Published: Jan 01, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Dec 31, 2011 12:44 AM
Every Twitter user should paste this to the top of their account: "Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill." ~ BuddhaIt seems hardly a week goes by when some celebrity or athlete makes news by tweeting before thinking. It even happens locally, and not just among UNC athletes.
This fall, a prominent local blogger, serving as an outreach leader for Chapel Hill's 2020 revision of its Comprehensive Plan, tweeted personal opinions about the business community, one of the groups 2020 was reaching out to.
A first meeting with the Chamber and the Downtown Partnership spawned this tweet: "Feel like I need to take a shower after this meeting."After a second gathering of business leaders: "Someday I want to go to a meeting where straight, white affluent men don't have the assumption that their ideas are a gift to the world."
The 2020 leadership decided this tweeter, while free to express even denigrating comments, should no longer officially help lead the outreach effort. After all, the 2020 goal is to make the planning process inclusive by encouraging diverse opinions.
But what is illuminating about these mis-tweets is the unvarnished attitudes they expose, attitudes that have historically painted Chapel Hill as anti-business.For years, the business community in the Chapel Hill area has complained about being taken for granted, at best, and taken advantage of, at worst. But that seems to be changing.There is a new mindset about business in this town, as many have come to understand why we need to be more business friendly: We're adding to pollution and congestion by making people drive elsewhere for shopping they could do here. Sales tax dollars would be better invested in our community than surrounding ones. Restrictions on land development drive up housing costs and drive out lower-income neighbors. Far too much of the property tax burden falls on the shoulders of homeowners, making it a struggle for even the middle class to pay their government dues.
The recession reminded folks that healthy businesses provide jobs, and since even the university is no longer immune to layoffs, attracting more private-sector employment is a smart community insurance policy.
The downturn has hurt the town's budget, too, prompting elected officials to jump on an economic development bandwagon. Candidates sang its praises. The Chamber of Commerce even exhorted voters to tax its members more. It led this year's campaign for a sales tax increase that will generate capital investment funds to attract more business to the area.
That's not to say balance has been reached. Some elected officials haven't followed words with deeds, as ordinances and regulation still choke progressive change. But the conversation has shifted and a tipping point may have been reached.
Which brings us back to the 2020 process, which is really all about how to make the future Chapel Hill an inspiring place to live, work and play. All three of those are needed. That is why it's so important to have the businessmen and women of the area bring their ideas to the table, full partners in the dialogue. And why that debate be conducted with civility and open minds, devoid of the prejudicial lenses of the past and visceral reactions that stem from painting any class of people with the broad brush of bias.
No one, Buddha aside, is saying all tweets should be sweet, but our community will be a better place when critical ones focus on ideas, not the people who are volunteering them.
Mark Zimmerman owns a small business in Chapel Hill. Contact him at email@example.com