Name as it appears on the ballot: Jenn Weaver
Full legal name, if different: Jennifer Elizabeth Weaver
Date of birth: 10/22/1973
Occupation & employer: mother, freelance copy-editor, yoga teacher. Employed by self, children, and Hillsborough Sports Plex
Campaign website: www.facebook.com/JennWeaverForTownBoard
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Hillsborough? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?
The most important issues facing Hillsborough are: transportation, development (what kind and where), and affordability. I would prioritize the latter and see it as intricately intertwined with the former two. Over recent years Hillsborough has become a more and more popular place for people in the triangle to move. Many of these newcomers are families who had been renting in Carrboro or Chapel Hill, and saw Hillsborough as a place with an appealing small town vibe with houses they could afford to own. It is good for Hillsborough that people want to be here, and we need to take steps to ensure that people can afford to stay here – people like those mentioned above, plus long term residents of middle to lower incomes, and elderly residents living on fixed incomes. County property taxes are a big part of the high cost of living, which obviously the town can't control, but we can take other steps to make living in Hillsborough more manageable. We do not want people to feel like they just can't make it here.
How to do this? For starters, we need work toward having a more effective public transportation system. The circulator bus has been a terrific addition, but it is not a viable option for getting to and from work. It currently travels in a big circle around town, and takes about an hour. For residents who work outside of town, the buses to Chapel Hill and Durham don't run on hours that make a lot of sense for people's work schedules, and they are not frequent enough. Thankfully, all of our local transit entities are currently working on improving this situation. The town board needs to be attentive in seeing this through in a satisfying manner. When the train station becomes a reality, we need to be sure that all of our neighborhoods are connected to the station with timely and safe routes via bus, foot, or bike, and that the station is appropriately linked to existing or proposed transit infrastructure.
On the development end, we must be conscientious that any new housing developments incorporate a suitable amount of affordable housing. If it is appropriate and consistent with our land use plan, we might consider allowing a few extra units than we may normally allow if there is a certain percentage of low to midrange units made available. In neighborhoods such as West Hillsborough, where housing is affordable and still walkable to downtown, we might consider restrictive covenants that prevent the tearing down of older, smaller homes in favor of building newer, large homes that will drive taxes up for everyone in the vicinity. Economic development in general is an entirely larger discussion, but in brief: everyone agrees that Hillsborough would do well bring more balance to the residential v. business tax base ratio, but the trick for us is to make choices that support our local entrepreneurs and maintain our small town culture. The current board has done an excellent job of revitalizing downtown, and supporting/facilitating the new development over on Nash Street and the Eno River Mill Hillsborough Business Center. It would be great to see something similar happen in the way of redevelopment/revitalization on the north side of town as envisioned by the US70/Cornelius Corridor plan. The town has, for good reasons mostly related to wise planning, chosen to prioritize development on the south end of town. This need not be an either/or situation – we can remain focused on the south end while still being open to possibilities on the north side. It would be wonderful to support some local entrepreneurs to creating an eclectic mix of non-chain eating establishments and storefronts that would provide jobs and add to the tax base.
Lastly, in light of high property taxes and high water/sewer bills, the town should be vigilant about any opportunities to educate residents and seek out grant dollars for energy retrofits. When some costs are mostly fixed, we need to find ways to alleviate those that are not.
2. If you are not currently serving on the Town Commission, what will you bring to the body that it now lacks? If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?
Inevitably, the two people who are elected to the open commissioner seats will bring fresh energy and a fresh outlook that will add to the 3 current members, the newest having been elected to the board ten years ago. This is a good thing. I certainly hope to be one of those providing the fresh energy and outlook. On a more personal note, I offer the perspective of many Hillsborough residents who are raising families here in Hillsborough. I have one, and soon two, children in the schools here, and though public schools are not in the purview of the town, having that connection would help inform the board as they make choices about parks, open space, transit, and other connectivity issues. Having children adds to the juggle everyone is doing with how to allocate expenses, down to where the family chooses to shop and do other business. I will also bring my vision to the boards' decision-making as someone who uses goals of sustainability and social justice as guiding forces in making choices. These goals are sometimes hard to see, and frequently incrementally inched toward, but in my view, still essential drivers for good government. Any new member to the town board will have a steep learning curve, but my background in political science and public policy gives me a solid foundation in government that will free up more room to focus on the intricacies of Hillsborough itself.
3. In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Hillsborough town government, and why? Conversely, what are three things you would have done differently?
