Chatham County Commissioners : 2014 General Election, District 4
Name as it appears on the ballot: Jim Crawford
Full legal name, if different: James Grant Crawford
Date of birth: 10/30/66
Home address: 485 Lashley Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Mailing address, if different from home: Same
Campaign website: www.democracy.com/jim-crawford
Occupation and employer: Co-proprietor, Chatham Cider Works; former Asst. Prof. of U.S. and Global History, NC A&T.
Spouse’s name: Maureen Ahmad
Spouse’s occupation and employer: Director, Global Web Content, Lenovo Computers
Years lived in Chatham County: 14
Home phone: 919-933-9858
Work phone: 919-933-9858
Cell phone: 919-428-1767
1. What are the three most important issues facing Chatham County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
As I see them, the top three issues are: residential growth, school funding, and keeping the lake clean.
1) Residential Growth: In addition to Chatham Park, many older, dormant sub-divisions are coming back to life. We must have an aggressive Land Use Plan that solicits citizen input and professional assessments so that we do not mishandle the historic growth in new housing.
2) Underfunded Schools: Funding per pupil has declined under the current Board of Commissioners. This is not a sustainable trend. Outdated textbooks, burgeoning class sizes, reduced teaching assistants will undermine the success of our schools.
3) Protecting Lake Jordan. Within Chatham, buffers for seeps and ephemeral streams must not be challenged by county commissioners. Developers should be rewarded for pursuing conservation easements. Outside our county our leaders must be more proactive in persuading other counties to adopt the Jordan Lake Rules. Wake, Orange, and Durham need to join us in convincing Guilford and Alamance to protect the Haw River from run-off and spills. The east drinks what the west sends downstream.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I have served on the county Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and the county Planning Board. Combined they have given me a birds-eye view of Chatham’s growth trajectory and community needs.
I am adept at innovation. As a college professor, I have researched and implemented curricular improvements. I have won and administered grants that provided re-accreditation to public school teachers, that enabled students to construct full size models of homes from the developing world, and that linked A&T students to students in China via a live telecommunication link. Some municipalities have implemented web-based community surveys and town hall meetings. I’d like to see Chatham introduce these 21st Century practices to North Carolina.
People imagine that professors just lecture. In reality, we challenge students to deal with a given issue, help them formulate their own thoughts about it, prod them to re-think their stand, and let them draw their own conclusions through close attention to evidence and competing claims. During public meetings, officials have to use such skills to create an environment where everyone feels welcome speaking, but folks are kept on task.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I’d say that I am a pragmatic progressive who thinks that America’s liberal tradition accounts for the values, productivity, equality before the law, and collective determination that makes our republic the envy of the world.
I believe in pro-active government because I am a product of pro-active government policy. My father died when I was fifteen, and my family received AFDC benefits. For too long welfare recipients have been a political punching bag. I aim to redefine the argument over the deserving versus the undeserving poor and simply get the focus back on meeting unmet human needs. Additionally, I was the first person to attend college because of Pell grants and government-subsidized student loans. Elected office is a bully pulpit, and I will serve as a reminder that public investment in young people pays dividends to society.
There are practical solutions to our county’s problems. Leaders must inspire people and pledge funds. As a volunteer carpenter for the Chatham Council on Aging, I have repaired unsafe homes of our community’s elderly population. When elected, this commissioner will continue to fix rotten floors, leaking roofs, limited access doors and bathrooms. I will invite others to join me in this effort, and commit county funds to the agencies that have suffered cuts under our Republican commissioners. Youth intervention, recreation groups, and citizen advisory boards have been given short shrift by Bock-Petty-Stewart. I will work to revitalize all county efforts to meet the diverse needs of the community.
I support re-hiring a county human relations director, a position cut by the Republican commissioners. As a teacher at an HBCU, I could see how my kids were touched by racial inequality in our state. While many Anglo-Americans insist there is no such thing as structural racism or their county doesn’t have a race problem, an honest appraisal shows there is much to be done. Chatham’s African-American community struggles to be heard politically, and its Hispanic community is basically under siege. As commissioner I will make sure that all Chathamites have a friendly and attentive reception when they seek county services or bring matters to the board. None of us is as smart as all of us.
4. Do you support adding a fifth school district representative to the Chatham County Board of Education? What are the biggest challenges facing Chatham County public schools and what steps, if any, will you take to address them if elected?
The school board already has five seats. One is empty only because the Republican county commissioners called the chairman of the finance committee of the General Assembly asking him to block a special election, even though they had voted for the special election at the county level. Bock-Stewart-Petty have not been called to account for this double dealing. The empty seat will be filled this fall. If Chatham’s growth necessitates more school board members, I would favor adding two (seven total) to avoid split decisions.
The biggest challenge facing Chatham schools is funding. Money is needed to build new schools, repair existing facilities, restore foreign language programs, return teaching assistants to the classroom, and boost teacher pay in the face of growing class size. The Republicans obliquely suggested a referendum to increase taxes and dedicating the funds to our schools. I endorse this idea directly and enthusiastically. It is four years overdue.
