The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday August 12th

UNC graduate student denied from Town of Chapel Hill transportation advisory board

The North Carolina Department of Transportation made budget cuts to the State's Maintenance Assistance Program (SMAP), which the Chapel Hill Transit relies on, reducing more than 23% of payment to CHT in 2019. Resolution of the budget cuts is geared towards demonstrating the dependency of the community on the free transportation system.
Buy Photos The North Carolina Department of Transportation made budget cuts to the State's Maintenance Assistance Program (SMAP), which the Chapel Hill Transit relies on, reducing more than 23% of payment to CHT in 2019. Resolution of the budget cuts is geared towards demonstrating the dependency of the community on the free transportation system.

This election season, many community members in Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas have been thinking about ways to increase representation in the town government, especially among UNC students and racial minorities. They are now ramping up their calls after Josh Mayo, a Black graduate student, was recently denied from a position to serve the town.

Mayo is a Chapel Hill native who graduated from UNC and is now pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning with a focus on transportation planning. He recently submitted an application to serve on the Chapel Hill Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board in the position of Chapel Hill Resident but was denied in favor of Jack Whaley, an older white man. 

Mayo received three votes from council members Donna Bell, Michael Parker and Karen Stegman, and Whaley received the other seven, including Mayor Pam Hemminger’s vote.

Mayo said that he wanted to serve on the board because he thought he could give a helpful perspective as both a Chapel Hill resident and student. 

“I applied because I grew up in Chapel Hill and went to undergrad here, and I’m invested in the town’s future," Mayo said. "I’m currently pursuing a masters in urban planning, and since I’m learning about transportation planning, I figured I would be able to offer a helpful perspective. I also wanted to bring my experience as both a student and non-student to make sure everyone’s needs are taken into account.”



Gerry Cohen, who is a graduate of UNC and served on the Town Council when he was a student from 1973-79, said he was disappointed that Mayo was not elected.

“Josh would have been a great board member," Cohen said. "As long as I’ve known him he’s been a big public transit activist. He’s a Chapel Hill native, Black, a UNC grad and a current grad student. Those categories are very underrepresented. I’ve got nothing against who was appointed, but no shortage of age 55 plus white men on Chapel Hill boards."

He said students make up a majority of bus riders, so their input is important.

"It’s hard to get students to serve on town boards, and here was one asking to serve," he said. 

Penny Rich, chairperson of the Board of Orange County Commissioners, said she believes the fact that Mayo was not selected represents the larger problem of the lack of diversity and representation in the Chapel Hill government.

“That person is another white man that we’re putting on a board," Rich said. "You have to get out of that rut and can’t keep going back to what feels comfortable. You have to think about what the future looks like for Chapel Hill, and who we want to build that future. We want young people, we want people of color, people that are getting graduate degrees, that are really smart, that can help grow this community in the way that it needs to grow.”

On Monday, The Daily Tar Heel reached out to the council members who voted for Whaley via phone and email, but they did not respond by the time of publication.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Hongbin Gu voted to have Whaley on the board. Gu said in a tweet on Oct. 31 that the Town Council chose to elect Whaley because he doesn't have a car and relies on public transportation to get around town.



“We need diversity on the Board so that we can bring different perspectives in policy making," the tweet said. "Jack Waley brings the missing voice for being transit dependent as many in town. I’m thankful for his willingness to serve and for overcoming transportation challenges to our meetings.” 

"I understand the decision, even if I disagree with it,” Mayo said.

Rich said the issue of having more representation in the town government should continue to be a priority for elected officials.

“County commissioners have changed how we are going to look at putting people on boards and commissions and we’re going to do it at a work session," Rich said. "So we are going to be able to do it out in the open, and have a conversation about who are the members of the board, who are we missing, what kind of diversity we need to bring ... it feels like Chapel Hill is going in the opposite direction and not trying.”

@ElizabethEganNC

city@dailytarheel.com

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