Sunday, December 31, 2006


Each year at this time, we read in the papers about the top stories of the year that’s ending. Some papers and news outlets even have contests to see if someone in the general public can pick the same set as they did. We also see the stories about resolutions for the next year.

I want to do it a little differently, so I’m offering you my pick of the top five stories that I would like to read in 2007. Heck, it could turn out that I’m 100% wrong, but writing an opinion piece means that no matter what you write somebody, or a bunch of some bodies, are going to say that you’re wrong anyway! So, let’s get to it.

1. After a magnificent victory by the Tar Heels over Wisconsin in Atlanta on April 2d, the Lady Heels defeated Maryland in Cleveland on April 3d. No longer are the Connecticut Huskies the only Division I school to claim both men’s and women’s national champs. Because of the victories, UNC insignia sales put the Heels back in first place over that school in Texas. Now people can stop scratching their heads trying to figure out why so many people would want to wear burnt orange in the first place.

2. Mr Axel Rhodes, a long-term employee of the State Department of Transportation’s Pavement Management division, received a significant cash incentive award for his recent suggestion adopted by the department. Mr. Rhodes explained his idea this way: “Well, I was thinking one day when I was looking at the list of outstanding projects and some looked real familiar to me. So, I thought, why not do like the song says and adopt a new attitude. That became my suggestion —— why not get a new attitude and do it right the first time!” As a result of his suggestion, the DOT will save millions and the jobs on the task list will only appear once, since they’ll be done right the first time. Travelers on I-40 will be happier than pigs in slop, as will those who have endured shoddy work on Seawell School Road when it wasn’t done right the first, second, third, or …

3. Coach Butch Davis’ team brought out the Tar Heel fans from wherever they’ve been hiding, making the first game a sell-out. The team responded to the show of support by going 10-2 over the season and earning a bowl bid. As expected, the Tar Heel faithful will flock to Charlotte for the bowl game and tickets on the various Internet sites are going for over $4,000. Even some of the most severe critics now acknowledge that football can coexist with basketball and a coach earning a competitive salary can make a difference. When asked about this, Athletic Director Dick Baddour said, “I let the results speak for me.”

4. The soft refrains of that great song of togetherness could be heard emanating from the Friday Center as the participants on the Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee joined hands and sang “Kum ba yah” with gusto. What caused this unexpected occurrence? The committee, after months of discussions and debates, agreed that the proposals for Carolina North will be a benefit to the community and the areas of concern can be worked out. As one participant put it, “We have all come to realize that everyone gains when we collaborate and work together rather than pursue narrow interests or personal agendas.” UNC officials were delighted with the work of the committee and between verses, thanked all of the members for their hard work that will bring a world-class facility to Orange County, Carrboro and Chapel Hill. After the last verse, an observer quipped, “I can say that I was there the day sanity won out over absurdity.”

5. The newest high school opened in the Chapel Hill–Carrboro Schools District with an enthusiastic crowd on hand to witness the ceremonial opening. Smaller than the other two high schools in the district, and without a senior class, students were enthusiastic about being part of a student body that will establish new traditions for those who follow to build upon. As one freshman put it, “Well dude, when you build a new school, somebody has to attend it. Redistricting sucks, but isn’t that a rule of gravity?” Other students expressed similar thoughts, as did some of the parents. The Superintendent of Schools observed that he was glad to lead a school system in a community that understood the complexities of redistricting and was committed to making it work.

Whatever the top stories of 2007 turn out to be, I wish you and yours the very best in the new year that will hopefully be one of peace. Dreams may be a waste of time but having the luxury to dream is a good thing.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


As the popular song proclaims, “It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.” Like so many others, we have family traditions that makes this season so special and meaningful. In our case, we blended traditions that we grew up with and started new ones as a family.

One tradition that we had was making a gingerbread house. It was a messy, sticky, and gooey process but every year we enjoyed the houses that we built. Part of the fun was eating the “building” materials as we built, and the four of us each decorated our side of the house to suit individual tastes. Fortunately, my wife took care of the front and it, of course, always looked the best.

After years of being “homebuilders,” we dropped that and picked up a new “family togetherness” tradition — chocolate making. We perfected our process after a lot of trial and error. The kids loved making candy for their friends using their favorite molds. Recipients were always impressed with their gifts and the kids never revealed how easy it really was, once you knew what you were doing.

My role in the process was to handle product distribution; I moved the filled molds to and from the refrigerator and made sure they didn’t stay in too long. Other jobs that I lost to the more skilled workers included melter, pourer, and extractor. Everyone else seemed to handle these responsibilities with more expertise than I. Now that there are only two of us making the chocolate, I still specialize in the refrigerator runs. By the way, if you start this tradition in your home, note that there are two drawbacks: first, you tend to sample too much of your product, and second, the house smells like chocolate longer than you will want.

