Take voters’ concerns seriously

The timing of Bill Strom’s skipping town last month without tipping off his Town Council colleagues that he planned to abandon his civic responsibilities caused rumors to swirl of a conspiracy. His buddies on the council were going to weight the dais with one of their own who would become a swing vote on key issues, conspiracy theorists howled, and the political leanings of Kevin Foy would live on forever.Nancy Oates

Watching the mayor fumble through that early morning special meeting last week added fuel to the conspiracy theory fire. Foy gave the impression that he wasn’t taking the appointment process seriously, leaving room for skeptics to conclude that he already had someone in mind to appoint, regardless of who applied.

At the council meeting last Friday, you’d never know that Kevin Foy had been mayoring for 8 years, or that he’d been through the process of appointing a council member less than a year ago. He knew that by calling Friday’s meeting, he’d start the timeline for the application process. But he didn’t know what it was. With the cameras rolling, he took time out to call the town attorney, who was away on vacation, to clarify a point about the timeline, and even after he hung up, he didn’t know enough about the deadlines to put in the record when the application period would begin and end.

Everyone seemed somewhat testy and looked a little disheveled that morning, and I’m not being critical just because I know better than to take a job where I’d have to be in front of a TV camera at 8 in the morning. But the confusion over the deadlines and the filing period, even over what constitutes an official announcement in the newspaper, could have and should have been cleared up before Friday morning.

This is not to denigrate the many hours Foy has devoted to council business over the years. Serving on Town Council is a thankless job, and more power to anyone who is willing to take that on. Their stipends amortized over the hours they devote to council business amount to a lower hourly rate than a bagger at Harris Teeter. And the Harris Teeter crew doesn’t have to field phone calls during dinner from contentious reporters or find their e-mail inboxes stuffed with messages from outraged voters on both sides of every issue the council decides.

The Town of Chapel Hill posted a news release about the vacancy on its Web site on Sept. 8. As of this morning, the day before the deadline for an announcement to be published in a local paper of record as required by town charter, neither the Chapel Hill Herald nor The Chapel Hill News had run it. What effect does this have on the appointment process? Does this void the current timeline and start the process all over again? What happens to applications already received? Must they reapply? Must they be banned from consideration, as Mark Kleinschmidt suggested during the Sept. 4 meeting? I called the town attorney’s office for answers but was referred back to the mayor’s office. And he doesn’t know.

Yes, it’s understandable if Foy’s enthusiasm for administrative details has worn thin. Still, his failure to take the appointment process seriously creates a vacuum that conspiracy theorists are only too happy to fill.

— Nancy Oates

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