Chapel Hill public hearing on YouTube

On Will Raymond's blog post Chapel Hill Downtown Development Initiative: The Debate, there are links to TWENTY ONE separate videos of twenty one different people speaking at a November 20th public hearing on downtown development. To make it real easy to choose which one to watch there are screen shots from the video of the people who spoke with their names captioned at the bottom. (I've copied them below.)

I watched this meeting live on local cable access. It was incredibly long. So long that I can't possibly remember all that was said. So long that I feel it excluded hundreds if not thousands of citizens from this important debate. How so? By requiring incredible stamina to watch and forcing people to catch it in a limited time window. (The hearing was one of many things on a long agenda.) Sure you can go to Town hall and borrow the VHS tape. But who is going to do that? (seriously) How many young people even have VHS VCRs anymore? Now with the video online the barrier to civic involvement is significantly lowered. Not just for residents of Chapel Hill but for the world!

WillR's blog post is also significant because it shows what local government information could be like. Didn't the Town of Chapel Hill purchase, or consider purchasing, a video streaming server? Fact is the flash video post on YouTube by Will is more accessible than streaming video because the video player just works and the YouTube servers are highly effective. An expensive resource that many local governments can not afford.

Scott Kovens

Robert Dowling

Gene Pease

Roger Perry

Lex Alexander

David Godschalk

David Hartzell

Joyce Brown

Janet Kagan

Alan Rimer

Barnes Burke

Laurie Paolicelli

Scott Radway

Anita Badrock

Tom Jensen

Josh Gurlitz

Liz Parham

Philip Duchastel

Bill Camp


Bernadette Keefe



I have to mention too that the labor required to post this video online, while getting easier, is still significant. (kodos Will) Hopefully he'll share with us the process of converting this public content and sharing it with the world. :)

Thanks Brian, I was trying to lead a little by doing...

I'll post a recipe for making these so others can follow ASAP.

Quickly, I used free and open-sourced software to mix down the video content (SUPER and VirtualDub). With my creaking equipment that took some time. The most tedious part was the post-upload process at GoogleVideo - they need to take a note from youTube on basic usability. My real bottleneck, other than time, was bandwidth. It took hours to push the raw footage.

RAW footage is here, by the way, if anyone wants to do a mash up or edit out other segments (I'm working on two more on expanding hands-on art and the 2035 transit development).

The Town is planning to go with the same proprietary solution proposed last year (I believe limited to WinBlows). The service will just host the videos and the Clerk's process of editing and post-annotation is not defined.

If possible, I'll probably RIP the content from the proprietary system, edit it and repost until the Town finds its feet.

For those who missed it, Dave Hartzell had a fine piece in the Nov. 26 CH News. It's titled 'Don't accept the downtown development terms' and can be found at:

And David Godschalk's still relevant piece DTH Oct. 26th editorial

Both Hartzell and Godschalk's op-eds are surprisingly weak given their academic creds. Hartzell essentially says that since the earlier deal from two years ago was better then the current deal must be a bad one. Not exactly scintillating analysis. Godschalk doesn't even try to substantiate his arguments.

No, Will, you don't need to point to these articles. You've presented a much stronger critique yourself (tarnished only by your stubborn resistance to responsive feedback like that presented by Cam on another thread).

Will, thnx for posting Godschalk's piece. I hadn't seen it. Dan I disagree and I think you post is rude to Godschalk and Hartzell. Hartzell's argument made clear that this deal is getting worse by the minute and should be rejected. I appreciate him taking the time to apply his obvious expertise to the discussion. I also think Godshalk's piece was compelling.

Precisely b/c of their "acadmeic creds" both of their arguments are all the more compelling. Yet they don't "ivory tower" their arguments. Instead they state them in a manner that the general public - like me - can understand. All too often, in my view, important local gov't discussions get so bogged down into obscure details that most of the population can't make heads or tails of what the heart of the concern really is. So thanks to Hartzell and Godschalk for their intelligent plain speaking.

David, someone (not me) put the phrase "professor of" at the end of those two columns. I hope you'll pardon me for expecting a higher standard of argument on that basis. After all, many academics succeed in conveying opinions incorporating their expertise but effectively framed for a general audience (ask my wife, for example, about the film Borat's portrayal of Kazakhstan -- I guarantee you'll learn a lot without having to feel like a dunderhead).

The Town of Chapel Hill has in fact purchased a video-streamlining of council meetings, and we will go "live" tentatively in January (hopefully). There will be a link on the Town website, and one can access different parts of the meeting according to agenda item---you can just watch online what you are interested in. I am excited about this---no need to stay up until midnight (except for me and 8 other council members and those in the audience) to watch whatever agenda item you are interested in. Fast forward over people you don't want to listen to! etc. It will be great. Apparently Blacksburg, VA has similar council video-streaming. That's the best info I can give you right now, and the fact that I've seen an example of one of our meetings and hopefully it will useful for folks.


I find your charactierization of Harztzell's critque to be wrong. He doesn't say "since the earlier deal from two years ago was better then the currrent deal must be a bad one".

