The Independent Weekly‘s questionnaire is so thorough that we’re re-purposing it here to share Barry positions on a wide range of issues.
Independent Weekly Candidate Questionnaire 2010 Orange Board of County Commissioners
Name as it appears on the ballot: Barry Jacobs
Date of birth: November 1, 1950
Home address: 2105 Moorefields Road, Hillsborough, NC
Campaign website: barryjacobs.org
Occupation & employer: freelance writer, foundation executive director
Spouse���s name: Robin Lackey Jacobs
Spouse���������������������s occupation & employer: Executive director, Eno River Association
Years lived in Orange County: 35
Home phone: 919-732-4384
Work phone: 919-732-4941
Cell phone: 919-880-5270
1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Broadening the tax base with targeted development.
I believe Orange County government has made significant strides to alter its dependence on property taxes. I also believe that the board of commissioners finally has the collective will to take proactive steps to pursue substantial economic development consistent with the county���s environmental and social values. Getting to this point has been one of my ongoing areas of focus during my time in office.
Orange County’s high property taxes are largely a reflection of an historic dependence on agriculture (and reduced taxes for 40 percent of county acreage under the use-value system), residential development, and employment generated by the tax-exempt University of North Carolina.
Further, for years economic development was met with ambivalence as those in Orange saw other counties in the region sacrifice their character in pursuit of growth. That unease communicated itself in regulatory barriers, a skeptical attitude, and an unwillingness to provide infrastructural support to encourage the siting of new or expanded businesses.
Within the framework of a strong land use plan and environmental protections, I’ve worked to overcome those barriers during my entire time in office. I participated for many months in planning sessions with Hillsborough to lay the framework for an economic development district (EDD) that now includes a campus of Durham Technical Community College and could soon host a branch of UNC Hospitals. I worked to develop a relationship with Mebane elected officials, resulting in their willingness to bring water and sewer to the Buckhorn economic development district, where the financial downturn scuttled the 1.2-million square foot, LEEDS-certified, destination-retail Buckhorn Village. I worked to get property owners and Durham together to plan the Eno EDD at the county line.
I participated with residents and business representatives in planning commercial growth in the northern part of the county near the Orange County Speedway, a business I assisted in reopening. I participated in planning for the Efland-Mebane corridor along US 70 to facilitate use of existing housing and undeveloped lots for small-business purposes. I worked with Hillsborough to formulate a redevelopment plan for Cornelius Street in the Fairview community, an alternative to greenfield development that would benefit a disadvantaged neighborhood.
I participated in efforts to create one-stop permitting in county government. I’ve served on the Economic Development Commission for more than 11 years, and recently joined the board of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. I also serve on the board of the Orange County Visitors Bureau.
I�������ve led efforts to promote a local agricultural economy, sustained an existing industry that has the additional benefits of preserving open space and an important set of social values.
I started the county�������������s annual Agricultural Summits, bringing fresh ideas and trends to producers and consumers for 12 years. I championed hiring a unique county agricultural economic development specialist. I pushed for funding to purchase agricultural easements, helping farmers to stay on the land by acquiring needed capital. I helped to forge a partnership between the county and N.C. State to make the Breeze Farm an agricultural incubator training new farmers.
I envisioned, and then led efforts to establish a four-county value-added ag processing center that attracted more than $1 million in grant monies and is scheduled to open in November.
I supported reinvigorating our small business loan pool, which is now entirely committed. I worked with Southern Season to site its warehouse operation in Hillsborough, keeping the operation from moving out of the county.
I was among those who worked to bring the Durham Tech branch to central Orange County, providing an opportunity for residents to gear their education to train for employment opportunities.
Top Priority: I would like the county to establish an enterprise fund for economic development. This could start with the equivalent of approximately a half-cent on the property tax, or around $600,000. This amount could be secured by either cutting programs or delaying pending capital projects. For instance, in fiscal year 2010-11 more than a half-million dollars could be captured by deferring creation of a permanent commissioners������� meeting room in the Link Center in Hillsborough.
An enterprise fund might be used to further invigorate the county’s small business loan pool; to provide infrastructure improvements at sites where we want businesses to locate; to create a business park; to build flex space or wet labs that would accommodate new, innovative businesses; to offer encouragements to locate businesses in Orange County; to fund a staff position to work with UNC�����s new Innovation Center to steer startups to county locations; to help form and fund a promotional entity that could unite the county���������������s two Chambers of Commerce and four distinct economic development efforts.
A community dialogue could help the commissioners best decide how to direct this enterprise fund.
Navigating the current shoals of fiscal uncertainty without compromising the county’s principles and priorities.
