Monday, December 28, 2009

THE RE-STORE (A WCHL Commentary)

Are you aware of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore? If not, you need to know about it. The ReStore is a joint endeavor of the Durham and Orange County Habitat organizations. Open now for a few months, it is located on 15-501 near I-40 in the old Haverty’s building next to the Bob Evan’s restaurant.

The basic concept is to fill the 36,000 square feet of space to sell furniture, building materials, appliances, household goods, books, and many other things. These items are sold at a great discount and have drawn record crowds to the facility. Best of all, the funding allows Habitat to achieve their home building goals and help the environment by keeping a lot of what they sell out of the landfills. If you are able, Habitat will happily accept donated merchandise that you no longer need but useable. Your donations are also tax deductible. Habitat will do free pick-ups of large items that you need help with.

What a great way to help our community through support of the ReStore as a buyer or a donator or both. Using the proceeds to help to fund the cost of building a home for a family is really a great contribution to our community; helping the environment at the same time is just plain good for all of us. They are open Tuesday through Friday from 10 to 6 and Saturday from 10 to 5. You can call them at 919-403-8668. Let’s all help the Habitat ReStore!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Retired colonel takes group's helm
Chapel Hill Herald (Dec. 9, 2009)

CHAPEL HILL -- Chapel Hill resident and Vietnam combat veteran Fred Black, a retired U.S. Army colonel, was installed as president of the N.C. State Council of Chapters of the Military Officers Association of America on Saturday.

A past president of the state council's Orange-Chatham Chapter, Black is married to the former Sylvia M. Sloan of Durham. They have a daughter who is a labor relations specialist, and a son who is a major in the U.S. Army.

There are 19 chapters in the state council and more than 18,000 members in North Carolina. The association plays an active role in military personnel matters and especially proposed legislation affecting the career force, the retired community, and veterans of the uniformed services. Its purpose also has grown to include career transition assistance, improved member products, military benefits counseling, educational assistance to children of military families (to include enlisted) and strong involvement in military professionalism activities.

The state council serves to further the aims and legislative goals of the national organization and assist member chapters in effectively serving their members, their communities and the nation.

The Military Officers Association of America is open to active duty, National Guard, Reserve, retired and former commissioned officers and warrant officers of the seven uniformed services, the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With a membership of about 370,000, it is the country's largest military officers' association.

Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1994, Black served as a professor of political science in the Department of Social Sciences at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. A life member of the Military Officers Association of America, he currently works as an independent management consultant specializing in leadership and organizational evaluations and assessments for both corporations, public and nonprofit organizations.

Black is a Vietnam combat veteran and a distinguished military graduate of Howard University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and his commission as a second lieutenant of infantry in June 1968. He received his graduate training in political science and public policy and administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Black is an honor graduate of both the Army's Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., and the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He is also a graduate of the National War College in Washington, D.C., where he also served as a visiting professor of national security policy.

Black has served in a variety of infantry command and staff positions with airborne and light infantry units in the continental United States, Hawaii, the Republic of South Vietnam and the Republic of South Korea. He has earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, Senior Parachutist wings and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. His other military awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal with a 2nd oak leaf cluster, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal.

Monday, December 7, 2009


A new law went into effect on December 1st, a law that says what you will not do while driving. This law falls into the category of what my grandmother would categorize as proof that you must tell some people everything! Yes, we now have a law that says you will not read and send text messages and e-mails while you drive. Drivers in North Carolina can be fined $100 for using mobile phones to type or to read text messages or e-mail and since it's not called a traffic violation, do it won't affect driving privileges or insurance.

Apparently, some people just won’t use common sense unless a law forces them to. Surely, people who text or send emails while driving must know how dangerous it is. One study of truckers found that talking on a cell phone increases the risk of a crash fourfold, and texting multiplies that risk 23 times! Some of us might argue that as our roads continue to get busier the risk will only rise.

North Carolina already says you can’t watch TV or look at computers or DVD players while driving, but you and I both know it still happens. Let’s hope that those who do this will get the message and not put their lives and the lives of those in their vehicle and the other vehicles on the road at risk.

Driving these days is hard enough; let’s hope that drivers in North Carolina will not use their heads, hands, and eyes to do anything other than to drive as safely as possible.

Friday, November 13, 2009


How do we know when we as a nation or even as a smeall community have made progress, particularly on the social front? Some like to point to the election of Barack Obama as president as a sign that we are able to look at the "content of one's character" instead of the color of one's skin. But even though we know his election did not magically solve the issues of race in America, it did tell us what voters would elect an African American to our highest office - something that is surely character revealing.

Here in Chapel Hill we face a test of our character. Here's why: before the election a council member resigned, but after the date when his seat would have been on the November 3d ballot. Under our ordinance the Town Council gets to appoint the replacement who fill the remaining two years of the seat.

There was a great deal of community discussion on this, especially on the timing of the resignation's effective date, who knew what when, and whether or not the old council or new council should make the appointment. The Council has now decided that the new Council will make the appointment in December. There are 10 applicants, but none of the incumbents running for reelection applied.

