OP Live Candidate Forum 2018: Board of Commisioners

The 2018 OrangePolitics live online candidate forum for Orange County Board of Commissioners took place on Sunday, April 8, 2018. The candidates are:

  • District 1: Jamezetta Bedford
  • District 2: Earl McKee, Tommy McNeill
  • At-Large: Brian Crawford, Sally Greene, Noah Oswald

Thank you all for participating. Let’s keep this lively.

I’ve moderated a few of these, but not for past couple of years since. As you might know, I spend my time covering the legislature these days. It’s been an eye opener and has given me some perspective on the constraints and pressures on local governments.

I’ll start with a tried and true first question.

What made you want to run for this office? A few prompts — If you’re running for re-election, what made you want to keep at it? If you’re a first-time candidate, what inspired you? If you’ve served in another elected office, how has that shaped your interest?

Take about ten minutes on this one.

It is my strong desire to be elected so that I may serve others and contribute to our county as we strive to achieve the highest possible quality of life for our citizens. I am proud to be a resident of Orange County and confident that I could be of the greatest value in such a position.  I am committed to the following:


Increase funding for Economic   Development Commission 

* Increase funding to our school systems 

*  Explore affordable housing, and

*  Maintain Farmland Preservation


It is for these reasons that I am running for elected office.

.I ran two years ago and lost by only 1.1% so when Mia said she wasn't running again, I was eager to run. My motivation then and now is to serve our residents so that we have clean air and water, good schools, healthcare, jobs, parks and other quality services for all ages that we can afford. I am committed to providing an excellent education for our children in both school districts. I am a strong advocate for persons in need. One of my three children is severely disabled and I know how to be a voice for those outside the mainstream. Being a grandmother of two local kids motivates me to focus on our community now and in the future. I served on the CHCCS Board of Ed for 12 years, and we need more funding to help recruit and retain teachers to help ALL children succeed. I definitely want to help shape a plan for funding the repairs to our older school facilities too.
I am a public servant, and I am running because I care about our community. While many citizens of Orange County are benefiting from growth and success, others are being left behind. While we are one of the richest counties in the state, we also have some of the highest concentrations of poverty. This cannot stand. My professional and public service careers are built on the foundation of community – working together to care for people and solve difficult problems. My philosophy is to connect and build: people, relationships, and the future. My candidacy is about advocating for the voiceless and working together to create a better community for ALL Orange County residents.
As a native of Orange County I have had the privilege of learning from several inspiring, local leaders: David Price, Joe Hackney, Verla Insko and obviously Barry Jacobs. Seeing their commitment to our home communities set a foundation upon which I hope to build. Growing up locally, I have seen important issues such as the past landfill and airport battles, local school projects, community growth, divisions between urban and rural communities shape our local policies. I love our county and its people and believe that we need committed, honest leaders who have wisdom and skills to tackle handle tough problems, reconcile disparate constituent positions and build a future for our county that we can all enjoy. When Barry Jacobs announced the recession of his reelection bid, I felt that it was time for new local leaders to step forward.
I am running for my third term on the BOCC. I have a belief that you must be committed to improving lives of those you are asking to serve. My hope is to see changes that brings about that improvement. During my service on the board, I have worked to bring jobs to our residents, expand and improve community centers throughout the county and worked toward improving services provided by EMS, Fire, and law enforcement. I have also worked to increase school funding and ensuring facility improvement.I would like to continue to see these initiatives fulfilled.

I'm running for the at-large seat because I believe that the experience I've garnered over the course of 13 years on the Chapel Hill Town Council has prepared me well to serve Orange County. During three terms on the Chapel Hill Town Council, my most significant accomplishments were in the areas of support for the homeless and affordable housing. An appreciation of the complexities of those issues led me to advocate successfully for changes in the town’s public housing and hiring policies that removed barriers for the formerly incarcerated. Issues of equity and racial justice are embedded in these and related issues, and my priority has been to implement policies that work to support, sustain, and empower people to lead their best lives. This is a key function of county government.

I also gained experience in environmental protection, working first with the Morgan Creek Valley Alliance and later as a Council member on preservation initiatives for the Town. Through that work I gained familiarity with the county's Unified Development Ordinance, which was created in 1981 with the primary value of watershed protection. 

I'm committed to maintaining the rural character of the county, but I've also come to see the need to balance environmental protection against economic development interests. The Town and County worked well together to create an incentive package for Wegman's--that was a good example of collaboration. I believe that my experience will further future collaborations in economic development. 

As the parent of a product of the CHCCS, I am deeply committed to school funding.

In short, I am experiened, effective, and I am also engaged: my leadership style is not to assume I have the solution to a problem. I tis rather to seek out and engage with people with a staetk in the outcome and to let their solutions come forward. 

In endorsing my campaign, the Sierra Club recognized that I have already begun to dig into issues of particular relevance to Orange County, and that I am ready for this wider arena. Indeed I have begun to dig into a whole range of county issues. I've been enjoying meeting folks throughout the county and learning of their perspectives. I am ready to take my experience and put it to work for the benefit of all of Orange County.

First a reminder to hit reply when answering a question.

Now here you go: There are a lot of pressures on schools and funding. Balancing the funding between the unique needs of the two districts has always been a challenge for commissioners. What will guide your thinking as you approach the overall school budget and what will be areas you will push hard for in education as the tough choices are made?

As the General Assembly majority decimates public education funding, the county valiantly tries to step up funding for both of our districts. The OCS budget request typically serves as a ceiling. We need to fund it as they have a history or restraint. We must recruit and retain teachers. The overall school budget may need to exceed the 48.1% target in some years. Protecting the classroom is our first priority, recognizing that the elected school boards make those decisions on how best to use the funds provided by the county taxpayers. I will push for a plan to fund the older school renovations.

It would be very difficult for me to ask citizens to face another tax increase. What is most critical to me is that we are as open and transparent as possible and seek consensus and involvement from all citizens. I believe that schools are our priority, and that many other planned projects could be delayed or even cut when they are not essential to the future for ALL of Orange County.

My thinking will be guided by these areas:


Engaging and collaborating with schools and community members to understand needs and options for short and long term investment in the schools.

