Looking forward to live-blogging the Carrboro Town Council meeting tonight. (Full agenda packet here.) We’re getting our first look at the full proposed budget – which will go live on digital at midnight, like a Taylor Swift album – and an update from OWASA. (Full disclosure: I’m the vice chair of the OWASA board and will be presenting with my colleagues on this topic. Last year I was super nervous. This year, I feel more relaxed headed in.) 

Okay, let’s kick things off. We have a pretty full house. A nice poem from our poet laureate, and it’s proclamation time. 

🐝 It’s Pollinator Week and we’re a Bee City. Bzzzzz. There will be a pollinator movie screening and an activity at the farmer’s market. Here are some native plant recommendations from the New Hope Bird Alliance. 

Gun Violence Awareness Day will be June 7 at 12 noon, with a short program at Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill. Wear orange. Police Chief Chris Atack points out we’re six days from our last homicide in Carrboro. And that the police department is working with the Compass Center on a lethality assessment protocol, which you can read about in The Daily Tar Heel.

Public comment time. There are three.

  • Neelah Bapat is a young student and excellent public speaker who advocates changing the name of Carrboro to Peaceboro because the namesake of our town was really racist. Her parents and teacher are in the audience – receives lots of applause. Takes picture with council. Great job!
  • Issac Woolsey tells council he has high functioning autism and some other disabilities that prevent him from driving. He advocates for better transportation options near workplaces so disabled people can get to employment, and to encourage businesses to hire more disabled people.
  • Former Town Council candidate April Mills says that the council should not reappoint Melody Kramer to the OWASA board. This is a little awkward because that’s me, and I’m sitting here liveblogging this meeting. She doesn’t like a blog post that we published last year when she was a public candidate running for elected office. She says I am an “influencer” who can “control what is viewable on [Triangle Blog Blog].” She alleges that I have discriminated against her gender. 

That’s the end of public comment. We now move to the consent agenda. Nine items, one of which is to reappoint me to the OWASA board. In the past, everyone who has requested a reappointment has been granted that request – this is sort of a formality. 

Randee Haven O’Donnell, who supported Mills during last year’s campaign cycle, pulls the item to reappoint me to the OWASA board. 

I’ll pause here because it’s hard to liveblog and also be the subject of a liveblog. I’ll note that this has been an ongoing issue: for the past few months, anti-greenway supporters and supporters of April’s campaign have been coming to OWASA meetings to speak about me during public comment, and have submitted emails about me to the state, county, and my employer. 

I’m not sure if the strategy is to shake me up, or make others feel like I’m doing something improper – I’m not – but I want to surface that it’s happening. I serve on a board and have opinions, as does every board member, council member, and appointee in our community. And it comes on the heels of other tactics – like calling my employer, and publishing my address online. It is damaging to the public process and will only serve to intimidate other qualified candidates from serving on boards, which often already have difficulty filling seats with qualified candidates.

It’s worth noting that April also submitted a variant of last night’s spoken remarks to OWASA last October – while she was running for elected office – and both OWASA’s executive director and OWASA’s general counsel found no “allegation of discrimination against [April] with respect to an OWASA program or activity.” 

It’s not gender discrimination – which has an official legal definition! –  to point out that a council candidate running for public office voted for Libertarian candidates in previous election cycles, or has used certain rhetoric in their campaign material that many people in our community find off-putting. Our blog surfaces information – from public records, from publicly available material – that we think is relevant and useful to people in our community, and we will continue to do so. We have a very clear disclaimer that “views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of their employer or any organizational affiliations.”

Okay, back to the meeting. Haven O’Donnell wants to push the appointment to a future meeting. Council members don’t typically discuss items on the consent agenda, so my reappointment would move to a future meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Danny Nowell says he’s “pretty troubled by this” because Parliamentary procedure (the rules for how council meetings work) limits his ability to talk about it. He says that if Haven-O’Donnell wanted to pull the item, that it should have been done before the meeting took place – and not being able to discuss time-sensitive appointments is an abuse of the agenda. (We’re appointing leadership positions next week, and I’ve been nominated to be Chair. As Vice-Chair, I have routinely led meetings in the Chair’s absence, and I often ask a lot of questions about how and where and when OWASA plans to communicate initiatives – because that’s the skillset I bring to the board.) 

Haven-O’Donnell says she wants to discuss the issue further in the “interest of public trust” because of “community engagement on the question of reappointment.” (She seems to be, at times, reading from pre-written comments on a sheet of paper in front of her.) More discussion, and council passes my reappointment 5-1.

We move onto public hearings. There’s a proposed text amendment on road buffers, one on setback exceptions, and one on water quality buffers. All seem reasonable. Some of them are designed to clarify parts of the LUO with state obligations. The staff report is here, if you want more detail.

We then hear about the annual town survey! This is always a chance to see and hear what people in Carrboro think about Carrboro. Survey says: People like Carrboro. We rate higher than the U.S. average across all 33 areas surveyed. We are satisfied with things. We want to prioritize street maintenance and downtown Carrboro over maintenance of street signs. It can be hard for people here to start businesses. Here’s the full survey, and here are the answers to open-ended questions.

We get an update on the downtown area plan. The website will be located here and community input will be taken.

Okay, onto the OWASA report updates. This is something OWASA’s board and executive director do on an annual basis for each board and the county commissioners. Tonight we gave updates on:

Council members asked really good questions about ways in which OWASA communicates these plans, ways to share more information about PFAS, language access, and ways that OWASA is seeking additional alternative funding to mitigate our PFAS.

We then moved onto the first peek of the town budget, which you can view here or by clicking the photo of the cover. (Or pick up a paper copy at the fire station, town hall, or the cybrary.) It’s very long and I am still reading it but here are some highlights:

  • No rate increase
  • Public hearing on 6/18. Feedback will be collected up to and including that date through phone, email, text, web, and meetings with finance staff.
  • There’s an expected decrease in capital expenditures due to the completion of the 203 Project
  • The recommended total budget is $68.3 million.
  • They’re expecting moderate revenue growth and an increase in operating expenses, which is not just due to inflation. 

The meeting ended with council announcements. Mayor Pro Tem Danny Nowell recommended that everyone watch the most recent MPO meeting, which you can view here. Council member Posada is advocating for adding pronouns to each seat on the dais, which seems nice. I appreciated that each council member had rainbow flags and other Pride material in celebration of Pride. 

The meeting ended around 10:30 PM. The Zumba class in the Farmer’s Market – which provides a nice steady beat during council meetings – had long since ended. I drove home.

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Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....