Doug Wright | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Doug Wright 

Candidate for Durham County Commissioners

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Doug Wright
Date of birth: March 27, 1957
Years lived in Durham County: 44
Campaign website: www.vote-doug-wright.com
Occupation & employer: Manager, Durham County ABC Board


1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham County? What are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Economic Growth and Development / Drought

  1. More effective regional planning
  2. Updating rules and policies locally and state-wide
  3. Publicity campaign to encourage a real paradigm shift in water usage

Mental Health

  1. Implement and improve system of care for adults
  2. Increase substance abuse services
  3. Work closely with the state to stabilize the system as a whole

Education

  1. Support a well and responsibly funded system
  2. Increase prevention programs
  3. Increase the number of Children’s Community Teams

Crime

  1. Lobby state legislatures to fulfill their obligation to the criminal justice system
  2. Increase substance abuse services
  3. Support law enforcement in a fair and equitable manner

Financial Responsibility

  1. Encourage use of zero based budgeting principles
  2. Give due diligence to all spending proposals
  3. Encourage more community participation and more useful information from Results Based Accountability Committees

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Durham County Commission? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

Ten years of experience on the Durham Center Area Board, seven of those as chairman has certainly allowed me the opportunity to develop relationships and skills needed for the Board of County Commissioners. Decisions have had to be made that were hard, uncomfortable, and at times unpopular. Working through these challenges, seeing an organization through the process of changing from a service provider to a management entity, reducing employees by almost 250 were all worthwhile experiences. When the process began, this organization was truly considered poor at best; the state had even threatened its takeover. Today this same, yet very different organization is considered one of the finest in the state. The structure of the board’s relationship to the manager is the same as the county. We set policy, give vision and direction, and then expect the manager to manage the process. Budgeting responsibility is a major portion of what has to be done as well as strategic planning. Many times limited funding requires that tough decisions be made with thoughtful consideration of the ramifications. I have been described by my peers as a strong, quiet leader, who when speaks they truly listen to what’s being said. I’ve also been described as an effective change agent. It is my belief that my experience speaks well of me and my motives and as a community we need leaders such as myself that are willing to serve and work hard for the betterment of our home.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I believe in a government that is open to diverse ideas and opinions, is inclusive and is responsible to the legitimate needs, interests, and hopes of everyone. I believe that if in a place of public trust, one must always act as a good steward of public money. I believe in the spirit of service and feel it is the responsibility of each person to give back to society in whatever way they can. I believe that family and spiritual principles are the foundation upon which our society must stand.

My commitment to serving people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse over the past ten years says a lot about who I am. That passion combined with my desire to do it well and to act responsibly demonstrates very well where I stand. My platform is one that speaks to the same goals, to treat people appropriately and to do it responsibly. It is about long-term solutions and effective government. My platform and my experience show my willingness to deal with everyday and emerging issues in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

It is my belief that I am a man of character. Character of a person or a community is best demonstrated in how you treat people with the greatest needs in your community. My commitment to the people with the greatest needs in our community has been documented and demonstrated in my service as a board member for the Durham Center. Every man, woman, and child deserves the opportunity to live independently, to work, to love and to play. That is certainly not reality today, so we have a lot of work to do. When we get there, we will indeed have a just community.

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected, that you know would cost you popularity points with voters.

School funding – Although I believe firmly in a well-funded and strong public education system, I don’t understand why we spend almost double that of comparable counties.

6. Durham city leaders have been criticized for failing to act quickly on dealing with the extreme drought. As a county commissioner, what policies would you recommend—and try to build consensus on—to address the existing crisis?

As a community, both city and county, we must implement an education and awareness program that actually causes a paradigm shift in water usage.

Do you think Jordan Lake is an appropriate water resource for Durham?

Yes

Why or why not?

If we are going to continue to grow, there has to be additional resources, it Is close at hand and the water basin is strong.

What permanent, new water conservation measures should be Implemented in Durham County?

We have to look at requiring low flow devices in all new construction as Well as requiring water resource impact studies for new development. We Have to plan well and plan smart, knowing what our limitations are and Respecting them.

7. In any county budget, some agencies’ expenditures must be cut, while others need increased. In the current budget, where can the cuts be made—most painlessly—and in what areas should allocations be increased? Explain your reasoning.

