Easthom’s decision a surprise
Councilwoman Laurin Easthom surprised a lot of folks at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting when she announced that she would not seek re-election in November.
Easthom, a two-term council member who was first elected in 2005, explained her decision in an interview last week.
“I need a break from the Town Council,” Easthom said. “I might come back some day, but I really do need a break.”
Easthom said her decision was also driven by the belief that the council needs new voices, a theme that emerged while the council weighed the merits of 11 applicants vying to fill a council vacancy created when Penny Rich resigned to take a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Several council members said during the process that they preferred to have someone with previous council experience due to the complex budgetary issues and other demanding matters facing the council this year.
But some of the applicants said they thought the council should look for new voices, new people with new ideas.
“I do think it’s time for new people,” Easthom agreed.
But Easthom, along with the council majority, selected former councilwoman Sally Greene in a 7-1 vote to fill a vacancy created when Penny Rich resigned to take a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Easthom said Greene is the person the council needs at the moment but encouraged the other applicants to file for election to the seat in July when the municipal filing period opens.
“I hope they do run,” Easthom said of the applicants.
Assuming Greene’s appointment gives her an advantage in the November election, the news that Easthom is not seeking re-election should be encouraging to those who would throw their hats into the ring to replace her.
Easthom said she made her decision public early to give potential candidates a head’s up so they’ll have plenty of time to prepare.
“I wanted to give people time and to let them know that at least one incumbent is not running,” Easthom said. “I think it’s fair that if you are moving on, to give people time and let them know if you’re not running.”
Amy Ryan, the only other applicant to receive a vote to fill the Rich vacancy besides Greene, said she has not yet made up her mind about filing for election in July.
Ryan said whether she decides to run will be based on what she believes she brings to the table and the issues she would like to tackle as a member of the council.
Still, Ryan believes Easthom’s decision will “certainly affect the election.”
Meanwhile, as she prepares for her last 11 months on council after eight years of service, Easthom said it is going to be strange to no longer be a member of the town’s policy making body.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do on Monday nights anymore,” Easthom said.
Growing reflective, Easthom counted being a consistent “voice for neighborhoods and neighborhood protection” among her accomplishments.
She noted that when she ran for council in 2004, UNC’s plans for Carolina North, a planned research and mixed-use academic campus along MLK Boulevard, was a major concern for nearby residents.
But their worries eased with a historic development agreement between the town and UNC, giving the university certain assurances about what it could build and the town greater flexibility to determine conditions and requirements for the project.
“I feel very good about the development agreement between UNC and the town,” Easthom said. “I was happy to be a part of that. That’s really important.”
She also cited her work to improve the technology capabilities of the town, including the ongoing effort to fashion a new technology plan for the town.