Name as it appears on the ballot: Heidi Carter
Campaign website: heidicarter.com
Occupation and employer: public servant
Years in Durham: 37
Phone number: 919-225-4268
1. In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County? If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
On the cusp of Durham’s renaissance, the single-most important issue is that all of our people share in Durham’s continued prosperity. To achieve prosperity for all, Durham County must invest its resources to ensure that all citizens have access to excellent educational opportunities, the ability to participate in our vibrant economy, and the means to live a healthy life. These three all-important and interconnected areas include my top priorities: expanding access to high quality pre-K, growing in smart and sustainable ways that protects our quality of life and creates well-paying jobs, and reducing violence through evidence-based public health programming.
First, in order to guarantee outstanding educational opportunities for all, I am committed to:
• Working with our school board to strengthen and fully fund our public schools as innovative, nurturing places where all Durham’s families choose to send their children and the best teachers want to work
• Accelerating our community’s efforts toward high quality universal pre-K for 4-year-olds
• Breaking the powerful link between poverty and diminished school success
Second, to ensure that economic development in Durham builds opportunity for all and protects our quality of life for future generations, I will fight for sensible and sustainable growth that:
• Protects our natural resources, critical watersheds, and neighborhoods from encroaching development
• Includes future mobility plans that serve the transportation needs of all
• Creates well-paying jobs
• Promotes wise planning as a guide to future development
• Advances pedestrian- and bike-friendly infrastructure and trails
Third, to continue to build a culture of health in Durham, I will be dedicated to:
• The ability of all individuals and families to make choices that lead to healthier lives
• Safe neighborhoods, free from violence
• Increased access to nutritious food and opportunities for physical activity and recreation
• Strong public health and social service programming that connects citizens with needed services
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Durham County Board of Commissioners? (This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.)
For the past 12 years, I have served our community with unwavering dedication as a member of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. I have been an advocate for excellence and equity for all children in all schools.
The work of a school board member can prepare one well to serve as a county commissioner, as there are overlaps in the duties of a school board member and a county commissioner. Both are policy-making roles, and I have years of experience in listening to our citizens, studying the research, hearing recommendations from staff, weighing the advantages and drawbacks, and making careful policy decisions that will benefit the most people over time. Both must work on an annual budget for a large system. Approximately one third of the County’s budget is for the schools, and I am experienced in working with a complex, large budget. Both must oversee the work of the administration without micro-management. I have supervised four Superintendents and have experience with difficult personnel situations and working toward consensus.
As school board chair, I regularly meet with the City and County leadership to discuss strategic initiatives, so I have experience working with the County and City Managers and leadership from both the Commissioners and Council. Most recently, I have led the drive to jointly sanction a community-wide task force to study and make recommendations for progress toward Universal Pre-K in Durham. This pre-K task force will begin its work soon.
In addition to the Board of Education, I have served for the past eight years on the Durham County Board of Health. The County oversees the Department of Public Health, and my service on the Board of Health and my background in public health would help me with this oversight. In an effort to be as strong a champion as possible for our children, I went back to school to pursue a Master’s Degree in Maternal and Child Health. I believe and understand the power that the social determinants of health can have on outcomes in health, education and economic equity. I believe it is critical that we work together across agencies to make sure we unleash the potential in every child.
I recently completed an intensive set of Racial Equity workshops to help me better understand and address racism and white privilege in our society and institutions. The inequities in education, health and economic standing are wide, persistent and glaring. We must work to break down cultures or systems that place people of color at a disadvantage and to better equalize conditions and opportunities, especially in the three interconnected systems: education, economy and health. I have worked on this as a member of the Board of Education and would continue to do so if elected to serve as a County Commissioner.
3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a registered Democrat who supports progressive policies to solve the complex problems we face in today’s society. This is clearly exemplified in my campaign platform that embraces the conviction that to achieve progress for all, we must focus on improving opportunity in the three all-important and powerfully linked areas of public education, public health, and our economy. (See question 1 for more details).
