Independent Weekly Questionnaire

Independent Weekly Questionnaire

Tomorrow The Independent Weekly will release their coveted candidate endorsements, so I thought we should go ahead and post Mark’s responses to their questionnaire better late than never. He actually submitted this two weeks ago, and I had planned to post it here much sooner.

As you can see the questions are challenging, and Mark’s answers are thorough. The Indy also bases their endorsements on interviews with community leaders and journalists. I hope they will agree with me that Mark will bring some sorely needed progressive leadership to the Board of Orange County Commissioners.

1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

  1. Fulfilling our obligations to the Rogers Road community: Whatever decisions are ultimately made about solid waste disposal, the discussion must begin from the position that 1) there will be no further solid waste impacts on the Rogers Road community, and 2) we will finally provide the community with the long overdue compensations it is owed for the decades of bearing the substantial burdens of the county’s solid waste operations, including complete water and sewer connections to homes and comprehensive cleanup of illegal dumpsites. We also must quickly re-start the process, in collaboration with the towns, to develop a local waste disposal plan.
  1. Maintaining and enhancing our socio-economic, racial and ethnic diversity:  aggressively recruit and nurture economic development that meets social justice and environmental values as well as enhances non-residential tax base; increase support and incentives  that promote housing affordability and diversity and preserves existing and vulnerable communities; increase outreach to, participation by and government responsiveness to needs of underserved demographics, including low-wealth neighborhoods, communities of color, students, and rural areas.
  1. Developing a coordinated strategy and providing active leadership on critical emerging issues: the commissioners must adopt policies that highlight the interconnected nature of key issues and recognize that decisions regarding one directly implicate others.  The three biggest issues facing the county–transit, economic development, and solid waste– require smart, intentional strategies that will work synergistically to ensure that all communities benefit from the decisions that shape the county’s future.  That will require better coordination and leadership both within the county government itself, as well as with other governments in and around the county.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

I served on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen from 1999-2003, co-chaired Orange County’s Census 2000 Committee, and was a member of the county’s Affordable Housing Task Force.  I was a board member and president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro ACLU and a member of the legal redress committee of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.  I have been actively engaged in a number of local civil rights and social justice advocacy, including environmental justice issues in the Rogers Road community and opposition to Carrboro’s anti-lingering ordinance.

I also have years of work experience as a civil rights lawyer helping communities and community organizations advocate before local governments for more equitable treatment on issues regarding land use and development, solid waste, and access to public services.  I have developed a deep understanding of local government issues from the community advocate’s side, a perspective often lacking among elected officials.  This experience will prove critical in ensuring that the BOCC is effectively engaging all citizens, particularly those historically excluded by or alienated from local policy making.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am a politically committed to the fundamental values of civil rights, social justice, equity and community inclusion. These are the core themes in my campaign and must be the primary considerations in all county public policy.  I have worked with low- wealth neighborhoods and communities of color across the state and here in Orange County to secure access to public services, stop the placement of environmentally hazardous land uses, challenge school segregation and resegregation, promote affordable housing, and advocate for workers’ rights on behalf of low-paid city and state employees.  Every issue we currently face—solid waste, transit, economic development—must be approached with the challenge of addressing the growing inequities our community at the forefront.

4. Provide a review of Orange County’s trash decision. Are you satisfied with using Durham’s transfer station to transport trash to Virginia? Why or why not? Has the county done enough to address concerns at Rogers Road? What else needs to happen?

While I and many community advocates were thrilled that the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood was taken off the table, the 2009 decision to use the Durham waste transfer station was made in a reactive fashion and without full consideration of the impacts, including not only the costs but whether we would merely be victimizing another African American community.  At that time, I worked closely with Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association and the Coalition to End Environmental Racism. That September, two years after the search process began and the community had long been eliminated from consideration, a last minute site in the neighborhood was presented by county staff.  Consideration of this site ignored the established criteria and months of community input, and circumvented the selection process.

The post-hoc rationale offered for expanding solid waste uses in the community was that any costs savings would be used to fund water and sewer for Rogers Road.  This rationalization—which continued to crop up in discussions about the timetable for closing the landfill– was a betrayal of the neighborhood and of the values that our county purported to hold dear.  Infrastructure improvements have been recognized by local governments as compensation for prior decades of bearing the burdens of the county’s solid waste operations.  It was unacceptable to re-offer these same remedial measures as consideration for expanding solid waste uses.  It remains so today.

The county needs to make the full measure of mitigation to the Rogers Road community.  This includes providing water and sewer connections to homes without cost, full investigation and cleanup of all illegal dumpsites, and support for the community organization.  It is unconscionable for the county to refuse to investigate the dumpsites for fear of liability.  No other community in the county would accept that explanation and neither should Rogers Road.  In addition, the county should work together with Carrboro and Chapel Hill to revisit the annexation and land use plan that divides the community, and also develop and implement zoning, development and tax policies to prevent gentrification or pushout of current homeowners.

5. Building off of the landfill debate, what’s your view of the working relationship between the BOCC and Orange municipal governments? What’s worked well? What hasn’t? How will you change it, if needed?

