WANTED: TOWN COUNCIL MEMBER

Last night at roughly 1 a.m., during our regular business meeting, the Council adopted its process for seeking a candidate to fill the “vacancy” on the council due to the untimely and sad ( and,  I could go on……..) passing of my friend and council colleague Bill Thorpe.  At the beginning of our marathon meeting (which has become more common lately as I will allude to later) Mayor Kevin Foy read a proclamation for Bill Thorpe.  Bill’s family was there to receive a copy of it.  Before the meeting started, I hugged Bill’s wife for a very long time and told her how hard this was and must be and that I missed him terribly.   I thought seeing her and going through this whole event would leave me balling up there in my council seat and it was tough keeping myself in tact, but I did so.  Yet when I walked up to the dais to sit for the first time since Bill’s death,  I was overcome with emotion when I noticed Bill’s nameplate was gone.  The spot next to Ralph our attorney looked strangely bare.  The point of all of this is this:  Bill Thorpe didn’t just fill a seat.  The council will never “fill” the “spot” that Bill occupied.   We will simply find someone else to bring whatever THEY have to bring to the town council this upcoming year.   Whomever fills Bill’s physical seat will not be filling Bill’s shoes.  He was of his own kind.

I will be grateful for those that choose to apply for this position, because serving on the Town Council is not easy.  I will welcome them as a colleague and look forward to working with them.  However, before applying and/or accepting the job on the council for this year, it might help to realize what you are getting in to.  I’ve done a similar post in the past, but I’ve got another year under my belt and have spent 3 years at it now.  So here is a list of some things to consider:

1.  Do you work full time and have a family?   I ask this question because you need to realize that council meetings can run way into the next day, like our meeting last night.  Our meeting ended somewhere around 1:30 a.m.  So think about this:  If you have a business meeting on a Monday night, and you work all day on that Monday and see your family briefly for dinner then go to the 7 pm council meeting, you may be there working and thinking until 1:30 a.m.   Then if you have kids or a job that starts at 8 a.m. then you will be getting up at 6:30 a.m. to go to work for the whole next day, and each day thereafter if you work full time.  It is possible that you might have another night meeting on Wednesday that week.   Getting by on little sleep is difficult and if this happens and happens on a Monday, it sort of sets your week off in the tired mode…..and it’s not even Friday yet.  Prepare for that.   

I am not sure why these recent business meetings have been going on into the wee hours but want to explore this further and see how we can be more efficient in our time.  I find it difficult to be energetic on agenda items past 11 p.m. having spent all day working and fixing dinner and having kids to drive around.  I am going to raise this issue because for the last 3 years I’ve been on council we have had only a rare occasion that meetings have lasted so long, but now it’s becoming more routine.  It makes it very difficult to juggle everything and be so tired the next day.

If you work full time, you need to be your best at your work, too.  So maybe you could plan for some flexibility in your schedule on Tuesday mornings or Thursday mornings after council meetings. 

Be aware, too, that not all meetings are on the Monday or Wednesday that you see on television or see advertised as a “Town Council Meeting”.  There are committees that you serve on that could very well meet during the day and other committees meet on other nights of the week.  For instance, tonight after having been to our 1:30 a.m. meeting last night, and working today, I will go to a 6 p.m. meeting over in Carrboro for the Land Trust board I sit on.  Not that I don’t want to go, it’s just difficult.   The Land Trust doesn’t plan its schedule with the Town Council’s schedule on its mind, and it shouldn’t have to.

In addition to those meetings which you attend that are scheduled, be aware that there are extra meetings.   The Council member serving new this year must know that the Council and the University are having “special” meetings of the Town Council each month, or more frequently than that, to work on a Development Agreement for Carolina North.  Those are to be nightly meetings, as well.   Sometimes during budget season we’ll schedule an extra work session or two, and they occur frequently around 4 in the afternoon.  So plan on those in the spring.  There might be other additional meetings that I am not aware of.

Our agendas are very large at times.  I’ve weighed a couple of agendas that have come to us, for fun, and have gotten some weighing 11 pounds or more.   You have to figure out when to read these during your free time.    Getting through the agendas become a lot easier once you’ve been at it a while, because you may already know a lot of information that is presented.  But it takes a lot of time and thought and often very difficult personal decision making. 

Don’t like email?  Don’t apply for the council job (just kidding—-I’m just trying to make a point).   If you don’t check your email after several hours or a full day at work you may be surprised later to find a filled inbox that you have to get through related to council matters in some form or fashion.  Going on vacation?  Might want to put your vacation responder on so people know.

Decide what you want to do in a proactive way on the council.  It would be easy to sit up there and just vote on things as they come along in reactive mode, but most council members have areas that they really want to work on making changes and spend extra time on those issues that are important to them.  These are not always items on the agenda and things the public might see every day.

I am not trying to scare anyone off for applying for the position, but aim to present some cold hard reality about the amount of time and energy.   The Council member WILL be rewarded with the ability to have that “seat at the table”  (Bill Thorpe’s words) in deciding how to make Chapel Hill a better place.  Working hard for your community, in my opinion, is one of the most important things one can do in life.  It is truly a pleasure to serve, and to make a visible difference.  It feels great to help others in this way.  

I look forward to working with the next new council member who has chosen to make such a contribution.  The choice will undoubtedly be very difficult, and perhaps all candidates are good choices.    It will be quite an interesting year.  Good luck.

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