Another tradition is our ornaments. Each year, everyone gets an ornament that has some special meaning for that year. It’s fun to spend some time pondering just what will be the right ornament to give. The nice thing about this tradition is the kids have a collection of ornaments that they can use on their family tree and each ornament has special meaning.

As the kids were growing up, it was also our tradition to spend the holidays with their grandparents. One year, we would spend Christmas with my wife’s parents here in North Carolina, and then go the next week to my parents in Pennsylvania. The next year, we would reverse the order, and then the next year everyone would come to our home. The pattern pretty much held except for those years we were in Hawaii.

Christmas in Hawaii is a truly unique experience and added a new tradition. Not only did the temperature being in the 80s make it different, but spending part of the day on the beach made it special. Santa Clause, in his short sleeve and short pants suit, roams the beach tossing candy to the kids and wishes everyone ‘Mele Kalikimaka’, Merry Christmas. Santa knows how to surf, parasail, and snorkel and it’s not unusual seeing him enjoying the day engaged in recreation. My young daughter fully understood that he was just relaxing a little after working so hard all night.

Shopping for just the right gift is also a family tradition. I participate two ways. First, I respond to questions about what is the right gift for family and friends. Second, I buy a present for my wife. Fortunately, my wife understands that I hate shopping so she doesn’t force me to do any. I’m a buyer, not a shopper. I hate going into the malls, and especially at this time of year.

As a buyer, I identify what I want and go buy it. I make every effort to buy locally, and I will admit that I now do more and more of it online. I will go to my three favorite “toy” stores, you know, the two home improvement places and the one that sells Craftsman tools. It’s not shopping when you go to those places, it’s just conducting a survey prior to buying. My wife swears that I just refuse to say that I was in fact “shopping,” but I continue to hold my ground.

Well, I realize that I am very fortunate to have a wife who won’t force me to go shopping and is so understand of my “hang up,” as she defines it. So in the spirit of the season, we continue our traditions and our well-established roles that have served us well these almost 39 years.

And in the spirit of the season, I wish one and all much peace, joy, and happiness and a wonderful holiday in the tradition that you practice. For those who share my belief, I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 17, 2006


On December 4th, the Chapel Hill Town Council received the report and voted 8-1 to move forward on the Lot 5 redevelopment project. If finally approved, it will be a 243,000 square-foot complex with 137 condominiums and 29,000 square feet of retail space. With this vote, Town Manager Roger Stancil has the green light to work out the details with Ram Development.

Throughout this process, a Town Council negotiating committee chaired by Mayor Pro Tem Bill Strom has worked long and hard negotiating with Ram Development. The council members on the team have delved into the financial model, the look of the project and numerous other details during this period and brought a proposal to their colleagues that they thought was in the best interest of the Town.

Something that I haven’t heard discussed about this project and how it was negotiated is one particular message this process sends to our citizens. How many citizens can afford to spend the kind of time that council members invested in this process, let alone all of their other duties as a council member?

With the Carolina North process looming, it is fair to assume that our elected leaders will be called on to devote a lot of their time and energy to the UNC project. With more and more added to their plate and little or nothing coming off, I fear that we will be led by only those who can devote tremendous chunks of their time to governance. Is this what was envisioned with the council-manager form of government?

Let’s review a little history. Council-manager government was a response to the bad old one-party political machines that ran many city governments by the beginning of the 20th Century. Party politics and corruption prevailed and were barriers to fair and professional local government. Partisan elections, dominated by local political machines, limited candidates to only the party regulars and the patronage system prevented qualified people from serving in local government leadership positions.

The ceremonial mayor and the council members are the leaders and policy makers representing the community and concentrate on policy issues in response to citizen needs and wishes. The professionally trained manager is appointed by the council to carry out policy and ensure that the entire community is properly served. If the manager in question does not respond to the governing body’s wishes, the council has the authority to dismiss that manager at any time.

So in theory, citizens did not have to be subject matter experts in the wide range of things involved in running a town or city. Rather, the elected citizens were expected to employ their native intelligence and common sense to make policy decisions. The manager would bring the product of the staff’s efforts to the council for approval. The council would set the policy and evaluate the performance of the manager as the leader of the professional staffers. The council would not hire or fire anyone other than the manager, and in our case, the attorney also.

It’s easy to see why the majority of local governments have adopted this model. It just makes good common sense to have the experts responsive to citizens who were elected by their fellow citizens to make policy and oversee their government. This had to be better than the days of the power brokers who thumbed their nose at those who wanted to know how the money was spent or how decisions were made.

