It’s not often that you can actually hear people rolling their eyes. So I guess we’re lucky to have a council member like Adam Searing.

As we have noted elsewhere, Searing has a certain gift for, shall we say, exaggeration. We’ve documented this several times over his tenure on the council, fact-checking his remarks on parks, municipal taxes, and housing.

Which brings us to the Chapel Hill Town Council work session on January 18, which included an update from Jennifer Keesmaat. Keesmaat is the consultant the town has hired to help the town improve how it plans for future growth. Keesmaat’s presentation focused on addressing several questions:

  • How can we reduce the time it takes to approve new developments?
  • How can we deliver better outcomes?
  • How can we ensure Boards and Commissions are appropriately used?
  • How should Council best participate in the review process?
  • What Planning Systems will best deliver a complete community?

Who among us doesn’t read those questions and wonder how closely an improved planning process in Chapel Hill would resemble central planning in communist China?

Oh, that didn’t come to mind for you? Because it did for Searing.

In one of the strangest and least necessary soliloquies in U.S. political history, Searing opined that decision making that happens on earth falls along a spectrum, with New Hampshire on one end representing too much local citizen control and China on the other end representing no citizen control. According to Searing, Keesmaat’s proposal to reduce inefficiencies in our planning process is inching us closer and closer to how China operates.

Seriously, you need to watch the clip below three times: first, to hear what Searing has to say, second, to watch Jess Anderson react to what Searing has to say, and third to again watch Jess Anderson react to what Searing has to say.

Later, Camille Berry forcefully responded to Searing, emphasizing that all members of the Council, Searing included, represent all of Chapel Hill.

It’s a stark contrast in political philosophies.

To be fair to Searing, there is a not insignificant population in Chapel Hill that believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they’ve gotten a raw deal. To these people, traffic jams and new apartment buildings are evidence of a world gone mad, and lead to conspiratorial thinking. NextDoor and, to a lesser extent, the Council email inbox are filled with accusations that developers are lining the pockets of Council members and that thousands of apartments (in one of the most in demand places to live in America) sit vacant.

Searing, like CHALT, taps into these residents’ mistrust of local government and fuels their belief that if Council makes a decision they disagree with, it must mean Council was ignoring them. When it probably simply means that Council heard their argument, considered it, and decided to take a different action. Remember, Town Council represents the whole town, not a single individual or even a neighborhood.

Our bet, at this point, is that Searing doesn’t have plans to remain on Council — we think he is going to run for mayor. He’s starting to frame this out in his newsletters, in which he takes credit for ideas that surfaced long before his arrival, and pits himself against the rest of the “untrustworthy” Council time and again.

It won’t be the first time that a CHALT-endorsed Council member runs for Mayor after finding themselves unable to convince their colleagues of the rightness of their position. But we think working with others is a strength, not a weakness. If Searing runs for Mayor, he’ll get to see just how many people support his approach to local governance.

And if he wins, we’ll be sure to send Searing the long list of Blog Blog email subscribers. We wouldn’t want him to waste too much time figuring out who among us are not his constituents.

(P.S., you can sign up for our newsletter here – don’t let Searing scare you off!)

This post was authored by Stephen Whitlow, Melody Kramer, Martin Johnson, and John Rees.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.