The ongoing national and state economic struggles of course adversely affect Orange County. Last year, despite the county���������������������s historic commitment to providing quality public education and excellent services, the commissioners cut $5 million from our budget instead of raising property taxes. This year we are set to make similar adjustments.
For years I’ve tried to balance demands to fund education and a panoply of services with a keen appreciation for the burdens that higher taxes place on those who can least afford it.
This is not the time to raise taxes. Constant dependence on tax increases is not sustainable. In fact, any flexibility we achieve in maintaining programs or in creating new initiatives must come from within existing resources. That means achieving efficiencies in spending and organization.
However, even as we limit what the county government does, we must take care to maintain the social safety net and our environmental and educational commitments. Cavers descending into the earth leave surveyor���s tape to mark their passage so they can return safely; we must similarly monitor cuts made in these difficult times so we can restore them in priority order when and if the county has more financial resources.
Top Priority: Earlier in my tenure I co-chaired an Innovation and Efficiency Committee comprised of interested residents, commissioners and staff. The group looked at the full range of county and school activities, and sparked a number of money-saving efforts. Among them were joint purchasing arrangements between the school systems and the county, and the hiring of an outside accountant specializing in finding sales taxes that had not been properly collected. That latter effort realized an additional $1 million for the towns, schools, and county government.
Now we have a different board, a different manager, and a different economic climate. Bringing together some of the best fiscal minds in the county to suggest improvements in how government operates would be most timely. Stepping outside a bureaucratic mindset can also be helpful.
Preserving our quality of life.
Despite the current necessity for the county to limit spending, and a long-term need to reexamine how the county does business, we should not turn away from supporting education, controlling growth, or offering the innovative programs that are important to Orange County residents.
The county�������s commitment has long been to keep up with the high-cost demands of school construction and a growing student population. Orange leads North Carolina counties in its total effort toward funding local schools (operating budget, capital, and debt). The high quality of our schools and the presence of the University of North Carolina are among the major factors attracting individuals, families, and businesses to Orange County.
While we embrace the imperative to reduce spending and limit taxation, we must not lose significant ground in education.
We should also protect optional but vital efforts ranging from our Lands Legacy program, which protects natural areas and secures parkland, to our commitment to seniors, manifest in a pair of new senior centers and a cutting-edge adult day health facility for those with limited ability to help themselves.
From a countywide system of libraries to a state-of-the-art animal shelter; from aggressive recycling to abiding by a publicly crafted, scrupulously respected land-use plan; from supporting an emergency home repair fund for our poorest residents to running dental and primary-care clinics, Orange County must maintain its embrace of progressive, compassionate, creative public services.
Top Priority: We don�����������t know yet whether the state will authorize the trading of stormwater and nutrient loading responsibilities between jurisdictions once the Jordan Lake and Falls Lake protection plans go into effect. However, we should lobby strongly on behalf of such arrangements, and should stand ready to work with area municipalities.
As the N.C. Smart Growth Commission noted in 2001, cities and towns have a responsibility to protect the watersheds that supply their needs. Such a support mechanism can be established through a system of credits and off-site mitigation. Orange County is a headwaters area and its water quality, open space efforts, and landowners could benefit significantly from such a system.
Deriving a new method for funding the purchase of open space, and of conservation and agricultural easements, would free monies for application in other aspects of county operations.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I have a long history of public service in Orange County. I’ve been actively involved in local government here for 25 years, and have lived in Orange County since the early 1970s.
My first exposure to civic involvement came in the early 1980s when I looked beyond the wildlife refuge and 1785 house where I serve as executive director. Moorefields is located near Hillsborough, adjacent to a significant natural area and within a water-supply watershed. I wondered how this distinctive resource could be preserved, and quickly realized the importance of proactive land-use planning. Despite my nervousness speaking at a packed public hearing, I voiced my support for zoning. It turned out I was the sole speaker in favor of that most necessary planning tool.
Soon I applied for a seat on the Orange County Planning Board. I became chair within six months of my appointment, and remained in that position for four of my six years on the board. We aggressively investigated and sought better policies on environmental protection, affordable housing, water and sewer policy, transportation and traffic impacts, rural character preservation, and parks.
Later I served for nearly six years on the board of directors of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, again serving as chair for the majority of my tenure. We changed the culture of the organization to become more responsive to the community and its governmental land-use plans, advocated stringent watershed protections and an aggressive land-purchase program near our water supplies. We also started a “Taste of Hope” program to help low-income customers with their payments.
