning efforts in Chapel Hill and than can be seen in other similarly-sized cities around the country. 

Mr. Buonfiglio starts out by flat out voicing “serious doubts as to the sincerity of the Chapel Hill Town Council, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Town Manager Roger Stancil when it comes to wanting true citizen input in the process to create a new Chapel Hill Comprehensive Plan.” I resent this implication and wonder how exactly he justifies it. As someone who has followed the process from its kickoff and interacted with several members of the leadership team, I’ve been constantly impressed by how eager the town staff, elected officials and 2020 leaders are to hear everyone’s voice. Of course there is room for serious improvement, but I don’t think questioning peoples’ motives moves us forward in that direction in the least.

Mr. Buonfiglio continues his critique by contending that “there are no implementation ‘teeth’ for the citizen recommendations that come out of these workshops,” and that the Town Council will simply thank the public for their input and move on with their own agenda. If one had only attended this first working session, I can understand how one would get that impression. From my understanding though, the theme groups will do much of the actual writing of the plan. This first meeting was all about setting a vision, about asking people to dream big for Chapel Hill. Over the next few months, the theme groups will partner with staff to do the actual plan making from setting goals and objectives to creating measurable benchmarks and desired outcomes.

Mr. Buonfiglio goes onto to question the impartiality of the facilitators. I’m unfamiliar with the details of the two cases that he describes and therefore won’t venture to speak on them specifically. I will say, however, that my own experience with the transportation theme group leads me to conclude that the facilitators have received some great training and that the majority of them are generally striving to remain impartial throughout the process. Obviously, if there are conflicts of interest those should be brought to the forefront of the discussion and the people involved should be removed.

There is no doubt that the 2020 process could use some improvement. The theme group structure seems to attract the usual suspects/”wonks” who know a lot about the various themes and are deeply invested in them, so some serious outreach is necessary to ensure that diverse voices are present in each group.

In the general sense, more voices need to be included; I’ve seen the declining amount of participation firsthand. But part of that change needs to come from the bottom up. In my view, the town does have some responsibility to go out into neighborhoods and collect opinions “on the ground,” especially from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the process. But, ultimately if you don’t raise your voice, you can’t have any expectation that it will be heard.

What’s more, declaring the process dead now certainly doesn’t help anyone. Chapel Hill is a small enough town that “the people” in the most general sense can truly run the process if they want to. All that’s required is people standing up to be heard.

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Total votes: 135

Comments

"In my view, the town does have some responsibility to go out into neighborhoods and collect opinions “on the ground,” especially from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented
in the process."Jeff, in reference to your statement (above), below are some of the examples of outreach efforts by our tremendously energetic Outreach Committee.  I say some because I pulled this from a table that is about 10 days old and i know a number of new meetings and presentations by committee members have been set up since then.Outreach EffortsUNC Student involvement planning meeting – UNC Student Union Wednesday November 2nd 11:00 amChapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce partnering with Triangle Office Equipment – Open HouseThursday, November 3rd 5:30 – 7:30 pmNAACP – 8005 Rogers RoadSaturday November 5th - 12 NoonEducation Fair @ El Centro Hispano – Carrboro PlazaSaturday November 5th – 2:00 PMOakwood Park Grand Opening CeremonySaturday November 5th – 10:00 AMMinisterial Alliance: Monday, November 7th at 6:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church Black MinistersMeeting with those interested in getting Youth Involved – Teen Support CoalitionMonday November 7th Young Professionals Gathering – Shula’s Restaurant @ Sheraton EuropaTuesday November 8th – 5:30 – 7:30 PMCarol Woods Community Recreation centerThursday November 10th – 10:00 – 12:00 NoonChapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Chamber Orientation – The Carolina InnThursday November 10th - 4:00 – 5:30 PMCarrboro Book fair @ Nightlight Rosemary StreetSaturday November 12thFirst reporting out session from Theme Groups – Chapel Hill High SchoolSaturday November 19th 10:30 – 12:30 PMHabitat for Humanity Leadership Training - Saturday November 19th 1:30 – 2:30 PM 

I think it's great that we are beginning to get a dialogue in the press on the 2020 process.  Thanks to Mr Buonfiglio for raising questions about a process which has raised expectiations enormously.  I am seriously wondering how 10,000 people can touch a plan and leave a finger print. If the theme groups are where the plan is to be written, as Mr Miles suggests, how are we going to get a Comprehensive Plan written there?  At the first meeting the theme groups dealt with mostly process issues. Given these groups are slated to meet 7 times, I don't think it's possible to do much more than craft a set of principles. Each group could develop the framing questions to take to the community. It would be helpful if the 2020 leadership would spell out the product to be produced by each theme group and give us more detail on how the plan is to be written with meaningful public participation.   By the way we will need knowledgable engaged citizens to succeed.   Julie McClintock

Not a bad place to start.  The bill of rights, for example, isn't a particularly long set of principles.  It is that they are given such a prominent place in our legal system that gives them their power.I think a lot of the value of the work done by the 2020ers depends on not the quantity of what they produce, but how the results will be used.

As Co-Chair of CH2020 I'm trying very hard to remain neutral (at least publicly) and to not share too many of my own opinions (of which I have many) about where we should go and how we should get there.  Nonetheless we will be providing over the next few meetings much more information about the process that we anticipate using although, as we've said before, much of the process will be evolving as we go, based on the input and wishes of the stakeholders.I will share my opinion about this though: I think that both Julie and Jake hit on one important part of the process: the establishment of principles.  We have to know what the citizens of Chapel Hill want it to be in 2020 before we can create a plan for how we get there. And that is why we are putting so much emphasis on outreach - to be sure that the 'wants' that are identified are as reflective of our entire community as possible.