·    Working with BOCC colleagues to identify sustainable support including economic growth to provide additional revenue to support schools.

·    Strategic choices on county budget and opportunities for timely prioritization of resources.

The school budget issues are perhaps the most complicated and thorny that the commissioners will have to face. And they are complicated by the equity issue of the existence of the special district tax in one district and not in the other. Our schools face serious funding issues in the areas of deferred maintenance. The loss of the school impact fee is another issue. As is continued declining levels of funding from the state generally.

One way to approach school funding going forward is to consider a long-range plan for systematically addressing the backlog of maintenance expenses. There must be a way to prioritize the needs. It was right of the CHCCS to prioritize the updating of Chapel Hill High, for example: which did not even comply with the ADA. We can work with the school board to do some triage while we work on funding options.

Another problem that needs to be addressed is the issue of the loss of funding, at both districts but particularly acute for OC schools, when students leave the public schools for charter schools. When they do that, the per-pupil amount walks out the door with them. The BOCC has admirably gone forward with replenishing these amounts. But this year, the OC schools plan to ask the BOCC for more than $3 million to replace charter school students' funding. This number is going up rapidly and is not sustainable. I wll push hard to figure out a solution to tyat.

We must also prioritize safety improvements at our most vulnerable students. In addition, I will make sure that schools continue to have the social resources that they need--mental health, behavioral health, meals, etc. Students cannot learn if their basic needs are not met. We can look for nonprofit partnerships to help with some of this work--the way Mayor Hemmiger led the Food for the Summer program in Chapel Hill.

Our public education system provides the foundation for our future success as local communities and county-wide.  I am the only candidate in my race that has participated as both a student and an adult in our public education system.  As a graduate from Orange High School I am proud of the foundation the Orange County School system has provided and am proud to be sending my daughter to public school at Efland Cheeks this fall.  As a former coach at Cedar Ridge High School, I have seen first hand the impact of effective funding for school programs and capital improvements.

Funding schools has to continue to be a top priority for our county.  In order to continue to provide for schools at state-leading levels, we need to expand and enhance our efforts to diversify the county’s income base.  Counties and municipalities around our state rely on a healthy mixture of industry, commerce and residences to provide the funds necessary for local government.  However, Orange County has historically leaned heavily on residential property owners to fund important public services.  As County Commissioner I will continue to provide necessary funding to our school systems while actively working to relieve the burdens on property owners through strategic, community driven economic development.

Additionally, our school-related capital resources are at an all-time low in quality and repair.  I am committed to a plan that prioritizes school capital expenses above new county buildings that have less overall utility.  This has to be a whole community effort with clear, long-term planning that provides regular necessary maintenance and anticipates new facility needs drivin by community development.

I will continue to advocate for improvement in outcomes for our at-risk children to level the playing field. Moving forward, I believe we are going to have to find a way to fund universal PRE-K in order for every child to start their education on the same level. I will continue to work with other board members and school board members to ensusre funding needs are met.

Both school systems are achieving impressive results in comparison to systems throughout North Carolina.  To meet the budget demands, I propose reducing captial project spending while increasing funding for programs which directly support student achievement and teacher development.

(Really folks, PLEASE HIT REPLY and don’t start a new post when answering the questions.)

I was looking at the latest Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance report and was a little surprised to see such slow growth projected for the school population compared to the late 90s when I was a school reporter and the county could not build schools fast enough.

If there is a pause in the construction of new schools what other programs, priorities or repairs should be funded? Please include specific schools and needs.


I believe that student growth in both systems will continue to grow regardless of the present pause. Any reduction in needs for new schools will be over-ridden by the backlog of repairs to our aging school facilities. Not only do these schools need the usual repair and maintenance, but we have many schools that have serious security issues.  An example of this is Grady Brown Elementary which opened in 1974 and was built with the open classroom concept. The rebuilidng of Chapel Hill High is being necessitated by many issues that cannot be addressed through maintenance and repair.  Hillsborough Elementary has an aging heating/air system that constantly gives trouble.

There are over $350Million worth of identified older school facility needs for both districts. In CHCCS these include: Ephesus, Glenwood, Carrboro, FPG, Estes Hills, Phillips Middle, Culbreth, CHHS and Lincoln Center. The approach is to renovate, enclose the open class/campuses and expand since new school sites are extremely limited. OCS has prioritized their needs by projects as in, new energy efficient windows and all older schools, roofs, HVAC etc. Both districts want to renovate the bus garage since the new buses don't even fit inside. There are insufficient funds due to the state cuts to think of new programs, to restore teaching assitant positions. Both districts have squeezed and revamped allocations. In addition to capital needs, operating needs to pay teachers and staff and principals are a priority. CHCCS has cut over $10million since the 2008 recession. While children need even more services. The school boards are using an equity lens to make difficult choices.

I can speak best to the CHCCS plan, because they have presented it to the Town Council within the past year or two. They have created a 10-year plan that involves upgrading and enlarging most schools, except for Glenwood, for which they are holding out the option to sell the property in a decade or so because of its proximity to the LRT.

They are executing on the first priority, Chapel Hill High, and I believe they've made the improvements they plan to make to Glenwood, which included making the entrance more secure. Because of increased construction costs, they have put on hold the plan to renovate Lincoln Center to include a centralized pre-K program as well as Phoenix Academy. I am pleased to see that the plan is to renovate and enlarge existing schools rather than to build new ones. This is a recognitinon of the lack of land available for new schools. 

They were right to prioirize school safety at Glenwood, and if there are other schools (there probably are) that have safety concerns, these should be prioritized. Our children's safety must be a first priority: in both districts, of course.

I would like to hear about the pros and cons of creating a joint pre-K program, now that the Lincoln Center program is postponed indefintiely. It may be unfeasible due to traansportation issues, but it is worth considering.

Our school boards act responsibly to come up with priority lists for capital improvements. As a BOCC member I would want to weigh in on them, but I believe they are in the best position to make these initial recommendations. The same answer generally applies to the OC Schools.