So is it just today’s complexity that requires that our elected policymakers have to invest the kind of time that we are witnessing? How can someone simultaneously serve on committees like the Lot 5 negotiating team, serve as liaison to the numerous boards and commissions, serve on regional and intergovernmental committees, spend time listening to constituents, and prepare for regular meetings and work sessions? And if you make the time to do all of this well, can you have a job? Can you spend any time with your family? Can you pursue any other outside interests?

Clearly these efforts of our hard working and committed council members are important, but is there a more efficient and effective way? Does the Council create some of their own time commitment issues? Can more responsibilities be placed on the professional staff? Can the council members determine how to change positively the culture of the council that drives this situation?

I think it’s worth taking a hard look at how to make serving on the council a possibility for citizens who can’t make it anywhere close to a fulltime job. Maybe when the council has their upcoming planning retreat, they will consider ways to do this. Investing their time discussing this will be a good thing for our community.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Do you have any bowling shirts in your closet? Are they from a league that you participated in? At one time, I had four or five that were classics. I haven’t been in a league since the late 80s so it’s anyone’s guess where those shirts are now. After all, we moved more than a few times so they probably ended up in a give-away bag. It’s an interesting thought to imagine whom if anyone is wearing my “Crusaders” team shirt with “Fred” in a fancy script over the pocket.

The reason that I mention this is because on Monday, November 27th I was in a follow-up meeting for the Madison trip participants and others. Thinking aloud, I said, “"We don't take a lot of time to discuss, what is it that makes us a community? People would answer that question so differently. What unites us?"

The bowling comes in because Robert D. Putnam wrote a book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000). Professor Putnam is at Harvard where he serves as the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy. I first met him when he was chair of Harvard's Department of Government, and later as dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The thesis of his book is this: he argues that we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures. He also offers ideas on how we may reconnect. His “evidence” comes from years of research and the bowling analogy is used because, even though more people may be bowling, they’re not doing it in leagues like they once did.

He deals with something called our stock of social capital. This is the idea that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all "social networks" [who people know] and “the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [‘norms of reciprocity’]”. From his nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century, he concludes that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. As for the cause, Putnam offers that changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women's roles, and other factors have contributed to this decline of our social fabric.

I presume that you would not be surprised to learn that many scholars in a variety of disciplines strongly disagree with the Putnam thesis, and strongly. What about in our community? Can we see some support for his thesis here? We know that we have had pitiful voting turnouts, but the other aspects of his thesis may vary vastly within our community.

One aspect of interest to me is wondering if we have a good number of local organizations where the membership numbers might be up but few members are willing to serve in key leadership positions. My experience in the last few years is that when you ask someone to take a “key position,” they tell you how busy they are and they just don’t have the time to take on any more responsibilities. Do we avoid a higher level of commitment?

I guess that where I come down on this is believing that our community is more than just a geographical location. I see us as interconnected and interdependent while sharing a set of values and goals with others. Therefore, a community is not just the sum of the individuals who make it up, but something much more.

What then unites us as community? I presume that our personal experiences tell us that having something to unite us in no way means that we are united. Just ask people about the drama at their Thanksgiving or other holiday get-togethers. Family and friendship may unite them, but they are nowhere close to being unified. I could make a good case for planting yourself at the “kid’s table” and dealing with the more manageable drama there!

How many communities do we feel a part? How connected do we feel to others in those communities? Do we have a “community spirit,” positive attitudes, optimism, and a sense of loyalty? I personally am still struggling to get my arms around all of this.

I have concluded one thing however. The things that we rally around say a lot about who we are as residents of Orange County, Chatham County and their municipalities. Winning the Women’s Soccer National Championship may not actually unite us as a community, but I suspect that there is still great pride in what that “local” team accomplished. Let’s hope that our two great “roundball” teams can do it too — that will also lift our spirits and it will be another good thing for our community.

Sunday, December 3, 2006


What a Thanksgiving! With our two and a half year old grandson and his eight month old sister visiting (yes, they brought their parents along too), it’s been a really fun time. It’s something getting acquainted or reacquainted with Thomas the Train, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Sesame Street, Higglytown Heroes, and Little Einsteins, but what could be more fun?

As we sit on the floor of the family room playing and watching and laughing, the weather outdoors is no problem because of the warmth of our home. We have much to be thankful for and it’s difficult not to think how different the days and nights are for the homeless. Those parents and kids who have no warm home to live in are far too numerous.

Thankfully, we are trying to address the problem through the Orange County Partnership To End Homelessness. Key to any solution, however, is having a stock of housing that people with a range of incomes can afford to buy or rent. We like to call this “affordable” housing, but I prefer the label “workforce” housing. As with most labels, we need to be clear on what we mean. I think workforce housing should be affordable to the entire range of incomes in our community. It should simply mean that all people, and especially those who work here, can find a home to fit their budget.

