Karen Stegman sees her kids off to school before she gets an early start to her job at IntraHealth International, a nonprofit where she works closely with IntraHealth's offices in sub-Saharan Africa six hours ahead of Eastern Time. However, the early end to her day job works well since she also serves as a Chapel Hill Town Council member, a demanding position that often requires council members to work longer work weeks than average.
“While it is challenging to balance working, serving as an elected official and raising a family, part of the reason I decided to run was to have broader representation of perspectives and experiences on the Council,” she said.
Stegman isn't alone either. Many members of Chapel Hill Town Council and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen — as well as both the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Mayors — hold full or part-time jobs on top of their duties as elected officials.
“I will say this council has more people who work full-time jobs and have young children than we’ve ever had before,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger.
The positions of mayor, town council member and board of aldermen member are part-time in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The mayor of Chapel Hill earns an annual salary of $24,524 and council members earn $14,652 per year.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro Town Official day jobs
Hemminger herself owns a small commercial real estate company that has five properties. She does the bookkeeping — mainly on evenings and weekends — while another employee maintains the properties, allowing her a flexible schedule for her duties as mayor.
“I spend about 65 to 70 hours a week being mayor — that includes going to events, speaking at events, meeting with folks, we get calls all the time,” Hemminger said. “I probably spend about three hours a week responding to emails alone.”
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle holds a full-time job as a professor at NC Central University Law School. She holds office hours, teaches classes, serves as an adviser for three student groups and conducts academic research. Lavelle said it helps that her two jobs are flexible and often complement each other.
At Central, one of the class she teaches regularly is state and local government, where she has her students attend a Board of Aldermen meeting, visit the General Assembly and write memos on current political issues at the state and local level.
“I also teach sexual identity in the law, and that’s my area of legal scholarship,” Lavelle said. “That’s been really helpful too in recent years when we tried to grapple with things like HB2 and marriage equality and other discrimination-type revisions.”
Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Damon Seils is a communications specialist at Duke Medical School where he works with people conducting health services research.
“Being on the Board is like having another job,” Seils said. “It’s not quite like having another full time job, but it sometimes can feel like that.”
Seils often uses his lunch breaks and time after work to make phone calls with constituents or attends meetings for his various aldermen responsibilities. He also regularly uses the transit system to get to his his job in Durham, and uses the commute time to do some work on the bus.
He said their most visible work as local elected officials are their weekly board meetings, but they have other duties that go unrecognized as well.
More than just meetings
The Mayor and town council members must serve on various town boards and commissions as representatives of the council, prepare ahead of time for the agenda items to be covered at their meetings and often meet with constituents and local businesses.
"I prep for the upcoming week’s meeting over the weekend, which generally involves four to eight hours of reading, review and depending on the topic, may include communication with relevant community stakeholders," Stegman said.
Although their duties often slow down during the summer months and towards the end of December, municipal election season tends to be a very busy time, Hemminger said.
"We have such an engaged community, which is terrific, but it also makes for a demanding campaign schedule," Stegman said. "There were a record 17 candidate forums in a period of approximately eight weeks, and six candidate questionnaires. Along with that, you need to hold fundraising events, meet with key stakeholders and community groups and other 'get out the vote' activities."
Although the community involvement in election season is great, Stegman said, she fears the demanding schedule and fundraising needs might keep people from running for town council.
"I was fortunate to have a supportive spouse, an employer willing to be flexible with my schedule for that period and enough funds to pay for childcare," Stegman said. "People in our community who don’t have these resources are not likely to consider running. This is one area I would like us to improve on as a community: removing barriers to full participation and opening opportunity for greater representation from across our community."
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