I have been deeply vested in improving opportunities for all children in public schools for nearly 25 years, officially starting with my youngest child’s entry into kindergarten in Durham Public Schools. From day one, I was an active volunteer in my children’s schools, serving as PTA president and as a member of Site-based Decision-making Committees, among many other activities. I had a stake in not only the education of my own children, but the education of all children in the school. I continued this work as a member of the DPS Board of Education for the past 12 years, where I have been committed to equity and excellence in the education of all of our children.
I have also demonstrated my progressive values in the way that I have led from the position that our fundamental challenge in helping lift the school achievement of all children is breaking the powerful link between social and economic disadvantage and lack of success in school. I have been an advocate for improved nutritional quality of our school meals, universal breakfast programs, mental health support for students and families, access to physical and dental healthcare for students, access to contraception for adolescents and other forms of reproductive healthcare, school-based health centers, daily physical activity standards, and much more. I led the district’s development of our first Wellness Policy and helped create the vision for the DPS Hub Farm. I have served on the School Health Advisory Council to support a coordinated school health model in DPS. I went back to school and earned a master’s degree in public health in Maternal and Child Health to improve my ability to address the social determinants of health and school success. I am running for County Commissioner because the County oversees many of the essential services that must be strong to bring progress and prosperity for all.
4. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
The foundation for a just community is opportunity and prosperity for all. My campaign has been, and my focus as a commissioner would be, on increased opportunity in the three all-important and inter-related areas of public education, our economy, and public health (please see question 1 for more information). In order to achieve prosperity and a just community for all, we must take a comprehensive approach and work to reduce and eliminate educational, economic and health disparities by race and by class. If elected, I would assess the educational, economic and health impact of every policy, program and public investment with an ever-vigilant eye on equity. Our community must consider the social determinants of success in the educational, economic and health realms.
One crucial approach to addressing educational, economic and health equity is supporting the expansion of high quality pre-K to all of our community’s four-year-olds. The research evidence on this is large and clear that there is a significant and lasting return on a community’s investment in pre-K in improved readiness for K-12 public schools, reduced costs of special education and behavioral programs, increased earning potential of pre-K participants, reduced community crime, and improved community health. There are tremendous individual benefits for the child, but there are spill-over benefits for society at-large.
Universal access to high quality pre-K in Durham is a single intervention that can achieve the goals of My Brother’s Keeper, the Mayor’s Poverty Reduction Initiative, and the DPS goal of Graduate Durham. High quality, universal pre-K can decrease the achievement gap, decrease generational poverty, and increase graduation rates of students in Durham Public Schools. Access to high quality preschool is critical to equalizing the learning experiences and opportunities for our children that will support school readiness and life success. New research by Columbia University professor Jane Waldfogel, a long-time researcher of poverty and inequality, shows that at school entry children from low income families are a full year behind their more affluent peers in reading and math. Her research indicates that this gap at school entry accounts for 60-70% of the achievement gap seen at the end of school years. The early childhood experiences children have are lined up with family resources and are very unequal. So, left unchecked, unequal preschool experiences will continue to contribute to the inequality in our country and in Durham.
To achieve the Indy’s mission of a just society for all, I will listen with an open mind and heart and work hard for the people of Durham. I will focus on expanding the circle of Durham’s prosperity to include all of our residents.
5. What is your vision for development in Durham County? What sorts of development do you believe the county should encourage? What steps do you think the county should take to reduce sprawl? What should the county do to create more affordable housing?
I envision a Durham where development is carefully managed to promote smart and sustainable growth. Durham must expand and develop in ways that will protect our critical watersheds, farmland, open spaces and neighborhoods; bring good jobs with good wages; include a transit plan for the future that meets the transportation needs of all; takes advantage of dense, compact design; promotes bike and pedestrian infrastructure; and leverages existing infrastructure and resources.
The County should encourage mixed use development, compact design and density, with mixed income residential units. The County should follow the Comprehensive Plan for development and make sure land is developed in a way that is appropriate for its zoning. Development should be concentrated along mass transit routes with increased density around stations.
