Penny Rich | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Penny Rich 

Candidate for Orange Board of County Commissioners

Name as it appears on the ballot: Penny Rich

Date of birth: 05/27/1959

Campaign website: www.pennyfororange.com

Occupation & employer: Self (Personal Chef)

Spouse's name: Chris Voorhees

Spouse's occupation & employer: Hotel Manager (Hilton Worldwide)

Years lived in Orange County: 14

Email: pennyrich.oc@gmail.com


1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

The three most important issues facing Orange County are economic development, transit, and waste, which are closely correlated. I recently served as co-chair of the cent sales tax committee. Half of that tax, which passed in November 2011, is earmarked for economic development. I feel that it is important for the municipalities in Orange County to have a share of those funds for economic development. We need to start thinking outside of the box regarding development of the economic development districts (EDDs). We should be thinking along the lines of green businesses, light manufacturing, and business incubators – economic development that reflects the values of Orange County and does not just copy what the surrounding counties are doing. We should create a public-private partnership with Durham Tech's Orange County campus to train potential employees for these ventures. This partnership will help to ensure that the companies get their start in Orange County stay here once they are up and running, and that the workers they employ are local. If we are serious about moving economic development forward in Orange County, we must have a 21st century transit system in place. We must make sure the proper infrastructure is in place, and that adequate public transit is available to ensure the success of new businesses. Chapel Hill's land use management ordinance (LUMO) relies heavily on public transportation to support economic development countywide. Public transit creates a link between the communities of Orange County, providing residents with affordable access to the places they live, work, learn, and play. Studies by the American Public Transportation Association show that public transit benefits all citizens, even those who never board a bus or train, with $4 in economic activity generated for every $1 invested in public transportation. The county will benefit from increased access to local businesses and the attendant local tax revenue. Light rail is a vital part of moving our community into the 21st century of transportation and economic growth. As an Orange County Commissioner, I will make transit a priority. Finally, as with economic development, we need to think outside of the box regarding the waste we create. I support the county's decision to close the Rogers Road landfill. That community has borne the burden of our trash for far too long. However, I do not think that shipping our trash to burden a community in Virginia is the answer. If we do this, we have not learned a lesson from our mistreatment of the Rogers Road community. The first step in any approach to waste should be an effort to reduce the amount of waste we create. I will address this in more detail in my answer to Question 4, but briefly, I feel that we should set achievable benchmarks for reducing our waste by maximizing recycling and composting, and by educating our citizens. For the trash we do create, we should look to cite smaller landfills within the county.

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 served on the Chapel Hill Town Council since 2009, and am on nine committees, ranging from the Sustainable Energy and Environment committee to the Community Design Commission. As the representative of the Town on these committees, I have learned to find consensus among a large group of stakeholders who often have differing opinions. I feel that the town governments in Orange County do not have effective communication with the BOCC and the County staff, and that my experiences consensus building will be valuable to bridge this communication gap. In addition, I have run my own small business since 2001. From this I have learned to be fiscally responsible and to stay within my means. We are facing ever-tightening budgets, yet our towns and county must maintain a level of service that ensures the safety and welfare of all Orange County citizens. This is going to require that we make tough decisions. I feel that my experience successfully navigating a small business through the recent economic downturn will give me valuable insight into the difficult fiscal decisions facing Orange County.

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 progressive liberal with many of the attributes associated with that title, including strong environmental protectionism and an understanding of the importance of social justice. As a woman I understand the importance of women's voices in the political sphere, particularly in the current political environment which has not been friendly to women. I recently petitioned the town council regarding coverage for women's comprehensive health care when it was at risk due to our state legislature. As a mother I feel strongly about efforts to improve educational opportunities for all children in Orange County and to make sure that the future of our county is sustainable for the next generation. To that end, when I served on the OWASA Board of Directors I helped to implement conservation rules that are still in effect today.

4. Provide a review of Orange County's trash decision. Are you satisfied with using Durham's transfer station to transport trash to Virginia? Why or why not? Has the county done enough to address concerns at Rogers Road? What else needs to happen?

This is one issue on which the county gets a failing grade. Out of sight out of mind is not an effective waste policy. I am absolutely not in favor of shipping our trash to Virginia via Durham's transfer station. Creating a situation in another community like the one faced for the past 40 years in the Rogers Road community would mean that we learned nothing from that social inequity. Shipping our trash out of county is also cost prohibitive. It will cost District One a minimum of $750,000 more per year than it would to keep our trash in Orange County. We need an aggressive waste policy sets attainable goals. Our approach should start with waste reduction, including an outreach and public education campaign about recycling, composting, and waste reduction techniques, new markets for recyclables, and a decrease in unsustainable waste streams such as take out containers and individual packaging. Our waste policy will also necessarily include a plan for disposing of our waste in county. This is a contentious issue because no one wants waste in their backyard. Although the commissioners have been researching alternatives over the years, they did not aggressively work toward the development of a plan for the closure of the landfill and now at the 11th hour they have rushed to judgment on the procedure they would like to apply. Stating that the municipalities should do more implies that Chapel Hill has done nothing to address waste, which is simply not true. The overriding fact is that solid waste is a county department and the county needs to move to a sustainable 21st century solution. I look forward to being part of that process.

