Sunday, July 14, 2024

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More public notice, transparency, openness needed in Mebane policy-making


Readers of this page will know that we consistently believe that when public bodies consider the public’s business, they ought to do so with a maximum amount of notice, transparency, and openness.

We’ve always thought Mebane’s city council and Mebane’s city government did a pretty good job on those fronts, but earlier this month there were multiple causes for concern.

The  monthly Mebane city council meeting, on February 5, contained three agenda items for land purchases for three separate parcels.

There had been no prior notification to the public, no public discussion at any previous city council meeting, or any other expression of interest in making such purchases.  (One property owner had mentioned briefly her interest in selling her lot at a previous meeting, but we hardly consider that adequate or proper notice.)

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Of course, we grant that the three previously unannounced property purchase agenda items was at least better than the commissioners (who acted on that same day without any notice or even any agenda item to bestow $250,000 on the school system without any advance notice whatsoever).

There had been no previous public discussion by the city council at any city council meeting that the city might be interested in buying property.

But lo and behold, here were three property owners, all of whom had ostensibly reached out to the city (apparently all since their January 8 meeting) to see if the municipality would like to buy their land – two near the city’s waste water treatment plant and one beside one of its small parks (on Holt Street).

This newspaper’s publisher raised concerns the night of the meeting about such a procedure.

Unfortunately, there is no requirement for any form of public notice, or a public hearing, for making land purchases.

Even more unfortunately, is that with no such requirement, municipal boards are free to proceed without informing their citizens.

The agenda had been publicly available only since the preceding Wednesday night, but who would have known to look for three land purchases about which there’d been no previous discussion, interest, or notification?

At least the amounts were relatively modest – at least compared to the commissioners blowing $250,000; the three parcels, cumulatively, will cost Mebane about $61,000.

And, it is true, that we doubt that even a month’s worth of notice would probably change much about the outcome: i.e., a unanimous vote in favor of purchasing each of the three parcels.

Still, it seems to us open government – to say nothing of Mebane’s residents – would have been better served to have provided citizens more notice about the proposed purchases.


Link Transit

We also found it rather disconcerting to find out from a different city council, Burlington’s, that Mebane has expressed interest in joining Burlington’s Link Transit bus system.

For it was at a Monday night Burlington city council work session (the same night Mebane’s city council was meeting, February 5) at which that city’s transit manager John Andoh outlined at some length the interest he said Mebane now has in joining Burlington’s Link Transit bus system.

Well, we found that very interesting and ironic – especially since we don’t recall Mebane’s city council members having discussed the idea at all over the past six to eight months. At least not publicly.

Our newspaper covers each month’s deliberations of Burlington, Mebane, Graham, and Elon city and town councils, as well as Gibsonville’s board of aldermen.

We couldn’t recollect any recent expressed interest from Mebane’s city council in joining Burlington’s bus system.

Mebane’s city council turned down the idea 10 years ago, when the larger city started the bus service, and hasn’t shown any public change of heart of which we’re aware.

In a subsequent interview with the newspaper, Mebane city manager Chris Rollins acknowledged that staff had been having discussions with Burlington, and he added that his city’s interest would be heightened by the much lower price tag now being suggested for Mebane’s participation, financially – $15,000 to $20,00 compared to about ten times those amounts 10 years ago.

It seems to us Mebane residents would be better served to have their own city government at least mentioning the city’s potential interest, rather than having to learn about it from a presentation at the Burlington city council.

Rollins pointed to a September 2023 Mebane council meeting when development director made a presentation at the end of the council meeting.

Yeah, it was about two minutes’ worth and hardly conveyed the degree of interest that Burlington’s Andoh says Mebane has in now joining the bus system.

At any rate, on all of these fronts, we believe the city’s residents would be better served by a more open, transparent discussion of issues that the city is pondering – especially when those same residents will be expected to pay the bills for the decisions when they’re made.

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