I’m In!

Good morning! I’m happy to announce that I will file next week as a candidate for re-election to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

Damon Seils

Update: Listen here to my afternoon interview with WCHL/Chapelboro’s Aaron Keck.

Two years ago, after several years of involvement in town and county government, I came into office ready to bring my experience and energy to the Board of Aldermen. Today, my enthusiasm for representing and advocating for Carrboro residents has only grown stronger.

My work has stressed responsiveness to and collaboration with neighbors and community organizations on a wide variety of issues, from improved bus service and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to civil liberties and social justice.

Among my first accomplishments was to revive the board’s effort to bring the town’s lowest-paid employees up to a new living wage. I also led a response to legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly that threatened local environmental rules, resulting in new protections for Carrboro’s stream buffers and tree canopy. I am especially proud of my advocacy for expanded nighttime and weekend bus service as a member of the Chapel Hill Transit Partners Committee.

Renewed nationwide focus on policing, civil liberties, and racial equity has presented us with an imperative to engage with our neighbors in understanding and improving local law enforcement. I have partnered with town staff, residents, and advocacy groups to organize community forums on policing and to craft policies that serve everyone equitably.

We have more to do. In all of my work, colleagues and community members know me to take a fair, thoughtful approach to both policy and process. My priorities for the next four years remain:

  • land use and transportation planning that promotes a healthy and affordable community, furthers our leadership in alternative transportation, thoughtfully integrates new development with existing neighborhoods, and responds to the challenges of global climate change;
  • economic development that helps locally owned businesses thrive, expands and diversifies our tax base, and meets people’s everyday needs close to home;
  • policy making that encourages broad participation, fosters partnerships with and among community groups, and builds on Carrboro’s reputation as a progressive community that values diversity and social justice.

I look forward to continuing to build relationships with my neighbors, to deepen my understanding of our community’s needs and challenges, and to promote solutions that reflect our values.

Keep up with my campaign and local happenings by following me on Twitter and liking my Facebook page.

 

Summer Streets, Part One

This weekend, the return of hot weather marked the return of office hours. My special guest was Mayor Lydia Lavelle. We took advantage of the town’s first try at Summer Streets, during which Public Works closed East Weaver Street to traffic for much of the day. As I said on Twitter, there was something downright civilized about closing the street (if just for a little while) and reclaiming the space for people.

Office Hours and Summer Streets With Guest Lydia Lavelle (Photo: Alicia Stemper)

Office hours during Summer Streets 1 with special guest Lydia Lavelle (Photo: Alicia Stemper)

With this temporary pedestrian plaza in place, Lydia and I found a shady, breezy spot in the middle of Weaver Street, and one of us (possibly me) ate blueberry pancakes. Our visitors came to share their thoughts about the impact of new development on Carrboro’s character, questions about policing, and ideas about repairs and upgrades to town facilities.

Mark your calendar for the town’s two remaining Summer Streets events: July 19 and August 23. We would love to receive your feedback. And I might just use those opportunities for more office hours.

Tour of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Corridor

Today I took a tour of the Durham-Orange light rail transit (LRT) corridor, courtesy of Triangle Transit staff. We started at Triangle Transit headquarters in RTP, picked up a helpful if bulky set of maps and other materials, and made our way to the proposed western terminus of the LRT project in Chapel Hill. I used the event as an opportunity to live-tweet the tour for local politics blog OrangePolitics (where this entry is cross-posted).

Below is an archive of my tweets from today’s tour.

Do you have questions about the Durham-Orange LRT project? The next couple of public meetings will take place on June 4 (4:00-7:00 pm, Durham Station) and June 6 (2:00-5:00 pm, John Avery Boys & Girls Club). Attend a forum and/or find more information at ourtransitfuture.org.

2015 Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon

Photo: Lydia Lavelle

Photo: Lydia Lavelle

Today I participated in a panel discussion at the NCCU School of Law, “Women’s Health Policy in North Carolina and National Trends.” I shared information about the Carolina Abortion Fund‘s work and discussed barriers that North Carolina women face in accessing abortion services.

This is a good opportunity to hit you up for money. I’ve recruited a crack team of Orange County elected officials and one political spouse—The Wrecking Electeds—to participate in the Fourth Annual Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon. Please help me, Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell, Orange County commissioner Mia Day Burroughs, Carrboro alderwoman Bethany Chaney, Hillsborough commissioner Jennifer Weaver, and superstar Jason James to reach our modest fundraising goal. Just a few dollars will go a long way for this group of first-time bowlers.

Thank you for your support!

Latest Notes on Carrboro Policing

In a previous post, I discussed the important policy and training work that the Carrboro Police Department has done over the past year. Some of this work—such as developing a policy for the use of police cameras—predates the latest national wave of attention on law enforcement issues. Other work by the department is underway in response to questions and concerns that community members shared during the town’s October community forum on policing.

