Friday, June 14, 2024

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Mebane’s REAC committee living in an alternate universe

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At times on Tuesday night, as we listened to the discussion at the meeting of Mebane’s Racial Equity Advisory Committee, we wondered if its members are living in an alternate universe. At a minimum, their pejorative comments toward the city council that appointed them were both somewhat arrogant and presumptuous.

First, the four members, all of whom are black, seem to have an assumption that there are widespread racial issues everywhere, and they are a vanguard to ensure “racial equity” in Mebane and elsewhere.

Might we be so bold as to suggest that one fundamental place to start would be having a committee more representative of Mebane (which is over 60 percent white, less than 25 percent black), rather than having a municipal committee that is comprised, 100 percent, of black residents.

Secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, we do question – and have since the idea of its possible formation was first raised – the underlying “need” for such an advisory committee.

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The committee’s formation, two years ago, was part of the largely emotional reaction to the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Local governments looked for every way imaginable to demonstrate empathy, sympathy, and concern for black residents within their communities. The formation of the Racial Equity Advisory Committee was the city council’s misguided effort in this direction.

Mebane has not had a long, recent, or ongoing problem with race relations. There were not then, nor are there now, overtly racial disputes or other even tangentially racial issues that demand the “advice” of such a committee.

Therefore, it is not terribly surprising that the committee has had ongoing problems with membership and attendance.   Or that they have wandered far afield in subject matter during their periodic meeting discussions.

In this latter category, there has been a noticeable expansion in the number of “issues” on which the committee feels it should be consulted.

In the fall of 2021, less than six months after its establishment, its members expressed irritation when they were not consulted about a rezoning that took place adjacent to a traditionally black neighborhood.  One member even resigned over the issue.

From this, and another example to follow, we’re not sure that the members are aware that the city council has formed a separate advisory committee – the city’s planning board – whose purview is planning and zoning issues. That responsibility, by the way, is codified in state law.

At its May meeting, REAC members lamented that the city council had not consulted them about the then-pending (subsequently enacted) new tax rate for city residents following revaluation. Many residents may feel the same slight, but it is not a topic on which the REAC members would have been, or should have been,  consulted.

This week, the REAC members spent almost half of their meeting time alternately chiding, ridiculing, and lambasting the city council for not having followed the committee’s recommendation to pay $1,000 to join a national racial equity advocacy group, the Government Alliance on Race & Equity.

The really disconcerting aspect of the discussion was that members seemed to believe – they actually expressed the view – that city council members were almost obligated to agree to purchase the membership simply because the REAC committee had recommended that they do so.

Again, we’re not sure members have watched or attended meetings of other municipal advisory boards.

City councils, in Mebane and elsewhere, appoint the members of advisory boards, commissions, committees, etc. to investigate issues and make recommendations to them.  (In almost no cases, save some of the matters that go before boards of adjustment in some cities, do these boards have independent authority to decide an issue or policy.)

Rather, it is the elected members of the city council who make final decisions, not the appointed members of various city committees.

City councils often change the recommendations they get from their advisory boards or ignore them altogether.

Perhaps REAC committee members should attend a few Mebane planning board meetings.  Its recommendations are often overruled by Mebane’s city council – most recently earlier this month when the council approved, in revised form, an infill subdivision development that the planning board had recommended against, 5-2, the previous month.

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield was known for his famous schtick that he “didn’t get no respect.”

Mebane’s planning board members do sometimes sound like they have a Rodney Dangerfield complex after their recommendations are vetoed or overridden, as REAC members expressed this week when their recommendation for GARE membership wasn’t wholeheartedly embraced, or adopted, by the city council.

But that’s the way local government works.

All the advisory boards make their best arguments, give their best collective advice, and then leave it to the elected city council members to make the final decisions.

As previously expressed, we believe the council made a prudent decision not to get Mebane involved in the divisive racial issues that GARE inevitably stirs up.

REAC members need to either move on to other issues – if there are any legitimate ones in Mebane to explore – or, quite frankly, maybe the two-year REAC experiment has run its course, and it should just be allowed to expire.

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