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!