As a parent or a child in Orange County Middle Schools, I do not believe the question of building NEW schools is an issue right now. The numbers from Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools exceed 300 million in repairs. All of the schools need to be secured from a building security/safety perspective. Many of the Schools are simply older facilities. CW Stanford for instance over 50 years old and needs to be secured. Before we can talk about NEW facilities, my priority is to secure, modernize and technologically upgrade the facilities we have. The CHCCS Capital Plan lists the renovation repairs badly needed by every school. I would prioritize the repairs and upgrades first for both school systems.

Our first priority after necessary expansion is to guarantee the safety and security of our schools.  We have great partnerships with local law enforcement to protect our children while they learn, but new security measures including universally locked facilities, controlled entry, enhanced screening and monitoring are essential to providing our children with a safe, secure environment where they can focus on growth and learning.

There are pressing needs in both school systems for facilities expansion, maintenance and enhancement.  Due to delays caused by the bidding process and increasing regional construction costs, the current school bond funds are going to leave CHCCS short on the funds necessary to complete the planned Lincoln Center projects.  Regular repairs and maintenance in CHCCS was estimated by the school system between $12M and $16M.  OCS faces similar needs between $8M and $11M. 

School facilities in OCS at Orange, Stanford, HES, Cameron Park and Central remain much the way they were 20 and 30 years ago.  CHCCS report that essential systems like HVAC units at multiple schools are on the verge of replacement.

The County needs to get and stay ahead of the expected repairs and maintenance curve.   Cohesive long-term planning will make sure that our children continue to be educated in top-of-the-line facilities that reinforce quality education. 

Another concern for the county is how to prioritize facility expansion to match the unfunded mandate from the General Assembly to reduce K-3 class sizes.  Compliance with this new law will require new teachers and facilities to match. 

While meeting with the leadership team at Chapel Hill - Carrboro School System, several schools are underfunded for captial repairs:  Ephesus Elm, Seawell Elm, Estes Hills Elm.  I would add Efland Cheeks and Orange County High School in the Orange County School System.



The SAPFO report mentioned in the last question and recent growth projections raise the questions about how this county is growing.

Housing costs and the types of housing available continue to push lower income residents, minority residents and young families out.

What will you do as a commissioner to address the very real drift here to less a diverse community?

While Affordable Housing is a major concern in Orange County, as a County Commissioner, I am committed to working closely with developers to recommend a percentage of new homes are affordable during new or existing construction.  

The Affordable Housing Coalition's summit in February presented some alarming statistics. There's been a 16 percent rental costs between 2009 and 2015. There are ZERO units of anysize available now for households earning less than 30 percent AMI. Of the 56,000 housing units inOrange County, about 3 percent, or 1,700, are permanently affordable. We have our work cut out for us.

I think Orange County needs to get more solidly in the business of partnering to provide affordable housing opportunities. The model created by Chapel Hill of donating land to a nonprofit housing provider (DHIC) shows one way to go, for the cost of land in Orange County is a major part of the problem: if you can take that out of the equation, there's an easier shot at affordability. 

We need to think creatively about partnerships. SECU has been partnering to provide affordable housing for teachers in Buncombe County, Dare County, and most recently has initiatied a partnership in Durham County. We should investigate that possibiltiy.

The county's decision to set aside $2 million for land-banking and help for potentially displaced residents of mobile home parks is an admirable step, and as it turns out, a timely one. That's a good creative response.

Potentially also the county could consider making land available to for-profit developers, in exchange for a commitment to provide homes that are lower than what they could charge in the open market.

But all the creativity in the world will not solve the problem of the need for more jobs with better wages. The county's economic development efforts need to get into higher gear. The provison of infrastructure in the EDDs is an important step. More collaborations like the work of the county and the Town of Chapel Hill to create a performance-based incentive program to attract Wegman's is something else that should serve as a model for the future. Wegman's, I understand, is going to pay, if not a living wage, something close (or maybe this is still being negotiated). We have our OC Living Wage Coalition, which recently got the Hillsborough Chamber to pay a living wage and is in other ways setting the example. 

We need to be firing on all burners to creat housing options and better-paying jobs to keep folks in Orange County. 

I absolutely do not believe economic inequality is being adequately addressed in the County. It is the job of the Commissioners to address the needs of the citizenry. A citizen with a job can and will support our economy, buy our new homes and pay taxes (sales and real estate). It takes all types of jobs to support our economy, and we must be in the business of encouraging meaningful living wage jobs. It is not enough to have a policy paper on our website, and I want to encourage us to more deeply consider exactly what are we doing to encourage growth in the livable wage sector. We should seek to build a symbiotic relationship with our schools, our businesses to determine the services we will need in the future. Rebuilding our vocational opportunities is a much-needed start and we should encourage a vocational training program through the County for sorely needed plumbing, electrical and construction trades among many vocational services we have trouble finding.

Affordable housing is a crisis in our community. While we have municipalities and nonprofits working to solve the issue, we must recognize the seriousness of this challenge. The County Commissioners are uniquely positioned to lead a coalition of representatives of the University, OWASA, the State Housing Trust, our municipalities and developers. We should seek creative, innovative solutions that create a range of housing alternatives.  The sad truth is that we are becoming a community where the people that work and serve here can’t afford to live here. That is simply not reflective of who we are, and what we can be. We can and must do better for our community.

There is no doubt that some of our residents are being forced out. Limitations of the availablility of sewer and water have caused the prices of the available land that can be used for dense developmetn to skyrocket.  Areas outside of sewer and water availability are increasingly expensive due to regulations on acreage required.  Addressing this problem will require a multi-pronged approach.  Using funds provided by the recently passed bond along with monies such as one million dollars that I suggested placing in a fund to address closures of mobile home parks will provide a start. Working with affordable houseing agencies such as Habitat, Empowerment and Community Home Trust is our current model but I believe we are going to have to find a way to incentivise private developers to look at this market. 

Another part of the solution is to attract companies that pay a living wages or above.  This, plus providing educational opportunities through our local community college will result in people being able to better afford housing.

