Name as it appears on the ballot: Damon Seils
Party affiliation: Democratic Party
Occupation & employer: research communications, Duke University
Years lived in Carrboro: 22
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term?
By running for mayor, I am seeking to build on the accomplishments of my eight years on the Town Council and to move into a greater leadership role in the important work ahead. First, the Town Council will soon adopt Carrboro’s first-ever comprehensive plan to guide decision making about everything from growth and development to affordability to climate action. I have championed development of a comprehensive plan since chairing the Planning Board a dozen years ago. With a community-driven plan that has race and equity and climate action at its core, we will be ready to translate our progressive vision for Carrboro’s future into action. Second, the Town Council will set a course for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We met immediate needs by dedicating $1.3 million to emergency housing assistance and more than $300,000 to local businesses. As we begin to allocate $6.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, housing security and support of local businesses and nonprofits should continue to be our budget priorities. Third, it is critical that we continue improving transit service by completing the implementation of Chapel Hill Transit’s Short Range Transit Plan, which has been interrupted by the pandemic. This plan will take our transit system to the next level by offering seven-day-a-week service throughout Carrboro and Chapel Hill for the first time. As a member of the policy committee for this plan, I helped define its goals, including increasing ridership and emphasizing equity and access for transit-dependent communities. Progress on these and other issues will require an accessible, responsive leader who takes a fair and thoughtful approach to policy and process. That is the reputation I have built among colleagues and community members, and I am ready to lead Carrboro as mayor.
2) Given the direction of Carrboro’s government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Carrboro is on the right course. Over the past several years, I identified long-term planning, improved transit service, and a greater focus on racial equity as priorities. We have made significant progress on these priorities and are positioned to achieve more. On long-term planning, we will soon adopt and begin implementing Carrboro Connects, the town’s first comprehensive plan, to guide decisions over the next 20 years on our greatest challenges, from growth and development to affordable housing to climate change. On transit service, we implemented a long-term financial sustainability plan for Chapel Hill Transit, replaced a large proportion of the system’s aging bus fleet, are beginning to add electric buses to the fleet, and have moved the North-South Bus Rapid Transit Project into the Federal Transit Administration’s project development phase. We also began implementing Chapel Hill Transit’s Short Range Transit Plan, adding seven-day-a-week bus service throughout Carrboro and Chapel Hill for the first time. On racial equity, I led an effort several years ago to send the town’s leadership to Racial Equity Institute workshops and over subsequent years worked with the town manager and my colleagues to continue identifying funds to send more town staff to these trainings. Our goal was to move the town toward more formal engagement in racial equity work, and I am thrilled to have seen this work flourish since then. The town has become a core member of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and a team of town staff has taken on the leadership of this initiative with their counterparts in other towns, cities, and counties, culminating in the One Orange Countywide Racial Equity Plan. Racial equity is a core theme of the Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan. In the past year, the Town Council established a racial equity commission to address systemic racism, boost economic mobility and opportunity, and support generational wealth building in the Black community. We will soon appoint a community safety task force to explore alternatives to policing for situations that do not require a gun and a badge and to avoid pulling people unnecessarily into the criminal legal system.
3) Please identify the three of the most pressing issues Carrboro currently faces and how you believe the town should address them.
Among the most pressing issues are pandemic recovery, adopting and implementing the Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan, and improving transit service.
First, on the topic of pandemic recovery, we have met some immediate needs in Carrboro by dedicating $1.3 million in local and state/federal funds to the countywide emergency housing assistance program and more than $300,000 in emergency grants and loans to local businesses. As we begin allocating funds from the American Rescue Plan Act—$6.8 million coming to Carrboro alone—housing security and local business support should continue to be budget priorities. We should build on these commitments by using federal rescue funds to support local nonprofit groups that are providing critical community services. The rescue funds also present an opportunity to identify systems and processes that should change for the long term to support community resilience and foster community engagement. For example, we should explore a pilot participatory budgeting process or other meaningful engagement mechanism through which community members participate directly in decision making about how to use the rescue funds. This experience would inform future efforts to engage community members in identifying and prioritizing public spending projects.
Second, I have long advocated that decisions about long-term growth and development in Carrboro should be guided by a community-driven comprehensive plan. We are now deep into the Carrboro Connects comprehensive planning process. Once adopted, Carrboro Connects will guide decisions over the next 20 years on our greatest challenges, from growth and development to affordable housing to climate change. A key area of the plan is land use. Today, we have a land use ordinance that is outdated in many ways and that largely promotes a sprawling, suburban form of development. We need land use policies that promote more compact, walkable, transit-oriented development and that result in greater variety and quantity of housing opportunities in a community and a region that are under strong growth pressure and have become less affordable.
