Name as it appears on the ballot: Kenneth (Kenn) Gardner
Campaign website: kenngardner.com
Phone number: 919.859.6929
Years lived in Wake County: 33
In your view, what are the three most pressing issues Wake County faces? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?
Our biggest challenge is that our elected officials have become too politically polarized. Decisions are no longer based on what is best for our community, but in gaining political fodder.
I served as your county commissioner during a period when both parties were represented on the board. We minimized politics. We debated openly. We prioritized. We compromised. We worked together to make Wake County great. We expanded our community college, passed $2 Billion in K-12 school construction, and welcomed more jobs and major corporations to our county than at any time in our history.
My priorities will be focused on education, creating jobs, and protecting our environment, while seeking balanced, fiscally responsible solutions.
I would like to see us return to an atmosphere that welcomes differences of opinions and fosters open discussion of ideas. It is the reason I am again offering my skills and asking for your vote.
Wake County’s growth has been rapid and promises to continue into the coming decades. What have been the county’s successes in managing this growth? Its failures? What would you do differently?
I served as your Wake County Commissioner from 2000 to 2008, during a period of rapid growth. I believe our biggest success was in our environmental stewardship.
When first elected, the board was majority Democrat, and I stressed that we would make our best decisions if politics were left off the table – and we did.
With my experience in urban planning, I was tasked with developing a regional environmental vision for our community, a very contentious issue. Protecting our drinking water and critical water supplies was extremely important during the growth wave that swept our county.
I chaired a number of environmental task force efforts, bringing together the most diverse group of leaders, environmentalists, developers, Republican and Democrats. I facilitated our discussions, which were intense at times, but in the end, gained unanimous support for a strong vision for our community. The result was a plan that identified the Little River Reservoir, recommended merging our twelve water & sewer utilities into two, and asked our community to support an open space bond to purchase land in critical watersheds.
We did it right, and today we are building the Little River Reservoir, we have merged twelve utilities into two, and we have protected a large part of our critical drinking water supply. A bonus, is that we have also developed a fantastic greenway system.
I would like to see the same approach I took applied more often.
How would your experience—in politics or otherwise in your career—make you an asset to the county’s decision-making process? Be specific about how this experience would relate to your prospective office.
As an architect, businesses rely on me to design their futures. As a twice elected commissioner, I applied my skills to do the same for Wake County.
As a Commissioner, my leadership style was to bring together the most diverse group, both Democrats and Republicans, to work together on significant issues facing our community. I facilitated unanimous support for major visions that saved our community 100’s of millions of dollars. My success in building bi-partisan coalitions, innovative leadership, and problem solving was recognized at the highest level, as I was honored as the National Urban Elected Official of 2008.
My former leadership and vision has allowed our county to mature into a healthy community and I would look forward to applying my skills again, to a new set of issues, to keep our community strong well into the future.
The Wake County transit referendum is a huge issue in the November election. Do you support the transit referendum? If so, why? If not, what would you do instead to ensure we have a functioning transportation system?
While I support improving our bus network, it is regrettable that the commission is playing politics by tying this funding to a rail plan that is wrong for our community.
I support solutions that strengthen our cities and manage our growth. Having lived in Paris and London, I relied on both regional and local transit. That is why I am disappointed in this fall’s transit bond.
The meandering rail plan will create a string of new communities stretching out across our region. These communities will require new roads, new services, and new infrastructure. Rather than reinforcing our existing town and city centers, the plan drives development away, increasing urban sprawl.
Even the concept of transit rail is changing - as Charlotte is experiencing. Rail ridership decreased significantly due in large part to new private, on-demand services such as Uber. Competitively priced, there is no waiting and no walking to stations required. The service comes to your doorstep and drops you off exactly where you want to go.
Finally, the plan states that Wake County taxes will be used to build the rail in other counties. I simply cannot support an undetermined and unlimited amount of taxes leaving our county. The transit tax will consume our debt capacity and leave us little to deal with our other unmet needs.
North Carolina already has the infrastructure for a regional rail service connecting the state. A high speed rail regional rail with minimal stops would afford a real option for those commuting to our business centers. I would support placing a bus-improvements bond back before the voters will we take the time to develop a transit plan that focuses on strengthening our city and town centers and puts our tax dollars to work in our county – a role that is more appropriate for local transit rail.
What should be the county’s role in addressing issues of economic inequality, such as gentrification? Do you believe the current board is doing enough to help its municipalities manage Wake County’s growth in order to prevent current residents from being priced out?
I support strengthening our exceptional local partnerships focused on providing affordable housing solutions for our veterans, homeless, senior, foster care, and low-income citizens. As we grow, we must also be mindful of our first responders, our firemen, police, and teachers, and their ability to afford to live in the communities they serve. This will be one of my focuses if elected.
As a related question: Commissioner Jessica Holmes has proposed using currently unused school land to build affordable housing. Do you support this idea? Why or why not? Given state law constraints on rent control, what can the county do to keep housing affordable?