This issue is acute, particularly for undocumented residents facing eviction from mobile home parks. I support efforts by the towns and BOCC to collaborate to provide replacement housing to work with Empowerment and other agencies to find emergency housing. For the longer term, we need to find ways to preserve the affordable housing in Hillsborough and the county, providing loans or funds to landlords for improvements, providing subsidies for renters, and partnering with the affordable housing coalition partners on strategies. Ex. OWASA recently decreased connection rates for smaller homes. We really must bring UNC to the table to work on this issue. The county owns some land, such as the third parcel next to Morris Grove Elem that could be used for teacher and other housing. I wonder why there isn’t a look at the 30+ acres at SHS and the Seymour Center to place senior affordable housing there. Water and Sewer already exist. Kinda makes sense to have senior housing across the driveway from the senior center. Yes, the plan is for other southern county services, but that needs to be reviewed. This is a tough issue. The towns and county are trying to change building codes to provide for tiny homes. Using incentives in rezoning situations to get some affordable units included makes sense, but is not a lot of units or help. I attended the affordable housing summit last month and we do have many nonprofits eager to help.


Economic and cultural diversity are an essential part of the fabric in our society.  My individual growth and development locally was greatly benefitted by that diversity. Our recent success in residential growth and expansion is a testament to the quality of our local culture and the depth of community depends on retaining that diversity.  As a current member of the BOCC Affordable Housing Advisory Board I have supported dedicated funding for county-level affordable housing programs.  I have also been an advocate for improvement and expansion on collaborative efforts between the county and our municipalities. 

As your County Commissioner, I will work to make new programs executed in partnership with local non-profit leaders the spine of a comprehensive, long-term affordability plan.  I believe I am the most recent participant in this race to have made a first home purchase and can empathize closely with county residents seeking to take that pivotal life step.  That also means that I have the most recent experience as a participant in the local rental market, having rented in both Chapel Hill and Mebane.  Local residents need county leadership that can aggregate information on the availability and location of housing at all income levels and effectively convey that information to our citizens. 

Recently our county has struggled with the loss of several mobile home parks (MHPs).  MHPs play an important role in our community by providing families from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to raise their children with access to world-class education.  These facilities provide a unique type of community and independence that is not the same as high-density housing options that are usually associated with affordability.  Working with local MHP owners to protect these residences and potential efforts to use county land to establish long-term safety areas for MHPs is essential to preserving the diversity created by affordable housing.

Our public service professionals (teachers, law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel) are more effective when they live in the communities where they serve.  Programs like the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Community Home Trust provide much needed affordable inventory available to these professionals.  Expanded support from the county and a sister program in the OCS area will provide an avenue for long-term housing success.

One final thought on affordability.  Real estate appreciation is a two edged sword that impacts long-time residents of the county.  Many of our historic communities in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as well as througout the rural portion of the county, house individuals and families who have owned their home for generations.  As property values increase, so do their property taxes.  Again, diversification of county revenues to lessen the burden on individual home owners is an essential component of our long-term, county-wide success and is a priority for me as your future commissioner.


Recruiting companies to Orange County that pay livable wages, such as high tech companies like Merck and Biogen.  To attract these prestigious companies, Orange County Commissioners need to increase funding with Economic Development Commission, provide incentives for corporate recruitment and prepare for long- term infrastructure.  These companies  pay wages which allow our residence to share in the success of Orange County.


Let’s stay on affordable housing and housing choices.  If elected, chances are you will be making some important decisions on the development of the Greene Tract. What’s your vision for the area and how does it fit into your overall strategy?

You're doing pretty good on using the reply button, btw. (trying to be encouraging)


Our staff recently presented possible scenarios for the development of the Green Tract. There were various levels of intensity and uses. I would favor retaining acreage for a future school site, dedication of acreage for affordable housing and a smaller acreage for small scale retail.  This would provide not only housing but availability of necessities without folks having to travel to Chapel Hill, Carrboro, or Hillsborough.  These presentations retained sensitive areas of this tract for open space and natural resource potection. Use of the Green Tract in this manner would maintain the character of the area as much as possible while providing housing availability and services needed by the residents of the surrounding community. We will need to work with Chapel Hill and Carrboro to ensure a collaborative solution.

The BOCC recently received staff recommendation to realign the natural preserve corridor so that it is contiguous which is better for animal habitat. There is a planned school site (elementary #12) that is being held in reserve as one of only three last parcels at the southern end of the site. Some elected officials recently walked the site and I will go the next opportunity. I do support building affordable housing on the site, but look forward to hearing from Carrboro and Chapel Hill elected officials what they envision. Keeping the NE section untouched to protect our tree canopy helps offset the loss from building. I don’t think we can preserve the entire tract. I think the BOCC needs to not only ask the other towns what they think, but ask for resident input and vision to maximize opportunity for this important acreage. We need to think very long term.

As a sitting member of the Affordable Housing Advisory Board I have recently participated in meetings to review proposals and suggestions from the County Manager’s office.  I am encouraged by the county’s current direction to guarantee partnerships with local non-profit partners to provide affordable housing as a central component of the Greene Tract development.  The affordable units projected in the Greene Tract will provide a much needed expansion of the affordable housing inventory for our lowest income populations.  With the county providing leadership through action with this type of development project, we will have enhanced credibility with private and non-profit developers who are looking to expand and enhance our communities when we call for affordability in their plans.

Another component of the potential Greene Tract development is the guarantee of a new school site.  CHCCS have used all of their previously held future school sites and will need new facilities to meet the demands of an ever-growing populations.  I have also been impressed with the ability of our county leaders to incorporate protection of the natural resources in the Greene Tract such as planning to preserve natural areas from development and incorporated watershed protections into the initial development proposals.

The Greene Tract is a 164-acre parcel of which 104 acres is jointly owned by Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro and 60 acres owned by Orange County. Once slated for use as a landfill, in 2002 the jurisdictions agreed to consider other uses for the property. Sixteen years and many iterations of plans later, the thinking is pretty consistent with what it was in 2002: that much of the property be protected by conservation easement, giving special protection to the headwaters of three important streams (Bolin Creek, Old Field Creek, and Booker Creek), while some of the property should be considered for desirable land uses such as affordable housing and potentially a school site.

