More diversity? Fewer meetings?

John Herrera made two interesting comments in his interview in today's Herald:

We need to ask ourselves, who value diversity, why is it that single moms are not on the board? Or people of color. It is so hard to recruit them. They don't have the time, the money, the what it takes sometimes to run a campaign.

Something I have been pushing for but it got shut down, is reducing the amount of meetings. Bigger municipalities... don't meet every Tuesday.

We all know there are obstacles along the lines John describes. Most of them would be difficult for local government to overcome. It would be great for the town to provide a childcare fund which might cost up to $2000/year for a single parent (that's on top of the alderman pay which I think is around $5000) and much less for parents with partners or joint custody - an idea worth exploring.

But that would still not get at the issues faced by a person who works hard all day and comes home and wants to spend time with his children. Or who will be looking after the kids the other six nights and might not want to spend the seventh in a long meeting. Or who have a second job or work evening shifts.

And "the what it takes to run a campaign" will make a candidacy a non-starter for many.

Reducing the number or length of meetings does not strike me as a tenable idea. How would you do it? One way would be to give more decision-making responsibility to the bureaucracy. Another might be to limit the time for debate. Neither sound like directions in which Carrboro would like to move.



It's not just single moms... It's working moms (and dads) too.

It takes a lot of time to run and serve in office. I have no idea why, but as of now there is only one female out of nine on the Chapel Hill Town council. I have no idea why that is. Maybe dads don't do as much at home.

One thing that always boggles my mind is how vague the Chapel Hill Town council is on development plans.

I realize there is some "quasi-judicial" function but as WillR pointed out

there is a way to state a disclaimer and then give some general guidance. By being more direct in development applications I would guess that the time spent per project would be decreased.

I'm not saying cut corners but find some way of giving more direct opinion.

If someone proposed building in the RCD on a special use permit couldn't members state that they generally oppose this?

Meant to say only 1 of 9 council members is guaranteed to be female next cycle.

One of the "themes" of both my work before the Technology Advisory Board and the current election cycle is about using technology to lower the bar of participation.

I'm well aware of the time requirements it takes currently to be involved in a substantive manner. As a parent, I've felt the pull between family and participation - it's very easy to imagine why so many don't want to endure the effort.

How can technology (if you have access to it) help?

One simple example is time shifting. Citizens should be able to research and respond to issues at their convenience. Right now, we have, in terms of researching issues, a dysfunctional web site and no real feedback mechanism. I want us to use technology, like this 'blog, to support a dialog between the elected and the electorate.

Another example of lowering the price of admission is a real commitment to building an online institutional memory of both our Town and the wider community.

A recent case in point; Helena's interest in the Greene Tract. We should use the type of techniques that Wikipedia employs to pull together a contextual history of that tract. There should be links to relevant minutes, discussions, maps, current GIS, etc. Or, as another example, some research I was doing on the Weaver Dairy Road expansion. I have found it nearly impossible, using our current online resources, to put together a timeline of all the different proposals and counter-proposals. It shouldn't be so difficult. Finally, it'd be nice if we could, like Wikipedia, let the citizenry itself keep the institutional memory up-to-date and to flesh out further discussions on salient issues.

There's many other ways we could improve the process short of limiting meetings with the public. It's troubling to think that's the first option proposed.

"Maybe dads don't do as much at home."

I make it a point not to be offended. So, I just shake my head sadly.

David Marshall --

can you explain the gender imbalance on the Chapel Hill Town council..

Returning males Ward, Strom, Hill Foy (4)
returning females Sally G. (1)

4 open slots... 6 males running 2 females.
I'm puzzled are you?

In 1999, the Chapel Hill Town Council had six women, Waldorf, Bateman, Brown, Evans, McClintock, and Wiggins, and three men, Capowski, Foy and Pavao.

In the election that year, two women ran for mayor (Waldorf and Franklin) and five women (Bateman, Evans, Jefferson, McClintock and Sinreich) and four men (Protzman, Strom, Sweezy and Ward) ran.

The question isn't why more women are not running this year, but why many of our qualified and capable citizens decide not to run. I think a lot of it has to do with the time commitment, a pressure felt by men and women who are and aren't parents, single or otherwise.

No, I'm not puzzled.

