The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday December 5th

Toward resolution

The Airport Road renaming committee took a major step in choosing to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with an authoritative 15-3 decision.

Although no official decisions have been made, it's good to see that the Special Committee to Consider Renaming Airport Road has finally made some substantial progress toward ending the controversy.

Regardless of the merits of the town's decision to hire a facilitator, the results indicate a process that worked.

In the span of one weekend, OpenSource Leadership Strategies Inc. - the Durham consulting firm hired by the town to facilitate the meetings - was able to guide the committee to a decisive 15-3 conclusion on the major issue of whether or not to recommend the name change.

The $15,000 that the town agreed to pay OpenSource was an enormous expense, but it appears as if town officials chose an effective course of action - if not the optimal one - especially in this difficult environment.

Debate on the potential renaming has evoked everything from tears to unanticipated hostility on both sides since the idea's conception in January.

It seemed as though the renaming would be decided by a simple up-or-down measure, coming after Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the year of the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

But many hours of meetings and discussions failed to yield a compromise without vehement disagreement. This is a process that has dragged on for almost 11 months.

It's amazing that committee members took such a substantive step with authority during a single weekend.

The decision to rename the road - while retaining the old name of the road through an honorary designation - represents a good compromise.

The committee still has much work to do, as businesses on Airport Road face potential financial repercussions stemming from the costs of changing stationery and advertising materials that bear the old name.

Committee members should work to mitigate those effects to as great an extent as they can. Many early signs show promise of a smooth process.

OpenSource facilitator Gita Gulati-Partee told The (Raleigh) News & Observer that the regional postmaster in Greensboro told her that mail sent to Airport Road addresses would be sent correctly forever because the Postal Service keeps a log of all the former names of roads.

The N&O reported that some people heard that the Chapel Hill postmaster would forward mail correctly for just one year after the change - but facilitators said they would look into the matter before the Nov. 20 follow-up meeting.

It seems only fair that if town officials create a monetary burden for some members of the community - even if they do so for the right reasons - they should make a good-faith effort to minimize the cost.

Ensuring improved race relations and balancing power in Chapel Hill is also a vital priority. Honoring King is a good symbolic gesture in fixing the problem - but the lessons learned should be exercised in many other facets of town affairs.

By no means is the process closed. The committee is slated to present its conclusions to the Town Council during its Dec. 6 meeting, and there is no guarantee that council members will resolve the issue fully even then.

But there's no doubt that the committee made major progress this weekend in moving forward through a cooperative and constructive discussion setting.

With many different people interested in the outcome of this controversy, it seems that it would be almost impossible to satisfy everyone - but it's hard to ignore the decision of a committee with an overwhelming vote.

Hopefully the method that brought that agreement can help mend the town's divisions, as well.

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