George Lucier | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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George Lucier

Chatham County Commissioner - District 3

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Name: George Lucier

Date of Birth: June 23, 1943

Home address: 628 Redbud, Pittsboro NC 27312

Years lived in Chatham County: 37

Campaign website: http://lucier4chatham.blogspot.com/

Occupation: Retired scientist and public health leader from the National Institutes of Health and current Chatham County Commissioner.

Home phone: 919-542-4629

Cell phone: 919-548-4151

Email: glucier@earthlink.net


Question 1. Chatham County, like most local jurisdictions, is facing many difficult challenges in the next few years. The overarching question is, "how do we best serve both the short and long term interests of Chatham County citizens"? As an incumbent (first elected in 2006), I am proud of our record of accomplishment and I am enthusiastic about our vision for the future. When Carl Thompson, Tom Vanderbeck and I took office in December 2006, Chatham County was in the backwaters of the Research Triangle area and not respected by other jurisdictions. In contrast, we are now a respected leader and innovator; other local governments now want to know what Chatham County is doing and how we are doing it. Chatham County now ranks 4th out of 100 counties in our support for public schools, 4th in a wide array of health indicators and we have the 3rd lowest unemployment rate in North Carolina yet our tax rate is lower than most counties in the area. Our land use ordinances and incentive plan for economic development are considered by many as models for others to follow. We are a very efficient and effective local government. Let's not regress to a time of neglect, mediocre schools and rule by those who cater to special interests. Please support the reelection of Lucier, Thompson and Vanderbeck and keep Chatham County moving forward. The following is a list of the most important issues facing Chatham County and our record of accomplishment and priorities for the future:

Economic Development.

1. We have worked with Pittsboro, Siler City, Goldston, business leaders and interested citizens to adopt a strategic plan for economic development. It is now imperative that we continue to implement the plan and take advantage of business clusters where we have a competitive advantage. These areas include medical/pharmaceutical, food processing, agribusiness, ecotourism, alternative energy, arts and wood processing.

2. Economic development in Chatham County requires attention to water and sewer issues. We need to continue to strengthen our working relationship with the towns to ensure a quality water supply far into the future. We have established a regional consortium to build a water treatment plant on the west side of Jordan Lake and we are making good progress; that progress must continue. We are working with Goldston and state and federal officials to bring sewer to Goldston. If successful, this project will solve both a growing public health problem and bring economic development potential to a part of Chatham County that sorely needs it. We have also received the go ahead from the state to begin the process of establishing sewer capacity for Chatham County. It is critical that we work with the towns and our citizens to determine how a county sewer capacity can best serve economic development and small businesses without creating sprawl.

3. Job Training is essential to economic development. We are expanding our community college system by adding new facilities in Pittsboro and Siler City that focus on 21st century jobs including green energy and other jobs related to areas where we have a competitive advantage. We have revised our economic incentive plan to emphasize training and hiring of Chatham County citizens. Our public schools are critical and we need to continue our efforts to establish joint programs with the community college and other initiatives to reduce the dropout rate.

Public Schools

1. We have established a strong and effective working relationship with the Board of Education. In contrast to most jurisdictions, we work with good will and common purpose to improve public education in Chatham County. I and the other Commissioners were honored to be declared Commissioners of the Year by the North Carolina School Board Association for our support and creative funding of schools in the face of financial crisis; we increased the school budget by 4% so that no teachers were laid off and all school construction projects were able to continue. I believe that schools are a top priority because our children are our future and that future will be a lot brighter with a high quality public school system. We now rank 4th highest in the state in school funding per student. We need to maintain our strong working relationship with the school system so that Chatham County schools do not suffer from the destructive bickering that is now occurring in Wake County schools. The fiscal policies expoused by my Republican opponents would be a recipe for mediocre schools in Chatham County.

2. We need to continue to develop a forward looking new school construction program and also renovate our existing older schools. When I was elected in 2006, we were behind the curve but we are now catching up by building a new middle school, planning for a new high school and elementary school and renovating all 17 of our existing schools. I started a land banking initiative for acquiring property now for our schools of the future. Land prices will continue to escalate as Chatham County grows so now is the time to buy.

3. I will continue to work with our school system to recruit and retain good teachers. This is absolutely essential for a high quality school system. We have made good progress by increasing teacher supplements and by working with the school system to create a stable system that is attractive to teachers.

