After the Love-fest

Dan Coleman's picture

At Wednesday night's town-gown soiree, all were on their best behavior. The only moment of tension arose when Will Raymond pressed the town planning director on a point. Two hours went by before Elaine Barney politely asked if the university still had a protest petition in place for the proposed OI-4 zoning changes.

But there was one particular bit of hogwash that should not go uncorrected. This was Jonathan Howes sanctimonious prattle about the need for the university to safeguard our tax dollars. That was the primary rationalization offered for UNC's push for a hasty town review of university development projects.

What Howes did not tell us, but surely knows, is that state funding accounts for only 20-some percent of the university budget (see, for example, UNC says state funds are just 25% of budget).

In misrepresenting this fact, Howes is playing on public misconceptions. In its Feb. 26, 2004 issue, the Triangle Business Journal reported on a UNC survey which found that

15 percent of respondents thought the state paid for more than two-thirds of the university's budget, while 47 percent answered between one-third and two-thirds. Only 39 percent of North Carolinians chose the correct answer: less than one-third.

Those who've read the headlines lately know that state funding continues to fall.

I doubt that most voters, other than arch-conservatives, mind if their tax dollars are unspent for the 90 or 120 days it may take to make sure a project is done right. But the business interests who seek to profit on university growth don't like to see their capital sit idle for even a few weeks. Coincidentally, these tend to be the same folks who dislike regulation of any sort that doesn't put money in their pockets.

By the way, the town has faced this kind of propaganda before. In 2001, the university's master plan was framed as a mandate from the state's voters who had just approved a massive higher education bond referendum. Then council-member Joyce Brown documented that only a small portion of the master plan was to be funded by the bonds. Most of the bond projects were for infrastructure and renovations, not for growth.

We hear a lot on this blog from certain parties concerned with civility. I trust they'll agree that it is the height of incivility for a public official (in this case, Howes) to dump a load of crap on the citizens.

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13 Comments

Gee Dan, do you feel better

Gee Dan, do you feel better now?
I bet Howes will stick to the official rationale next time!:
' UNC requests that the review period for all other projects (not in the perimeter transition area), be shortened from 90 to 60 days since additional review time results with the new Concept Plan reviews.' http://www.unc.edu/community/

Dan--when you say "state

Dan--when you say "state funding accounts for only 20-some percent of the university budget" are you referring to annual operating budget, capital improvement budget, or the two combined?

Dan Coleman's picture

Mary, you must be referring

Mary, you must be referring to the nauseated feeling from the part of Wednesday's meeting described above. Yes, much better, thank you. I have a fast-acting and effective cure. Let me know and I'll send it to you privately.

Those familiar with the Peter Greenaway film The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover may recall a scene with a similar sensibility to that which I describe above. I guess my constitution was not as strong in 1989 and I have to confess leaving the theater.

Dan Coleman's picture

Terri, from the biz jnl

Terri, from the biz jnl article:

"State appropriations represented 25 percent, or $368 million, of UNC's total revenue sources in 2002-2003, says a news release issued by the university."

Ruby Sinreich's picture

I think the fact that UNC

I think the fact that UNC still stands behind its protest petition - an attempt to block the changes to OI-4 - is more shocking than Jon Howes stretching the truth (it's not the first time).

I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing until Elaine raised that critical question. As we have asked here before, how can you protest and collaborate at the same time? The Town has made a powerful good faith gesture by organizing this forum, isn't it the University's turn? UNC now says they don't have a problem with the OI-4 changes. Is it unreasonable to ask that their actions match their words?

Terri, I've found those

Terri, I've found those statements to be strange/strained for several reasons:

1) Considering the combined contributions of Chapel Hillian's State tax dollars to UNC and their local tax dollars to support services for UNC, making the argument we aren't sensitive to inefficient expenditures of those monies is ridiculous. I believe it makes us more sensitive and thus more willing to volunteer our time to help UNC shepherd those funds wisely.

2) The amounts UNC are talking about, such as $50K to produce a yearly readable traffic analysis with enough technical content to be used to determine policy, ar loom large in their arguments. They characterize these expenditures as unreasonable and excessive. Yet judged against what UNC has spent, $165M, in the last 2+ years and has pledged to spend, $265M, in the very near term, these amounts appear extremely reasonable and prudent insurance against failure (failures we've already seen over the last 4 years) . I've seen enough modifications during construction on Campus to believe that daily change orders probably amount to less than $50K on a bad day (I hate to think how much they spent removing the boulders underneath some of the new construction!).