The BOCC’s role is a complicated one—the commissioners are the primary level of government for those unincorporated portions of the county, but the secondary level for residents of the towns.  Given the dual nature of the BOCC’s role, there must be greater substantive collaboration and cooperation between the county and the municipal governments in developing both effective county and municipal policies that serve our collective goals and recognize the interconnection of issues being addressed by various county and town agencies. It is worth noting that no current member of the BOCC has ever served as a municipal elected official.

The recent dissension over a southwest branch library and the disjointed decision-making on solid waste are examples where better communication and cooperation earlier in the process would have produced outcomes with greater community engagement and support.  Those areas (like solid waste) where the county has the ultimate decision making role should be viewed as a hierarchy of responsibility (which encourages collaboration and synthesis in decision making), rather than a hierarchy of authority.  I will use my past experience as an Alderman and as a community advocate to encourage more effective collaboration among elected officials, as well as among residents.

6. With Wal Mart’s application to build a store in Chatham, Orange could have three major shopping centers—Wal Mart, Tanger Outlets and New Hope Commons—just across its borders. What, in your view, lead to this situation? Assess the county’s work in the last two years on economic development and your priorities for the next four.

The shopping centers along our borders reflect developers’ interest in taking advantage of the appealing demographics of Orange County and our county’s reputation (deserved, but also exaggerated) of being a place that is hostile to economic growth.  We have been ineffective at selling the former and addressing the latter.  For a long time, our economic development policy focused primarily on what we didn’t want to see here, rather than on what we do.  That has begun to change, but now the driving force now seems to be merely increasing the commercial tax base.  While this will be a result of economic development, it cannot be the end goal. Our priorities must be to seek out and nurture development that meets and effectively balances the community’s values and what community economic developers refer to as the triple bottom line: economic growth, equity and environmental protection.  We have been very successful at addressing the third prong; we now need to equally emphasize the first two.  This should include a focus on job creation, local employment and community benefits agreements.  We must also maximize the potential offered by the new economic development districts.  Every place wants to recruit high paying jobs and environmentally-friendly light industry; we have the community resources to attract such development and our planning, engagement and approval processes should incentivize it coming here.

7. What’s your stance on regional transit and specifically the half-cent regional rail tax? What should a long-range transit plan include for Orange? What should it not include?

The continuing development of regional transit is critical but should not be considered in isolation from other issues.  I am hopeful that the transit tax will be on the ballot and approved in November and disappointed it is not scheduled for a vote in May. The plan should broadly include the range of mass transit options (local and regional rail and bus, on-demand services, paratransit) that will most effectively facilitate the use and development of public transportation.  The commissioners have let the question of who will use the services eclipse important public education about the collective value for our entire community of a comprehensive transit plan, including reduced traffic congestion, less dependence on fossil fuels, and connecting otherwise isolated residents and communities to jobs and service.  In addition, insufficient attention has been paid to promoting how transit oriented residential and commercial development and redevelopment can create new opportunities for mixed income, mixed use neighborhoods and help reduce sprawl.

8. Candidates can choose to run either at-large or in the district in which he or she resides. Explain your decision. Do you see district representatives serving different interests than at-large commissioners? Name two issues specific to your district and your plans to address them.

While my vision of county government one that I believe is broadly shared by residents throughout the county, it resonates particularly strongly among voters in District 1.  In addition, my history and experience in Carrboro and Chapel Hill makes the southern portion of the county my natural and traditional constituency.   The primary responsibility of all the commissioners is to act in the best interests of the county as a whole. The district electoral model recognizes the diverse aspects and interests among county residents.  As a representative of District 1, it will be my responsibilities to honor those interests in making effective county-wide policy. I see the various commissioners not so much as having different interests but different perspectives. The challenge is being able to reconcile those perspectives with broader policy values.  My experience of serving on the Board of Alderman, as well as an advocate for communities before the commissioners will help me effectively do that.

Construction of the southwest branch library and the development of a longer range sold waste plan are both critical to the district.  As previously noted, both issues demand improved communication and collaboration between the towns and the county, and I intend to bring a voice to the commissioners that will better reflect and convey the particular interests of the district.  The county must accept that a one size fits all model all county services (e.g. libraries) is neither practical nor effective, as it fails to adequately acknowledge our diverse community.  At the same time, helping the county establish clear and consistent overarching policy values will ensure those are also fully considered.

The commissioners also need to promote greater public interaction and engagement among residents of the various area of the county, and build a county-wide sense of community.  A county fair would be an opportunity for us all to come together and celebrate the diversity and richness of our county.

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

My personal and professional experience in community advocacy and my determined commitment to public outreach and engagement will enable me to help increase diverse and meaningful participation and engagement in local government. While we are a community that prides itself on public participation, that participation is relatively homogenous and therefore presents a limited perspective.  I will recruit underrepresented populations—communities of color, low wealth and working class residents, students and youth–  for all elements of government including appointed commissions and boards, county employment, and government contractors.  Additionally, transparency and open government must mean more than merely that meetings are public.  Decision-making that is unnecessarily complicated or technical, that prioritizes process over substance, or that fails to adequately value resident input undermines the people’s confidence in and their meaningful engagement in the process.

10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.

Accepting responsibility for our own solid waste will require a decision by the commissioners on locating a disposal facility of some kind in the county. That decision will undoubtedly engender significant opposition and invariably alienate some voters. We must also ensure that decision is faithful to core principle of environmental justice.

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