Land Use and Regional Planning

1. When I took office in 2006, Chatham County land use planning was ruled by big developers. My Republican opponents want a return to this situation. In contrast, I believe that growth and development should be managed to ensure that it works to the benefit of Chatham county citizens. During my first term, I worked hard to enact common sense ordinances that will protect our rural character and environment and at the same encourage growth that will benefit us in the future. Its not just about making a quick buck; that approach with complicity from our financial institutions drove this great country into a deep recession. In my next term, I pledge to fully implement our major amendments to the subdivision, zoning, watershed, soil erosion and sedimentation control and storm water control ordinances. My Republican opponents want to turn back the clock and give control back to the big developers. Chatham County is blessed with an abundance of natural resources; Jordan Lake and the Haw, Rocky and Deep rivers. I will work hard to protect those resources. In order to be successful, we must continue to work with good will with neighboring jurisdictions.

2. Growth in Chatham County is out of balance. We have had substantial residential growth but not enough commercial or business growth. During my first term, I worked to adopt an economic development strategic plan and a farmland preservation plan. Both plans received broad support from all towns and areas in Chatham County. Our job now is to use those plans as a roadmap to bring economic development and commercial development to Chatham County and at the same time foster agriculture and prevent sprawl.

3. Land use planning and infrastructure go hand in hand. In my second term, I will continue to plan for long term stability of our water supply and other key infrastructure components. We must make sure that our growth does not outstrip our ability to provide water, sewer, good schools and recreational facilities.

Fiscal Responsibility

1. I am a firm believer in fiscal responsibility and my record during my first term supports that statement. The Commissioners are the fiscal stewards of the county and it our job to see that needed services are provided in a cost efficient manner. Here are a few facts that show my commitment to fiscal responsibility. We trimmed the overall county budget by 3% last year and at the same time increased the school budget by 4%. I have worked hard to keep Chatham County on a firm fiscal foundation and both our short and long term financial indicators have remained strong during the recession. Our property tax rate is about average for North Carolina counties yet we are the 4th highest in per capita school funding. We navigated through difficult financial markets to obtain funding for the Margaret Pollard Middle School, expansion of Northwood High School, new library, community college buildings in Pittsboro and Siler City and the Judicial Center. Because, these are being built in an economic downturn, we saved about 10 million dollars in construction costs. Chatham County has 20% fewer employees per capita than the average for North Carolina counties, yet we provide good educational, law enforcement, health and social services so our government is lean and effective. In addition, we work with many outstanding non profit agencies to help leverage limited funds for some critical services to county residents.

2. We have established a policy to require public buildings, including schools, to be built to LEEDS Silver standards. This practice conserves energy, saving the taxpayers money on energy costs. In my next term, I will continue this practice and work towards energy conservation in our older buildings.

3. We have established a rigorous departmental review process as part of our budget deliberations to ensure that priorities for county services are being met in the most efficient way possible. I will continue this practice in my second term.

Question 2. I have had a long record of public service at the local, state and national levels. In every case, I have shown leadership and managerial skills and I have demonstrated my ability to negotiate and solve difficult problems in a multidisciplinary environment. Here are some examples:

1. I am a retired scientist with over 250 publications in the scientific literature. Many of the publications provide innovative approaches for how to use and translate science in public policy decisions. I have been widely recognized for my ability to do this and have received many awards for my public health service.

2. I am the former Associate Director of the nation's largest toxicology research and testing organization and was responsible for coordinating toxicology testing priorities across numerous federal agencies including EPA, the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the Consumers product Safety Commission. I was asked by the Clinton Whitehouse and the U.S. Congress, on many occasions, to develop multiagency strategies for strengthening the scientific foundation on which regulatory decisions are based.

3. During my first term on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, I served as Chair for 2 years and Vice Chair for 2 years so I have been responsible for identifying key issues, conducting the Commissioner meetings and serving as a spokesperson for Board decisions.

4. When I was Associate Director of the National toxicology Program for 7 years, I was responsible for securing and prioritizing a budget of 100 million dollars.

5. I was elected Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Resources in 1991 and reelected for 15 consectutive years until I resigned in 2006 when I decided to run for Chatham County commissioner. I was responsible for overseeing risk assessments for air pollutants to which North Carolina residents are exposed.

6. I am founding editor of the international journal, "Environmental Health Perspectives".I served as editor for 28 years and it is now considered the world's leading environmental health journal.

7. Athletics have always been an important part of my life. I set my high school basketball scoring record in 1961 and this was not broken until 1997. I also broke the rebounding record for Clark University and was elected captain of the team in 1964. In Chatham County, I have coached numerous recreational teams and I was the coach for the Woods Charter varsity basketball team.

8. I have served on several committees, mandated by the state legislature, regarding critical public policy issues, including the committee to develop environmentally superior technologies to handle hog wastes and the committee to evaluate the cause of fish kills in North Carolina waters.