Third, it is critically important that we continue the implementation of Chapel Hill Transit’s Short Range Transit Plan. Although interrupted by the COVID-19 public health emergency and an attendant crisis of bus driver vacancies, we have already begun providing seven-day-a-week bus service in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. As a member of the policy committee that developed the plan, I shaped the goals of the project by insisting that we emphasize equity and access for transit-dependent community members and that we try to make big changes over the long term by increasing ridership and making transit a better option for more people. As one of Carrboro’s representatives on the Chapel Hill Transit partners committee, I also shaped the priorities for how we use funds from the Orange County Transit Plan. These priorities include better nighttime and weekend service to improve access for people with nontraditional work hours, and improving access to health care, recreation, and education for people who rely on transit. Continuing to work toward these goals is a top priority for me.
4) What’s the best or most important thing the town council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the town should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.
When the Town Council convened the Carrboro Connects Task Force, we set the stage for the most important long-term planning effort in Carrboro’s recent history. I have championed the development of a comprehensive plan throughout my eight years on the Town Council and while I chaired the Carrboro Planning Board before that. The task force is helping to steer the work of town staff and consultants. We took great care to appoint task force members who represent a diverse cross-section of the community and to include both active, long-time residents and newer community members. We asked for great things from this group, charging them with ensuring that all residents, constituencies, and interests be considered in the development of the comprehensive plan. Their work has resulted in an unprecedented level of community engagement and a preliminary draft plan that reflects a bold vision for Carrboro’s future. Our previously expressed priorities of race and equity and climate action are at the center of the draft plan, and the task force has viewed every aspect of the plan through those lenses. My own excitement about developing a comprehensive plan emerged from my interest in better land use and transportation planning in Carrboro and throughout the region. I am hopeful that the final Carrboro Connects plan will promote more compact, walkable, transit-oriented growth and development as the best approach to promoting livability, affordability, and environmental sustainability.
5) What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the town council and its duties? What made you seek this position?
I have been elected to the Town Council three times and have served since 2013. I am running for mayor to take on a greater leadership role in the important work ahead for Carrboro. Before joining the Town Council, I had several years of experience in town and county government. I was twice elected chair of the Carrboro Planning Board, making recommendations to the Town Council on development and land use policy. I also served on the town’s Greenways Commission. I represented Carrboro as the chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, advising the county’s Board of Commissioners on social justice considerations in such wide-ranging issues as fair housing, emergency preparedness and response, civil liberties, employment benefits, and marriage equality.
In other work, I am a member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP, most recently serving on the branch’s finance committee, on the Martin Luther King, Jr Service Award Selection Committee, and as a discussion leader for the branch’s community book read of Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s Stony the Road. I was recently invited to join the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition, which is working with the Equal Justice Initiative of Montgomery, Alabama, on a multiyear project to recognize local histories of racial terror lynching and the ongoing legacy of slavery. I served on the board of directors of the Carolina Abortion Fund, a volunteer-run, nonprofit organization that provides grants to North Carolinians who have chosen to have an abortion but cannot afford the whole cost. I was an Advocate of the Year for the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. As an active volunteer in the Duke University community (where I also hold my regular job), I was a longtime leader of the Duke LGBT Task Force, working closely with students, employees, alumni/ae, and administrators to promote equality and inclusion for gender and sexual minority communities on campus and in the health system. Finally, I am a member of Local Progress, a national network of progressive local elected officials, and I serve as cochair of the network’s North Carolina chapter.
During my time on the Town Council, I have taken a special interest in regional and statewide policy making and advocacy. We in Carrboro are proud of our progressive values, and we have a responsibility to live up to those values locally and to advance this work across the region and the state. I have represented the interests and values of Carrboro in formal and informal ways, whether through representation on regional decision-making bodies, or through participation in the Moral Monday movement, or through supporting candidates around the state who can help change the makeup of the General Assembly. As one of North Carolina’s small number of openly gay elected officials, I have also worked in coalition with Equality NC and the Campaign for Southern Equality, along with Mayor Lavelle and others, to help communities across North Carolina adopt comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances. As a result of this work, which is ongoing, today approximately 2 million North Carolinians are protected by local laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics.