While we were in Madison on the Chamber’s Inter-City Visit in September, we had a breakout session on workforce housing. Housing stalwarts Robert Dowling, executive director of the Orange County Community Housing and Land Trust, and Delores Bailey, executive director of EmPOWERment, Inc., led the session. We heard about the Madison approach from Bill Perkins, the executive director for The Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Development, Inc.

Madison is in Dane County and they studied their situation and concluded that they had a serious problem. They found that to be able to afford the fair market rent on a two-bedroom apartment required an hourly wage of $12.45, or $25,896 annually. Some 30% of their workforce made this wage or less. Some of the jobs represented included emergency medical technicians, restaurant cooks, home health aids, preschool teachers, nursing aides, and many others.

They also found that an income of $34, 100 was half of what was needed to buy their median-priced home in 2005. Sadly, 55% of their workforce made less than $34,100. Bus drivers, secretaries, dental assistants, maintenance workers, and police, fire and ambulance dispatchers were in this group in 2005.

So to buy that median-priced home in 2005, the annual income required was $68,200. They were distressed to learn that 94% of the Dane County workforce made less than that required income, and that included among others teachers, police officers, firefighters, mental health counselors, school counselors, and licensed practical nurses.
What’s the situation in Orange County? Sad to say, it’s generally worse. Did you know that in 2005, the median price for a single family home in Orange County was $286,000? Are our workers paid what’s required to afford that home? Not usually, so it’s no surprise that too many who work here can’t afford to live here. They live in other counties and must drive into Orange County everyday. Meanwhile, many who can afford to live here work outside of Orange County and they drive out every day. What’s wrong with this picture?

Our Community Housing and Land Trust, EmPOWERment, and Habitat for Humanity, are making a herculean effort to increase the housing stock so that our workforce can afford to live where they work. The Town of Chapel Hill also took a big step last September when they established a task force on inclusionary zoning.

With representatives from various constituencies including the development and real estate communities, the business community, nonprofits engaged in providing affordable housing in Chapel Hill, and interested citizens, they hammered out a proposal on inclusionary zoning that was presented at the Town Council Meeting on November 20th.

At its simplest, inclusionary zoning requires that a certain percentage of homes be set at officially "affordable" prices, along with market-rate homes in the same project. We need several tools that will work and this has the promise of being one of those tools. Stay tuned to see how this plays out, but remember, the solution to the housing situation cannot be placed entirely on our developers.

As those of us who can afford to enjoy our loved ones in our own warm homes, let’s remember that there are too many who can’t do the same in the community where they work. We have to do better, and doing that will be a good thing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Thanksgiving has always been my favorite celebration. In our family, it has always meant getting together and sharing a feast prepared by many hands. If we were overseas or too far away from our immediate family, then friends and neighbors similarly situated came together as one big family to give thanks for our many blessings.

One of our annual traditions shared by many other families is to take the time to go around the table and say what we were thankful for. When our kids and their cousins were small, this tradition always produced some interesting, and sometimes even comical, responses. As they moved toward adulthood, their responses warmed our hearts, as their comments revealed what wonderful, thoughtful, and caring young people they were.

My list for 2006 is long and if delivered before dinner we would end up eating cold turkey. So when we gather around the table, I’ll share of couple of the items off my list and refer everyone to this column that will appear after Thanksgiving.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for family — my wife, my kids, and all my other family members. I am especially thankful because my son and his wife have given us two grandkids and they came to Chapel Hill to spend Thanksgiving with us this year. Those of you with grandkids understand what I mean when I say it’s great to have the kids back for the holiday, but it’s really, really great to have the grandkids!

Sure, they will probably make a mess, spill things and at times get fussy, but when it’s your grandkids, who cares. Kids just don’t get it. They constantly try to point out your inconsistent and changing standards: “If I had done that, you would have murdered me!” they whine. Why can’t they understand that we didn’t murder them because we wanted them to give us grandkids one day?

Good health is another reason to be thankful. As we watch the health of our elder generation decline, we pay more attention to the preventative measures that we can take. Even though we are not always successful and don’t always eat right or get enough exercise, it’s not because we don’t understand the importance of living right. I’m also thankful that we live in a place with such excellent health care facilities and so many caring health professionals. Thankfully, I have not had to call upon their skills this year except for the routine preventative visits.

I’m also thankful for our friends, our church family, our neighbors, and all of the people who help to make our community the special place that it is. We have so many who practice random acts of kindness! What’s so impressive about this place is that when you need help, there are people who are willing to provide it. When you identify a problem to be solved, there are people who will come together enthusiastically to craft a solution, then give their time, talents and resources to solve it.

Recently, there have been ample examples of the giving nature of our community. RSVVP last week is a great illustration and shows loads of generosity. I’m personally familiar with some other endeavors and greatly admire what the people involved do. For example, both Habitat for Humanity of Orange County and EmPOWERment, Inc. are doing fund drives. People give their money, time, and goods and services to help increase the stock of affordable homes. Other organizations also work to solve this problem, and one day we might really eradicate it here.

The Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation recently held a house party featuring celebrated author John Grisham. Their goal was to raise funds to purchase new books for our library. We as a community have a voracious appetite for reading material and we can’t wait until the addition to the building is completed to feed that appetite. The Town budget is already stretched, so the Foundation stepped in and purchased additional shelving; now we must raise the funds to buy the books to fill them.

We are also blessed to have those who serve us in elected office, first-rate professionals working for our various government bodies and the schools in our community, a university that does so much in and for this community, a giving business community and a chamber of commerce that represents their interests, and the list goes on.

We thankfully live in a blessed community and one that is “opinion-gifted”. We can and do disagree a lot, and yet, we reach compromises. I’m thankful that this is possible and that we have the freedom to express ourselves.

Family, friends, health and living in such a giving and caring community make me very thankful. Being thankful, that’s a good thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Veterans Day fell on Saturday this year so the three UNC ROTC units had their joint ceremony on Friday the 10th of November. I have attended these ceremonies each year that we have lived here because it gives this not-so-old veteran a chance to participate in honoring America’s veterans. About 100 people gathered or stopped for a moment to witness what I think is our community’s only ceremony.

This year’s ceremony featured one of UNC’s own, Walter Spearman Professor Emeritus for the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Chuck Stone. He was drafted out of college in 1943 and served as a famed Tuskegee Airman.

In his remarks, Stone talked about the Veterans Day parades that he viewed in his youth. Those ceremonies and parades that remembered the WWI armistice and were conducted at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month were grand affairs. Stone said that he remembered standing there proudly as his WWI veteran-dad marched by.

I too remember parades on Veterans Day. They were big deals and the local community turned out in force. Local leaders riding in spiffy cars from a local dealership, high school bands, military marching units, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and a host of others added to the color of the day. I even marched in a few myself and remember the feeling you get when you hear the cheers of the crowds. Where have the parades gone?

Today, not only does our community not have a parade, but if we do any Veterans Day marching, it is to the nearest mall to participate in the day’s sales. Veterans Day seems to be a “holiday” that causes us great inconvenience at best or benign neglect at worst. After all, some government offices are closed, the banks are closed, and the kids are out of school.

The other thing that bothers me is that we seem to want to morph Veterans Day into another Memorial Day, the day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. November 11th of each year is set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our veterans, and not just those who are deceased.

One of my friends said that he thought that the decline in interest in Veterans Day might be caused by the fact that with the war, the nation is creating too many veterans right now, and some of them are seriously injured. With a totally volunteer force, it might be plausible to think that our citizens would want to honor those veterans, since unlike in the past, the government didn’t force them, their family members, or friends to serve.

Doing a quick Internet search for Veterans Day parades and other ceremonies that were held across our nation, I discovered that the day’s unpopularity must be a function of where we are. Small towns and big ones had parades and grand ceremonies, including over the way in Raleigh.

I appreciate the anti-war feelings that we find locally. Heck, the most anti-war people that I have ever known were those who served in uniform with me. So why is the veteran held to blame for a war he or she didn’t ask for or champion? Are there any local veterans who have the power to alter or refocus US foreign or military policy? Of course not, but the symbolism is very powerful.

After I returned from that Friday ceremony, I discovered that a release went out calling for a demonstrating against the Army’s new recruiting station on our Franklin Street. Why is having this renter take over an empty property a bad thing? Because the renter is the Army and it is looking to recruit four or so of our kids a month. Note that now, if our kids want info on military service, the closest station is in Durham.

The coalition of groups call to action asked students, youth, and community members to stand up to the new Army recruiting station, the continued occupation of Iraq, and U.S. threats against other nations and speak out against this new recruiting station. Why? The new station is seen as a blatant attempt to pull more youths and students into the U.S. war machine and the occupation of Iraq.

Lump every problem all together, make the veteran a symbol of evil, then go out and protest a recruiting office. What happened to making distinctions? I suspect that most of the 10,000 or so veterans in Orange County have mixed, but fixed opinions. Being free to have different opinions is what we veterans fought for and continue to fight for. Freedom isn’t free and freedom is what this nation is all about, and that’s a good thing.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I suspect that I’m not the only one glad to say goodbye to this blue moon election! Every 12 years we have one of these blue moon elections, meaning that there is no race for the White House, Governor’s Mansion, or U.S. Senate to generate the kind of excitement that they say brings voters to the polls.

No excitement? I guess it depends on what you call excitement. Personally, I could do without that brand of excitement like they had in Durham with the DA race, or the venomous 13th Congressional District race with Vernon Robinson, or even the school bond issue in Wake County.

