Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Let me say right up front that I know that writing what I am will anger some and really anger others. It seems this topic is in many ways the equivalent of touching a New York City subway’s third rail. Yes, the topic is public art and the one percent for art ordinance that Chapel Hill approved back in March 2002.

The ordinance allocates 1% of selected capital projects for art, including creating it, installing it at the location of the project, and maintaining it. The money for ‘percent for art projects’ comes from each project's construction budget including funding that comes from all levels of government and from private support.

Let me say loudly and clearly that I like art. I like public art too. My problem is not with a program that helps us provide pleasing pieces of art in and around our public facilities; my problem is with the methodology. Why is this so important? Because the Chapel Hill Town Council is going to consider a contextual plan from the Chapel Hill Public Art Commission to raise one percent for art an additional percent.

There are some who have reservations about public art because they dislike the idea of “government” deciding what is and is not art and what is and is not worthy of the expenditure of public dollars. And who the selected artist is presents another can of worms. Since those who advocate for public art and try to build the necessary public consensus operate in the political sphere, it’s difficult to ignore what might or might not be politically motivated.

Others dislike expending public money on public art because there are so many other needs that should be given a higher priority. Note that, in the Chapel Hill approach, the money comes from the “contingency” budget for a project, not the operational budget. This means that the dollars for art can’t be used for other purposes, but since it typically comes from bonds, we still pay for it in the out years.

Another area of friction is where the public art is located. Some projects that the Arts Commission has implemented include the metal sculpture outside Fire Station 5, benches on East Franklin Street, murals at the Hargraves Center and a tile mosaic in the town building that houses the Inter-Faith Council shelter and kitchen. All of these seem great, but the public art for the new Town Operations center got to me.

One percent of that project meant $426,000 and I believed then and still believe that it is just too much money. Publicly expressing that point of view has generated various reactions.

One theme was that to say what I said implied that I didn’t believe the public employees working at the operations center were worthy of experiencing public art. In my opinion, this sort of false argument does us no good. What that argument attempts to do is divert us from the real issues, such as do we really need such expensive benches in front of the operations center. Regardless of which funding sources provided the money, we taxpayers still pay the bills.

Now we have moved forward on the Lot #5 project and the one percent formula produces an estimated $671,000 for public art. I’m sorry but this just seems like too much money to be mandated on one project.

I have talked to others who have concerns similar to mine and discussing this led me to believe that there might be another solution. Some cities like Seattle, Washington have a percent for art program but they implement it differently.

In their program, the money is deposited in a municipal art fund that is administered by their Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Art funds are “pooled” from one project to another and even from one fund source to another and not all of the money must be spent on the project that generated the dollars.

What’s appealing with this approach is that there might be projects that won’t generate much money for art based on the one percent of capital expenditure rule but whose location or other aspects might be worthy of a more costly art investment. To me, such pooling makes sense for us too.

Obviously, I am not an expert on this and I suspect that I’ll hear again from some program supporters. I suggest that they might use me as a litmus test. I value art, I value public art, and I am willing to support its funding. I also believe that the current and proposed formula is flawed in its straight-line approach. Probably many other citizens out there feel the same way so it might be a good thing to reexamine our approach before going to two percent.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


The other day I had reason to reflect on something that happened many years ago. It was late July 1969 and I was commanding a unit that was located near a place in Vietnam named Nui Ba Den, the “Black Virgin Mountain.”

A re-supply helicopter landed at first light and delivered a hot meal and other supplies but most importantly, mail. With the mail were our copies of the Pacific edition of the Stars and Stripes, the military’s newspaper. As the papers were distributed, I was walking around talking to soldiers about the front-page story with the huge headline, “MAN ON MOON.”

One of my privates when asked his reaction to this historic event said, “Heck sir, it’s just another government lie!” I was taken aback and stunned. “You think they can pull off something that big and involving that many people without a leak,” I probed. Well, to make a long conversation short, he did in fact believe it was possible and it turned out that he was not the only 19 or 20 year old cynic that I had.

In 37-year hindsight, it’s not surprising that my guys had reasons aplenty to not trust “the government” or anyone else they tended to label as “the man.” Their low levels of trust in “the system” and its representatives began long before they were drafted (and my non-believers were almost all draftees); they evaluated things based on their experiences.