Transit is a critical feature of our future development. I believe that Go Triangle should continue with the Durham Orange Light Rail Project (DOLRT) development. We must have a transit plan for the next 50 years that will meet the needs of an expanding population, protect the environment, improve connections between major employers, relieve congested roads, and move large numbers of people efficiently.
The DOLRT is the spine of a multi-modal 21st Century System with advanced electric-powered light rail technology that will provide more reliable and frequent service between our universities, medical and employment centers along the most heavily travelled intra-county corridor in the state. At the same time, we will have lower costs of roadway construction and maintenance and decreased harmful car emissions. When complete, the plan for the system includes expanded high-frequency bus service, improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities, park and ride lots at transit stations and neighborhood hubs, and commuter rail to Raleigh and RTP.
We need the multi-model transportation system anchored by DOLRT because the Special Transit Advisory Commission predicts the highest level of future travel of any of the 18 corridors in Durham, Wake or Orange Counties to be concentrated in the Durham-Orange corridor. This corridor also has the greatest intensity of households that depend on transit, and further road development is restricted by the New Hope Creek corridor and the Jordan Lake game preserve.
The DOLRT is part of a system that will meet the challenges and opportunities of future growth instead of old, failed solutions that meet our short-term needs. Our dependence on cars has led to sprawl, gobbling up farmland, forests and open space, polluting our air and water, hurting our health and threatening our quality of life in what makes Durham a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.
A fixed rail line will influence land use and development in a smart and sustainable way. We now have 3,000 apartments being developed around proposed transit stations. As development locates near stations, many more jobs will be available along the route and this will dramatically grow our tax revenues. National studies have demonstrated that for every 1 billion dollars invested in light rail, 47,500 jobs are created as more businesses are attracted and locate along the route.
Despite setbacks at the state level, the DOLRT project is certainly realistic, and here’s why. The total cost of the DOLRT is projected at $1.8 billion, with $900 million available with approval from the federal government. Durham can apply for the first stage of federal approval now. With the local sales tax voters of Orange and Durham have approved, we already have in hand 50% of the non-federal funds needed. This is well above the federal threshold of 30% of non-federal funds required for federal approval at this stage. So our chances of getting federal approval at this stage, while not certain by any means, remain relatively strong.
We would have been in an even stronger position before the state legislature pulled back state funds for transit projects, specifically targeting Durham and DOLRT. But we should not get out of line for federal funding at this time. If we receive federal approval, that will increase the likelihood of obtaining state funding. We must not waste this significant opportunity.
Of course, the best way to ensure we get the state funding would be to elect a Democratic governor and legislature. But in the near term, we must work with our local delegation to restore the availability of state funding for DOLRT. It is already restored in the House, and we must work on getting it back in the Senate during the short session. Barring success in the short session, we will still have ten to twelve years to work on getting the funding from the state.
Another important and relevant occurrence is the election of Democrats on the Wake County Commission, which greatly improves the landscape for public transit. The Democrats who now control the County Commission are willing partners in the creation of commuter rail, on existing tracks, between Raleigh and Durham. The MPO’s for Durham and Wake Counties are about to begin discussions about commuter rail, and we should encourage cooperation. In fact, the transit referendum which funded bus projects and light rail also included commuter rail as high priority.
We are facing a defining moment in transportation planning. We need a transit system now that will move people safely and efficiently to where they need to go, while contributing to cleaner air, our energy independence, and equitable access to training, jobs, and essential services.
Affordable housing, displacement, and gentrification are important issues to address as Durham continues to grow and expand. Displacement is caused by a combination of increased costs and stagnant incomes. If residents’ incomes keep pace with increases in rent, property taxes, and household needs, then they will not be displaced. So, an important and fundamental way to prevent displacement of lower income residents is continued advocacy, planning and strategizing around improved job opportunities and wages for our residents. As wages rise, the economy improves, and fewer residents will find themselves in the position of being rent-challenged.
