The county budget, school funding, the environment, tax rates, social services and land use--these issues are enough to keep an Orange County commissioner up at night. Yet, three Democrats and a Republican are running to grapple with these issues, including incumbents Barry Jacobs and Alice Gordon, former Carrboro mayor Mike Nelson, and former Human Rights and Relations Commission member Jamie Daniel, the lone GOP candidate.
Alice Gordon is seeking her fifth term, and her strong environmental record earned our endorsement. She worked on the Water Resources Initiative that focuses on water quality and quantity in the county, with an emphasis on groundwater protection. She supported the Lands Legacy program, promoted sustainable growth polices and lobbied for open space, new parks and prudent land use policies, including protection of the rural buffer. As a member of the Triangle Transit Authority Board of Trustees, she led the creation of a new bus route from Hillsborough to Chapel Hill.
She advocated for fair funding for Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school districts and was a member of a working group that included representatives from both districts to forward funding recommendations to the commissioners. Gordon also helped craft the Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which helps assure that new developments don't result in overcrowded schools.
Commission Chairman Barry Jacobs' extensive experience and environmental and social justice record earned him our endorsement. (As a matter of disclosure, Jacobs also contributes a sports column to the Independent.) He helped establish the Lands Legacy Program, which helps protect natural areas and acquire conservation easements, and hosted the Eno River Confluence to discuss the viability of the river and its reservoirs. He co-chaired a county task force on affordable housing and championed the creation of a critical needs fund to close the gap left unfilled by federal and state funding. This reserve has provided nearly $750,000 to pay for initiatives including home repairs for elderly, low-income residents, child care grants and a testing program to investigate possible health risks related to contaminated groundwater in a minority community.
After a decade as Carrboro mayor, Mike Nelson is seeking a commissioner's seat to work on equitable school funding, social justice issues and the environment. If elected, he promises to introduce a comprehensive energy plan for the county. He also has concrete ideas for jumpstarting the economy, including the creation of business incubators through UNC and revamping the county's business loan fund, a program that has had success in Carrboro under his leadership.
Among the state's first openly gay candidates, Nelson was active as a UNC undergrad in the gay-lesbian student association and was the founder and executive director of N.C. Pride, now known as Equality N.C.
Although he touts his environmentalist credentials--he's the director of governmental relations at the Conservation Council--there is some question about his land-use philosophies. In Carrboro, he lobbied for developing an environmentally sensitive tract of land; public outcry defeated the plan. We are endorsing Nelson, but ask him to make environmental protection a priority if elected.
Jamie Daniel, a Republican, says he's concerned about "family survivability" in Orange County. The Hillsborough resident and Army veteran fears high taxes will prevent middle-class families from staying in the county and favors more commercial development to offset the residential property tax load. Daniel, who works at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, served on the county's Human Rights and Relations Committee. He cautiously supports the districting referendum, although adds that it doesn't go far enough in achieving parity for non-urban residents.Districting Referendum
Rural voters have long complained that Chapel Hill and Carrboro set the tone for Orange County politics. Guilty as charged: With two-thirds of the population living in those towns, it follows that the power base would be in the southern part of the county. Nonetheless, in the spirit of democracy, we endorse the districting plan that would combine at-large and district voting and expand the number of commissioners from five to seven, which would give rural residents a greater chance of electing one of their own. Under the proposal, District 1 would encompass Chapel Hill and Carrboro and get three seats; the rest of Orange would be in District 2, which would receive two seats. In addition, two at-large seats would be up for grabs.
Critics of the referendum argue districting is a ploy to unravel zoning regulations that prevent sprawl in the countryside. This could be the case, but it is unlikely that rural voters would wield enough power to command a majority on the commission to turn Cedar Grove Township into a parking lot.
Commissioners, including two who live in Hillsborough, say they already are attuned to the needs of those living north of U.S. 70 and west of the N.C. 54 Bypass. But these citizens aren't feeling the love, and perception matters.