What he says is

1) Two years I didn't think any developer would be able to make a profit on this deal at the stated costs.

2) The consultant's cost estimates are too low, especially given the fact that local experts were telling the town and the developer that there was bedrock under Lot 5, and that this bedrock would substantially increase the cost of the parking spaces.

3) Despite 1 and 2, Hartzell relucantly supported the deal.

4) Now, two years later, as Hartzell feared, the developer has asked for much more than under the original deal and the costs have increased significantly.

I guess my position is influenced by a natural skepticism I have about these kind of public/private development partnerships that depend upon taxpayer funding, whether it is something like Lot 5 or Exploris in downtown Raleigh or Union Station in Kansas City or the many stadiums built with public money across the US in recent years

The incentives to underestimate the costs and overestimate the benefits are very strong, and unlike a private development, when things invariably depart from some consultants' rosy scenario, taxpayers get to foot the bill.

Let me put it another way...if your wife could write for laymen with as much analytical rigor and clear thinking that Hartzell shows, I'd be impressed.

Beyond that, Harztell has a heckuva lot more experience of and knowledge of real estate development than any Chapel Hill Town Council member.

FYI. I submitted the following this morning because, contrary to expectations, the DDI's web site has yet to be updated with background material bolstering Council's case:

Mr. Manager, Mayor and Town Council,

Thank you for being more timely this week and publishing the
RAM development agenda item before close of business. Unfortunately, the agenda item is fairly light on the background of the "new deal".

Would you please publish the remaining reports, discussions notes, comments, etc. that went into forming the "new deal" over the Summer?

I know that there's some legal issues involved in releasing all of the notes - legal issues that will become moot after you sign the deal - so I'm not asking for ALL the information now (though I will be exercising a citizen's FOIA prerogative ASAP).

I'm asking that you release everything you can prior to the meeting, including information not protected under the confidentially agreement but also not,to date, publicly disseminated.

For instance, would you please provide details of your consultations with the Local Government Commission (LGC) on financing?

This would include notes, reports, detailed analysis, etc. Please be thorough in your disclosures.

I'm interested in the LGC's take on leveraging the secured debt, effect on our town's debt ratings, thoughts on the quoted interest rate, etc. Essentially, I imagine, the same kind of financial analysis that a private business uses in evaluating the risk-rewards of taking on debt.

Finally, the main conduit for publishing this data has been the DDI website which hasn't been updated since Spring. I've asked the Council to update the information on the RAM deal in a timely fashion. Several folks told me to "hold my horses", that I needed to wait until the "final" deal was set.

Well, the final deal is set and the public still doesn't have those details. I was hoping that this issue would be addressed over the last 9 days but it hasn't.

The public has one weekend to review these critical additional details.

Please, if you can't update the website, then submit them to the citizenry directly. If emailing or providing paper copies is easier, that's fine.

I'll make sure they get into the public domain over the weekend.

Thank you for your prompt attention,

Will Raymond

For those of you following the Rogers Road issue:

more videos

Last night was the town's first live streamed meeting.

You can also get the archives back almost to the start of this business year-

Good for the town for responding to citizen input in getting this going.

I must admit I watched the meeting the old fashioned way last night though so I don't know how well it works.

If you are running the Windows operating system the video looks very good. The archive site for the video allows you to download and or watch the video after meetings. When you watch the video in a web browser there is a copy of the Agenda on the right and links to jump to different points during the meeting. Excellent for researching a specific issue.

If you're using a Mac it works but not without reading some long instructions and downloading some software that isn't on a Mac by default. Honestly the hoops required to view the video on a Mac is unacceptable. Better than nothing but just not good enough. It excludes many users.

The video site has three RSS feeds. Video, Agenda, and Minutes. The video feed has WMV files embedded in it. (aka a Podcast feed... sorta) Handy if you'd like to be quickly updated on new video content. Again this is good but only half the way to a industry standard. Most podcast feeds work with iTunes. Plus iTunes doesn't play WMV files.

Finally putting public content in a proprietary file format like WMV is doing us a real long term disservice. Not just by making it hard for ALL citizens to view the video now but also future citizens. In the future WMV won't play on computers. Like all media it will change. But proprietary file formats will be hard to convert to new formats. Why? Because in the future companies may have little incentive to sell file format conversion software. This is a basic requirement of archivability. Long term access to information. (ex. Oral History collections require loss less file formats that are standard if not legally open. ex. WAV) Does the Town of Chapel Hill want to be left out of multimedia history education of the future?

I realize its cost effective and knowledge rich to use an outside service provider to host web video. But what happens when the company hosting the video goes bankrupt? (in a year or 50 years) Will the public video content be released to the public on demand? What happens to the publicly purchased video content when the Town wants to move their content? I hope there are provisions in any contract the Town has with this company that address this.

I'm sure other former Town Tech Board members will chime in on this. I know we gave lots of advice about this. This is the same problem the Town has with the website. They took the easy/cheap route and didn't really implement a solution that thinks about our children's desire to learn about our Town later in the 21st Century.



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