Erv Portman - Wake County Board of Commissioners | Candidate Questionnaires - Wake County | Indy Week
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Erv Portman - Wake County Board of Commissioners 

Name as it appears on the ballot: Erv Portman

Campaign website:

Phone number: 919 233 8551

Years lived in Wake County: 24

In your view, what are the three most pressing issues Wake County faces?

Wake is the second fastest growing county in America, managing the required infrastructure to keep up with that growth, while protecting what we all love about living here is the job. 

Building schools on time not in the traditional “crisis to bond” approach is required to ensure every student has a seat in a classroom. 

Protecting the air we breathe and water we drink is a stewardship responsibility that we must take seriously, our drinking water comes from our lakes and they are impaired… we must be sure we adopt the Lake Jordon rules to be sure our water supply is clean and safe for the next generation and beyond.

 If elected, what will you do to address these issues? 

Support the construction of schools sooner rather than later, and be sure our tax rate is sustainable so we don’t have to raise taxes every few years when we pass a school bond. The rate should be set to keep up with the growth of the county, anything less is misleading to voters who pay taxes and expect services for the money they pay. We should also establish more transparency on the money we spend and be sure we compare it to others high growth communities so we can be sure it’s not being wasted or misapplied. Transparency helps us all have confidence in what’s being done. 

Advocating state leaders to allow us to protect our lakes and drinking water is key to the future, recent changes by the Republican majority of the NCGA  place development interest above the health of our citizens and threaten to add to the pollution of our lakes and drinking water. We need the public to understand this relationship and results of their decision to abandon the Lake Jordon rules. 

Wake County’s growth has been rapid and promises to continue into the coming decades. What have been the county’s successes in managing this growth

Our success has been building on a solid diversified economy, leveraging on the strengths of the RTP and our universities. The vision of the last few generations was good and we are enjoying success as one of the best places to live because of that. The investments in parks greenways and open space have made us a remarkable community one that stands out and is attractive to live in. Its failures?  Too often we have not thought beyond each annual budget... schools don’t get built on time because the funds are not in place, schools get capped, overcrowded and kids are eating lunch at 11:00 am or 1:15 PM.

What would you do differently?

Identify and adopt a sustainable tax rate, one that will remain one of the lowest in the state and nation, but allow the required funds to keep up with growth without the need to raise taxes every few years, which has been the norm ( 10 increases in 30 years, on average 3.3 per decade)

How would your experience—in politics or otherwise in your career—make you an asset to the county’s decision-making process? Be specific about how this experience would relate to your prospective office. 

I am a business owner, my wife Susan and I started our company 20 years ago. In 2009 we built a new factory in Apex, in 2013 we doubled its size and invested in solar power to drive the production process. We hire engineers from our Universities and join their skills with graduates from Wake tech, creating a powerful combination. We invest in them and the latest equipment and software to allow them to compete and win in the global economy. That’s the experience I bring to public service, someone who knows what its like is to hire new employees, meet a payroll and balance a budget.

But I also bring a perspective of respectful advocacy to the governing table. I recognize that there are 7 seats on the county board and that we should not always agree, but when we advocate for a cause or issue respect the other board member who is advocating another view, they too want what they think is best of our community. Too often today, folks think if you agree with them you are correct and their friend, but if you don’t you are wrong or worse. 

That’s not democratic nor very American. I think this is a critical skill needed to be sure our government focuses on solving problems not fighting each other. I have done this on the Cary Town Council and the County Board, that’s why a majority of Wake Mayors, republican, democrat and Indedpendent support me in this race.

The Wake County transit referendum is a huge issue in the November election. Do you support the transit referendum? 

I do, I advocated for the voters to have the right to vote on the issue in 2012 when Durham and Orange took action. It’s a regional issue and Wake should not be leading from behind.

If so, why? If not, what would you do instead to ensure we have a functioning transportation system? 

I know that with our growth there comes a point that you can’t just keep widening roads. How big is too big? Do you want to live next to a 4 lane road, 6 lane, 8 lane? Sooner or later the fix is worse than the problem, we learned that in Cary. I also know we can’t pave our way out of this problem, every successful growing community is investing in mass transit so that citizens have that option. Each generations needs to shift and change and we should be aware of these needs and be sure we are addressing them.  As we double our population we need to adopt best practices and transit is one of these

What should be the county’s role in addressing issues of economic inequality, such as gentrification? Do you believe the current board is doing enough to help its municipalities manage Wake County’s growth in order to prevent current residents from being priced out? 

Great question, as we grow land prices rise, construction costs do too. We are growing because people want to live here, that’s good. We are reuniting families here, parents move to be close to grandchildren, brothers and sisters visit and like it here, they come too. Most of us stay… thats why we are growing.  We can and should do more to be sure we have a mix of housing options to meet all needs, density, mixed use, cluster development are all effective options. Every successful community has a healthy mix, how we plan, zone and develop can help shape this.

As a related question: Commissioner Jessica Holmes has proposed using currently unused school land to build affordable housing. Do you support this idea? Why or why not? Given state law constraints on rent control, what can the county do to keep housing affordable?