I am currently finishing my third term as an Orange County commissioner. I have worked hard on issues such as environmental responsibility, smart growth, natural area protection, park development, energy efficiency and solid waste reduction, on growing a local agricultural economy, and on expanding opportunities for economic development in appropriate locations. I actively and publicly blend fiscal prudence and social responsibility.
I am an unwavering supporter of public education, including widened opportunity through a community college. I have repeatedly reached out to neighboring governments and other service providers to create partnerships that better serve our communities.
I have been at the forefront of efforts to assist those who need a helping hand. At my urging we created a “critical needs fund” to pick up programs, from breastfeeding support to emergency fuel assistance to urgent home repair, that were adversely impacted by federal and state cuts. I continue to work on issues of affordable housing, senior services, and health care.
I have demonstrated leadership on the state level as co-chair of the Farm and Open Space work group of the N.C. Smart Growth Commission, and as a member of the N.C. Commission on Electronic Voting. Regionally, I chaired the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization, and the Triangle J Council of Governments. I’m president of the Conservation Leaders Network, a national organization of county commissioners dedicated to environmental protection.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a progressive, and proud of it. That means I believe government can be a force for positive change, and for protecting both the rights of the group and of the individual. I believe government must help those least able to help or protect themselves, including the environment, and must operate in a manner that is respectful and accessible to all.
I believe in forging partnerships and working regionally. Looking for similarities is more productive than accenting differences.
I believe government serves many valuable roles in public life, and that responsive government can be run efficiently without losing its humanity or generosity of spirit. Watching the public’s money as if it is my own may be considered conservative; I consider it responsible.
I believe government should reflect the best of its citizenry, should lead by example, and should serve as a unifying force. The rights of the individual, and minority viewpoints, must be protected from intrusion or coercion, including by government itself.
My philosophy is manifest in dozens of actions and initiatives I have pursued in office, as outlined in my other answers.
4. Provide a candid assessment of the county’s waste transfer site location process, what went well, what didn’t and what can be learned from the debate? Do you agree with shipping trash to Durham? How ultimately should Orange County dispose of its trash?
The county�������s process for siting a waste transfer station improved from its earliest incarnations, becoming an exercise in open government and transparent decisionmaking despite consideration of painful choices. But it had plenty of flaws.
The siting discussion evolved from ad hoc to highly standard-based, from commissioner-driven to publicly participative, with residents involved and informed every step of the way. Meetings were held where and when they could be televised. The process, and the commissioners, accommodated continuous adjustments based on public input, including receptivity to additional information and arguments that contradicted or complicated information supplied by the professional staff and consultant.
The process also was excessively long, overly expensive, too dependent upon experts, and ultimately unsatisfactory.
The decision to have the commissioners serve as the advisory group leading the process assured the discussion stayed on task. But, given the more than 50 regularly scheduled meetings and other responsibilities demanding the commissioners’ attention and time, the decision structure inevitably dragged out the debate. Impatience and weariness combined to make it increasingly difficult to move forward.
The consulting firm repeatedly failed to provide materials to the public and to the commissioners in a timely manner, and often failed to provide data in an understandable form. Conflicting statistics, especially costs, were confusing and undermined confidence in the process and the consultant. The fact the consultant had a pre-existing relationship with our Solid Waste department, and was in the business of developing waste transfer stations, proved a double-edged sword.
Because we were eager to provide sufficient buffering for adjacent properties, the commissioners accepted the consultant’s recommendation to consider only parcels of 25 acres or more. This was a well-meaning mistake, automatically eliminating many possible sites in areas already used for industrial or commercial purposes and not in need of significant buffering. I raised this issue at a meeting in 2009, but no commissioner supported my suggestion we recalibrate the search.
Insufficient attention was paid at the beginning of the process to social justice issues regarding the burden already placed on the Rogers Road-Eubanks Road neighborhood. The county had assumed for years that the efficiencies of the solid waste operation we had inherited from Chapel Hill clearly mandated using the same, already-developed site.
When there was doubt about keeping the transfer station on Eubanks Road, we
(or, at least, I) made the mistake of following the urgings of one commissioner that we present a united front, swallowing our misgivings to vote unanimously. Once we went to a process driven by criteria that included a heavily weighted social justice component, it was clear we would not use Eubanks Road. However, in order to be fair to all parties, and to maintain an objective process to the greatest extent possible, it was necessary to elongate the search and to consider numerous alternatives. This kept everyone on edge.
Further complicating matters, Orange County���s waste centroid – the statistical center of waste generation ��� was very near Eubanks Road, yet the process yielded mostly transfer station sites in rural areas. Shunting waste disposal, or the siting of airports and reservoirs, to rural areas means they must shoulder an inequitable portion of the burden of undesirable public uses.
