By Brian Bock
Pittsboro, NC – While most of us were spending time with family and friends over the holidays and not paying attention to politics, our commissioners unfortunately were hard at work.
After watching the videos of last few meetings I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Chatham County commissioners Karen Howard and Diana Hales tend to make statements and motions publicly to placate a crowd then in following meetings when few are in attendance reverse these actions.
You might remember they voted to join a lawsuit as the only government entity against the state regarding environmental issues. Commissioner Walter Petty tried in vain to get the others to listen to legal counsel and not join the suit. The county attorney made it clear the financial obligation to such a move could be substantial. Karen Howard and Diana Hales claimed he was wrong and voted to join. The move was met with applause and congratulations from the assembled environmentalists. They were quick to spread the news of how the commissioners were acting to protect us from the evil state government. Fast-forward and we find they quietly dropped out of the lawsuit due to the extraordinary financial obligations. This was done behind closed doors. Most of the public still thinks the commissioners did something.
Another example is the debacle of countywide zoning. Diana Hales, Karen Howard, and Jim Crawford ignored the majority of the public input and the recommendation of the planning board and decided they needed to zone everything. That’s bad enough but they then had to lecture us and fellow commissioner Walter Petty.
During a standing room only meeting Karen Howard said “You (Commissioner Petty) are doing a great disservice to the people of Chatham County by fear mongering and misrepresenting the facts. You act as if zoning is some blanket, one size fits all approach. That’s not what we are doing” . Following that, there was much more discussion this would not be the approach. Diana Hales made a motion that included mapping all existing land uses, establishing agricultural zoning, residential zoning and an agriculture exempt classification. Karen Howard seconded the motion and it was passed. This motion was made to prove that they were carefully considering all aspects and would not use a “blanket” approach.
Again, fast-forward a month to a sparsely attended work session and we see what they really did. Feeling the approach agreed on at the previous meeting would take too long, Commissioner Jim Crawford proposed and actually used the very words “blanket residential zoning”. Diana Hales and Karen Howard agreed it would work. So after lecturing residents and commissioner Walter Petty that they were not going to use a blanket, one size fits all approach, that is exactly what they voted to do when nobody was paying attention.
You may or may not agree with the final results of these actions, but the manner in which they are done to maximize publicity and the appearance of doing one thing while doing another should bother everyone.