The three best accomplishments of town government in recent years are the siting of the train station, the facilitating of the Nash St business revitalization, and the prioritization of completing River Walk. Each of these items is indicative of the vision held and pursued by the board of making Hillsborough a place that supports small and local business, creativity entrepreneurship, and innovative infill that is consistent with our town culture. The train station and River Walk, in particular, fit beautifully into the town goal of connectivity that is non-car based, and will also add tremendously to Hillsborough's appeal as a destination spot for people to visit and spend money in our local economy.
The three things I would have done differently are: more aggressively gotten the word out about stimulus funding that was available for energy upgrades to help more residents lower their heating and cooling costs and lower our overall carbon footprint, done more aggressive outreach to increase participation in our many local events and festivals by a broad array of residents, and I would have been against allowing the Oakdale Village commercial development to go in without drastically changing the design of the buildings and parking lot. As for the energy upgrades, I feel there was a missed opportunity there. We have high fixed water costs, and helping our citizens better capitalize on federal stimulus dollars for energy upgrades could really have helped some people out to save on energy bills as a way to offset high water costs. A town-wide campaign on this could have helped steer our community and town culture toward a mindset of reducing our carbon-footprint as a community effort.
In the past couple of years, Hillsborough has seen an increase in local events Last Fridays, Fresh Roots Fest, and Westober, to name a few. I would like to see the crowds at these events better reflect the diversity of residents in Hillsborough. To be frank, the crowds are largely white, and leave me wondering why our African-American population isn't represented there to a larger degree. This is not an easy question to raise or address, but when participation is one-sided, it is worth exploring why, and consider what we might do to support the organizers of these wonderful events in bringing in a broader array of our population in terms of vendors and participants.
As for the last item, this is the type of development that would have benefited greatly from a complete redesign, if it was to be there at all. Oakdale does not fit well with principles of smart growth either. This piece of commercial property sits empty, save for one building occupied by UNC Family Medical. What we have is a huge, empty parking lot fringed by generic, empty buildings. Yes, it is the developer's job to fill the space, but the design is out of synch with our stated goals to have development fit in with our small town, historic feel. This design looks like it could be in any town in America, and it is hard to imagine any creative, innovative entrepreneur local or otherwise - getting excited about locating there (though I would love to be proven wrong, and I hope to see those spaced filled soon).
4. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
I have an ingrained commitment to the importance of a just society and community. Social media has its flaws, but one thing it does do is illustrate a sketch of what users find important. It is easy to peruse through my Facebook history and see that equality and justice are values I hold very dear, and that I seek to hold elected officials accountable to these values. I also have engaged in my community in a number of ways over time to help further these goals (see question 8 for a more complete list). Now, it is true that no one seeking elected office would say they weren't in favor of a more just community, but we ought to try to elect people who have a record of making that important. I have that. I have most recently acted on those values by becoming involved in the Forward Together/Moral Monday movement over the summer. It was my view that the state was moving to pass a number of laws that would and until they are changed, will result in a less just North Carolina. Their actions were contrary to 100 years of methodical, if imperfect, progress along these lines. That is why I chose to engage in civil disobedience on June 3, and why I continued going every Monday I was in town for thereafter, with my children in tow. I believe that this non-partisan, progressive movement called Forward Together provides hope and opportunity for a more just community than we have seen in recent memory. As mentioned previously I would use this goal of justice as a lens through which I viewed decisions, and encourage my colleagues to do the same. I would expect to be held accountable to this by Hillsborough residents, as well.
5. How do you define yourself politically (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid, etc.) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I consider myself a progressive. I believe in the steady progress of working toward a just society one where every individual has the same opportunity without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or social class. I believe that progressivism includes a right to health care that is affordable, to an excellent public education, and to economic and ecological justice (among other things). Government should be open and doing its part to work toward that end of justice.
My past achievements and present campaign reflect this dedication to progressivism. I chose to attend and graduate from an undergraduate institution (Prescott College in Prescott, AZ) which explicitly states that social justice and environmental sustainability are part of its mission. While in graduate school at UNC, the subjects of my study were in these issue categories. I initiated and taught the first class on Race and American Politics that had been taught in the political science department in 7 years. While in school I served on the board of The Peoples Channel, dedicated to open government and to helping citizens get access to our public airways. My tenure on the Hillsborough Park and Recreation board has been focused on ensuring that citizens from all of our neighborhoods have access to safe, walkable parks and open space. Perhaps my most explicit act to stand for my dedication to progressivism was making the choice to risk arrest as part of the Moral Monday protests in the General Assembly this summer to express my vehemenent opposition to the policies being enacted which were taking (took) our state backward to an era where inequality was institutionalized (I was part of the June 3 group).