Durham County can work with the City to mitigate the negative impact of gentrification through strategies that prevent and minimize displacement in the short run and preserve and create affordable housing in the long run. While this issue is primarily a City government responsibility, the County has a role to play in preventing displacement and increasing affordable housing. During this year of tax revaluation, it will be especially important for the County to work with the City to attempt to protect long-term low income homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods from losing their homes because of higher tax bills. As the City continues its housing analysis with its consultant, if there are forms of tax adjustments that can be adopted, the County should also consider their feasibility to provide relief for low income homeowners.
Land banking for future construction of affordable housing can also help prevent displacement. The County should participate in a Housing Trust Fund jointly with the City and private developers that would include current publicly-owned property to be maintained for future construction of affordable housing and a property acquisition fund for the purchase of privately-owned land for affordable housing developments. One of the most important tools to leverage affordable housing is publicly owned land, which is not subject to market forces. For example, I support using the publicly owned space between St. Phillips Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church as a location near transit that must include affordable housing.
The County currently has property tax relief programs for specific categories of homeowners, such as the Homestead Exemptions for Elderly/Disabled, Circuit-breaker Deferments for Elderly/Disabled, and Disabled Veteran Exclusion programs. The county must vigorously promote these exemptions and widely disseminate information for residents about these opportunities for tax relief for qualified people to help prevent their displacement, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Another important way to make housing more affordable is by reducing other significant costs associated with homeownership, such as utility costs. The County has a Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP), which is a federally funded program that provides one-time grants and emergency cash payments that are used to help eligible families pay their heating bills and keep them in their homes. I support this program and continued outreach to raise awareness among low income residents of this County support.
The county must continue its support of public transit with job nodes and mixed income housing at transit stations. The County should join the City in a comprehensive affordable housing strategy, taking a close look at the new City comprehensive housing analysis, in an effort to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing options based on the need in Durham.
6. Parts of Durham’s future development plans are closely tied to the updated comprehensive plan. What changes to the comp plan do you believe the city and county need to make?
Durham’s Comprehensive Plan needs to be a living document that is able to adjust to changing conditions and trends. Durham’s ability to keep its plan current and relevant is paramount to our ability to have a positive impact on the growth of our community. The Comprehensive Plan guides where and how private development should occur and how the County and City should provide public facilities and services to support growth. The City and County should make changes to the plan that are necessary to stay current with demographic and land use trends and to ensure our growth is organized, efficient, and sustainable for the long term.
Here are some topics the City and County should consider when adopting changes to the Comprehensive Plan:
• Possible revisions to guide the development of various suburban transit support areas in Research Triangle Park based on changes to the RTP master plan
• Possible revisions to redirect growth or focus development in more compact, walkable and mixed use patterns along the Durham Orange Light Rail Transit route, especially at the proposed station sites
• Policies to support increased access to affordable housing to meet the demand, including sites with access to public transit. For example, I support the policy to include a goal of 15% of the housing units around transit stations as affordable for those earning 60% of the area median income
• Land use policies and regulations that support complete streets and transportation options that are not car-centric
• Policies that promote growth through infill and the development of old parcels, rather than harvesting open space or undeveloped land in a pattern that would contribute to urban sprawl
• Policies regarding school siting that consider the impact of charter schools on the unpredictability of growth patterns in student enrollment
It will be very important to engage the community in the upcoming amendments to the Comprehensive Plan because how Durham plans for the changing uses of land to accommodate our expected growth will significantly influence our community’s quality of life.
7. At a meeting in January, the DPS Board of Education discovered that it needed to cut as much as $16 million from the 2016–17 budget. Do you believe the county commission needs to find additional revenue to fund public schools? If so, how would you go about doing so?
There is nothing more important to the future of the community we love than our public education system. The vast majority of our children attend one of Durham Public Schools, and these schools must be fully funded to provide excellent educational opportunities so that Durham’s prosperity is shared by all. While the bulk of the responsibility for public schools lies with the state, when we do not receive adequate state support, we must put in the effort at the local level that is commensurate with our community’s ability to do so. We need a local funding formula that the school system and county rely on to determine funding levels that can be sustained over time.
