Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Bonnie Hauser
Full legal name, if different: Bonicca A Hauser
Date of Birth: October 22,1953
Campaign Web Site: www.bonniehauser.com
Occupation & Employer: retired Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Cost Restructuring specialist
Home Phone: 919 732-9316 Cell Phone: 919 619-4354
Twitter handle, if applicable: @bonnieforOCC
1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
The most important issue facing Orange County is preparing for short and long term needs in education. The county commissioners are responsible for funding schools – which account for nearly half of our county taxes (more for taxpayers in the Chapel Hill Carrboro School District). If we commit ourselves to better planning and distinguish short and long term priorities, I believe we can meet the needs of our schools without a bond referendum or a tax increase.
In the short term, schools need more money to counter shortfalls in teachers and social safety nets resulting from state cuts, aging infrastructure and changes in curriculum. I believe that these short-term funding needs can be met with minor changes to the school funding policy and a reallocation of the county’s capital funds – but not if the commissioners continue to fund non-essential government facilities such as new offices or their new meeting room in Hillsborough.
The county has the option to allocate more than 48% for schools by policy. Every single percentage point shift in funding, generates $2 million for schools – and such a policy change offers more predictable funding, assuring that schools are funded first and as a priority. In addition, the county can eliminate non-essential projects for county buildings and facilities to immediately free up capital for much needed and long overdue maintenance. The board also has the option to free up underutilized office space for sale or lease to generate revenue. These short-term funding changes would have no impact on services.
Once we alleviate the short term funding pressures, school and county leaders can take more time to work together and with experts and communities to plan the longer term curriculum, capital and funding needs for the schools. This is where leaders can explore options such as the achievement gap, year-round schools, and alternative/supplemental curricula in an open and collaborative. This also allows more time to align the newest requests for facilities with plans for enrollment growth, and the $150 million that’s already in the county’s budget.
Good long term planning will create more transparency around the cost and performance of programs and facilities, and help clarify the impact of urban growth. Leaders can agree on a more precise and predictable funding policy, replacing the simple 48% with capital, operating and growth factors.
One clear difference between me and my opponent is that I’m asking voters to support deliberate planning and policies to address the short and long term needs and funding for schools. My opponent is advocating for a voter referendum for new bonds (and a tax increase) – which I believe is premature. I believe that with better planning, the county can avoid future tax increases, and rely on economic development and growth to fund future needs.
The second most important issue is to work more closely with the towns and our communities to plan policies and services for the future. Current policies do not consider the impacts of urban and economic development, an aging population, and meeting higher expectations for quality education and essential services. Our professionals need to work more closely with outside experts and communities to plan new ways of working in the future – including options to share facilities and services rather than continuing to invest in four separate, stand-alone governments.
We proved the value of working with towns and across agencies (fire, police, emergency medical) with Emergency Services. When the county was unresponsive to concerns about skyrocketing insurance rates, ambulance response, and radio outages, communities approached me to help. I facilitated one-on-one discussions with commissioners and fire departments. That led to the formation of the Emergency Services Workgroup and rather than adding $20 million to the county’s department, the workgroup recommended co-locating ambulances, fixing radio protocols, and realigning insurance districts.
Emergency services demonstrated the benefit of taking important issues out of the political arena and working with towns, communities and surrounding counties. I’d like to see a similar approach to:
• Revamp the solid waste and recycling services for the future. Now that the landfill is closed, waste reduction is more important than ever. For the short term, we need to align our services to new urban/suburban/rural user patterns and simplify the very confusing fee structure. Plans need to examine curbside and drop services as a single, integrated system, and develop a sustainable funding mechanism that doesn’t require landfill fees or a subsidy from the general fund. For the long term, we need to work with Durham, UNC Energy and the towns on solutions that address traditional wastes plus growing volumes of medical waste and sewage sludge – without burdening a minority or rural community in Orange County or elsewhere.
• Align regional transportation with targeted areas for growth within the county and the region. This is discussed further in question 4.
