Town Council members fanned across the room, finding tables and lying on the floor with big sheets of brown paper, sticky notes and mason jars filled with markers and crayons.
The brainstorming exercise Saturday at Extraordinary Ventures on South Elliott Road was designed to take them outside the box, so they could share their visions of the town’s future in words and drawings.
Members spent much of the day in small groups, working through questions about their goals and how they can work together and with community partners. The work took on added importance with the election of a new mayor and three new council members in November.
The were several common goals, council members said, from a diverse and inclusive community, jobs and economic opportunity to having many ways to get around; affordable housing for everyone; and more public spaces and respect for the environment.
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(Watch town leaders explain their visions at on.fb.me/1Q7lEt2.)
Council member Nancy Oates said her group was surprised that “so many of the visions involved taking care of others and that there was so much agreement on the big picture.”
The exercise gave council members a foundation for working together, member George Cianciolo said.
“I think part of it is we saw that there was a lot of agreement, and I also have seen some things on which we disagree,” he said. “I think where we’re going to see it is in the implementation stage. When we get to the place where we actually make decisions, there’s going to be more disagreement.”
There also were a few differences, including what it means to want density.
There may be different views of where and how much dense development to allow, member Jessica Anderson said.
An aging population also might need to live more densely, member Maria Palmer said, because having services nearby will allow them to continue living independently.
Council members also found agreement in their expectations for themselves. They should be prepared for meetings, members said, and not ambush each other or staff with new information. It’s important to act with integrity, compassion and respect, they said, but also to ask questions, be clear and stand firm in your convictions.
And be receptive to feedback, Anderson added.
“There are really important issues, and we’re all here because we want to work with the town,” she said, “so we really don’t have time to be nasty to each other or disrespectful to each other.”
Other questions included:
What are the council’s expectations of the mayor?
▪ Work with partners behind scenes
▪ Manage and build consensus at debates and meetings
▪ Look for best practices and participate in conferences, bring back ideas from experts
▪ Keep council updated on what’s happening and timely issues
What are the council’s expectations of town staff?
▪ Be a consultant, offering options, resources and feedback
▪ Follow directions and let council know what they need
▪ Speak up if it’s beyond staff capability or the town’s authority
▪ Manager should hire and effectively manage the best professional staff
What needs to be resolved?
The council identified its big-picture goals for the next two years. Members will review their progress next year and move forward from there. Next steps include:
▪ Decide how non-auto transportation should look
▪ Get the public involved and reconcile the differences
▪ Identify the stakeholders, funding and available tools
▪ Capitalize on advantages, and address disadvantages
▪ Decide what to preserve
What are the tools for development?
▪ An analysis and map of bus, pedestrian, bicycle and other, existing transportation
▪ Better data about housing, the type of development needed, and information and solutions from UNC
▪ A comprehensive land-use plan
▪ Better, more proactive outreach to public
▪ Specific zoning for some areas and preservation of others
▪ Enforce ordinances before getting complaints
Share your views
The mayor and council made it clear that the best way to get in touch with them is via email. Find their group and individual email addresses online at bit.ly/1Q2EykR.
Mayor Pam Hemminger said she’s trying to answer emails within 24 hours, with the help of mayoral aide Jeanne Brown.
“When people usually write to us, they’re usually frustrated,” Hemminger said. “The intent is to let them know what the facts are and tell them how they can advocate for their position.”
You also can speak at council meetings; a calendar is posted at bit.ly/1SjGjk6. You typically get three minutes to talk about a specific topic or anything else that’s on your mind.