Earl McKee—Orange County Board of Commissioners, District 2 | Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County | Indy Week
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Earl McKee—Orange County Board of Commissioners, District 2 

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Name: Earl McKee
Website: www.earlmckee.com
Phone: 919-812-3248
Email address: mckeeagri@yahoo.com
Years lived in Orange County: 65

Question - #1 Three most pressing issues
In order of importance the three most pressing issues are:
• Ensuring that ALL of our children receive an education that enables them to compete in tomorrow’s world regardless of their ability, cultural background or racial identity
• Addressing the increasing gentrification of Orange County
• Focusing our economic development efforts on businesses that align with Orange County values
I will continue to advocate for improvement in outcomes for our at risk kids in order to level the playing field. We must fund programs that are tailored to the needs of the children rather than expecting all children to adapt to a “one size fits all” curriculum. I will support funding needs to accommodate these goals and also to meet our facilities needs.
Our efforts on affordable housing will need to be broadened to ensure that working families can continue to live in Orange County. I am the commissioner that suggested moving 1 million dollars to a fund to address the closing of mobile home parks and will continue to look for and work with others to find creative ways to address this problem.
We have been careful in our business recruitment efforts to try to attract companies that pay good wages and provide benefits to their employees. The jobs these companies bring are as important as the additional taxes. I will continue to advocate for jobs that all of our residents can access.

Question - # 2 Qualifications
I have been active in the community all of my adult life. Serving as an officer in my church, in community and civic organizations and professional groups has allowed me to develop the ability to identify issues and work in a collaborative manner to address these issues. Helping to establish and lead a local fire department in the Caldwell community during the mid-70’s as well as farming for a living has sharpened my ability to lead by example. I have taken that experience and used it as a commissioner, Vice Chair and Chair of the board, to ensure that all of our residents receive services that they need. Serving on local boards, as well as regional boards, brings experience that serves Orange County well as we work with our neighbors. Some of these boards are:
• Orange County ABC board
• Communities in Schools
• Orange County Fire Chiefs Association
• Cardinal Innovations
• Upper Neuse River Basin Association
• Triangle Area Rural Planning Board
• Burlington – Graham Metropolitan Board
Question - # 3 Voting and experience
Without listing the entire record of votes I would identify three votes as of major importance.
• The vote to move ahead with the Rogers Rd. Community Center without waiting for an agreement on Sewer and Water for the Community. I was the commissioner that insisted that we move ahead with building the center regardless of whether we had partners or not. That vote set a precedent for moving forward with looking to build other community centers. It also ensured that the community center was not held hostage to the sewer and water issue as to timing.
• The vote to install infrastructure in the Buckhorn EED and approve the incentives to Morinaga for their candy facility. This elevated economic development as a priority in the county and moved us toward ensuring jobs at all education levels for all of our residents. That also changed the perception of many in the business community that Orange County was not open to business development and helped open the door to expansions at several existing companies and the location of many smaller firms on the county.
• Although it was a vote on a resolution, our vote to oppose Amendment 2 made a statement that Orange County would never close the doors on opportunity and inclusion for all people. I received pushback on this vote but consider that pushback to be affirmation that I made the right choice.

Question - # 4 Define yourself politically
I am a moderate Democrat. I consistently vote to maintain a responsible and balanced financial position for the county that provides as many services for those in need as possible without raising taxes to a level that would force out many of our lower and possibly middle income folks. I believe that government at all levels must be open to input from all viewpoints and then try to find a middle ground that serves as many as possible without imposing undue limitation.
On social justice issues, I tend to lean toward moving forward quickly rather than using those issues as a means of scoring points. The best example of this is my insistence that we move quickly on the Rogers Rd. Community Center rather than continue to talk about it.

Question - # 5 How should Orange County grow
I have touched on this on some of the other questions but I believe that we have to be open to companies locating here that bring opportunity to all of our residents regardless of education or training level. We must be careful to ensure that there is a match between the company culture and that of the county to protect what makes this an attractive place to live, work and play. That is the guiding principle used in the recruitment process thus far and was very effective in the conversations with Morinaga and Wegmans.
Question - # 6 Challenges with growth – successes and failures
Growth brings about challenges but lack of growth brings about stagnation and eventual death to a community. One only needs to look at some of our communities to the east that were tobacco dependent to see our future if we lock out growth. The flip side is a “gated” community if we only allow a select few companies that focus on medical or technology related fields. We cannot allow either of these possibilities to occur in Orange County and I believe that the steps that our board has taken for business recruitment is moving us toward a bright future for all of our residents.
Transportation issues will be a challenge as we move forward and I believe that a better course of action to address this would have been to have built out a comprehensive local transit system before moving to a system such as light rail. I view such a transit system as a final piece of a regional solution rather than a starting point before we have effective transit solutions for our most transit dependent populations. This in my view is a major mistake.
Residential development is going to be another issue that must be addressed in a manner that takes into account personal preference on housing with the need to control building sprawl. The regulations put in place over the past few years seem to be addressing this issue fairly well but we will need to continue to fine tune these issues as problems arise.