• Create affordable communities that include housing, transportation and community-based services. This is discussed further in question 5.
• Simplify permitting in the county’s Economic Development Districts to make it easier for businesses that fit our values to locate in Orange County. If we shift from conditional zoning to by-right zoning, we can offer citizens and applicants more certainty about the future. (discussed further below)
Such discussions would go a long way to prepare our governments and our communities for the future.
The third most important issue is transparency and accountability. Orange County needs to do a better job to become more transparent and make it easier for citizens to engage in the future of their government. That could be as simple as voting or attending a public town hall – or joining a conversation about recycling, transportation or future funding for education.
With better transparency, I hope to open the door for more people to vote in local elections and more people to seek elected office. If elected, I will serve only two terms. After that, I’d like to mentor future leaders.
Transparency is an issue with the county’s 800-page zoning ordinance, which relies on conditional zoning and is confusing to citizens and applicants, and undermines our ability to attract development to our Economic Development Districts (EDDs). Good zoning benefits everyone, and if a project meets Orange County’s density, use and stringent environmental standards, it should be permitted by right with minimal interference from elected officials. Zoning variances – including permits for government run facilities – should require extensive citizen involvement. If the commissioners agree to pursue this change in zoning policy, we need to prepare for active, collaborative citizen involvement in developing changes.
In addition to simplifying zoning and other public ordinances, I believe everyone benefits when:
• Commissioner emails and other important information are made available online.
• Commissioners hold regular town halls and other meetings in communities.
• The county replaces contentious public hearings with collaborative work groups to plan services for the future. These groups would establish a shared and up-to-date fact base upon which to base policies for the future.
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 am a successful business and community leader who has worked closely with local governments and communities for years. I am intimately familiar with the county’s policies, operations and finances, and bring a fresh perspective based on decades of professional management experience, much of which I routinely apply to issues facing our communities. Over the years, communities have grown to trust me to fairly represent their interests, and work tirelessly to find better solutions to difficult and often contentious problems.
I retired to Orange County in 2003 after a successful career as a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers where I specialized in corporate restructuring. I helped organizations prepare for the future – not by having all the answers – but by asking good questions about priority, value and cost.
My professional management, organization, and planning experience complement the skills of other commissioners. I believe that I can help focus in on future needs and priorities, and reduce political conflict through better planning and problem solving. In doing so, we will increase people’s trust in their government.
Coming from Evanston Illinois, Chicago and NY, I was new to rural living in Orange County. It was beautiful but I was unaware of the political realities. When I lived in cities, I had no idea that rural communities were silent partners hosting landfills, wastewater treatment plants and other environmental burdens. Since rural voters are generally outnumbered, their voice can be easily ignored.
In 2008, I found myself working with my neighbors to stop an airport from coming to rural Orange County. As that was winding down, the same community was being asked to host a waste transfer station. Then rural services were to be cut when the economy faltered. That’s what prompted the formation of Orange County Voice – and soon into our work, we realized that we shared many interests with town communities and joined Orange County Justice United, where I was a member of the strategy team until I decided to run for office.
I am proud of my leadership roles with both organizations. We worked closely with communities and local governments to:
• Close the county landfill and finally secure the amenities promised for Rogers Road community. At the time, the county was seeking a five year extension on the landfill – a proposal that was morally unacceptable regardless of the economics.
• Improve emergency response by engaging town and rural agencies (fire, police, emergency medical) in collaborative problem solving to fix radio protocols, co-locate ambulances in town and rural fire stations, and save millions of dollars through reduced capital spending and improved insurance rates.
• Secure fair sewer rates for Efland after commissioners told the Habitat community “nothing could be done” to stop their sewer rates from skyrocketing to $220 a month – which in some cases was higher than their mortgage payments.
• Engage tenants in the discussion of their rights as residents of affordable rental housing – including the development of a Tenant’s Bill of Rights. This followed Justice United’s work to uncover housing violations at the Landings at Winmore.