We had our own brand in excitement in our Superior Court race. Here were four people that everyone I talked to said would all serve us well because they were all capable and competent. Two had been appointed to the Superior Court by the Governor, one was a District Court judge, and the fourth is a practicing attorney who formed the first integrated law firm in North Carolina.

To get their message out they bombarded us with glossy card mailings, robo calls, yard signs, and campaign ads, all to generate name recognition. As a group, it looks like they spent more than $350,000 on their campaigns. Is money the ultimate arbitrator in local politics today? Well, it appears that number one vote getter Carl Fox spent the least amount of money.

Philosophically, I’m still not sure that I believe that we should make judge candidates raise money and campaign like other office seekers. Maybe we should make all of these races eligible for tax dollar funding. I think the idea should be given a good look.

Our House race was a barnburner too, wasn’t it? How many people watched the two candidates discuss their visions for the future? If dissolving the Congress and starting from scratch was on the ballot, it might have won. Why? It seems that, at best, people are pretty fed up with the institution, and at worst, thoroughly hostile towards it. Some incumbents in other places lost their seats, but David Price didn’t and will be part of the House majority in January. Let’s hope they can get the institution back on track.

Then there was the Orange County Board of County Commissioners race. On the Democrat side, there were three candidates for three seats, and two of them were incumbents. On the Republican side, there was one candidate. Some believed that a Republican could win in Orange County if a significant number of traditional Democrat voters joined with the Republicans and the unaffiliated.

Driving this was anger with Mike Nelson due to some of his actions while the mayor of Carrboro. Nelson finished third with 27% of the vote. I suspect that he benefited greatly from straight ticket voting but he won in the northern precincts where Republican Jamie Daniels did well in 2004.

Probably the most heat was generated by the referendum to change how we elect commissioners. The consensus seemed to be that moving from five to seven commissioners was a very good thing. The controversy was over the two electoral districts that the voters were asked to approve. It seemed that even the commissioners themselves weren’t overly excited with the plan that they crafted, but they pushed it as a forward step in the right direction. I hope that they take some more concrete steps to make our process better.

What wasn’t exciting in this election was the turnout. In this community, with fewer than 37% of those registered voting, we have nothing to be proud of. Why was it so pitiful? Don’t people care? Sure it rained, but remember all of the beautiful days we had during the early voting period? We can and must do better!

So is it just an excuse or did some people not vote because of more concrete factors? Is not voting a protest? Is not voting a statement of contentment? Some who don’t vote claim that they don’t know the candidates or the issues. Maybe it’s a good thing that they refrain. But why do so few citizens exercise their right, a right that so many fought for and even died for?

Well, I congratulate Weaver Dairy Satellite for their typical outstanding turnout (81.6%) and hope that the two precincts with the lowest turnout — Country Club and Mason Farm will benefit next time from more UNC student activism.

Congratulations also to all the winners and those many candidates who ran fair, honest, and inexpensive campaigns. I applaud you for seeking to serve us. For those folks who didn’t vote, remember, politicians read the winds. If your vote doesn’t stir the winds, there will be less accountability. Accountability generates excitement. Accountability is a good thing.

Sunday, November 5, 2006


Since UNC-Chapel Hill athletic director Dick Baddour announced Coach John Bunting’s termination and that he would continue to coach the remaining five games, plenty has appeared in the press about the coach and his fine qualities.

It has been said that he builds character, recruits young men who want a college education and also play football, loves his alma mater, and accepts accountability for his decisions. People have also praised him for his work ethic and the work ethic he instills in his players to excel in the classroom and on the football field.

Another source lauded him for how well he represents the school, the community, his family and himself. His team’s graduation rate has also been cited as one that many coaches wished that they could achieve.

If Coach Bunting’s players have learned that their actions have consequences and infractions will get a star benched, or even dismissed from the team, then they are way ahead of some programs. A team that enforces rules irrespective of how many yards you ran, touchdowns you threw, tackles you made, or passes you caught sounds like a program a university would be proud to call their own.

So what’s the problem? The official answer appears to be that the team under Coach Bunting’s leadership is victory challenged — a 25-43 record overall and an ACC record of 16-29 as of the Wake Forrest game. So what’s more important, being a builder of character, integrity, and academic success or Ws and Ls?

Obviously, its Ws and Ls. I understand that when a reporter asked Coach Bunting about coaching five more games after being terminated, he responded that the show must go on. The follow-up question should have been which show?

I can’t pinpoint when Division 1A football became the show that it has, but it’s clear that the show we are really talking about is business, bottom line business, pure and simple. Successful programs carry the entire athletic budget, garner large amounts of fan and alumni dollars, bring in logo sales, and attract students and faculty because of what the revenue stream allows them to do. Revenues from TV and bowl games add to the bottom line of not just the institutions, but their conferences too. Simply put, there’s real pressure to win.