I break spending down into three basic categories, administration and support services, education, and human services. Cuts in the budget should come in that same order. Zero based budgeting would allow each department to truly measure their effectiveness at fulfilling their mission and cut out the waste. Our current system punishes departments for saving money with budget cuts. We must compare ourselves to other communities and take a hard look at what we do well and what we don’t do well. Encourage a mindset that is looking for solutions instead of finding excuses. Human services must be provided for in the most effective way possible. We must take care of the sick and needy first. You can’t educate a sick child or collect taxes from an out of work addict. Our goal should always be to help those folks achieve their goals; become self-supporting, therefore decreasing the need for services and increasing the tax revenue side of the equation.

8. Last year, a public poll suggested the majority of Durhamites were hesitant to approve the land-transfer tax, which could bring $17 million to county coffers. What are the pros and cons of the tax?

Well the pro is the $17 million to the county coffers. The con is we are punishing the homeowner for being a good citizen, owning property, and paying taxes. Currently there are people whose equity may be so low that a transfer tax may cause a foreclosure rather than a sale. We want to encourage home ownership but we keep making it more expensive and punitive to own property.

If the land-transfer tax were to fail, what other development-funding mechanisms should the commissioners explore?

Entertainment tax on meals and entertainment is one option. Impact fees has to remain an area of discussion, at least an owner pays up front by the inclusion of this in the cost of development. Sales and property taxes, although at the bottom of my list are in reality an effective means of producing revenue.

9. On a related note, the cost of Durham Public Schools’ long-range facilities plan is $551 million. Given the financial constraints of the county and the lack of an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, how will the county pay for these schools?

Again, impact fees have to be put back on the table. Effective long range and strategic planning must occur. Growth should pay for itself by impact fees as well as the increase in property, sales and other taxes.

10. The Cultural Master Plan has also encountered funding problems. Where does this plan rank among the funding priorities for the county and why?

If we are to continue to grow, be a community that people value and feel a part of, we must have a cultural plan that enhances the quality of life in Durham. Trying to rank its funding priority is a bit of a challenge for me. I will always choose people over plans if funding is an issue.

Where can additional funding be identified?

Entertainment tax

11. In appraising and property valuations, how should the county address any inequities not only within the residential sector, but among the industrial, commercial and warehouse sectors?

Fairly – We must treat everyone equally and be consistent in our application of valuation principles. We should not allow ourselves be taken advantage of just because we are a government entity in an attempt to appease a few.

12. The county’s economic incentives policy lays out several criteria. What are the pros and cons of this policy?

It appears to be a generous policy, that could be considered a pro or con. The biggest item to jump out at me was no requirements to hire or train current Durham citizens. There are recommendations and requirements around recruiting locally.

How would you amend it?

Put requirements about hiring a percentage of current Durham citizens and only funding the training of Durham citizens.

What oversight mechanisms are in place to ensure companies adhere to the policy? Are those oversight mechanisms sufficient?

Oversight mechanisms appear to be specific to each process and mainly defined in up front goals. We need to look closely at what we actually get as compared to what we were promised. The policy does give sole discretion to the county over deciding whether or not a company has met the requirements.

13. The county has adopted a Greenhouse Gas Reduction plan. How should the county monitor the performance of that plan?

Utilize the 2005 baseline to measure progress and evaluate goals at least every five years.

What incentives would be appropriate in persuading the commercial and industrial sectors to cut their greenhouse gas emissions?

low interest loans for energy efficient purchases, tie incentives to building design and effective planning

The residential sector?

Low interest loans for retrofitting, reduce urban sprawl by effective planning, and community education

At what point will Durham need to take more aggressive steps in emissions reductions?

Upon measuring our progress and not seeing the reduction needed to meet our goals.

14. The county’s poverty rate is 15 percent. Although there are several committees whose charge is to tackle issues such as affordable housing and homelessness, what concrete steps can the commissioners take to reduce that rate? Be specific.

a) Require jobs be offered to current Durham residents in incentive package deals b) Increase substance abuse treatment c) Increase technical training d) Increase child care subsidies

15. The criminal justice system is a large component of county government. What are your priorities for improvements in services, such as the court system, jail, re-entry programs, juvenile justice?

We must lobby our state legislators to fund our court system appropriately. Continue funding of the STARR program within the jail and improve our adult system of care so we can continue to help and track people once out of jail.

How will you fund those priorities?

For every one-dollar we spend in treatment and prevention of substance abuse, we will save seven dollars in other costs.

How will you measure the success of those programs?

You measure by recidivism rates and overall crime rates.

  • Candidate for Durham County Commissioners

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