I would look forward to working with the other jurisdictions, and with the Rogers Road neighborhood, to bring these plans into reality. It seems a particularly suitable locaiton for affordable housing.

I recently had an opportunity to walk the Greene Tract, along with other elected officials and staff from the county and the Town of Chapel Hill--a tour arranged to respond to renewed interest by the County in making some movement on this project. This is a beautiful natural area, and the thinking is right to want to preserve most of it with a conservation easement--which is something I (among others) had been advocating since 2003. How delightful for Allison Weakley, the Chapel Hill biologist, to point out to us the eggs of a four-toed salamander!

Immediately to the west of the Greene Tract is the Rogers Road neighborhood–or rather, the developed portion of the Rogers Road neighborhood, for this natural area has been loved and appreciated by Rogers Road residents for generations. In Rogers Road: Mapping Our Community’s Future (2016), a report produced by the community members with assistance from the Jackson Center, the Greene Tract is highlighted for its importance to the neighborhood’s history and identity:

The undeveloped land in Rogers Road is not vacant: to the contrary it has a wealth of value for residents of Rogers Road and surrounding communities. For generations this land has played an important role as a site for recreation, for gathering food, and for contemplation. Conservation on the tract should acknowledge and build on this cultural value without disturbing the rural feel of the area–not creating a sectioned-off or walled-off part of the community, but keeping large portions of these lands open for enjoyment and connection to the natural environment.

My overall vision for development in the County is intentional development. Any property as attractive as the Green Tract should be mixed-income, open spaces, parks and, when necessary community services so that create walkable communities are achieved. Conceptually, all of the stakeholders will sit down and design and or porject how the Green Tract can serve the City/County populations and attract the most needed affordable/professional and family housing. Especially in Chapel in and Carrboro. But we must be certain to create opportunities for all in the project. This is why the stakeholders must include ALL including the federal government and state trust funds to ensure adequate resources.

While attending an OCBOC meeting, Craig Benedict, Orange County Planning Director, discussed the capabilities and scale of this 164 acre project.  I fully support staff’s vision and remain committed to work diligently to provide  adequate funding while maintaining minimal environmental impact.

Over the past few months as I’ve tried to get back up to speed on county issues, the economic picture has been shocking. Probably one of the most disturbing things I saw was the list of jobs from both BCBCNC and UNC Hospitals that have moved out of the county. The county probably dodged another round of cuts when the health care system merger deal fell apart.
I’m worried that we are losing high paying jobs when the economy is good and counties around us are gaining them.

Is this a crisis? Is it time to rethink our approach to economic development?

We are not only losing high paying jobs but jobs throughout the wage scale. Regardless of where a person is on that scale their ability to support their family is adversely affected by this trend.  Orange County is and has been behind the curve on economic development for decades. With the enfrastructure improvements and the extension into Buckhorn and the proposed extension into the Hillsborough EDD we may be turning the corner.  I was part of the leadership team that worked on recruiting Morinaga, Wegmans, the AKG expansion and a host of smaller companies.  Economic Development involves more than "big game hunting" and if we do not pursue every opportunity our residents are going to suffer through job loss and higher taxes. If, to rethink economic development is to return to the economic development mentality of the 80"s and 90"s which produced nothing except EDD's on paper, I will oppose such a path.

Unlike adjacent counties, Orange County was not a hub of industrial activity during the American Century. Therefore, now that industrial base has been eroded, it does not have old, empty spaces that can easily be upfitted and repurposed for new use. My understanding is that it is true that Orange County has lost out on attractive business opportunities when the businesses could get to site readiness on a quicker time frame than they could in Orange County.

This is why it's so important to make the EDDs better equipped with infrastructure. There currently is a water/sewer project going in at the Buckhorn EDD, so that other business might join Morinaga there. And there are other issues to consider. The land is zoned residential. Although I would want to study this question more carefully, based on my experience as a town council member, it might be advantageous to pre-zone these areas commercial or commercial-mixed use in advance. The reason not to do that is that the government body gives up valuable leverage by pre-zoning. But that might be the right trade-off: a pre-zoned site could be developed more quickly, and that would be the benefit of the pre-zoning: time is money for corporations. The land, as well, is in fragmented ownershp. The county could work harder to buy up land from willing sellers. 

The EDDs, though, are not the only hope for economic development. We have a farming/agricultural industry that is thriving, but at a certain point, they can run out of space to grow their business. A good, perhas "crisis," example is Weaver Street's Food House. Weaver Street is about to open a new store in Raleigh. To serve that store as well as the three others, it will need a bigger Food House. It can't enlarge the Food House where it is. 

The Food House could be relocated as anchor tenant to a light industrial food production district. There are other emerging businesses, for example the ones graduating from PFAP (Piedmont Food & Agricultural Processing Facility), that would be able to use this space rather than leaving the county.

Similarly, Launch in Chapel Hill (which the county significantly funds) needs to provide expanded facilities so that not so many businesses that are launched end up launching out of the county. As of 2015 numbers, out of some 70 businesses started out of Launch, some 45 were still in business, but only 10 were still in Orange County.

There is also the $130 million arts economy, which lacks infrastructure to really get their products to market. There are many energetic and dedicated artists who are willing to put their heads together with the County to work on this problem. It is an economic issue.

I think we don’t have a particular integrated approach to economic development to start. “We” meaning the county and towns together.  I live in Colony Woods where neighbors used to walk and bike to work at BCBSNC. Now they drive a few miles over to Durham campus as BCBSNC outgrew the headquarters and wanted an office park. But the SECU is replacing BCBS at the old building so that may be a timing lag in jobs.  UNC Healthcare is a different story. They are working with the town of Chapel Hill re Eastowne office park so some jobs may return there or may just move from the hospital to that site.  There is a need as companies grow to have affordable space in OC. There is a need to have Lab space and the new industrial zone proposed by Chapel Hill responds to some of that need.  OC is building water and sewer now near the Buckhorn Economic Development zone to provide the infrastructure to recruit major employers.  OC needs to focus that work and also to partner with the towns on this issue. OC is limited by the lack of a major river as a source of water for some industries. Yes, we need to focus on diversifying the tax base and recruiting jobs in partnership with the towns. 

