Name as it appears on the ballot: Sally Kost
Date of birth: November 29, 1952
Years lived in Chatham County: 10
Campaign web site: www.SallyKost.com
Occupation & Employer: Retired, Former Orange County Budget Director
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Chatham County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Chatham County's most important issues center around (1) environmental protections and land use; (2) jobs and the economy; and (3) creating a long-range vision for our county. We must expand and balance our tax base while we preserve our high quality of life.
We do this by working closely with Goldston, Siler City and Pittsboro to build infrastructure to encourage growth in our towns and planned economic development centers. We develop a master plan for how and where Chatham County develops that protects our rural character and our natural resource. Such a plan must address needed new schools, affordable housing, farmland preservation, parks and recreation, and identify transportation and other infrastructure improvements. This plan must be comprehensive and it must be built from the bottom up – that is, with much community input. Moreover, it must recognize the diverse communities in Chatham by allowing for citizen designed local area plans.
Environmental Protections and Land Use
My three priorities to address environment protection are (1) developing a comprehensive citizen-based land use plan to serve as a roadmap for future growth; (2) taking a hard stance against hydraulic fracking; and (3) standing up to any attempts to further erode environmental protections in Chatham.
Land Use Planning - Prior to the new Republican majority taking control of the Board of Commissioners, the county had begun developing a citizen based comprehensive plan. The proposed strategy agreed to by the previous progressive Democratic board would have included numerous community meetings to explain the process and to get citizen input regarding their overall vision for their community.
The new tea party inspired Republican majority stopped all plans for developing a land use plan, under the auspice that they needed to "learn" more about the county before taking on such an endeavor. That was clearly a cover excuse since their own 2010 campaign literature made it clear they do not support comprehensive planning. They prefer the John Locke Foundation blueprint called "flex growth" that essentially lets the private market and outside developers determine Chatham's land use future.
Numerous times over the past two years, with no success, I have requested to revisit the halted land use planning process.
Recently, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has joined the debate, urging the Commissioners to develop a land use plan as a tool to recruit business and industry to Chatham. The Board majority continues to shun the responsibility of developing a comprehensive plan, and instead, has asked the EDC to develop a land use plan to serve as a guide to where we want to grow new business.
Clearly a comprehensive land use plan is the responsibility of the officials directly accountable to the citizens – the Chatham Board of Commissioners. The EDC's mission is to recruit and retain business and industry to Chatham, not develop a land use plan. It is time the County Board majority step up and lead, as they told the voters they would, and not shed the Board's responsibility because the work is difficult.
Say No to Fracking – Fracking in Chatham County will harm our ground water, raise our taxes, deter high quality business from locating here, hurt agriculture, and ruin our quality of life. A handful of citizens may financially benefit, while the rest of us will pay to repair the roads, mitigate the damage to our groundwater, and bear the cost of training, new equipment, and personnel to respond to emergencies. The small impact fee proposed by the General Assembly is not adequate to cover these costs. The recently released report by Environment North Carolina lays out the price tag of this dirty drilling practice and it is clear from this report, fracking is too risky and too costly.
Fracking would create few local jobs, with many of the jobs going to out of state workers. Without local control, land use planning becomes impossible and threatens the quality of life in our community.
I will continue to advocate for local control and land use planning. I continue to stay engaged in this fight working with numerous citizens' groups. As the Mining and Energy Commission rolls out their proposed regulations, I will work with these groups to provide feedback to the Commission.
Stand Up to Further Erosion of Environmental Protections – I will continue to stand up for laws to protect our environment and fight any further attempts to weaken them. The board majority has mostly ignored my objections to weakening environmental regulations and gutting enforcement resources. I have successfully worked with non-governmental environmental leaders to mitigate some of the attacks on protections. For example, we stopped the drastic reduction of stream buffers, a proposal by the Republican majority that would have been detrimental to our drinking water supply – Jordan Lake.
Jobs and the Economy
The three priorities to address creating jobs and improving our local economy include (1) making funding for education our highest priority, including funding and completing the new northeast high school without further delay; (2) collaborating with the towns to build infrastructure to accommodate smart growth, a strategy where citizens are able to live, work and shop in the same community; and (3) investing in quality of life improvements in our community, including funding for the arts, libraries, parks, and trails.
Investing in Education –. We need to advocate for increases in teachers' salary and adequately fund our public schools system.
We must build and upgrade new schools to address increased enrollment and 21st century standards. Building costs are beginning to rise and we should take advantage of a still favorable bidding environment and low interest rates to construct the new northeast high school as we promised the community. I have objected to delaying this school and have challenged the enrollment projections, which, have proven to be underestimated.