6) As with most places in the Triangle, Carrboro is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? Should it promote apartment living, duplexes, and/or triplexes? Encourage density in single family housing? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
The Triangle region is in a housing crisis characterized by a few main drivers, including lack of supply to meet high and growing demand, lack of variety in types of housing, and a suburban form of development that exacerbates the lack of supply and promotes a monoculture of single-family homes that are largely accessible only by single-occupancy vehicles. This is a recipe for unaffordability.
I was a strong supporter of the town’s recently completed initiative to dedicate a 1.5-cent property tax rate increase entirely to our Affordable Housing Special Revenue Fund, which has enabled us to fund the creation of new affordable units, maintain existing affordable units, and provide emergency rental assistance. Already, we have made a big impact. Through the largest individual grant the town has ever provided, and with support from the Town of Chapel Hill and Orange County, affordable housing provider CASA was able to purchase land on Merritt Mill Road for the Perry Place community, ensuring that this centrally located property will provide permanently affordable, walkable, transit-accessible housing to residents of Carrboro and Chapel Hill. We also made a large grant to support the Habitat for Humanity project on Cobb Street. The town has prioritized grants from the affordable housing fund to support critical home repairs, utility payment assistance, and other efforts that enable residents on low and fixed incomes to stay in their homes.
I have also been a supporter of the town’s partnership with Chapel Hill and Orange County to plan for affordable housing on the Greene tract and to rezone and transfer town-owned land on Hill Street for a PeeWee Homes project. I supported the Lloyd-Broad zoning overlay district, which was intended to guide new development in this historically African American neighborhood to be consistent with the existing character of the neighborhood, in response to gentrification pressures. This effort was led by neighborhood residents with facilitation from the Marian Cheek Jackson Center.
Three priorities for moving forward include:
(1) Allocating funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to further bolster the town’s Affordable Housing Special Revenue Fund, and continuing to use the affordable housing fund strategically to support new affordable housing projects.
(2) Continuing our partnership with Orange County and the Town of Chapel Hill to plan for affordable housing on the Greene tract, and identifying other publicly owned land and evaluating its suitability for affordable housing development.
(3) Adopting and implementing the Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan, including the use of zoning strategies that will make it easier to build more and different kinds of housing. We need land use policies that promote more compact, walkable, transit-oriented development and that result in greater variety and quantity of housing opportunities.
Finally, we should work with other jurisdictions to advocate for changes in state and federal laws and policies, collaborate in joint efforts to achieve greater impact, and set an example for other communities. Much of the work we would like to do—to address everything from climate change to affordable housing—is blocked at the state level by regressive lawmaking and preemption of local authority. Carrboro should be a leader in driving a statewide progressive agenda on these and other issues.
7) For those who rent or own homes in Carrboro already, how should the city and county address tax revaluations that increase property taxes and rising rents, particularly for residents in public housing and those low-income residents who face displacement?
Options for local governments to create a more progressive taxation structure and to use sensible tools to address high rents and housing affordability are limited under state law. The county’s property revaluation process needs a comprehensive review. I drafted the letter sent by the Town Council to Orange County amplifying calls to review inequities in the most recent revaluation in the Northside, Pine Knolls, and Tin Top neighborhoods. I support the formation of a county-level property tax relief fund to support property owners affected by systemic inequities in the property revaluation process.
We should continue to prioritize grants from the town’s affordable housing fund to support critical home repairs, utility payment assistance, and other efforts that enable residents on low and fixed incomes to stay in their homes. We also should continue to fund the countywide emergency housing assistance program. We were able to dedicate nearly all of the town’s pandemic relief funds to the emergency housing assistance program to help forestall a widespread eviction crisis. As state and federal eviction moratoriums come to an end, and as we begin allocating funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, housing security should be a top budget priority.
One of the most important lessons from the past 18 months has been the value of greater coordination and streamlining among the local governments to provide critical services. Town staff worked hard with their counterparts in Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough to identify and remove barriers to delivering financial assistance directly into the hands of those who need it as quickly as possible. Their continued collaboration, along with a commitment by the local governments to use pandemic recovery funds to fully fund already identified priorities for housing and homelessness prevention services, will be important in the next two years and beyond.
8) In what ways should Carrboro work on growing its tax base?