Well I may dispute the fact that the economy is good: With nearly 17% in poverty, it is not good for everyone. And the  reflection of success is not necessarily high-paying jobs. We have to attract jobs that better employ the people who have been marginalized during this era of growth. Participation in the economy by all is the building block for success for all of Orange County.

The building block that enables our county to effectively reflect its values and diverse, robust economic development is the key to Orange County’s future.  Attracting businesses will enable education investment and increase  in jobs.


Three priorities to address economic development:

·     Invest in infrastructure which balances minimal environmental impact and prepares County to attract businesses to locate here. Conduct a systemic analysis to understand and minimize barriers to business operations.

·     Leverage consultants and partnerships with other organizations to recruit industries willing to invest in Orange County.

·     Collaborate with other community leaders to create and execute strategies to promote economic development.

If there is a crisis, it is the number of people unemployed and underemployed in the County. We need to support the people here first before becoming concerned about the loss of high-paying jobs.


As many of our citizens are aware, economic development carries with it many local benefits, most notably diversified local revenue and quality local employment.  As you have noted in your question, development cannot focus only on the tax benefits of new business.  Recently completed and current projects such as the Morinaga Factory in Mebane and the Wegman’s project in Chapel Hill are great examples of how effective recruitment, local incentives and county support can bring development that benefits the county and our residents. 

Orange County is the home to a very effective small business incubator in Chapel Hill: Launch Chapel Hill.  Ventures like Launch can provide a much-needed starting point for new, local businesses.  With a top-tier university integrated into our community, we should be directing a portion of our economic development efforts to recruiting top-talent in burgeoning industries like software development and information technologies.  There is no reason why Orange County should not be the destination of choice for digital entrepreneurs looking to start, grow and expand modern digital ventures.

As a local trial attorney and the attorney for our local Child Support Enforcement program, each week I see first-hand the need for local employment opportunities, particularly for minority men.  I hear directly from willing workers that they have trouble connecting with local resources which are supposed to help them get and retain jobs.  Another key element from my practice that impacts employment is our justice system.  We have an excellent array of alternative treatment and diversion programs that are designed to provide individuals with assistive services and alternatives to conviction.  Too many of our long-time county residents struggle to find employment as a consequence of the follies of their youth; now grown, educated and mature, these men work for low and minimum wage positions with no benefits for their family because they have been labeled and ostracized by local employers.  Our county leaders need to expand efforts to find those who need employment and create a pipeline away from forced poverty and toward sustainable self-sufficiency through quality employment. 

Increased local wages will have a far reaching impact on development, housing and education. My commitment is to work with current and potential local employers to provide an array of local employment opportunities for our residents.

I would not call it an economic crisis.  As an elected official, I am committed to the following solutions to attract high tech companies to Orange County: increase incentives for corporate recruitment, revisit UDO, discuss zoning and plan for a long-term sewer system with capabilities to support growth.


Quick follow up — The county and the towns have their own economic development efforts. How well do you think they are working together?

I don’t actually know.  I imagine that staff meet and talk. It does not seem to have any integrated planned outcome. 

My firm currently work with Orange County ED and I never hear of much talk about collaboration. But it is an excellent suggestion where appropriate. Some of the main goals of economic development differs from a county or city persepective.

As someone who sat on Chapel Hill's economic development committee for two years, I am familiar with the town's efforts, and I know that the county's economic development officer has been participating in those meetings regularly. That's a good basis for cooperation, but the reality is that this collaboration has not historically been very strong. A significant exception to that was the Wegman's project, in which the town and county worked well together to come up witn the performance-based incentive package that successfully persuaded Wegman's to locate in Chapel Hill. That project can provide a model for future collaborations on business recruitment.

Looking to the future, there's great opportunity for Chapel Hill and the county to work together on economic development initiatives and recruitment in the Gateway station area. The Gateway area is near the old Blue Cross building and just south of I-40. One of the station stops for the planned Durham-Orange light rail project is there. Though the station itself is in the Durham County part of Chapel Hill, much of the economic development area is in Orange County. Orange County needs to be participating starting now in the discussions that are onzoing about zoning and incentives and how to plan well for transit-oriented redevelopment of this part of Chapel Hill. I believe that the relationship between the town and county economic development staff is now a strong one, and that there is a lot of promise in this potential collaboration.

I worked with the Mayor of Chpel Hill, our staff and the staff of Chapel HIll to recruit Wegman's. Orange County and Mebane made a coordinated effort in the recruitment of Morinaga.  Our economic development director, Steve Brantley, has a good working relationship with the staff of each of the towns.  Regardless of whether it is a large project or a small project, such as the replacement of a sewer line that served businesses in Carrboro, I have found that all of the various governments work well together.  There is an effort to coordinate with the towns when we receive interest from companies to ensure that companies needs are met.  Whether locating in the county or one of our towns all of our residents benefit.  A point that might need to be made is that part of the town of Mebane is located in Orange County.  They have been very good to work with in the Buckhorn EDD on sewer and water issues.  The recently approved development in the Hillsborough EDD was only possible with the collaboration with the town of Hillsborough.

Both economic development teams have unique responsibilities for Orange County.  With that being said, the skills and abilities to attract top companies are within their wheelhouse.  The challenge is simple, can Orange County support a major corporation seeking to bring 1000 highly skilled jobs?  Is the infrastructure in place, zoning, and rural buffer concerns.  These are issues that impact  economic development and the responsibility of County commissioners. 



The truth is that the cooperation between county and local leaders appears cursory at best.  While many important discussions happen between staff of various municipal departments, the combined meetings seem to serve largely to share information or execute pre-committed action.  I have been engaged in local issues for my whole life and believe the municipalities and the county take independent action to address the same concerns from different and possibly competing levels.

Most recently, as a member of the BOCC Affordable Housing Advisory Board, I have seen the need to develop cohesive multi-jurisdictional plans for housing growth and affordability.  Our local non-profit partners are forced to spend countless man hours applying to two, three and sometimes four municipal governments to get resources for key programs.  Where county and city priorities do not line up, our partners are left filling the gaps with modified plans and limited service.  Orange County would see a huge benefit in productivity if we were able to create a successful partnership that includes all our municipal leaders and our public partners. 

