The Partisan Town Council – An Unnecessary Instant Chasm

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One man’s transparency is another man’s chasm.

North Carolina Senate Bill 94 (of session 2017) proposes to add transparency to municipal elections by requiring them to be conducted on a partisan basis (§ 163-279). While this bill sounds great, because “transparency” sounds like a good thing, there are three good reasons why forming this instant chasm is a bad idea.

Potholes are party agnostic. What are the most important issues facing many growing towns? Keeping the crime rate low. Managing increased traffic flow. Ensuring an adequate supply of clean water and sewer capacity. Providing recreation spaces and programs. Fixing potholes.

Funding these things is a core service of any municipality and none of them are partisan issues. If you are skeptical, check the party planks for your state. Lots of bullets related to family, fairness, faith, equality, limited government, education, healthcare, environment, economy, constitutions, etc.

These are all great issues for discussion, but are macro-environmental principles. They don’t address the question of “how does my 10-year-old walk safely to school”, “can I play an indoor sport with people my own age?” or “who’s going to fix that pothole at the entrance to my neighborhood?”

The answers to these questions are not pulled out of partisan platforms, but culled from common crises. We realize we all have the same basic problems, we all come together and we solve them together. Because potholes are party agnostic.

Non-partisanship begins with commonality. When municipal elected officials wear party labels, an initial separation is formed, unnecessarily. Instead of acknowledging that we have 90% or more in common, we would begin with an instant gap to overcome… or not, since it’s rare for people to move that far in order to find common ground.

But when we start with no labels… when we know that the person sitting next to us is a husband or wife, mom or dad like us… when we realize they take their garbage and recycle bins out to the street once a week just like us… when we look at the council member beside us as another beautiful creation of a loving God… that’s when we start the conversation with the foundation of the assumption of an imminent resolution.

That is, we expect to find a solution together. Because non-partisanship begins with commonality.

Solving local problems involves choosing the best person, not the best partisan. Anybody can play to the party base to get them angry about some non-local issue. It’s not that difficult — you throw out some “raw meat” topics, and you convince them to run vote for the candidate in your own party.

But negative campaigning doesn’t translate well to good future governing. And partisan macro issues don’t translate to addressing the problems in front of us daily.

The best local government is the one comprised of smart, thoughtful problem-solvers who can work well with others, in a team environment. Solving local problems involves choosing the best person, not the best partisan.

When we need a land developer or a new school construction project to add a sidewalk, a pedestrian crossing, a stop light or a new turn lane, it matters “zero” whether we agree on gun legislations, bathroom usage, universal healthcare or standing for the national anthem and the flag.

Instead, we have a simpler problem because, in municipal matters, we generally want the same thing: safety, quality of life, jobs and freedom. We achieve this when we can shed party labels long enough to row the boat together, pulling the oars in the same direction, to reach our intended destination.

Senate Bill 94 calls “partisan” municipal elections “transparent”, but I call them divisive. An unnecessary instant chasm.

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The Apex Mayor’s Speech From October 1, 2017

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October 1 was the first day in a week of local efforts to raise awareness to the human trafficking that goes on below the radar. I came to realize that God had a part that he wanted me to play to extend the efforts of others over the past couple of years.

Upon meeting with Whitney Ludlow and Nicole Bernard on May 25, I suggested we have a week dedicated for this purpose, and I could proclaim the week Human Trafficking Awareness Week.

These two planned over the summer and we did it. We claimed Apex back for good, not evil. We declared that traffickers are not welcome here, and that if they don’t flee our good town, we’ll find them and toss them in jail.

But beyond that, if we encounter any victims, we’ll bring together good people from the community to help them and apply a balm to their scarred past.

Here is the brief speech I wrote, and delivered, at our kick-off event in front of the Apex Police Department, October 1, 2017.

It would seem unlikely that we, in modern day America, would find ourselves talking about slavery.

But that’s exactly what Human Trafficking is, and we need to talk about it.

These slave owners are pimps who prey upon those who are weak and emotionally scarred.

There often are no chains; these usurpers psychologically manipulate their victims into sacrificing themselves for the benefit of their master, whether it is by forced sexual acts or straight labor.

And it is happening today, moving up and down the east coast, stopping off in wonderful towns along the way to do a bit of business, and then eventually moving on.

Or sometimes they don’t go anywhere and they’ve normalized it into a local lifestyle.

The criminals sometimes are out in the open and expect us to ignore things that look just a little bit off; to focus on our own busy lives.

And we say, no. You don’t get to do that here in our community.

That’s why I’m proud to be standing before you today, shining a flashlight on the criminals, and extending the hand of rescue to the victims.

