Adam Searing’s comments at the December 7 Town Council meeting were troubling. Listen closely. Searing is not just saying ‘I disagree with this. I have different priorities.’ He’s saying ‘I disagree with this and you shouldn’t trust the eight other elected members of this body.’
The following clip is his comment on the American Legion vote (we’ve started it midway through to skip the parts where Searing talks about fishing and how Chapel Hill is a town and not a state park….)
That’s dangerous, because Searing is actively undermining public faith in local government. It’s also not an aberration — he often uses his newsletter and platforms to spread misinformation (for example, on housing and parks ) and paint himself as the only true defender of parks and green space among his council colleagues. Even worse, people have pointed out inaccuracies in his misinformation to no avail – to our knowledge he has not issued corrections, and each newsletter he releases includes fresh misinformation. Despite his “aw shucks” demeanor, it’s hard to not see this as intentional.
In an era of news deserts, it’s critical that our elected officials at least try to share accurate information with the public. It really shouldn’t be up to a ragtag group of bloggers, each of whom has a day job, to counter inaccuracies that we see flow from Adam to council’s inbox or to graffiti on the junior high bathroom stall that is NextDoor.
We’re happy to see that council is starting to push back.
In last night’s meeting, after Searing raised questions about much-needed missing middle housing, both Council Members Anderson and Miller-Foushee respond strongly about how single-family zoning has been used to exclude people in the past and how these proposals can benefit our communities.
Who does Adam Searing represent?
Adam joined the council last year, the lone CHALT PAC endorsee to get elected. Though every member of town council is elected to represent everyone in Chapel Hill, Adam has made it very clear that he seems to believe CHALT members — and not everyone who lives in Chapel Hill — are his constituents.
At the Town Council work session held on November 30, he said:
“I am representing people whose views are not heard often here at this council.”
This raised our eyebrows, mainly because CHALT members send dozens of emails to council members each month, regularly ask for and receive private meetings with council members, town staff, and the mayor, and have been an influential force in our area since the early 80s, when one of CHALT’s predecessors, The Alliance of Neighborhoods, was formed to oppose growth and denser housing needs in Chapel Hill. (The founder of CHALT was a charter member of the Alliance, and later endorsed by them for a successful Town Council run in the mid-1980s.)
Perhaps this nostalgia for an earlier time was why Searing spent part of the work session talking about why the council should look at meeting minutes from 1977 when discussing greenways 45 years later. Mayor Hemminger points out that funding is very different now than 45 years ago and Council Member Anderson brought up the way Adam’s newsletter often tries to turn people against council.
Adam’s newsletter is worth addressing
We’ll note, for the record, that the pictures of his dog are cute. But the rest of it – not so much.
In each issue, Adam warps facts and directs wild accusations toward other council members. Take the latest edition, released shortly after the work session. He incorrectly states that Chapel Hill residents pay the highest municipal taxes in the state – nope, they’re 12th – and repeats the false notion that the choice at the American Legion property was between a park and affordable housing, when it was between those who only wanted a park, and those who wanted a park and some affordable housing.
He also calls a public road a private road, describes Ephesus Park as smaller than it actually is (he says 10, it’s 12), describes a hypothetical new park that would combine the Legion property and Ephesus park as smaller than it would actually be (he says 43, it would be 48).
Perhaps grossest of all, Searing suggests that the taxpayers near Legion have “stepped up” and paid their taxes and thus “we need to listen to these same residents and taxpayers…” And he says we should “listen closely” to the ~1,000 petitioners opposed to housing on the Legion property while saying nothing about listening to the ~900 people in favor of housing on the property. We of course ALL pay taxes, and we will ALL pay for housing and a park on the Legion property.
He closes his email by suggesting that council doesn’t listen to its constituents. Can you imagine having to work with a guy like that? He’s turning legitimate policy differences worthy of an honest public debate into a team sport and using misinformation to pit residents against the council and against one another.
So what’s next?
Adam’s not new at his job anymore. He can’t claim ignorance. He’s been called out on his misinformation enough times that it should have been corrected by now.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, and we don’t expect it to change. Especially because his messaging and tactics seem straight out the CHALT playbook (you can totally imagine an email from CHALT to Adam: “be sure to bring up the greenway minutes from 1977 – that might stall things for a couple of weeks!”).
All we can do is keep an eye on things and correct his misinformation.
We at the Blog Blog have joked about starting a Searing truth tracker for months. More recently, the joke has gotten less funny.
We don’t have to agree with Adam, and don’t expect to much of the time (other than on issues like a splash pad or skate park). That’s fine. But we do expect him to be honest.
This piece was written by Stephen Whitlow, Melody Kramer, Martin Johnson, and Geoff Green.