Monday, December 18, 2006

Blogs keep us plugged in on politics in Chapel Hill and Orange County

As published in the Chapel Hill Herald on December 16th, 2006:

You probably know Sally Greene, Mark Kleinschmidt and Laurin Easthom well as members of the Chapel Hill Town Council. You may not, though, know about another pastime that the three of them also share. They are among the ever-growing cadre of local bloggers.

Greene is one of the most intellectually well-rounded people I have ever met, and it comes through in her blog postings. She practices law, lectures and teaches about racial issues in the South and has edited an essay collection about the writings of Virginia Woolf. Her postings in the nearly two and a half years since she started her blog, titled GreeneSpace, have touched on all of those topics as well as her more public role as a member of the council.

Some of her more recent postings have included a preview of a panel that she will be moderating next month in relation to desegregation in Chapel Hill, a discussion of Barbies and advice on affordable Christmas gifts.

Of course she has also delved into the scale of buildings downtown and other more political stuff.

She does a good job of posting new material most every day, and her blog is definitely like Forrest Gump's box of chocolate -- you never know what you're going to get.

I feel smarter for reading her blog, and I think many readers would, too. Check it out at

Mark Kleinschmidt's focus is a little more narrow than that of Greene, but the topics he covers on his blog still go far beyond that of standard town business.

In his day job, Kleinschmidt works as the executive director of the Fair Trial Initiative, which works to recruit and train death penalty lawyers.

Considering his professional interests, it's not surprising that his blog has become just about the best source of up-to-the-minute information about pending executions in the state.

For folks concerned about the death penalty, Kleinschmidt's blog is one-stop shopping for information on things they can do to help fight against it. It is also a good place to go to read his thoughts about ongoing capital cases across North Carolina, as well as national trends.

Kleinschmidt also provides good coverage of LGBT issues locally and around the country. For instance, last month he provided detailed coverage of a conference he attended in Houston for gay and lesbian leaders across the country.

Kleinschmidt has a unique perspective as one of a very small handful of openly gay elected officials in North Carolina, and that comes through in his writings. You can read his blog at

The most thorough coverage of local government on a council member's blog is provided by Laurin Easthom.

She has provided in depth coverage of her thoughts on the Lot 5 development plans, wireless internet in Chapel Hill and upcoming public hearings.

She also occasionally covers other topics of interest to her. For instance, she has expressed her displeasure at the outsourcing of job duties that many UNC dental technicians have recently faced, as well as her distaste with some of the final actions of the Republican Congress.

Easthom's blog is updated pretty sporadically, but I don't fault her for it because she gets very few comments.

It is very difficult to sustain the motivation to be an active blogger if you don't feel like anyone is listening.

So maybe if you go and read the posts and write some comments at, she will start writing more frequently.

I don't think elected officials have any obligation to blog whatsoever. Their service to the community through the dozens upon dozens of meetings they attend every month, in addition to all the e-mails and phone calls they have to respond to, is more than enough. But I certainly do appreciate the ones who do take the time to communicate with constituents through this public forum.

Of course, in its fourth year,, the baby of Chapel Hill Planning Board chairwoman Ruby Sinreich, remains the best place to go for discussion of local politics. Many local officials who do not maintain their own blogs do a great job of keeping up with and participating in the discussion there. Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, Alderman Dan Coleman and Chapel Hill council member Cam Hill all post there regularly. Every member of the Board of Aldermen has chimed in at one time or another, as have Orange County commissioners Moses Carey and Mike Nelson, and Chapel Hill council member Ed Harrison.

I think there are very few communities around the country that match the level of connectedness our elected officials in Orange County have.

If you haven't already, you can gain a wider perspective about local politics and the folks you have elected by checking out these four blogs.

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