Unlike in Orange County, where rural residents say they simply want a seat at the table, Chatham County redistricting proponents want the table and every morsel on it.
Chatham's ballot measure is a not-so-sleight-of-hand attempt to reinstate ousted Commissioner Bunkey Morgan and his cabal to power. A redistricting committee has already redrawn district lines to carve out safe zones for sprawl-happy commissioners, and the subsequent ballot proposal would dismantle democracy at its core.
The proposal would change the current system of countywide voting to district voting. In countywide voting, candidates must live in their respective districts, but all voters cast their ballots for all the candidates. Under district voting, citizens vote for only the candidate from their district.
Aside from the undemocratic motivations behind the proposal, such a plan would disenfranchise African Americans, who, until countywide voting went into effect in the mid-'70s, had never won a seat on the commission.
Although redistricting proponents contend that in the east and northeast, where two-thirds of Chathamites live, voters are more politically active and thus more powerful, their argument is hollow. First, voter turnout statistics don't support that contention, and secondly, if people in western Chatham don't vote, they have only themselves to blame.
The fight over redistricting has divided the county, the Democratic Party and to some extent, the African-American community. The Independent's call on this question is NO. Hopefully, if the ballot measure is defeated, Chatham County can put the issue to rest and move on to shaping its future.Board of Commissioners, District 4
In the only Chatham County commissioner's race that wasn't decided in the primary, our nod again goes to sustainable farmer and citizen activist Tom Vanderbeck, the Democrat who defeated incumbent Bunkey Morgan this spring. In addition to being not-Bunkey (if you need more explanation than that, see our archives at www.indyweek.com), Vanderbeck, 55, demonstrates a firm grip on the issues on the table in Chatham and a clear commitment to his county's future that will be a welcome change from the last four years. That is, a future directed by a government that values citizen input over real estate profiteers; ethical leaders and public policymaking over cronies and back-room deals; financial stability and sensible economic development over corporate incentives and expensive water projects that only spawn sprawl; and planning that provides jobs and funding for education without sacrificing Chatham's natural resources or decimating its rural character.
Vanderbeck faces Republican Karl Ernst, a Vietnam veteran from Siler City.School Board
An unsuccessful attempt to put a $100 million bond on the ballot was the highlight--or depending on your viewpoint, lowlight-- of the past year in Chatham County schools. It is certain that several Chatham schools could use an infusion of cash to repair water heaters, leaky roofs and plumbing, but with a low property tax base, the county coffers can't fund all the school needs: buildings, personnel and technology.
In addition to school basics, ethics in government is on the minds of Chatham County residents. The recent redistricting referendum, doubts about officials' district residency, and the influence of campaign contributions have given ethics greater importance this election.District 3
Moncure residents Ken Harris and Kathie Russell are vying for one seat in District 3. Our endorsement goes to Russell, an attorney, whose expertise in negotiating construction contracts will be valuable when it's time to build new schools. She points out that modernized schools would attract and retain higher quality teachers, some of whom resign to take better jobs. The high turnover rate leaves children with new, inexperienced instructors. Russell, a former volunteer tutor at Moncure Elementary and an adult-literacy instructor for Project Literacy says offering housing assistance and other community-based incentives could draw teachers to the school system.
Russell adds that there needs to be clear communication between the school board and county commissioners. She says commissioners should request an impact statement from the school board before approving new subdivisions. By doing so, Russell says, growth is limited to what the schools can handle.
As for the bond, while Russell favors that method of raising money for new schools, she says a good school bond must account for countywide needs, not only one site. She also says all officials should be required to fully disclose all business and financial dealing and recuse themselves from any vote that would present a conflict of interest.
Harris, who has served as PTA president of Moncure Elementary, says he would request an audit of school facility needs and an item-by-item budgetary review. Although he's hesitant to raise taxes or assess land transfer fees to meet school needs, he would favor a bond if it were comprehensive and well-conceived. He criticized the district for spending $1 million on computer laptops for students while some Northwood students have to eat lunch standing. He has pledged that if elected, he won't vote on issues that present a conflict of interest. However, Harris doesn't support total disclosure of all business financial holdings.District 4
Four candidates are running for two seats in District 4, which includes Siler City, which, with 7,000 residents, is the county's largest town.
We endorse incumbent and board chairwoman Deb McManus. She did not return an Independent questionnaire, but has gone on record with other groups saying she supports parent and teacher input in school operations, instructional technology, and additional help for average-performing middle school students, many of whom are minorities, rural or low-income residents whose families don't have college backgrounds. She also favors better communication between county commissioners and the school board, particularly in terms of new residential developments. McManus adds that she would declare her business and financial holdings if it entails being open about what she owns or has a share in. However, she says requiring a full financial statement might dissuade some people from running for office.
Our second endorsement is management consultant Gerald Totten, a fiscal conservative whose priorities include budgetary accountability from the schools. To pay for new schools or renovations, Totten supports shifting the financial burden from property taxpayers to developers, who he says should build schools in larger developments without costs to the district. He also favors land transfer fees, a percentage of the land's purchase price, to help pay for schools.
On social issues, Totten opposes book banning because it stifles learning, although certain books, he says, could be restricted to older school age readers. He also criticizes the federal program, No Child Left Behind, because it requires teachers to "teach to the test," and doesn't measure true achievement. Totten supports increasing the number of charter schools, which he says can better educate students than public schools.
As for the bond, Totten says the board botched the bond by allocating nearly all the money to Northwood High School, thus excluding other schools with serious building needs. Totten adds that a new high school is needed, but until an optimum site is determined and existing schools are renovated, a bond shouldn't be proposed.
Totten supports full disclosure of financial and business dealings for school board members.
Doug Burke did not return an Independent questionnaire, but responded to a Chatham Coalition query that he supports building a new high school in the northeastern part of the county and favors impact fees as one way to help pay for school construction.
Clyde Harris didn't respond to the Independent. He was a Horton Middle School assistant principal from 1996 to 2000, when his contract was not renewed. He came under fire earlier this year for co-signing a $4,500 loan with controversial County Commissioner Bunkey Morgan.Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors
Of the three candidates for two open seats, Rich Hayes is the most qualified to be on a board charged with protecting and preserving watersheds, agricultural lands, wildlife habitats and other green spaces. A soil engineer at the N.C. Department of Water Quality, Hayes is interested in addressing the effects of urbanization on water quality, a vital issue in the rapidly growing areas of northeast Chatham County. In a county that's talking about how to provide water and sewer service to its growing population, Hayes brings scientific knowledge to the board to prevent well contamination by agricultural or urban runoff.
Like most state programs, Soil and Water Conservation Districts have small budgets, but Hayes' expertise with the department of water quality has plugged him into federal and state grant opportunities.
Incumbent Johnny Glosson, who was appointed to the board in June 2005, is running on a platform of protecting open space. A fiscal conservative and farmer, he prefers tax reduction incentives for landowners, but opposes "too much government control and involvement" in preservation efforts. We see no reason for him to be unseated.
Blake Lindley Andrew did not fill out a questionnaire, but his Snow Camp farm won a 2004 environmental stewardship award from the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. His previous political experience includes serving as a Republican placeholder in the 2002 District 4 commissioners' race until Republican-turned-Democrat Bunkey Morgan won the Democratic primary; Andrew then withdrew from the race.