Question - # 7 What to do about economic inequality
There is no doubt that some of our residents are being forced out. This is somewhat a result of the regulations that I spoke of in the previous question. Limitations on the availability of sewer and water have caused prices of the available land that can be used for dense development to skyrocket. Areas outside of sewer and water availability are increasingly expensive due to regulations on acreage.
Economic inequality is also affected by education outcomes and job opportunities. In fact, I believe that the long term solution is to focus on educating each and every child to the greatest extent possible. I favor moving to universal pre –K in our schools to help ensure that every child starts their schooling on the same level. Once these children, and all of our residents, are in the job market we must have opportunities available at all salary levels in order to have a healthy economic base.

Question - #8 Experience
Much of this is covered in question #2 but my life experience as a farmer and community leader prepared me for service on the board. Once I decided to run for a seat on the board I dedicated myself to learning as much as possible about the board and its demands. This involved securing a seat on the planning board and then attending commissioner meetings for a full year before announcing an intention to run. Once elected, I committed to total involvement and made an effort to become involved in all aspects of county government. My election as Vice Chair and then Chairman of the Board was a result of being able to work with the other board members in a collaborative manner. I believe that my experience and track record speak to my ability to continue to serve the residents of Orange County in an effective manner.

Question - # 9 Dillon Rule
North Carolina is and has always been a “Dillon Rule” state and I do not see that changing regardless of which party holds power in the Legislature. Therefore, I will continue to do what I have done for the last 7 ½ years which is to stay in close contact with our representatives. I will also continue to travel to Raleigh when an issue that affects Orange County is being considered. Over the past few years I have made that trip at the request of our representatives or on my own. I will continue to do that if elected for another term.
I will continue to work with the elected representatives of our municipal bodies to ensure we are all on the same page on local issues as well as those addressed by the legislature.

Question - # 10 HB-2 and living wage
Regardless of what roadblocks the legislature places on anti-discrimination and living wage ordinances I will continue to push for Orange County to protect all of its residents from all forms of discrimination. I will work with staff and interested parties to devise methods that ensure a level playing field for everyone. We already have a program that invites employers to pay a wage that aligns with the living wage for Orange County and it is having a positive impact on our residents as well as promoting a better work environment for the employees. The support from the business community has been encouraging and is continuing to build as the effort ramps up. Orange County is leading the way by raising all of its employees to the current level and will continue to adjust the pay scale as needed. None of this is outside of the current bounds of the HB-2 legislation and should further restrictions develop, we will again develop ways to protect our own.

Question - # 11 position change due to opposing information
As an elected official one must be open to new information or convincing arguments. There have been many times that I have been influenced by both and either adjusted my thinking or changed my position on a subject. I will speak to three of those issues.
• Upon being seated on the board I would have sold off land that had been bought for parkland but not developed. This was based on my belief that that expenditure was not warranted. After conversations with other commissioners and urban residents I came to understand the importance of having land “banked” for future use. Very few people have the advantage of owning hundreds of acres to use as they please and for most, parkland is their only outlet to the outdoors.
• When the legislature defunded drug court I was reluctant to have the county pick it up until talking to two of our local Judges. Their explanation of the real world need for the program and the consequences of its demise flipped me from a skeptic to an advocate for the program.
• Prior to being elected in 2010 I was not a proponent of public transportation. That started to change as I talked to people in various parts of the county that had limited options due to circumstances beyond their control. My support for building out an urban style transit system county wide starting in Chapel Hill / Carrboro and Hillsborough / Mebane and then connecting it to every community in the county strengthened as my opposition to the light rail plan developed.

Question - # 12 principled stand to risk defeat at the polls
There are several stands that I have taken: continued careful economic development, holding the line on tax increases, limiting burdensome regulations are a few but one stands out.
I will not now or ever change my stance on the current light rail plan. If an explanation is needed, look at the last bullet of the previous question. In talking to hundreds of folks around Orange County I have become convinced that unless we provide for the transit needs of our most at risk people first, we cannot consider ourselves progressive or caring.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit my views on these subjects. I believe that over the past 7 plus years I have grown into this position and represent a large and growing number of people in Orange County. I will continue to support what I feel is good for Orange County and oppose those things that folks have valid concerns over. I will continue to work for a brighter future for our residents.


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