In my campaign I have persistently talked about the need for all of our neighborhoods to be heard. It is all too easy to simply think of "historic Hillsborough" as strictly the quaint historic district (full disclosure, I live in the HD), but our town is much more than that, and different neighborhoods have different needs and desires. We have upwards of a 25% poverty rate in Hillsborough. These residents aren't eating at our cool new restaurants or drinking at our hip new bars. The amenities Hillsborough has added in recent years are terrific, but we can't let our pleasure with those blind us to the fact that many of our residents are still reeling form the recession and long-term poverty. Reaching out to and ensuring that all of our citizens from all walks are included in the process will lead to decision-making that better serves our whole community.
People in Hillsborough pay a flat rate of $61 (60.99) for their water and sewer bill (it's twice that for those in the ETJ). This rate is standard regardless of how much water you conserve, and only increases if you use an inordinate amount of water. For many in Hillsborough, a $61 water bill regardless of gallons used is something to be annoyed by, grumble about, and pay every month. But for many people, a $61 water bill every month takes a sizeable bite out of their ability to cover all their other needs and expenses. There may not be a lot the town can do to alleviate that particular cost (though we should continue thinking about how), but it's the kind of thing that must be at the forefront of our minds when making other choices about how to spend town funds or pass along costs to residents.
I also keep pressing the issue of economic and environmental sustainability. I am not one to shy away from the importance of recognizing climate change as a reality, preparing for new conditions created by it as best as we are able, and doing what we can to reduce our carbon footprint, as individual residents and as a town. Making choices that are ecologically responsible may not always be popular, or easy short-term fixes, but they must be made. Economic sustainability is also important. We need to consider whether choices and priorities made by the town are economically manageable for or individual citizens (as mentioned above), and whether they keep our town fiscally viable in the long run.
6. Town commissioners continue to pursue completion of the Riverwalk greenway. Do you agree with this and what is your long-term vision for greenspace in Hillsborough?
I absolutely agree with pursuing the completion of the Riverwalk greenway. Hillsborough is already a small town jewel of North Carolina and increasingly a destination spot for tourists. Riverwalk will add to its attractiveness as a destination for people to visit and support our local economy, and equally if not more importantly, it will be a beautiful, safe connector for our residents wanting to walk or ride their bikes downtown. Riverwalk also puts Hillsborough on the map as the only municipality on the Mountains to Sea trail. This is an example of the board having a long-term vision that would benefit the town in numerous ways, and the staff working professionally and diligently to bring it to fruition.
Hillsborough's Community Connectivity Plan and Master Parks and Recreation Plan are excellent documents to guide greenspace decision-making well into the future. Both of these plans were made with significant community input, and are quite remarkable for their detail and vision in a town that does not even have a parks and recreation budget line. As conditions change, which they inevitably do, these plans can be revised and updated.
On a practical note, as I have knocked on doors all over Hillsborough, residents have noted Riverwalk as something they have patiently and excitedly awaited, and expressed satisfaction for the large number of parks and open recreation space Hillsborough has for a town this size. Some residents have expressed a desire for more greenspace sites with the vibe of Occoneechee Speedway or Ayr Mount with shaded trails to walk or bike (bikes are currently not allowed at either of those sites). This shade piece is actually pretty important. Some of our parks get so hot in the summer they are unusable. Trees will grow in eventually, but not after many of our current children have aged out of the parks. I am strongly in favor of preserving trees on new and existing park space whenever possible.
7. With so much development in the town's future, what is your vision for Hillsborough? How do you balance the town's small-town, local charm with the push for growth?