The taxpayers in Durham County have historically shown a strong commitment to funding our public schools. Approximately one third of the county’s general fund is allocated to the public schools, ranking us third in the state for local per pupil contributions to the schools. According to the Public Schools Forum Finance Report, we are 21st in the state in local effort, so we are not extravagant in our local support. The school board is working with the administration and budget advisory committee to dissect the budget for efficiencies and reductions in spending, with the priority of keeping funds in the classroom. We will be reducing operational costs across the board, focusing more on reductions in central office support and protecting the classroom.
When the state cuts funding for public schools, and when the school board and administration have exhausted every possibility for savings without impacting the classroom instruction, there is then nowhere else to turn for funding but the County. Public School Boards in North Carolina do not have taxing authority and are dependent on support and funding from the County Commissioners.
The ways in which we educate or children today will substantially determine the Durham society we live in tomorrow. When there are funding gaps caused by inadequate state appropriations, we must do all we can locally to provide the essential services our children and families need.
8. Last year the legislature ended a waiver to the federal food-stamp program, limiting the ability of able-bodied adults without dependents to access food assistance. This change will affect as many as 2,700 people in Durham County. What do you believe the county should be doing to help this population?
The three month limit on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for those without a job, disability and children will cause serious hardship for our residents who will no longer qualify for the federal assistance once the state waiver expires. The requirement of having a job, undergoing training, or volunteering at least 20 hours per week will be very challenging for many to fulfill. This regulation on food assistance is one that will be based more on job availability than individual motivation to work.
Residents who lose their SNAP benefits will be forced to skip meals, ration food, purchase cheaper less healthy options or forego other needs, such as rent, heat and medicine. In Durham it will be essential that we make sure current SNAP recipients know about the requirements and have opportunities to meet them. We should do all we can to ramp up County volunteer opportunities, and we must support our local food banks and shelters. Mecklenburg County is piloting an employment and training program with community agencies, and Durham County should consider the feasibility of such a program in our County.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) has already hosted a Career Resources and Job Fair, and a second one is planned for early March. DSS has also held one Job Search and Interview Skills Training session and is planning for another. DSS should continue to meet with the Volunteer Center, Durham Tech, food banks, and Urban Ministries in order to connect as many affected residents as possible to resources, jobs, training programs,
and volunteer opportunities. DSS has been working to promote awareness of this upcoming change in benefits so those affected can plan for the future and take advantage of community-based supports.
9. Over the past year, there have been frequent protests outside of the Durham County Detention Center over allegations of unsanitary conditions, lackluster health and mental-health care, and gouging by jail contractors. In December, Chairman Michael Page told the INDY he would propose an independent investigation into the jail. Do you believe such an investigation is necessary and should move forward? What changes, if any, do you believe the sheriff’s office should make regarding the jail?
Concerns about inmate treatment and living conditions should be taken very seriously, and legitimate questions have been raised. The most recent death of an inmate in the jail further heightens the need for a response from the Sheriff’s Department. On the one hand, the Sheriff has responded well by asking for an independent investigation by the Federal Department of Justice. This is a very appropriate response that has good potential for productive action and fact-finding. But there is a sense of urgency in the community, and rightly so, to better understand all of the facts surrounding conditions in the jail.
The Durham County Department of Public Health is responsible for health services in the jail and contracts for those services. The Health Director has initiated an investigation of the steps taken to address the healthcare needs of the young man who died in the jail in January, 2016. The results of this investigation should be available soon.
The jail must ensure the safety of those in the jail, both inmates and guards. The jail must provide healthy living conditions and humane treatment for those in jail. Ideally, there would be opportunities for physical activity each day, job training, help with substance abuse, and instructional support for students from DPS. Currently, DPS does provide teachers to the jail to support students’ academic needs and help them be prepared to return to class.
