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Carrboro seeks to consolidate Town advisory boards to address vacancy issues

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Carrboro Town Hall is pictured on Friday, Sep. 15, 2023.

The Carrboro Town Council is discussing restructuring the Town’s advisory boards and commissions in an effort to address a 43 percent vacancy rate across Town boards.

The proposed plan would consolidate the Town’s 17 boards into nine. The council is still in the early stages of discussion, but some Town Council members have expressed optimism about the plan.

Under the plan, the following boards would be consolidated:

  • The Human Services Advisory Commission would join the Affordable Housing Advisory Commission.
  • The Climate Action Team would join the Environmental Advisory Board.
  • The Appearance Commission and Northern Transition Area Advisory Committee would join the Planning Board.
  • The Truth Plaque Task Force would join the Racial Equity Commission.
  • The Art Committee would join the Recreation, Parks & Cultural Resources Committee.
  • The Greenways Commission and Safe Routes to School would join the Transportation Advisory Board.

The Board of Adjustment and Stormwater Advisory Board would not be consolidated.

Interim Town Clerk Wendy Welsh said the council expressed interest in restructuring during a closed session on Nov. 29.

Jason Merrill, a Carrboro Town Council member, said many Town boards struggle to meet quorum — a rule that requires a specific number of board members to be present to conduct official business due to vacancies. Welsh said the Environmental Advisory Board has not met in two years. The Greenways Commission and Racial Equity Commission have also been unable to meet.

Carrboro Mayor Barbara Foushee said the council leans heavily on recommendations from advisory boards, but that the council cannot receive recommendations from boards that are unable to meet.

“I think it's been an ongoing challenge, and has only gotten more challenging as the Town has increased the number of boards and commissions," Catherine Lazorko, Carrboro’s communication and engagement director, said.

Foushee said she hopes this plan will streamline Town processes and reduce the burden on Town staff. According to the Town manager's office, Town staff will see the greatest benefit from the consolidation, since they will have fewer boards to manage.

Town Council member Randee Haven-O’Donnell suggested altering the plan to place the Environmental Advisory Board under the Climate Action Team to maintain Carrboro’s commitment to climate action.

The council discussed concerns about the diversity implications of the proposed restructuring. Town staff said consolidating boards that many Black residents serve on — such as the Truth Plaque Task Force — may risk losing diverse perspectives, institutional knowledge and expertise.

Merrill said the demographic makeup of the board members does not currently match that of the town’s population, but that he hopes to see this change.

Donald Hawkins, chair of Carrboro’s Racial Equity Commissionsaid he thinks the restructuring could be a way to include more diversity in areas that have previously lacked representation.

While no timeline has been officially decided, Foushee said she expects to hear more within the next few months. She also said many conversations need to be had before the plan can move forward.

“I feel like we really need to take the pulse and bring this back to advisory boards and commissions to get the feedback from the folks who are doing the work,” Haven-O’Donnell said.

Welsh said there are plans to hold a joint meeting in which all board members will have the opportunity to give input on the proposal, but she does not yet know when this meeting will be held.

Welsh also said that, while the number of boards would be reduced, no board members would be removed from their positions.

“We're not going to take away any opportunities to have a voice,” Welsh said. “We just want the system to work better for the Town of Carrboro.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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