Author Archives: Damon

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

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, 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, 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).


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;


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.

Main Street and the Carrboro Music Festival

Viva la Venus

Viva la Venus at the 2012 Carrboro Music Festival. (Photo: Damon Seils)

Update below.

The 2013 Carrboro Music Festival is coming up at the end of September. If you’ve attended the music festival in previous years, you probably remember the tangle of cars, cyclists, and pedestrians that formed as people made their way through downtown during the peak hours of the event.

This year, what if we turn the music festival into another “open streets” event? Below is a message I sent to my fellow board members today.

Hi, everyone.

I want to make a proposal regarding the Carrboro Music Festival.

During last year’s music festival, E Main Street was clogged with cars—and full of people trying to make their way around cars. Traffic was bumper to bumper for a substantial period that afternoon.

I propose that we seek approval from NCDOT to close E Main Street to vehicular traffic between Greensboro and Rosemary Streets during this year’s music festival (on Sunday only). This closing would be in addition to the closing of E Weaver Street.

Jeff Brubaker [the town's transportation planner] reminded me that the idea would need to start with staff-level conversations. So, I would like to ask that conversations begin among staff to determine whether the closing would be feasible. The board would need to hear from staff soon to allow for a conversation with NCDOT and to allow sufficient time for planning.

Drivers attending the music festival would be able to park in the new parking deck (I assume), the other public parking lots downtown, and the park-and-ride lots. As in previous years, drivers not attending the music festival will be able to avoid downtown via Merritt Mill Road, Highway 54, Estes Drive Extension, etc.

Other areas in and near downtown would remain accessible. The Lloyd-Broad neighborhood would be accessible via Sunset Drive. Businesses on the 100 block of E Main Street would be accessible via Greensboro and Roberson Streets. Roberson Place and Maple Avenue would be accessible via Carr Street. Carr Mill plus the residences and businesses on the west side of downtown would be available via Greensboro Street, W Main Street, W Weaver Street, etc.

Closing this part of Main Street would make the music festival even more enjoyable for attendees. Also, considering how traffic flow through downtown was impaired last year, I believe this closing would not create much more inconvenience for drivers. If it’s too late for us to achieve it this year, perhaps we can consider it for next year.

Please share your thoughts.



Update: September 27, 2013

Town staff and volunteers will collect information during this weekend’s music festival about shuttle ridership, parking, and vehicular traffic.

You all have provided important feedback about the idea of closing E Main Street during some or all of next year’s festival. Issues include early conversations with NCDOT, early notification of business owners and managers (including finding ways for them to take advantage of the opportunities presented by having a downtown pedestrian mall), access for persons with impaired mobility, access for musicians, access for the Chapel Hill Transit shuttle, Fire-Rescue and Police protocols, and costs.

This information will important for us to have in planning next year’s event.

Comments to the North Carolina Utilities Commission

This evening, I made the following comments to the North Carolina Utilities Commission at a hearing in Hillsborough regarding proposed Duke Energy rate increases:

“With more and more funding cuts being made at state and federal levels, North Carolina’s towns, cities, counties, and school districts must provide vital services on increasingly constrained budgets. Fashionable fiscal austerity policies in Raleigh are shifting the burden to local governments, and many have found they must raise taxes to maintain services and quality of life.

“So far, my town has been relatively fortunate. We have been able to avoid property tax increases for the past few years. But, like other municipalities, we have done this in part by postponing much needed maintenance and improvement of infrastructure and equipment.

“Another rate increase by Duke Energy will mean higher costs for local governments. A major cost for a town like Carrboro, and the single largest source of the town’s municipal carbon dioxide emissions, is street lighting. In addition to a large rate hike for residential customers, Duke Energy is proposing an increase in lighting costs, even while neglecting to make it easier for municipalities to lease high-efficiency lighting infrastructure. So another rate increase will hit Duke’s residential customers doubly hard, both directly through their power bills and indirectly through their municipal taxes.

“We also should not overlook the fact that today, about two hours ago, Orange County declared a state of emergency in response to Sunday’s catastrophic flooding that displaced dozens of our neighbors. Not surprisingly, many of those most affected by the flooding are lower-wealth residents who have limited resources and social support networks to assist them through this crisis — the same people who will be burdened by bigger electric bills. Once again, it is our local governments, along with nonprofit agencies, that will bear the costs of providing services to those in need.

“We know, unequivocally, that we can expect more of these kinds of emergencies. Global climate change is here, and the odds have changed to make extreme weather events more likely.

“Duke Energy and other electric utility providers should be giving priority to energy efficiency and conservation. Instead, we have been presented with a plan that aims to achieve the opposite.