The decision to punt, as I put it at the time, and to choose the possibility of using Durham’s transfer station, was neither permanent nor preferred. Rather, my sense was that it eliminated immediate stress regarding the search, allowed time for investigation of alternative disposal techniques and technologies, and stressed the preferability of multi-county solutions.
For years, I’ve advocated partnering with a neighboring county or counties to dispose of solid waste. This would limit adverse environmental and economic impacts and possibly allow achievement of sufficient waste volumes to make feasible more innovative but also more expensive solutions. Several times over the years prior to the transfer station siting, I urged staff to sound out Durham officials about a partnership. We similarly reached out to Chatham and Alamance. North Carolina does a weak job of promoting partnerships or regional solutions in solid waste disposal; going it alone is not satisfactory.
Further, when we hired the transfer station consultant I proposed, and the board approved, a parallel study to investigate cutting edge alternatives to burial of solid waste. While no ready solution was identified, it became clear that multiple partners improved the economics of various options. Given the huge cost of building a new transfer station, choosing the Durham alternative gave us more time to look at modalities such as disposal by plasma arc gasification.
The siting process also highlighted problems with the solid waste agreement between the county and its municipalities. When I first ran for commissioner, I argued the county was best suited to oversee solid waste operations because it represents everyone. I still feel that way.
However, the responsiveness, or lack thereof, by the towns was discouraging. Either elected officials failed to state their preferences when we solicited comment several years before making our decision, or told us what they opposed with scant positive statement of what they supported as proactive solutions. As late as March 2010 two commissioners, myself included, urged a discussion of solid waste issues at the semiannual Assembly of Governments, a meeting involving the towns and county. The topic did not make the agenda.
Our common commitment to environmentally, socially, and fiscally responsible solid waste management requires collaboration among all parties. The partners’ willingness to support a waste reduction goal of 61 percent from levels of disposal in the mid-1990s has driven county policy. We are currently around 52 percent reduction, among the best in the state. I���ve worked on a task force that has brought forward ways to further reduce the stream of disposed materials. But, based on recent experience, we need to reaffirm that the partnership remains a priority of the municipalities, and that their officials will bring positive interest to future deliberations.
I regard the Durham transfer station as a backup option. Meanwhile, as my motion said at the time and as I continue to believe, our ultimate solution should involve multiple counties, should aggressively consider alternative methods, and, whatever we do, should avoid the Rogers Road neighborhood and protect the neighbors of any facility the county supports.
5.The county is culling, combining and eliminating some of its advisory boards and commissions because of overlap and inaction. What types of advisory boards and committees are productive and useful to the board? Which boards should be eliminated? How will you work with these groups in office?
The impetus for reduction of the number of advisory boards arises, to a large degree, from budgetary considerations. As we freeze and eliminate positions, attempting to reduce the budget and to avoid tax increases, a greater burden of responsibility is placed on each remaining employee. Limiting or cutting staff involvement in advisory board agenda and meeting preparation and oversight is one way to lessen such demands.
There is also some commissioner concern that boards work at cross purposes, and are susceptible to undue influence by individual commissioners in formulating recommendations to our entire board. I have seen this in action, and the concern has validity.
I do think the compulsion to reform our advisory boards is somewhat overblown, and that the manner in which the Human Rights and Relations Commission and the Commission for Women were treated was insensitive and undemocratic.
We altered our policy subsequent to reorienting those two boards. We now appropriately solicit comment from affected citizen/volunteers — pro and con — on possible changes in advisory board status before taking action. Members of advisory boards should always be respected and honored for their effort and commitment, and treated accordingly.
The number of advisory boards repeatedly cited by the manager is grossly overblown. The count includes short-term task forces that no longer meet; externally-established organizations (Triangle Transit, the Upper Neuse River Basin Association, etc.) that include a county commissioner; other governments����������� advisory boards that invite us to appoint one or two public members (OWASA, Carrboro planning board); and legally mandated boards such as Health, Social Services, ABC, planning, and assessment review.
I am comfortable convening advisory boards comprised of residents with specialized knowledge and interests, then charging them with investigating and proposing policy choices and conducting activities and meetings that benefit public understanding. I even welcome thoughtful challenges to established county policies. This works well in areas like affordable housing, agriculture, environmental awareness, human rights, recreation, and senior issues.
I believe strongly that commissioners should rotate responsibilities so that each can become familiar with the diversity of issues facing the county, and be exposed to ideas and decisions in and beyond our comfort zones. With one or two exceptions I have rotated participation on various boards every few years. I enjoy working in groups that build relationships with other governments, as well as those that involve my areas of interest within Orange County.
