In a town where elected officials are often little more than rubber stamps for an unelected bureaucracy, one Town Council-member stands out for her combination of vision, hard work, and persistence. Joyce Brown is currently seeking her third term on the Chapel Hill Town Council with the belief that her work has and will continue to make a difference.
Can municipal government be a leader in the preservation of community in a globalizing society? Can it act forcefully to protect the local environment? Can it hold down its tax rate while taking steps to help those at the bottom of the economy? Joyce Brown seems to think so.
Brown has already seen many of her ideas come to fruition in Chapel Hill. During her first campaign, in 1989, Brown proposed several ideas to commit the town to energy efficiency. On the Council, she convinced her colleagues to institute an energy committee, which has since brought forward proposals that have saved the town tens of thousands of dollars while doing the right thing environmentally.
In 1989, Brown proposed a number of possibilities for solid waste reduction and recycling. As a member of the Council and of the Landfill Owners Group, she has been a leader in promoting aggressive waste reduction measures, not all of which have yet been accepted by her colleagues.
Long an advocate of alternative transportation, Brown's work on the Council led to the Transportation Board's report on reducing single occupancy vehicle use. While the town has made some progress in implementing those recommendations, Joyce has been a consistent advocate for making Chapel Hill more accessible to bicyclists, buses, and pedestrians.
Eight years ago, Brown proposed a land trust for affordable housing as a means for preserving affordable housing. The Council appointed a committee last spring to work toward implementing the land trust concept.
One of the areas that has surely been frustrating to Brown is participatory democracy in town government. At the top of her 1989 campaign brochure was a call for measures to increase citizen involvement. Despite her efforts, citizens are given a scant three minutes to address the Town Council. There are no real opportunities for citizen dialog in town government.
Joyce Brown is constantly educating herself, reading a wide range of newsletters, traveling to conferences, and keeping up with the work of organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She is continually seeking to bring new ideas to Chapel Hill and Orange County.
One of the most significant of these efforts came about a few years ago when Joyce Brown, County Commissioner Margaret Brown, and a few others brought planner John de Grove to lead a conference on community-oriented planning. This led to the current project called Shaping Orange County's Future which, over the next few years, will involve hundreds of county citizens in producing an integrated plan for the future. As a member of the Shaping Orange County's Future steering committee, Joyce is very much committed to its success.
Most of the successes recounted above have come as a result of hard work and persistence over years. Joyce Brown has worked for eight years on a Council on which she is part of a minority, often of one.
This year, Joyce is hopeful that her re-election will be accompanied by the election of challengers Kevin Foy and Madeline Jefferson. Their voices, added to hers, Mark Chilton's, and often Julie Andresen's, can begin to tip the balance toward a more progressive, sustainable, and community-oriented town government. If the slogan "think globally, act locally" has meaning for Prism readers, then Joyce Brown's re-election campaign deserves their strong support. Dan Coleman is a resident of Iowa City, Iowa and was one of the founding members of the Prism. The recent emergence of a "Kropotkin" column in an Iowa City alternative paper is purely coincidental.
This is being written to convey to Chapel Hill citizens some of my thinking in deciding to seek a third term on the Town Council. These past eight years on the Council have brought both the satisfaction of success and the frustration of defeat on the many issues that I care about.
In particular, I have committed countless hours to working for a solid waste policy that emphasizes reduction, re-use and recycling. The Town has recently approved a good integrated solid waste management plan, and there will be much work in the coming years to make sure this plan will be implemented. At my request, Chapel Hill is also working with other governments in Orange County to look for ways to develop a regional economy which includes markets for recyclables, repairing and reusing.
Although it is over three years since the Transportation Advisory Board, at my initiative, provided the Council with its report on single-occupancy automobile reduction, little has been done to evaluate and implement any of the suggestions and traffic has increasingly become a problem. That needs to change. As new development projects are built out, transportation abatement and traffic calming that is not detrimental to neighborhoods are ever more critical.
I have also been involved, since its inception, with the comprehensive planning process Shaping Orange County's Future. The development of this important citizen-based, information-gathering, visioning and community-building effort was not an easy task, but it is now going forward. This undertaking, involving all four governing bodies in Orange County, will give us a County-wide perspective on issues of importance to us all, particularly growth and development. The process includes gathering technical data as well as views of the citizens of Orange County as to their vision for our future. The first reports will be going to the governing bodies next spring, and I would like to continue to be a part of this project in the coming years.
Other issues that I have been involved with include strengthening the Resource Conservation District ordinance, putting together sustainable development indicators, protecting neighborhoods, developing an economically and environmentally sound energy policy for Chapel Hill Town buildings, working to keep taxes down and to manage growth. This spring I joined the Town's Land Trust Committee so as to commit some of my time to affordable housing efforts.
Of the above issues, growth management has been a particularly frustrating endeavor as proposals for trendy sounding "transit-oriented mixed-use" seem to translate into little more than dense sprawl that threaten our quality of life without delivering the heralded benefits.
I hope that the citizens of Chapel Hill value the work that I have done and will elect a Council that is committed to a robust local economy with environmental integrity, to social justice with fiscal responsibility, and to a Town Council that is committed to participatory democracy.
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