3) To place their concerns on a pedestal and claim they worship at the feet of fiduciary effeciency is nuts - Terri have you seen the construction going on over on Campus? Do you remember how the modifications to Memorial Hall, for instance, started out as a project to fix cracks in the foundation and do something about the balcony and ended up swelling to a total reconstruction costing $11M of State funds?
Come on, a quick review of the projects over at UNC shows a who's who of NC construction elite (and sources of quite a bit of political largesse) bellying up to the trough to suck up those education fund dollars. Dollars, by the way, that would be better spent on support staff, academic staff and the real materials of education (which, I believe, excludes toy flight simulators - no matter how cool I find them ;-) ).

4) Again, if you review the build out schedules, you'll see that even for the most minor of projects (minor being between $700K and $5.5M), there's months or more between close of bid and construction. Factor in the long stretch between close of design and construction and you can easily see that 120 days is easily accommodated for even the most trivial of $5M projects.

Ruby, I agree with you about the Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde aspect of the meeting. Throughout the meeting, UNC generally agreed with point after point. Mayor Foy even pinned them down on the language of a few points, forcing a clarification and a public affirmation that will be hard for UNC to retract. Then, at the culmination of the meeting, after a generally quiet assent to UNC's additional requests, BAM - they won't speak to rescinding their protest!

It definitely devalued their statement of wanting to establish a cooperative environment. I guess it could be considered on par with Chancellor Moeser's not wanting to review the HWCC report and redline those principles UNC doesn't agree with.

That said, UNC is now on the record. The meeting at least produced that - and that's why I'd like to see another.

Is there construction going

Is there construction going on on campus Will? Jeez, as often as I am there, you'd think I would have noticed.

UNC has a couple of new high-tech programs (Renaissance Computing for one) that should be recruited to help facilitate the planning process. Computer modelling would greatly improve communications by presenting the developers, staff, and citizens with a common visualization of how the development would look and interact with other aspects of the community, such as traffic, light/noise, etc. In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, development plans typcially include GIS and computer models.

Dan Coleman's picture

Good points, Will. You

Good points, Will. You overlook the millions spent on plan after plan for the Horace Williams property. At least three complete plans so far. Many thousands of hours of staff time. etc.

Terri, Howes never mentioned the $368 million figure. I chose the term 'sanctimonious' to describe his tone; 'prattle' to describe the relationship of what he said to reality.

Here's another example. Three years ago, university leaders repeatedly said that they were tearing down married student housing because the buildings were at the end of their lifespan. The Sierra Club asked an architect, a builder, and an affordable housing leader to examine the property and comment. They deemed the student housing of solid brick construction that would last a long time and testified as to the need for that sort of housing near campus.

My concern is the university's repeated unwillingness to be direct and forthcoming about the rationale for its growth plans. An institution that claims such a lofty mission ought to be able to justify its needs based on truthful expanations not hyperbole.

If one is at an informal

If one is at an informal town-gown soiree and hears a university official engage in "sanctimonious prattle" by trying "to dump a load of crap on the citizens," why wouldn't one express that opinion to his face instead of on a Blog that the official probably doesn't read anyway? Doing so could be done in a very civil manner, and a side benefit might be further clarification on the challenged point.

Dan Coleman's picture

That's a good question,

That's a good question, Fred, and I'm glad you asked it. As you know, timing is everything in that type of setting. The mayor had speakers queued and by the time the mike got around to me the moment had passed.

Howes may or may not read this blog but we do know that Linda Convissor does so if it is of possible interest to him, he will likely learn of it.

I want to acknowledge that while descriptive, the "load of crap" phrase was excessive given that I have already learned that there are sensitive souls (compared to me, at least) reading orangepolitics. They have my sincere apology if they are offended. But I do hope they get my point and are also offended by the misrepresentation of facts.

Fred, It's not too late to

Fred,
It's not too late to invite Dan to the table. Dan is a true patriot, albeit a bit of a community gadfly, but that is his gift.
Bruce Hamilton of the Sierra Club sums it up well. He says:
‘Democracy depends on engagement, a first hand accounting of what one sees, what one feels, and what one thinks, followed by the artful practice of expressing the truth of our times through our own talents, gifts and vocations.'