I do think we need to especially reexamine the purposes and independent viability of the Visitors Bureau and the Economic Development Commission, the Human Services Advisory Commission, and the Solid Waste Advisory Board, on all of which I’ve served.
I think we should look at moving the Visitors Bureau to independent status while protecting our employees������� vested interest in benefits already earned in public employ. A nonprofit, public model, as embraced by many other counties, would give more flexibility to the professionals and the bureau board as they manage tourism, one of Orange County’s few ongoing economic successes.
Merging our Arts Commission with the Visitors Bureau might also improve the latter board’s leverage and visibility; the Visitors Bureau highly values the arts as a component of our community’s vitality and appeal.
Given the continued constipation of our economic development efforts, I think we should consider a different model for managing the county’s business retention and recruitment, and its economic planning efforts. There is a persistent confusion of roles and a handicapping disconnect between the advisory board and the professional staff. A separate, integrated organization could attract private dollars, be more aggressive within perameters set by the county commissioners, and achieve enhanced visibility within the community and the region. Causing the economic development director to report to a board rather than the county manager could enhance responsiveness.
And, in light of our troubles getting municipal commitment to decisionmaking regarding waste disposal, we need to revisit the makeup and charge of the multijurisdictional Solid Waste Advisory Board. Only Orange County has regularly assigned an elected official to this board. UNC has yet to become a formal party to joint solid waste planning. We need to find better ways to harness the interest and expertise of those who serve on this board, to widen geographic representation, and to streamline decisionmaking.
Finally, the internally-directed IT Committee should be retasked as something like the ET – Emerging Technologies – Committee. Such a group could bring to bear expertise related to broadband, telecommunication, and other cutting edge possibilities, and would have some relationship with the Economic Development arm of county government.
6. What your position on library services in Orange County? To what extent should the country pay for the Chapel Hill Public Library and how much money can the county reasonably afford to commit to this effort?
Since I’ve been a commissioner I have served on three library services task forces, and consistently advocated improved funding and interconnection for libraries throughout the county. Quality, accessible libraries are vital to any community, as I learned on the library squad in seventh grade and from parents who were devoted readers. I am always reading a book, and have even written a few.
I strongly support the findings and recommendations of those task forces: a defined unit of library services that brings the facilities within reach of every resident, preferably including access by public transit; services sited throughout the county and rolled out in a balanced manner north and south; interoperability between the Chapel Hill and county library systems; and an increased financial commitment to libraries so we meet or exceed state averages for spending per capita.
These philosophies led to establishment both of the Carrboro Cybrary and the Cedar Grove branch during my tenure as commissioner. The cybrary, which has won national recognition, emphasizes Net access in a small facility and is a model of cooperation between governments that we should emulate. The town provides utilities and space and the county provides staff and institutional infrastructure.
I also served on a sub-group that specifically studied library services in Carrboro. We agreed on the need a downtown facility that improves on the strengths of the cybrary and the hours- and materials-limited library at McDougle Middle School. Shortly after that report was presented, I worked with another commissioner and staff to investigate the feasibility of several potential library sites in downtown Carrboro. Later, another commissioner and I met with a pair of Carrboro elected officials to explore siting possibilities, including use of a larger portion of the Century Center or of an unused floor at Carrboro Town Hall.
More recently I worked with other commissioners to increase the county’s contribution to the Chapel Hill library beyond the oft-cited $250,000, with the understanding the increase be devoted to pursuing interoperability. That would link two very divergent computer software systems, potentially enabling users to access both libraries with identical ease and to expedite the exchange of books and other materials. To date, little progress has been made in this regard and the money is unspent.
Ideally, we would have a coordinated county system, even if not a merged system. That aim is complicated by Orange County’s membership in the three-county Hyconeechee Regional Library System, and by Chapel Hill’s independent decisionmaking in funding and facility development.
I support what our board asked the manager to do in mid-March: bring back a recommendation on a phased increase in funding for the Chapel Hill Library based on some objective measure; propose a memorandum of understanding that clarifies relationships, and is to be reviewed in several years; give the county a voice on the advisory board of the Chapel Hill Library; present a coordinated action plan for funding and developing all proposed library outlets (Chapel Hill, central library, southwest Orange branch, Cedar Grove branch, and Cheeks branch) consistent with the recommendations of the Library Services task forces. All of this must be considered within the constraints of our reduced financial circumstances.
There is benefit in discussing a more immediate, concrete solution to supporting library services in Chapel Hill and Carrboro ��������������� adapting part or all of the county-owned Skills Development Center on Franklin Street near the border of the two towns for use as a library branch. A portion of the 13,000-square-foot facility could be retained for job training so not everyone need travel to Durham Tech�������s Hillsborough campus, or that function could be phased out. Then some or all of the square footage could be devoted to library service in a downtown location that���s walkable, on public transit, readily accessible to residents of both towns, and apt to draw off many non-Chapel Hill users of its library.