(I neglected to mention in my last post that the department also spent the past year training officers in the use of naloxone kits to reverse effects of heroin and other opiate overdoses. This initiative has already saved a life in Carrboro, the first such incident in North Carolina. It’s a good example of the department’s human services model of policing and another demonstration of Carrboro leading the way.)

Today I’m writing to provide an update on early progress on items in my previous summary and to share some notes from three meetings I attended recently.

First, a Few Updates

  • In early December, Police Chief Walter Horton and both police captains attended an Organizing Against Racism racial equity workshop. The department is exploring opportunities for future training opportunities for administrative staff.
  • The department is partnering with other law enforcement agencies in Orange and Durham Counties to enroll officers in the Fair and Impartial Policing “train the trainer” program, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2015.
  • The department is working with Orange County public defender James Williams and civil rights attorney Ian Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to develop reports for tracking data in the department’s record-keeping system. Also, at James Williams’s suggestion, the department has been in contact with the UCLA Center for Policing Equity to make arrangements for review of the department’s data.
  • The department is planning another community forum on policing for June 2015.
  • The department is in contact with the Durham Police Department to obtain information about its recently adopted policy to require written consent for searches.
  • Finally, I expect that the Board of Aldermen will consider including body-worn police cameras in the town’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Forum

I was pleased to be able to attend a forum on January 3 at the Rogers Road Community Center hosted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Branch of the North Carolina NAACP. The forum, moderated by Carrboro activist Diane Robertson, featured a question-and-answer session with Chief Horton, Chief Chris Blue of Chapel Hill, and Sheriff Charles Blackwood.

A good summary of the event is available on OrangePolitics. A complete audio recording is available at Chapelboro.com.

The forum reaffirmed for me the central importance of acknowledging, understanding, and addressing racial disparities in law enforcement. Attendees of the forum also expressed interest in greater transparency related to law enforcement agency policies (for example, policies on the use of force) and procedures for filing and resolving complaints.

Meeting With Residents

Also on January 3, Alderwoman Michelle Johnson and I had the opportunity to meet with two Carrboro residents, Geoff Gilson and Amanda Ashley, who have been paying close attention to policing issues and advocating for changes in policing policies and methods.

As in the NAACP forum, an important feature of our conversation was transparency. We talked about the possibility of making existing policies more readily available. Questions related to whether policies could be published on the town website; rules of engagement and policies on the use of force; and the process for investigating uses of force (specifically, deadly force).

We also discussed bringing greater structure to ongoing efforts to engage the community in shaping law enforcement policy, and being clearer about next steps so that community members know about opportunities for participation. For example, we talked about formalizing the structure of upcoming community forums, particularly in relation to making the forums goal-oriented and requiring a follow-up report to the Board of Aldermen after each forum.

Shortly after the October community forum, the police chief raised the idea of focusing each subsequent forum on a particular policing topic. I like the idea of devoting forums to particular topics, identifying important questions and concerns on the basis of community participation in those forums, setting clear goals, and measuring and reporting outcomes. Stay tuned for the next forum, tentatively planned for June 2015.

UNC Law School Conference

Finally, on January 23, I was able to attend most of a daylong program on policing at the UNC School of Law. The conference, “Police Violence in the Wake of Ferguson and Staten Island,” was sponsored by the UNC Law Clinical Programs and the UNC Center for Civil Rights. (For a collection of tweets from the conference, including my own, check out the #UNC2Ferguson hashtag on Twitter.)

Speaker after remarkable speaker at the conference—scholars, lawyers, civil rights activists, and community organizers—offered insights into the racialized history of law enforcement in the United States, troubling overviews of traffic stop data in North Carolina municipalities (including dramatic numbers from Carrboro), and strategies for reducing racial disparities in policing.

A few links:

I was glad to hear speakers talk not only about history and context, but also about solutions. Sherillyn Ifill offered three thoughts:

  • Implicit bias training for law enforcement officers and other people in positions of public trust. This training should be seen as a part of the professionalism of policing.
  • Body-worn cameras.
  • Don’t simply stop implementing bad policies and making bad investments. Undertake policy changes and make investments that reverse the negative effects of previous and existing policies and investments.

Mark-Anthony Middleton, a pastor and community organizer, spoke about recent successes in Durham:

  • mandatory periodic review of traffic stop data;
  • mandatory racial equity training;
  • less emphasis on enforcement of marijuana-related violations; and
  • mandatory written consent for consensual searches of vehicles and homes.

These approaches are good starting points for discussion, and most are already under consideration in Carrboro. Please continue to be in touch with the Board of Aldermen at boa@townofcarrboro.org if you have thoughts about policing and other issues. We want and need to hear from you.

Joint Office Hours With Commissioner Mia Burroughs

Damon Seils and Mia Burroughs

How about a warm beverage and some public policy on a chilly Saturday afternoon?