Moreover, in 2011 when the new Republican majority initially refused to provide additional funds to make up for drastic state and federal cuts, I worked with educational advocates, parents, and teachers to convince the board majority to add some of that needed funding to the proposed flat-line school budget.
We have made significant improvements at our community college and must continue working hand-in-hand to ensure that we meet the training needs of the business community and provide educational opportunities for students. Our community college's nationally recognized sustainability programs and branding has been under attack by the Republican board majority who have essentially banned the use of the terms "sustainability" and "green" as a description of county programs.
I will continue to be a voice for sustainability in Chatham and fight these attacks on the sustainability concept and brand that is important to Chatham's economic development success and future prosperity.
Collaboration with the Towns - As the Board Chair, I worked closely with the Goldston leadership to develop a plan to address their wastewater needs. The minimal county investment has potential of paying large dividends in that Goldston is strategically located on a four-lane highway. I have also strongly supported the STEP program in Siler City and the Main Street programs in Pittsboro, where citizens, businesses, and landowners work collaboratively with local governments to revitalize their downtowns. These types of initiatives are critical to Chatham's future success.
Moreover, if we are to guide development to our towns and protect Chatham's rural character and prevent sprawl, we need to further partner with the towns to help in upgrading their water and wastewater needs in addition to working together to address recreational needs.
Investing in Quality of Life Programs and Services – I supported the construction of the new community library in Pittsboro, constructing the new Pollard Middle School for community use, building playing fields for organized sports, and completing the 4.6 mile American Tobacco Trail in Chatham. I fought to maintain the bookmobile and strongly objected to cutting arts funding in Siler City. I also opposed reducing library hours and worked to see that Saturday hours were restored.
It is imperative that county leaders understand that these investments in quality of life programs and services are critical to our overall economic viability and attractiveness to companies considering locating here.
Chatham also needs to aggressively work to ensure high speed Internet in all areas of the county. This will encourage small business growth and telecommuting.
A Vision for the Future
The commissioners need to take a leadership role in developing a vision for the future of our community. This far-right notion that the free market will decide the shape of our community is backwards thinking. We must be proactive, involve the community, and position Chatham County for the future.
Visionary leadership means use facts to accurately assess and communicate to citizens the possibilities and dangers facing Chatham County. Putting ones head in the sand and denying the man-made threats of climate change, drought, air and water pollution and sprawl, the need for dramatic increases in educational performance of our students, the growing inequality of opportunity, or the limits of our current broadband, water and sewer infrastructure will only lead to economic stagnation, not the prosperity we want for all our citizens.
In my view our current Republican board majority cannot or will not face these facts. I have and will continue to be such a fact-based leader. Of course, I also know that Chatham has greater potential for prosperity than stagnation because of the excellent people who live here. But we need local government to partner with the people, non-profit organizations and businesses to effectively build on our assets. Our future is too important than to just "leave it to the market" as our current board majority appears to be doing.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Chatham County Commission? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I was elected to the Board of Commissioners four years ago and have served as chair and vice chair of the board. Prior to being elected, I served on the County Planning Board, and also chaired that board.
As Chair of the Board of Commissioners at the time that our historic courthouse burned I am proud of my leadership in dealing with the aftermath. I am equally proud of the way the county staff responded to this tragic fire and how we involved the community in the re-building process. As a side note, we are looking forward to the rededication of this landmark in early 2013.
Professionally, I have worked at the federal, state and local level, which has given me a solid foundation for being your commissioner. I have over 20 years of professional experience working in the public sector, including public budgeting, finance and program evaluation. As former budget director in both Wake and Orange Counties, I have dealt with many of the challenges that Chatham County faces. I am knowledgeable of all county services and understand the revenue structure of local government. I have extensive knowledge in school design standards, school financing, and long range capital planning.
Additionally, I have served on various regional committees, including the Regional Smart Growth Committee, the Rural Planning Organization for transportation planning and formerly served on the Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization. I co-chaired the Orange/Chatham Workgroup, a workgroup that was disbanded when the new Republican majority took office because they did not see the need to discuss planning issues of mutual interest between Chatham and the local governments in Orange County. I also served on the Cary/Chatham Joint Issues committee, but was removed by the Republican majority although I am much more familiar with the history, the desire of the people, and current land uses of the area since it is the district in which I live.
For the first two years in office, I worked collaboratively with my fellow Democratic commissioners to implement a citizen-focused and sustainability agenda. With the 2010 change in the Board makeup, my focus has had to shift to one where I challenge actions inconsistent with my election platform. I continue working with various citizens groups, and together we have had at least one success when we were able to lessen the damage to stream buffer protection and maintain the Environmental Review Committee, although its role was significantly weakened.
