Chapel Hill Town Council replaces Bill Thorpe | Orange County | Indy Week
Pin It
By an 8-0 vote, the council chose retired middle school assistant principal James Merritt from a pool of six candidates.

Chapel Hill Town Council replaces Bill Thorpe 

Merritt raise

"I didn't think they'd be calling my name," said a surprised James Merritt moments after being appointed Chapel Hill's newest Town Councilman.

By an 8-0 vote, the council chose the retired middle school assistant principal from a pool of six candidates at the close of Monday night's meeting.

"I'm honored and excited to have this opportunity to add my voice to the discussion and help Chapel Hill move to where it needs to go," he said shortly after the announcement.

Merritt will serve out the remaining term of Bill Thorpe, who died earlier this year from heart failure. Thorpe had a reputation as a strong advocate for Chapel Hill's black community and was the council's sole African-American member.

"When Bill ran for the council, he made it clear that he would represent the issues of his constituents," Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy said later. "He brought a unique perspective on the council, and that's something that we wanted returned."

According to Foy, it was Merritt's Thorpe-like connection to his community that ultimately persuaded council members to choose him over candidates with more experience in city government. Will Raymond, who has run for Chapel Hill Town Council twice before, has served on a variety of council advisory boards, as has Gene Pease, a former member of the town budget citizen committee.

"All of the other candidates were excellent," said Foy. "There were a broad spectrum of people of not just interests, but of a history of involvement, and so it wasn't easy to say here's the best choice, but our thought was that we should do our best to ensure that there is a person sitting at the table that will approach things the way Bill did."

Merritt, who is black, was backed by both the Chapel Hill/Carrboro branch of the NAACP and a coalition of influential black leaders, the Anderson-Thorpe Breakfast Club, named for Thorpe and the late Carrboro Alderman Hank Anderson.

NAACP chapter President Eugene Farrar, one of Merritt's strongest supporters, congratulated him.

"We understand that sometimes our issues are at the forefront, and sometimes they're not," said Farrar. "But we're going to continue to support him so that he'll have a better understanding of how things are going for his constituents."

Prior to the vote, Merritt watched from the gallery as the council heard presentations on myriad issues facing Chapel Hill, including the future of UNC's Carolina North project and a gloomy financial outlook that will force the council to trim the city's operating budget by at least 5 percent.

Merritt said that his first act on council will be to get up to speed. "There was a lot of information at that meeting," he said. "And I need to get down the nuances of all of these projects, and quickly."

His years as a school administrator will help ease the learning curve, he says. Merritt also plans to pay particular attention to the planned $16 million expansion to the Chapel Hill library. Another of his primary goals will be to help improve public safety and affordable housing, he said.

A bemused Foy warned Merritt about what he'd gotten into: "Just know our meetings only rarely end this quickly."


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Orange County

More by Vernal Coleman

  • People's Durham: Giving residents a say in their destiny

    "We want the housing authority and the city to know that people are being put out on the street. We don't want the people who are affected by it to be the only ones who know what the costs are." — organizer Sendolo Diaminah
    • Jan 30, 2013
  • A gun-toting guard in every Wake County school?

    There are 169 public schools in Wake County. Armed law enforcement officers are currently stationed at more than 50 of them. Placing at least one armed officer at the remaining schools would cost an additional $9.2 million per year.
    • Jan 9, 2013
  • Court upholds ban of Internet sweepstakes cafés

    Last week, the N.C. Supreme Court reinstated a ban on sweepstakes-style Internet gambling operations, reversing a 2010 state appellate court ruling.
    • Dec 26, 2012
  • More »

Latest videos from the INDY

Twitter Activity


Since 2002 we have found that Chapel Hill transportation is free for riders; but now due to some additional issues …

by andrewdawson on Chapel Hill Transit considers charging fares (Orange County)

And no one understands that Chapel Hill has a serious homeless problem that needs to be addressed.

Raymond George …

by rgj5366 on After 15 years, Chapel Hill is still trying to get a grip on its housing problem (Orange County)

© 2015 Indy Week • 201 W. Main St., Suite 101, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation