Nelson runs for County Commissioner

I couldn't be happier to announce the web site (and campaign of course) of Mike Nelson for Orange County Commissioner! This year the seats of Alice Gordon, Steve Halkiotis, and Barry Jacobs will be open. I don't think any of them has announced whether they are running. Candidates have until February 28 to file for the primary.

Mike deserves some credit for helping Carrboro become the wonderful and successful place it is right now. He is poised to be a strong leader on environmental issues, which are currently staring the county in the face. And he also has plenty of experience with social and economic issues as the former Mayor of Carrboro.

The support of the current county commissioners for extending water and sewer lines into the Rural Buffer is one of the main reasons I have decided to run. The Rural Buffer, separating Chapel Hill/Carrboro from the rest of the county, is one of Orange County's greatest assets. We should cherish it and seek to protect it at all costs.

He even has a blog. En garde!




Geez......the same thoughtful treatment given to the homeowners newly-annexed (and now held hostage) by Carrboro could be extended to the rest of Orange County. He might be your cup of tea, but I sincerely hope voters in Orange County will see him for the divisive force that he has been in Carrboro (unless you are part of the groovy crowd) and send him packing. We need to do better than this.


Thank you for your kind words and for posting this announcement. I appreciate it.

If folks want more information, check out my website at And for folks inclined to contribute, you may do that online. (Sorry for the shameless plug, Ruby! But this campaign is a lot larger than when I ran in Carrboro. It's going to take some resources.)

I'll send you (curmudgeon that I am!) all the money I have left over after paying my new tax bill.

Yes, God forbid we turn all of Orange County into a center for art, music and creativity, full of folks who LOVE being part of it all. Think of all the damage a county-wide music or poetry festival would cause. I just can't stand the fact that Nelson helped build Carrboro into one of the top U.S. arts towns. What an awful reputation to have.

Just a note, RobertC...Mary is also one of the "hostages". spurs more questions than answers on the topic of education.

Now that a merger of the two school systems is off the table, ...

All it takes is a second to get it back on the table. So what is Mr. Nelson's position on merger?

... both sides should come together with renewed vigor to support efforts to both equalize funding between the two school systems ...

And how does Mr. Nelson propose that this be accomplished?

A) Cut CHCCS taxes and slash CHCCS funding?
B) Tax OCS? Does he interpret the district tax defeat as OCS residents exercising local control over their own taxes or as something else?

I found these to be interesting avoidances of the real issues and am curious to hear the real scoop.


Good questions Mark. Hope you'll give Mike Nelson a chance. I am sure he wants the same excellent equitable educational opportunities for all children that you and I do. I would guess too that Mike is well aware of the complexities of our community and county, and wants to find the best solutions and have all parties involved at arriving at it. I think the 'real scoop' is that he is coming at this with an open mind and realizes how foolish it would be for him to think that he has figured out the right solution when no one else has. (This is all my hunch.)

I guess the question that comes to my mind is why we should expect Mike Nelson to behave in the noble fashion Mary describes. Ask the folks forcibly annexed (and now held hostage) by Carrboro. They can tell you exactly how he approaches things. The difference between his behavior and Mary's description is the difference between black and white. When someone who runs for higher office doesn't have constructive ideas that really address the issues facing a jurisdiction, all they have to offer is assurances about the process for developing and implementing constructive ideas. We have seen this fellow in operation. No thanks. We need somebody much better. Of course, it would be just like the rest of the groovy crowd in Carrboro to ignore the voters (who have already spoken on school taxation).

RobertC, I have an answer for you, but obligatory Super Bowl Party in Cary calls... oy!

And, for the record, I haven't thought of myself as "groovy" in over 30 years.

Here's what I think RobertC. I think annexation should have been put off until January 2007. If my recollection serves me right, Nelson's thinking at the time of the vote was that annexed neighborhoods enjoy the privileges of both towns to the same degree as tax-paying close neighbors (including LHF) and he felt the time had come for us to start paying our fair share. I think most reasonable people agree that we all had a sweet deal out here and wouldn't escape taxes forever. The issues of realized contiguous development, fire safety, sewer hook ups, street lights, road improvements, splitting Roger's Road, and voter disenfranchisement were all sticking points; however, I think the aldermen and Nelson, took all but one of these legitimate complaints very seriously. The complaint they messed up on (in my mind) was voter disenfranchisement and this has left many, including myself, with lingering concerns about being heard. Not having a vote in the past election was hard. I couldn't vote, but I did advocate for two candidates who I know deeply care about how we develop up here: Alex and Randee. I support Mike too because of his solid grasp of environmental issues (local, regional, global) and his carefully considered stands on growth and development. (BTW, Mike voted against Winmore---and I can't remember why…) Like I said, I think annexation should have been put off until January 2007--- but it wasn't. Am I going to hold this against Nelson? No. By and large I agree with most of the decisions he has made, and I think he is a reasonable person. I'll add that I remember reading Nelson's response to a question ---the question was something like, ‘What has lobbying for the environment taught you?'---and his response was something like, ‘not to pre-judge people.' Well, it doesn't get much better than that. What I think most annexees are stinging from right now is a feeling of not being heard and of being pre-judged. It's also completely legitimate for annexxees to be concerned about tax bills and how Carrboro spends money. For most people, it's not about greed; it's about an uncertain future and putting kids through college. I'm not happy with everyone on the current BoA, but I hope in time, I relent, forgive and meet where I can with those I feel oppositional towards.

BTW, Ryan Tuck—I'm glad to see some good people on the committee---especially Lisa (lives close to CN) and Anita (great communicator).

Gee, Mike! I will finally be able to vote for you! I live in the county, yet not inside the city limits, and as much as I wanted to vote for you as Mayor, I was not able to...

I share a concern for the sanctity of the rural buffer and will look for your updates.


Jamie Daniel, who ran an unsuccesful campaign in 2004, told us this weekend that he also planned to file for the May primary.

I was never able to get in touch with Halkiotis, but both Jacobs and Gordon said they would be announcing their plans sometime in the future.

Well, Daniels doesn't stand a chance. No Republican has ever won a commissioner seat. The county commissioners will be chosen by a relative handful of voters in the Democratic primary.

Thanks for the vote of confidence. My hope is that with term limits and district representation, everyone in the county will have a voice on the BOCC.
I know many people can't see themselves voting for a Republican. I understand, I just wish that we didn't have those prejudices at the local level(see press release

I plan to vote on based on a laundry list of issues, including fiscal responsibility, election reform (non-partisan elections, super-precinct, ditching district representation idea) and a variety of others... I don't plan to count anyone out until I've heard folks positions.

I can respect that. One of the things I will be pushing for, when elected, is non-partisan county elections. That is the only way you can tell how a candidate will perform in office, by judging the candidate and not the party. I am happy to see we think along the same lines.

Jamie, I gotta say I like the torch logo and tagline. Made me smile.

Jamie, although I have voted mostly for democrats, every once in a while a republican comes up on my radar screen. Like Will said, it's about the issues. It's unfortunate that people don't vote the best candidate, rather than base their franchise on party politics.

I like term limits. It's healthy for everyone. A good leader finds good people to sustain good ideas. There is something wrong when a leader stays stuck in the same seat and feels like his/her ideas can't live on without him.

Mary - where were you and Mike N. when moses was running for his 7th term in office (28 years)?

All of a sudden everyone (including Mike N. web site) are "framing" the election about fresh leadership and term limits... The landscape was "framed" a lot differently only 2 years ago.. I wonder why??? hmmmm..


My statement has nothing to do with you being a Republican or whether or not I'd vote for a Republican (don't tell anybody but I voted for Fred "The Chief" Heineman), but with the political reality of county commissioner elections. It's a system that the good liberals of Orange County have protected for decades because it slants the field their way.

term limits will require a State constitutional amendment (3/5 vote in each house and statewide referendum)

The idea of non partisan elections is certainly worth exploring and that may eventually happen, but what are voters to do in the meantime? Are we to think of party affiliation as a casual choice that carries no particular meaning?

For better or for worse a person's party affiliation signals a world view that I can't quite bring myself to ignore. And the world view I see reflected in the Republican Party today is insufferable. Which means that no matter how much a candidate says "look at me as as a person and not as a partisan cog" . . . well, I just can't do it. The person you want me to look at is a person who intentionally chose to be aligned with a party that is perpetrating untold destruction on the common good, the environment, political integrity, and the cause of peace in the world. I just can't get past it.

Jim, leaving "signals" aside, %30 of OC has made the choice to be independent of affiliations.

So much for term limits...

Honestly, JB, could anyone have heard any frame besides bad-guy merger/ good-guy no-merger last time?

Will, it's actually 24%, not 30%

I feel better knowing only 1/4 voters are out of luck, thanks Gerry!

I'm looking at who voted in the muni elections, any idea of the % breakdown of "likely" voter affiliations county-wide based on the '04/'05 election cycles?

If it's anything like the Chapel Hill election, you'll note an interesting shift.

One additional note regarding Mr. Nelson's "merger is off the table" website comment is that merger is apparently still on the table given this Thursday's BOCC agenda, which has an item for consideration entitled "9b. Discussion Regarding Inclusion of School Merger Option in School Equity Considerations"

I agree Mark. They are going to force merger on the people of Orange County. This is why we need term limits. After this long in office, they have ignored the will of the people. Enough is enough.

The county elections bear little resemblance to the Chapel Hill elections because of party affiliation. Straight party ticket voting skews the results to the point where you don't really know how many people made a conscious decision to support a particular candidate.

Non-partisan commissioner elections would allow independents to run without the onerous ballot access restrictions.

Does anyone know if the orange county school board ever answered the question of how they expect to get more money for schools?

The commissioners asked this to the school board (along with a list of other questions) and I have not heard an answer yet...

I hope it wasn't the tax fairy..

JB-- Are you Jay? I have a question. It used to be that city school activists were pretty cool about raising county-wide ad valorem taxes and decreasing the city district tax commensurately. Is that still something you and others are comfortable with-- or did the district tax vote change your mind? In other words, has the general feeling of activist city parents moved towards not interfering with county taxes at all and leaving things alone?

I don't speak for anyone else...

However, personally I found the fact that some of the county school board members who were covertly willing to put on a merger tax of 21% were not willing to support a nickle tax for the county a bit appaling. (I think saying that 80% of the people voted against because they support higher taxes but oppose the mechanism is very disingenious). None of the school board in chapel hill/carrboro would likely oppose increased taxation for schools (which is what this whole discussion comes down too).

If some of the county school board members supported a countywide supplemental tax I probably would go along. But someone on the county school board needs to show some spine on ballot issues. Either running on a clear position before an election (which the covert promerger people did NOT do) or supporting a ballot measure.

Your questions are better directed at the elected school board of Orange County. That is why the commissioners posed the question to them.

Actually, my preference would be to eliminate this bizarre system where the school board puts together a budget and the BOCC decides how to fund it. In most states the school board also levies taxes for schools which is how it should be here too. A few county school boards have this authority but Orange would need authorization but would require people like Moses to give in which he wouldn't.
"Right now, four local school districts have taxing authority. School boards in Roanoke Rapids, Mooresville and Weldon each add a supplemental property tax for schools. The Hickory school board has the authority, but has never used it."

I would support any candidate in favor of transfering both budgeting and funding of schools to the school board - just like 39 other states already do.

JB --

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've never been covert about my feelings about merger. I have always been very open about the fact that I think merger is what will ultimately have to happen to rid ourselves of this financial mess we've gotten ourselves into with regards to funding education in Orange County.

But you know, I don't think we're asking the right set of questions here. It's not about whether someone like me is promerger or antimerger or whether our school board has answered another series of questions. (BTW -- They may be forthcoming, but our board hasn't received any questions from the commissioners of late.) It's answering the questions: does every child deserve equal access to the resources they need? (I'm sure we'd all answer yes) and how do we go about doing that? Well, yes, merging the school systems is one option and always will be. But it's obvious this community isn't going to explore that route at this time. And given that life, not to mention childhood, is short, we must move on to other options to address how to get more resources for our children and do it now.

As I've very openly stated in many arenas, I contend we can raise the ad valorem tax and at the same time lower the CH district tax and over time close the funding gap. I can't imagine a more perfect time than spring of 2005 to have begun traveling down that road. I even heard advocates for the CH system say they could go for that, but yet, the commissioners raised the CH district tax. That move only deepened the gap and totally confounded many advocates for Orange County Schools.

