I believe it’s critical that we address the growing racial and socio-economic disparities in our county. Reducing these inequities must be the main goal of all county policies. In our decisions to honor the debt to Rogers Road, provide services to those in need, ensure economic opportunities for our youth, protect the assets or our elderly, preserve the environment, and fully embrace the diversity of Orange County, our core values of equity and inclusion must be paramount.
Orange County is one of the most progressive counties in the state. We should be setting an example of how innovative public policies– based on our fundamental principles of social justice and citizen engagement and empowerment —can effectively address the critical issues we confront: community development, land use, education, employment and criminal justice.
Last week a column in the Carrboro Citizen noted that Orange County has one of the highest poverty rates in the state. Given the significant economic and social resources in our community, high per capita income, and the presence of the premier public university in the south, this stark reality is shameful. If these inequities continue, it is because we won’t address them, not because we can’t.
One of the major tasks for the county commissioners is creating the county budget. We must remember that budgets reflect values. As we seek solutions to the problems of transit, solid waste, and economic development, we must ensure that all county policies prioritize social justice and equity.
I believe that for the county to move forward, we must:
- Promote affordable housing: develop policies designed to preserve historic neighborhoods, promote diverse housing options, and assist distressed communities;
- Create healthy neighborhoods: reduce environmental injustice and risks, improve access to fresh and affordable food, and promote development near public transit;
- Refocus land use, zoning and planning priorities: enhance neighborhood assets, encourage development that meets community needs, and expand access to infrastructure and resources;
- Implement community focused economic development: strengthen community based programs, use community mapping to target placement of resources at the neighborhood level, and ensure local hiring and minority contracting;
- Increase diverse and meaningful participation and engagement in local government: recruit underrepresented populations for all elements of government including appointed commissions and boards, county employment, and government contractors; ensure that all decision-making is transparent, accessible and participatory; and eliminate jargon, overly technical descriptions and complicated procedural requirements that undermine the people’s confidence and meaningful engagement in the process.
I look forward to the campaign and to beginning the conversation. Together, we can fulfill the great promise of our county and our community.