OK, here is where it gets interesting. The member who is an African American who was appointed to fill the seat of an African American who died last year was not elected to a full term. Since he did not apply for the appointment, the only way to ensure that there is African American representation on the Council is to appoint one of the two African Americans who applied.

Another of the ten who applied for appointment finished fifth in the elect-four contest we just had, and was very close in total votes to the fourth place winner. This person is white. The local NAACP argues that for many historical reasons, the Council should appoint one of the two African Americans to the seat to ensure a voice from that community remains on the Council.

Simply put, I have a lot of problems with this approach. First, the author of the NAACP paper (the president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP) is wrong in calling this a case of “taxation without representation.” It's interesting to note that the voters who did not elect an African American to the Council elected two African Americans to the School Board, and they will join another African American who is already on the seven member Board.

There are many African Americans I know in Town who are offended by this "you must appoint an African American" approach. If there is no African American on the Council, it is best explained by the campaign the candidate ran, the terrible overall turnout of 16%, and drastically less turnout by African Americans. Clearly, the outcome is not about the unwillingness of the voters to vote for an African American.

The fifth-place finisher ran a campaign that garnered him a lot of votes. Running a campaign is good prep for serving in office; you have heard directly from many citizens and interacted with them in forum after forum. Given the timing of the appointment on the heels of an election, why didn't those seeking the appointment run for office?

Well, the decision will clearly have tremendous impact on our community, no matter which way it goes. Those of us who are African American and don't support the NAACP position have and will continue to be labeled, negatively by some but not by others. Those who are not African American and don't support the NAACP position are also subject to similar actions because of their position. Those who remain silent for whatever reasons pose an entirely different question. Clearly, to put your convictions out there is character revealing.


Friday, October 9, 2009


While in New York City a couple of weeks ago, it was clear that in the year since our last visit, change had come. You are struck with it as you start down Broadway. They have closed it as the sign indicates, created ped and bike lanes, and put out the table and chairs. Wow! And no, we saw nothing strange when we walked by the Late Show - the announcement had not been made yet.

Anytime you go to NYC, you have to be prepared for seeing what you don't usually see anywhere else. Broadway is like a magnet, it draws the unique and those who come out and take their pictures. Yes, I'm guilty too.
We saw a group of delightful clowns taking a break and enjoying their coffee on a wonderful fall afternoon.

Then there is the now-famous "Naked Cowboy." I don't get it, but you should have seen all of the young ladies hanging on to him while friends took their pictures.

The "silver" man was also out, demonstrating the fundamentals of American capitalism - put some money in his bucket and he moved. I think I also heard him humming "God Bless America!"

Also working the tourist were "Dora the Explorer" and "Mickey Mouse." They both had "tip" bags and waved to you when you put something in their bags. If you just took their pictures and provided no tip, you earned their ire.

But there is no substitute for what happens when night falls on Broadway - you see THE GREAT WHITE WAY in all of its splendor. You can't help but love THE BIG APPLE!

WCHL (A WCHL Commentary)

WCHL is my hometown radio station and I’m a big fan. I got hooked when we moved here in ’94, so count me among those who were upset when WCHL was sold to Curtis Media in 1995 and moved to Durham. Jim Heavner repurchased the station in 2002 and returned it to Chapel Hill with a commitment that WCHL would remain a local service to the community and would provide a daily news and programming service that is heavily local in character.

WCHL is our community voice and has demonstrated time and again its commitment to community. Therefore it really doesn’t matter to me a whole lot who owns the station; what matters is how it remains committed to being the voice of our community. I wish Barry Leffler well as he takes the helm as CEO and Managing Partner.

So please use all of your experience in broadcasting and be a leader who will creatively efficiently to take WCHL to the place where it represents, informs and supports our community better than any other medium. You also need to prepare folks when you decide to make changes and maybe even do some listener testing before implementation.

Again, good luck to you and to WCHL as we embark on a new chapter, and oh, we won’t hold it against you because your degree is from Miami. GO HEELS AND GO WCHL!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

LABELS (WCHL Commentary)

We are back in silly season, also known as campaign season. There is nothing wrong with you if you thought of this as a season without end, because it does seem that way. What you can depend on in silly season is the use of lots of labels to describe people or their positions. These descriptive terms or epithets are hurled for a purpose; as the hurler hopes that the label will resonate with those who read or hear it. They don’t have to be accurate or appropriate; the goal is to paint that picture with a short phrase or word that will stick.

But how are label hurlers sure that everyone will get the meanings that they intend? Just last week a local reporter labeled some candidates as “pro-business.” Wow! Is that a good thing or bad thing? Each of us decides, but do such labels really capture who candidates are? Do we call elected officials who disapprove a business project “anti-business?” Makes you wonder, doesn’t it.

Then we have an editor of a local paper who seems to love writing columns that seem designed to poke a finger in the eyes of many readers. He had another one of those interesting labels the other day: “Einsteins of liberal elitism.” Hey, it’s a free country so he’s as free to write as he wants, just as I am free to adopt a new label for myself: “former subscriber.”

And in case you might be so inclined, you can’t in this case come back with “YOU LIE!”

Monday, September 7, 2009


Fall is in the air this week and on Saturday, Kenan Stadium and the campus will be alive with the sights and sounds of football. But it doesn’t stop at the edges of the campus – the entire community is enlivened by home football. Saturday is the first of seven home games, including a first time Thursday night game on October 22d.