A key to growing and diversifying the tax base in Carrboro is to play to our strengths by retaining existing, longstanding businesses, such as the Cat’s Cradle and other anchor institutions, that play a significant role in drawing residents and visitors to downtown Carrboro and thus supporting other businesses. We should always be on the lookout for opportunities to create conditions that support new and existing businesses, including new zoning strategies. For example, I led a change to our zoning ordinance in 2018 to expand opportunities for new and existing arts- and performance-based businesses through adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Carrboro is also home to other categories of long-standing businesses, including office-based technical and entrepreneurial firms and professional services. Planning for growth downtown should engage these businesses in identifying challenges and connecting with tax credit and financing opportunities that enable local businesses to stay and grow in Carrboro.
Downtown Carrboro is one of the county’s primary economic engines, and we should encourage Orange County to invest its economic development dollars accordingly. I am hopeful that the Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan will reaffirm a vision for downtown as a district that evolves incrementally through an emphasis on infill consisting of mixed-use, medium-rise buildings along with a multimodal transportation network. We should also complete the 203 Project, which will house a branch library, recreation and parks space, and county skills development and education space so that residents and visitors will spend more time downtown and support local businesses.
We can build on our commitments to existing local business by using a portion of the town’s pandemic recovery funds to give grants to local businesses or provide other support to the extent that this is legally allowable.
9) What do you think is the best course of action for the town’s parking issues?
We should consider parking in the context of the variety of ways people access downtown and in light of our climate action goals, transit investments, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
The Town Council unanimously adopted the Carrboro Downtown Parking Plan just a few years ago. Much of the significant parking capacity in town is located on private property, and publicly available parking can be difficult for people to find. The town needs to complete its parking wayfinding project; work harder to facilitate shared parking arrangements between private property owners and between the town and private property owners; and enforce existing parking regulations to reduce long-term parking in public parking spaces that are intended for quick turnover, especially during peak times.
The town recently began a supplemental parking study to explore how best to go about enforcing existing parking rules and whether it makes sense to begin administering a paid parking program. The currently adopted parking plan calls for enforcement of parking rules as one approach to better managing existing parking supply. Pricing is another possibility for achieving this goal. I would like to first understand the likely effects of better enforcement.
Finally, the town is entering into a number of agreements with local property owners to make their parking lots available for public use during construction of the 203 Project.
10) In your view, how can the town improve public transit, especially in terms of serving lower-income residents? How can the town recruit and retain more bus drivers? How can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?
There are many ways to continue improving public transit for transit-dependent community members and making our pedestrian and bicycle networks safer and more accessible. This issue is especially important to me, both because I am a regular transit user and because I represent Carrboro on the board of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (twice as chair), the regional planning body that sets transportation policy and prioritizes transportation investments for the western Triangle.
Carrboro’s contribution to Chapel Hill Transit is the largest single item in the town’s annual operating budget, and this level of commitment should continue. Moreover, it is critically important that we continue the implementation of Chapel Hill Transit’s Short Range Transit Plan. Although interrupted by the COVID-19 public health emergency and an attendant crisis of bus driver vacancies, we have already begun providing seven-day-a-week bus service in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. As a member of the policy committee for the Short Range Transit Plan, I shaped the goals of the plan, insisting that we emphasize equity for transit-dependent communities and that we seek to make transformational change by increasing ridership, achieving significant mode shift to transit, and using the route structure to create high-frequency transit corridors.
The leadership of Chapel Hill Transit has shifted significant attention to the crisis of bus driver vacancies, a challenge facing transit agencies all over the country. In addition to a recent increase in starting pay, the transit partners will soon need to have a serious conversation about compensation, benefits, and recruitment/retention bonuses for bus drivers (and there should be a similar conversation about all frontline workers), both to make our local transit agency more competitive with other transit agencies in the region and to recognize new and evolving (and poorly understood) realities in the labor force.
As one of Carrboro’s representatives on the Chapel Hill Transit partners committee, I also helped shape the priorities for how allocations of funding from the Orange County Transit Plan are spent locally. These priorities include improvements in nighttime and weekend service to improve access to jobs with nontraditional work hours; access to retail, health care, recreational, and education destinations for lower-income and transit-dependent residents; and better service for lower-income communities. Resulting service improvements have included better service on the HS route and later nighttime service on the J route, among others. We must also continue making improvements to regional transit service. A few years ago, we successfully advocated to bring regional bus service directly to downtown Carrboro. It is now possible for commuters and others to travel between downtown Carrboro and downtown Durham during peak hours, expanding access to jobs, health care, and other opportunities.