So I wonder what in people’s experiences around here would cause them to not trust the people we elect to do our business. Is what we sometimes observe just the reflection of a good old fashion healthy dose of skepticism about all things political that Americans have historically had? We see this phenomenon directed at all levels of government, but I would think at the level that is closest to us, it would be somewhat reduced.

A quick Internet search reveals that my guys were not alone in believing that the moon headline was reporting a hoax. Do we have a similar situation here in that we don’t believe what our local leaders tell us? Someone told me the other day that he didn’t believe what any politician said, and then he repeated the old joke: How can you tell if a politician is lying? Their lips are moving!

I asked him was he joking or did he really believe that, and he assured me that he was not joking. He went on to explain to me that I was too trusting of what those in authority said. The problem as he saw it was far too many people were like me and this allowed officials to receive a pass and never get asked the right or really hard questions. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added that the members of the local “fourth estate” were worse than the average gullible citizen is; they would do nothing to disturb the status quo. They, in his opinion, were toothless watchdogs!

Wow! I was floored! I then had to know just what cliffs we mindless lemmings were about to go off. What were we being “fed” by those in authority? My “friend” ticked off his list: taxes, development in northern Chapel Hill, development in northern Carrboro, development in Orange County, tuition, school redistricting, trash dumps and transfer stations, Carolina North, Horace Williams Airport, Lot 5, and downtown Chapel Hill development.

So what about you? Do you distrust the leaders of our various local institutions? Do you sense that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot? Do you think that we are just told what we want to hear? Do you feel that our media is a “toothless watchdog” of the public interest?

I guess that I’m still not convinced that the state of things is as dire as my “friend” believes. Members of our community participate in public hearings, serve on advisory boards and commissions, and fill the local media and blogs with their take on things. I sense that there is very little that is done without others knowing about it but, most importantly, the leaders of our institutions have done nothing to cause me to not trust them.

Like my soldiers in that July heat those many years ago who were willing to believe that people were capable of and motivated to orchestrate the greatest hoax in history, I refuse to believe that anyone is that good. I also refuse to believe that we are “being played.” Whom do you believe?

PS: Trusting doesn't mean that you don't verify!

Sunday, February 11, 2007


When you’re the middle child with a brother 3 ½ years older and a sister 3 ½ years younger, you grow up learning a lot about disputes. You also learn that many things are not fair and you get to hear your parents remind you ad nauseaum that life isn’t fair, so get over it. Hit your big brother and he pounds you; hit your sister and parents punish you big time.

Since all three of us made it to adulthood, I guess we somehow learned to settle our disputes.

How do you settle disputes? Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to attend an orientation at the Dispute Settlement Center of Orange County, a non-profit mediation organization based in Carrboro. Their mission is "to promote and bring about the peaceful settlement of disputes and to prevent the escalation of conflict through mediation, conciliation, facilitation, and training."

Executive Director Frances Henderson and board member Pamela Gibson Senegal conducted our session and told us that they have been in existence here since 1978 and that they are considered a national leader in the use and availability of mediation. They explained their full range of services and of particular interest to me were the youth programs, where kids are taught skills that they can use to manage conflict.

We saw a videotape that featured staffer Will Dudenhausen teaching kids in a public housing neighborhood team-building games that develop conflict-resolution skills. The young people indicated that they had learned to handle the kinds of conflicts they experience each day, and they noted that they understood the value of using their heads instead of their hands.

In addition to the other youth programs such as training peer mediators in the schools, the Center conducts a restorative justice for youth program. Trying to build relationships between people after a criminal incident, first-time juvenile offenders and their victims meet in mediated sessions to discuss the crime and move toward conciliation through apologies and possible restitution.

There is a “Family Table” program to teach parents and teens in family conflict situations how to manage their conflict. The family mediation program helps separating couples have productive conversations and other couples build and strengthen their partnerships. Assistance is also available to help work through difficult family situations such as sibling relationships, care of aging parents and property disputes.

In the general mediation program, neutral mediators, many of whom are trained volunteers, assist parties with their issues. The participants might be self-referred, or referred by attorneys, magistrates, police, County Social Services, the Superior Court, or other such organizations. The mediation might focus on family, work, or neighborhood conflicts, but the goal is the same — finding options to resolve the conflict.

