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Chatham Needs a Plan B, Not Draft B

By Will Sexton
Posted Wednesday, January 14, 2004

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By now, many in Chatham have heard about "Draft B" of the county's proposed Compact Community Ordinance, written by County Attorney Bob Gunn and his law partner, Paul Messick. The version showed up on the county's web site during the holidays, unsolicited by any county body outside of the law offices of Gunn & Messick. Draft B, quite miraculously, strips the enforcement language out of the original, and removes, wholesale, major portions of the ordinance. It's as if a group of pro-development lawyers got together over a few egg nogs around Christmas to write out their Chatham County Santa List.

It's as if a group of pro-development lawyers got together over a few egg nogs around Christmas to write out their Chatham County Santa List.

The CCO, originally slated for public comment at the Board of Commissioners' Jan 20 meeting, now goes back to the Planning Board for discussion on Jan 27. But the citizens should demand something besides just another round-robin, and a misbegotten effort to treat the toothless Draft B as a real thing. To begin with, we should demand, under applicable public records law, access to any and all communications that Gunn & Messick might have had in drafting the surprise version of the CCO. Furthermore, we have every right to know in detail how Messick, even while serving as Pittsboro Town Attorney, became a consultant to the county. As well, Bob Gunn should be asked to recuse himself from all further deliberations having to do with the CCO, and outside legal counsel retained to consult with the county on the legality of the ordinance. Finally, the BOC should ask some serious questions about conflict of interest and Gunn's fitness to serve the public interest as County Attorney.

Gunn & Messick seem to be claiming that they wrote their version to protect the county from litigation. No real surprise there, seeing as Gunn isn't exactly known for the great effort he puts into advocating on behalf of citizens. If the county bodies must move forward with the charade that Draft B holds any legitimacy whatsoever, I hope they'll at least seek a second opinion, and not from Raleigh's Kilpatrick-Stockton, the pro-development law firm that somehow just keeps beating our County Attorney's office silly. But if nothing else, Draft B has already had the effect of getting the Planning Board and LUPIC's version away from public comment and back into further rounds of deliberation, during which the county's notoriously vicious and highly-financed developers' clique can keep on bashing and discrediting the year-and-a-half of difficult, meticulous work done by our own community leaders and homegrown experts.

While the particular problem posed by Gunn & Messick's efforts to hijack the public debate is dire, the issue runs a lot deeper than "CCO vs. Draft B". We can chew up time and resources arguing about individual proposals and singular items; but the real questions are much broader. There is much, much more to say about the corruption that has taken over our county government in the last year or so. There's an elephant in the room, and it's time the citizens of this county started calling attention to it.

It's going to take a lot of work to rescue our public interest from the back-room deceivers who are turning Chatham County's hearing process into a laughing stock.

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Chatham Needs a Plan B, Not Draft B

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