When Douglass MacArthur was the superintendent at West Point in the early part of the 20th century, he provided a pretty credible raison d’etra for competitive athletics. He said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” He liked the words so much that he had them engraved over the entrance to the gymnasium.

Why? He knew the value of competition and what team sports could contribute. But MacArthur lived in another era. As Coach Bunting, his staff and his players have learned, there is the business beast that must be fed and satiated. Simply put, the game is no longer just about having fun, developing character, or instilling the values needed to be a success in life; these are nice extras. Those schools that still pursue those old-fashioned goals know that they play in a different league and on a different field. After all, how many pro prospects will they attract?

There are studies, scholarly papers, and written testimonies that reach high into the sky reporting faculty dissatisfaction with the role of revenue sports on today’s campuses. The Knight Commission recommended in the strongest terms that there be greater presidential control over college athletics and that the programs reconnect with the university’s fundamental mission.

Some continue to see high profile college athletics as a sham. Teams have players who just happen to be enrolled in the institution. . Academics aren’t the priority, getting the skills and notice to play for big bucks at the next level is. After all, success is contagious and successful teams help schools successfully get those dollars. Sadly, at some places it’s a pretty simple dichotomy, athletes who are enrolled at the school versus students who play sports.

Some also decry the different admissions process for an athlete and the course of study an athlete may take as a scholarship student. To the credit of UNC-Chapel Hill, these are not their problems; remember their problem is too few victories. So we get a new coach.

Will a new coach have all of the qualities of a Bunting and the ability to mold a victorious team? I and many other fans sure hope so. But it’s important to win on all levels. The show will go on as the new coach struggles to keep the right Ws to Ls ratio and demonstrate those other critical ingredients for a successful program — ingredients that the Coach Bunting show seemed to possess in spades.

Being able to succeed off and on the field will be a very good thing!

Sunday, October 29, 2006


In the “BG” days — before grandparenthood, I never thought very much about the role of children’s museums, but with grandkids you get to see a whole lot of things that you don’t remember or didn’t experience when your kids were small.

My better awareness of these fantastic destinations for fun and learning was enhanced because of the convergence of three things. First, my roommate on the Madison trip was Jon Mills, the president of the board of directors of our Kidzu Children’s Museum.

Second, we had a fantastic presentation on the Madison Children’s Museum by their executive director, Ruth Shelly. She told us about the wide variety of exciting programs that they offered, including participating in a unique partnership to provide free dental care to local children through its Body Shop health exhibit. She also made a very convincing case for how the museum enhances their downtown, but more on that later.

The third thing that happened was to see the Madison children’s museum on their State Street. I saw families walking around. I also saw people having their picnic lunch on the state capitol grounds either before or after a museum visit. And I smelled the freshly popped popcorn being sold by a vendor from a decorated cart across from the museum. It looked like plenty of kids — and their parents were into corn.

Did you know that in 1975 there were approximately 38 children's museums in the United States? Eighty new children's museums opened between 1976 and 1990. Since 1990, more than 130 have opened, and there are approximately 80 in the planning phase. Are you surprised to learn that children’s museums are the fastest growing sector of the museum industry?
Some local parents were tired of driving to Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, or other locations for their kids to experience a quality museum experience. Therefore, as we are wont to do in these parts, their conversations resulted in an organized effort to explore the possibility of starting a children’s museum in our community.

It’s not surprising to learn that they discovered all sorts of obstacles and heard plenty from the corps of naysayers, but they formed their 501-c(3) nonprofit and tackled the tough task of finding a location. With help from Dana McMahan, the owner of the East Franklin Street shop The Laughing Turtle, they had a generously donated space for the museum. They hired their two full-time employees, and all systems were “go” for being a kid magnet.

Open since March, the museum expected to host 20 thousand visitors per year; it has hosted 19 thousand already. The board raised the necessary funds from individual donors and foundations to get off the ground and is now trying to raise more so that they can move to a permanent home.

Where should that permanent home be? Based on what I heard and saw in Madison, their home should be in a downtown, or as close as one can get. And it’s just not a Madison spin. The Reader’s Digest has a blurb on children’s museums in its November issue, and they observed that “more and more parents want safe havens that offers tots extra stimulation. And civic leaders see the museums as urban renewal anchors.”

The Association of Children’s Museums says that sixty-three percent of children's museums are located in urban areas while twenty-three percent are located in suburban areas. Only fourteen percent of children's museums are located in rural areas. And to top it all off, the association reports that seventy-five children's museums are flagships in downtown revitalization projects.

Communities where the museums are helping to revitalize their downtowns are on to something. Our children’s museum brings people downtown that might not otherwise come. They come by bus and car and seem to be able to park just fine. Visitors also take advantage of the restaurants and stores downtown. Parents and their kids are visible on the street and create a powerful image that offsets negative perceptions of the downtown.

Another benefit of being downtown is the closeness to UNC-Chapel Hill students. Kidzu has been blessed with having student interns, work-study students, and volunteers like those from the DKE Fraternity who come out early in the morning to help unload and load exhibits. Kidzu also has relationships with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and the UNC School of Education.

We have in Kidzu a real winner for our community, and especially for our downtown. I suspect that its board will permanently locate where they can find 10 to 15 thousand square feet of donated space — they now have around three thousand. They need a space and we want a vibrant downtown. Kidzu is already making ours vibrant. Let’s hope we can help it continue to be part of the successful revitalization of our downtown.

That will be a good thing!

Sunday, October 22, 2006


You heard about the trip to Madison, right? Do you know anything about the history of these trips? Well, what follows is the short history of such trips and how we got to Madison. Why should you care, you ask? Glad you asked! I think our community should know how these things happen and the role many dedicated people played. So how did it happen?

In 1984, a group from Lexington, KY called the Public Private Partnership visited Chapel Hill to see what was happening here. In the fall of 1985, a group from our community paid Lexington a return visit. A trip to Princeton, NJ followed, and after that trip, the group incorporated a Public Private Partnership in Orange County.

Later trips took community members to Champaign-Urbana, IL, Boulder, CO, Charlotte, NC, Bloomington, IN, and Ann Arbor, MI. Participants indicated that each trip was beneficial and provided opportunities to learn what others were doing about tensions between growth and preservation, town-gown relations, downtown revitalization, and the arts.

After the November 1997 trip to Ann Arbor, another trip seemed to take a backseat to the pressures of time and circumstance. In 2003, Howard Lee chaired the Council on a Sustainable Community under the auspices of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. One of the recommendations from the group led to the establishment of the Chamber’s Foundation for a Sustainable Community to advance the triple bottom line of economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

The new Foundation and the Chamber established the Community Leadership Council (CLC) to fill the void left by the demise of the Public Private Partnership. So, in April 2005, the new Council held its first meeting and made a commitment to plan and execute another inter-city visit. It was clear that all at that meeting thought that we could benefit from a trip to another community that has wrestled with similar challenges

By June of 2005, the Inter-City Visit Committee chaired by Scott Maitland (proprietor of Top of the Hill) slogged their way through a list of potential sites to recommend to the CLC. From this process, Madison emerged as the next destination. When Robert Dowling (executive director, Orange County Housing and Land Trust) and Scott Maitland became the CLC co-chairs, Maitland turned the trip planning committee over to Mariana Fiorentino, the president of Terra Nova Global Properties.

Fiorentino brought to the task a wealth of experience in meeting planning and management. Her committee, the Viking Travel Agency, and the Chamber staff managed the myriad details necessary to make the trip a success, including making an advance coordination trip, setting up the agenda and group sessions, and obtaining speakers.

Her committee, the Foundation, and the Chamber were concerned about charges of “elitism” and high cost. Those desiring to go to Madison included representatives from the local governments, UNC, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. To ensure that representatives of nonprofit organizations could participate, another committee solicited scholarship money. These scholarship dollars reduced the cost to recipients by 71%. What resulted was a group of people who represented our community in a wide range of activities and interests.

When I asked Robert Dowling for his assessment, he said that the trip exceeded his expectations. He saw it as a learning opportunity for our community, as well as a chance to build the relationships that are so critical to our future. What future? Carolina North, of course. Dowling saw Carolina North as a major influence on the future of our community and it’s important to do it well. “Bringing together people who hold a variety of positions — both in the community and towards Carolina North, can only help the process,” he said.

I asked Chamber executive director Aaron Nelson the same question. Nelson offered that from his vantage point, what impressed him was seeing people build relationships of understanding and trust. He thinks that the trip will enhance the future tenor of the community conversation. He also was impressed with the wealth of talent and commitment that he saw in the trip participants.

One of the things that especially impressed Chair Fiorentino (and me) was the Chamber staff. “It would be hard to find more sincere, high-energy professionals who work with such efficiency, good humor, and responsiveness,” she said. They made it possible to focus on what we were in Madison for and participants not be concerned with the details.

I’m glad I went to Madison. I think that we as a community will benefit because of the trip. I think that what we saw in Madison stimulated some ideas and different ways to think about things here. I also believe that as we work to meet the challenges ahead of us, you can bet that many of the major actors will have been among the 102 in Madison and on other trips. These are good thing.

Fred Black is a Chapel Hill resident who is interested and involved in a variety of community activities and organizations. Readers can contact him at or c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 106 Mallette St., Chapel Hill, NC 27616