9. I was appointed to the Planning Board of Chatham county in 2001 by Margaret Pollard and was elected Chair in 2002 and 2003 so I have a firsthand knowledge of planning issues in Chatham County.

10. I serve on the Board of Trustees for the Central Carolina Community College and am an ex-officio member of the Economic development Corporation. In these roles I focus on job training for Chatham County citizens.

Question 3. How I am defined politically is better left to others and there is no shortage of opinions on this subject. I believe that I have answered the substance of this question in my previous responses but let me add a couple of points. My approach to public policy issues and decision making in Chatham County is based on my career as a scientist. First identify and characterize the problem and its significance to Chatham County. Second, seek opinion through a public input process and develop appropriate methods to address the problem. Third, continue to receive vital public input and develop tractable options with advice and recommendations from the relevant advisory boards. Fourth, make a decision; Commissioners must have the courage to make decisions based on all available information and public input and explain to all citizens the reasons for a decision. This is what we did when we amended our subdivision, zoning and watershed ordinances and I believe that this process is essential to democracy.

Question 4. I believe that regional and collaborative approaches between jurisdictions are essential to the success of Chatham County. We must work in an atmosphere of common purpose and good will with Pittsboro, Siler City and Goldston to address the ever- increasing dilemmas facing local governments. But this is not enough. We must reach beyond our borders to address common infrastructure and land use priorities. I have done my best to follow this philosophy and will continue to do so if reelected. Here are some examples:

1. I am working hard with a regional consortium (Pittsboro, Cary, Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Raleigh, Wake County, Army Core of engineers, Division of Water Quality) to construct a regional water treatment plant on the west side of Jordan Lake. Our progress has been good and we are in a good position to receive an increased water allocation from Jordan Lake. Lets not squander this opportunity which might not happen again.

2. We are working on a joint land use plan with Cary on the east side of Jordan Lake. My overarching goals of this collaboration are to protect water quality in Jordan Lake, enhance economic development in an area close to research Triangle Park and to limit the legal ability of Cary to annex into Chatham County.

3. We have established a joint planning committee with Chapel Hill and Orange County for the purpose of addressing transportation, land use and environmental considerations. My Republican opponents have criticized these initiatives. Let's not squander the advances that we have made in regional collaborations.

Question 5. I have already addressed most aspects of this question on land use planning in my responses to question 1 but I would like to add a couple of points:

1. I believe that our current land use plan, adopted 10 years ago, is a good document but it is in need of revision.

2. A land use plan is not a regulation; it is a vision for future development and it should provide a reliable and consistent framework for ordinances and land use regulations.

3. I have proposed that our current land use plan be updated to integrate the economic development strategic plan, the farmland preservation plan, the recreation master plan as well as our recent amendments to the subdivision, zoning and watershed ordinances. It is important that all of Chatham County's plans are consistent and provide a clear vision for future growth.

4. I have been a strong advocate for the protection of our natural resources and this is evidenced by the fact that we have enacted strict rules to protect our rivers and streams, Our ordinances are generally recognized by other jurisdictions as model ordinances for others to follow.

5. I and my commissioner colleagues played a key role in the successful negotiations that were essential to legislative passage of the Jordan lake nutrient rules. In my second term I will continue to focus on protecting water quality in Jordan Lake.

Question 6. My answer to this question is mostly covered in my response to question 1. In that response I emphasize the importance of balancing our growth so that we bring jobs, retail development and commercial development into Chatham County. The fact is that residential growth does not pay for itself. In contrast, business and commercial development and agriculture more than pays for itself. In my second term, I will continue to work towards economic development and to broaden our tax base. It is not in Chatham County's long term interest to be only a bedroom community for Research Triangle, Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

Question 7. Chatham County is primarily a rural agricultural county but we are growing fast especially in the Northeast. I am a strong advocate of public transit because it improves air quality, lessens traffic congestion and provides mobility for all citizens including the young and old and those who need public transportation to get to their jobs. We recently partnered with Pittsboro and Chapel Hill to establish a bus route between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill. This initiative was criticized by my Republican opponents. This criticism is short sighted and politically motivated. Chatham County needs to get ahead of the curve in public transportation and it is necessary to meet strict air quality standards for ozone and other air pollutants. I advocated for the recently formed Transportation Advisory Board so that the Commissioners will be able to call upon expert advice which is needed as we compete for limited transportation funds.

Question 8. I have been critical of NCDOT's plan to change Rt 64 to a super highway through Chatham County. The plan would prevent economic development along some of our major intersections, is unfair to small businesses located on Rt 64 and it is inconsistent with our strategic plan for economic development that was adopted by all jurisdictions in Chatham County. In my second term, I will continue to look after Chatham County's economic interest in Rt 64 by partnering our objections with Cary and Apex and by informing the Governor, Speaker Hackney and the Secretary of NCDOT that Chatham County's concerns must be addressed. This approach appears to be working.