The update of the Orange County Transit Plan, currently ongoing, is a good opportunity to rethink how the plan provides a sustainable, meaningful source of funds for local transit service improvements, in addition to meeting critical regional needs. Chapel Hill Transit is the second largest transit system in the state and is the primary transit service provider for the areas of Orange County that have, by far, the highest propensity for transit use. As the mechanism for securing ongoing revenue for transit funding, the county’s transit plan should reflect this reality. As Durham and Orange Counties finalize updates to their transit plans, it will be important to retain the regional vision embodied in those plans while ensuring that local gransit agencies receive adequate funding.
Better pedestrian and bicycle access to transit is also important. Carrboro spent the last of its sidewalk bond funds on a mile-long sidewalk on Rogers Road to improve transit access for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. These kinds of local investments will continue as we spend funds allocated through the Orange County Transit Plan on bus access improvements, including accessibility improvements to bus stops and shelters, and new sidewalks on S Greensboro Street, Jones Ferry Road, and Barnes Street—all of which were selected for their potential to improve access for lower- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
I was the leader on the Town Council in bringing forward the upcoming redesign of E Main Street, which will include a lane reduction and the addition of bike lanes. The project will be a major improvement for downtown Carrboro. It has been approved and is currently scheduled for completion next year. I also supported the lane reduction on Jones Ferry Road, and I led the effort to upgrade the buffered bike lane there to a separated bike lane. Other high-priority projects are identified in the town’s recently updated bike plan.
I commute to work by local and regional bus, and I travel in town primarily by bicycle and by walking. I personally have the benefit of easy access to fare-free local and regional bus service, and I live in a part of town with fairly good pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Our challenge as policy makers is to find ways for more people in Carrboro and throughout the region to have more of these options.
11) Carrboro has traditionally struggled to attract businesses run by people of color. Why do you believe that is? How can the town work to attract minority-owned businesses?
Larger demographic shifts and gentrification have also shifted the landscape for business. These shifts come on top of longstanding systemic problems, such as poorer access to capital among people of color, making it harder to make the investments required to start a new business. Chapel Hill and Carrboro have notoriously difficult processes for permitting and development, and wherever there are barriers we can expect that they have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. The Town Council approved an updated economic development plan in late 2017 that expresses our priorities and values for supporting local economic development, including a focus on racial equity.
As a result of this priority shift, the town’s economic development staff has started holding a series of roundtables for local businesses owned or managed by people of color to generate ideas for the role the town can play in helping these businesses launch and be successful. The town has started a public listing of minority-owned businesses to raise awareness in the community and encourage residents and visitors to support these businesses. We also have an opportunity through the town’s economic development plan to build strategies around the plan’s focus on racial equity. These strategies could include rethinking how we use the town’s revolving loan fund (which currently is underused) and allocations from Orange County’s Article 46 economic development sales tax revenues.
The Town Council recently appointed a Racial Equity Commission. This community advisory board will make recommendations to the Town Council for short-, medium-, and long-term steps the town can take to address systemic racism, boost economic mobility and opportunity, and support generational wealth creation in the Black community.
We also recently followed through on the work of the Rogers Road community in the Mapping Our Community’s Future initiative by supporting the Rogers Road zoning proposals that emerged from that initiative, which are intended to improve access by the community to economic opportunities by updating the town’s zoning and land use regulations to allow for more home-based businesses and other commercial opportunities in the Rogers Road neighborhood in a way that promotes the existing skills and leadership of residents. This initiative provides a powerful example of how to engage historically marginalized communities in identifying where the challenges are and what solutions make the most sense for them.
12) In March, Orange County’s Board of Commissioners voted to allocate an additional, unexpected $1.8 million to the county’s Southern Branch Library project. Do you support the design and funding of the library in its current iteration? Would you lobby the commissioners to do anything differently in regard to the library?
Yes, I support the completion of the 203 Project. This project is in the final design phase and should break ground next year in accordance with the development agreement between Carrboro and Orange County. The approximately $27 million project is an important collaboration, with each party splitting the cost proportional to their uses (roughly 45% to the Town of Carrboro). It will house not just the Orange County Public Library’s Southern Branch—which this community has been championing for decades—but also programming space and offices for the town’s Recreation, Parks & Cultural Resources department and various potential uses like the Orange County Skills Development Center and Durham Tech Community College programs, WCOM FM community radio, the local guardian ad litem program, and more.
Development of the 203 Project has included extensive public input, including many, many community meetings and public hearings over several years, as well as reviews by the town’s volunteer community advisory boards. Overall, the project has received enthusiastic support, and I am very excited about the role the library and other programs housed in the building will play in supporting literacy, education, and cultural opportunities, especially for lower-income people and youth in the community.
