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Chapel Hill ombuds program to mimic UNC

Now that the Town of Chapel Hill has decided to create a committee for hearing concerns, it needs to figure out what that will look like.

UNC already has a model.

The Town Council will work with Wayne Blair, who created the University’s ombuds program.

The program will be a resource for residents or members of organizations to consult for solving conflicts and addressing work-related problems. It will provide information and mediation for issues like unfair job treatment or a conflict with a coworker.

While details still need to be set, town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said Chapel Hill Town Council members are supportive and approved the program at their Jan. 24 meeting.

“The council committee wanted to learn more from the UNC ombuds and model the town’s program after it,” Lazorko said. “It’s a great way to get the town’s program started, by using a well-established and functioning program as a basis.”

The University’s program opened in May 2005, and its creation was the number one recommendation by the Chancellor’s Task Force for a Better Workplace.

Blair said the office was the best solution for what could be done to service UNC employees.

“Because of the confidential and neutral nature of the office, there are issues that people prefer to bring to us, so they can voice their concerns off the record and avoid the formalities of the University.”

Town council members asked Blair to assist them in developing the program and help in searching for and training an ombudsman to ultimately lead the program.

Because the program is still in its early stages, the qualifications for the position have not been fully discussed, although Blair said the search for an ombudsman would be national.

Blair said he feels the town will benefit from the program as much as the University has.

“Ombuds empowers people by giving them information that they otherwise would not have access to, and helps them make a decision instead of being forced into one,” Blair said.

“In many ways, though we are advocates, we help people become better advocates for themselves.”

Michelle Laws, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it is important to have someone in a position of trust all community members can turn to, including the homeless and minorities.

“It’s always good to have someone whose sole job is to listen to the concerns of the citizens, someone who doesn’t work for any department and is an independent voice,” she said.

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