Should Chapel Hill’s advisory boards be on the chopping block?

GUEST COLUMN

A perspective from Renuka Soll

There has been a lot of talk recently about Chapel Hill’s citizen advisory boards. Several of our Council members have criticized these volunteer advisory bodies and want to eliminate them. At council’s direction, our Town staff have reviewed the organization and functioning of the Town’s advisory boards and, perhaps unsurprisingly, are recommending streamlining them.

While we want our local governance structures to be able to adapt to changing needs and priorities, and we should always be looking for ways to improve how our local government functions, the current zeal for doing away with advisory boards seems driven by ideology and fails to appreciate the important role advisory boards play.

The purpose of the advisory boards is to delve deeply into matters that the Council doesn’t have time for. The boards can offer knowledge and insight to the staff and Council in very specific areas. Chapel Hill is fortunate to have considerable talent and expertise among its residents and we should harness it, not throw it away. If council members are concerned that the advisory boards as currently constituted are missing the voices of some members of the community, the Town should find ways to supplement the work of the boards with efforts to engage these missing voices. The alleged “structural flaws” of advisory boards— the onerous time commitment, the large volume of technical materials to review in advance of meetings that can last long into the night, the arcane procedural rules—are equally characteristic of the town council itself. Should we therefore eliminate the town council too?

Advisory board meetings afford residents the opportunity to make board members aware of their needs, desires, and concerns. A board can then decide whether or not to advocate for changes to Town policies or to project priorities. The council typically does not have the time to do this type of detailed work.

Advisory boards can also provide citizens an extra point of access to the Town government. It’s hard to get on the meeting agenda of the Council; boards are more accessible.

Advisory boards also have been criticized on financial grounds. Specifically, Town staff state that preparation for board meetings costs the Town $10,000 per month. Compared to what our town pays for consultants, that seems like a bargain.

To make good decisions, we need to hear differing perspectives, and not just those that conform to our preconceptions. To serve our town well, our elected officials should be seeking ways to increase the quantity and quality of community input they receive, not diminish it.


Renuka Soll lives in Chapel Hill and has served on the Chapel Hill Parks, Greenways, and Recreation Commission for the past six years. She can be contacted at renukes@gmail.com.

Guest columns are solely the writer’s opinion on a subject or subjects. The opinions expressed in a guest column are not the position of The Local Reporter, but rather the position of a writer who has taken the time to write out their views or concerns before submitting them to us.

Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

Be the first to comment on "Should Chapel Hill’s advisory boards be on the chopping block?"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*