Name as it appears on the ballot: Neloa Barbee Jones
Campaign website: www.neloaforcommissioner.org
Occupation & employer: Educational Consultant for Measurement Incoroporated
Years lived in Orange County: I have lived in OC for approximately 20 years.
1) What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
2) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I have been an educator for over 20 years on both the public school and college levels. My work as both teacher and educational consultant has been intense and challenging but always rewarding and successful. I have collaborated with committees comprised of people from diverse backgrounds. I have worked diligently as a member of a team under time-sensitive deadlines. My students and clients know me as thorough and meticulous, as someone who listens to their concerns and who makes a point of embracing and responding positively to the on-going challenges of helping to solve problems. I believe this mix of skills and experience will contribute greatly to my being an excellent commissioner.
My deep family roots make Orange County extremely special to me. I live in the home place, on the farmland of my great grandfather Sam Rogers, the area now known as the Rogers-Eubanks Community, located just north of Chapel Hills city limit.
Alfred Barbee, Sr., was my paternal grandfathera resourceful stonemason known for his artistic use of common fieldstones. He used these stones to build his own house, which still stands on Jones Ferry Road in Carrboro, and his other stone and brickwork punctuate all of Orange County.
As a member of the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood, I have learned the value of community and have worked hard to help this communitys struggle for environmental justice. I have served as a member of the Rogers Road Small Area Task Force, the Historic Roger-Eubanks Road Task Force, and am the Co-chair of the Coalition to End Environmental Racism.
As a resident of Orange County, I have heard many voicespeople across the countywho believe that their childrens futures are sometimes compromised, who believe that their communities are threatened, and who believe that their livelihoods are disappearing and their concerns too often ignored. My own communitys struggles have helped me hear the voices of others more clearly.
I believe that this deep kinship to place and people along with my training and work experiences will guide me in making the best decisions in the best interests of all the residents of Orange County. I believe that as Orange Countys at-large commissioner, I will provide solid, practical, and moral leadership as Orange County moves forward to solve the pressing and challenging issues facing our county and as we move forward to being a better place AND a great place for all of its residents to live, work, and play.
3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
A high school principal once said to me, You must treat all students the same. I responded (without thinking) by saying, No I mustnt treat all students the same because they are not all the same. However, I must treat them all fairly.
I suppose the moral of my story is that if I define myself politically at all, I would say that I believe in being fair and establishing policies that work toward the common good, keeping in mind that people are not the same, but we must always be fair.
I believe in working unselfishlythat is, when the behavior of one group clearly destroys another, then the behavior must be condemned. When one group benefits at the repeated expense of others, then the actions should be condemned.
I believe and truly believe in walking in another persons shoes.
4) Approximately how many BOCC meetings have you attended in the past two years?
5) Orange County is in the almost unique position of allocating funding to two separate school districts, which together account for approximately 50 percent of the countys budget. To make matters more complex, commissioners must balance the per-pupil allocation with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools district tax. How do you balance the needs of these two school systems while ensuring equity between them, at the same time considering the countys other pressing financial needs?
Families in Orange County have demonstrated that investing in their childrens futures is a priority. Hence, nearly half of Orange Countys budget is used to fund schools, and our commissioners fund each of the two school districts using the same rate per pupil. In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District, voters pay an additional tax to supplement the countys funding to their schools; however, as recently as 2006, the Orange County School District voted against paying an additional tax.
If and when the countys other pressing financial needs demand more than the county can reasonably fund, commissioners have the option of raising the school district tax rate, increasing property taxes, or seeking other ways (such as a sales tax or land transfer tax) to raise revenues. Orange County can also collaborate with organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and direct its own Commission for Economic Development to help create economic opportunities to help increase county revenues.
6) The Orange County Board of Education recently decided to address an imbalance of economic diversity between two elementary schoolsCentral Elementary and Hillsborough Elementaryby setting a cap on the number of students from a given attendance zone who can be enrolled in HES. Furthermore, the board chose to use federal Title One School Improvement money (available to the district because neither CES nor Efland-Cheeks Elementary made Adequate Yearly Progress in math last year) on pre-K programs. Both decisions have proven controversial. Do you agree with the boards actions? What role does the BOCC have in overseeing these types of budgetary actions on the part of the school board?