I would note - including our current representatives of Kinnaird and Insko that it seems in the past (Bateman, Evans, Wiggins, Brown) that both men and women seem a bit on the older side, but women especially so. I don't know if all these officials raised families and waited before running or whether raising families drove them to politics etc... but it seems something is going on there.

When's the last time a female the age of Kleinschmidt or near it was elected?

Our elected respresntatives can and should represent people besides themselves. Yes, our political system makes it difficult for people of diverse backgrounds and cirumstances to participate. But we should still expect our officials to represent those people. Relevant questions for all candidates are:

-How do you seek out the voices of those who are from different racial, cultural, economic, etc. backgrounds/circumstances from yourself?

-What are your connections to communities of color and poor people that you represent?
-In what ways will you try to make sure that people on the margins of our society have their interests represented in our political process?

I think we should combine the Chapel Hill and Carrboro municipal governments...that way we'll need fewer elected officials and we can pay them more for their service.

Then you look at Carrboro--gay male mayor, 3 female alderman (1 black), 3 male alderman (1 hispanic). Seems pretty diverse to me. What's the difference?

I would think that it is generally a good thing that single moms are deciding not to spend their off-work hours on town business. Presumably they are spending more time with their children than they would if they were on the Board.


Sorry it's been so long since answering: I had to pick up my daughter from school. (Ironic, I know).

Like Fred I am not puzzled: 6 males running against 2 females is not statistically strange.

Try this experiment and prove to yourself that empirically out of two possibilities the occurence of 4 of one kind and 2 of another kind is not something outof the ordinary:

First, go to

Where it asks you to put in the number of coins, put 8. Then click to start flipping. Do this for while and you will see the occurrence of those odds are not rare at all.

In simple numbers, we know that the total possible combinations of sequences of an even chance (50/50) of occuring eight times is 2^8, or 256. In combinatorics, the combination of are 8 choose 2 such sequences, which equals to 8!/(6!)(2!), or 112. The possibility of getting 6 males (or females) and 2 males (or females) therefore is [8!/(6!)(2!)/2^8], or .4375!

To distinguish between the 6 males/2 females scenario from the 6 females/2 females possibilities you simply divide by 2.

In another words there the chance of statistically geting 6 males and 2 females in any given situation is .21875. But this is a non-statistical answer, but rather a probablilty exercise, because the question we are asking really is, what is the statistical probablility in a population composed of 50 percent males and 50 percent females that from any 8 people in a sample, 2 would be from a different gender than the rest?

The answer is about 44%.

Jumping from those probabilities to conclude "Maybe dads don't do as much at home" is irrational and deserved some attention from this candidate.

There is no dispute from me that the historical roles of men and women have been inequitable, that they continue to be pervasive even in this enlightened era, and that we must continue to fight the prejudices of sexism and discrimination wherever we find them. But this moral requirement only works when we use reason in determining when such discrimination is truly extant.

Acting in any other way threatens the moral high foundation of our best intentions.

Sorry, to clarify, the exclamation mark after .4375 halfway through my comment was put there to show surprise, not as a mathematical operation. :)

I did the coin flip if that is what you are talking about..on the web link.

I got 4 heads and 5 tails (for the 9 council members).

What are the odds of 1 head and 8 tails or 2 heads and 7 tails? I'd guess very low.

Mark, are you serious?

It's not like the only two choices for single parents are taking care of children OR serving the community. I think the point of this discussion is that as a community we need to support people in doing BOTH so that we maximize involvement of a wide variety of perspectives and experiences.

Would you say it's a good thing that low-income people rarely serve in elected office because they really ought to be working two jobs to feed their families? I wouldn't.

I didn't say anything about low-income people.

My point is that time spent raising a child is probably the best way anyone could spend their time. I don't believe any single mom can work a day job, serve as a council member or alderman, and spend enough time with her child. Something's got to give and I would hope it wouldn't be time with the child. She can run for alderman later, but she can't raise her child later.

Uh-oh, Ruby. The analogy police (with whom I am very familiar) are heading your way. Spending time with one's children is something that most people want to do and that is generally considered beneficial. Spending time at a second job is generally (though not always) considered undesirable. Not really analogous.

