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Current Chatham board is living up to its promise of open government

By Jeffrey Starkweather
Posted Thursday, June 7, 2007

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Pittsboro, NC - I am puzzled where Growth Matters get its information about Chatham County because it continues to publish incorrect and biased reports about government actions in our county.

The reason the hearing on the moratorium was continued to the next evening [May 22] was for the very reason that you claimed in a subsequent post that the moratorium was not needed. The county board’s meetings are still filled with public hearing and deliberations on residential development requests. Before even conducting a series of public hearings on developments requests that evening, the commissioners approved six preliminary or final plats totally 156 residential units. They also approved sketch design for development of 106 residential lots on 206 acres. Since January there have been new sketch design requests for nearly 700 additional residential units.

The specific problem the county board faced that night was that they had 72 individuals sign up to speak, including approximately 30 for the moratorium ordinance. Since some of the other development requests involved quasi-judicial hearings for a conditional use permit, the commissioners would not be able to limit the time people spoke as they would in zoning and the moratorium hearings. The previous board, supported by Growth Matters, limited the time each person could speak at a public hearing to three minutes. The current board realized that citizens needed time to present detailed factual information for and against the moratorium and to do that citizens needed up to five minutes each to speak.

Thus, it was clear at the start of the regular scheduled county board meeting [Monday, May 21] that they could not finish the public hearing that evening. Rather than have residents wait around until late in the evening to find out whether they could speak on the moratorium that evening, they announced the meeting would be continued until the following evening. They also said they would take written comments from anyone who could not attend the following evening. I call that be responsive to citizens.

Actually, only two people had signed up to speak against the moratorium. A rally announced by a local conservative, anti-tax group and local homebuilders scheduled to be held prior to the hearing outside the courthouse was cancelled, apparently for lack of support. Approximately 28 people signed up to speak in favor of the moratorium.

The following evening [Tuesday] 22 people spoke in favor of the moratorium and three spoke in opposition, including a local Homebuilders Association officer who does not live in Chatham County. Unlike previous pro-growth boards that continued public hearings to the following evening on several occasions for the same reason, this open government board allowed people who had not signed up to speak the previous evening to sign up and speak the evening. About ten of the speakers who signed up to support the referendum could not attend Tuesday’s continued public hearing. Both speakers signed up to oppose referendum showed up the following evening to speak. An additional opponent also was able to speak even though he had not signed up the previous evening. Additionally, unlike the previous board that would cut off speakers in mid-sentence when they reached their allotted speaking time, our new planned growth board allowed citizens a reasonable amount of additional time to finish their speeches.

In the interests of transparency, I chaired a smart growth and open government grass roots political action committee, the Chatham Coalition, which endorsed these board members because of their support of these issues. As an attorney and former newspaper editor and publisher, I can attest to the fact that the new board had done a 180 degree turnabout from the previous board in terms of open and transparent government and seeking citizen input. They have set up a number of additional citizens advisory groups to get greater input on critical planning issues, such as green building, environmental review, and highway corridor planning. Their newly open and transparent Economic Development Corporation is working closely with the UNC Center for Competitive Economies as part of a year-long effort to get citizen input across the county to develop the county’s first economic development plan. Recently nearly 75 people showed up at such a public input session in Siler City. One commissioner even appointed his Republican opponent in last year’s general election to the newly constituted Planning Board.

Proponents of unfettered and unplanned growth in Chatham, such as Growth Matters, will continue to look under every possible stone to find something to complain concerning our new smart growth county board’s efforts to have true citizen government. Like here, the true facts will demonstrate that the current board is living up to its promise of open government. The truth is that those wanting unfettered growth in Chatham and elsewhere in the Triangle will do anything they can to stop citizen controlled local government. If Growth Matters, as well as the state Homebuilders and Realtors Association, truly wanted open government where citizen can decide their growth “choices,” they would support Chatham’s efforts to obtain legislative authorization to give the county the authority to hold a “referendum” on a proposed real estate land transfer tax that would replace our current highly regressive residential development impact fees. Deciding local growth and tax issues through citizen-controlled democracy is what the Declaration of Independence was all about.

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Growth Matters: Weblog of the Triangle Communities Coalition Executive Director Chris Sinclair

Chatham’s Public Hearing Delay Raises Questions

May 22, 2007 at 8:01 am · Filed under Elected Leaders

Last night (Monday May 21, 2007) the Chatham County Board of Commissioners held their regularly scheduled meeting. On the agenda: a public hearing for a proposed development moratorium. The County followed all the proper requirements for notifying the public (two weeks legal notice in the paper, etc).

However, at the beginning the meeting, the commissioners announced the moratorium public hearing would be postponed until Tuesday, May 22. The county attorney quickly announced that the commissioners were “recessing” the public hearing (without actually hearing from the public) and would reconvene the meeting Tuesday at 6:30. That may meet the letter of the law. But it’s a really poor way to treat those who cleared their schedules, went to the meeting, and planned to speak either for or against the meeting.

GrowthMatters has a couple of questions for the commissioners:

1—What about all the folks who cannot attend the rescheduled meeting? Will they get a chance to speak about the issue?

2—What if the previous Chatham Board of Commissioners had pulled the same stunt? (Oh, we know, the Chatham Coalition would have been protesting in front of the court house, raising all kinds of conspiracy theories about underhanded, crooked politicians trying to quash free speech). Why are they not calling foul on the current board?

3—Is this the proper way to run a meeting? Is it fair to the citizens of Chatham?

There’s a little bit of irony in all of this. The current board of commissioners all ran on open, fair and accessible government. Their actions last night were, in our view, just the opposite.

Walk your talk, commissioners.

 
Related info:
Growth Matters
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Related info:
Growth Matters