As an educator, I certainly believe that all children deserve the absolute best possible education regardless of socioeconomic background, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. However, I do not necessarily believe that commissioners should be in the business of micromanaging school boardsespecially since voters elect the school board. The answer, though, is yes: commissioners can oversee these types of budgetary actions although it may be debatable whether commissioners SHOULD oversee these actions.
I further believe that this question is less about whether I agree with the school boards actions and more about what voters need to do before they elect people into office. The real lesson here is that voters must take a much closer look at the people who run for office. Parents must consider in whose hands they place their childrens futures. Voters must deliberate whether the candidates they elect will actually grapple with issues and make responsible decisions or make decisions based on expedience. Voters should additionally keep in mind that when the actions of elected officials become questionable, they should not hesitate to vote these officials out of office.
Having said this, yes, the Orange County School Boards decisions with respect to Efland-Cheeks, Central, and Hillsborough elementary schools do seem unusual. For one, by setting a cap on enrollment at Hillsborough (a school whose students were performing very well), many students are forced to attend different and perhaps lower-performing schools. In addition, by eliminating Title I funds, parents lose their right to remove their children from the lower-performing schools to place them in a school where the students are performing better. Third, schools lose the badly needed Title I funds that would have paid for additional programs and resources to help their students improve academically. Finally, those students forced to enroll in different schools are not necessarily helped and their parents wonder whether their children will really learn to read and write.
7) The BOCC voted to put the land transfer tax on the ballot this spring. Do you personally support the land transfer tax as a revenue option for the county? Please explain why or why not.
The .4% land transfer tax has its positives: Orange County can begin collecting the tax as early as July 2008 as opposed to September for the ¼ cents sales tax. The land tax allows Orange County to collect $4 million+ in revenues in contrast to the $3 million+ for a sales tax. The tax places no new additional tax burden on current homeowners who already pay a hefty amount in property taxes, and the tax allows commissioners to use the tax to fund various projects, such as schools and parks.
Despite these positives, many Orange County residents strongly oppose the land tax. Opponents argue that the land tax unfairly penalizes realtors (who currently earn about 6.0% in commission on houses). Opponents further argue that the land tax will increase taxes that home sellers already pay when they sell their homes. (This current tax is 0.2%. The land transfer tax is 0.4%. The total new tax will be 0.6%). If I am correctly doing the math, the TOTAL tax on a home that sells for $200K. will be $1200.
So let me say this: if I have reservations about this land tax, it is whether it might have been prudent to have given voters more time to debate the pros and cons of the tax and to discuss why Orange County needs it. I will add: no one I have talked with wants to pay increased property taxes. Some can barely pay the taxes they now owe. I know that sales taxes usually hurt senior citizens and low income groups.
However, on May 6th, it will be up to voters to decide whether they want to support the land tax or whether they want to forfeit an opportunity to fund schools. Even though the land transfer tax is actually not my issue, I am thinking very carefully about why we do or do not need it and I will vote accordingly.
8) The drought has raised awareness of the limited natural resources our regions population relies on. Do you think Orange County has done a good job managing its water supply and encouraging conservation? What steps would you take as commissioner to manage the drought situation?
Orange County has made a reasonably good beginning with conservation efforts, but the regulations are just a drop in bucket, I think. To date, there have been absolutely no conservation efforts to reduce the use of well water, and yet our groundwater supply is limited since no streams flow into Orange County. There have been no initiatives to determine the actual carrying capacity of groundwater with regard to growth and development.
Water quality also remains at risk since critical watersheds remain unprotected and inefficient best management practices continue to put both surface and groundwater at risk. Nor do we hear much, if anything, about responsibly managing our waste, which strikes me as very, very odd especially since waste contaminates both surface and ground water. Liquid waste, collected in the landfill leachate pond, poses a threat. Other well-known contaminants like lead and mercury from the electronics buried in the landfills pose additional threats to water as well as failing septic systems that contaminate ground and surface water during run-off.
9) Commissioners will soon consider the proposal for Buckhorn Village shopping center, which calls for more than a million square feet of retail, hotel and other development near the intersection of I-85 and I-40. What are your thoughts on the potential economic and environmental impact of this proposal? How should the board weigh these concerns?