“This is not the time to put greater pressure on North Carolina’s towns and cities. Duke Energy should be asked to tighten its belt just like everyone else. Instead, Duke is seeking yet another rate increase to pay for dirty, dangerous, and costly forms of energy production that its customers don’t need.”

Another Resolution on Rogers Road

On Tuesday, June 18, the Board of Aldermen unanimously adopted a resolution to reaffirm its commitment to participating in provision of a community center and sewer improvements in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood.


WHEREAS, for more than 40 years, the people of Orange County have burdened the Rogers Road community by disposing of municipal solid waste in the nearby landfill; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Aldermen believes that Orange County, the Town of Carrboro, and the Town of Chapel Hill should work in partnership to equitably, and in proportion to their responsibility, share the costs of providing a community center and sewer improvements in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood, just as the partners share the privilege of owning, operating, and using the landfill; and

WHEREAS, on November 14, 2012, the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force unanimously recommended to the Assembly of Governments “that the costs of both a New Community Center and Sewer Improvements be shared by the local governments, at the same costs sharing percentages as outlined in the 1972 Landfill Agreement, 43% for Orange County, 43% for The Town of Chapel Hill and 14% for The Town of Carrboro”; and

WHEREAS, 14% of the estimated cost of providing a community center and sewer improvements in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood is approximately $900,000; and

WHEREAS, on September 18, 2012, the Board of Aldermen unanimously adopted the following statement: “The Town of Carrboro has the intention of contributing not more than $900,000 for the town’s portion of the community center and cost of the sewer project. The town manager shall research funding sources. Town staff shall also investigate how the town can recoup the sewer line investment costs from developers. The board expresses its appreciation to the county for their commitment to the project and requests that the Town of Chapel Hill consider their share of the contribution”; and

WHEREAS, on June 12, 2013, the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force discussed two alternative plans for sewer improvements in the neighborhood and requested comment on those plans from the Board of Aldermen, the Chapel Hill Town Council, and the Orange County Board of Commissioners; and

WHEREAS, alternative 1 involves construction of a sewer project to serve 78% of the parcels in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood (segments 5, 6, and 8 on the Historic Rogers Road Area Sewer Concept May 2012 Map) at an estimated cost of approximately $3.7 million. Under this alternative, the Town of Carrboro would contribute $900,000 toward the cost of the sewer project, and Orange County would contribute the remaining $2.8 million. The Town of Chapel Hill would not contribute to the sewer project but would reimburse Orange County for the cost of constructing the community center (estimated at $650,000); and

WHEREAS, alternative 2 involves construction of a sewer project to serve 100% of the parcels in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood (segments 1 through 8 on the Historic Rogers Road Area Sewer Concept May 2012 Map) at an estimated cost of approximately $5.8 million. Under this alternative, the Town of Carrboro would contribute up to $900,000 toward the cost of the community center and the sewer project, and Orange County and the Town of Chapel Hill would contribute the remaining amount. This alternative would require the Town of Chapel Hill to initiate a request for extraterritorial jurisdiction and Orange County to approve the request so that the Town of Chapel Hill can contribute funds for its share of the community center and the sewer project in proportion to its responsibility; and

WHEREAS, the attachment to this resolution shows the costs and potential cost sharing associated with each of the alternatives;


SECTION 1. The Board of Aldermen prefers alternative 2 for two reasons. First, this alternative will provide sewer improvements to the entire Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood. Second, this alternative will enable all of the partners—Orange County, the Town of Carrboro, and the Town of Chapel Hill—to equitably share the costs of the community center and sewer improvements in proportion to their responsibility.

SECTION 2. If the Orange County Board of Commissioners and the Chapel Hill Town Council do not favor pursuing alternative 2, the Board of Aldermen is willing to explore alternative 1 and remains committed to contributing not more than $900,000 for the town’s portion of the community center and sewer improvements.

SECTION 3. The clerk is directed to send a copy of this resolution to the chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the mayor of the Town of Chapel Hill, and the members of the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force.


Alternative 1


  • Sewer: $3,700,000
  • Community center: $650,000
  • Total: $4,350,000

Cost Share Among the Partners

  • Carrboro: $900,000 (20.7%)
  • Chapel Hill: $650,000 (14.9%)
  • Orange County: $2,800,000 (64.4%)

Alternative 2


  • Sewer: $5,800,000
  • Community center: $650,000
  • Total: $6,450,000

Cost Share Among the Partners

  • Carrboro: $900,000 (14.0%)
  • Chapel Hill: share to be determined ($2,775,000 [43.0%])
  • Orange County: share to be determined ($2,775,000 [43.0%])