Two Counties, One Election

I'm an old school Orange County boy, raised knee-deep in the band of red mud that streaks across our county. My wife, though, was born on Long Island and grew up in Manhattan. Its a trying mix of cultures at our house at times, but its fun.

We've shared a few trips to the Big Apple and even she, given the distance of years, can see the New York-centric viewpoint of her friends that remain there. You know, of course, about [NY socialite, mayoral candidate, etc...] that - can you believe it? - did [something New Yorkers think is silly]? What? You don't know about that? Cue sidelong glances and suggestions that living in the boonies has seriously dampened one's ability to discern Important News. Anything that happens in New York City is worldwide news, right?

This is nothing new. People have been poking fun at overly New York-centric New Yorkers for decades. We all know the salsa commercial where even the flies stop buzzing when the cowboy relates the address of the maker of the offending competitor: New York City?!

Well, we progressive Orange County sorts have a similar problem. I'm pretty sure I'm not the first to notice. ;)

The center of mass for Orange County progressives lies somewhere between Top of the Hill and Spanky's. That is, deeply in the South-East corner of the county, at the principle Chapel Hill crossroads.. You may not realize it, but head North slightly in Orange County and you'll hear "Chapel Hill" said with the same sneer and derisive tone as they say "New York City" in that salsa commercial.

Chapel Hill. Get any of those folks North of Homestead Road and they're lost
Chapel Hill. Can't they just put a solar farm out in that useless pasture so I can charge my Prius?
Chapel Hill. Lets turn your woodland into a bike path, mkay? Pay? Why would we pay?

It ain't pretty. More often than not, folks out in the county look on Chapel Hill as the wayward child, getting all the attention, but using it only to further its own myopic agenda. Meanwhile, Chapel Hills seems to see itself in a paternal role, taking care of the rest of the county, because, lord help them, those backward folks sure can't take care of themselves! In practice this has Chapel Hill seeing the rest of the county as its land use commissary: we'll put a regional airport here, a landfill there, hiking paths for our weary workers there. Its for the good of the County, and you have all this wide open land not being used anyway!

Where did we go wrong? How did we create this situation where Chapel Hill/Carrboro and the rest of the county are at such odds with each other? Part of the problem is... democracy.

Chapelboro has the population density and the wealth concentration that guarantee a candidate's success regionally if they appeal to the majority of that population and that wealth. Thats fine for state or national elected offices. But, for the County Commissioners who are charged with making decisions for the County, its a problem. With a pure majority-rules election to the Board, the county outside of Chapelboro risks having no representation at all in the decisions that affect them far more than they affect folks in Chapelboro. County decisions on land use, SUPs, road work, etc... are things folks in Chapelboro rarely care about or are even aware of - they have local municipalities managing that.

The County Commissioners sort of addressed this a while back by creating the system we have today. The county is divided into two districts that are, more or less, Chapelboro (D1) and Rest of County (D2). Candidates are nominated through primary elections within the districts and the seven member board is made up of three members from D1, two from D2, and two "at-large" members. However, while the nominations are by district, the election is county-wide. So, even the candidates specifically nominated to represent D2 have to lean towards the D1 population & wealth center to gain support and votes. To the folks in Caldwell or Cedar Grove or Schley this is maddening. Why should the candidates they've nominated have to run down to Chapelboro to campaign?

I can't say I entirely disagree. I'm not suggesting it would heal the rift between Chapelboro and the rest of the county, but allowing the rest of the county unadulterated representation on the Board of County Commissioners would certainly be a start.



I agree with the suggestion that in the general election that only the district residents should vote for the district seat. The commissioners could put that issue on the November ballot and let the voters decide for 2018 and beyond. There are just three counties that have the system Orange does


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