But, they can both be obstacles to making commitments to public service. Here's a hypothetical: if I were a single parent and had a parent of my own around who loved to babysit, I might chose to spend 5 nights with my kid, one night out with the gang, and one night doing some sort of community work. That one night might not be sufficient for serving in public office and would hardly allow adequate time for a campaign.

If I had a second job, I might still have two nights off but would likely have less flexibility and therefore fewer options for how I used them.

Both cases bear on the value of a "takes a village" or more community-oriented society, i.e. one in which childcare, economic well-being, and governance are all carried out in a more shared and mutually-supportive environment.

I still think it's a false dichotomy to assume that single parents should chose between family and community.

I hope we can work to make public office accessible to people with a less free time than our current elected officials - some of whom do have kids and work full time, but none of whom are single parents (that I can think of). Single parenthood is just one among many conditions that makes it harder for people to get involved in their community (not to mention run for office). Poverty is another.

I personally think the community suffers from not hearing the voices of people with less leisure time and/or less inclination to spend it at Town Hall.

Helena, I think it has been a really long time since any female of Mark K's age (or mine - I am the same age as Mark K) has been in office in Orange County. Jacquie Gist was about my age (maybe younger) when she was first elected to the Board of Aldermen. Joal Broun was about Mark K's age when she was first elected. I can't think of any other examples in Orange County in the last 20 years.

Graig, those are great questions. Working in the affordable housing realm puts me in touch with a lot of lower income families as well as people of color. And life is definitely different for the lower income people of our community. As a Spanish speaker, I stay in contact with lots of members of the local Hispanic community as well. I try to take the interests of these communities into account in every decision I make as an Alderman.

All of this sounds like it would be a great subject for discussion at some of the upcoming candidates forums.

Mark, I am active in my community BECAUSE of my love for my daughter, not IN SPITE OF that love.

Ruby is right, it's a false dichotomy to believe you can't do both. Every day my daughter asks me questions. One day she will ask me (and, Lord, I know that day is coming soon) what I have done to make this world a better place.

I will be quick with my answer: I have provided one person with all the love anyone could ever give; I have provided one person with the skills for moral reasoning; I have provided one person with all the basic skills of life; I have provided one person with a secure and nurturing home, an environment conducive for learning and critical thinking, a safe place for freethinking and original thought.

Then, and only then, will I footnote my two decades in defense of this country; my volunteer work with the Red Cross; my EMS work in various communities; my church work here and abroad; my civil affairs work in over a dozen countries; my work as a military medic treating the sick and wounded, both friendly and enemy combatants, in combat zones in three continents; my legal work working with undocumented workers who are screwed every day in every way I know possible; and, I fervently hope, the careful and thought-out work I will do as a member of the Board of Alderman in my beloved town.

There is one pleasant thought that comes out of your "Single parents should best stay at home and take care of their kids" evocation: I'll be taking my daughter to tomorrow's board meeting. It's time for some homeschooling field trip.

Mark Chilton, you commented while I was answering Mark Marcoplos. I was addressing him not you in my last comment. :)

I thought Cam Hill was a single bad if I'm mistaken.

Without getting caught up in who does more at home (men or women) I know of a couple of cases where women were elected to a board while a married parent and departed a single one.

Serving on these boards (Aldermen, School Boards, City Council) is a lot of hard work, long hours and sacrifice for families. Real sacrifice. The phone ringing during dinner, people button-holing you in the supermarket and having little regard that when you go to the music festival with your kids, you might just want to picnic, not work it as a political opportunity. With a partner (spouse or otherwise) who is totally in it with you and your family (including kids) considers that Mom or Dad serving on that board is the whole family's service, well ... then you have a chance.

Personally, I have nothing but admiration for those who serve in this way and whenever I've had the chance to thank their families (esp. kids) I've done so. When I interviewed (then-Orange School Board Chair) Libbie Hough, I thanked her daughter at the end of the interview for sharing her mommy with our community. It's a lot of missed bedtime stories, I told her, and I just wanted her to know that we appreciate it.

As a society, we don't do nearly enough to help parents with young kids. I thought that Alderman Herrera made an excellent point about this in his interview and I appreciated his candor about possibly seeking higher office, too. Refreshing.

Do you folks know many people who harbor major regrets that their parents didn't miss dinner more often and didn't spend more evenings and weekends out at meetings and community events when they were kids?

