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No real need for a Sustainable Communities director position in Chatham County

By Donna Kelly
Posted Monday, January 17, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - We keep hearing now that the Sustainable Communities director position was created to promote efficiencies and reduce redundancies in county government departments. How about we look at the minutes of some of the BOC meetings when the position was being created to see what the BOC was saying at the time?

6-2-08 Work Session

"Community Development Director:

The new Community Development Director would provide coordinated leadership for major County initiatives and related departmental functions. The new department would coordinate Planning, Central Permitting, Sedimentation and Erosion Control, and Environmental Resources, with a major goal of successful implementation of new policies and regulations (major corridors, environmental assessments, watershed buffers, affordable housing, green building, revised land use ordinances, joint land use plan with Cary, and environmental protection). "

This position was created to promote a particular political philosophy and they were very proud of that fact at the time.

- This is one of the earliest discussions and there's talk of coordination of existing functions as well as implementation of a lot of new policies and regulations. There is no discussion of streamlining, efficiency, or reducing redundancy. While those could be the result of better coordination they were not part of the discussion or reasoning for the position at the time.

12-15-08 Work Session


"Chairman Lucier stated they intended to move forward with that position. The County Manager stated that was correct. Chairman Lucier stated the position was important in terms of integrating existing activities and new activities that needed to get off the ground such as green building, transportation, and affordable housing. He stated the issue was having this Board involved in some way in that search, and also with the preparation of the job description for that position since it was a restructuring of current operations. Chairman Lucier stated he believed the Board agreed that the position was justified.

Commissioner Vanderbeck agreed, stating they did need to be a part of it but believed a selection committee with Commissioner representation would serve them well, as well as representatives of specific groups that they were trying to involve with this new department. He stated that the job description would need to be specific because the title Community Development Director would generate HUD-related interest so they would need to draw the correct audience.

Chairman Lucier stated Commissioner Vanderbeck had previously suggested Sustainable Development Director, which might be more appropriate.

Commissioner Vanderbeck agreed, and also suggested the job title of Sustainable Communities Director. He stated they were attempting to attract cutting-edge candidates who thought outside the box and to deal with issues and how they related to communities, and they wanted the County to be known for its sustainable policies so they would invite that branding.

Commissioner Vanderbeck stated the title as it stood know may not attract the right type of applicants.

Commissioner Thompson asked was there a position already in existence somewhere that they could use as a model. The County Manager stated they had not located one as yet.

Chairman Lucier stated once again Chatham County was breaking new ground.

Commissioner Kost stated she knew of a county in the Pacific Northwest that had a similar position, and she would try to locate that information and provide it to the Board."

- Six months after the earlier discussion they're still trying to describe what this position should be, but no one is talking about efficiency, they're all focused on being cutting edge and creating something brand new. Staff still hasn't found a model position they could use nor have the commissioners provided one. There is still no detailed plan of just what this position would do.

- This shows the board’s desire to micromanage county activities and interfere with the normal functions of county staff.

- It’s also clear the goal is not just to add one position to help streamline existing departments but to expand this new department to encompass a variety of new programs.

01-05-09 Work session

"Chairman Lucier stated this was a new position, so they did not have the luxury or problems associated with looking at past performances or how the job might have evolved over time; that this new position really reflected the will of the citizens of the County; that the Commissioners sitting today were elected based on platforms that contained a key component of integrating a number of activities within County government; that they were a growing County and with growth came the need from time to time to change the structure of County government; that it was important that in advertisements and the search for candidates and the subsequent review and interview of candidates that that be reflected; that what they were seeking was someone who was expert in some but not all varieties of tasks that were listed; and, that most of all it required someone who was capable of demonstrating very good managerial skills and who had demonstrated the ability to integrate diverse activities such as Green building, planning, transportation, affordable housing, permitting, environmental resources, and other important issues. Chairman Lucier stated a number of ordinances had recently been adopted that would guide the County into the future with more amendments to come to bring them more into the 21st century, so this was an extraordinarily important position to the County that would expand the role of government. He started for that reason the Commissioners were more actively involved in the recruitment for this position than they had for any others with the exception of the County Manager."

- This discussion centered around the hiring of a contractor to conduct the search to fill this position, moving outside the normal county hiring process.

- Here's a claim that they're governing based on their platforms but neglects to point out that two of the commissioners ran unopposed and a third ran against a candidate who didn't run a campaign. That was a very different situation than this past year when the campaigns focused on the incumbents record and opposition to it. But now we’re told that any discussion of issues during the campaign doesn’t count as public input.

- Here is also George Lucier's statement that this position would expand the role of government.

At a time when our economy was collapsing, creating a new department to expand regulations regarding development had to be one of the worst possible economic development decisions. All county departments should be reporting to the county manager's office so there's a clear organizational structure. Adding an alternative coordinating office just confuses staff and the public. There are ways to enable the affected departments to coordinate their efforts without adding a new layer of bureaucracy.

People can claim now that this position was about introducing efficiency and eliminating redundancies all they want but the official record of the BOC minutes clearly tells a very different story. This position was created to promote a particular political philosophy and they were very proud of that fact at the time. It's too late to change history to match the current political climate.

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No real need for a Sustainable Communities director position in Chatham County
George Lucier believed that the Sustainable Communities director position would expand the role of government in Chatham County, NC.