A major theme of my campaign is to ensure that our fundamental values of social justice, equity, and community engagement are the primary considerations in all county decision making. A key component to achieving this vision requires all of us –elected officials in each local government and residents throughout Orange County– to work together to achieve our collective potential. We need to put aside the differences we too often let divide us, and celebrate the diversity that make our community so unique. What better way to embrace the agriculture, artisans, craftspeople, musicians, and creativity in Orange County, bring the whole community together, and create an annual economic boost than a county fair?
That’s what I’d like to see: a fair county and a county fair.
As most of you know, on May 8 voters will have the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the state constitution that will make marriage between a man and a woman “the only legal union” recognized by our laws. This amendment is grounded in hate, exclusion and discrimination, and will enshrine second class citizenship for gays and lesbians in our state constitution. Ironically, it was only 40 years ago that the prohibition on interracial marriage was removed from that document, and even then only as a result of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that recognized such vile provisions violated the federal constitution.
This amendment will hurt residents all across our state, but it will have some severe and particular harms here in Orange County, where the County Commission currently provides the full range of employee benefits to domestic partners and their families (as do the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill). If the amendment passes, it will immediately strip from these citizens tangible and vital benefits upon which they depend and, perhaps most importantly, will violate our most cherished and fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, the equal protection of law.
I refuse to let that happen. If I’m elected county commissioner, I’m required to take an oath that I will uphold the U.S. Constitution, and the constitution and the laws of North Carolina “not inconsistent therewith.” This amendment is an attack on our community and our values, and is fundamentally inconsistent with the federal constitution’s promise of equal protection of law. We cannot sit idly by or feel sorry for ourselves however. I will insist that the commissioners, in accordance with our oath, continue to pay those benefits and will work to get every other local government that also provides these benefits to do the same.
In the course of my work as Managing Attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, I’ve written op-eds and commented on a number of critical issues about or affecting local government. To provide some background on me and my thinking on these matters, I’ve linked several of these below.
Today I filed my candidacy for Orange County Commissioner for District 1. I want to serve the residents of the county as we all face the challenges to reaching our potential as a community.
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.