I think it is a great idea, and one that should be carefully vetted. If the land is excess or unusable by the school district we have two options, sell it or use it for a public good. Few could argue that affordable housing is not a public good. Every community needs to have great places to live for those who do vital services but have lower pay. Holding on to land we can’t use as parks, open space or schools, and have no plans to deploy,  is not the best option.

How would you describe yourself politically? How would your political views influence you as a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners?

I am a fiscally responsible, socially moderate individual. I work well with others and like to make fact based decisions, always seeking first to understand the root cause of the problem and be sure our solutions get to that cause not just the symptoms. I know there are some things we do better together, and some better done by individuals. 

The controversial redistricting of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, as well as the school board, was struck down by a federal court in July. Do you believe the power of redistricting should be left with the county? Should redistricting be independent or nonpartisan? Why or why not?

The actions of the republican majority in the NCGA are unprecedented and unconstitutional. After losing the majority control on the Wake Board of Education, they conspired to rig the way members are elected not statewide, no, just in 1 of NC 100 counties, Wake. Then in 2014 they did the exact same thing when they lost control of the county board, this is a pattern of abuse of power and a violation of their oath of office. That’s why I joined the lawsuit to stand up to their illegal overreach and I am thankful  the federal court of appeals could see clearly their actions were illegal overreach, I hope the voters see the same this fall and replace them for their actions.

Redistricting of legislative seats should be impartial and independent, as has been done successfully in other states. The political party and prior vote results should be removed from the redistricting database, and districts should be drawn logically to respect communities and natural boundaries, they should be logical shapes and minimum perimeter to the area inside them. This can easily be done with independent software and the result will be districts that reflect the community, not one party over another. This is critical to a functioning democracy. Both parties have a bad history of abuse here, its long overdue reform that will serve our state well for decades.

Do you approve of the job that the current Board of Commissioners and county staff is doing? What would you change about it? What do you think it does well?

The current board is a breath of fresh air, it is progressive thoughtful and smart, just like Wake County.  Staff has been doing better but can do more, too often staff see’s county revenue as their money to dole out not revenue paid by taxpayers to meet public needs. There is too much staff distrust of the board of education and school administration and it needs to be more cooperative and respectful on both sides. Both have important public work to do.

In the past few years, counties have had to pick up the slack for funding. Do you believe this is appropriate? How would you continue to make sure the county’s schools, teachers, and students are provided adequate funding?We need to be clear on our goals and plan. Are we going to get teacher pay to the national average, if so over what time frame? Are we going to teach our kids a second language as a part of basic public education, of so when? Only with these clear goals can we hold the state and county accountable to fund these needs. We must move from the “March madness” of  the annual budget fight, to a more comprehensive results driven master plan. It will take a decade, but we must start. The state must do its part. Only with a clear long range plan with public support can we hold the NCGA responsible to do their part. Wake can and should supplement to fill the gaps, but long term the state must do its part. Anything less is a shell game shifting responsibility from the state to local taxpayers.

Identify a principled stance you would willing to take, even if it meant risking re-election the next time you were up for it.

I supported several rezoning’s that were less intensive than the base zoning at times against vocal opposition. I did it because we saved open space, and developed with less traffic and in a way more needed for the neighborhood.  I also stood up to development that wanted to trample buffer requirements that are essential to protecting our drinking water.  I opposed the boards support for amendment 1, before Wake  county voters  rejected it. I fought for sustainability when the board majority scoffed it was not needed and was an Agenda 21 Un conspiracy. (My opponent agreed it was)

North Carolina is a “Dillon Rule” state, meaning that the only powers municipal and county governments have are the ones granted to them by the legislature. Would you like to see this changed?

Yes I favor home rule where decisions are made at the level of government closest to the people. Having 170 legislators determine teacher pay in every school in the state is not best practice.  The state telling towns and cities they can’t adopt protections for their drinking water is silly, as is the state saying we can’t set our own appearance standards. That’s overreach from the state and it should change. I have full confidence in our voters and if local boards do too much or too little voters will fix that. NC needs to recognize that times have changed over the decades and we no longer need a “know all” state legislature telling every town council what they can and can’t do. Let’s join the rest of the nation and elect local leaders, let them do their job and replace them when they don’t.

As a county commissioner I can’t change Dillon Rule, but I can speak to why it should be changed.

How would you work with state legislators from Wake County, as well as mayors and council members from the city’s municipalities, to ensure that Wake County, its municipalities, and the state are on the same page regarding policies that affect residents of Wake?

Respectfully… that why a majority of Wake mayors, republican, democrat and independent support my race, it’s also why the overwhelming majority of the county board and school board support me as well.

What current or former member of the Board of Commissioners do you most admire? Why? 

I admire Yevonne Brannon, Betty Lou Ward,  Sig Hutchinson and Jessica Holmes to name a few. These leaders have the ability to see the big picture and lead, not get tied down to just showing up and voting.  They are responsible for so much of what makes Wake great and I look forward to carrying on their work, and working with them in the future.

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

Justice requires we be fair, listen to all, and do the right thing in matters large and small. It also requires us to do so in a respectful and considerate manner. 

 Helping those most in need,  One generation educating the next, protecting our lakes and our drinking water, saving open space for parks and trails as we grow, taking care of stray animals and increasing the pet adoption rate, the objective is simple, do no harm and leave it better than we found it.

These are things I have done, and will strive to do, as best I can, one day at a time.


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