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New Chapel Hill website works on transparency

A new town of Chapel Hill website is putting open government at residents’ fingertips.

On Oct. 1, the town launched Participate Chapel Hill to increase participation in town government by giving residents easier access to information and data.

The effort is a component of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive planning process.

Participate Chapel Hill currently offers links to town and county data, social media town officials use and the different ways the town spends tax revenue.

Town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said the goal of the website — which is still under construction — is to be more open so residents don’t feel left in the dark.

“We want to have a way of regularly checking in with the public,” she said. “We can receive their feedback and be responsive to that.”

Lazorko said a lot of tools residents wanted to see were already available on the town’s website but were difficult to find.

“One thing that Participate does is bring everything under one roof,” she said.

Lazorko said government transparency is something Chapel Hill has never shied away from.

“If anything, we have a long history of being incredibly open and accessible,” she said. “I think it’s a Chapel Hill tradition of citizen participation and open government.”

But Brian Russell, a Chapel Hill resident and an active participant in town government, said he isn’t pleased with the progress of Participate Chapel Hill so far.

Russell said he likes the concept of the website, but feels the town hasn’t utilized it to its full capabilities.

“It needs advances, but I can’t see them coming very quickly,” Russell said.

He said he has pushed for more accessible data to town residents and thinks the town did not understand what he was asking for.

Russell also said Participate Chapel Hill is hard for residents to find, and he hopes the town will advertise it better.

“Building it and saying they will come is not going to work,” Russell said.

George Cianciolo, co-chairman of Chapel Hill 2020, said the purpose of the new website is to help residents stay involved.

“The Participate in Chapel Hill process is really an extension of Chapel Hill 2020,” he said. “It’s an attempt to get people involved.”

Cianciolo said he hopes Participate Chapel Hill will make it easier for residents to know what Chapel Hill is working on.

“There’s a tendency (for residents) to be somewhat cynical,” he said. “When something happens and people didn’t know about it, it’s a sort of back-room deal.”

Town councilman Lee Storrow said the website will be a good resource for those who want to be more actively involved.

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“We wouldn’t be the really vibrant, energetic, progressive community we are without the input and feedback from our citizens,” he said.

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