Each game is an opportunity to welcome thousands of visitors to our community and show them some Tar Heel hospitality. Last year, eight Chapel Hill area organizations united to produce the “Touch Downtown Chapel Hill” campaign with the shared goal of bolstering the community, hometown spirit and economic activity during football weekends and that effort continues this year. The economic impact of one football weekend in Chapel Hill is $6.7 million, according to a recent study.

It’s good and smart that both UNC and our local businesses are working hard to get the message out that we value and appreciate the business that both new and seasoned fans will do in our community when they come to a game. The “Touch Downtown” will strive to encourage football fans, both residents and visitors, to start early and stay late in the Chapel Hill area after the game ends and enjoy nearly 100 restaurants, 50 specialty stores and a mile of family cultural attractions.

I think we all understand that a rising tide lifts all boats, so we will all benefit from being a warm and welcoming community. Sure, there are inconveniences but let’s focus on the benefits to UNC and our entire community. GO HEELS!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


In late July, Town of Chapel Hill Councilman Bill Strom announced that he would not complete his third term and would resign effective August 1st. He resigned, he said, “to pursue other personal and professional opportunities outside the community.”

By resigning when he did, it was too late for his seat to be included in this year’s municipal races. The filing period for those races ended on July 17. According to Chapel Hill Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos, had Strom stepped down within three days of the end of the filing period his seat would have been included on the ballot and the town council would have been charged with filling his seat until the election.

Now, when the council reconvenes on Sept. 14, Mayor Foy will officially announce the vacancy. The council will then set a time period of not less than seven and not more than 30 days for applications for the seat. Council members will then review the applications and officially place names in nomination. After the nominations, the council must wait at least one week before making its decision. The council will consider the opening at each meeting but is not required to make a decision by any set date. The new council member will serve out Strom’s term, which ends in December 2011.

This decision by Strom brought the blogs to life, in what had been a pretty slow summer. Some questioned Strom's timing, especially since there had been rumors of his departure for some time. Some, including this writer, wondered why he wouldn't trust the same voters who elected him three times to fill his seat. Some called on the four incumbents on the ballot to support the 5th place finisher for the appointment. Some candidates on the ballot, including incumbents, declared that they would not seek an appointment. Nothing is certain at this point except that this resignation and process to fill the seat will be an election issue.

Meanwhile, over in Carrboro, they also have a resignation. On August 20th, Carrboro Alderman John Herrera, who had already said he would not seek re-election this fall, has resigned effective immediately, five months before the end of his term and has moved out of Carrboro.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen has not decided on a process yet, but many think that they will leave the seat empty since it will be filled by the election. The Strom seat has two years; should it be filled quickly, after the election so we know who came in fifth, or what?. The interesting thing to me is the Carrboro situation received no where near the reaction that the Chapel Hill situation did. What explains the "tales" in these two cities? Timing is everything!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

CAMPAIGN 2009 (WCHL Commentary)

We know who will be on our ballots in November. Congratulations to all of our citizens who have decided to run for office and try to serve our community in this very special way. One difference in the Chapel Hill elections is that we are engaged in a state experiment with voter owned elections whereby candidates receive tax dollars to finance most of their campaign costs. One argument for this plan is that removing the barrier of money, candidates who might not run for office would now do so.

We have one mayoral candidate of the four participating and one of the eight Council candidates participating. The mayoral candidate participating was a vigorous supported of the plan. One not participating is a Council member who was a vigorous opponent. Nothing surprising there. But on the Town Council ballot the only participant is a second time challenger who finished 6th in 2007. What is puzzling to some is that the three incumbents on the ballot who voted for taxpayer funded elections (let’s call it what it is!) are not participating. Why is that?

I still think we are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist. Money to win a seat is not the problem; time to serve is the challenge. There is no evidence that campaign spending is corrupting our elections. And I do favor publically funding those judicial elections; they give me a choice on giving my money or not. Choices matter and that’s what elections are and should beall about.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Last Monday the 13th of July, we started as we do each weekday - we got up and went for our walk. I don't remember anything different about that morning as we walked and talked about nothing in particular. About 20 minutes into our regular route, we were on a slight incline when the ball of my left foot rotated on a small rock, causing me to loose my balance and fall to my right.

What are you not supposed to do? Well, I did it. Instinctively, I put out my right arm to break my fall. As I rolled over I said to my wife that I think I broke it. She had no idea what I was talking about until she saw that my hand was dangling from my arm in a real funny position. She asked if it was painful and I told her that I could feel nothing. And I couldn't!

She helped me to struggle up and hold things as still as I could, we made it back to the house to get my wallet with my insurance cards (don't leave home without them!)and made it to the UNC Hospitals ER.

Since it was just after 7AM and the more "interesting" cases usually come in much later, we were greeted by a full staff looking to help someone. One staff member walked by the intake station and proclaimed, Somebody broke their wrist!" I then told my story for the first of several dozen times.