In addition, a public disputes program provides meeting facilitation, multi-party mediation, and conducts conflict assessments, designs dialogue, and decision-making processes, and provides training and education programs. You might know someone who has been a member of a board, committee, neighborhood group, or business that has benefited from this program.

To extend their reach and serve as many people as possible, the training program works with individuals, businesses, schools, non-profits, and governmental agencies to build their conflict management, mediation and meeting management skills. Some training programs are custom-tailored for organizations and others are open to the public free or for a small fee.

And if that’s not enough, the Center last year began a “Generation Peace Art Award,” where local high school students can win a cash award for creative expressions about conflict resolution and speech. Funded by an anonymous donor, awards were presented to students for their visual arts and literary arts submissions.

The Center funds their programs with fees for service, government allocations, the Triangle United Way, various foundations, and contributions from our community. Because of the generous support that they receive, they are able to offer their services on a sliding scale, depending on the client. I highly recommend contacting the Center to see how you or your group might benefit from their offerings. Contact them at (929-8800) or their website <www.disputesettlement.org>.

Sunday, February 4, 2007


Are you here? Are you there? Are you anywhere? I hope that you contacted Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil before the deadline. He asked for input on the qualities the new ‘top cop’ needed, and he’s heard a lot at forums, from emails, from Town Council members, and from other conversations. Problem is does someone with all of the suggested qualities really exist?

If the person who can come closest to possessing all of the suggested qualities isn’t already in our community, can an “outsider” be given the opportunity to learn and grow while on the job? After all, this is a pretty demanding place and if nothing else, we are “opinion-gifted” and more than willing to share.

What is impressive to me is that our new town manager, Roger Stancil, has asked for input from the community. This process has given our new town manager a unique opportunity to get to know us better, as well as get our take on things like a police chief.

The first two of the series of forums that sought citizen input were not well attended at all. Two people came to each of them. Tip of the hat to Dale Pratt-Wilson and Ron Bogle, who made suggestion after suggestion to the consultants who conducted the first forum.

Ms. Pratt-Wilson heads the Coalition for Alcohol & Drug Free Teenagers, and she wanted a chief who would work towards the goals of her organization. Mr. Bogle said that he wanted a chief who officers had confidence in and one who would give responsibility to others.

Much was made in the media about what was seen as an apparent lack of interest on the part of citizens. Why didn’t people show up to provide input, some wondered. I can now turn the question around: why didn’t the media show up at the January 23d forum at the Hargraves Center in Northside?

A couple dozen citizens were there and were more than willing to participate. Ms. Rebecca Veazey, president of The Management and Personnel Services Group
(MAPS) explained the process. She would use all of the input received to come up with a list of qualities that the new chief should have. After screening the candidates who apply, a small number will be asked to participate in an assessment center (a process, not a place, she pointed out). Candidates would participate in a series of assessments, including role playing, community presentations and other exercises that would measure a person's behavior.

Once she completed her presentation, she asked for questions about the process. What she got was an almost immediate response to what qualities the new chief should have. She and the town manager got an earful, no, make that two earfuls.

The first group of responders focused on fairness issues and they wanted a chief who would treat people right, respect them, and make sure his or her officers did the same thing. Like a rolling wave, the comments cam one after another, and many were punctuated with personal or second-hand anecdotes for support.

People talked about assumptions that they thought police made about people of color. Some focused on the need to crackdown on drug dealers, but not assuming that every young man was a drug dealers. Others talked about holding officers to a high standard of behavior and training them to work with the community.

One participant made a point that clearly got the manager’s attention. He offered that maybe the reason why the other forums weren’t as well attended as the one in Northside was because the residents of Northside have had a more contentious and hostile relationship with the police department than other parts of town.

Where was the media to report this perception? Of course, it’s not new, but it sure is germane to the task. Accurate or not, that perception is the reality for those who believe the police are not fair, right, and respectful. Of course, there’s always more than one side of the story, but the version presented in Northside that Tuesday night needed to be heard by the manager.

Another tip of the hat goes to Delores Bailey and the EmPOWERment staff for getting Northside neighbors to come out and share their views. Another tip of the hat goes to Roger Stancil for being the kind of town manager who is willing to invest the time to listen to what folks have to say, even when it might be painful to hear.

He listened, and I think he is using a great process. We want whomever he picks using of this process to be the best fit for our community, and lead our police department with distinction. If that’s the result, then that’s a good thing.