People like Ellen Blair, Nicole Bernard, Whitney Ludlow, Joy Currey have been making a difference for the past few years.

And our police department has been working this issue here all along. Chief Letteney, Captain Gilbert, Officer Pawluk and Danica Coleman.

We can help them. We SHOULD help them.

Apex citizens: won’t you do the smallest of things to start making a difference?

Take advantage of the events this week to educate yourself so you can also shine your flashlight into the darkness and extend your hand of rescue.

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On the Paris Agreement

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I’ve been told there is a petition started by someone (not from Apex, NC) asking me to sign on to the Climate Mayors initiative to show President Trump that people oppose his decision to withdraw the United States of America from the UN’s Paris Agreement to have its members voluntarily make efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

To date I have not seen this petition, but it makes no difference. I will not participate in the Climate Mayors initiative. If you’re open-minded, please continue reading.

[Update 6/18/17: I’ve just read the petition. The Apex petition on change.org was, in fact, started by an Apex resident. I don’t know the author, but we do share a couple of Facebook friends. The wording was copied from a model petition and adapted to reference Apex and me. Wilmington’s petition, for example, is nearly identical and three days older. This is a minor detail, but I wanted to establish the facts, since I started with what I was told, the specifics of which were simply lost in translation. Be that as it may…]

Personal Policy
It is my personal policy to let a governing body govern themselves when it does not hinder our ability to govern ourselves. Let me elaborate with an example.

Suppose the North Carolina General Assembly decides that all new drivers (less than 3 years of experience) must wear their driver’s license on a lanyard while operating a motor vehicle. Any bill they may propose or law they may pass does not hinder our ability to do what’s right for Apex, and therefore, I would choose to ignore it.

Yes, it will affect people in my town, and many may find it intrusive and obtuse, but a law governing driving in the state is the purview of the state. If I want to call my representative as a citizen and oppose it personally, I may choose to do so.

But in my role as mayor, this law does not hinder my ability to guide town council to solving local issues. I will not make a proclamation or draft a resolution because the state has not hindered my ability to manage municipal issues.

Taking Care of the Home Front
We have a duty of care for the people and the problems right in front of us. We have increased traffic motoring along our old narrow roads and speeding through our residential streets.

We have gaps in our sidewalks that make walking to school or downtown difficult or dangerous. We have parents trying to sign children up to recreation activities, ending up on waiting lists.

We have citizens who want to frequent our downtown businesses that wonder where they are going to park as the town continues to grow. Today, like every day this year, we issued two C.O.’s and seven people became Apexians, paying taxes and demanding services.

These are tangible problems, calling for immediate solutions, staring us down like velociraptors. We are strong enough to handle it because we know our primary responsibility is to take care of our home front.

Stewardship Doesn’t Require Signatures
Anyone who has followed my public service for Apex since I first joined the Planning Board in 2003 can testify that I believe smart planning and solid execution result in a sustainable town that can stand the test of time.

I want to live in a neighborhood with a healthy diversity of trees. I want our commercial services to be located in pockets around the town, nearest the intersections of our existing (and future) thoroughfares in order to provide convenience and reduce the distance required for travel, which also reduces the total number of car-miles driven per day.

Within the past year your town council defined our first Tree Board to advise on common-sense tree-related development regulations. And we planted a tree for Arbor Day and become a Tree City USA certified town. We even just passed a tiered water usage rate to encourage conservation.

My first involvement in local government was to stand in front of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Advisory Commission and tell them why disc golf was a such great activity into which the town should invest because they wouldn’t have to cut down any mature trees.

Heck, I’ve been known to pull plastic bottles out of trash cans and carry them until I find a recycle bin. I turn out lights when I’m not using them, I keep my shower under seven minutes and I turn off the faucet when I brush my teeth. I often walk, rather than drive, to downtown.

It would be incorrect to presume that my non-participation in any national initiative implies that I’m not committed to promoting environmental responsibility in Apex. I don’t have to sign an agreement in order to be committed to being a good steward of the resources that we’ve been given.

So, petition or no, I care about a sustainable Apex. No one can rightly say otherwise. If every mayor would spend as much time doing the right things for their town as they do posturing and politicking, we’d all be a lot better off.

Excuse me for a moment, I see a plastic bottle in the street. I’ll be right back.

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Selling PCB Design Services in a First World Country

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By Lance Olive, Director of Business Operations, Better Boards, Inc.

Quality PCB Design is an evolving breed of services in first world countries. As North American and European companies squeeze the skilled designers out of their own workforce, pushing more of the work into Eastern Europe and Asia, those who remain with the skills either opt for retirement, career change or consolidation.

