Orange County 2011 endorsements | Our Endorsements | Indy Week

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Orange County 2011 endorsements

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Chapel Hill Mayor

Mark Kleinschmidt
  • Mark Kleinschmidt

The mayor's race is not nearly as crowded or complicated as Town Council. We endorse Mark Kleinschmidt. It's as simple as that.

Kleinschmidt would earn our support even if he had worthy competition in this race. He served eight years on the council prior to winning the mayor's office and proved himself as an advocate for equality, affordability and the environment.

In his first term as mayor, he has helped launch Chapel Hill 2020, a long-term comprehensive planning process to guide development. He created a citizen advisory board to help address complaints about police and has been more business-friendly than his detractors might like to admit.

Tim Sookram has at least provided levity to the race. He admits that he thought running would be a fun summer diversion and that he entered because he had to fork over only $5 to file. At forums, Sookram has elicited chuckles from audience members. For example, he suggested the town expedite development approvals for projects town leaders like, while keeping the long, deliberate process for less desirable projects. Sookram aims to ban earthquakes, flies and naming streets after North Carolina towns.

While Sookram's candidacy is intentionally humorous, we aren't sure what to make of Kevin Wolff's never-ending bid for office. This is his fourth run for mayor. His first shot was in 2005, mere months after he moved to town. Wolff also ran unsuccessfully in 2008 for Orange County Commissioner. Wolff, like Sookram, didn't respond to the Indy's questionnaire. He has been largely absent on the campaign trail, and his public involvement in the campaign off-season has been limited.

Chapel Hill Town Council

In the Chapel Hill Town Council race, we support incumbents Jim Ward and Donna Bell, and two young candidates with knowledge beyond their years, Jason Baker and Lee Storrow.

Jim Ward
  • Jim Ward

Ward, currently Mayor Pro Tem, is seeking a fourth term on the council. Through his 12 years of service, he strongly supported affordable housing, transit and social justice, and also offers a reliable institutional memory to help guide decisions.

As a horticulturist and a member of the Orange County Visitors Bureau, he knows how to balance environmental concerns with economic initiatives.

Donna Bell
  • Donna Bell

Bell was appointed two years ago to fill a seat vacated by former councilman Bill Strom, and she has been a welcome addition to the council. An African-American who lives in the Northside neighborhood, Bell offers an open, well-reasoned perspective to town affairs. She is the only minority member of the council and the only woman running in this race.

During the campaign, Bell has told voters she may occasionally disagree with them but that she will always listen. She takes time to work through issues before coming to independent conclusions.

Bell has emerged as an ally for Northside and Pine Knolls residents and as a key supporter of a moratorium enacted this summer to help address a student-rental takeover of those historic neighborhoods. She also helped to create a town ombudsman program that will provide employees and residents an unbiased avenue to raise grievances and other issues. We've seen enough in Bell's two years to warrant another four.

Jason Baker
  • Jason Baker

Baker deserves credit for his growth as a candidate. He first ran for this office in 2005 while a UNC undergraduate. Baker finished last after relying on student voters, whose turnout proved to be underwhelming. But he didn't let election results discourage him from serving the community.

In the past six years, Baker has served on the Chapel Hill planning and transportation boards, the Chapel Hill Comprehensive Plan Initiating Committee and the Hillsborough Downtown Merchants Group, for which he was chairman. He's also had active leadership roles with the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club and the Orange County Democratic Party.

These experiences give him a broad understanding of local politics, environmental protection and the needs of small-business owners that would serve him well on the council. He's proven his commitment to the town and has gotten stronger as his campaign has continued.

Lee Storrow
  • Lee Storrow

Storrow, a 22-year-old UNC graduate, has run a well-organized campaign and has raised the most money in the race: $9,783. Though his connections to student leaders and university administrators are an asset in issues such as off-campus student housing and neighbor relations, Storrow, who served as president of the UNC Young Democrats, has proven to be a candidate who can thoughtfully consider broader matters. Youthful exuberance is welcomed, but alone it is not enough. Storrow has coupled his enthusiasm with a well-rounded understanding of the housing, transportation and planning questions facing the council.

