Bethany E. Chaney | Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County | Indy Week
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Bethany E. Chaney 

Carrboro Board of Aldermen

Name as it appears on the ballot: Bethany E. Chaney
Party affiliation: Unaffiliated
Campaign website:
Occupation & employer: Consultant to Non-Profits, Self-Employed
Years lived in Carrboro: 11

1) Given the current direction of Carrboro town government, would you say things are generally on the right course? If not, what specific, major changes you will advocate if elected?

I think things are generally on the right course, although local government took some big hits from the General Assembly this year and likely will continue to do so. We’ve lost local control for certain aspects of development and land use decision-making, revenue generation and allocation, and environmental and safety issues, including water quality (just for starters). The take-backs already are affecting our ability to maintain a ‘right course’ – the course is being reset by people who neither live in nor care about our community and our values. If I could change anything, then, it would be our Town’s ability to be agile and more responsive to changing needs or opportunities given increasing threats from Raleigh. This is a systemic issue that isn’t unique to Carrboro, but I think now’s the time to be brutal about process efficiency and innovation, even if it means investing in new technologies, reprioritizing staff time, or – gulp—reducing the Board of Aldermen’s role in certain micro-level decisions. (Carrboro’s board is notoriously high-maintenance. It’s a wonder that staff gets anything done when we’re in session.)

2) Please identify the three most pressing issues the town faces and how you will address them.

The three issues I’m choosing this year are the same as what I chose when I ran for office in last year’s special election:

Issue 1: The need for more affordable and diverse housing to match a continuum of incomes and life circumstance. See question 11 for more on this issue.
Issue 2: Expanding the economic base not only to increase tax revenues, but to create meaningful jobs and income for people who live in and near Carrboro. This requires:

• A strong infrastructure, including updated, effective stormwater management systems; technological capacity (fast fiber, expanded public wi-fi); and parking systems that work for employees and customers. We’re working on all of these things, but the long-awaited parking study has been delayed. I’d like us to get it done yesterday.
• Investing time and attention beyond downtown. For good reason Carrboro focuses a great deal of economic development resources downtown, but this lens is too narrow if we are to capture dollars and jobs that are leaving Carrboro and the county for Durham and Chatham. I support greater economic and business development and support on and near Highway 54, and I believe we can do this and remain true to our neighborhoods, environment, and local living economy principles. We’re making progress here but there’s always more to do.
• Creating more efficient processes for developers and aspiring businesses to get through their permitting and development processes. We’re implementing a new electronic permitting process later this year, which will help. I’d like to see us establish a target goal of reducing average permitting time across various categories of development by 15% in the next two years.

Issue 3: Change. The town is growing, the landscape is changing, and there’s been a lot of discomfort and even some conflict as this has happened. I support:
• As a Board, continuing to shift energy away from engineering change to managing change. This requires some humility, patience, and constructive community engagement. I think we saw some shifts this year, but I’d like to see more.
• Small area planning or similar exercises, revisiting Carrboro’s Vision 20/20 to identify where competing values may be causing tension. Where there can be clarity for neighborhoods and developers as to expectations for the future, let’s make it happen. Some of the conflict around the renowned “CVS” property, and now Lloyd Farm, could have been mitigated with clearer plans.
• Creating better tools for local residents and business owners to engage with the town and/or to take ownership of conflict or issues that directly affect them. In particular, I’m interested in following through on creating a citizen’s guide to zoning and development, a recommendation from a 2013 community dialogue series, which would help residents know when and how to enter a development process before it’s too late.

3) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective as a member of the Board of Aldermen? If you’ve identified specific issues above, what in your record has prepared you to be an effective advocate for them?

First, I served on the Carrboro Planning Board for nearly three years—two as chair— before my election to the Board in 2014. During my tenure, I played a key role in establishing, organizing and facilitating our annual community outreach discussion series in conjunction with National Community Planning Month. The first was on affordable housing (2012) and the second on zoning processes (2013). Both resulted in recommendations that are informing policy decisions now, and I’m very proud of that. I also served as the planning board’s representative to the Board of Aldermen’s Affordable Housing Task Force, and have continued to serve as a member of the Board. This year, as Chair, I’ll be glad to steward our approved strategies forward with the help of my colleagues, terrific Town staff, and community partners.

Second, I have more than twenty years of professional experience in community economic development, which has afforded me some good knowledge and facility with the language, processes and resource environment related to public-private partnerships. I understand housing providers like the members of the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition; community development lenders like Latino Community Credit Union and Self-Help; and economic development initiatives like business incubators and Main Street programs. I also understand how tools like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and New Markets Tax Credits can be leveraged to make tough development projects economically feasible. Understanding this landscape will help me serve Carrboro better by expanding our relationships, capacities, resources and collaborative potential as a municipality.