I guess what I don't get is why we, as one community, are taking so long to make real progress on this front. Yes, there has been collaboration around some issues, which has gotten us talking more and we've looked at ways to save money as a county. But our system has had to cut AIG teaching positions such that we have some of our elementary schools sharing one AIG position, we have no science labs at Stanback Middle School, we're woefully understaffed in our central office and maintenance department, we'd like to honor our most seasoned teachers with a higher supplement, we lack resources to establish mentoring programs for our at-risk students, and I could go on and on.

Imagine all the energy we could put into other issues if we took tangible steps to address the funding gap between our two school systems. I mean, if the Orange County Schools could receive more from the local budgeting process, you wouldn't have people fearing that that their “neighbor” harbors covert desires to merge. Sheesh! You wouldn't have people like me stirring things up. We could take some satisfaction knowing that we're doing the best we can by all the children in the county.


Libbie -

I personally support higher taxes for education. I have pointed out that even the "rich" chapel hill schools spend 40% less per pupil than Durham Academy (the local private school of choice). And this doesn't even include Durham Academy's 2000$ initiation fee and includes all state monies as well. So I think we are getting a bargain. (also as you know as an educator private schools do not have to take special ed or "problem" kids and certainly not free lunch kids as well - so the amount to be done/dollar is even greater in public schools).

You should know that over the last several years teacher's aids have been cut from the CHCCS schools so I would argue that even in the "rich" district more funding could go to the schools. Teachers aides are important in CHCCS because as you know the elementary level classrooms in CHCCS tend to be over the unfunded state maximum number. Instead of comparing scars you guys should promote feasible options to get more money for the county. e.g. for instance countywide funding of counselors, police/security, special ed assistants etc....Things like these that could be funded countywide on an equal per pupil basis. I'm guessing the BOCC is amenable to ideas like these, but my naive impression is that the BOCC is looking to at least a couple OC school board members to ask for these things (maybe not a majority but at least a couple). If ideas like increasing taxes for more counselors or school taxes (e.g. countywide supplement) receive no vocal support from any of the OC school board, it doesn't look like many BOCC members will advocate for them. Another argument that could get widespread support is pointing out that Orange County spends a smaller percentage of its budget education than Durham or Wake county.

CHCCS parents will generally support more dollars per education whether from a countywide source or district tax. However, many parents do not want to invite a situation that would put downward funding pressure for schools in the CHCCS district as would definitely happen in one system. As the cost of living is much greater in Carrboro than efland I would argue that penny for penny matching funds is not necessarily required for the notion of equality. Ask how many people reading OP want to limit the preservation of green space, the purchase of energy efficiency bonds, fair free transit, local libraries, etc... to what people in efland want to pay on their property taxes. I'm guessing very few.


I purposefully did not draw comparisons between who has cut what because we could sit here all day and do that. I merely shared a couple of areas I personally would like to see improved for our district. Absolutely, every district in the state, even Chapel Hill, has to make choices about where to put resources.

And three of our board members specifically did ask for a raise in the ad valorem tax. The given there is that we remain two systems.We even asked why this wouldn't be a viable option. I'm still waiting for the answer. Any thoughts there?


My guess and it is only a guess is that it might work better if the ad valorem taxes were pseudo targeted e.g. put school nurses and counselors at every school or something like that, that doesn't seem like a programmatic "choice" e.g. spanish...
I think something like raising the ad valorem to pay for school nurses, security etc... countywide, if requested that way would be politically palatable... I think the BOCC asked for ideas of what could be funded countywide with the undercurrent or insinuation that basic staples for schools by funding at the county level would be a way of increasing net funding to the OC and possibly CHCCS schools in a politically palatable way...

And how would that address the issue of the gap created by the CH district tax that currently supplants that system's local funding thereby placing downward funding pressure for OC schools?

And -- don't get me started on spanish being a choice. personally i think that a second language SHOULD be part of the standard course of study. To keep pace with what is happening all around us -- in the state and nation -- we need to look at securing resources not only to teach spanish but to hire translators to truly reach out to spanish speaking children and their parents.

In this day and age can you really relegate spanish for our children to the level of a choice? Would you do the same for the children in your district? Or do our two sets of children have futures that we know for sure will be so vastly different?


you saw I put "choice" in quotes intentionally... I don't disagree with you on that.

You asked what the BOCC was waiting for to raise the ad valorem tax.. and I gave you my hypothesis.. (besides an obvious outcry for higher taxes by a majority of the OC board). Why else would they ask for suggestions of specific items that could be funded countywide. ? My guess was to find a specific "palatable" item to fund countywide, perhaps lowering the district tax and raising the ad valorem in the process.