I"There is no doubt that the 2020 process could use some improvement. The theme group structure seems to attract the usual suspects/”wonks” who know a lot about the various themes and are deeply invested in them, so some serious outreach is necessary to ensure that diverse voices are present in each group." This is the second time in as many days that a group of committed hardworking individuals have been maligned as "Usual Suspects," and now with the addendum "wonks."  The first one was in comments made on The Buzz by John Stevens of the School of Govt.  WHY?By your own words, the process could use some improvement.  Again, by your own words, the U.S.-W. know alot about the various themes and are deeply invested in them...you could add, by virtue of hundreds of hours of work fueled by caring about Chapel Hill.  Additionally, the U.S. are attending the 2020 meetings, particpating, posting on the Buzz-we are doing what we have been asked to do as citizen stakeholders.  Should we be excluded because of our working knowledge?  If, what you are really saying is that critical analysis of the process' shortcomings is grounds for being ignored or chided, then you may want to review your comment that improvement is needed.Some of Joe's skepticism may arise from the timeline proposed.  There are 11 meetings scheduled before the final plan is to be presented to Council.  Twenty-two hours for this incredibly huge project to be discussed, researched, refined, vetted and presented.  Do you really believe that a quality product can be achieved within that time period?  No time is alloted to education.  Orange Politics readers are a savvy group-we can discuss LUMO, BMPs, and stormwater mgmt, tree ordinance, IZ, and scores of other acronyms and topics easily.  We can debate fiscal issues in detail with specific dollar and cents references.  Where is the training that will help ALL of the stakeholders get up to speed?  How else will a successful plan be produced?  This can't be about a pie in the sky vision-ithas to incorporate hard realities.This is what I posted to The Buzz in response to Mr. Stevens:t is hard for me not to feel hurt by this last point made. The phrase “usual suspects” has a perjorative connotation. The citizens that it refers to, myself included, have worked very hard for years on varying advocacy issues for no reward other than fighting for they believe in. A significant number of Chapel Hill residents are understandably NOT aware of process, LUMO specifics, development guidlelines and restraints, and the complexities of Chapel Hill’s fiscal situation.These “usual suspects” are the people who have sat & read the LUMO, who attend Council meetings, who sit on boards, and know full well the challenges facing Chapel Hill as it grows.Personally, I MORE than welcome input and participation from everyone in Chapel Hill-what could be better? But, to discount and minimize the participation of a knowlegeable segment of Chapel Hill’s citizenry is short-sided.As an example, a number of active residents have recommended a “boot camp” to help stakeholders learn specific facts before the Theme Groups got started. However, the Theme Group that I was part of, CommunityProsperity had a mix of both “regular” citizens and so called “usual suspects.” A significant number of “regular” citizens kept complaining about property taxes-mainly their own. Had we had an information equalizer, we could discuss this issue within the framework of the differing dynamics of residential, retail, and commercial properties.So, instead of “usual suspects,” please refer to us as a generous group of knowlegeable citizens.Del Snow

My Post On The 2020buzz Blog In Response To Del's Concern:Del,
I don’t know who used that term, “the usual suspects” in the blog post
(I have no idea who authored it) but I feel fairly certain that it
wasn’t meant to insult or discredit anyone. I have heard that term used
on a number of occasions to refer to persons not only such as yourself,
but to myself as well – persons who are actively involved in Town
business, whether as an Advisory Board member or simply someone speaking
out at Town Council meetings. I have never considered it an insult
when used to refer to me – simply an indication that my involvement was
being recognized. I think the usage in this blog post was simply to
distinguish those persons whose participation in CH2020 was almost a
certainty, based on their past participation(s) in Town affairs, from
those persons who would need to be actively recruited to participate.
We know that most of the citizens in CH have not participated in prior
discussions about CH and its future, either because they didn’t know how
to participate or they feared appearing uninformed or naive or for
possibly a number of other reasons. Our goal for CH2020 is to get as
many of these “not the usual suspects” involved and I’m pretty certain
the term was used simply to differentiate those people who we were
certain didn’t need to be actively recruited from those that did.
Obviously, since it offended you and perhaps (many) others, the use of
that term was probably inappropriate and will not occur again.

Thanks, George.I appreciate your words.  There were a number of us who felt that this is a negative term (and still do).How do you and Rosemary plan to help the uninformed become informed so that theme groups' discussions can be productive?   Del Snow

My intent was to suggest that we as a community need to work hard to ensure that the voices of those who are traditionally underrepresented in process. That's why I was so glad to see the list of outreach meetings that George posted! To me, the ideal situation would be one where everyone is a "usual suspect," where every one is extremely knowledgeable and involved in the processes of town government. But, in the mean time to make a truly comprehensive comprehensive plan we need to include those voices of those who might not seek to be involved on their own by going out and getting them.

I'm definitely one of the usual suspects, having been involved in Chapel Hill government for 20 years, and the term doesn't bother me at all. It's absolutely true that we see the same 200 activists/volunteers at so many of the meetings, doing most of the work, etc. This includes the last two 2020 meetings. I didn't know everyone there, but I bet I know someone who does. We need to reach beyond our social and political circles to involve all of Chapel Hill in this process.It's not that our opinions don't count, but 2020 is 1.) an opportunity to get a lot more people involved in local government, which I think would be great, and 2.) needs to shape a vision that speaks to a wider range of Chapel Hillians since they have to live (and work, and play, and hopefully vote) in it just like we do.

 

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