Getting Involved with Town of Carrboro

I have recently joined the Town of Carrboro‘s Greenways Commission.  Having not been familiar with local government prior to this, I was somewhat intimidated at first.  The first impression makes it seem like everyone involved with the town is intimately familiar with all the goings-on and official town protocols.  If you’re not familiar with how things work there’s a good chance you might feel like an outsider right away.

The town seems to be pushing to try to get more people involved which would be a good thing – if a broader swath of the community participates then more of the community feels like they’re involved.  For example, even if you aren’t participating directly but are friends with someone who is, then on some level you feel like your interests are being heard.

This post will explain the process of joining a committee.  My hope is that someone in the future might read this and be a little less intimidated by the entire process.

The Board of Alderman

The Board of Alderman (often referred to as BOA) are elected officials, one of which is the mayor.  You can email the entire group at any time using this email:

Meeting Boards and Commissions

The BOA has created several committees some of which are more standard than others.  For example, I expect every town has a Planning Board but not every town might have an Arts Committee.  There are also special, mostly temporary committees or task forces that might provide input to the board for a specific project for the town (Smith Level Road Task Force).  These groups consist of community members that have some expertise in that area.  To join a committee you have to fill out a somewhat thorough application.

Here’s a list of the currently meeting boards and committees:

  • Arts Committee
  • Economic Sustainability Commission
  • Human Services Advisory Commission
  • OWASA Board of Directors
  • Orange County Human Relations Commission
  • Recreation and Parks Commission
  • Safe Routes to School Implementation Committee
  • Board of Adjustment
  • Appearance Commission
  • Environmental Advisory Board
  • Northern Transition Area Advisory Committee
  • Planning Board
  • Transportation Advisory Board
  • Greenways Commission
  • Animal Control Advisory Board

Getting Started with a Committee

As a citizen you can simply attend any committee meeting you’d like, although the best way to get started is to do a little prep work beforehand.  All meeting minutes are posted to the town web site.  Take a look at the recent ones and see what they’ve discussed and when the next meetings will take place.  The agenda for the upcoming meeting is posted to the web site at least 7 days before the actual meeting.

Attending a Committee Meeting

For the most part meetings occur at Town Hall in Carrboro.  There are three main rooms where it seems like the majority of meetings take place and you can’t miss them.

The rooms are small and there are usually only a handful of people there.  The committee members usually sit around the table and any visitors typically sit in chairs surrounding the table.  A lot of times visitors come to the meetings to give input and air grievances, so you’ll typically be welcomed and given an opportunity to introduce yourself and explain why you’re there.  You’ll be listed as an attendee in the official meeting minutes.

Becoming a Member of a Committee

If you decide you’d like to be actually be on the committee, it’s good to get to know the committee chairperson and let them know you’re interested and get their feedback.  Committee members serve 2 or 3 year terms depending on the committee and the town tries to limit members to two consecutive terms, although there are plenty of extenuating circumstances that end up allowing some members to serve more than two terms.  For example, sometimes there’s no new members applying to be on the committee or a particular member has extensive and valuable knowledge that warrants continued membership.

Applying to be a Committee Member

You can fill out an application on line and submit it.  Depending on which committee you choose, your application will be sent to the Board of Alderman and the committee chairperson.

Ultimately the Board of Alderman vote on whether you should be allowed to serve on the committee.  Although you can submit your application anytime, the BOA only votes on committee membership once per year in the February/March timeframe.

The Vote

Once the time comes, the BOA will have an item on their agenda to vote on committee membership applications.  It’s good to be on the look out for this and attend this meeting to show that you care enough to be on the committee that you’re willing to take the time to attend the BOA meeting where they’ll vote on you.  This is typically early in the meeting and once completed you can leave as the BOA takes up other business.

Once You’re Voted In

Congrats!  The BOA voted for you to be on the committee.  What next?  You’ll get an email from the town clerk asking which dates you are available to come and “get your charge” from the BOA.  This takes place at the normal Tuesday BOA meeting and you’ll be on the agenda for that date.

Once that date rolls around, you’ll need to attend the BOA meeting.  I had no idea what to expect, but here’s what happens.  You’ll be called up to stand in front of the town clerk and they’ll read your “charge” (sort of the mission statement of the committee).  You’ll need to agree to that mission and sign your name on a document that the town clerk will file away somewhere.  Next, you’ll be invited to shake the hand of each alderperson and they’ll congratulate you and thank you for serving.  Note that the cameras will be rolling and this ritual will be forever documented on the town website.  Knowing this you’ll want to wear something probably more appropriate than I did.  🙂

Here are some grainy screenshots of me getting my charge for the Greenways Commission.  Here’s a link to the video – click on the “Charges Issued to Recently Appointed Advisory Board Volunteers” section to go straight to the extremely riveting section.

Here I am listening to the town clerk:

Here I am shaking hands with the BOA.

I’ll continue posting about my activities on the Greenways Commission.

I’m very new to this town involvement stuff, so if I’ve made an error in this post, please let me know.

How much is $3.3 Billion?

I’ve been following the debate about the current Durham Orange light rail project.  Here’s what’s clear to me:

  1. A lot of people like the idea of light rail
  2. A lot of people are against the current light rail project
  3. A small number of people don’t like light rail at any price
  4. A similarly small number of people like light rail no matter what the price
  5. A majority of people liked light rail in 2012 when the price tag was $2.4 billion
  6. Some smaller number of people currently like light rail at the current price of $3.3 billion

How much is too much to pay for light rail in our community?  That seems like the question before us all now.  Nine current or former mayors (with at least one notable exception) signed a letter to enthusiastically support the current plan.  One thing that the mayors’ letter doesn’t mention is anything about price.  I assume they either like it at any price or their maximum price that that they’d be willing to pay is somewhere north of the current $3.3 billion.

So the question is: what is your maximum price you think the community should be willing to pay for light rail?

Everyone on both sides of this debate seems pretty confident in their opinions so I’m sure they’ve thought this through thoroughly.  Personally, I have no idea how much $3.3 billion is, so I did some quick math to get a sense of what you could buy with that amount of money.

So in your mind compare the capacity of 26,000 trips at peak light rail capacity with the following things.  Of course I’m not suggesting we do any of these things, but here’s what we could do with $3.3 billion:

  • Buy 132,000 Toyota Priuses
  • Buy a Toyota Prius every year for 5,700 people forever
  • Buy a Toyota Prius every 5 years for at least 28,500 people
  • Give $1,000 to 132,000 people every year forever
  • Give $10,000 to 13,200 people every year forever
  • Give $50,000 to 2,640 people every year forever
  • Give 25,000 Uber rides at $20 every weekday of the year forever
  • Give $6,290 to each Carrboro citizen every year forever
  • Give $524 to each Durham citizen every year forever
  • Give every citizen of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro a one-time payment of $9,932

If you wait until the 2029 light rail opening date these numbers go up significantly through compounding interest.

Of course you can quibble about the exact numbers, but these are in the ball park.