As the Business Operations Director for Better Boards, Inc., I see our company at the focal point for consolidation – a gathering together of skilled board designers to create a center of excellence. It is at this point that we have the critical problem facing a PCB Design services company: How do we effectively sell these services back to the companies that cast off their own skilled employees? How do we sell PCB Design services into small companies that can barely afford the one overworked electrical engineer that they hired last year?

In addressing these key questions, we evaluate the three key challenges and embrace the three tantalizing opportunities. Doing this well gets our foot in the door and positions us to sell these services in the hardware design teams that would prefer to be designing circuits rather than layouts.

The first challenge is the price competitions of both overseas labor and the designer working from home. PCB Design Layout service rates in Europe and North America remain relatively high for companies who know the value of the skill that they bring. Meanwhile, small companies in the Czech Republic, Poland, India, Russia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and China can offer layout services for about half of those domestically. Likewise, the designer in his bonus room has very low overhead (sometimes quite literally, thanks to knee walls) and can often undercut the hourly rates of a proper services company.

The second challenge is that of being multi-lingual in CAD tools. Between the customers demanding the use of Allegro (PCB Designer), Altium, MG Xpedition, Eagle, KiCAD and other cheap and free tools, it’s enough to drive a designer mad. No person can reasonably support all of those. To support multiple customers means to support multiple tools. This is difficult to achieve with just a one or two designers since most professionals are great at one tool, fair with another, and merely aware of the rest. Doing this successfully means establishing a team of designers with varying skillsets – a matrix of designers with a mix of tool knowledge that can support any type of RFQ that comes in.

The third challenge is the commoditization of board layout. Tool vendors tout auto-routing as their newest, most improved, wonderful feature. Electrical engineers prefer to hand off their schematics to someone else to “route the wires”… after all, how hard can it be to connect the dots, quite literally. The expectation is that the layout phase shouldn’t be all that difficult, but we all know that as technology pushes us into hyper-fast clock signals and escaping 0.2mm BGA pins in the smallest number of layers possible, it often does feel like a game of Jenga, Tetris and Candy Crush Saga all rolled into one. The expectation oversimplification of the layout phase of board design leaves many of us pulling what’s left of our hairs out.

But where there are challenges, there also lie opportunities – especially those that give us competitive advantage to nullify the challenges.

The first opportunity is that of a fast turn time. Even though no one plans to be in a hurry, many product development teams, especially their managers and PMs, take longer than expected to get the schematics underway. And when it’s time for layout, they have very little time, want us to start tomorrow and be done in about half the estimated schedule. This is an opportunity for those who have developed an internal process that allows them to actually deliver. And when sitting in the office of a prospective customer and you can tell stories of delivering under duress, it makes the sales job so much easier.

The second opportunity is that of service. In many senses, this is the same axiom that you’ll find in most businesses. In our line of work, if we can make the life of an engineer, a manager or a project manager easier by picking up their pieces, arranging an accurate, timely, best-practice-following board layout so they only need one spin before they are ready to make the push to production, we have provided a service to them that engenders happiness in their own job, creates a level of trust, and becomes their path of least resistance to product success. The loyalty that grows from this is very difficult to sever. Selling services where “service” is truly a core competency being delivered becomes easier.

The third opportunity is one of design accuracy. Getting the board right the first time means investing in reviews on the front end, and saves time and money downstream. I come from the software industry and we would employ a technique known as Development Phase Containment. The concept involved selectively reviewing and approving the design along the way to contain the software bugs to the development phase closest to when they were created. Said another way, when a mistake is made, do what it takes to discover and fix it as quickly as you can because the cost of fixing later it can double every day that it goes undiscovered. In the world of PCB Design, this can take the form of a pin assignment problem, missing pull-up resistors, incorrect assumptions about amplifier behaviors, incorrect x/y/z dimensions for component placement, and reversed polarity, to name a few examples. One the best comments I can make to a prospective customer is to let them know how many of our designs involve just a single iteration before heading to production (although, product marketing can change the best laid plans).

A company that can embrace the opportunities while meeting these challenges head on by changing the way they do business creates fantastic sales stories that enable the sales representative to walk into any prospective customer situation – outsourced, tool-centric, fast-paced, floundering, tight-budgeted, endless iteration – and lay down a scenario that meets them where they are, engenders trust and opens the door to just a small enough crack that, once opened, will open again and again.

Selling PCB Design services is only made easy when the company supplying those services has done all it can do to provide these stories and win prospective customers’ hearts.

Copyright 2016 Lance Olive and Better Boards, Inc.