I support the concept of Buckhorn Village. I believe it could add a significant boost to Orange Countys starved economy. However, I also believe that Orange County must use the objectives and goals outlined in the new Comprehensive Plan to ensure that Buckhorn meets sustainability criteria for growth and development.
As currently proposed, Buckhorn Village sounds like a Southpoint Mall with lots of large retail projected to increase our local sales tax revenue by at least $6 million a year.
Picture the traffic at Southport: so too will be the impact of Buckhorn Villagelots of air pollution.
A couple of red flags for me: I noticed that in the Special Use Permit (SUP), the developers are requesting to rezone an additional 3.5 acres from residential to commercial as well as to reduce a buffer between a right-of-way or property line from 10 feet to 1 foot.
Many people will miss the Buckhorn Flea Marketthis was a booming local market in its own rite.
10) Orange Countys landfill is full, and the county must now decide where additional trash should go and where to put a waste-transfer station. Some citizens have raised concerns over environmental justice, saying the historically African-American Rogers Road community has already borne too much of the countys waste and should not be considered as a waste-transfer site. What should the county do about this problem?
First of all, the county must realize the inequity of burdening only one small (politically impotent) community for 35 years with landfills and then locating yet another waste facilitya transfer stationin this same community. The county must also acknowledge that this community has provided a service to Orange County. For these reasons, the Rogers-Eubanks Community deserves every consideration with regard to re-siting the waste transfer station. It has absolutely borne more than its fair share of garbage. Orange County is supposed to be a place where everyones community is important.
What does Orange County do now? I believe Orange County should have long ago formed a Special Advisory Board, which is what I suggested to the commissioners many weeks ago when I wrote and asked them to discontinue using the Olver consultants and instead form a special citizens advisory board. This board was to include citizens from different geographical areas of Orange County, representatives from local environmental and civic groups, from UNC faculty and local government as well as technical experts.
What does Orange County do now? Citizens need to participate in the site search and support the Rogers-Eubanks Community. Citizens also need to insist that the Olver consultants conduct a thorough and fair site search.
11) The Independents mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
As a member of the Roger-Eubanks Community, I have felt the pain of a landfill community. My life experiences have taught me the importance of fairness and justice and the necessity of empathy. I have developed an insight and a perspective that enables me to hear, to see, to feel the experiences of others who have heretofore felt that their concerns and their voices were too often ignored. I therefore come to voters as a candidate who offers them an opportunity to choose moral and ethical leadership and not politics as usual. I come to voters as a candidate who offers them an opportunity to choose solid leadership in planning sustainable and affordable communities for everyone. I come to voters as a candidate who offers them an opportunity not to have to sacrifice the quality of their lives because of irresponsible planning and apathetic government. I come to voters as a candidate who will focus on responsibly balancing growth and economic development with preserving Orange Countys natural resourcesall of which ultimately also involve responsibly disposing of our waste. I come to you as a peoples candidate because I do believe that Orange County can be a better place and a great place for everyone.
12) Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters
In Orange County, we have heard a lot about growth that needs to be managed by establishing dense mixed-use urban areas that will ultimately become sustainable, diverse, and affordable communities.
However, we do not hear much about what we plan to do with all the waste these newer and denser communities will generate. In fact, many Orange County residents do not currently know what we now do with all of our waste.
Well, I can tell you where the waste goes: in my backyard. Therefore, as someone who has landfills growing in her own backyard, I know all too well the adverse environmental impacts of landfills and the devastation they can cause to communities. These impacts are further exacerbated when local governments neglect the host communities. I do not wish on any community what has happened in mine.
It is clear to me, however, that my landfill experience provides me with a much better understanding of why it is essential that the BoCC responsibly face the waste issues that will increase with growth and development.
At this point in time, OC is already in crisis. Therefore, the principled stand I would take right now is to transfer garbage responsibly; that is, demand accountability from any contractor we hire and plan much more responsibly for the future. Right now, this mostly means that the BoCC should not hire any contractor who will simply truck our garbage to host communities unprepared to accept the garbage. It means that contractors must provide evidence that the community taking the waste is accepting the waste. Unlike my community, there are industrial areas, such as where Greensboro sited its transfer station. There are areas for which landfills can provide economic opportunities.