Chapel Hill: Opinion

Roses and raspberries

Raspberries to the Mayors Innovation Project for barring the media and public from most of its discussions this week.

Dozens of mayors and community leaders are in Chapel Hill today through Friday for the the Mayors Innovation Project Summer Meeting.

The learning network says it is committed to “high road” policy and governance focused on “shared prosperity, environmental sustainability and efficient democratic government,” according to a town news release. Mayors from across the country will share their best practices and learn how Chapel Hill implements its planning process, encourages community participation, and promotes sustainability, the release said.

“The Mayors Innovation Project is one of the best organizations for city leaders to learn and problem solve important challenges faced by cities all across America,” Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said in the release.

“It is one of the best opportunities to engage difficult questions and brainstorm creative solutions with other community leaders,” he continued.

One of the best opportunities the average citizen will never get to hear.

The media and by extension, you the public, are not invited to most of the invitation-only event.

The summer conference starts Wednesday with a tour of the TOPO Distillery and continues Thursday and Friday with seminars, discussion and two additional tours. Several local leaders and town officials will help lead the seminars, including Kleinschmidt, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and Chapel Hill Town Council member Sally Greene.

Organizers worked with the town last week to make conference attendees available for interviews only while touring the Launch and 1789 Venture Lab business incubators.

Another tour – of Southern Village and the hotly debated Ephesus-Fordham form-based code district and proposed Obey Creek development site – is off limits.


The closed-door meetings of the Mayors Innovation Project follows another recent meeting we would like to have reported but were not allowed to attend.

On Aug. 7, a committee of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce focused on education. Tom Forcella, superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, spoke to the chamber’s Economic Development and Public Policy Committee.

We asked to attend the meeting and were told we could not come because the media’s presence might stifle the conversation. It’s a familiar refrain from folks who like to keep their conversations on the QT.

The thing is, it wasn’t long ago, under former chamber leader Joel Harper, that reporters from the local newspapers and radio station regularly attended the chamber of commerce’s board meetings, which are now off limits as well.

Current chamber President and CEO Aaron Nelson is quick to point out that the chamber holds several events a year that are open to the media to report. But it’s the regular meetings, where issues of local governance and policy making are discussed, that provide the best pulse of the business community, not the scripted events.

How interesting it might have been to have been able to bring you comments from the chamber’s local business and nonprofit members, say, as the Town Council debated Ephesus-Fordham and form-based code.

The closed-door nature of these meetings flies in the face of the Chapel Hill community’s tradition of robust, transparent debate. When the media and general public is shut out it only raises suspicion about what is being said, and even more, left unsaid.

We thought this community was better than that.