5. What is your vision for development of Chatham County and if elected, how will you propose to fund it?
People speak about preserving our county’s rural character, and that means taking steps to enhance agriculture in our economy. I will work to promote voluntary agricultural districts and an exploration of lowering taxes on farm and forest tracts. I support a campaign to boost consumption of local agriculture products. I aim to commit county funds to maintaining and improving our farmer’s markets. I grew up in the beef and dairy region of Pennsylvania, and I understand farm families. I will seek their council in formulating policies to benefit them.
The best way to promote commercial and industrial pursuits is to offer strong schools, public amenities, and responsive government. I welcome the prospect of the megasites in west Chatham and Moncure, but stress the need for support of existing businesses and working to find uses for the many abandoned industrial properties in Siler City. Our county needs both a medium and long range plan for commercial and industrial development.
6. What is your stand on the proposed Chatham Park? What advantages or disadvantages could the park bring to the county? If elected, would you support more funding going to parks and greenways in Chatham County?
I grew up in an area where de-industrialization and population flight has occurred. Chatham is in the enviable position of being a magnet for new residents. Planning is key to guiding this period of growth. The county commissioners should be at the forefront of negotiations with the Preston group and all developers to ensure that greenways, parks, and schools are in place so that the new communities are attractive and function smoothly. This is in everyone’s interest.
As a member of the planning board, I was proud to vote in favor of Bynum Preserve, a community whose developers pursued a conservation easement whereby forty percent of the land is set aside as woodland or meadow. I think this model benefits residents, contractors, and the community at-large by mitigating adverse environmental impacts of residences.
As a former member of the Parks and Recreations Advisory Committee, I believe in investing in ball fields, picnic areas, bike paths, and fishing ponds. They county owns many acres of undeveloped land. I favor public input sessions to chart how we can make use of these dormant assets.
7. What is your position on the ICE resolution? Do you support or oppose the decision to rescind the resolution in 2011? How has that decision affected relations between undocumented immigrants and police and what steps, if any, will you take to improve relations between undocumented immigrants and the larger community if elected?
Chatham’s Hispanic residents are a part of our community. They work our fields, build our homes, open businesses, and maintain churches. The time has come to stop treating them as despised and unwanted. I endorse greater efforts in our schools to reach bi-lingual families. I favor appointing Hispanic citizens to the Economic Development Corporation and other advisory councils. Esto condado es su condado.
My understanding of the Chatham ICE issue is that Sheriff Richard Webster, unlike Sheriff Terry Johnson of Alamance, has not been aggressive in targeting our Hispanic newcomers. When he is re-elected, I will confer with him on the wisdom of this policy. I will also meet with Hispanic families to hear their concerns first-hand. No one living in Chatham should fear encounters with law enforcement or feel that county officials are hostile to their families.
8. The state is on track to begin hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the coming years and energy companies have targeted Chatham County as a potential drilling site. What is your position on fracking and what steps, if any, would you take to ensure the Deep River and its watershed are not harmed?
I oppose hydraulic fracturing in the Cape Fear watershed because I have seen first-hand the troubles it has brought to people in the Marcellus region. Contaminated drinking wells, damaged roads, truck-car accidents, and very few local jobs are what the people have to show for their experience with gas extraction.
I and hundreds of other Chathamites have signed a petition to the current board asking for a ban on fracking in our county. The state law prohibiting the taxation and regulation of this industry—to the exclusion of all other enterprises—must have a constitutional challenge in courts. The state law making it a crime to reveal fracking chemicals, too, must be challenged. When elected, I intend to write a resolution against this provision, listing as many of the compounds as I can.
The GOP thinks it has hamstrung counties into a position where we have to absorb all of the costs and risks of extraction without any legal claim to the profits. Remember, it was Richard V. Cheney’s secret 2001 meetings with oil and gas executives that spawned the super-protections this industry enjoys. The Republican contempt for public safety and open government has seeped from national into local politics.
9. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
Citizen input. I invite all citizens to write to commissioners, attend meetings, and identify problems that we need to solve and injustices which need to be set right. I also pledge to work with elected officials in cities and counties outside Chatham to identify and resolve regional issues: clean water, good public transportation, aging infrastructure, and cultural cooperation. I intend to lobby the General Assembly on behalf of my constituents and North Carolinians in general.
I have and will continue to attend Moral Monday demonstrations.
10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it could cost you popularity points with voters.
Politics is the process one masters in order to gain control of policy. Some elected officials are interested in politics, but lose interest in the nuts and bolts of policy. One’s supporters cheer when you cleverly score points in the political arena, but yawn when you find a way to supplement the county clerks’ pensions. I am motivated by an interest in policy--facilitating public discussion, soliciting citizen input and reaching a working consensus on how best to solve Chatham’s problems. There will no doubt be many commission votes that will disappoint my supporters, perhaps all will disappoint my opponents.
Because it is good public policy, I favor conducting a property tax reassessment in 2015, rather than postponing it to 2017 as the Bock-Stewart-Petty board has resolved. Since 2008, many homeowners have seen a decrease in the market value of their homes. Without reassessment they have been paying artificially higher taxes. Some homeowners, however, have seen values increase. These folks have been paying artificially lower taxes. A prompt rather than a delayed reassessment will reset the ‘fairness’ meter. The impact of reassessment on revenue is unclear; it could be neutral, increase revenue or decrease it. No matter how the camel sits, some voters will be vexed by the outcome. But it needs to be done.