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Carolina North committee seeks common ground

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Carolina North committee seeks common ground

Faculty meeting prompted by Pope proposal cancelled

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

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The Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee has meet three times since Chancellor James Moeser formed it and gave it its charge earlier this spring.

LAC meeting televised  

Time Warner Cable channel 4 (in Chapel Hill) will air the April 6 Leadership Advisory Committee meeting on May 11 and 12, from 9 to 11 a.m. You may view the video anytime on the web at:

Check back to this same link for broadcast information for the May 4 meeting.

Moeser’s challenge to the 30-member group was to identify and then address key community issues related to the development of Carolina North, ranging from transportation to housing needs to fiscal equity.

Since then, much of the early discussion, particularly from Chapel Hill Town Council member Bill Strom and Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Dan Coleman, has focused on process, open discussion and access to information.

In the second meeting, focus shifted to corralling all the principles that various stakeholders have already laid out in various documents in order to have a better sense of the areas of agreement and contention.

At the conclusion of the second meeting, the hope was to move from a discussion of process to principles. It fell to Ken Broun, a University law professor and former Chapel Hill mayor who chairs the committee, to synthesize the various principles contained in all the documents, using the report completed by the Horace Williams Citizens Committee and approved by the Chapel Hill Town Council, as a template.

But at the start of the third meeting on May 4, Coleman pointed out that the principles contained in the University’s infrastructure report had not been discussed at the previous meeting or included in Broun’s compilation of principles. And Strom suggested, in light of that omission, that it would be necessary for the University to present the principles in its infrastructure report at the next meeting, in the same way that all the various stakeholders had reviewed the principles in their documents at the second meeting.

Strom said he thought it was important to have a complete list of principles before the committee began reviewing any of them.

Tony Waldrop, vice chancellor of research and economic development, said the infrastructure report had been on the campus web site for several years and questioned the value of using the committee’s time to review it, but said, “If that is what it takes for us to move forward, we will do that.”

Several University representatives joined Waldrop in expressing concerns about how the focus on process had stalled the original purpose of the yearlong set of meetings, which was to make progress in identifying areas of agreement and disagreement, and then figuring out how those areas of disagreement could best be addressed to meet the concerns of all parties involved.

When discussion moved to defining what was meant by a principle, Nancy Suttenfield, vice chancellor of finance and administration, tried to cut through the semantics when she said the important thing was to concentrate on where we disagree and why we do.

“The goal here is to reach common understanding and common ground,” she said, whether the idea being discussed is called a principle or a concept or a goal.

Others, including Etta Pisano, professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, and Jack Evans, a University faculty alternate, reacted with concern when Strom said he, as a town council member, was not authorized to “negotiate” as a member of the committee, but merely to enter into a “dialogue” that allows for disagreements to remain disagreements once the committee completes its discussion.

Strom said he could not negotiate and remain true to his charge as a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, which was bound by the report from the Horace Williams Citizens Committee that it had already reviewed and approved.

In response to that statement, Pisano asked Strom, “So are you finished now?” Without willingness for give and take from all sides, without all parities keeping an open mind and being willing to move from a fixed position on the basis of new information and arguments, there seemed little point to the exercise of discussing matters.

“You are saying it in an extreme manner,” Strom said, then reiterated his position that he could not negotiate on behalf of the town council.

Evans said he saw two possible scenarios from what Strom was saying.

In the first, the committee reviews the list of principles to find those principles on which there is disagreement. After discussion of those disagreements, the committee will find those areas that may not be able to be reconciled, if there are any.

Under the second scenario, the committee would merely identify those areas of disagreement without attempting to remedy them.

“I hope that is not what we are doing,” Evans said. If that is the case, he said, the committee would merely be conducting an “intellectual exercise” without any real promise of accomplishing anything.

Bob Winston, one of two members of the University Board of Trustees serving on the committee, said he was hopeful that the committee’s work would prove productive in the end. But, he said, to be productive the committee has to move beyond discussions of process and get to work.

“I think you are going to find a lot of common ground,” Winston said. “I think you are going to find we want to be good stewards and good citizens and good neighbors.”

Broun, in an e-mail sent to committee members hours after the meeting concluded, described the meeting as a success.

“I recognize that there were times when it wasn’t easy — at least for the facilitator. However, in the end, I think that we reached a consensus on some important, indeed fundamental, points.

“Among other things, we agreed that we are engaged in a dialogue, not a negotiation. We will try to reach consensus on principles where we can, but not our disagreement where we cannot.”

With that understanding, Broun said, “I believe that we can now move forward with our substantive discussions in the spirit of cooperation and understanding that I sensed prevailed at the end of the meeting.”

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