As former vice chair of the Chatham Coalition I have collaborated with diverse citizens and community leaders to develop a platform of issues and to elect county commissioners and school board members who support a forward thinking platform.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I consider myself a pragmatic progressive. I am not driven by an ideology but instead I am driven by principle - our county government must be citizen-focused and must reach out to all the towns, communities and demographic groups of citizens to ensure they have a meaningful voice in policy making. My record demonstrates that I have lived up to this principle.. As one example, I strongly opposed the weakening and abolishing of many of our local advisory boards, including the Human Relations Board, the Green Building and Energy Advisory Committee, and the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. We should be finding ways for expand citizen participation, not weakening their input and voice.
Most recently, I opposed turning over the task of developing a comprehensive land use plan to the county Economic Development Corporation. Instead, I support proceeding with a citizen-driven land use development process as had been proposed by the previous board. Such a process would include in-depth citizen visioning and would also recognize the diversity of the community by developing local area plans for different parts of the county.
4. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
Eliminating the Human Relations Director and the Human Relations Commission in Chatham County by the board majority was a travesty. They failed to recognize the need for civil rights education and awareness and the need to have an advocacy board to address discrimination and issues dealing with housing, employment, and other issues.
Further "suspending" the Affordable Housing Board and eliminating the affordable housing requirement in Briar Chapel are actions taken by the Republican majority and I adamantly opposed these actions.
We must celebrate and respect diversity and find a way for all citizens to have the opportunity to prosper and to participate in their government.
Working closely with community civil rights and affordable housing leaders, I led the opposition on our board to these damaging actions by our current Republican board majority, as well as opposing the reversal of the previous board's support for our growing Latino immigrant community.
My election will at least allow supporters of these civil rights initiatives to continue to have a voice on our board.
5. What specific steps should the county commissioners take to preserve and protect Chatham's environment and natural resources? What do you feel needs updating in Chatham County's land conservation and development plan? State specific initiatives or policies you would introduce and support to accomplish these updates.
As stated above, we need to immediately begin a comprehensive citizen-focused land use plan to chart where and how Chatham County will grow. Because the plan on record was ignored during the Bunkey Morgan reign (e.g. 2002-2006), and because the county does not have a map to accompany the plan, it is time to start over, with the first step being community meetings to talk about the vision the citizens have for our county.
I chaired the subcommittee of the Planning Board that developed the new smart growth subdivision regulations adopted in 2008. Among other balanced environmentally friendly provisions, these revised regulations provided for conservation subdivisions that would allow clustering of residential units to maintain open space, especially along streams and environmentally sensitive areas.
I will continue to advocate for design guidelines for the joint planning area in Chatham. Cary officials had agreed to allow Chatham to take the lead in developing design principles and ultimately design guidelines to protect the rural character of eastern Chatham. The Board Majority deleted this initiative and these principles were not included as part of the plan adopted this year. Without these guidelines, as Cary pushes further into Chatham County, the rural flavor of Chatham will be lost.
As a strong advocate for preserving and protecting our natural resources, I will continue to work with various environmental groups and fight any erosion of the protections that are currently in place, including stopping fracking from being allowed in Chatham.
6. Define "economic development." What does that term mean to you? Do you believe Chatham County heavily relies on property taxes? How would you grow the economy and agricultural possibilities to lessen that reliance without focusing entirely on residential development? What specifically can you do as a county leader to strengthen and support Chatham's economy? How would you work to bring new businesses and jobs to Chatham County?
Economic development for Chatham is creating clean jobs that pay a good wage and provide benefits. It also means providing education and training to provide opportunity for all residents to be qualified for those jobs. Economic development also means working with organizations, businesses, towns and citizens to provide the needed infrastructure, trained and educated workers, and quality of life that will make Chatham an attractive place for quality industries and businesses to locate.
I do not consider building rooftops as economic development, in that residential development rarely, particularly when it is sprawl development, pays its way.
Clearly our location is an asset and we need to build upon that, as is our rural quality of life. We need to preserve and enhance our rural character and small town life as attractions for small 21st century business that are spin-offs from the Triangle and Triad high-tech industries. We need to take advantage of our location to top research universities to become the state's center for the newly emerging and rapidly growing green economy.
As mentioned, Chatham also needs to take advantage of our assets – our natural resources and our location. For example, we could promote low-impact tourism through our arts, agriculture, historic downtowns and natural area amenities.