My vision for Hillsborough is one where we make our choices with goals of community, connectivity, and sustainability. Whenever weighing the choice about whether to accept or seek out development opportunities, I'll be asking "Will this increase our feeling of community, in the location and throughout town? Will this help or hinder connectivity? Is this choice sustainable, economically and ecologically, in the long term? The long term aspect is critical, because often what is in the long term best interest of the town is not the easiest or most politically expedient thing to do. Development choices are among the toughest the town board faces. Maintaining Hillsborough's small-town, local charm is essential not just because those who live here like it (though that is important!), but because it is critical to the fiscal health of the whole town. We cannot allow Hillsborough to morph into a town that looks like it could be anywhere. People choose to live here, visit here, and locate their businesses here because of its unique character, and that must always be kept in mind. The current board has shown responsibility and forethought by carefully accounting for and considering exactly how much water and sewer capacity we have, so that we are not blindly making development decisions that are divorced from that reality. Our Land Use Plan and Strategic Growth Plan set good limits for the type and location of development, and provide vision for supporting our unique town culture. Development choices must be made case by case, yet within the overall vision and framework of what makes Hillsborough work, and with significant community input. If something seems like a pretty good idea, but could use some adjustments to fit into our overall vision, we should work with the developers to see if we can bring it to a workable solution.
8. Following the approval of a half-cent transit tax last year, regional officials continue to pursue an expanded public transportation network. Do you support this? If so, what are your goals for regional public transit and how can they be accomplished?
I absolutely support this. My goal for regional transit it to create a system that successfully encourages people to use their cars less, and enables those without cars to get to and from the places they need to go work, school, parks, grocery stores in a safe and timely manner. When the train station is built, existing and future public transit infrastructure should be connected. I attended one of the public meetings held jointly by the town and county in Fairview neighborhood, and was impressed by how those who actually use or would like to use our regional transit system were asked what was and wasn't working and how it could be better. I thought this was an excellent approach to problem-solving. The town should continue working with our regional partners, and continue outreach to the public to educate and encourage use of public transit, especially as more routes are added and it becomes a more effective way to get around.
9. What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Town Board? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.
• 2008-present, Hillsborough Parks and Recreation Board. Serving on the P and R Board has allowed me get a good understanding of how decisions are made in Hillsborough, particularly the importance of community input in making sound decisions that are also supported by residents. It has also clarified how important open space and parks are as an asset for our residents, and an amenity that makes businesses want to locate here. Participating in the completion of the Community Connectivity Plan and helping update the Parks and Recreation Mater Plan has been very gratifying.
• Participation in the Vision 2030 discussion this past January with other town leaders, business owners, volunteers, and residents. This forum provided an excellent chance to have a well-facilitated discussion about what is and isn't working for various members of the community, and to talk about and consider what our common goals are and how we might meet them.
• 2005-2007, board member of The Peoples Channel. TPC is dedicated to open government and media access to the community. The mission of TPC is to "advance democratic ideals by giving area residents and local non-profits an avenue to share their ideas, and news and views, exercise free speech rights". Local government officials must also do what they can to support those ideals, and remember that their duty is to serve the community and ensure that their ideas and views are heard.
• 2012-present, member of the Hillsborough Elementary PTA. I feel that my connection to the local public schools as a parent is valuable in providing a direct connection to the board to have a finger on the pulse of how are schools are doing, especially in an era of drastically reduced funding. If our schools aren't doing well, our town will suffer.
• 2009, Assistant Director for Research, UNC Program on Public Life. In this position I worked with faculty and state legislators to create research-based public policy. Utilizing good research in an applied fashion leads to informed public policy, and goes a long way toward preventing mistakes that are ultimately costly to taxpayers.
• 2004-2005, Rural Center-funded research project on prison sitings in North Carolina with Dr. Michele Hoyman. As a graduate student in the UNC political science department, I assisted Dr Hoyman in an extensive project, funded by the Rural Center, which explored prison sitings in rural North Carolina. During this project I interviewed numerous local elected officials, staff, and residents in small towns across the state about what led them to accept or reject a prison. Beyond the subject matter, this project gave me a close up look to how towns of similar size to Hillsborough operate, the role class and race can play in community culture and choices, how difficult infrastructure improvements are on the limited budgets of small towns, and how economic development choices can make or break a small town if just a few things go awry.
• 2001-2002, Alumni Director for Prescott College. In this position I was responsible for reaching out to an alumni community that had been largely ignored for years. I found that I was a skilled communicator in really being able to listen to people on the phone or in person about how it felt to be ignored, and then finding a way to understand what could make the relationship better, how to act on it, and how to get alumni reinvested in the future of the college they still held dearly in their hearts. Graduates from Prescott College by in large do not typically go on to make lots of money, so finding ways to make people feel included that didn't involve large donations was also important. This experience parallels how some residents feel left out of the process here in Hillsborough, and gave me valuable related experience in engaged listening and leadership. Everyone needs to be invested in the idea that we are all important to fulfilling the vision of Hillsborough, regardless of the neighborhood in which we live.