Earlier this week, signs were spotted along Estes Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The signs read, “Stegman voted for Aura,” then in bolded red font “& Betrayed You.”
While the message on the signs is inflammatory, the more concerning issue is that the signs are anonymous.
They spread fear in the community with early voting for municipal elections starting Oct. 14. Signs aimed at division rather than town unity have no place in Chapel Hill, regardless of your opinions on Stegman’s politics, the Aura development or the best candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council.
The approval of Aura, a mixed-use development, was contentious. It narrowly passed with a five to three vote over the summer. It saw neighborhood groups, like Estes Neighbors, opposing the plan due to land use and traffic concerns.
Stegman approved the plan because she said it fit with the town’s land use goals and the need for affordable housing.
At the time, Estes Neighbors posted signs in similar locations to the current anonymous signs that were against Aura — saying things like “luxury housing is not what we need."
Those signs, however, are not as problematic, given the source was clearly identified as being from Estes Neighbors.
Posting anonymous signs like the ones that attacked Stegman is not illegal in Chapel Hill, and certainly, people have a right to free political speech. It would not be legal to remove these signs, as stealing, defacing, vandalizing or unlawfully removing political signs is a Class 3 misdemeanor.
So, frustrating as it may be, seeing these signs in public spaces is perfectly allowed.
But this isn’t a question of legality. It is a matter of shady politics that should be viewed as unacceptable in a town that prides itself on inclusivity and progressivism.
People of all opinions should want to get involved in local politics, but that doesn’t mean throwing personal attacks at folks without putting a name behind it. Engagement is talking with council members, going to town meetings and finding common ground to make our community better for everyone.
It is one thing to see anonymous posters at a national or state level, but Town Council candidates are our neighbors. Yes, they represent us, and we absolutely should be critical of the decisions they make to hold them accountable. But this means dialogue and compromise, rather than yard signs from a nameless person or organization.
“Those signs were posted by an individual, or group, who would rather spread fear than have an open dialogue about our community’s future," Stegman said in a public statement. "I would just ignore it if it weren’t a symptom of a more serious problem facing Chapel Hill.”
She is right. The rise of social media groups in Chapel Hill have become echo chambers for subsets of the community to stir up anger about certain issues without recognizing the other side. These groups then shout about feeling wronged, without actually confronting the official they say “betrayed” them.
It’s time for dialogue and conversations. No political official in our local community should be subjected to anonymous attacks that question their character. We all want this community to be more welcoming, inclusive and open to folks across the political spectrum.
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