13) How do you feel Orange County, municipal, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board officials have handled the COVID-19 pandemic? If you don’t think the pandemic was handled well, what should have been done differently?
I am proud of the leaders of our pandemic response for their work to keep Orange County’s rate of community spread of COVID-19 among the lowest in the state. The county’s health director and emergency services director acted quickly in collaboration with local emergency management leadership from the towns, the county chair and mayors, and local staff teams not only to coordinate disease control measures throughout the county, but also to coordinate food distribution, housing security programs, volunteer management, and more.
The challenge now is for the four jurisdictions in Orange County to collaborate in making the best use of our recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. We have learned lessons during the pandemic about the importance of collaborating with each other, streamlining processes, and removing barriers to access for people in greatest need. We should take these lessons into the recovery phase.
14) What role does Carrboro have in developing the Greene Tract in partnership with Chapel Hill and Orange County? How do you think that land should be developed? What are your priorities for the property?
I have been a consistent supporter of the Rogers Road zoning initiative, which emerged from community-led work by the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, and others to develop the Mapping Our Community’s Future report.
I support continuing the partnership between Orange County, the Town of Chapel Hill, and the Town of Carrboro to plan for affordable housing on a portion of the Greene tract and potentially a mix of uses in the broader neighborhood, at the neighborhood scale envisioned by the residents of the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood. I also support identifying other publicly owned land and evaluating its suitability for development of affordable housing, such as the property on Hill Street that we recently rezoned for a PeeWee Homes project.
The three local governments that jointly own the Greene tract made a commitment to centering the voices of the Rogers Road community when we commissioned the Mapping Our Community’s Future study. Given the half century of broken promises in the Rogers Road community, following through on our commitment is especially important.
15) Carrboro has a new police chief whose stated goal is to build trust between the community and the police department. How successfully do you feel the police department is realizing that goal? What, if anything, should the town be doing differently in regards to policing?
The town manager (current and former) and the police chief (current and former) have been implementing several policy directives of the Town Council, and there is more work to come. Our new police chief is well-versed in the Town Council’s priorities and has jumped at the opportunity, taking on things like new training in harm reduction concepts and strategies.
Since joining the Town Council, I have led in the development of policies related to law enforcement and criminal justice. Among other efforts, in early 2014, I began meeting with the police chief and representatives of the ACLU of North Carolina to shape a policy for the use of dashboard-mounted and body-worn police cameras. That policy has since been approved, and cameras are in use. Likewise, I worked with the town manager and the police department to make progress on other recommendations of the Orange County Bias Free Policing Coalition, including written policies explicitly prohibiting racial profiling; periodic reviews of data on law vehicle stops, searches, and arrests; requirement to obtain written consent for consensual searches; designation of marijuana-related enforcement as a low priority; deemphasis of regulatory and equipment-related vehicle stops; and racial equity training for officers.
Last year, I led a unanimous Town Council in making several additional changes, including clear policy goals to achieve zero racial and ethnic disparities in a variety of law enforcement outcomes. We also specified several use-of-force policies in addition to those already in effect, including a prohibition on chokeholds and strangleholds and a ban on the use of specialized impact munitions and chemical agents on crowds or persons exercising their First Amendment rights. We also reopened the conversation about Carrboro’s involvement in providing school resource officers to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and we ended the town’s participation in the federal government’s “equitable sharing” program, a civil asset forfeiture program that does not meet the high bar set by North Carolina’s forfeiture laws.
This year, we followed up on the previous year’s work by establishing a Community Safety Task Force. Local governments expect law enforcement agencies to provide services and address problems they are not best situated to provide or address. This has the consequence of pulling people unnecessarily into the criminal legal system, a system that is largely harmful, is overly punitive, and has disproportionate impacts on communities of color. The Community Safety Task Force will consider a range of issues related to community safety, including racial disparities in law enforcement, diversion and deflection programs, alternatives to relying on public safety professionals for human service needs, and coordination with other jurisdictions to enhance programs and services that keep communities truly safe. The task force will provide recommendations to the Town Council for services to enhance community safety that rely on prevention and intervention strategies as alternatives to policing and the criminal legal system, such as domestic violence intervention and prevention, substance use disorder prevention and support, and on-call crisis response that allows certain calls for police assistance to be handled by social workers or crisis counselors.
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