After processing in and answering the battery of questions, they took me back to begin treatment. They gave me an IV and some very welcomed pain meds that went to work quickly. I was taken for xrays and when I returned, the doc injected something into the wrist then tied up my thumb and finger with gauze and hung my arm from an I stand. He then tried to rotate the bones. The xray showed him that both were broken. He then put a temp. cast on to hold it where he wanted and they took me back for more xrays. They also took some of the elbow just to see if it was OK.

After consulting with the trauma orthopedic doc. The first question was when did I eart Last. About 9PM Sunday was the answer, and I kinda knew what was coming. I didn't know he was going to give me a choice: surgery now or a cast and surgery later. I'm a do-it-now guy so I told him, "let's do it!" Back to xray for a chest picture prior to surgery, then I "rested" in a small room in the ER. Note I have yet to be admitted.

They came after a while and took me to the OR where we did the explanations of what they were going to do and what I was agreeing to. When they put that stuff in my IV, I went out like a light and the next thing I remember was waking up with this erector set/tinker toy looking thing screwed into my hand and arm.

My doc explained that I didn't have a clean break - I had bone gravel - so they got some bone from the bone bank (who knew?)and ground some of it up and injected it into my arm. The pins are suppose to hold things tightly together for a few months so the bone can heal.

The doc had us come in the next day to his office so he could admire his work. He went into his tool box and came out with a socket wrench and a small crescent wrench and tightened me up. Wow!

I've learned that:

1. You take that pain med even if it makes you feel lousy, puts yo to sleep, and causes you to have no appetite (not that bad a thing);
2. Every night you search for a new comfort sleeping position since as the swelling goes down, you have to adjust;
3. I'll be glad to get off meds, get the use of my hand back, and be able to turn the pares of the paper while lying in bed;
4. It's great to live in a community that has such great medical care available and such a caring staff of professionals;
5. It's really great to have so many friends who are so willing to do what they can to help; and
6. It's the greatest to have wife who will lovingly nurse you back to health 24/7 and never complain about all the things the fall has changed. I can only wonder what those who have no one do when they need help!

The heck with Fridays the 13th - it's Monday the 13th that I'm going to worry about!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


In May 2008 I wrote the Town Council about my concerns about public financing. I was intrigued by the fundamental assumptions of the ordinance, so I asked the Town Attorney. What follows is the exchange with the Attorney and Councilman Strom that is now part of the public record. Note how my position got personalized in the 7th email, and my response to Mr. Strom in the 8th. Councilman Kleinschmidt concludes the exchange in the 9th email with a very "lawyerly" response.

I still believe that the Town Council would have been wise to allow two elections to come between their approval of the program and the execution for the first time. Doing that would have allowed people to consider any incumbent running for reelection who voted for or against it. Let the people speak and don't penalize them because of their legal contributions to political candidates!


From: Fred Black [mailto:]
Sent: Thursday, May 15, 2008 2:56 PM
To: Town Attorney
Subject: VOE Ordinance

I wasn't able to attend the hearing last night because of another commitment, but maybe you can help me with my question. I realize that the State Board of Elections required you to use the purpose language that you did, but it says in the proposed ordinance:
The Town Council of the Town of Chapel Hill finds that:
(a) There is a compelling need to address the detrimental effects of increasingly large amounts of money being raised and spent to influence the outcome of elections for Mayor and Town Council.
(b) These contributions and expenditures may cause corruption or the appearance of corruptions in the election process.
How was this "found?" Has there been any research on this?


From: Toni Pendergraph
Sent: Thursday, May 15, 2008 3:06 PM
To: Ralph Karpinos
Subject: FW: VOE Ordinance
RDK – we received this email from Mr. Black today at our website address.

From: Ralph Karpinos [mailto:]
Sent: Thursday, May 22, 2008 3:36 PM
Cc: Bill Strom; Sally Greene; Mark Kleinschmidt; Jim Ward
Subject: FW: VOE Ordinance


You may wish to make this inquiry directly to the Council or to the Committee of the Council that worked on this project.

From my perspective, having worked with the Committee and attended their meetings over the last several months, I believe that the ordinance that the Committee has proposed for the Council includes findings that are based on the collective and individual experiences of the committee members and, if enacted by the Council, would be based on the collective and individual experiences of the Council members who chose to vote for the program. This, I believe, would include the numerous campaigns each committee member has been involved with as a candidate, as well as other experiences they have had observing and working in local campaigns, perhaps on behalf of other candidates. In addition, some of the committee members have had conversations with other candidates for other local offices and have had conversations with persons associated with local election administration at the Orange County Board of Elections, as well as conversations with staff at the North Carolina Board of Elections.

Committee members are copied on this response to your inquiry and may wish to respond to you as well.


From: Fred Black
To: 'Ralph Karpinos'
Cc: 'Bill Strom' ; 'Sally Greene' ; 'Mark Kleinschmidt' ; 'Jim Ward'
Sent: Thursday, May 22, 2008 3:57 PM
Subject: RE: VOE Ordinance

Thanks Ralph. Maybe a committee member is able to share how this was "found" and any research that was done. I ask only because the SBOE and the ordinance direct the use of this language, but the statement indicates that the Town Council of the Town of Chapel Hill finds that the points are true. So, my question remains, how, other than anecdotally, was this discerned?