I believe that my experience as a county native and a successful trial attorney give me skills to help orchestrate effective cooperation.  In litigation, when all parties can see that their concerns are heard and understood, the results are stronger, more efficient and durable.  Orange County needs leaders who listen to the public, to our municipal governments, to private participants, and to non-profit partners.  This process can create and advance present-day benefits while working toward sustained community success. 

Coordinated economic development efforts are essential to the recruitment and retention of quality new opportunities for the county.  I hope to work with local municpal leaders to successfully recruit impactful development for our whole county.


Our county is one of the most economically stratified in the state. The recovery from the great recession has been uneven and left many behind. Almost 20 percent of our children live in food insecure households. More than 5,000 schoolkids are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

First off, will you commit to providing nutritional services for students who need it through the summer months?
Second, what will you do to reduce hunger in our community?

We have supported the development of several communitiy centers that provide summer programs which include a meal.  I cannot speak to the exact program but I believe that our school systems have a program that works toward this goal.  I will continue to support programs that ensure no child is hungry.

I will continue to work with our departments such as Social Services and providers in the community such as Meals on Wheels, Porch, PFAP, churches and other organizations and businesses to address this growing problem.  These groups are vital at this time to ensuring that those in need are provided with food.  I will work toward increasing funding for these outside organizations at budget time.

As of 2014, 14 percent of the population of Ornge County was food insecure. This is shocking. As I said earlier, I applaud Mayor Heminger's leadership in creating the Food for the Summer program in the CHCCS district a couple of years ago. I volunteered for it and can personally vouch for how very valuable it is. That program needs to be replicated with the OC Schools, if it hasn't already. 

Hunger in our community is a serious problem, especially in northern Orange, where the poverty rate reaches 17 percent. I support all current efforts to alleviate it--including OCRA (Orange County Rural Alliance) which provides meals and nutritional assistance. The OC Sheriff's Department once a month cooks hot dogs for food-insecure residents, and there are other volunteer efforts to provide food and nutritional assistance.

I was recently at the Cedar Grove Community Center, which is not one of the county's senior centers but does serve a lot of seniors, and I learned that meals for seniors are no longer being served. This is a problem, said the director, Dr. Sue Florence, because they are often there at noon needing to take medicines. I learned later from Janice Tyler, director of the Department on Aging, that a grant source that had provided those meals had ended. 

I will work to find sources to provide those meals and others that are needed. I will also work hard to support the Family Success Alliance, which is such an important resource for families with young children struggling with poverty. These volunteer efforts are important, and helpful, but not sufficient.

I strongly suspect the % is higher than 20%.  CHCCS free and reduced lunch has hovered around 27% for several years and OCS usually has a higher rate. And, we know that often high school students will not participate in order to avoid stigma. Plus UNC students also are food insecure! I am so proud of Mayor Hemminger, Jeannie Brown (recognized as a hometown hero for her work on the issue), UNC and Asst Supt Todd LoFrese and CHCCS for setting up the summer food programs for the past two summers. (I am sorry for forgetting other key contributors.) Table and Porch work on this throughout the year. We need to spread these efforts throughout the county. I wholeheartedly commit to providing nutritional food during the summer and holidays. As an individual I participate with PORCH – just bought raffle tickets for their 10th anniversary yesterday. As President of DWOC, we added a canned food drive for OCM in Hillsborough for our Nov meeting. Each person can help with this effort. 

To reduce hunger, we need to keep social services department well funded and to provide those nonprofits their ongoing county funding as well. The Food Council is organized to collaborate county-wide. We need to advocate for the state to increase the minimum wage, to extend unemployment benefits, to restore the state earned income tax credit, etc. I support the living wage efforts. Farmers, grocers and restaurants are helping too. Mostly people need jobs that pay a better wage with benefits. 

I grew up food insecure, so I know we must do more than commit to nutrional services. I commend Orange County schools for universal breakfast and we must move to commit to universal lunch too. We have to use our community centers and in some cases our schools to create "tables or food centers" for families to have access to meals after schools. These acn be the same centers used during the summer months. Pride is a factor for many families that hide food insecurity. We must find ways to reach those families to ensure a meal. Public assistance used to serve this purpose, but we have allowed and accepted the villification of those who availed themselves of this service. Food banks are wonderful community support, but there are those that cannot prepare the food offered by the food banks. We must make food insecurity a part of our community conversation and build consensus around what it is in order to reduce its existence. Food insecurity is also a reflection of what people eat (quick,processed foods are considered food, but contribute to unhealthy eating and malnutrition). Local government, food suppliers, vendors, nonprofits,churches and businesses should work together as a caring community to eradicate food insecurity.

Yes, I am committed to providing lunches through summer months.  It is the moral and ethical thing to do.     I am committed to bringing decent jobs to Orange County which in turn reduces the poverty rate and increases the standard of living.  Furthermore, I support food pantries to ensure they have adequate funding to assist our Impoverished communities.



Students need to be fed physically and mentally.  I believe we have top-tier education programs in both school systems, and that our school leadership is committed to a such comprehensive view of education.  The OCS program to provide breakfast to every student is a great example of how our local school boards demonstrate a commitment to holistic support to our students.  The county can and should provide necessary economic relief to families and students in need.  School funding will remain a top priority for me and I hope that our local Boards of Education will implement successful programs to eliminate student hunger.

One thing that I love about Orange County is that we have incredibly generous and caring citizens.  Many of our residents give considerable resources in time and money to various charity organizations.  I hope to expand county efforts to encourage voluntary financial participation from local residents with the ability to help their neighbors.  When I attend UNC sporting events I regularly hear announcements of the millions of raised for University and athletic programs.  I believe that if members of our community were given an opportunity to provide for their neighbors, especially for our children, that great things would happen.

I am impressed by efforts of local charity groups like the IFC to provide food resources to our homeless and needy.  Partnership with existing non-profits can provide a high-efficiency place to spend county funds for a highly-leveraged impact on our communities.  Orange County should not see our citizens struggle for basic needs and it is my goal as your commissioner to use community partnerships to end hunger in the county.