There are other important aspects to improving conditions in the jail. Fundamentally, we need to have fewer people in the jail, and they need to be in jail for a shorter period of time. The state needs to adequately fund for laboratory work that is needed for trial, including ballistic and DNA testing. This will support the individual’s right to a speedy trial and cut down on jail time awaiting trial. The state is currently grossly underfunding the criminal justice system. Local resources make up for this in some respects, including local domestic violence courts and others, but it is the state’s responsibility and we should lobby for it.
We must strengthen and expand the Misdemeanor Diversion Program, which currently goes up to age 21. However, in some ways the MDP is simply a run-around of the fact that North Carolina is one of only two states in the nation that treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. It is very important that our jail provide humane treatment for all of those who are incarcerated while maintaining safety and security, and this will be doubly important for youth. Minors that are incarcerated or awaiting trial should continue to receive education services, with the goal of helping them catch up and stay on track academically. DPS currently works with the Sheriff’s Office to provide educational services to incarcerated youth, including both regular and special education services. Youth should receive physical and mental health screening in order to provide medical and dental services if needed. There should be adequate opportunities for physical activity, which can help improve physical and behavioral health. Social services should be contacted to provide social workers and case managers, where needed.
North Carolina also needs to restore a system of pre-trial evaluations of people who have allegedly committed a crime. This would include a risk assessment, coupled with programs, so that the truly dangerous are routed to jail, and those who are not can be routed to services, drug treatment, mental healthcare, and job counseling. This was happening on a small scale, and we need to restore this program. The current bail bondsman system favors those, predominantly including drug dealers, who can pay their way out of jail. A rational and humane pre-trial program would end the system in which those charged with crimes are at the mercy of bail bondsmen.
10. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
I believe that expanding access to pre-K for all four-year-olds whose parents want it is a critical investment our state should make in the education of our children. The City Council, County Commissioners and DPS School Board have each passed a resolution that jointly sanctions a task force to study issues related to pre-K expansion in Durham. The task force will bring a proposal for expansion to the elected bodies for consideration. A major element of their proposal will be models for financing a more universal pre-K experience.
I take the stand that if our community is to achieve prosperity for all, we must invest in pre-K for all. If the state refuses to take on this responsibility, then we must do so at the local government level in Durham. I would consider raising property taxes to fund county expansion of pre-K services, if there is no other way to achieve more universal and equitable access. Rigorous research shows that the main direct benefit of early childhood education is the improvement in the life course of the children served. But the benefits of pre-K are broad enough and local enough that taxpayer support can be justified.
High quality pre-K has large spillover benefits for others in society, including other workers, families, state and local economies, and government budgets. Research shows that high quality early childhood education leads to improved life outcomes for the child, manifested in part by greater skill acquisition and higher lifetime earnings. The child will grow up and play a more productive role in the American economy, which will enable the child to be more self-sufficient and to make a better contribution to neighborhood and civic life. The higher earnings are accompanied by lower criminal activity, lower costs of the criminal justice system and lower criminal victimization.
In other words, the benefits of pre-K also accrue to other children and families who do not need locally supported pre-K. When other people’s children arrive in K-12 school with better cognitive and social skills from attending pre-K, this benefits all children’s learning. Teachers can teach to a higher standard and will spend less time with disciplinary disruptions. Therefore, all children’s K-12 learning will be enhanced. There are also government and taxpayer benefits to be gleaned from taxpayer funded pre-K. With higher wages and greater earning potential resulting from pre-K comes greater tax revenues at unchanged rates, less need for government spending on social welfare programs, and decreased criminal justice costs. Economic studies indicate that when some workers gain more skills, wages increase for other workers. Businesses are more likely to invest in new technologies if average skills increase.
Universal pre-K can play a significant role in an overall economic strategy to enhance Durham’s economic growth, broaden economic opportunities, and offset income inequality of low and middle income Durham residents. What’s more, economic projections suggest that Pre-K programs will be self-financing in the long run with a large positive financial and social return on our investment.