From: Bill Strom [mailto:]
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2008 10:54 AM
To: Fred Black
Cc: Mark Kleinschmidt; Ralph Karpinos; Sally Greene; Jim Ward
Subject: Re: VOE Ordinance

Thanks for your question Fred. Hope you are well, and we ought to grab a cup of coffee one of these days and catch up. I looked for you yesterday at The Chamber's reception but must have missed you....or you had better things to be doing :-)

Just to be clear about where you stand on this issue - even if the ordinance findings you are concerned about were eliminated you would still be standing in opposition to the V O E program for Chapel Hill - correct? My understanding has been that you simply don't believe this program hold benefits for the community of any sort. Please let me know if I'm misinformed.

My current thought (prior to hearing all the evidence which will be on the record prior to a vote) is that there has been reporting and editorials in the local papers over the years which support the two finding findings - and I will see that some of these articles are entered into the public record when the hearing continues on 6/9. I also believe Ralph's response to your inquiry was a reasonable representation of the feelings and beliefs of the committee members.

I sure hope you can appear at the hearing on 6/9 and make your concern known, or if you wish I will offer your emails for the public record. I expect they will be discussed by council at that time regardless since you clearly raise a good point (or two).



Chapel Hill News Editorial Sunday, February 16, 2003

Mayor's race shows need for reform

Chapel Hill has a campaign-spending law that's better than most.
The law limits contributions to $200 per individual in an election, and it requires disclosure of any donors who give more than $20. That's much more restrictive than state law, which "limits" contributions to $4,000 and has a $100 threshold for disclosing contributors' names.

But even with the tighter restrictions, spending in the last Chapel Hill mayor's race was double the amount from the previous mayoral race in 1999 and more than triple the amount spent in 1995. Democracy North Carolina, the Carrboro-based public interest group, released a report last week calling the trend "troubling" and urging public financing of campaigns in Chapel Hill.

In the 2001 mayoral election, Kevin Foy beat Lee Pavao, 57 percent to 39 percent. They each spent more than $25,000 on the election, for a total of $51,000, or $6 per vote.

The Democracy North Carolina study made several troubling findings about that election:
-- Most of the money - $43,100 - came from 247 people who gave $100 or more. Put another way, 84 percent of the spending came from less than one half of 1 percent of the population.
-- More than a third of Pave's major donations came from people connected to the development industry.
-- Foy did not disclose the occupations of most of his large donors. Pave did, although the descriptions often were vague.
-- Each candidate ended up digging into his own pocket to finance the campaign - Foy $9,800 and Pavao $4,354.

As Democracy North Carolina points out, those kinds of entry fees put the mayor's race out of the spending range of many ordinary citizens. They also subject candidates, when they are elected, to undue pressure from their contributors.
The report doesn't address a key question: Why have campaign costs escalated so much in recent years? Chapel Hill is not a television market, but the costs can be attributed to increasing sophistication of campaigns. Both candidates spent heavily on direct mail - which entails hefty printing and postal expenses - and Foy also employed a paid campaign consultant and polling in his campaign.

Unfortunately, the lesson from the election is that such expensive tactics work, and they thus will become the norm in future elections.

Unless, that is, the town does something to short-circuit the spending cycle. Democracy North Carolina offers a good alternative. The organization is proposing for Chapel Hill a "voter-owned elections" program that would give candidates public funding in exchange for accepting spending limits.

The proposed limits would be $10,000 for the mayor's race and $5,000 for a town council seat. To qualify, candidates would have to raise small donations of $5 to $10 from a minimum number of contributors - 200 for mayoral candidates, 100 for council.

The program would be voluntary, and non-participating candidates would be free to spend as much as they want, within the existing laws.

We think this model, in some form, is a good idea. It would instantly curtail campaign spending, level the playing field for all candidates, lower entry barriers for the non-wealthy and, most important, eliminate influence of special interest groups. There will be objections to the notion of using taxpayer money to fund campaigns - the 2001 election would have cost about $80,000, Democracy North Carolina figures - but that cost is more than offset by the benefits in terms of clean campaigns and better candidates.

Chapel Hill prides itself in being on the cutting edge of progressive government. There is no better place to start than with campaign finance reform.


From: Fred Black
To: 'Bill Strom'
Cc: 'Mark Kleinschmidt' ; 'Ralph Karpinos' ; 'Sally Greene' ; 'Jim Ward'
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2008 3:20 PM
Subject: RE: VOE Ordinance

I do not support this program and I was struck by the assertion in the purpose statement that seemed to be anecdotal at best. Are they really findings from some sort of rigorous examination of the issue? I think the Council can do better if serious about making the point. The Council seems to require a much higher standard from others who appear before them, but it doesn't seem to me that in this case the Council is holding itself to that same standard. If my perception is incorrect, remember, many perceptions are but they are still perceptions.

Your write, "My understanding has been that you simply don't believe this program hold benefits for the community of any sort. Please let me know if I'm misinformed." That is not my position. In the email that I sent to each member of the Council, I laid out my concerns about the assumptions that are built into the ordinance. I wrote Ralph about the language of the Ordnance purpose statement, and in particular, the "finding" language. This is not to say that it might not do something beneficial at some point, but in my opinion, it has problems and it just doesn't rank higher than many other important priorities in my mind. I would rather us our limited resources on things other than subsidizing campaigns.