Incumbent Matt Czajkowski has provided a different perspective on the council during his term, and his financial experience was useful during budget season. Still, we disagree on his push to target downtown panhandling, his votes against placing the IFC Community House shelter for the homeless on Homestead Road and his support for the Aydan Court development, a 90-unit, upscale condo project near the Jordan Lake watershed.

We also want to applaud Jon DeHart for sharpening his message in this campaign after running unsuccessfully in 2009. DeHart, a mortgage lender, has demonstrated his commitment by serving on the transportation board, completing the Citizens Police Academy and working with the Community Home Trust.

In this campaign, DeHart has outlined his key issues as affordable housing, economic and environmental sustainability and open and transparent government. While we share those priorities, we are given pause by DeHart's stance that he will continue to accept campaign contributions from developers.

A nurse, Carl Schuler has served on the board of directors of his homeowners association for six years and as a delegate to the UNC Employee Forum. Throughout the campaign, Schuler has committed to being transparent and available to constituents. That's commendable, but he hasn't articulated specific strategies and has admitted to being unfamiliar with several key issues, including the redevelopment of Ephesus Church Road.

Laney Dale and Augustus Cho did not return questionnaires.

Carrboro Board of Aldermen

Carrboro residents are fortunate to have four qualified candidates running for three seats on the Board of Aldermen this year. Incumbents Dan Coleman and Lydia Lavelle each seek another four-year term, while Braxton Foushee and Michelle Johnson are vying to join the board. Incumbent Joal Hall Broun did not file for this race.

We endorse Dan Coleman, Lydia Lavelle and Michelle Johnson.

Dan Coleman
  • Dan Coleman

Coleman is a longtime local progressive who was appointed to the board six years ago to fill the vacancy left by Mark Chilton when he was elected mayor. In that time he has pushed for alternative energy and transportation, environmental protection, affordable housing and a free-standing library. He was instrumental in bringing federal commercial energy improvement funds to the town, community gardens to the future Martin Luther King Jr. Park and bus service to Rogers Road.

Lydia Lavelle
  • Lydia Lavelle

Lavelle, another progressive who, like Coleman, received our endorsement four years ago, would continue to serve the town well. In addition to her work on the board, where she is a liaison to the planning board and an advocate for transit and smart growth, Lavelle serves as chairwoman of the regional Transportation Advisory Committee. Lavelle is a law professor at N.C. Central and has pushed for reproductive rights and second-parent adoption as president of the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys. That experience has helped Carrboro include nondiscriminatory language in town contracts.

Michelle Johnson
  • Michelle Johnson

We are encouraged by Johnson's campaign. She seems to embody the town as a social worker, artist and anti-oppression activist who works and lives downtown in Carrboro's first schoolhouse, which she renovated. She has the support of the social justice community and has experience as a leader on the boards for the Dispute Settlement Center, the Rape Crisis Center, the Mental Health Association of Orange County and the N.C. Lambda Youth Network, among others.

As a seasoned listener and mediator, Johnson has proven she's ready to thoughtfully consider the town's business. She supports mixed-use development downtown, locally based businesses and more parking and affordable housing. She is well versed in the issues and rooted in what makes Carrboro unique.

Were it another year, we might have endorsed Braxton Foushee. He was Carrboro's first black alderman and served on the board from 1969–1981. He has a history as a leader, and the town is better for his work through the years. He participated in the 1960 sit-in at the Colonial Drug Store and most recently served on the Orange Water and Sewer Authority board pushing for lower water rates.

We belive Foushee would serve Carrboro well, as he did during his prior tenure on the Board of Aldermen, but he did not provide the same level of substantive, detailed answers to our questionnaire as the other candidates.

Also, asked in 2007 by The Carrboro Citizen if he would consider serving on the Board of Aldermen again, he said, "I've had my time. It's time for someone else to do that."

We appreciate that Foushee, at 71, still wants to serve, but we are pleased by the work of the two incumbents and excited by what Johnson can bring to the town.