Finally, I’ve had the honor to serve and learn as a Board member for just over a year, having filled an unexpired seat left available by Lydia Lavelle when she was elected Mayor. I believe this learning will be invaluable as I enter my first, full term in office. I know more about Town operations, have developed positive relationships with my colleagues and staff, and have a handle on some of the ongoing issues that consume the Board’s time. In addition to the Affordable Housing Task Force, I serve on the Chapel Hill Transit Partners Board and the Board of Delegates for Triangle J Council of Governments. There’s always more to learn so I can be a more effective advocate for Carrboro, but the curve is not so steep now.

4) Please give one specific example of something you think the town has done wrong or that you would have rather done differently in the last year. Also, please tell us the single best thing the town has done during that span.

I alluded to the long-awaited parking study. It has been delayed for a number of reasons, including the Board’s own process for modifying and approving the scope of work; staff vacancy; and a reduction in anticipated funding for the project by an outside agency. It has been delayed one last time as the Town had had to “right size” the scope of work based on funding, subject again to approval by the Board. Not all of these delays could have been avoided, but given how desperate residents, businesses and developers are to get to the bottom of Carrboro’s “parking problem,” we could have done better. Micromanaging the process in particular gets my goat.

As for the single best thing the town has done, it’s hard to choose one, but I think allocating proceeds from the sale of an office condominium to the Affordable Housing Fund is at the top of my list. It represents the largest tangible commitment the Town has made to affordable housing ever, and with additional payments in lieu, it will help to boost funds from less than $40K last year to more than $750K by the end of 2015. Pretty proud about that, but also quite aware we need to deploy those funds in strategic ways.
5) How do you identify yourself to others in terms of your political philosophy? For example, do you tell people you’re a conservative, a moderate, a progressive, a libertarian?

I’m politically progressive, vote as a Democrat, but remain unaffiliated. I’m not much of a party girl.

6) The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. If elected, how will your service in office help further that goal?

I made a commitment last year to do my part to encourage leadership development and civic participation that ensures shared power, shared change, and shared results. After a year in office, I recognize how difficult this can be in practice, particularly for a community which, while harboring the best intent, sometimes doesn’t recognize its on-going complicity with injustice, with the systems that have enabled a high quality of life for many and increasing economic disparities for many more. As are my colleagues, I’m committed to keeping Carrboro honest and aware about systemic inequity and institutional racism in Carrboro, so that we can better weigh the trade-offs facing us in making development and policy decisions; so that we make better decisions how to use our limited resources in the interest of justice and equity goals; so that we reduce barriers to public participation and leadership among minority residents and youth, particularly disconnected youth; and so our economic and civic life can be more inclusive.

Please address, in detail, the following major issues in Carrboro:

7) The ArtsCenter and the Cat’s Cradle are among the most recognized cultural centers in Carrboro. Both face serious questions about their futures. What do you believe the town should do to support these cultural institutions?

These are two important institutions that are very different in scale, scope, core competencies, legal structures, and corporate management. As such the support they need and can receive from the town is also different. The town could not finance and own a building for the for-profit Cat’s Cradle in the same way it could for the non-profit ArtsCenter if it were so inclined. (Which it is not. Let’s be clear here.)

I’m interested in retaining both institutions and, more importantly, supporting the conditions under which each can grow and sustain themselves for the long haul. The Board and town staff have invested a great deal of good faith effort toward this end with both parties, and I don’t anticipate we’ll stop anytime soon.

But before Carrboro can most effectively support the ArtsCenter, the ArtsCenter needs to fully examine its business model, program strategies, and resource development potential, and develop a comprehensive business plan. The plan should be designed to earn and leverage what this institution truly deserves from the community, private and corporate philanthropy, and its own Board of Directors. The organization is heading in the right direction, having recently hired an experienced executive director with great planning and fundraising skills. The town has agreed to serve as a conduit for an analysis and business planning exercise to be facilitated by the Development Finance Institute of UNC’s School of Government. Once that planning exercise is complete, we’ll all know more about how the Town can best support the ArtsCenter (and potentially other arts and culture partners) moving forward.

As for the Cat’s Cradle, positive, on-going communication about needs, expectations, goals and opportunities will be key moving forward. Patience is also necessary. With a relative lack of available sites for relocation/expansion, and in addition, the lead time that is necessary to make a project of the scale the Cradle might need, our options are currently limited. If the Cradle cannot thrive in place, then in my dream world, we find the perfect site, the perfect development partner, an angel investor, and an affordable financing model for a low-margin business tomorrow so Frank Heath can plan for more and bigger shows now. But that’s not happening. So while we keep our ear to the ground, we also need to work alongside Frank and his team to keep Carrboro—and the Cradle—competitive.