I really think our leaders at all levels of government will be put to the budget test as the economic pressures increase and our available dollars are reduced. When I add potentially $60K for the art position and $50K for this program, I see $110K going to things that are not as high a priority in my mind and the minds of some other citizens. It's sad, but too many are unwilling to bother speaking out because they sense that the majority vote is already there, so why bother they ask.

I just think we can do better as stewards of our limited resources than spending this kind of money on a problem that has not been adequately described.


From: Bill Strom [mailto:]
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2008 5:11 PM
To: Fred Black
Cc: Sally Greene; Mark Kleinschmidt; Jim Ward; Ralph Karpinos
Subject: Re: VOE Ordinance

OK Fred - Thanks.

I respect your opinion and I take comfort knowing that you care enough to make your position known to me. You will recall that I was elected in 1999 - and at that time I made a significant issue out of public finance of campaigns in Chapel this has been a priority for me for a while which I have made clear to the community.
We have spoken about balance and trade-offs when serving on council in Chapel Hill as well as how important it is to respect diverse opinions in our community. I've heard from many who don't think the aquatic center is a good idea, others who don't like the new Economic Development position, and others who think we ought to stop the library expansion. It just seems that the council must balance interests and provide across the board for the community's very diverse priorities. So you can hack away at Public Art and Voter Owned Elections, but it seems very political and divisive to me given the broad perspectives as well as the scale of the budget in this community. These are things I know you understand.

Again - I hope you come to the public hearing and make your position known.
I will be happy to provide any comments you wish to submit for the public record should you not be able to participate.
Have a great weekend -



On Fri, May 23, 2008 at 9:17 PM, Fred Black wrote:

Thanks for your response. I see no reason to personalize this but I do see a need to compare apples to apples. Those of us who worked on the bonds spent a lot of time informing citizens about their purposes and their cost in future years if approved. As I remember, a very significant majority of the citizens who voted supported the bonds. I see a real difference between decisions made by voters on large capital expenditures that were seen as an investment in our future and decisions made by the Council. As I said before, just stating that there is a problem with money in our elections and that more people would be willing to run with VOEs and demonstrating that it's the case are two different things.

So yes, we elected you to make decisions that include having to balance demands and make trade-offs between competing interests, but please don't make equivalent what voters approved with what the Council itself must decide.


PS: I had an EmPOWERment Board meeting yesterday during the reception – still haven't figured out how to be in two places at once!

Mark Kleinschmidt
Chapel Hill Town Councilmember
on the web at:

Town Hall --
405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

From: Mark Kleinschmidt [mailto:]
Sent: Sunday, May 25, 2008 8:23 AM
To: Fred Black
Cc: Bill Strom; Sally Greene; Jim Ward; Ralph Karpinos
Subject: Re: VOE Ordinance

Hi all,


The ordinance and resolution as presented for public hearing articulate "proposed findings" that if voted on by a majority of council will then become the what the Council finds justifies adoption of the resolution. While you might disagree with the findings as proposed, they were generated by the Committee during the process leading up to the public hearing. The information was gathered from many sources including the originating petitioners, as well as research conducted by NC Voters for Clean Elections and Common Cause. Support was also gleaned from the successful experience the State Board of Elections has had administering the state-wide races for appellate judges. The information presented (both to the committee and through public hearing to date) has been strong evidence in support of approval for these proposed findings and is based on the experience of other jurisdicitions as well as anecdotal information. I believe the committee does not deem it necessary to wait for a time when actual corruption might occur -- which would seem to just invite community harm. And, while corruption is certainly something that we desire to avoid, it is not the only impetus for reform. The evidence does show greater citizen participation in the communities in which it has been enacted both in the numbers of candidates on a ballot as well as actual voter participation.

We are in public hearing on this issue. It is the time during which evidence in support and in opposition to proposed findings is presented. This is not unlike public hearings on other issues such as development projects where proposed "findings" are presented to the Council, and evidence is gathered (both anecdotal and otherwise) in support and in opposition prior to a Council vote. Rarely will all evidence presented be exclusively in support or in opposition

Also, it is the belief of no one that any single program can solve all the symptoms of a particular ill the community may be facing. Sure, some may be put off from running for Council solely because of the time commitments, perhaps they have deep pockets of their own and time is the only barrier. Council has been directing the staff, since the hiring of our new manager, to implement several reforms that we hope will impact the time commitment. For me, the most notable have been the changes in the budget process and agenda preparation. But as is the case with many, I'm sure, the newly found time scavenged from one aspect of the job is quickly put to work doing other things. For example, I've spent a great deal more time doing work on several Council committees and responding to constituent issues. But, admittedly, my experience is anecdotal, other Council members my feel differently.

These kinds of changes don't require ordinance changes and don't involve the kind of work the public usually sees, but just because some reforms aren't accompanied by public hearings and Council votes doesn't mean nothing is being done.

Thank you for the questions.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Soon those campaign signs will spring up all over town, but this year something will be different if you are a Chapel Hill taxpayer ― you will have paid for some of the signs, whether you wanted to or not! Under our publicly financed elections experiment, some candidates this year can ask for tax dollars once they qualify as a serious candidate.

