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. For social justice it has a criminal justice resource department to help decrease the use of jail. It pays a living wage to it workers and has a policy to encourage vendors to pay a living wage. However, with the rising needs the county could do more. In my conversations with community human service non-profits, there is a need for an emergency shelter for men, more rapid rehousing for the homeless, and more services for domestic violence. For actions that may not require more funding, the county should make sure that it provides the training, support, and culture to allow its social service staff to provide the best services to residents in need. I have heard anecdotal reports that certain departments are not welcoming to people of color. As commissioner, I would want a report on staff turnover in the key human services departments.
♦ Investing in our young people through adequate funding of public schools.
I would work with both school boards to create a plan to address the aging schools. By NC statute, school facilities are the responsibility of County Commissioners and there is no excuse for not addressing the health and safety needs of our children. Addressing aging schools is an equity issue since poor children are likely to be most affected, an economic development since strong public schools attract businesses, and an environmental issue since our older schools are energy inefficient.
I believe the county’s budget can be better managed. I think that commissioners should not raise taxes like the climate tax without a clear plan that has already identified what projects should bring the best return. Also, when there is a plan before a tax increase or a bond issue, then there should be clear and publicly available assessments of how effective the funded projects prove to be. For example, the plan for Article 46 split sales tax equally between school facilities and economic development, given the needs of the school I want to know the effectiveness of the economic development initiatives and consider re-allocating money to school facilities. If infrastructure improvements like the Buckhorn Mebane sewer and water project are completed, did we get more business locating in the economic development zone, and where should funds be next allocated. The $5 million affordable housing bond is another example where it is not clear if funds have been efficiently and effectively used. How close are we to the 1,000 units in the time frame proposed? If we are not on target, what have been the barriers? I do not think that commissioners should give themselves a raise when it is not clear that they have been good stewards of taxpayers’ money.
♦ Developing our economy with good jobs, affordable housing, and reliable, convenient transportation.
I think that the county absolutely has to grow its commercial base in a way that is consistent with our values of protecting the environment and promoting equity. The county has made good progress in bringing commercial projects including ABB, Medline, and healthcare technology company WELL to Orange County that diversify the tax base and increase jobs. I would continue supporting the efforts of the Economic Development Department and assess which initiatives are most beneficial and if the incentives we provide pay off for the county. Included in the assessment would be how many jobs went to Orange County residents versus employees from out of town. I will also encourage regulations and processes that do not put up unnecessary barriers to new companies and encourage coordination with the public school systems and Durham Tech to train the workforce that fits the needs of well-paying businesses.
I think Orange County can do more to provide housing for lower-income residents. The county has limited control over market forces when it comes to increasing housing prices. I think that the county should strive to achieve affordable housing for those with earnings below 60% of AMI through a wide range of solutions. These solutions could include preserving moderate-priced housing, rehabilitating existing homes, offering a rental subsidy programs, and developing affordable housing that is targeted to low- and middle-income workers. As a commissioner, I would encourage owner-occupied affordable housing to foster household investment in the community and build individual wealth. Affordable housing should be spread as evenly across the county as possible; however, more affordable housing should be located near good public transit to help residents get to jobs and services without cars. We also need to make plans for mobile home park residents and those who need emergency housing. The housing bond money needs to be used wisely since taxes will have to be raised to service the debt. The county needs to make sure the increased volume of affordable housing offset the impact of higher taxes for low income residents.
I will bring an evidence-based approach to analyze transit decisions. I see improved bus service, including bus rapid transit system in key corridors, as a better solution than light rail for Orange County given the lower upfront cost and the flexibility for meeting the needs of a county with rural areas and urban centers. Key corridors include Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, 15-501, and east-west bus routes to I-40. Regional transit should eventually connect our population centers with area schools, public services, retail centers, and job centers in Chatham, Alamance, Durham, and Wake. In addition, the County Commissioners should work to get funds from GoTriangle to support Chapel Hill Transit and Orange County Public Transportation in improving and expanding services.
♦ 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 seems to be lacking among some county commissioners and it gets in the way of respectful collaboration with the public and other elected officials. 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 Commissioners can reduce the carbon footprint by deciding to use alternative energy sources in public buildings and vehicles including the public schools and by leveraging the Duke Energy solar incentive. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) can use the American Institute for Architect’s standards to achieve carbon neutral buildings by 2030 for its own new and renovated buildings and can change zoning rules to require new developments to meet the same energy performance standards. The BOCC should provide electric charging stations at public locations including parks and park and ride lots. The County Commissioners also have a role in educating the public about alternative energy sources and energy-efficient buildings and can simplify the permitting and inspection process for solar systems. In addition, the BOCC can require a minimum amount of green space and support native grasses and trees. It should continue to track greenhouse emissions and advocate for Duke Energy and other power utilities to move to renewable energy sources.
Jean with mother Lelia
Jean with husband Wayne and mother