• Limit industrial development to the county’s Economic Development Districts that have water and sewer infrastructure. Our team spent countless hours with planners, commissioner and others to understand the 800 page zoning ordinance and realized that it allowed industrial uses to be included in planned development anywhere in the county.
• Prevent OWASA from logging reservoir lands by distinguishing sustainable forestry objectives which were inconsistent with OWASA’s water quality mission.
• Protect rural Orange County from an unnecessary airport and ill-conceived waste transfer station by offering tangible alternatives. In the case of the waste transfer station process – which was designed to divide communities, I reached out to join Rogers Road and Hillsborough to keep the transfer station out of anyone’s backyard.
Over the years, I have learned that it is essential to take government out of its meeting room and into our communities where leaders (and the media) can learn firsthand about what’s happening. Of course, we always did extensive research to get the facts, understand alternatives and work toward win-win solutions.
My approach to community service became more proactive with the Emergency Services Workgroup – a collaborative problem-solving group that offered an alternative to politicized public hearings and debates. I point to this work with pride, and am committed to such collaboration to develop policies and programs for the future.
In addition to my advocacy work, I know our communities through my volunteer work with Orange County Schools and Social Services, Maple View’s Agricultural Education Center, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle. I’m also on the Project Engage Advisory Committee, where we are working to engage seniors in the future of our communities.
Through this work, people throughout Orange County have come to know and trust me, and I am humbled by the grassroots response to my decision to run for county commissioner. People know that I will work tirelessly to bring candor and transparency to the political process, and openly engage in meaningful conversations about services, costs and taxes. I will rely on these relationships to continue to bring Orange County’s government closer to its people.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I see myself as a community-based leader who is committed to solving local issues – without resorting to partisan politics or other forms of arbitrary divisiveness. I embrace the differences of our communities. As an at-large candidate, I am committed to serve all our communities – not by dividing us and taking sides with political expedience. I will encourage solutions that encompass diverse needs of all our communities and work with towns to make this feasible.
For example, in the recent debate on rural curbside recycling taxes, I was disappointed that the commissioners allowed the debate to degrade to whether or not citizens will recycle – rather than a critical at the service needs and alternatives to a program that is not working for nearly half the people that use it. I would have preferred to see more attention paid to fixing the service model and fee structure – working with the towns and the county – especially since the county can no longer rely on millions of dollars in tipping fees to fund their solid waste and recycling operation.
I am committed to excellence in public service, and prefer solving problems with facts rather than relying on political rhetoric such as “the greater good” or “there’s nothing that can be done” to justify poor policy and environmental injustice. Collaborative problem solving is signature to all my advocacy and will continue if the voters elect me to be their next commissioner-at-large.
I prefer collaboration over top-down control and envision a county that works more closely with communities, towns and outside agencies. I am committed to an open, transparent government as the path to engage citizens in a respectful and proactive way. My platform is based on experience working with communities and local government, and the desperate need to inform commissioner deliberations with facts on the ground. I have enjoyed great success by bringing commissioners, other elected leaders and the press to community settings where all citizens, regardless of race, income level and lifestyle are most comfortable expressing their views and concerns.
I am a registered Democrat and generally vote Democrat. I am socially progressive, and given my business background, I am fiscally savvy. I see education and social equity as essential investments for strong communities, and it’s important to understand the numbers to assure that these investments are well placed and working. I am not afraid of change or of adjusting course based on new information. My priorities are education, social justice, environmental stewardship and fiscal responsibility – and I support candidates whose actions align with these priorities regardless of political affiliation.
4. Plans for the Durham to Orange County light rail and enhanced bus service are underway at this time. What can the county do next to improve public transit?
Good public transportation is essential to our future, which promises urban growth and the need to connect our citizens with population and employment centers within the county and throughout the region. Public transportation is essential for economic and environmental sustainability – and if we get this right, we will reap the rewards in many ways.