One of the goals of the program is to broaden who participates. Another is to reduce the influence of “big money” in our campaigns. I’m not sure that $250 buys a lot of influence and even if special interests bundle contributions, aren’t candidates able to see it for what it is and reject the contribution? But most troubling is the provision that if a publicly financed candidate is outspent by one not participating, then the publicly financed candidate gets even more of our tax dollars in the form of "rescue funds."

This is troubling because to me because I see it as a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of political speech. Note that anyone can spend whatever he or she likes for or against a candidate as long as he or she is independent of the candidate. So what are we really restricting?

We shall see how the program gets evaluated after the election, but as you move around the community, remember that in these troubling economic times, your hard-earned money will finance candidates that you might not want to support and buy some of those signs. And yes, your political speech rights have been clearly diminished.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Sometimes, the best thing to do is to take some time away from the daily routine and hit the high seas! That's just what we did - we took a cruise to Bermuda, and it sure was a great decision.

We sailed from Norfolk, VA Saturday morning where they have done a great job of building a port facility that is truly competitive with others within easy driving range of Chapel Hill. Our ship was the Grandeur of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean vessel. Five nights was just long enough to get you spoiled with their exquisite service, fine dining, entertainment, opportunities for relaxing by the pools or on the decks, and all the other things we enjoyed. Sunday night's dinner was formal and included a "meet and greet" with the ship's captain.

We docked at King's Wharf in Bermuda early Monday morning and didn't sail until late Tuesday afternoon. It was our good fortune to have a tour guide for Monday who showed us the entire country and taught us a lot about Bermuda. Our Howard U. classmate, Dr. the Honorable Ewart F. Brown, J.P., M.P., just happens to be the Premier of Bermuda and the Minister of Tourism and Transport. Even though he was off island while we were there, he arranged for us to have an amazing tour guide who took great care of us -we wanted for nothing.

We saw a lot of interesting homes. Here is an example of one of the "little" homes that we decided might be suitable. The buildings are lovely pastels and the roofs are designed to draw the rainwater off and into storage tanks.

Here are some of the beautiful homes that we saw as we toured around the islands.

Cars are typically limited to one per home so you see a lot of scooters. With gas at $8 per gallon, that made sense to me!

But if you don't like scooters, there are other options.

In downtown Hamilton, the capitol, we liked the feel of the streets and the shopping area. Note the tourist crossing where it clearly says not to!

The trip back to Norfolk seemed to go too fast. There were lots of activities and of course, there was the ice carving demo on the pool deck. I didn't get a shot of the belly-flop contest, but trust me, it wasn't pretty! Many spent hours in the casino and I suspect the house continued its winning tradition. Bingo, the spa. workouts, running laps, towel folding class, rock wall climbing, card games, dancing, and best of all - food available whenever you wanted to eat - seemed to be the way people spent their time. Getting that one hour back on the return trip helped a lot!

There was lots to see and do and we only scratched the surface. We certainly will return to see more of this amazingly beautiful land and meet more of the friendly people of Bermuda. It is now on our list of places that we highly recommend!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


There’s an old saw that says that the devil is in the details. Most of us have had experiences that tend to prove that point, and I thought a lot about this in the last few days as I listened to the Chapel Hill Town Council and citizens on WCHL talk about whether or not we should build a branch library. On February 9th, the Council rejected suggestions to seek an alternative to the expansion to the current Chapel Hill Public Library and maybe consider going in the direction of a branch, maybe downtown.

Then, the other morning on the 'What You're Saying on the Street" segment on WCHL, I heard some citizens indicate that they thought having a branch might be a good idea. Well, the devil is in the details. We are fortunate that we have citizen volunteers who are willing to give their time and talents as members of the Library Board of Trustees. Over 10 years ago when I was one of the nine trustees, we examined this issue in depth as part of the process leading to the recommendation to expand the current facility.

We concluded, just as the current trustees have, that a branch was not cost effective for Chapel Hill and that we would be better served by having just one facility that was larger in space and had more staff. These tough economic times have meant a belt tightening and our library has had to cut its hours; others in our region have put their branches on the chopping block. We don’t need to follow that path, and when the bond market improves, I’m glad that Chapel Hill will proceed with the library expansion.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


January 20, 2009 is a date that will be remembered for a long, long time. Getting to the scene in this picture is a real story and part of the experience that made this day so special.

We learned on January 6th that we had tickets when Congressman David Price (NC-4) sent us an email:

"Thank you for contacting my office to request tickets to the Inaugural Swearing-In Ceremony for President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. I am pleased to offer you two (2) standing tickets to attend this historic event.

"The enthusiasm surrounding the election of Barack Obama to be our nation's forty-fourth president has been overwhelming. I received requests for over 25,000 tickets - but had only 198 tickets to distribute."

The plan was to go to his DC office and pick up the two tickets on Monday. We received a second message saying that Congressman Price wanted to make it simpler and we could pick up our tickets on Friday at his Chapel Hill Office. We were also asked which way we would be coming into DC on the 20th so that we would have tickets that would make traveling easier. We ended up with "Blue" standing area tickets since we were staying with friends in Maryland. We thank Congressman Price for his thoughtfulness. Many in the crowd told of the long wait at the various congressional offices, so we were happy we didn't have to do that.