I don't.

a report from the Wayback Machine, Flo Garrett was elected county commissioner in 1972, I think she was 27.

Just a few questions to ponder:

What's up with the 'youthcentric' nature of this discussion? One might glean from this string, that, once again, it is assumed that any living human creature beyond the age of forty involved in political discourse is a decaying corpse in the making, and thus in need of speedy burial. Why is this so?

Is there any merit to the idea that institutional memory and expertise gleaned from experience have value?

Who has lived through, experienced, and internalized the essential tenets of the civil rights movement?

Is it assumed that no one over forty has new ideas about how to tackle the essential questions of social justice that have have vexed us for so long?

Wonder what Joe Straley, who worked tirelessely into his '80s would have to say about this?

My father was there, and I along with him. He was only 67 at his demise, and never wavered from his principles. Nor have I.

Still Kickin'

Mr. Zaffron makes an interesting point concerning age.

I would like to expand a bit by saying a number of you are sterotyping people base on their age, sex, skin color, cultural background, and so on. I look to one's political principles and how an elected body represent different viewpoints as a true measure of diversity.

For example Mr. Zaffron and myself have different political principles and our questions to a developer or public offical would be different. We may not agree in the end but both of us would hopefully be better informed on the issue. Trust me I am not moving to Carrboro cannot afford the taxes. (ha ha)

To clarify my comment above: undoubtedly there are some young children who are genuinely benefitted by their parents' serving in elective public office, even if it comes at a serious cost in terms of parental attention/involvement. I am quite sure that my own kids would not be so benefitted, but that certainly doesn't mean such kids (and parents) don't exist. I should not have suggested otherwise.

Wasn't it Jackie Kennedy Onassis who said if you screw it up with your kids, nothing else matters? Raising your kids right (attentively and with passion) IS community service.

I'm a big believer in having it all, I just don't think you can have it all at once. Frankly, I'm not sure why anyone would want to.

Alex's point is right on about Joe. I met him in his prime, it seems to me --- about 17 years ago when he was a child in his 60s (and a child of the sixties). Bless his soul.

I beg your pardon ... Joe would have been in his 70s when I met him related to the Human Relations Commission's hearings on civil rights (in 1988).


I am glad this issue hit a cord with some of you. If you look the profile of the people who have the time to participate and do research in this blog, you will find a similar correlation to the people that is represented on our goverment. My point is very simple. what ideas do you have to increase the diversity of underrepresented voices on our Board of Alderpeople and the town council? ie.

working class folks, single parents, people of color, youth, senior citizens, renters, students, people with disabilities?

how do you eat an elephant? ONe bite at a time.
I appreciate Dan's economic analisys for child care. maybe that is not the way to start eating the elephant. We can begin with our advisory boards. for example many people get' invited to meetings but they do not make clear if child care will be provided, or if transportation is avaiable for the meeting, sometimes fliers get translated and no interpretation services gets provided at the meeting. I think we should be sensitive on this issues and ask ourselves when inviting folks to participate on the civic life of our communitiues the following questions: do we take geographic location, building accessability and meeting times into account when setting up meetings? I think there are economical ways to encourage participation and create a good experience with these residents. We may be able to develop a bigger interest for public service.

I am willing to provide the leadership in creating a Community Outreach Advisory board with a budget and a bottom-up approach, a well develop plan of action with their full participation to answer many of the questions that were raise in this discussion, but more importantly than intelectual debate, we have an opportunity to really develop a empowerment vehicle for community minority leadership development and increase civic participation. This could generate even more members to join this great forum and even the Sierra Club. This is my humble idea I welcome your feedback to make this happen in a better and more productive way.
John Herrera for ONECarrboro

I like your idea of a Community Outreach Advisory Board and its mission of 'developing empowerment vehicles for community minority leadership development and increased civic participation.'
Of course, all new ideas raise many questions:
Does the Orange Co. Human Relations Commission spend any time, ‘developing empowerment vehicles for community minority leadership development and increased civic participation?'
Do any of our city or county government agencies or nonprofits have this mission already?
Do you know of any city that has a 'Community Outreach Advisory Board'? How does it work?
Would this Board be for Carrboro only?
Are there any legal implications of the proposed mission?

I'll add one more question to Mary's list:

What would the Community Outreach Advisory Board do that James Harris doesn't already do as part of his work with local non-profits and neighborhood associations?