Join me and your newest county commissioner, Mia Burroughs, for office hours on Saturday, January 10, from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. We’ll settle in at a table at Looking Glass Cafe in Carrboro and start talking shop.

Recent topics of conversation between the Carrboro and Orange County boards include planning for a southern branch library, public transit, sewer service in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood, use of economic development funds from the quarter-cent sales tax, affordable housing, solid waste, a potential 2016 bond referendum, and more.

If you’re interested in talking with us about any of these topics, or about other Carrboro-Orange County issues, please join us. We’re looking forward to seeing you.

Next Steps in Carrboro Policing

Renewed focus on law enforcement after yet more instances of police violence around the country—most notably in Ferguson, Missouri—has brought many of us together to consider a local response. A variety of steps by the Town of Carrboro in the past year present a good opportunity to catalog some of the work going on with our Police Department. Most important is a set of first steps being taken by town staff, informed by conversation with community members in a recent community forum, which I summarize below. I then describe a few other items of interest related to Carrboro (and Orange County) policing. My fellow board members and I welcome your thoughts about these issues. You can reach us by e-mail at boa@townofcarrboro.org.

Community Forum and Next Steps

On October 6, the town hosted a forum to hear community members’ concerns, questions, and ideas about policing in Carrboro. Several dozen community members attended the forum. Police Chief Walter Horton, the town manager, several other members of town staff, and members of the Board of Aldermen were also present.

On November 18, in follow-up to the forum, Chief Horton presented a report to the Board of Aldermen in which he identified the major themes that emerged during the forum on the basis of attendees’ comments: racial equity training, racial profiling and bias, fear of police by people of color, community and citizen engagement, and restorative justice. (Agenda materials and video from the meeting are available on the town website.)

Chief Horton identified several actions as a first step in addressing the issues raised in the forum. These actions include:

  • racial equity training of police personnel;
  • improved records management and statistical data and work with the public defender’s office to identify racial profiling and alter policing methods accordingly;
  • targeted conversations with specific community groups, especially young people of color; and
  • additional community engagement activities, including at least 2 community forums per year, the next tentatively scheduled for June 2015.

In addition to the actions identified in Chief Horton’s report, the Board of Aldermen directed the staff to include the following items in their next update:

  • update on participation of the chief and the captains in the Organizing Against Racism program;
  • update on participation in the Fair and Impartial Policing program, including cooperation with other local police departments;
  • update on the potential for implementing a citizens’ police academy;
  • update on further conversations and work with the Orange County public defender’s office, including improvements to the Police Department’s record keeping and statistics reporting;
  • update on planning for the next community forum or listening session, possibly in June 2015;
  • information about the City of Durham’s recent adoption of a requirement to obtain written consent for searches and what such a policy might look like in Carrboro;
  • information about how the Police Department’s law enforcement resources are currently allocated in terms of the share of arrests, citations, etc for different kinds of incidents;
  • plan to include in upcoming budget discussions the possibility of staff-wide racial equity training;
  • update on a follow-up with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools about student safety concerns in the schools;
  • information about a potential forum or conversation with persons interested in discussing domestic violence; and
  • information about other resources or support the Police Department may need from the Board.

Stay tuned for coming opportunities to shape policing policy in our town, including additional community forums, departmental outreach efforts to neighborhoods and community groups, and more.

Other Issues

There’s more going on in our local law enforcement world, some of which I summarize below.

  • I’ll begin with an exciting development that came up this week. During Monday’s meeting of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Mark Dorosin petitioned the board to work with newly elected Sheriff Charles Blackwood on a gun buyback program for the county. Sheriff Blackwood confirmed that he is interested in initiating such a program. When I spoke with the sheriff after the meeting, he raised the idea of a joint program with the Town of Carrboro and other municipalities. Stay tuned.
  • In July, the Police Department launched the Police to Citizen (P2C) incident reporting system, which enables public access to police incident reports, arrest reports, and traffic crash reports. P2C allows users to search, map, download, and print police reports.
  • In June 2013, the Board of Aldermen approved the purchase of in-car cameras for police vehicles. The cameras went into use this fall after several months of work with the Police Department, legal staff of the ACLU of North Carolina, and others to develop a policy that addresses concerns about the cameras’ proper use. The mobile recording system policy addresses when the cameras are activated and deactivated, access to and retention of recordings, disciplinary actions for violations of the policy, and more. I hope that this comprehensive policy can become a model for other communities in North Carolina.
  • Finally, some community members (including the police chief) have expressed interest in acquiring body-worn cameras for police officers. The Board of Aldermen will likely consider this issue in the next budget cycle. An important concern for me in this decision is the same concern I expressed about dashboard cameras: having an appropriate policy governing their use. The Police Department has already begun drafting such a policy, similar to the in-car camera policy, in consultation with the ACLU of North Carolina and others. I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about whether body cameras are the way to go for Carrboro. Meanwhile, below is a collection of tweets from Seth Stoughton (@policelawprof)—a former police officer and now assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina—regarding the benefits and limitations of body cameras. (Thanks to Bethany Chaney [@Chaney4Carrboro] for the tip.)

 

Update: Carrboro’s Towing Rules

In its June decision in King v Town of Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the authority of local governments to regulate involuntary towing of vehicles from private property. However, the court clarified that this authority does not include caps on the fees towing companies may charge. Although the case was about Chapel Hill’s towing ordinance, the court’s decision also affects towing rules in Carrboro and other towns and cities in North Carolina.

Before the court’s decision, Carrboro’s towing ordinance prohibited towing companies from charging more than $100 per tow, charging $20 per day for storage, and charging for the first 24 hours of storage; and required towing companies to accept payment by major credit/debit card and cash. The ordinance also included various requirements about the signs that property owners must post to warn drivers about towing.

So, where does the King decision leave us in Carrboro? Towing companies still must accept payment by cash and major credit/debit cards. Also, property owners still must post appropriate signage to warn drivers about the possibility of towing. However, the town may no longer limit the amount that towing companies charge.

Last night, the Board of Aldermen amended the Town Code to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision. For more information, see the agenda item here. And to really go to town on this topic, see Coates’ Canons, a blog about local government law in North Carolina.

Another Year of Improvements to Chapel Hill Transit

In my previous post, I mentioned that I would be advocating for an increase in the town’s contribution to Chapel Hill Transit. On June 17, the Board of Aldermen included this increase in the budget for the new fiscal year. Together with contributions from the Town of Chapel Hill and the university—and with our second annual allocation of funds from the Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan—Chapel Hill Transit will be able to purchase 6 much-needed replacement buses and address critical personnel shortages.

Funds from the transit plan will also bring a second round of improvements in bus service. In Carrboro, these improvements will include new trips on the D and J routes. Other improvements will include new trips on the A, NS, Saturday D, and Saturday FG routes. The EZ Rider service for persons with disabilities will operate 7 days a week. All new trips will begin during the week of August 17.

With the beginning of the new academic year at UNC, keep a look out also for the return of the Safe Ride service, including the Safe Ride J route, which provides late-night rides on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro to neighborhoods along Smith Level Road, BPW Club Road, and Rock Haven Road.

Our joint contribution to Chapel Hill Transit with our friends in Chapel Hill and at UNC is one of the most important investments we make in our community. Learn more at chtransit.org, and let us know how the system is working for you. Happy riding!

We Made It to Budget Season 2014

It’s back: that time of year when the town develops a budget for the next year. And we’re seeking your input.

This Tuesday, May 20, the Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the town manager’s recommended budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget we ultimately adopt will provide direction to the town manager and the staff in spending more than $21 million on personnel, operations, and capital purchases between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015.

You can find the manager’s recommended budget here. (Beware the large PDF file.) A few highlights include:

  • no increase in the property tax rate (for the sixth year in a row); 
  • a 2% cost-of-living increase in salaries for town employees, plus merit-based salary increases structured to bring salaries for the lowest-paid employees closer to the local housing wage (more on this item below);
  • another increase in the budget for human services grants;
  • funds for a comprehensive parking study;
  • a new solid waste truck and automated leaf loader; 
  • 5 replacement police vehicles (including systems that reduce engine idling); and
  • resurfacing of the tennis courts at Wilson park, resurfacing of the tennis and basketball courts at Anderson Park, and replacement of the basketball half-court with a full court at Baldwin Park.

As reported this week in the Chapel Hill News, the proposed merit-based salary increases are structured so that salaries for the town’s 15 lowest-paid employees—some as low as $26,500 per year—will increase more quickly than other salaries over the next few years, bringing them closer to the local housing wage. Most of the affected employees are groundskeepers, solid waste equipment operators, and other workers in the Public Works department. Bringing salaries for these employees closer to a meaningful housing wage represents an important improvement in the town’s existing living wage policy, a priority the board has expressed for the past few years.

Finally, I am advocating for a 5.45% increase (approximately $76,000) in the town’s contribution to Chapel Hill Transit. Although this change is not currently reflected in the proposed budget, it would help Chapel Hill Transit purchase 3 replacement buses and add a number of critical staff positions. Increased contributions from the three transit partners, along with the expected annual allocation of funds from the Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan, will bring a total of 6 replacement buses into the system, address personnel shortages, and further improve service on nights and weekends and during peak hours.

As always, your alderpersons want to hear from you. Please reach out to us individually or attend the May 20 public hearing to share your thoughts. You can reach me directly by e-mail at dseils@townofcarrboro.org, on Facebook, on Twitter, and by telephone.