5. Building off of the landfill debate, what's your view of the working relationship between the BOCC and Orange municipal governments? What's worked well? What hasn't? How will you change it, if needed?

There seems to be poor communication and understanding between the BOCC and the municipal governments, and also between the citizens of the towns and the county. It doesn't have to be this way. We all live in Orange County, and we need to bridge our differences and work to develop solutions that benefit the entire county, and then go beyond that to develop solutions that benefit the entire region. As a county commissioner I would provide an effective link between the County and the municipalities. The Rogers Road community is an example of how the different governments did NOT work together to find an effective solution. I have recently been appointed to the Rogers Road new working committee that incorporates all governments, and I feel that moving forward we can come up with solutions on which everyone can agree. This is a step in the right direction and I am proud to be a part of it. The Orange County manager and staff can help bridge the divide by being more transparent and by reaching out to citizens in ways that are more effective. For example, putting a notice in the newspaper that a meeting will occur might not be as effective for the younger generation as reaching out via social media.

6. With Wal Mart's application to build a store in Chatham, Orange could have three major shopping centers—Wal Mart, Tanger Outlets and New Hope Commons—just across its borders. What, in your view, lead to this situation? Assess the county's work in the last two years on economic development and your priorities for the next four.

This situation is the result of years of ignoring Orange County's economic development areas, and of being sure of what we DIDN'T want (as evidenced by citizens petitions) but not being willing to think outside the box as to what we DID want. There has not been a strong enough commitment to developing our economic development departments – it took a long time to get these departments up and running – and the result is the perception that Orange County is not business friendly. As I mentioned in Question 1, I think we need to be smart about developing our EDD areas. For example, a business incubator space near Durham Tech's Orange County campus would allow for work force development so that the companies in the incubator as well as spin-off companies could stay in Orange County and hire county-trained employees. We should not try to copy what surrounding counties have done, but should encourage economic development that is uniquely Orange County and that reflects our values.

7. What's your stance on regional transit and specifically the half-cent regional rail tax? What should a long-range transit plan include for Orange? What should it not include?

I am in favor of the half-cent regional rail tax. A long-range transit plan should include a wide variety of transit options, including light rail, Bus Rapid Transit, feeder busses, an Amtrak stop in Hillsborough, each with ample parking to keep cars out of congested areas. There is a feeling that some of the County Commissioners are pitting rural residents against residents of the towns on the issue of whether this should be on the ballot at all. This is a decision that should be made by the citizens, and that it should be placed on the ballot regardless of any individual commissioner's feelings. The implication is that the tax would not benefit all county residents. This is not correct. Effective transportation is imperative for the economic development of the entire county. Even citizens who do not ride public transportation benefit. For example, UNC hospitals is continuing to grow, but has limited land for parking. A healthy transit system will help ensure that the growth of that and other major employers is not stymied by land use pressures. It is important for the entire county is on board, because an integrated transportation plan benefits us all.

8. Candidates can choose to run either at-large or in the district in which he or she resides. Explain your decision. Do you see district representatives serving different interests than at-large commissioners? Name two issues specific to your district and your plans to address them.

The shift in elected officials locally, partnered with my experience representing Chapel Hill on the Town Council made the decision to run as a representative of District One rather than as an at-large candidate and easy one for me. Because Valerie Foushee has decided to run to represent District 50 in the General Assembly, District One is losing a strong voice on the BOCC. I remain committed to Chapel Hill and will continue to be a strong voice for the Town's interests, but I also want to ensure that all of southeast Orange County has the quality of representation they have come to expect. For example, Carrboro should have a library that meets their needs and that fits the town. I will work to keep the BOCC on top of this issue and will continue to promote the work that has been done on the inter-local library agreement. I will also work to secure economic development money for Chapel Hill and Carrboro to use for redevelopment, revolving loans, and as incentives to attract new businesses. I will take the entire county into consideration when voting, but will be a particularly strong advocate for the interests of District One.

9. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

The best way I can help to build a just community is by empowering citizens by giving voice to their concerns. I strive to be a voice for the people on the BOCC as I have been on the Chapel Hill Town Council. It is important that the residents of the incorporated areas of Orange County do not feel like they are taken advantage of financially. People are tired of hearing that the towns have more financial resources and can afford to bear the financial burdens of the county. District One, like the rest of the county, is feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. As an example, I think that we should align Chapel Hill and Durham property re-evaluations so that Chapel Hill residents living in Durham County don't get hit twice. Although it is likely that the reassessment of homes valued at over $300,000 will result in lower taxes, this is not the case for houses with lower values, which will result in an estimated twelve cent increase for every dollar. It is simply not fair for lower income property owners to pay higher taxes while higher income properties will not see an increase. Aligning the reassessment will help to mitigate this burden.

10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.

Although I recognize that it will be a hard sell, I think that we should build a homeless shelter in Orange County. The new IFC facility is not a homeless shelter. Rather, it is a community/transitional facility that will not cater to overnight guests. There are 17 cots available, but these are not meant to be a long term solution. It is time for Orange County to step in and take responsibility for this issue and not continue to depend on the generosity of our churches and synagogues to care for our homeless population.

  • Candidate for Orange Board of County Commissioners

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