8) Development in Carrboro has been something of a mixed bag. Large, mixed-use projects now compete with local storefronts for space and customers. What is your vision for the future of downtown Carrboro and its development?

Development is always a mixed bag, but what I love about Carrboro is that both the older buildings in our core downtown and new development such as 300 East Main have been accommodating to a range of locally-grown businesses, from retail (Cameron’s) to restaurant (Tyler’s) to professional services (New Media) and corporate headquarters (Kalisher, Fleet Feet). The businesses that have had a tougher time are those that need or want Class A office space ample enough to grow, or creative ventures that need open floor plans, cheaper rents, and the ability to make some noise. We have some of this space coming on line over the next couple of years, and we have infill opportunities on the edge of downtown that could be added to the mix sooner than later. I’d personally like us to pursue a New Markets Tax Credit project proactively to ensure affordable commercial space for highly creative, high-impact businesses. I’d also like to see some productive movement on the “CVS” site at the corner of Weaver and N. Greensboro, which Mayor Lavelle is trying to make happen now.

Having a more diverse and ample supply of commercial space will continue to challenge us in some ways. Will rents go up or down? Will national chains take over spaces we wish local businesses would take? Will we price out working class people even more than now? Where will everyone park?! Neighborhoods are feeling the stress, and so are pedestrians and cyclists who compete with the traffic.

The truth is, some of what makes our downtown vibrant also makes it vulnerable. We need to find some discreet ways to help local property owners and local businesses plan for change, to capitalize on market and resource opportunities, and to manage impact and encroachment on residential neighborhoods. Supporting the work of the Carrboro Business Alliance and a stronger partnership with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce will help. Some small area planning would too, as will that parking study. Mostly we need business owners and local developers to be the creative risk-takers that they are, and for more diverse, local residents to make their interests known in downtown development conversations too. We need both for a healthy downtown.
9) A recent study indicated a disparity between how Carrboro police treat minority and non-minority drivers. What are the next steps for Carrboro as far as addressing or correcting racial bias in law enforcement?

I’m really proud and humbled by my community and the Carrboro Police Department (CPD) for what has been truly an open, honest dialogue about traffic stops, data, and correcting for institutional or other bias whether through improved policies, procedures, technology, training or other human resource development. Last year the community came together for two well-facilitated policing forums; the CPD developed and vetted policies for the use of body-worn cameras in partnership with the NC ACLU; the Board authorized the purchase and deployment of body-worn cameras, contingent on some final policy changes; and CPD staff have attended racial equity training with “train the trainer” components, and will continue to embed bias training in its personnel plan.

For all of this work I’m grateful to Chief Horton and the CPD, the ACLU, the NAACP, the Orange County Bias Free Policing Coalition, and my colleagues on the Board, but particularly Alderman Damon Seils, who really set us all on this path both mindfully and skillfully. Immediate next steps will be:

1) Completing an independent review of CPD traffic stop data, which will either affirm the accuracy of the data or reveal problems with data entry and/or data conversion. Either way, an accurate baseline and ongoing data collection is critical if we want to see longitudinal change, so I’m interested in seeing the conclusions from this review;
2) A third community forum, scheduled for October 28th, to continue fleshing out our goals and strategies related to bias-free public safety as a town and community;
3) Fine-tuning of policies for body-worn cameras and implementation of this strategy, with a goal of better protecting both citizens and officers –not a goal of greater surveillance;

There will be longer-term steps, too, including a more robust discussion and final decision about whether to create a Citizen Review Board. I’m personally skeptical that a Citizen Review Board will add value to Carrboro relative to the time and resources it will take to sustain it, but I want to hear more from the community and the CPD before I cast a vote.

The bottom line is that the process we’re engaging in is really, really important. I blogged about it in June, and I want to repeat some of what I wrote here in case you don’t want to click on the link:
It’s critical that none of us—the Board of Aldermen, activists, the ACLU, others — be self-satisfied with all the focus on police bias. Don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely an important focus given the enormous implications for communities of color, particularly young men.
But there is some amount of self-righteousness at play when we don’t also publicly recognize that everyone in the room—most especially every one of the white people in the room—plays a role in perpetuating bias, whether institutionally or personally.