Despite our liberal reputation, racial inequities and prejudice are evident here—from the success rate of children in our school system to the admission rate at the university to the incarceration rate in our jails. What would you say to a young person of color growing up in our county who wants to know when this is all going to change?

Inequality is and will continue to be a factor in our lives until we focus on educating each and every child to the greatest extent possible.  Today I attended a program celebrating Efland Cheeks School.  Many of the speakers attended this school prior to integration.  All indicated how important education was to them and how their lives were affected by the teachers they had as children.  I favor moving to universal PRE-K in our schools to ensure that every child starts their schooling on the same level.  I would tell a young person of any color to stay in school and take advantage of all opportunities afforded to them.  Also, they should seek mentors to help them move forward in a posiive way.

I think any answer I were to give to a young person of color who asks this question might be met with deep skepticism. There is so much that needs to change. Nevertheless, there are ways we can make a difference.

For a number of years, since serving on the Partnership to End Homelessness, I've been distressed by the problem of the criminalization of the poor. We need a stronger system of alternatives to the criminal justice system. Orange County has taken significant steps in this direction with the creation of the Criminal Justice Resource Department. This excellent result benefitted from the advocacy of the Jail Alternatives Work Group, which was formed about the time the thinking began in ernest about the new jail. The department's charge is to charge is to increase participation and success rates of jail alternative programs, such as the community court, which provides an alternative way of dealing with the small crimes of homeless people.

Another way to approach this program, again, is through the resources made available by the Family Succes Alliance. Working with families of very low income, they bear down on the social determinants of health, working on such issues as mental and behavioral health support, language/translation facilitation, and other basic needs. The importance of giving a child a sound, safe, and secure upbrining cannot be stressed enough. It's relevant here to realize that one of the social determants of *poor* health is when a child has a parent that is locked away in prison. The cycle continues. 

An great idea that may soon be a reality in Orange County is a reentry council for ex-offenders returning to civil society. The first step of one is already in place, with the FIT program, run out of the Department of Public Health. This program works with people coming out of prison to help them find the medical help that they may need. The next step will be to have a broader range of services, including help with finding jobs and housing. This kind of help is essential to curtailing the cycling of people in and out of the criminal justice system.



Dear Young Person:  Change won't come until those that benefit from the current system concede that it hurts them too. or as better said by  Dr, King said "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". But it will change where, change is forced. Look to the Parkland kids, black lives matter and #metoo as encourangment that you can make a difference by demanding change. The young people did it by encouraging the civil rights movement and the exit from the Vietnam war. You young people get it, you want to live in a world free of barriers, systems and injustice. Demand it and it will come. As for us older folks, we will try to change the system by highlighting the injustice in the courts, in policing and discrimination as best we can. "Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice"



I would say that we must continue to strive for equity and acknowledge that there are institutional systems that give majority white people advantages so that they know any lack of success is not from their lack of effort. I would tell them that it is going to take a lot of years to make measurable change, but we cannot give up. If their ancestors had given up, there would still be slavery. Young people (and old people too) need to learn about our history and how advantages have produced generational wealth for many white people and left others behind, especially African Americans. And, I am so proud of our young people marching, resisting, advocating and persisting to make change. Trump’s election forced the veil off of so-called progress. Open white supremacy means we all have to keep trying.

Attitudes about race are changing everyday!  While attending an Efland Cheeks Community Center program celebrating the life and legacy of its teachers and students, I listened to the challenges facing students some forty or more years ago.  Although depressing, they overcame some insurmountable odds to succced.  Today, they are treated like first-class citizens.  Retired schools teachers, librarians and county employees who serve the community by being role models for our youth.  

As a product of Orange High School, I am proud to know that our public education and county programs over the past twenty years have provided a core to success for everyone, regardless of race, gender or background.  Many of my African-American and female classmates are now successful in law, academia, entrepreneurship, banking and other fields.  While I can see the tide changing from the inside, it is important to note that we are never finished and it is not enough.  Our county is committed to ending prejudice and hatred.  I am committed to county policies that promote equity and invite members of our community to actively engage in mentorship and peer leadership to help propel the next generation into a future of community success for all.

Thanks so much for all your thoughts, ideas and patience. It’s been an honor to visit with you all this evening.

Feel free to offer any closing comments. We’ll keep the forum open until 9:15.

Thank you all for stepping up. Have a good evening and try to have some fun running for office.

Thanks Kirk! We'll see each other again Thursday evening at the forum by OCDP and DWOC at 7 pm at SHS.

Thanks for the great and thoughtful questions you've asked. 

Thank you, Kirk, for very good questions, and for providing us all an opportunity to share our visions and ideas about the future of Orange County. I look forward to continuing to engage with folks throughout the county as the campaign continues. There is so much good going on throughout Orange County, so many people making a difference every day.

Remember that early voting starts April 19! And thanks again.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our insights, ideas and beliefs about the future of Orange County, a place where we all love to live.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this forum.  I have been honored to serve as an Orange County Commissioner for the past 7 years.  I have tried in every decision I have had to make to place the needs or our residents above any personal opinions or preferences that I might have. Having been born in Orange County and active in my community all of my adult life, I believe I have the qualifications, experience and tract record to be able to serve for another term.  Of the seven years that I have served so far, two have been as Vice Chair and two have been as Chair.  I believe this shows an ability to collaborate with other board members to arrive at solutions for the many challenges we will face in the future.  I would appreciate your support and input on issues that are important to you and your family.  Thank you.

Thank you Kirk for excellent questions and to my colleagues for engaging in this great process.  I hope that our readers tonight will know that I am committed to making Orange County better every day.  We are the best county in this state and can and should lead our state in all areas of social change and public policy.  I am grateful to our local education leaders to take the county allocations and stretch them to their limit for the benefit of our children.  I thank my friends and neighbors who have been committed to strengthening our community throughout my life.  I would ask that each of us take a moment to invite the members of our communities to engage and support our public officials by voting in the May 8th primary.  Please visit my website www.noahoswald.com for more information about my candidacy; I hope you will join me in strengthening our county and support me with your vote for Orange County Commissioner At-Large.


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