Mayor Mark Chilton is running unopposed in his campaign for what he says is his final term.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board

The campaign for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education seems far more crowded than it is. Though eight people have filed for five seats, one candidate, Brian Bower, says he's running only to try to qualify for in-state residency and the lower tuition that comes with it. Another, Raymond Conrad, hasn't been a regular at forums and did not return our questionnaire.

That leaves four incumbents: Jamezetta Bedford, Mia Burroughs, Mike Kelley and Annetta Streater—and newcomers James Barrett and Kris Castellano—in the running. We endorse Jamezetta Bedford, Mia Burroughs, Mike Kelley, Annetta Streater and James Barrett.

It's important to clarify some recent confusion about this race. Four of the seats are four-year terms and one is a two-year term, which was left vacant by Joe Green when he moved out of the district. The Orange County Board of Elections initially allowed candidates to choose to run for a four-year or a two-year term. Bedford was the only one who filed for the latter, and thus she thought she was running unopposed. But last week the board realized it had overlooked an obscure 1975 elections law that requires all candidates to run together; the first runner-up, in this case the fifth-place candidate, will win the two-year term.

Jamezetta Bedford
  • Jamezetta Bedford

Luckily, Bedford, the chairwoman of the board, has both the name recognition and the track record to overcome the elections error. She says she is committed to serving all four years.

This election is unique in Chapel Hill-Carrboro as the district transitions to its first new superintendent in two decades. We believe, both because they have helped steer an already high-achieving district to further success and because of the need to help Dr. Thomas Forcella get acclimated and raise performance in the district, that all four incumbents should be returned to office.

We also are impressed by and pleased to support Barrett. He understands the needs of the district and its students. Barrett attended middle and high school in the district; His two children attend district schools. He is a founding member of Orange Justice United and could use relationships he has built with local elected officials and decision makers to his advantage. As a leader of a global project for IBM, Barrett also knows what it will take to prepare students for the new economy. He says students should no longer receive a class rank, because that encourages competition, not collaboration.

He proposes a "gap czar" and a wiki where teachers can share strategies to address the achievement gap, which continues to be the most pressing issue facing the schools.

Castellano's work on school-improvement teams and as a classroom volunteer is commendable, but we don't see the same understanding of the achievement gap that Barrett demonstrates. She has done a good job of identifying needs in the schools, but she hasn't shown as much ability to address them as the other candidates.


Local sales and use tax

We wholeheartedly add our endorsement to the diverse group of elected officials, candidates, nonprofits and advocacy groups that support a quarter-cent sales and use tax increase in Orange County. The tax won't apply to groceries, gas and prescription medicine.

The money generated, estimated at $2.5 million annually, would be apportioned equally to economic development and to schools. It will be accounted for separately from the county's general fund so residents can see how the funds are spent.

Dwindling federal support and a 1-cent reduction in sales tax, which the General Assembly passed this year, mean that the county needs additional revenue to help bring infrastructure, including water and sewer, to three designated economic development zones and upgrades to both school systems in the county.

In 1994, the Board of County Commissioners targeted Buckhorn Road off I-85, Old N.C. 86/ I-40 in Hillsborough and I-85/ U.S. Highway 70 in the Eno Township for development. The county has long agreed that those are prime areas. But businesses have not been attracted there due to the start-up costs and time required to upgrade the property.

If successful, the tax would, in effect, build on itself. Tax proceeds would be used to recruit and support business that would generate more revenue from taxes and help reduce the burden on residential taxpayers.

The county avoided a property tax increase in the last budget cycle but had to cut $3.9 million. Unlike with a property tax increase, a hike on the sales tax wouldn't be placed entirely on county residents. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools leaders could use the funding to make important improvements in school facilities.

Orange County Schools needs revenue to renovate science labs, replace windows, add activity buses and upgrade security cameras.

Orange County's sales tax rate is 6.75 percent, in line with 82 other counties in the state. The 17 others have a 7 percent rate. The N.C. General Assembly granted counties the authority to place this referendum on the ballot last cycle, and it was defeated in Orange by 1,057 votes, just 2.5 percent of the total votes cast.


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