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Orange and Chatham counties

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Orange and Chatham counties voting guide


Orange County Board of Commissioners

At-large seat

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This race was effectively decided when Bernadette Pelissier won the Democratic primary in May. We stand by our enthusiastic endorsement of Pelissier, a retired social science researcher from Hillsborough, former chair of the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club and Orange Water and Sewer Authority board. Her recent work on the Orange County planning board and the Trianglewide Special Transit Advisory Committee further deepen her experience and holistic perspective on the complex challenges the county faces. We believe Pelissier will be an excellent commissioner.

Republican Kevin Wolff is a patent attorney who made an unsuccessful bid for Chapel Hill mayor in 2007 and declined to share his views with the Indy, but Wolff has said in the past he supports making development "less cumbersome."

This is the first of two new at-large seats to be elected in Orange County, following a successful 2006 referendum that will expand the board from five seats to seven.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member Pam Hemminger and incumbent commissioner Valerie Foushee, both candidates for Chapel Hill-Carrboro District 2, are running unopposed. District 1 candidate Steve Yuhasz, who will represent the rest of the county, is also running unopposed following his win in the Democratic primary.

Chatham County Board of Commissioners

Two of the five seats on the Chatham Commissioners are up for grabs this fall, after a contentious primary season that pitted former political allies against each other in Democratic races in both District 1 and District 2.

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We reaffirm our strong support for Sally Kost in District 1, whom we endorsed in May in her Democratic primary race against incumbent Patrick Barnes. A former budget director in Orange and Wake counties, Kost brings a skill set that's sorely needed on this board, which faces a massive undertaking in funding new schools to accommodate the children under all its new rooftops. Kost has been active in county politics at the grassroots level for the last four years. She has served as chairwoman of the planning board and has thoughtful, practical ideas for moving Chatham toward a "clean, green economy."

She's smart and will work hard at the people's business, as well as expand the diversity of what's now an all-male board.

Kost faces Republican Jeanna Bock, a political unknown who has not actively campaigned.


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In District 2, we continue to recommend incumbent Mike Cross, a one-term Democrat whom we endorsed in his first bid four years ago and again in the May primary. While Cross has lost support from some of his initial fans—and we don't agree with all of his policy stances—his steadfast service provides some much-needed experience on a board whose majority has only two years' tenure.

Cross, a retired Navy officer, faces Republican challenger Andy Wilkie, a frequent candidate for office, and Bob Knight. Knight, an unaffiliated candidate from Sanford who works as a Wal-Mart greeter, lists "illegals in the county" as his chief concern, along with protecting property rights and promoting economic development.

Chatham County Board of Education

The nonpartisan five-member Chatham school board will gain two new faces this fall, as incumbents Holly Duncan and Norman Clark, both of whom we supported four years ago, have chosen to step down.

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In District 1, we recommend Flint O'Brien, a software director at Hatteras Networks and father of two public elementary school students, who also received the backing of the Chatham County teachers' association and the Chatham Coalition.

O'Brien has devoted much of the last two years to preparing for service on the school board. "I was in a school board meeting and I realized that the board of education never talks about improving education," O'Brien wrote in our questionnaire. Since then, O'Brien says, he's visited every school in the district, attended all school board meetings, interviewed almost every principal and talked to parents, teachers and staff. That work gave rise to a group (and a Web site) called GoodSchoolz.org, which O'Brien now runs. In his detailed questionnaire, O'Brien laid out specific plans for improving academics, which is, at its heart, what service on a school board ought to be about.

O'Brien faces Mia Munn, a financial systems analyst who lists dropout prevention as her top priority. Her primary schools experience, besides being a former teacher, has been at Woods Charter School in Pittsboro, where she chaired the building committee and from which two of her three children graduated.

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In District 2, we strongly support Peter Rubinas, a stay-at-home dad and former auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers. While a relative newcomer to Chatham, Rubinas has shown himself to have a firm grasp on the issues facing the county in general and its school system in particular. With two sons in public elementary school and twin 4-year-old girls adopted from Tanzania who will start next year, Rubinas is personally invested in the success of the school system, and he articulates a no-nonsense approach to guiding the system through its explosive growth period. A former leader of the nonpartisan grassroots group Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, Rubinas has garnered support from the Chatham County teachers' association and Duncan and Clark, the outgoing school board members, as well as the Chatham Coalition.

The remaining candidates in this three-way race are former public school teacher and principal David M. Hamm and Gene Galin, a Duke University communications specialist.

While Hamm should be commended for his 28 years of service to the schools, his campaign offers little in the way of future vision.

Galin, in addition to his day job, also edits the Chatham Journal newspaper and moderates and maintains an online community bulletin board and chatlist—work for which the Independent honored him with a Citizens' Award in 2002. Galin, who has previously run unsuccessfully for the school board, served on the county's Strategic Plan Development Committee and its water board, but—like candidate Mia Munn in District 1—opted out of county schools in favor of Woods Charter, where his oldest child attends. (His younger two attend public elementary.)

Orange-Chatham District Court Judge (District 15B)

Coleman seat

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In the 13 years since Alonzo Brown Coleman Jr. was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Jim Hunt, he's built a reputation for firm, but also fair, application of the law. He is considered one of the most knowledgeable and also efficient judges in the district.

The mandatory retirement age for judges in North Carolina is 72; if re-elected, Coleman will serve only seven months of his four-year term, after which the governor will choose a replacement.

For her part, challenger Betsy J. Wolfenden has done well in forgoing accepting campaign contributions from the area attorneys who might appear before her. A family law specialist, she deserves kudos for advocating that a family court be established in District 15B. That said, Wolfenden lacks Coleman's wealth of experience, having only begun practicing law in 2000.

Coleman has served the Orange and Chatham district for the last 36 years, first as a state senator, then as a district judge. We find no reason why the incumbent should not continue to serve for as long as the law permits him, after which time he can continue to serve as a substitute or "emergency" judge throughout the state.

Devine Seat

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The race for the other seat on the District 15B court narrowed to just one candidate this month when Glenn Gerding officially conceded the race to his opponent, Page Vernon, who we endorsed in the primary and continue to support. In the primary election, Vernon won 65 percent of the tallied vote. Though Vernon's bid for the seat is now uncontested, Gerding's name will remain on the ballot as he won enough votes to advance to the general election.

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