Cumulative voting, already used in several states to elect school boards, legislators and town councils, is one way to address the perceived city-county disparity. Using this method, voters cast as many votes are there are seats; they can put multiple votes on one or more candidates, which allows even a small share of the population to elect a candidate. Alas, cumulative voting isn't on the ballot. Absent that solution, we endorse the districting plan and urge a YES vote.Sheriff
Lindy Pendergrass made national headlines earlier this year for his deft and quick handling of a shooting at Orange High School that injured two students; the shooter had also killed his father. Pendergrass, 72, has been a mainstay in Orange County law enforcement since he began his career as a Chapel Hill police officer during the tumultuous Civil Rights era of '60s and '70s, when he earned a reputation for being fair. The Carrboro native was elected sheriff in 1982 and has held the post since. Although Pendergrass describes himself as politically "middle-of-the-road," he is known for his progressive views, including recruiting more female deputies and Spanish-speaking officers to accommodate the county's diverse population. And while several North Carolina police and sheriff's departments have joined with the Homeland Security Department to act as de facto border agents--a contentious policy because it builds mistrust between the Latino community and local law enforcement-- Pendergrass has declined to do so. If elected to his seventh term, Pendergrass plans to implement a new GPS system to track domestic violence offenders and add use federal grants to buy more mobile data units and reduce the time deputies have to writing reports by hand.
A Hillsborough police sergeant, 34-year-old William "Buddy" Parker says his top three priorities are to crack down on drug and alcohol violations, address turnover at the department, and use more technology to help deputies do their jobs more efficiently.General Assembly
We heartily endorse one of the General Assembly's most progressive voices, Ellie Kinnaird, for her sixth term in the N.C. Senate, representing Orange and Person counties. The former Carrboro mayor serves on several Senate subcommittees, including the critical appropriations of base budget, environment and natural resources, and mental health and youth services, of which she is the chair.
Kinnaird has introduced bills to reform lobbying laws, raise the minimum wage, fund local private drinking-water well programs and study the beneficial uses of industrial hemp, which could be a profitable replacement crop for the state's tobacco farmers.
Although her support for a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard failed, Kinnaird's environmental focus helped establish the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change.
In addition, Kinnaird supports such human rights issues as universal health care and mental health services while opposing large government subsidies and tax credits to lure business to the state.
Kinnaird has received a recommendation from the N.C. Association of Educators, and she has garnered endorsements from NARAL, Planned Parenthood and Equality N.C.
Kinnaird's challenger, Republican E.B. Alston, lists economic development, transportation funding for his district and lobbying reform as his priorities. However, he opposes public campaign financing and says the failure of legislators to behave honestly is no reason to burden others with regulations. He prefers a flat rate on corporate and personal income tax and supports a sales tax, stating "If taxpayers have economic hardships, they can choose what to buy or choose not to buy at all."
Alston is skeptical about school spending and says educational shortfalls are due to a lax curriculum, not necessarily a lack of funding.
The Timberlake resident is retired and has written more than a half-dozen fiction books.Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors
No candidate for this race--Charles Snipes, Chris Hogan nor Will Shooter--returned questionnaires to enlighten us on their expertise and issues. However, according to the Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District Web site, www.co.orange.nc.us/Soilwater/index.html, the board has helped convert 1,600 acres of croplands to woodlands, combated soil erosion on 1,200 acres, and assisted farmers in planning and installing livestock-friendly watering sources and stream crossings to protect Orange County watersheds. Not only is this important for the environment in Orange County, but also for the critters and people living downstream. Many of the state's headwaters leading to the Atlantic coast begin hundreds of miles away in Orange's tributaries, underscoring the importance of a protective soil and water conservation district.
As for the candidates, we do know that Snipes is a long-time board member and Hogan, the board's vice chair, has been criticized by several progressives for his family's decision to sell their Carrboro farm to developers. Shooter is a Libertarian, which doesn't bode well for his support of a governmental role in protecting open space.
However, there are no overwhelming reasons to upend incumbents Snipes and Hogan. But voters deserve to know more about their platforms.