Dear Mary and Terri:
Thank you for your questions.

Do any of our city or county government agencies or nonprofits have this mission already? In theory all of them, but I do not know of anyone who is doing it effectively with all underrepresented voices.

Do you know of any city that has a ‘Community Outreach Advisory Board'? No
How does it work? I think it will be up to us and the group to figure it out. That will be the first step towards empowering this leaders.

Would this Board be for Carrboro only? yes, and if it works, it can be replicated as a model.

Are there any legal implications of the proposed mission? No, because it will be truly inclusive.

What would the Community Outreach Advisory Board do that James Harris doesn't already do as part of his work with local non-profits and neighborhood associations?
empower individuals, develop leadership and gather diverse cultural intelligence that will help James and all of us , including non profits and other boards do a better job at outreach.

John Herrera for OneCarrboro

Obstacles to civic involvement can be many and are personal in nature. Among these may be caring for children, partners or senior parents.
Clearly specific services could be offered as needed, if provided may open the window of possibilty. We won't know unless we design a model and experiment with it. I propose creating a civic involvement community resources program that networks community resources and matches individuals with services to support interest and involvement in town government and boards.
As a teacher who often participated in Saturday workshops, I needed to utilize child care programs designed to match that need.

Mary- RE: Orange Co. Human Relations Commission "developing empowerment vehicles for community minority leadership development and increased civic participation"
The Human Relations Commission would not have a program. However, the Department of Human Relations has various programs. I am on the Orange County Human Relations Commission, have a meeting on Monday night and will definitely share your question and respond here.


I am glad you agree with me and see the need in our community to increase our outreach and hopefully increase civic participation. Your program is exactly what James Harris does and have been doing for well for many years. This is a top botoom approach and is not one that empowers our grassroots leaders. I believe that we need to teach people to fish so that they can be self-sufficient, not continue to promote sharity and assistance to this perceived "powerless people" we do not need to do for people what they can do for themselves. what we can do as agents of social change is to facilitate the spaces and tools for the under-represented communities to come up with their own solutions and ideas. You will be surprise of the amount of talent and brilliant ideas many of these people have to comtribute. I was a member of the Orange County Human Relations for several years and we sruggle with these questions and the result was a series of firesides events at the chapel Hill library and other sites in the county. The firesides were listening community sessions. Many concerns and many good ideas were presented, but no formal follow up was conducted after staff changes and membership turnover on the commission.

What I am proposing is a bottom up approach to our community in Carrboro and make sure is has the same funding as any board, so that we can really obtain the "cultural intelligence" that only the community has. It is very disempowering to continue trying to do outreach with the traditional model of paternalism and dependence that ussually results in benefiting more the folks that already have and enjoy privileges and power.

John Herrera for OneCarrboro


I agree with your desire to empower the silent voices in our community. But you haven't convinced me that an advisory board is the best solution. I'm wondering if we really know what the barriers to participation are. I agree with Randee that there are structural barriers (child care, transportation, timing, etc.), but I think there might also be issues of trust, as in not having confidence that anyone will listen to their ideas and opinions. What would your advisory board do to empower people?



I am sorry you do not get it. but you made my case.

I have many dishes to wash, doors to go knock and talk to people for my re-election. I really do not have more time to spend in cyberspace. Thank you for putting up with my lousy English. Enjoy your questions, will like to hear NEW ideas and solutions to increase civic participation to empower under-represented members of our community.

Buenas Noches!

John Herrera for OneCarrboro

Advisory boards receive no funding.

If anyone is interested, Al Gore recently made a speech on the role of the media in lowering the quality and depth of public discourse. While he didn't address Carrboro's problems with advisory committees, his points on the general discourse issues may serve some value as we look at our local situation:

"...there was a time when America's public discourse was consistently much more vivid, focused and clear. Our Founders, probably the most literate generation in all of history, used words with astonishing precision and believed in the Rule of Reason.

Their faith in the viability of Representative Democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry. But they placed particular emphasis on insuring that the public could be well-informed. And they took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas in order to ensure the free-flow of knowledge."

How often do we see/hear media reports of what happened in local government meetings? Part of our local problem, in addition to the structural challenges, could reflect changes in local media ownership.

For the full speech, see:


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