Reprint permission is granted retaining writing credits

Apex Music Festival 2016 A Great Success – Septmber 19, 2016

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“The Apex Music Festival 2016 provided a wonderful weekend activity for many who live in the Triangle, and produced some of the best music in the state. Besides being an event that appealed to music lovers all over, this and other town festivals contribute to the superior quality of life that has propelled Apex to be named as the The Best Place to Live in America.”


Lance Olive, Mayor

Apex, NC

March 13, 2016 – Downtown Apex Parking

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When I ask people “What’s so great about Apex?”,”The Downtown” is given more than any other answer. Indeed, the rejuvenation of our central business district over the last 15 years has been a wonderful thing to witness, and has become the envy of many other North Carolina towns. The tenant occupancy rate stays above 95% and people from miles around make specific trips just to experience the home town feel.

But when I ask, “What’s wrong with our downtown?”, I hear “Not enough parking.” Indeed, employees alone account for an estimated 75 vehicles, while customers added another 50 to 200, depending on the time of day and day of the week. Every time the town figures out how to add a few parking spaces, they are filled immediately.

The most obvious solution is a parking garage. But those are hideous to look at.

Do parking decks have to be ugly?

My suggestion, which I put before the council at our March 4 retreat, is to plan and fund a Stealth Parking Deck on the site of the Saunders Street parking lot. I define this as a structure, perhaps 3 levels, that functions like a parking garage on the inside, but looks like a renovated warehouse, row of shops or even apartments on the perimeter.

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Town of Apex Public Parking Lot on Saunders Street

And if the façade is constructed using reclaimed brick and a “sloppy mortar” technique, the building can instantly look like a restored 100-year-old building that visually fits in perfectly with our existing downtown.

 

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Imagine this look on the outside of a working parking deck

On March 4, during the priorities exercise at the retreat, the council expressed strong support of an idea such as this, where it received a vote from 5 of the 6 elected officials, and was the favorite idea for 2 (strong support considering there were 50 ideas competing for only 15 votes and 1 gold star per council member).

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A fake “row of shops” could be constructed on the front of a parking garage

Our population grows by 150 people every month. The citizen demand to be downtown will only grow. What better way to support our downtown businesses and provide for our citizens than to put a downtown parking solution on our 3-year plan, fund and build it? Do you like the idea of a Stealth Parking Deck?

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February 22, 2016

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The week started out with a meeting of the Wake County Mayors. There is so much experience in that room, and it’s really encouraging to see how well folks get along. We all share a common goal: to help our respective towns be the best they can be. We bond over that, and whatever “political” differences we might have are never at issue, because we’re too focused on our common problems and solutions. I am blessed to have such good mentors, and I’d wager no other county in the state has as functional a set of mayors as we have in Wake.

Tuesday night we had 6-1/2 hours planned on our agenda, so we trimmed about 1-1/2 off (to be heard Feb 23rd) and kept it to a 5-hour meeting. The two biggest issues to be heard were Crossroads Ford Rezoning Request and the residential parking issue near Apex High School. The rezoning request of 45 acres next to US 64 and Davis Drive was ultimately rejected by the council. They could come back with a different idea soon. The parking issue was resolved with a temporary change to the UDO that allows a Temporary Use Permit to be submitted by a property owner near the school that desires to allow some students to park on their property until the end of the school year.

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Proposed Auto Dealership (Denied)

On Wednesday, the Triangle Community Coalition had a “coffee chat” with Town of Apex folks — a few directors, town manager, a couple of council members and myself. We talked about development, the future, locations, growth and other factors to affect their working “sphere”. It was a good meeting, had been almost two years since the last one, and they certainly want to do it again. They had representatives from HBA Wake, and various builders and interested parties. Shout out to Sheetz for the coffee!

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TCC Coffee Chat (top) – CAMPO TAC (bottom)

On the same afternoon I went to monthly CAMPO TAC meeting in Raleigh, where we were able to secure the state grant of over $2M to help build the bridge over CSX for the Apex Peakway on the southwest of town.

On Thursday night, I spent an hour flipping through some old issues of the Western Wake Herald (Feb/Mar 1973). I found photos of both my parents in there! That was our centennial celebration year, and the whole town was gearing up for the long party!

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Ross Olive (left) – Nancy Olive (right) in Western Wake Herald, Feb 1973

The rest of the week was one-on-one meetings. On Friday, I met with the chair of the Planning Board, David Hooks. On Saturday, I met with State House Representative (District 41) Gale Adcock, and also one of the members of town council. I want to build up my relational network, and that’s going to take some time.

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Eagle Scout Award Ceremony

I rounded out the week by attending an Eagle Scout Award Ceremony at the Church of J.C. of L.D.S. Congratulations to Grant Johnson, Isaac Peart, and Jacob Conners! Well done, sirs!

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