Chapel Hill Advisory Board Reorganization Moves Forward

Up on Monday's Town Council agenda is the next iteration of the advisory board reorganization process. I have generally supported reworking the advisory board structure to ensure that the work of citizen board members is meaningful and provides Council with the type of input they need in order to make decisions. Making advisory boards' role in development review clearer for developers, and citizens, isn't a bad idea either. But the proposal the Town Council is considering Monday night isn't ready for adoption yet. While I think the committee descriptions are reasonably sound in a broad sense, it isn't clear to me that the proposals have been fully vetted by the existing town boards to be sure that all current board responsibilities have been captured and assigned.

And the proposed board compositions seem way off in some cases. For example, the new Housing Advisory Board, which (among other duties) replaces the Public Housing Advisory Board, is defined as follows: "one (1) Public Housing Resident, one (1) Town of Chapel Hill Renter or Rental Property Owner, five (5) Town of Chapel Hill Homeowners, one (1) For-Profit Housing Development Professional, and one (1) Non-Profit Housing Development Professional." On the public housing side, this would cut public housing residents' representation from three to one compared to the old board. It would remove representation from the Town of Carrboro. It would set up a 5:1 ratio of homeowners to renters. And it is even designed in a way that, should a rental property owner be appointed to the rental seat, there would be no spots on the board at all for renters of non-public-housing properties. Given the fact that 52.4% of households in Chapel Hill are renters, this does not seem like the direction we should be going when setting up a board to advise us on housing, particularly given the town's recent focus on affordable rentals.

Other board composition changes being proposed are also in need of some thorough discussion and modification before the ordinance is enacted. The town held meetings this summer on the advisory board restructuring, which were designed to get citizen input on the charge and scope of work of the new boards. But from what I understand board composition was not discussed. I also thought that holding these meetings all at the same time and day of the week, during the middle of summer when many people (including the vast majority of students) were not in town was not the best way to get broad input. The town's attempted use of GoToMeeting for remote participation was also glitchy from what I've heard.

It seems like there's a next step for continuing in the process, and that we should move forward by entering a next phase of consideration and review. There has been some good work done to date, by citizens, staff, and council members alike, and I hope that we'll continue to build on it. But adopting an ordinance to codify the changes as they've been suggested so far, as proposed in the memo from the Council Committee on Boards and Commissions, isn't the right next step. Granted, the ordinance is written to be effective July 1, 2014, but I hope the Council does not enact changes that clearly need some tweaking before they are implemented. 

Check out the materials and let us know what you think.

Also worth reading is the town's webpage on Advisory Board Review, though it seems to be several months outdated: it does not contain the current proposal's details, and still references the long-since-passed community meetings as "to be held throughout July and August."



Thanks for writing this, Jason. I agree that the board composition needs work. I attended all but one of the Advisory Board review meetings, and while there were some vague mentions of board composition, the focus was on the charge and scope of the new boards. I am happy to see increased representation from UNC on these boards. Currently, the only advisory board with dedicated student representation is the Transportation Board. The new plan has spaces for students on the Environmental Stewardship and Comunity Design boards, as well as Transportation and Connectivity. However, I am very surprised that students were not included on the Housing Board. There is a non-voting UNC Residental Life member, but no one to represent students living off-campus (which comprise the majority of UNC students). This, coupled with the potential that there is the potential to leave renters (outside of public housing) off the board entirely seems to go against the increased focus of the Town Council on promoting affordable rental properties.

"The town held meetings this summer on the advisory board restructuring, which were designed to get citizen input on the charge and scope of work of the new boards. But from what I understand board composition was not discussed." Correct, Board composition was not discussed in any way that would tie to what we're seeing in the agenda item. I attended the meeting which dealt heavily with the new "Transportation and Connectivity Board." I could generally predict that boards would vanish, but quite how they would re-appear. The proposed new board loses us some 15 citizen advocates/analysts for connectivity, for implementing major master plans (adopted greenways, proposed bicycle facility) and for the composition of future bond issues without we can implement very little. Lots to be fixed here. And late last week was the first time many Council Members had ever seen this scheme in detail.  Ed Harrison

The Council did not take action tonight. Rather, Councilmember Pease acknowledged in his presentation that there was still some work left to do, and suggested the council give their feedback to staff to further develop some options for possible action at the November 25th meeting, which I appreciated. After hearing the presentation, I suggested that if Council is able to work through any remaining issues related to charge and scope before the next meeting, that they may wish to consider adopting just the framework of the new enabling ordinances without the portion of the ordinance defining the board composition. Board composition could then be adopted as council policy after thorough discussion and feedback from existing boards and the public. It was clear that there were still some differing opinions about what the role (and even the name) of certain boards might be, particularly the housing board, and I look forward to the continued conversation on the 25th.

I'm glad to hear the decision was postponed. I also was at many of the summer meetings and we did not get a chance to discuss much of what was in the proposal. Board composition had a lot of quirks:  housing board members had to be a homeowner rather than resident; UNC students had to be recommended by UNC student government president rather than apply as volunteer (and what about the many Durham Tech students who live in Chapel Hill?)


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