An image of a cat reading a book.
A cat reading a book. Has he heard about the Internet?

We’re in the doldrums of summer, but there’s been a number of great pieces published over the past few weeks that deserve your time. 

  1. Why did Monique Felder resign as superintendent of Orange County Schools?

In Barry Yeoman’s outstanding, deeply reported piece for The Assembly, he documents how and why the Orange County Schools, the school district for everyone in Orange County who lives outside of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, effectively pushed out school superintendent Monique Felder, who announced her resignation from the position last week, on Aug. 2. 

While some readers might be familiar with the broad strokes of what’s happened in the school district over the past few years, with right-wing extremist groups (Proud Boys, Moms for Liberty) attacking the school system at every turn, Yeoman captures how these and other incidents affected school board members and staff. While progressive school board members, including chair Hillary MacKenzie pushed the district on issues such as racial equity and protections for LGBTQ+ students, moderate school board members, who occasionally allied with conservatives, pushed back, using a so-called “hands on” approach to confront Black leaders in the district. 

Despite leading the district during the pandemic, and presiding over a year in which the schools recorded the highest test score gains in the state, Felder was criticized for a minor budget shortfall, and resigned when it became clear that she no longer had the confidence of the board. (The short companion article, on the district’s chief equity office captures these dynamics at a smaller scale). 

  1. Why did Adam Searing misrepresent how many parks we have in Chapel Hill?

In a detailed post on her campaign site, Jess Anderson asks why Searing (who she refers to as “my opponent”) has been so willing to criticize Chapel Hill’s parks, even when it’s clear that the data he’s drawing from is incomplete at best.

As Anderson goes on to note, Searing voted against substantial new funding for parks when he cast the lone no vote against the town budget. He’s also been a vociferous critic of the town’s use of consultants which, Anderson has noted elsewhere, allows the town to pursue (and receive) grants to help pay for things like greenways and splash pads. (And, it should be noted, the consultants have paid for themselves many times over. Working with Jennifer Keesmaat was instrumental in enabling Chapel Hill to receive the $1 million RAISE grant for the greenways.)

While Anderson doesn’t directly address why Searing is so willing to criticize the town, even as he votes no on things he claims to support (finding one nitpicky reason or another), her post suggests that Adam’s voting record will be an issue in the campaign, and how he frequently misrepresents facts to the public.

  1.  What does Chapel Hill have to do with the future of North Carolina politics?

People who have been in North Carolina a long time tend to think about Chapel Hill as either the punchline of jokes (the former NC Senator Jesse Helms suggested putting a fence around the town and calling it a zoo) or an intellectual beacon for the state.

But, as this Politico piece from July reminds us, college towns are increasingly drivers of economic and population growth and, more importantly, critical to Democrats hoping to win moderate states. From Madison, Wisconsin to Missoula, Montana, college towns have become important players in state-level politics for two reasons. First, they are growing faster than the state as a whole, so, over time, they become an important constituency. And, second, they are moving left relative to the state. 

We even see this in Orange County, which supported Barack Obama by 33,540 votes in 2008 (72 to 27 percent) in 2008, but Joe Biden by 43,418 votes in 2020 (75 to 24 percent). Together, this means that the Democratic vote in Orange County grew by 30 percent between 2008 and 2020, while the state’s population grew by just 10 percent, with the county growing just slightly faster, at 12 percent. Even though Biden lost North Carolina in 2020, while Obama won the state in 2008, Biden was able to keep it close in large part because he outperformed Obama in places like Orange County. 

While the Politico article makes some questionable assumptions—calling Asheville a college town, for example—the general point holds. As college towns become more decisive in state and national elections, it becomes even more critical to adopt local policy measures that allow them to grow.

  1. What is going on in Durham politics?

Although Durham borders Chapel Hill, and thus shares many of the same challenges related to housing, transportation, and a host of other issues, political issues have played out very differently there than in neighboring towns. This week, Indy Week published the first in a series of articles on the state of Durham politics as we head into campaign season. Matt Hartman does a terrific job explaining the political dynamics at play in city council, providing essential context to recent controversies.

  1. What can oral histories tell us about segregation in  Chapel Hill?

On Monday night, the Chapel Hill Public Library hosted the James Cates Scholars, a “youth-led, elder-informed oral histories project dedicated to centering, exploring and sharing marginalized Black history in Chapel Hill.” Their projectwebsite features more than a dozen interviews with Black people who grew up in Chapel Hill and can attest to their experiences in town. As Chapel Hill continues to reconcile with its segregated past and present, it’s well worth taking the time to listen to these interviews.

Martin Johnson lives in Chapel Hill. He teaches film studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a member of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel...