The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday December 4th

Carrboro Board of Aldermen vote in support of free speech on Chapel Hill buses

As Chapel Hill officials grapple with their stance on controversial bus ads, the town of Carrboro has decided to weigh in.

On Tuesday, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen passed unanimously a resolution supporting free speech on Chapel Hill Transit buses.

The board said the resolution reaffirms the town’s commitment to First Amendment rights and keeping buses a public forum for debate.

The controversy stems from an ad purchased by the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.

Though the Chapel Hill Town Council has been at the center of the controversy, transit system policy decisions are made by a committee of representatives from Carrboro, Chapel Hill and UNC — who share the costs for the system.

Carrboro Alderman Dan Coleman, who wrote and introduced the resolution, said it will inform how he and other Carrboro representatives handle freedom of speech issues from now on.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton said the Board of Aldermen wanted to pass the resolution before it is discussed at the Dec. 3 Chapel Hill Town Council meeting. The council could vote to ban religious and political speech on buses, kill the entire ad program or allow all ads.

“As the issue kind of exploded over in Chapel Hill, our board is pretty clear about why it’s important to leave the marketplace of ideas free and open,” Chilton said.

While Chilton felt optimistic about Carrboro’s resolution, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he was taken aback by the news.

Though he was not aware of the board’s resolution at the time of the interview, he said the move seemed strange.

“I just got a really terse email … saying, ‘You did something without the approval of the partners,’ and then they pass a resolution without consulting the partners,” Kleinschmidt said. “It’s just a very unusual situation.”

He said he had questions about the resolution, but he hoped the issue would be resolved by the committee.

“We have a good history of seeking consensus on policy,” he said. “I would expect the resolution to have significant clout.”

The transit partners will discuss the options at a late November meeting.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Lee Storrow said he looked forward to discussing the resolution.

“I have been supportive of creating a public forum on our buses so I am excited about the resolution,” Storrow said.

While he acknowledged other council members might disagree with him, he said he appreciated Carrboro taking a stance on the issue.

“It’s a complicated, difficult issue to deal with and it’s very emotional for a lot of folks,” he said. “But I think we’ll be in sturdier legal standing if we take the route of free speech.”

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