We left Chapel Hill on Monday at 1 AM and drove to Maryland. Traffic started picking up around Stafford, VA, but it was nothing like what it became later in the day and on Tuesday. After resting a little bit, we decided to do a dry run. Our friends lived near the Largo Metro station. Since the Blue Line starts there, it was a prime place to be. People actually drove out to Largo to start there because the Metro people said trains would not stop at stations if there were more people waiting than there was space.

Our dry run took a while as the Metro set its all-time rider record on Monday. Of course they would break it on Tuesday! Moving around with the crowds was an experience, and it was clear that the energy that you felt was widely shared. Our plan for Tuesday was shaped by what we saw on the dry run and knowing the location of our ticket gate in relation to the Metro stop was useful information.

Our host and good friend took us to the Largo station a 6 AM Tuesday morning. Those trying to park were backed up on the roads but we had no problem getting dropped off at the "kiss-and-ride" lane. We moved with the crowd and used the fare cards that we bought on Monday and got right on a waiting and empty car. That was easy!

Unlike other prior Metro experiences, we had a trainman who could be understood and he provided useful information the entire trip. We came above ground at RFK Stadium and the entire grounds were covered with the amazing sight of more buses than we had ever seen. As we neared our stop, the announcement came that the Federal Center station closed because of the crowds and we had to get off at the Capitol South station. It seemed like thousands got off the train and joined thousands more in the station, all trying to get up the stairs. At the top, there were signs directing people where to go. That was useful to us as we just followed the "Blue" signs. It's now a little after 7 AM and the temperature was about 17 degrees. We walked the several blocks to find our "Blue" gate line and it really wasn't a bad walk. When we found the line it already had several offshoots and it appeared that the plan for an orderly wait was breaking down fast. In spite of the confusion, people were very accommodating and seemed to have the patience of Job.

Waiting for the gates to open was a key element of the "experience." The tickets said opening was at 9 AM but people said it had changed to 8 AM. The wait was made easier because people were in a celebratory mood. We sang patriotic songs, TV theme songs, Gospel, Pop and whatever someone started. People talked about their trip and why they were so happy to be eyewitnesses. Some tried to call friends and share the mood with them but the cell service was spotty because of the high demand. The question of the morning was, "Where are you from?" We met people from all over who came by plane, train, bus car,and foot. We met students who had walked from Georgetown as well as the editor of the University of Pittsburgh student paper. She was impressed that we lived in Chapel Hill because she said that The Daily Tar Heel sets the standard for student journalism. We also saw friends by happenstance and even a celebrity. Coach Dungy, formerly of the Colts, was really good about letting people take his picture.

A little before 10 AM we were almost at the Blue Gate. The sun was shining and the mood of the crowd was even more energized. People who had working cell phones were getting reports from friends who had gotten through security. The word was that the TSA, yes, the same friendly people from the airports, were doing the screens and they were moving people pretty quickly.

When we got closer it seemed like we were in line with new people because there was a lot of merging going on. In the small world category, a friend who is an Episcopal priest ended up behind us and we chatted some more of the time away. Finally we negotiated the maze to the security machines and walked quickly to an area where we thought we might be able to see the ceremony. Tree limbs blocked the jumbotrons but with my small portable TV (that will be useless next month because it isn't digital) I could see the ceremony pretty well. If you have good eyes, look to the left of the tree limbs and just above the presidential seal and you can see President Obama delivering his speech.

People paid attention and listened to the words being spoken. They sang the National Anthem with gusto. They cheered the introductions. The only downer to me was when they booed President Bush, something I thought was unnecessary. But other than that, the joy of the day seemed to guide everyone's spirit. There were people shedding tears, people with wide grins, and the feelings seemed to make most unaware of how cold it was. This was my fourth inaugural but so unlike the other three.

Why did so many come to DC to be eyewitnesses? Much has already been written trying to answer this question. Pride is often cited for the reason. I also think it was because people wanted to be a part of what they believed would be a new beginning for America and they wanted to celebrated the hope for change that President Obama represents. The millions who came and carved out time from their normal routine did so because they cared. The dream of Martin Luther King that was celebrated on Monday may not have been fully realized, but most probably would say it was closer than it has ever been. Being there was the exclamation point on the hopes and dreams of so many. That's why I'm smiling!

Saturday, January 3, 2009


1. Nothing goes back in the storage containers the same way they came out.

2. Each year the decorations take up at least one more container than they did the year before, even if you did not get any more decorations.

3. Nothing goes back in the storage area the same way it came out.

4. There is always one more ornament on the tree, no matter how many times you think you got them all.

5. The containers are heavier going downstairs then they were going up.

6. You will always find that one thing you were looking for when you put up the decorations but was nowhere to be found.

7. In spite of saying you are going to “weed out” some of the ornaments before packing things up, it just never happens.

8. Something will break no matter how careful you think you are being.

9. It’s a good idea to be wearing shoes, especially when you drop that heavy thing on your foot.

10. You’re just not as jolly taking things down as you remember you were putting them up.