Looking at the advisory board experience of candidates for Town Council in Carrboro and Chapel Hill

One of the great things about living here is how easy it is to get involved in local governance as a volunteer member of an advisory board. 

When we consider candidates running for office, we often ask them “Why do you want to serve?” An equally important question to ask of some candidates in this years election should be “Why did you elect not to serve on an advisory board in the past?” 

Carrboro currently has 20 advisory boards, as does Chapel Hill, so there are plenty of opportunities for people to dive in and work on issues that matter to them.

Advisory boards, as the name implies, advise Town Council on matters that come before the boards. We have boards that focus on planning, transportation, stormwater, parks, and housing, among other areas.

Getting on an advisory board is pretty simple

Typically, being appointed to serve involves filling out an application, being interviewed by the board you are interested in and, if they recommend you for approval, having the Council vote on your appointment.  

Serving is often a precursor to running for local elective office

And for good reason. Advisory boards are a great way to gain the types of experience, knowledge, and skills that are essential to effective governance:  

  1. Advisory boards are a great way to learn about how our local governments work. While board members do not have the ultimate say on decisions the Council makes, they are often reviewing the same information Council members review to make their decisions and weighing the same tradeoffs and resource constraints Council considers.
  2. They introduce you to the many, many ways local governments in North Carolina are hamstrung by state law. As blue towns in a gerrymandered red state, there are many progressive local policies – especially as relates to housing and building safe, walkable neighborhoods – that we cannot legally pursue. That is obviously critical knowledge for Council members to have before they start crafting policy.
  3. Advisory boards don’t just review policy or projects, they sometimes contribute to them. Serving means you may work closely with town staff on tasks like developing a greenway plan or modifying our land use regulations to better promote transit usage. That’s great experience for Council members. 
  4. Serving on an advisory board is not exactly sexy but it shows a real commitment to the drudgery that is running a local government. Meetings can be tedious and run late into the evening, just like Council meetings. You hear from the public and work with colleagues, even those you disagree with, just like the Council does. It is a real sacrifice – the work is unpaid, often thankless, and there is no guarantee that Council will agree with your recommendations.  

With this in mind, we reviewed the advisory board experience of the candidates for Town Council in Carrboro and Chapel Hill (including Eliazar Posada in Carrboro and Amy Ryan in Chapel Hill, both of whom are currently serving as Council Members). Our findings are based on a review of the candidates’ websites, town websites, and our knowledge of the towns’ advisory boards (several TBB authors currently or recently served on boards).

Carrboro candidates for Town Council

Carrboro has five candidates running the three available seats. Fray, Merrill, and Posada are running as one slate. Mills and Wade are running as the other slate. 

CandidateAdvisory board experienceSlate?
Catherine FrayTown of Carrboro Planning Board (including as chair)Fray/Merrill/Posada
Jason MerrillTown of Chapel Hill Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board (including as chair)Fray/Merrill/Posada
Eliazar PosadaTown of Carrboro Planning BoardFray/Merrill/Posada
April MillsNoneMills/Wade
Stephanie WadeNoneMills/Wade

Chapel Hill candidates for Town Council

Chapel Hill has ten candidates for four open seats. Four candidates – David Adams, Breckany Eckhardt, Elizabeth Sharp, and Renuka Soll – are supported by CHALT and running as a slate with Adam Searing, who is running for mayor. The other six candidates are not running as a slate.

CandidateAdvisory board experienceSlate?
David AdamsNoneCHALT/Searing
Breckany EckhardtNoneCHALT/Searing
Elizabeth SharpNoneCHALT/Searing
Renuka SollTown of Chapel Hill Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission (current chair)CHALT/Searing
Jeffrey HoaglandNoneIndependent
Melissa McCulloughTown of Chapel Hill Planning CommissionIndependent
Jon MitchellTown of Chapel Hill Planning Commission (including as chair)Independent
Theodore NollertTown of Chapel Hill Planning CommissionIndependent
Amy RyanTown of Chapel Hill Planning Commission (including as chair), Community Design CommissionIndependent
Erik ValeraTown of Chapel Hill Planning CommissionIndependent

If you are interested in joining an advisory board, you can read our guide about our towns’ advisory boards, what they do, and how to join.

Stephen Whitlow lives in Chapel Hill. Trained as an urban planner at DCRP, he works for a research, evaluation, and technical assistance firm and focuses on the areas of housing affordability, fair housing,...