After some back and forth with the N&O editorial staff, I have trimmed my CAC op-ed into more of a long letter. Hopefully it will run in Friday’s edition.
A Requiem for Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils
Amid concerns that rapid growth was distancing city leaders from the community, Raleigh launched its Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs). For 46 years, CACs were a forum where citizens and government officials could exchange information and concerns until Raleigh City Council abruptly ended this decades-long partnership in a vote that demonstrated a shocking lack of transparency and good governance.
Much has been made of the (merely advisory) role played by CACs in rezoning cases but CACs were so much more. CACs stepped in when neighbors needed help, organized school supplies drives, and provided a forum where wary neighbors met with Raleigh Police officers to build connections, and the list goes on. It didn’t matter who you were, if you were a resident your voice counted.
All other city advisory boards get their direction from the top; work must first be approved by the City Council. In this model, how do we ensure citizen concerns are adequately addressed? Who’s doing the listening and who’s doing the talking? Absent the independence of CACs, community engagement quickly devolves into a one-way conversation. The partnership is no more.
CACs had their challenges but they also represented one of the most basic forms of democracy: neighbors coming together to work things out. We will be hard-pressed to do better.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here.
In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But … that is not what great ships are built for.
This comes with much love and prayer that you remember Who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.
Source: Do not lose heart. We were made for these times. | Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.
Writing tonight’s CAC op-ed was the first several-hundred-word piece I’ve written in a while. Looking through my blog shows that I used to do this on a regular basis. Used to do it with ease.
It’s difficult to pin down what has changed. Certainly I’m older and It’s harder than it used to be to string words together. My suspected Gulf War Illness could be another factor. Still, it’s also true that the nature of online communications has changed.
Many people started their Internet experience using America Online (AOL). Nothing wrong with that, of course, but my beef with AOL was the beautiful walled garden that it provided: people would log on and think there was no world beyond AOL.
Today the same could be said about Facebook. Facebook has captured much of the attention that used to be on blogs like mine, only now it’s also walled off and shot through with conniving advertisements. It’s all built to encourage short attention spans, while blogging can be as robust as I feel like making it.
Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) has worked hard to try to turn me from a producer back into a consumer again. It is an easy trap to fall into – “there are so many voices out there, what can I add with mine?”
And yet, people still visit my site. I still have many gems I’ve written here and I can tell the story of my life exactly the way I want to tell it. This is more valuable than ever.
Maybe I still have it, maybe I don’t, but there’s no doubt of the value of my words here. Let me know if you want to see more.
Update 12 Feb: After some back-and-forth with the N&O editorial staff, I have trimmed my op-ed into a long letter.
I wrote and submitted this 500-word Op-Ed to the News and Observer tonight. I hope they run it. I will be forever passionate about citizen engagement (real citizen engagement) and oppose any efforts to water it down.
A Requiem for Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils
In 1974, amid concerns that Raleigh’s rapid growth was distancing city leaders from the community they served, Mayor Clarence Lightner launched Raleigh’s Citizens Advisory Councils (CACs). CACs offered a forum where citizens and government officials could share information and concerns. For over 46 years, the city’s 18 CACs and their parent organization, the Raleigh Citizens Advisory Council (RCAC) was the only advisory board not appointed by City Council, a unique status that granted neighbors the freedom to discuss what was important to them and a means to provide unfiltered insight to City Council. Sadly, in a vote that demonstrated a shocking lack of transparency and good government, Raleigh’s mayor and City Council abruptly ended this decades-long partnership with nothing ready to take its place.
Much has been made of the (merely advisory) role CACs played in rezoning cases but CACs were so much more. When a neighbor lost her home and husband in a tragic fire, CAC neighbors pulled together to collect clothes and furniture. After the April 2011 tornadoes ripped through Raleigh, CAC volunteers were in the streets clearing debris and distributing water. In response to crime concerns, CACs worked with landlords to implement after-school activities for their teen residents and worked with the Raleigh Police Department to open neighborhood offices. CACs provided a neutral forum where police could meet with wary neighbors and build new connections and trust. CACs organized community events that promoted health and distributed school supplies to neighborhood kids. With CACs it didn’t matter what race you were, how wealthy you were, what your age was, or whether you rented or owned your home: if you were a resident your voice counted. You had a seat at the table.
Like any organization, CACs had their challenges. The unvarnished feedback CACs gave was not always welcome (especially to some developers, though almost all projects won CAC favor). CACs faced a continual fight for shrinking city resources and support. And, yes, CACs were known to butt heads at times but it is precisely this independence that gave CACs their strength: chairs were answerable only to their neighbors.
It is this independence that Raleigh will miss the most. Every other city advisory board is driven from the top down; its work must first be approved by the City Council. How can we ensure citizen concerns will be adequately addressed when city council alone controls the conversation? Who will be doing the listening and who will be doing the talking? Without the crucial independence enjoyed by CACs, community engagement quickly devolves into a one-way conversation. Partnership has been fatally wounded.
Raleigh’s CACs represented one of the most beautiful forms of democracy: neighbors coming together to work things out. Our city will be hard-pressed to improve on it.
This is a fantastic oral history of the greatest Super Bowl Halftime show ever, the 2007 show performed by Prince, of course.
Coplin: I would be watching the monitors and trying to factor my own opinion about the show, but no matter what you see in the television truck, you have no sort of sense of what people at home are experiencing. And I remember just my phone started blowing up. Like, “OMG, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” I just had all these people, friends, colleagues, people in the business, just really losing their minds on my texts. And that’s when I knew that this thing was really maybe even better than we thought it was gonna be.
Nathan Vasher (Bears cornerback): The last two or three minutes, I peeked out of the tunnel. I didn’t want to go all the way out there, but for two or three minutes I got to witness greatness. I haven’t experienced that greatness again.
Source: The Oral History of Prince’s Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show – The Ringer