Question 9. Broadband access in all parts of Chatham County is essential for economic development and quality of life for many of our citizens. Current federal and state rules make it difficult on rural counties such as Chatham to get the service we need. We are working at all levels; federal, state and broadband providers to level the playing field and we are making headway as we are now included as a key player in rural broadband access deliberations. Commissioner Vanderbeck has led the efforts of the Chatham County Commissioners and I am fully supportive of his initiatives.

Question 10.Infrastruture and financial planning is critical for the long term success of local jurisdictions. In Chatham County, we have established a 5 year capital improvement plan that is updated each year according to projected revenues and need. This plan is accompanied by realistic debt modeling to ensure that we will have the revenue to pay the debt incurred by the projects. We are also active in applying for grants and economic stimulus funds to help pay for the costs. For smaller projects such as school renovations and other projects less than 2 million dollars we pay as we go so those projects do not impact our debt ceiling. We maintain at least a 20% fund balance so that we can keep our strong bond rating. Our financial stability has enabled us to begin major construction projects in an economic downturn thus saving millions of dollars in construction costs. The following is a list of ongoing and planned major construction projects with the year started or planned to start:

Northwood High School renovations/expansion------------------------------------------2009

New Library in Pittsboro -------------------------------------------------------------------2009

Sustainable Technology building on the Pittsboro Community College campus-----2009

Industrial Technology building for the Siler City Community College-----------------2009

New Margaret Pollard Middle School in Briar Chapel------------------------------------2009

New Judicial Center----------------------------------------------------------------------------2010

New Jail------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------2012

County --owned landfill (enterprise funds) -------------------------------------------------2013

New High School-------------------------------------------------------------------------------2013

In addition we are the process of planning for constructing a water intake and treatment plant on the west side of Jordan Lake with our regional partners including Pittsboro, Orange County, OWASA, Durham, Apex, Cary and others.

Question 11. I will work with the Board of Education (BOE) to redraw both the BOC and BOE districts based on the 2010 census data which will become available in 2011. I believe that the BOE and BOC districts should be identical. Therefore, I will propose a joint BOC/BOE- appointed citizen task force to provide recommendations and options to both boards. I believe that each district should have close to equal populations based on the 2010 census data. I do not think that we should prejudge where growth will occur after 2010.

Question 12. In general, I support the idea of going to a seven member board because the current five member board is asked to do a lot so an additional two members would help to broaden our combined expertise. I believe that we should also consider a mixed system such as four members representing individual districts and three members elected at large. However, final decisions on this and other proposals should await the recommendations of the citizen task force and subsequent public hearings.

Question 13. In my 2006 campaign, I emphasized the need of openness and transparency in government and the importance of receiving and considering public input in decision making. I believe strongly that citizens should play a key role in local government. Here are some examples of what I have done to increase transparency and accountability in Chatham County government:

1. We adopted a BOC code of ethics in my first commissioner meeting in December 2006

2. We established a citizen Green Building Task Force to develop recommendations on how Chatham County can conserve energy. We have adopted several of the recommendations including constructing all public buildings to at least LEEDS Silver standards.

3. We established a citizen-based Environmental Review Board to advise us on environmental policy issues. They played a key role in revising our watershed ordinance and our soil erosion and sedimentation control ordinance and developed the process and criteria for conducting environmental assessments on new developments.

4. We have modified our agenda setting process to provide more information to interested citizens

5. We instituted a policy of conducting public hearings on our capital improvement plan

6. I initiated the State of the County address and delivered it in 2008 and 2009. This address provides issue-oriented information on major and planned BOC initiatives.

7. I work with the School Board in an open and transparent manner and now we have a very positive relationship with the School Board.

8. We seek public input on all major decisions

9. We have updated our website to be more informative and more user friendly.

10. We now prepare information releases on all major BOC activities.

11. I serve as Commissioner liaison to numerous citizen advisory boards for the purpose of ensuring that communication is a two way street.

Question 14. One example of a principled stand was my support and vote for a resolution that Chatham County should not participate in the ICE program. My support for the resolution was based on the fact that, in many circumstances, the ICE program encouraged racial profiling and did nothing to reduce crime. Also, the program was costly and I don't think that local governments are equipped to enforce Federal immigration laws although I do believe that comprehensive immigration reform is needed. My stand on this issue was criticized by many including threatening e-mails and phone calls yet I did not waver in my support of the BOC resolution. Chatham County is a diverse county and if reelected I will continue to honor that diversity not disrespect it.

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