Ultimately, if we are serious about our commitment to first-class libraries countywide we must follow through with an appropriate financial commitment, not just keep talking about it, and we must seek a more integrated system.
7. Do you support the half cent regional rail tax? How do you envision regional rail working for Orange County. Where will it connect? When and how?
I definitely support the half-cent regional rail tax, and an increased motor vehicle registration fee, to support public transportation. It’s regrettable the Triangle region did not have the will or unity of purpose necessary to request, let alone pass, such measures back in 1998, when Charlotte approved its half-cent levy.
Regional rail continues to undergo study, planning efforts, and analysis, making a final form a bit of a moving target at this point. Whatever is proposed will then be subject to review by the federal government prior to receiving matching monies under the New Starts program.
Current plans have the tax measure moving to the ballot in Durham, Orange and Wake counties in the fall of 2011. Should it pass, it would take another year or two to purchase and deploy buses to implement a more robust public transit system, then approximately a decade to install light rail.
Orange County is somewhat at a disadvantage in the Triangle Transit arrangement because it raises the smallest amount of money, and is quite dependent on the choices of others. Durham may quite possibly choose first to extend light rail to the east to link with Wake County���s line, rather than look west toward us. Should Wake choose a route from north Raleigh to Cary, and not extend west to RTP, Durham would be more likely to look in our direction. Such factors will affect how soon rail, rather than rail and bus, link Orange to the rest of the region’s public transit.
We need to continue engaging our neighbors, lobbying hard if necessary, to make sure a system unites the Triangle rather than unfolds in disconnected pieces as in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
While Triangle Transit�������������s work moves forward, commuter rail in existing rail rights-of-way, at approximately one-sixth the cost per mile of light rail, is being planned by others. Amtrak will add a third run this summer between Raleigh and Charlotte, with high-speed options to come. Hillsborough, supported by Orange County, has successfully lobbied for a rail station along this route near Daniel Boone Village. Unfortunately commuter rail has fewer stops, and therefore is not as effective at directing growth and promoting clustered development as light rail.
Ideally, we would link to Durham�����s light rail in the I-40/NC 54 corridor. This is the early route planned by Triangle Transit to connect UNC Hospital to Durham, and could be accompanied by a park-and-ride lot or parking garage at the interstate. If funding for light rail in Orange County is not yet available, we could connect by trolleys or buses during an interim developmental stage, as Charlotte did early on with its public transit system.
The county’s next-largest employment generator after the traditional UNC campus will be Carolina North. Many of those who work at Carolina North will come from outside Chapel Hill and Carrboro, often on I-40. From its split with I-85 through central Orange County to the new campus, that road will be among the last two-lane sections of interstate in the Triangle region.
Traffic constraints, a desire to limit auto dependency, and the existence of a longer-distance commuter rail stop at Hillsborough make it desirable to loop light rail and/or buses from the hospital through Carolina North, with strong connections to Carrboro, and on to Hillsborough. Triangle Transit currently operates a bus line from Hillsborough to UNC Hospital that is quite successful.
Parenthetically, the dependence of light rail and related public transit on the half-cent sales tax makes it even more imperative that Orange County boost its economic development. Resistance to a sales tax, even one that exempts food and medicine, is understandable due to its regressive nature. But, given county government’s limited taxation options, and the desirability of a strong public transportation system, we should regard properly located retail development in a more positive light than has traditionally been the case in our county.
8. As a commissioner, how will you provide effective oversight of the many county departments, sheriff’s office, etc. while in office?
Effective oversight starts with paying close attention to what is working well and what is not in county government. Observation must be accompanied by asking probing, appropriate questions in a timely manner, and a willingness to persist in order to get satisfactory answers.
Commissioner oversight ultimately depends, however, on the quality of the county manager. By statute, most county employees ultimately report to the manager. Therefore, a commissioner must be committed to setting clear goals and objectives as part of a board, giving unambiguous guidance to the manager, and considering the manager’s recommendations regarding personnel and other areas within his (or her) purview.
We are currently engaged in combining and reorganizing departments, perhaps more so than reshuffling advisory boards. We’ve recently revamped the office of human rights and relations. We combined finance and budgeting. We put purchasing, facilities management, and public works under one umbrella. Engineering was moved to planning. Soil and water is now associated with Environment and Resource Conservation, to which we may add cooperative extension and parks development and management. We also put departments with similar functions in the same office building (planning, environmental health, inspections, economic development) to make it easier for the public to seek permits and investigate land use-related possibilities.