Orange County and its towns need to work together to create a regional transportation plan that connects service from Chapel Hill Transit with Orange Public Transit, Triangle Transit and NC DOT, and provides seamless, integrated service throughout the Triangle. Further planning, including options for funding, will be needed to provide frequent and convenient transportation to and between:
• Chapel Hill 2020 Focus areas
• Orange County Economic Development Districts (EDDs)
• Growing employment and population centers in RTP, Raleigh, Chatham and Mebane (in addition to Durham)
• RDU Airport
Transportation planners need to do more to plan point-to-point and last-mile service for seniors and other transit dependent communities. Today’s service is built around a hub-and-spoke University System rather than a network of connections throughout the Triangle. Convenient, frequent service is essential to fulfill our vision for urban style with walkable communities where people can leave their cars at home. Planned areas for density in town and the county become more attractive to investors and more affordable for residents with a strong public transportation system.
Orange County also needs to get closer to regional planning for commuter rail, which has the potential to connect Orange with other employment/population centers in the state. Development plans for Raleigh and RTP are likely to accelerate interest and funding for commuter rail service. Congratulations to Hillsborough for having the foresight to plan a train station as a priority. We will all benefit.
We need to connect with Wake County, which is struggling with important issues on how to connect their sprawled towns and planned redevelopment at RTP. I believe a conversation among regional leaders is essential to assure that we are planning complementary transportation systems.
5. 5) How would you address the challenges of providing affordable housing in the county?
I am encouraged by recent actions by all our governments to advance affordable housing, including inviting UNC to participate in future discussions as a university, an employer and a healthcare provider. There are many interesting options under consideration. For me, it helps to distinguish student housing, workforce housing and low-income housing – since they each present unique challenges and solutions. Since my mother lives in senior affordable housing in Carrboro, the issue is personal.
I am especially interested in partnerships, simplified permitting and clearly defined incentives to attract affordable housing projects to the county. I’m supportive of projects like Eno Haven where the county invested $1 million for affordable senior housing in Hillsborough. Going forward, I’d like the county to work closely with the Affordable Housing Coalition – which includes complementary resources from Justice United, Habitat for Humanity, Self Help Credit Union and all our local governments. Together, we can create diverse communities that embrace seniors, low-income and workforce families.
Affordable housing is not enough. We need also to be talking about affordable communities – which includes transportation, job training and local support systems to strengthen families and assure they are part of our broader communities. Local libraries and technology resources at community centers are essential to this support structure. I have ideas to improve basic services and to bring essential services – including after-school care and parent mentoring – into our communities, and I’d like to start by asking our communities, social workers, educators and others about their ideas and priorities.
I am particularly interested in finding ways to work with groups like El Centro Hispano, the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) and others to build communities, and Justice United and Orange County Voice who assure that every community is heard. I believe that Orange County should work more closely with these and other organizations to find ways to bring services closer to the communities – and assure that families have access to the resources that they need.
Here are some specific issues/opportunities as I see them:
• Student housing is a town not a county problem – but as long as student housing commands high per-bedroom rents, students will displace families from affordable housing.
• For workforce housing, expedited permitting and development incentives should attract developers and help counter lower costs for housing in nearby Chatham, Alamance and Durham. I applaud partnerships among agencies such as the Habitat and Home Trust that are planning energy-efficient, family-ready housing in diverse, inclusive communities.
• In addition to housing prices, I’d like to explore options for low-rate mortgages or insurance programs and other incentives for families to move to Orange County. This is in addition to public transportation, and of course continuing to invest in great schools helps.
• Incentives and simplified permitting works for low-income or senior housing, as long as the developer or landlord adheres to fair housing practices, including the Tenant’s Bill of Rights – a program imagined in my kitchen, developed by Justice United and endorsed by all our governments.
6. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.
I will not vote to place a bond or tax referendum on an odd-year ballot when residents in unincorporated areas are not engaged as voters. If a referendum is needed, I would place it on a primary or general election where all voters are engaged. In principle, I would avoid ballot referendums for tax increases – except when mandated by law as was the case with the recent ¼-cent and ½-cent sales taxes.
