I want to begin by thanking all of the stakeholders who came out to Chapel Hill High this morning, a beautifully sunny fall morning, and participated in our first “come together” session in which we heard reports from all of the theme groups on what transpired in their first work sessions. We had over 100 stakeholders participate and we got to hear from about ¼ of you in the discussion portion of the meeting. For those of you who didn’t have time to share your thoughts please think about posting them on either the blog or the web.
One stakeholder raised the question, which he had previously raised in a letter to the editor in a local paper, of whether the co-chairs of CH2020 and the theme group co-chairs were impartial and free of conflicts of interest. He also suggested that the process was poorly designed from the beginning, not allowing the stakeholders to make these co-chair appointments, and that Council should consider scrapping the process and starting over.
I would like to begin by clarifying a few points. The co-chairs of CH2020, Rosemary Waldorf and myself (George Cianciolo) were asked to be co-chairs by an Initiating Committee of 15 Chapel Hill citizens that was appointed by the Town Council. Neither Rosemary nor I sought out the positions, we were asked to serve by the Committee. As I understand it, the Committee chose us because both of us have been involved in Chapel Hill for some time (Rosemary served both as a Chapel Hill Council member and a Chapel Hill Mayor; I have served on numerous Town advisory boards and committees) and we are viewed as being capable of being fair and impartial. The process which CH2020 has been following is one that was laid out by the Initiating Committee after four thoughtful and productive public meetings and was based on a process used by a consultant to the Town in nearly 100 other communities successfully. Neither Rosemary nor I nor the Town Staff designed this very open, very participatory process – it came out of the thoughtful deliberations of the 15 citizens of the Initiating Committee.
To facilitate the work of the theme groups Rosemary and I recruited 18 citizens who live or work in Chapel Hill to act as co-chairs, or facilitators, for the 6 theme groups. We specifically recruited people we believed are leaders and who could remain impartial as they facilitated the theme group discussions. When recruiting these co-chairs we asked them if they thought they would be able to remain impartial and all agreed. Once the themes were identified we asked the co-chairs to choose themes in which they had the least personal interest in order to make it easier for them to retain their impartiality. All of our co-chairs underwent facilitator training with School of Government trained facilitators. All of these people were being asked to make a major commitment of time over the next 8 months.
It was brought to our (Rosemary, me, and Staff) attention that during the first theme group meetings several of our co-chairs shared personal opinions. We did not hear that they took control of the direction of the discussions or in any way tried to cut off any discussion. Nonetheless, we do not wish our co-chairs to offer personal opinions since it will detract from their intended neutrality. We have spoken to these co-chairs and they admitted that they erred and said they would be more conscious of their roles. As it is said, to err is human….
The stakeholder who wrote the letter to the editor and spoke up today spoke with me afterwards. He insisted he bore no malice to Rosemary, me or any of our theme co-chairs but that “perception is everything”. I can’t change his perception. All I can say is that if anyone feels that Rosemary or I or any of our theme co-chairs are being unfair or less than impartial we want to hear about it. We are trying our best to help you, the citizens who live, work, play, or do business in Chapel Hill, create a Comprehensive Plan that we can all be proud of.