7. What is your opinion on fracking? Although Senate Bill 820 stripped local governments of their ability to prohibit fracking, what should Chatham County do to address the environmental impacts and property rights issues associated with the controversial drilling practice? How would you suggest the county ensure there is transparency in county documentation and other information about the energy companies, the mineral rights deeds and environmental data?
As indicated above, I strongly oppose fracking and feel that the General Assembly erred in taking land use decisions away from local government. This past spring I introduced a resolution to my fellow commissioners that asked the General Assembly to slow down the fracking frenzy and to provide local control. Unfortunately I could not gain support from the Republicans on the Board, thus, the resolution was unsuccessful.
Included in SB820 is a provision to allow forced pooling, which allows gas companies to mine an individual's property over their objection. The law was clearly put in place for the benefit of the industry and is an example of the far right bending over backwards to accommodate the industry.
The hiding of the drillers behind the excuse that the makeup of their toxic cocktail is a "trade secret" is not acceptable. The public needs to know what chemicals the frackers are shooting into the ground under extremely high pressure that could potentially harm public health. This is unacceptable and I will fight for full transparency.
I will support complete and full transparency of all records dealing with this dangerous and risky way to mine natural gas.
Moreover, in light of the possibility that our tea party inspired Republican legislature proceeds to pass legislation allowing fracking in North Carolina, I will continue to work with anti-fracking leaders to seek a local control provision so t Chatham could opt out of this industry.
8. What are your budget priorities for the county? What services should receive more money? What could be cut? Please explain your reasoning.
Education, including early childhood develop must continue to be our highest funding priority. We know that pre-school programs are extremely effective. The county should ensure that the resources are in place to provide these very needed programs.
We should protect direct services to citizens and look for efficiencies within the organization. We should systematically look at organizational improvements and partnerships that could reduce the overall cost of providing services.
Our budget strategies need to focus on long-term investments in our community that will pay future economic development dividends, including the immediate capital funding of the much-needed northeast high school.
We should also increase our funding for non-profit organizations since all indicators show this is an efficient way of providing direct help for our citizen, since for every dollar we invest on those organizations the county receive a significant multiplier in terms of additional outside funding support and volunteer services.
9. The Legislature convenes in January. What are Chatham County's legislative priorities? What are the obstacles to their passage? How can the commissioners and other county officials work with state lawmakers to ensure the county's needs are addressed?
In the last two years the County's legislative goal setting process has been non-existent. Since the new Board majority took office, we as a board have not met with our local delegation. These meetings need to resume, and we must work across party lines for the good of the citizens.
Areas that are a priority for me include:
Determine if the tax exemption for older, lower income citizens needs to be revised.
Seek legislation that would give Chatham input in ALL annexations from neighboring towns, particularly Cary. We should have a say in how Chatham County grows.
Mining for natural gas is a heavy industrial use and where it is allowed needs to take into consideration the community, the road structure, and proximity to residential, churches, schools and daycares. We must insist that the General Assembly return these land use decisions to local government.
The rules governing the transitioning of large developments to homeowner associations are heavily in favor the developers. We should ask the General Assembly to study this issue, looking at other states with more consumer friendly laws, such as Florida, and bring forth changes that protect the citizen.
We should advocate for more funding for schools and pre-K funding.
The General Assembly needs to adequately fund the Mining and Energy Commission, which is writing the rules for fracking. Funds should include money for outside consultants who can bring objectivity to the commission that is heavily tilted toward the gas industry.
The obstacle to many of these needed actions is the current Republican dominated legislature and our Republican controlled county board. Two things can impact these barriers in the short run. The November election could increase the number of progressive legislators in the General Assembly. My re-election will, of course, be a message to the current board majority that voters do not support the right-wing agenda they are pursuing. Also if Chatham county citizens continue and increase their lobby efforts with our current board, we may be able to persuade at least one of our Republican commissioners to put practical solutions above ideology,
Obviously, in the more long term, electing a new progressive County Board in 2014 is the key to returning Chatham toward the type of balanced positive and progressive policies these types of legislative initiatives represent.
10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take even though it cost you popularity points with constituents.
We know that land use planning is critical for a successful community, and with land use planning comes zoning for the county. We also know that Chatham County is a diverse place and that it is not a "one size fits all" community. I believe that as part of our land use planning process, we need to develop through intense community involvement, local area plans across the county that would guide development and give us an overall master plan for our community. I know that zoning in the unzoned area of the county may not be popular, but we need to study this issue in a fact-based open-minded manner if we are going to grow responsibly. Personal property rights need to be balanced with community rights, and through good planning we can maintain low taxes and protection of Chatham's natural resources and quality of life.