Jason Merrill is running for Town Council in Carrboro.
Merrill, who spent spent six years on the Chapel Hill Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board (two of them as chair), has a long and eclectic history with Carrboro. He’s the founder and former owner of Back Alley Bikes, which he sold in 2022 after 15 years, and has spent time as a crew leader for Habitat, volunteering at the Internationalist, cooking meals for Food Not Bombs, and playing guitar in a punk band.
Merrill’s vision for Carrboro is “a town that is equitable, sustainable, and affordable, and that’s exactly what the people of Carrboro asked for in the comprehensive plan, Carrboro Connects.”
We interviewed Merrill about his platform and his run for Town Council.
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What are your focus areas for the council race?
I care deeply about racial and economic equity, environmental and cultural sustainability, and making life in Carrboro more affordable by increasing wages and reducing living costs. All of these issues will require work in partnership with organizations and neighbors outside of the political structure, but these values are the lens through which I view all of our policies.
Practically speaking, I think this means that we need to balance adding housing density with improving our stormwater and transit practices, improve the management of our downtown parking inventory to support local businesses, and improve the infrastructure that will broaden our range of transportation choices.
What are three things that you believe the town could be doing better?
I believe that we can do a better job of holding the door open for folks that want to be here.
Affordability will continue to be a major challenge, so we need to make decisions that will both reduce the cost of living and increase the earning potential of all workers. Greater support for our local businesses will enrich our quality of life and ensure that Carrboro continues to be a desirable place to live. And, we need to build more resilience into our infrastructure in order to better adapt to the effects of the ongoing climate crisis.
I chose to live in Carrboro because it is an affordable town with a rich cultural fabric, great access to abundant green spaces, and terrific schools, and I want to make sure that we continue to welcome in future generations.
What are the things you think the town currently is doing right?
Right now, I love that the Town Council is thinking big and planning ahead. I think it’s great that Council is modeling compromise to move forward on large systemic change rather than getting bogged down in swapping personal pet projects. The comprehensive plan, Carrboro Connects, is the single most important piece of policy that the Town Council has adopted in a generation because we now have a much clearer vision of the course we’d like to chart and it includes a practical guide of how to get there!
How has your experience serving on the Transportation Connectivity Advisory Board informed your decision to run for council?
From the outside, it’s easy to imagine simple solutions to complicated problems, and that is exactly how I would characterize my perspective when I started my first term on the Chapel Hill Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board. I quickly learned that there is an art to producing public policy that balances the needs of the whole community, not just pacifies the loudest participants, and that there is a mountain of information that needs to be absorbed and synthesized in order to make the best decisions. Now that I’ve sold my business and have freedom from the day-to-day grind of running my own shop, I am available to devote my time to doing the work required to uphold and enact the highest values of our community.
We know that feedback the Council receives does not reflect Carrboro’s population. How will you ensure your decision making process takes into account the perspectives of people who may not have the time or resources to attend council meetings?
The perspectives of working class citizens, renters, and people of color are grossly underrepresented in public comment and the Town needs to proactively seek out additional comments in order to rebalance the scales. We employed novel ways of engaging the larger community during the comprehensive planning process and we need to broaden that approach for a wider variety of decisions going forward.
We’re curious how you plan to engage with constituents. We know some people use social media or office hours or newsletters – what’s your plan to let people know what’s up?
Effective communication with constituents involves both broadcasting important information, which I will do through email and social media, as well as receiving feedback. I greatly admire Mayor Seils’ open hours approach to hearing from folks in laid back settings and I fully intend to rip that off wholesale.
Small cities like Asheville and Evanston IL have implemented reparations program to help address past discriminatory government actions that contributed to racial homeownership and wealth gaps. Should Chapel Hill/Carrboro implement a reparations program? Why or why not?
Racial justice requires that we make special effort to address the systemic disadvantages that black and brown neighbors have faced, and continue to face. Successful reparations projects require a specific remedy for specifically identified past harms, and Carrboro needs to continue using a racial equity lens to identify those opportunities in every decision and department. One clear example is to spend public money in ways that make it easier for more folks to own homes as this is one of the most effective and enduring paths to closing the racial wealth gap, and the disadvantages that marginalized communities have faced when trying to buy homes are well documented. I absolutely believe that a reparative mindset is essential to just government, and I’ll look for every opportunity to back that perspective up with tangible resources.