Commissioners have full authority to issue debt or raise taxes without a voter referendum. I wonder if voters would support bonds and a tax increase for schools, if they were given a choice to first reallocate funds and do better planning. If that didn’t work, a tax increase would be needed –whether or not the voters approved it. I prefer that commissioners, not voters, be held accountable for tax policy.
As a commissioner, I will do a better job working with the board and the county staff to plan finances for the future – including anticipating the needs of our schools and social safety nets, and avoiding excess spending on government offices and facilities, and estimating the benefits of economic development. I believe it is the responsibility of our commissioners to assure voters that spending is focused on priorities for the future – and that the county is not investing on outdated services or infrastructure that is no longer relevant.
I am committed to avoiding new taxes and bonds (debt), but if they are needed, they will be well planned and transparent, and the information will be easily accessible. If the board decides to raise taxes, I will take full responsibility for the decision and discuss it openly with citizens.
7. 7) What do you believe are the board’s greatest successes and failures in recent years?
• Committing to and funding economic development through water and sewer infrastructure, funded primarily through a ¼-cent sales tax. This resulted in attracting Morinaga to Orange County with the prospect of becoming their North America Headquarters. After initial incentives, this project will generate commercial property taxes and create jobs for Orange County citizens.
• Emergency Services Improvements including better radio communications and 911 call center technology, and working with towns and rural fire departments to place ambulances in fire stations and improve response times.
• Finally closing the landfill and committing to the community center and water service for Rogers Road. I am optimistic that sewer service will be forthcoming.
• A new 800 page Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) that adds uncertainty and confusion to the county’s zoning. The lack of clarity is creating mistrust amongst citizens and landowners, and confusion about land use in the county’s EDDs.
• Wholesale ineffectiveness to develop a short- or long-term plan for handling trash and recycling for the future. Two years after deciding to close the landfill, the county has concentrated on protecting revenues for its curbside recycling program with virtually no progress working with towns and communities to plan future services, including an economically sustainable service that doesn’t rely on landfill fees or a subsidy from the general fund (property taxes).
• Loss of economic and racial diversity, and dramatically slower growth than surrounding counties. Based on 2010 census and other information, Orange County appears to be losing its workforce due to the lack of affordable housing, high taxes (a high tax rate applied to property values set at 2009 highs), and limited employment opportunities.
• Top-down control of departments undermining a true spirit of public service for Orange County citizens.
8. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
I am committed to engage our communities openly and transparently, and in settings that are comfortable to them. I have worked closely with many of our low-income communities, Title 1 Schools and social services and have good access to people for ideas and concerns.
I am committed to strengthening all our communities – with quality education, transportation and services for the future. I prefer investing in Orange County’s communities rather than more government offices and infrastructure. I am willing to explore innovative ways to create community-based social services for preschool and after-school programs, parent mentoring and other services in partnership with community organizations. I am committed to assuring that all communities have easy access to Internet and computer resources through libraries, community centers and other outreach settings.
I am inspired by the work of El Centro Hispano, RENA and others who are taking the lead in community building, and I am interested in working to strengthen their efforts, and adapt their successes throughout the county. I am open to finding ways to compensate volunteers for their service.
Most of all, I will always begin with communities – and will bring their agenda to the table and advance the discussion on their behalf. I am honored that so many communities enthusiastically support my run for county commissioner.
9. Is it time to pass a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in the workplace?
We already have non-discrimination laws in place, so we should not tolerate discrimination in the workplace.
10. Should union organizing be facilitated by changes to labor laws, including the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (ECRA)?
11. Do you support or oppose increasing tax rates on the wealthy, either to reduce federal debt or as part of a package to raise money for public investments and/or cut taxes for the middle-class?
I support cutting taxes and cutting wasteful government spending. I favor closing tax loopholes and simplifying our overly-complicated tax code. I favor a tax-cut on the middle-class.
12.What do you think of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s idea of expanding Social Security benefits as private pensions become less and less common?
I favor allowing some privatization of social security for younger workers starting out with the social security program.