My priorities include:
♦ Supporting vulnerable residents including immigrants, people with disabilities, and older adults.
The county provides the social safety net and so plays a central role in addressing issues of economic inequality and social justice. The county has formed important partnerships with non-profits to close gaps in addressing homelessness, domestic violence, and support for immigrants. It has an exemplary criminal justice resource department to help divert people from the criminal justice system. It pays a living wage to its workers and has a policy to encourage vendors to pay a living wage. However, there are always rising needs as economic and social changes affect our county. The Covid 19 health crisis exposed safety net vulnerabilities and made it harder to addressed given shortages of behavioral and physical health workers.
♦ Investing in our young people through adequate funding of public schools.
Many of our school facilities have deteriorated to the point that they negatively affect the health, safety, and learning of our children. Addressing aging schools is an equity issue since poor children are likely to be most affected, an economic development issue since strong public schools attract businesses and employees, and an environmental issue since our older schools are energy inefficient.
I took the initiative to petition for a work group of elected officials and staff from Orange County, Orange County Schools (OCS), and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) to address our aging school facilities. As chair of the Capital Needs Work Group I worked closely with OCS board member Bonnie Hauser and CHCCS board member Rani Dasi to draft a report of our findings with a recommendation to hire a consultant to look at the facilities of both school systems and provide a report with options on how to address the needs overtime in an effective and efficient way. The consultant was hired and the final report is to be presented to the BOCC on December 4th. What direction will be taken will be determined by the BOCC in the coming weeks as it considers what options to pursue and how to fund that option.
♦ Developing our economy with good jobs, affordable housing, and reliable, convenient transportation.
Affordable housing is a challenge that continues. Orange County provides support to non-profit partners like Habitat for Humanity and Empowerment, Inc. I support BOCC efforts to increase affordable housing including by moving forward with the process to development a portion of the Greene Tract for affordable housing. In the coming year, the county will seek community feedback on specific development design plans for the Greene Tract.
Transit planning is complicated with the many regional and state entities involved. On the BOCC, I voted to adopt the 2022 Orange County Transit plan and want to highlight that our transit plan looks to have a regional focus, encourage other transportation modes besides automobiles, and take the environment and equity into account.
♦ Working to dismantle barriers that prevent residents from attaining their full potential.
I have a unique set of skills and experiences that fit the responsibilities of a county commissioner to provide health, social, and public safety services and plan for the future. The work of a county commissioner is not glamorous and we need commissioners who understand the needs thoroughly, understand the numbers, can make good fact-based decisions, and want to serve the community. As an economist and social worker, I have those skills. In addition, county commissioners should be able to welcome, listen, and understand the views of residents who disagree with them and find common ground to bring the community together. In my work as a clinical social worker in private practice, I use mindfulness skills to help clients gain a better understanding of cognitive biases and emotional reactions that get in the way of their living a fulfilling life and find new ways of behaving. This skill helps me stay open to all points of view and be aware of my own reactions. This is a skill that I have used as I have promoted collaboration with the public, other elected officials, and local government staff. In addition, mindfulness skills are an important tool in dealing with implicit racial and social bias. I believe that the elimination of racial and social injustice requires such training in addition to education on structural inequities.
♦ Protecting our environment.
Responding to climate change is important and the county must do its part to reduce its carbon footprint and protect vulnerable residents from the effects of extreme weather. The County has taken steps to expand electric vehicle purchases and establish charging stations. The BOCC passed a comprehensive climate action plan at the end of 2023 that aims to reduce greenhouse gases, improve climate resiliency, and educate the public. The climate action plan was based on the work of many stakeholders, is ambitious, and in line with state, national, and international goals. I am especially pleased that the climate action plan will have a dashboard so we can track our progress and evaluate the effectiveness of our initiatives.
Jean with husband Wayne and mother, filing for County Commissioner election 2020
Jean with mother Lelia