These changes not only affect efficiencies, but shorten spans of control. That in turn makes it easier for the manager to monitor activities, and lessens the points of focus to which the commissioners devote attention.
The offices of the Sheriff and Register of Deeds, as well as the health department and social services, do not directly report to the commissioners. The Sheriff and Register are elected, and answerable to the voters. The DSS board and the Board of Health are authorized under state law to hire a director. Communication and collaboration with these departments is crucial, and is currently strong.
All four of these departments are overseen through the budget process, since we fund varying degrees of their operational expenses and all of their facility needs. This leverage is key to achieving satisfactory adherence to commissioner goals and priorities beyond simple persuasion.
9. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
Throughout my tenures in every public position I���������������ve endeavored to make government and its policies as inclusive as possible. Social justice is an important component of my philosophy of governance and relationships.
A just community begins with caring for those least able to help themselves, whether people with mental and physical handicaps, of modest means, or the victims of discrimination or other traumatic experiences.
Several years ago, over the objections of several colleagues, I proposed a ���social justice goal��� for county government, a commitment to fair treatment for all and sensitivity to oppression. As far as we could tell, no county in the country has such a goal. Once we decided to proceed, I worked with other commissioners, staff, and our Human Relations Commission to engage the public in developing this goal.
I have been most supportive of efforts to assist those on Work First, to extend Orange’s public transit to increase access to needed services, to aid with heating bills in the winter, and to provide funding to the many outside agencies that work diligently to provide counseling, treatment and other support to those in need.
I’ve advocated increasing funding, and sometimes simply emergency assistance, for worthy providers such as Club Nova and KidScope, as full support for mental health services devolved from the state to local government.
Our land-use and housing policies have been, and will continue to be, designed to combat resegregation by race or income.
I’ve been a leader in promoting the provision of subsidized affordable housing in the county. I co-chaired an affordable housing task force that recommended innovative, aggressive strategies and policies, then co-chaired a bond task force that supported those recommendations. That led to a $4 million bond approved by voters in 2001. The bond targeted $4 million to be used to support a variety of affordable housing alternatives and only recently was fully committed.
With another commissioner I���������ve advocated proactive steps to preserve manufactured housing opportunities, particularly in urbanized areas, as an important form of existing affordable units. With additional funding, I would like to pursue landbanking in appropriate locations for future construction of mixed-use affordable housing.
I’ve been a strong supporter of the county’s non-profit housing entities both publicly and behind the scenes. I led the way on our board to maintaining support of the Urgent Home Repair program that fixes critical problems for low-income, mostly elderly residents. In more prosperous times I supported public calls that we devote a portion of a cent on the property tax rate to affordable housing efforts.
Now that we are bringing water and sewer to our economic development districts, we can require a percentage of high-density affordable housing in the mix. This was the case in Buckhorn Village, which included 200 apartments above stores within the development, some of them to be owned by the Community Home Trust.
I’m a strong advocate for the county’s senior citizens, serving on the steering committee for our award-winning Master Aging Plans in 2001 and 2008. For many years I served on the county’s Advisory Board on Aging. I worked for bond monies to build a pair of county senior centers that serve the southern and central county. I served on the design group for the Central Orange Senior Center. I’m a big supporter of services like senior daycare, in-home nursing, and other assistance for those who seek to age in place.
I originally suggested including a cutting-edge Adult Day Health Center in the new Central Orange Senior Center. As chair of the Board of Commissioners, I also intervened with a Chapel Hill nursing home to support concerns about poor care raised by one of our advisory boards. Company administrators traveled to Orange County from out of state to assure us they would improve, and followed through. State officials were not aware of a similar case of commissioner intervention in North Carolina.
While it existed, I strongly supported El Centro Latino, which recently ceased operation. I tried to develop a farm linkage program allowing Latino and Asian immigrants from agrarian backgrounds to get into agriculture here. We explored adding this program at the Breeze Farm, where the county and state are partners in a farm incubator, but lack translation services. If we can link with advocacy groups that can organize and focus interest, I want to devote more energy to working with staff to secure funding for this missing element.
I’ve prompted staff to send representatives to recruit employees in the Latino community, and helped facilitate a meeting between El Centro leaders and our sheriff to discuss hiring and other issues of mutual concern. I’ve worked with Raleigh Council member Thomas Crowder and others to bring a dispassionate discussion of Latino impacts on our region, perhaps as a public symposium, through the Triangle J Council of Governments.
