Name as it appears on the ballot: Wendy Jacobs
Campaign website: www.wendyjacobsfordurham.com
Occupation and employer: County Commissioner, Durham County Government
Years in Durham: 29 years
Phone number: 919-418-3169
1. In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County?
As Durham continues to experience economic development, innovation and revitalization in our Downtown and RTP, we must tackle the persistent poverty and high levels of unemployment in parts of our community. Our challenge is to make sure that all members of our community are prepared for and connected to the jobs coming to our community. We must ensure that we continue our positive growth but also in a way that maintains the affordability, diversity and vibrancy of our community.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
1) Continue to target poverty and high unemployment in sectors of our community. As Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Poverty Reduction Initiative (PRI) Jobs Task Force and active member of Workforce Development Board subcommittees I am committed to this. We must continue to 1) improve our education to work pipeline, 2) recruit a mixture of jobs to Durham and 3) remove barriers to jobs in the areas of job training, criminal background, transportation, and child care.
2) Reduction of Gun Violence. Last year 45 people died from gun violence in Durham. This is unacceptable. We must continue to focus on our disconnected youth and giving those with a criminal background a second chance through employment. We must improve our prevention and treatment of mental health and substance abuse. I am working on a county wide anti violence campaign as Co-Chair of the Durham Directors Group which is comprised of all city and county agencies directly impacting people in our community.
3) Improvement in educational outcomes for all children in our public schools and universal access to high quality early childhood education. We must continue investing in our teachers, school staff and classroom so that we attract and retain the best teachers, pursue best practices so that all of our children achieve literacy by third grade. Studies have shown that making sure all children have a solid educational foundation as early as possible is a good investment and critical for future learning.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Durham County Board of Commissioners? (This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.)
My recent leadership of the effort to create Durham’s first Sports Commission exemplifies my ability to be an effective County Commissioner. I was able to bring together various stakeholders in our community-Durham County Government, Durham City Government, the Durham Chamber of Commerce, the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, Duke University, NCCU, The Durham County Memorial Stadium Authority and representatives of our local sports community- to work together over a 2 ½ year process and come up with a successful model of how to structure and fund Durham’s first Sports Commission. This entity is estimated to bring in an at least an additional $2.6 million annually to our economy through new sporting events which will also support our local youth sports organizations. I am proud of my ability to bring diverse people together, navigate complex and challenging processes and achieve common goals for the betterment of our community. My record as a County Commissioner shows that I work hard, do my homework, work respectfully with others, and am accessible and responsive to citizens throughout our diverse community. I am able to make thoughtful, informed and tough decisions as well as take action when necessary to address problems.
3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
My political philosophy is based on respect for all people in our community. I believe that that the diversity of Durham is a strength and that it is in the best interest of all sectors of our society for all people to flourish. I am committed to social justice and I am guided by my passion that all people in our community can have a good education, a good job and a safe home. My political philosophy is that individual people and government can make a difference to improve people’s lives and address the problems in our community. Before I became a County Commissioner, I led a successful campaign as a neighborhood leader to create a four government nature park. My philosophy of hard work, collaboration and effective use of community resources to achieve a goal for the benefit of all is reflected in this effort as well as my work to create Durham’s first Sports Commission, I am also proud of helping to organize Durham’s first Senior Summit last May and my work with the Durham Center for Senior Life and ongoing efforts for Durham to be designated an Age Friendly Community. I strive to be accessible and responsible to all members of the Durham community and to take action if possible in response to citizen concerns and as a result the county is now revising our nuisance and our dog waste ordinances. My campaign platform to address poverty, unemployment, gun violence and support high quality public education is an expression of my commitment to social and economic justice and my belief that all people in our society should have the opportunity for a good job, a good education, a safe home and a good quality of life.
4. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
I also share this vision. I am committed to making sure that affordable housing and transit are a part of Durham’s future. I am supporting these efforts in policy and decision making in my role as County Commissioner and member of the Joint City County Planning Committee. Affordable housing and affordable transportation options are critical for ensuring that we have an economically diverse community that has access to jobs and a good quality of life. As a former educator and Durham Public Schools parent, I am committed to a strong public education system in Durham which I believe is fundamental for creating access to equal opportunity. I am also committed to racially, economically and culturally diverse schools which I also believe is an important foundation for a just community in Durham. Through my work as Vice Chair of our Social Services Board, Co-Chair of the Durham Directors Group, Co-Chair of the PRI Jobs Task Force and in other roles, I am dedicated to addressing the poverty and unemployment that continues to plague our community. We must also address. ongoing issues with our Criminal Justice system that stand in the way of equal justice in our community.
5. What is your vision for development in Durham County?
I believe that Durham should develop in a careful and deliberate way that protects and preserves what makes our community special, in terms of our natural and built environment, and in a way that will manage the expected 1 million additional people moving to our region over the next 10 years. We must develop in ways to mitigate the impacts of sprawl, traffic congestion, best protect our water and air quality and open space and farmland and create a good quality of life for all. As Co-Chair of the Triangle J Council of Governments Smart Growth Committee and immediate past chair of the Joint City County Planning Committee, I am actively working on these challenges.
What sorts of development do you believe the county should encourage? Revitalization and reuse of existing buildings, protection of existing neighborhoods, redevelopment of surface parking lots into structure parking wrapped with mixed use and ground floor retail, high density mixed use development along a fixed transit corridor, infill development, reuse and redevelopment of strip malls, compact neighborhood development around transit areas, reinvestment in areas of our community that have historically lacked investment, transit oriented development that includes affordable housing, economic development that includes a diversity of jobs for all skill levels and is connected to our industry clusters and education to jobs pipeline.
What steps do you think the county should take to reduce sprawl?
Support the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Project and Wake-Durham Commuter Rail with a seamless network of bike, pedestrian and bus connections. Fixed transportation corridors encourage high density mixed use development that will help reduce sprawl and car centered traffic. The County recently approved a $20 million incentive to the Park Center project in RTP that will create high density residential and mixed use development connected by bus, bike and pedestrian transit, which will be an option for future residents and help reduce sprawl.
What should the county do to create more affordable housing?
The County can make use of County owned properties to support the creation of affordable housing. For example the four acre Human Services Parking lot is within the ½ mile radius of the proposed Dillard Street light rail transit stop. The County can pursue a Public Private Partnership model for this site to include structured parking wrapped with affordable and market rate housing, retail and office. Based on the recommendations of the City’s Affordable Housing Study, there may be additional ways the County can play a role, such as assistance in the creation of a Land Bank or revolving Affordable Housing Loan Fund.
6. Parts of Durham’s future development plans are closely tied to the updated comprehensive plan. What changes to the comp plan do you believe the city and county need to make?
The Durham Comprehensive Land Use Plan is in great need of revision as it is more than a decade since it was approved. When I began my six year tenure as a county appointee to the Durham Planning Commission back in 2005, the Comp Plan had just been implemented! Durham has changed greatly since that time. We must embark on a comprehensive and rigorous process that includes input from all sectors of the Durham community and integrates the priorities and needs of the people living in the Durham of today. We know from the recent survey conducted by the City and County that things like bike and pedestrian trails, improved transit and affordable housing are current priorities for the citizens of Durham and these priorities need to be reflected in an updated Comp Plan.
7. At a meeting in January, the DPS Board of Education discovered that it needed to cut as much as $16 million from the 2016–17 budget. Do you believe the county commission needs to find additional revenue to fund public schools? If so, how would you go about doing so?
I think the first priority will be for Durham Public Schools to do a complete reassessment of their budgeting process and they are in the process of doing this right now. Durham Public Schools is the fourth highest funded school district in per pupil spending in the state of North Carolina. Funding for teachers, school staff and the classroom should be the highest priority. The County currently spends about 34% of our budget on education. Local County funding has filled the gap in declining state and federal support for public education over the past seven years. I would want to understand how current DPS funding is being allocated as the first step in considering any additional funding needs outside of annual expected student growth in DPS and charter schools. We are trying to improve the past funding process by asking DPS to submit their budget proposal earlier in the cycle so that we can have more time to adequately evaluate any additional revenue requests.