As far as the difference in funding & taxation I don't think there has ever been any public indication that the county non-carrboro non-chapel residents want penny for penny equal taxation/funding. Most of the support for equal taxation seems to come from carrboro and CH IMHO.

And merger takes over another thread. I was really just seeking some clarification on Mr. Nelson's position.

The choice is probably not whether or not to teach Spanish, but whether the BOE chooses to fund Spanish over smaller class sizes or other funding decisions.

NC DPI says that only 3 other districts receive more local funding than OCS. How many of the 110 or so districts with less local funding than OCS manage to fund Spanish?

So we are back to the issue of local control of taxation. Should OCS residents be allowed to determine their taxation level (given that OCS residents have the 4th highest local funding in the state) without interference from folks who don't live in OCS?

I've always thought it would be good to find teachers who have children in city schools but teach in County schools, and visa versa (if there are any) and get these crossover parent/teachers to talk about their experiences in the two school systems. I'd like to hear what, if anything, they would like to change.

Just a reminder...In the heat of the merger debate, Alice Gordon put forth a motion to raise the ad valorem tax and lower the district tax by 4% (I believe) potentially giving the OCS a few million dollars more for the coming school year. The pro merger folks said that was not enough, it was merger or nothing. The rest of the BOCC did not second the motion and it died. OCS got NOTHING!

BOCC controls only the local dollar amount provided our school systems. BOCC has no control over the amount of money coming from Raleigh or Washington. That being said you need to look at where Orange County stands vs. the other 99 counties when it comes to per student. All county students receive $2798 local dollars each which puts us in second place ( base on the NCACC Tax & Survey 2005/06) above the folks in Wake, Durham, Guilford, and Mecklenburg counties. When the districit tax is added for the Chapel Hill/Carrboro system then they become the #1 per student locally funded system in all of NC.

Remember this when these BOCC candidates start talking about education and there answer to funding question is we give the local school boards the money they decide where to spend it and the local school boards say you don't give us enough. Which puts you the voter in the middle.

One suggestion I would offer is sell the naming right to these schools we build. They do it everyday at colleges and universities around the country.

Patrick, I made the naming suggestion here ;-)!

Maybe we should think "outside the box", so to speak for additional funding streams:

1) Engineer the gyms so we can rent them out for after hours use for pay-per-view "cage matches", roller ball or other type niche sporting events.

2) Engineer the running tracks so the can be used for mini-Nascar events.

3) Engineer the soccer fields for dual use as soccer and demolition derby events.

Kidding aside, one thing I've seen missing in the current debate is a plot of anticipated student growth against building requirements. It might seem harsh, but if the demographics show a sharp hump over a few years - for instance current facilities will be adequate from now to 2007, inadequate 2007-2010, adequate again 2011 and beyond - then Quonset huts should be the order of the day.

Mark, Patrick, has anyone done this based on projected SGRs?

Will--I never followed up from this 12/1/05 response from County:

The new SAPFOTAC report will probably be ready in the late January -
early February timeline. The County and Town planners and school
representatives will be getting together later this month to begin
running the actual student membership figures (as of 11/15/05) through
the various student projection models. That effort, and the resulting
analysis, will produce the 10 year estimates that will drive the
planning for any new required CHCCS school space.

Thanks Mary, I look forward to your, Mark's, other's analysis of the SAPFOTAC numbers.

Has anyone worked out the per sq/ft cost of trailers vs. permanent structures - both in terms of buildout and ongoing maintenance?

If we're facing a Wake County type problem - trailers obviously are a stop gap but if we're only dealing with a hump (especially considering the shrinking margins for population growth in Carrboro/Chapel Hill), it seems that another solution would be more appropriate.


SAPFO needs to be a key consideration of a candidates platform for the BOCC and towns (since they all are signatories).

Also, SAPFO has not been changed to the lower state-mandated class sizes. This needs to be done ASAP.

Has anyone worked out the per sq/ft cost of trailers vs. permanent structures - both in terms of buildout and ongoing maintenance?

I have wondered that myself, but have not sought the answer yet. Also, capital vs. operating budgets may play here. Ie - do more trailers reduce instructional dollars by consuming operating budgets?




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