After listening to citizens air complaints and praise the Chapel Hill Police department, the chairman of a town committee called law enforcement administrators “proactive and progressive” and says he’ hopes a civilian review board could be established.
“A lot of the ideas they had started working on already,” Wesson says. “They’re very proactive and progressive, I think.”
For example, the department is seeking more bilingual volunteers after residents raised the language barrier as an issue.
Conversations centered on the need for community ambassadors, citizens who would be in dialogue with their neighbors and the cops on issues beyond daily crime, to help manage the flow of information between officers and residents. Surprisingly, few residents raised the idea of establishing a civilian review board, a body that could serve as a third-party arbiter in cases of police misconduct.
The local call for creating such a board was renewed last year when Charles Brown, a Rosemary Street barber, was mistaken for a suspect, detained and questioned by town police.
So far, police have been largely resistant to a civilian review board. Administrators have questioned what message the board would send to the rank and file officers.
Wesson, a customer and friend of Brown, understands the concern, but says a civilian review board could examine both allegations of wrongdoing and highlights instances of exemplary police performance.
“The general sense is that if it could be constructed in a way that police officers did not feel like they were necessarily under the gun than it would be something that was good for their morale,” he said. “No one wants to feel like a scapegoat. No one wants to feel like they are under the microscope and only being viewed negatively.”
JIA would support a civilian review board, as it would other initiatives to help monitor racial and social justice issues, Wesson says.
The listening sessions and the collaboration between JIA and Chapel Hill police could provide a new path to increased public input on law enforcement, which Wesson calls vital.
“”That’s the most critical aspect of any police department at any time is just seeking out feedback,” he says.
JIA plans to host an event with the police department in September for the public to learn more about changes generated by the listening sessions.
“It wasn’t just a show; it wasn’t just, ‘Let’s do these events and see where it goes,’” Wesson says. “They have really been committed throughout. It’s really about creating a platform that we can build upon. They understand they cannot fully do their job without the support and understanding of the community.”
Justice in Action’s next meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday at Chapel Hill Town Hall.
It wasn’t the dozen pairs of blinking sunglasses or the parade of nonprofit groups pleading their cases, but a photo of the R. Kelly Bryant Jr. Bridge that may have made the biggest impact on the Durham City Council’s vote on digital billboards.
The graceful pedestrian bridge, which spans N.C. 147, serves as the eastern gateway to Durham and joins northern and southern neighborhoods that had been fractured by the highway. And posted near one of its ends is a billboard advertising the Dixie Gun & Knife Show happening this weekend in Raleigh.
The clash of these two landmarks underscored public and council concerns about the impact of digital billboards on aesthetics and property values—without any proven benefits to offset these social and financial costs. After more than three hours of public hearing and discussion, Durham City Council voted unanimously, 7-0, to keep the current billboard ordinance, which prohibits digital billboards.
Councilmembers had received more than 1,000 e-mails from the public in favor of keeping the current ordinance, which does not allow digital billboards. Less than 10 e-mails asked for a change to permit them.
"This issue has united Durham like no other," said Councilman Mike Woodard, shortly before voting to keep the current ordinance.
One of the 1,000 e-mails was from the bridge's namesake, who asked that Council keep the current ordinance.
"What are we going to do about that billboard?" asked Councilman Howard Clement.
Lewis Cheek, an attorney for K&L Gates, the firm representing Fairway Outdoor Advertising, noted erroneously that only by changing the ordinance could that billboard come down.
Councilwoman Diane Catotti contradicted Cheek, noting that the billboard could indeed be dismantled under the current ordinance—it just couldn’t be replaced.
"Durham has nothing to gain from [the change]," Catotti added.
The Indy will publish a longer piece in Wednesday;s paper analyzing the two-year fight over billboards. It will also be posted on indyweek.com.
UNC is relinquishing a $14.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that would have funded new additions to the Bingham Facility, formerly known as the Farm, the university announced late today. This means expansion of the facility has stopped.
Earlier this year, UNC received the grant, which was part of the federal stimulus package. The money was for "shovel-ready" projects that have a short completion time. UNC planned to use the money to erect two new buildings to house additional animals for research on genetic diseases such as muscular dystrophy and hemophilia.
"We have concluded that pursuing the NIH-funded expansion would require more costly infrastructure upgrades than anticipated," wrote Bob Lowman, UNC associate vice chancellor for research, in an e-mail to neighbors, many of whom have long been concerned about environmental and public health implications of the expansion. "This is a major change of course for us and it will take some time to determine our future plans for the Bingham Facility."
However, due to serious problems with the facility's wastewater treatment plant—it is closed and UNC will build a new one—the Bingham Facility's construction schedule has been delayed. In addition, the original grant application to the NIH stated there were no wetlands on the site; when the area was mapped earlier this year, it discovered there were several wetlands that had been damaged during construction.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources fined UNC $16,000 as a result of t
hose wetlands encroachments illegal discharges into nearby Collins Creek.
Check back Tuesday for updates to this story.
Durhamites and their county commissioners are likely still weary from last week's heated five-hour meeting on whether the controversial 751 South development should be allowed to go forward. The debate among Durham commissioners will continue next Monday, August 9, and there's no telling what will happen in this so-far unpredictable process that has stretched on almost three years.
It does, appear, however, that on the eve of that yet-unpredictable vote by commissioners, Southern Durham Development President Alex Mitchell and his partners are considering additional promises to residents and county commissioners on what the final development would look like, specifically in the amount of open space and tree coverage on the site, which spans 167 acres.
Mitchell said he has spent the week since the contentious commissioners' meeting talking with several opponents of the project and trying to accommodate their criticisms of his development plan. He said some of those opponents have been members of the People's Alliance, a left-leaning group that has vocally opposed the project and even started a petition against it.
"What I'm trying to do is take people who have reasonable and logical concerns, and see what I can do to help with those," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said his company is also assessing whether it can commit to a maximum amount of impervious surface, or how much of the landscape is paved over with surfaces like concrete. Committing to a figure could allay concerns held by many about the amount of stormwater runoff from the development, and how that contributes to pollution of nearby waterways, specifically Jordan Lake.
There's another big "if" that could be looming: Mitchell said his company has been considering creating an affordable housing component to the project, but can't put that in writing because of a technicality, on which the Indy is currently seeking more information.
"That's one of the things we've put a lot of thought into," Mitchell said. "I do not want to hear of a teacher working in the school that cannot afford to live there." But if Southern Durham Development isn't able to commit to reserving a portion of its project for affordable housing, it's unclear how much sway that vision will have with residents—or more importantly, the commissioners casting votes.
Three elected officials and one former county commissioner candidate are late in filing their semi-annual campaign finance reports to Durham's Board of Elections.
According to a county schedule, Commissioner Joe Bowser and City Council members Mike Woodard and Farad Ali were supposed to file the reports last Friday, said Michael Perry, deputy director of elections. Josh Parker, who still has an active election committee for when he ran for county commissioner in 2008, also was supposed to turn in a report, Perry said.
If the reports didn't arrive today, Perry said, the parties will get a reminder phone call, and eventually, could be fined by the state board of elections if they don't turn in their reports.
Reports were due for other elected officials and candidates who ran in 2008: Mayor Bill Bell, City Council members Howard Clement and Cora Cole-McFadden, County Commissioners Ellen Reckhow and Becky Heron and former commissioner candidate Don Moffitt. Read the reports here.