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.

 

A Visit With Senator Hagan

Interesting meeting between Senator Kay Hagan and several Orange County elected officials today. Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer made a passionate statement about Hagan’s vote against the DREAM Act. Hillsborough commissioner Jennifer Weaver spoke about the urgency of climate change and pleaded with Senator Hagan to reconsider her support of Keystone XL and other impending disasters.

I spoke on the following 3 issues:

  • Carrboro has a higher percentage of residents who commute by public transportation than any other community in North Carolina. (Side note: We also have the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the state.) However, federal and state funding for transit projects is becoming more difficult to access. I spoke about the importance of increasing the ready availability of these funds (which used to be available through earmarks) and the need for transportation legislation with an authorization period longer than 2 years to enable more effective planning for large transit infrastructure projects. 
  • I thanked Senator Hagan for supporting marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and for opposing Amendment 1. I asked her to consider cosponsoring Senate Bill 1790, the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, which was introduced by Senator Coons in December. Nearly 40,000 North Carolinians are living with HIV/AIDS. North Carolina is one of more than 30 states where the health code stigmatizes and criminalizes behaviors of people with HIV/AIDS. The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act calls for interagency review of these discriminatory federal and state laws and regulations. (I also gave a shout-out to the NC AIDS Action Network.) 
  • Finally, I asked Senator Hagan to reconsider her opposition to providing a conditional path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth. More than 1 in 5 Carrboro residents were born outside the United States. These are largely Latino and Asian immigrants, many of them children, many of them undocumented. The defeat of the DREAM Act in 2010, due largely to a handful of Senate Democrats breaking ranks (like Senator Hagan), was a real heartbreaker for more than 50,000 young North Carolinians for whom the legislation would have offered an opportunity to become citizens of the state and country where they grew up.

Resolution on Tenants’ Rights

Carrboro is unlike most communities in North Carolina (and throughout the United States) in its high proportion of renter-occupied housing. At our annual retreat on Sunday, the Board of Aldermen adopted the resolution below to recognize recent work by Orange County Justice United, EmPOWERment, Inc, the UNC Civil Legal Assistance Clinic, and the Orange County Human Relations Commission in developing a “Declaration of Tenants Rights and Obligations” (English- and Spanish-language versions).

A RESOLUTION ENDORSING ORANGE COUNTY JUSTICE UNITED’S EFFORTS TO INFORM TENANTS OF THEIR RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS

WHEREAS, according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, approximately 65 percent of occupied housing units in Carrboro are occupied by renters; and

WHEREAS, tenants and potential tenants of rental housing may face unfair treatment, including disparate assessment of rent and fees; poor maintenance; improper eviction procedures; and discriminatory acts; and

WHEREAS, Orange County Justice United has worked previously with the Town of Carrboro, property owners and managers, and a variety of community partners to address instances of unfair treatment of tenants; and

WHEREAS, federal fair housing law and Chapter 42 of the North Carolina General Statutes define the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords; and

WHEREAS, Orange County Justice United, EmPOWERment, Inc, and the Orange County Human Relations Commission recently worked with students from the UNC Civil Legal Assistance Clinic to draft a “Declaration of Tenants Rights and Obligations”; and

WHEREAS, Orange County Justice United and EmPOWERment, Inc, held three fair housing workshops in 2013 to present information about tenants’ rights and to solicit public comment on the Declaration; and

WHEREAS, the Declaration summarizes the rights and obligations of tenants in Orange County, North Carolina, and provides a list of resources for tenants and potential tenants who are seeking additional information and assistance; and

WHEREAS, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Chapel Hill Town Council, and the Greater Chapel Hill Association of Realtors have endorsed the Declaration;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:

SECTION 1. The Board of Aldermen endorses the efforts of Orange County Justice United to inform tenants of their rights and responsibilities.

SECTION 2. The manager is directed to assist Orange County Justice United in identifying methods of disseminating the “Declaration of Tenants Rights and Obligations” to tenants, potential tenants, residential property managers, and landlords in Carrboro’s planning jurisdiction.

SECTION 3. This resolution shall become effective upon adoption.