It feels good to off-load anger, complicity and shame when there’s an easy target, one that feels powerful and vulnerable all at once, like the police. In fact, Carrboro’s own Board of Aldermen—including me—demonstrated how easy it is to succumb to that anger and shame during National Police Week in May. After a well-read proclamation by Mayor Lavelle, we completely flubbed the opportunity to unconditionally thank and honor our police officers for what they do for Carrboro every day. We made other grand statements, but it was all pretty embarrassing in the end, at least for me personally.

My point is that the solution to ensuring racial justice and racial equity in our communities isn’t with the police, it’s with every one of us. We’re the elephant in the room.

At a very basic level, bias in the justice system starts with the homeowner who calls the police because of “suspicious” black male walking in their subdivision. With the principal who finds hoodies and pants buckled at the knees cause enough for school suspension. Or with the investor who refuses to rent an apartment to a woman holding a housing voucher, leaving her on the street instead.

I want to get policing right in Carrboro, but I also want us to focus a lot more attention on the other ways that bias embeds itself—sometimes quite undetected—in our community.

I want the Town of Carrboro to be intentionally inclusive in our economic and environmental decisions and strategies. To be even more welcoming and accommodating to people who use the services of non-profits like Club Nova, IFC, and El Centro. To make our parks and downtown better and safer for teens to hang out. To attract more diverse leadership to our Advisory Boards and elected bodies. And to get behind efforts to reduce educational disparity in our schools. All of these issues will be raised at Town Hall in one way or another in FY 2015-16, and I hope we pursue these conversations as justly and with as much abandon as we have our policing strategies.

10) Downtown traffic congestion is among the most frequently cited complaints in Carrboro. Recent town discussions have invoked proposals of various traffic-calming measures, such as converting some downtown roads into pedestrian-only roads. Where do you stand on this proposal? What are your ideas for improving congestion downtown?

There’s been no formal proposal about converting downtown roads to pedestrian-only, although through the years there’s been some talk about closing Weaver Street between Main and N. Greensboro. We’ve experimented with some designated Open Streets in this and the other block of Weaver Street, but I think the goal of Open Streets or permanent pedestrian plazas should be less about traffic calming and more about people engaging. I’m into that. Unfortunately our attempt to get some momentum around Open Streets didn’t work so well this summer, no thanks to really hot weather. But I’m open to more experimentation and ideas for mitigating what is inevitably more traffic congestion for a few hours, not less.

Some ways to really improve traffic congestion include:

1) Improve regional public transit so that more people can leave their cars at home, especially during peak hours. Given that most people who work in Carrboro live out of town, and given that most workers who live in Carrboro commute to jobs that are out of town, public transit is the single most important investment we can make to reduce traffic.
2) Recalibrate downtown lights during peak times. This has been done in the past and it’s probably time to do it again.
3) My pipe dream: make Main and Weaver each one-way, at least during peak hours.
4) Increase structured parking opportunities on the edges of downtown.
5) Charge for parking utilizing a rate management system based on peak times and volume.

11) Affordable housing is likely among the top priorities for any candidate in Carrboro. We’ve seen a lot of proposals, task forces and campaign speeches, but middling results. Please give your fresh ideas for tackling this decades-old problem.

I’m not sure “fresh ideas” are what we need. We need cheap land and fully-funded ideas, because that’s what it takes to get new affordable units built and to maintain the ones we have. We’ll continue to see middling results as long as resources remain scarce—we can thank the state especially for their disinvestment this year.
For its part, last year the Town of Carrboro embraced the recommendations of its one and only Affordable Housing Task Force and immediately went about funding one of its most important strategies: establishing a more meaningful dedicated funding source for affordable housing activities (as discussed above). We’re also reviewing a number of land use ordinances to see what opportunities we can squeeze from it, such as improving opportunities for creative, denser single family development, including secondary units and small or tiny houses. We will have some recommendations for the Board along these lines later this fiscal year.

I personally believe the single most important lever of change for affordable housing would be a major countywide bond issue. I’d like to see proceeds of a bond seed an Orange County Housing Trust Fund that includes options for private sector contributions and leverage. I’m afraid the Orange County bond issue that is being raised now will only include school funding, but for me to support it as a voter, it will have to include money for affordable housing, too.

12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

Get out and vote, y’all. I know the Carrboro races are uncontested, but across the state and the nation, voting itself is what is being contested. Fight back. It’s the single most important thing we can do as individuals to create systems change in this country, even when it seems it matters least. You still have choices to make—including school board races. Embrace the opportunity, and help your neighbors and kids and parents to do the same. I’ll not be campaigning much for myself this year, but instead will join my Carrboro colleagues, the NAACP and others to register new voters and get out the vote. I hope we’ll all see you at the polls!
  • Carrboro Board of Aldermen

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