8. Last year the legislature ended a waiver to the federal food-stamp program, limiting the ability of able-bodied adults without dependents to access food assistance. This change will affect as many as 2,700 people in Durham County. What do you believe the county should be doing to help this population?
Through the efforts of the Durham County Department of Social Services the County is trying to address the impact of this change in benefits. I am well aware of these efforts in my role as Vice Chair of the Social Services Board. The new requirement is that able bodied adults without dependents work, volunteer or go to school for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Some of these 2,700 people will be eligible for a waiver due to circumstances such as medical conditions, mental health status or substance abuse issues, so the first step is that the County is educating everyone about the current requirements and helping those that are eligible for a waiver to receive one. The County is also working with the Volunteer Center, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Durham Tech and other community partners to help connect all those that will have to meet this new requirement with a school, job or volunteer placement. At least one resource fair has been held, a resource list has been distributed and there are ongoing efforts underway to meet this difficult challenge.
9. Over the past year, there have been frequent protests outside of the Durham County Detention Center over allegations of unsanitary conditions, lackluster health and mental-health care, and gouging by jail contractors. In December, Chairman Michael Page told the INDY he would propose an independent investigation into the jail. Do you believe such an investigation is necessary and should move forward?
The Sheriff’s Department has requested that the National Institute of Corrections conduct an independent inspection. I support this independent investigation taking place and if this can not be done in a timely manner, it may be necessary to request another outside entity to help with this process.
The Durham County Public Health Department is currently conducting an independent investigation around the recent death of an inmate. The Durham County Public Health Department is responsible for supervising the nutrition and medical care in the Detention Center and Durham County’s Criminal Justice Resource Center runs the STARR (Substance Abuse Treatment) Program and mental health services in the Detention Center. Both departments conduct regular reviews and inspections. In the past two weeks the Health Department conducted an unscheduled inspection due to a complaint.
What changes, if any, do you believe the sheriff’s office should make regarding the jail?
The National Institute of Corrections is the national expert on best practices. They will make recommendations for improvements in regards to their assessment of the jail. The recent Durham Public Health Department inspection yielded several areas for improvement (replacement of some mattresses, temperature of dishwasher, ect.) which the Sheriff will need to comply with. It is my understanding that the Sheriff may be submitting new RFP’s for providers of food and telephone services in the jail. According to current best practices and the national Stepping Up Initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in our jails and better address their needs, the Sheriff has stated his intention to open up two mental health pods- one male and one female- in the Detention Center but needs additional staffing levels to open these pods. Another important effort will be for law enforcement to divert those with mental health and substance abuse issues to Durham County’s 24 hour Durham Center Access facility and to expand our use of our Pretrial Release Program for low level charges to reduce our jail population in the first place.
10. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
One of the most recent controversial issues has been the proposed Durham Orange Light Rail System. I will continue to support this proposed project because I believe it is critical for the future of Durham and in the best overall interest of the people of Durham. I am hopeful that some of the current concerns of neighbors in the Downing Creek and Farrington Road neighborhoods can be addressed through some realignment, and through engineering, design and construction. A recent assessment of the current population that will be served through this proposed corridor shows that it will serve 24% of Durham’s population with a high percentage of low income and unemployed residents who do not own cars. I believe that the Light Rail project will be a vital tool for our community to tackle poverty by including affordable housing at every transit stop and giving people access to jobs at our major employment centers along the corridor. Durham is also now competing nationally and globally for talent and employers and we must be able to offer all transportation options to continue to be a great place to live and work and truly reach our potential. As we have seen in many other cities world- wide that already have light rail, a fixed corridor will also help us attract and manage new development as we continue to grow.