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Chapel Hill Town Council talks technology, housing and overcoming language barriers

chapel hill town council
The Chapel Hill Town Council looks at the overview of technology use in areas like security, construction and digital transformation. The council met for a work session on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.

The Chapel Hill Town Council met Wednesday to discuss technology, the Building Integrated Communities Initiative and prioritized affordable housing sites.


Scott Clark, executive director for technology for the Town, opened the meeting with a presentation on the use of technology in areas like security and smart cities. 

Clark said security, an IT priority of the Town, is built upon staff training.  

“We don’t typically publish all of the countermeasures and activities that we do,” he said. “But you can rest assured that it is a multi-layered approach, starting with an awareness that staff is provided training so that they understand the danger of clicking.”

As one of the AT&T “spotlight cities,”  Chapel Hill takes part in an initiative that aims to better connect residents to the town and provide detailed analytical data for the town government to improve transit systems, pipes, roadways and other public facilities.

Under the initiative, the Town decided to pilot technology to address concerns with parking and traffic. For instance, it is configuring the Array of Things sensors starting next week with UNC, which will provide real-time, location-based data about a city's environment, infrastructure and activity.

“We’ve been working with Duke Energy to get attachment rights to put them on pole so that we could do a variety of things with them,” Clark said. 

In the Q&A section of the meeting, council member Hongbin Gu said the Town’s frequency of updating data, such as crime or bicycle crashes, has decreased in recent years. 

When Gu asked if there was a change in the Town's policy, Clark responded that some open data is not being updated according to schedule, and their open data crew will look more closely at this issue. 

Town Manager Maurice Jones said upgrading the data system requires significant costs, which will be in the discussions about a five-year budget strategy.

Building Integrated Communities 

Then staff from Building Integrated Communities talked about the program’s updates and their draft of the Language Access Plan.

The BIC program helps local governments engage with foreign-born, refugee and Latinx residents. The initiative, a part of the Latino Migration Project at UNC, is led by director Hannah Gill.

“A language access plan is an action-oriented plan to guide organizations to language justice, which is the right for everyone to be able to communicate in a language that they prefer,” Gill said.

The proposal includes a request that the Town provides interpretation and translation services free of charge across all departments, in vital documents and during emergencies.  

It also proposes language training for staff and pay incentives for staff members who speak two or more languages. 

The total estimated costs for the proposal are $23,600 for this year and are expected to grow.

Rachel Schaevitz, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, spoke to the importance of reaching out to residents whose primary language is not English. 

“We always say that we’re trying to reach out to these different groups, and, frankly, I don’t think we are,” Schaevitz said.

For Hurricane Preparedness Week, BIC recruited a volunteer from the community to speak in Karen about how to prepare for hurricane season. There are also versions in Spanish, Burmese and Mandarin. 

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Schaevitz recognized the community engagement element of the videos and asked how the staff plans to develop a communications strategy for situations outsides of emergencies.

Sarah Viñas, assistant director of the Chapel Hill Office of Housing and Community, said the office plans to start with essential steps like translating vital documents.

“And then from there, we can build it,” Viñas said.

Affordable housing 

The council ended by discussing how to incorporate affordable housing development on three town-owned parcels of land.

The council reached a consensus in proceeding development with Jay Street, which was described as the easiest to develop among the three and continuing the analysis of Bennett Road and Dogwood Acres Drive.

The next steps for the Jay Street project are confirmation of project goals and the council’s authorization to select a developer.


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