In the past the School Board has been asked to return unused and excess land to the Board of Commissioners for other purposes, but has resisted, noting that state law does not require them to do so. It would be interesting to have the conversation and explore all options. However, this is a non-starter without School Board approval or changes to the state law.
How would you describe yourself politically? How would your political views influence you as a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners?
I see double ‘n’ Kenn as an innovative, thoughtful conservative. A no-nonsense seeker of solutions, facilitator, consensus-builder, faith-based, and family-oriented.
The controversial redistricting of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, as well as the school board, was struck down by a federal court in July. Do you believe the power of redistricting should be left with the county? Should redistricting be independent or nonpartisan? Why or why not?
The districts were redrawn in an attempt to ensure two-party representation on the board, a concept that I support. As previously mentioned, our elected officials make better decisions when both major parties are represented.
In theory, the idea of creating a nonpartisan board is appealing, but where do you find such people in our politically charged community? Do you eliminate those who vote in primaries? Those who identify as Republican or Democrat? Chose only unaffiliated voters who do not vote? And who is in-charge of selecting those who are nonpartisan? Another nonpartisan group?
I am afraid that Yogi Berra was right, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”
Do you approve of the job that the current Board of Commissioners and county staff is doing? What would you change about it? What do you think it does well?
Staff yes. Commissioners no.
The commissioners have shut down debate and stifled opposing views. This has resulted in poor politically-based decisions.
As an example, the current board has again delayed our next school construction bond, which further crowds our classrooms. The commissioners compounded this poor decision by unanimously taking away our community’s right to vote on future school bonds.
If elected, I will champion a school bond that voters can approve, and I will propose reinstating voter approved school construction bond process as soon as possible. To delay a bond and to deny voter approval was noted by the INDY as being misguided, and reflects an inability of the commissioners to prioritize and lead.
If I could change one thing about the Commission, it would be that the politics would never swing too far in either direction, but always have both Republican and Democrat representatives focused on the issues.
I believe the best decisions are made for our citizens when all voices are heard.
In the past few years, counties have had to pick up the slack for funding. Do you believe this is appropriate? How would you continue to make sure the county’s schools, teachers, and students are provided adequate funding?
Funding of school facilities is the responsibility of the County Commissioners. As a commissioner, I made school funding a priority with $2 billion dollars of voter approved school bonds. I also supported tax increases that raised teacher salaries and put more resources in the classroom. Under my leadership, per student spending reached its highest level in our county’s history and students achieved the highest at-grade level performance.
Because I am an architect, I closely examined the school construction budget and found savings that grew to over $44 million dollars, which I moved to reinvest in our school construction program. This allowed bond dollars to stretch further and accomplish more.
We were successful because we prioritized, compromised, and were fiscally responsible.
I also personally took on educational solutions outside of the funding process. As a commissioner, I founded a foster care college scholarship providing these children an opportunity to attend college and change their lives. When I stepped down as a commissioner, it was the one issue I was determined to see continue. The program became Fostering Bright Futures, and we just celebrated our 12th year in partnership with Wake Tech.
Identify a principled stance you would willing to take, even if it meant risking re-election the next time you were up for it.
While I support public transit, I do not support the current plan, which has already delayed a much need school construction bond.
The sprawling rail line is the wrong tool, being used in the wrong way to accomplish the wrong thing. It is a line without a center and will result in diverting much needed resources and funds away from our existing cities and towns. Worse, Wake County taxpayers will be the biggest losers, with an unlimited amount of our tax dollars diverted away from our county to be used by other counties.
If this referendum is defeated, I will make it a priority of working toward a solution that will strengthen Wake County, using the right tools in the proper way.
North Carolina is a “Dillon Rule” state, meaning that the only powers municipal and county governments have are the ones granted to them by the legislature. Would you like to see this changed? How would you work with state legislators from Wake County, as well as mayors and council members from the city’s municipalities, to ensure that Wake County, its municipalities, and the state are on the same page regarding policies that affect residents of Wake?
NC is not strictly a “Dillon Rule” state, but a state that gives broad enabling regulatory powers to both cities and counties. Powers that include acting on the behalf of their citizens on issues of health, safety, and welfare, requiring only that ordinances be consistent with the laws of North Carolina and the United States.
While no system is perfect, my experience has been that this uniquely North Carolina solution has served our citizens well.
What current or former member of the Board of Commissioners do you most admire? Why?
With all modesty, the best relationship I had as a Commissioner was my relationship with Vernon Malone. As a newly elected commissioner, Vernon was patient and willing to discuss issues with me. Our friendship made us better together that we were individually.
I was open to his ‘come with me and learn something’ approach. This led to my passion for foster care which I maintain years after my service as a county commissioner.
I am proud to have called him a friend and thankful for his willingness to work cross political lines for the betterment of our county.
The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
I believe in honesty, integrity, treating others with respect, lifting others up, and working hard to build a stronger community for all. I believe that education and family to be important foundations. I believe in a loving God and Jesus Christ as my savior.
These are values I believe in and live by.
As an architect, I see clients not as they are, but in what they can become. These skills served me well the last time I was elected your County Commissioner.
I would appreciate your support and look forward to moving our county forward.