Most of all, I insist we hire a county workforce that better reflects the diversity of our citizenry. That includes creating job linkages with Club Nova, OE Industries, and others who aid folks suffering some handicap or disability.
I led the way in eliminating the bottom rung on our pay scale, bumping up even the lowest-paid workers. We pay a living wage to every employee, even temporary help. I was instrumental in assuring that sheriff’s deputies, who are required to live within Orange County, are paid at least the housing living wage. During my tenure we also became one of the few counties in North Carolina to offer domestic partner benefits.
Concerns about mismanagement and animal welfare led us to take over the operation of the animal shelter, with assistance from the U.S. Humane Society and the involvement of the public. More recently, when the University of North Carolina asked the county to expedite departure from the Carolina North property, I participated in planning a new animal shelter.
Opened in 2009, the shelter aims for a robust 50 percent adoption rate, basically all adoptable animals. The building incorporated rain collection to provide non-potable water for cleaning purposes, daylighting, and other humane, green approaches.
The county also took distinct steps to ban unlimited tethering of dogs, hunting deer with dogs, hunting while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and firing a weapon with 1,000 feet of a school.
I’ve advocated strenuously for fair and prompt consideration of folks in and around Fairview, a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood on the edge of Hillsborough. We overcame the opposition of one commissioner and the skepticism of others to support the citizen-led creation of a ballfield once testing assured the site’s safety. Then I lobbied for adequate funds to develop a park at Fairview, and served on the planning committee for that park.
We jointly funded a community policing center with Hillsborough at Fairview, and later gave it to the town. We funded the purchase of land at Fairview for a Habitat for Humanity development. The Cornelius Street planning group on which I served – bringing residents and business owners together with staff and elected officials from Hillsborough and the county ����������� created a blueprint for redevelopment that can further revitalize the community.
Serving on the Human Relations Commission, I’ve supported efforts to improve our outreach to students on matters like tolerance of others. We’ve fought as a county against Blue Cross Blue Shield and big business all the way to the N.C. Supreme Court for the right of local governments to investigate worker complaints of discrimination. I’ve pushed for undercover testing of housing inclusiveness in our county to ascertain the extent of discrimination in rentals. We have worked to limit the deleterious effects of federal immigration policies.
As a member of the Human Services Advisory Commission I was part of planning and hosting symposia on building bridges to the Latino community, mental health issues, and poverty in Orange County.
Public education — equal opportunity to advance one’s knowledge, standing and career — is an important component of building a just community, and I’ve been an unswerving supporter. Efforts to fragment that support, or to undermine it on the basis of blanket opposition to taxation, undermine diversity and equal opportunity.
I’ve been a leader in promoting the extension of water lines to the historic Rogers Road neighborhood. I pushed to have a Rogers Road neighborhood representative on our Solid Waste Advisory Board.
I advocated a strong benefits package for neighbors of the American Stone Quarry, where expanded operation will provide additional water resources to Orange’s urban residents.
I’ve worked with Congressman David Price and others to secure funds to bring water and sewer to a predominantly elderly, African-American community in western Orange near Buckhorn Road.
And, as at Fairview, I stand firm for treating those in low-income neighborhoods with the same deference and understanding insisted upon by citizens more familiar with manipulating the levers of government.
I believe strongly in environmental justice and in justice for the environment. I’ve pushed county government to adopt strong environmental standards for its operations; to adopt a policy of conducting environmental and cultural surveys of every site the county develops for its own use or use by the schools; suggested we look at greenbuilding standards for private development, as we have for county facilities.
Again, government must lead by example. The examples set by Orange County can in turn influence others throughout the Triangle.
10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.
Raising taxes is seldom popular. This is true even in the many years when constituents attend Orange County budget public hearings and urge the commissioners to increase taxes to support public education, child care, affordable housing, or other worthy efforts. Any increase is to be approached with caution, balancing perceived needs with the ability to pay of those on fixed incomes or of modest means.
Still, raising taxes is not to be shunned as a matter of course, as is currently fashionable. Sometimes necessity dictates a need for enhanced revenues. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.���
So, I would ask voters to raise the sales tax to support public transportation. Hopefully the measure can get on the ballot in a more salubrious economic climate. But we must take the initiative soon if we are to keep pace with our regional neighbors and provide meaningful alternatives to auto travel.
Moreover, while I am disinclined to raise the property tax in the current economic climate, I am not afraid to do so if ongoing declines in federal and state support threaten those educational, environmental, and social principles that are essential to the well-being of Orange County. No one likes higher taxes, me included. Still, some things are worth fighting for — and taking heat for — if necessary. Knee-jerk opposition to taxes is just as dangerous as uncritical wielding of taxation authority.