Brenda Howerton | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Brenda Howerton

Candidate for Durham County Commissioner


Name as it appears on the ballot: Brenda Howerton
Date of Birth: June 13, 1946
Years lived in Durham County: 26 years
Campaign website:
Occupation & employer: Management Consultant

(Some of my information is a result of research of the Durham County Comprehensive Plan, the County Website and News papers.)

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham County? What are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

The most important issues facing Durham County are providing affordable and assessable healthcare, quality education for all children, and economic growth.

  1. As a county commissioner:
    • I would have dialogue with the relevant City/County staff addressing economic development, representatives of our largest employers and the Chamber of Commerce to assess where job growth is expected. I would work to facilitate discussion among those where job growth is anticipated to broker a commitment to hiring locally, while working with Durham Tech leadership to ensure that the local workforce has the relevant skills to prepare them for employment.
    • I would examine how to tie local employment to the incentives used to recruit businesses to Durham County.
    • I want to connect to local and state entities that are exploring opportunities green jobs creation that won’t require incentives to bring jobs from outside but is determined based on local need. Some examples might be jobs doing stream bank restoration; up fit of housing with solar panels and other energy conservation methods, etc.

  2. Quality Education - Work in concert with DPS and of business and community leaders to assure that the necessary programming is in place to address the myriad of problem that our disconnected youth are confronted with. On average many of our However we must do a better job of making those who fall through the crack successful.

  3. Economic Growth - Work in concert with business and industry, the chamber, our academic institutions, public schools and other community leaders to promote opportunities that put our community in the best light to attract industry and create jobs for local residents. I do believe that it is important to retrain and re-tool some of our workforce as the market competition is changing dramatically in the global Environment. We should be developing 21st century skills for the 21st century work place. We must produce a technology savvy workforce.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Durham County Commission? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

As a result of my eight years experience on the Board of Soil and Water Conservation I can hit the ground running as a County Commissioner. We use citizens’ tax dollars to implement farm conservation programs and environmental education, so I worked with government budgets, paying attention to the bottom line.

My experience in the corporate world and my experience as an executive coach and management trainer for Howerton Consulting Group will help me determine whether the county manager and department heads are performing well, or are in need of management training, for high performance.

My skills as a community organizer will enable me to convene diverse groups of people with competing interests to develop mutually agreed upon solutions to community problems.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

Through I never would have chosen the double tragedy of two of my children murdered, not because they were involved in criminal activity, my interest is in what it will take to stop the violence. Will it take supporting parents in having parenting skills, preventing kids from dropping out of school, young folks feeling they have a future and something other than becoming involved in gang activity, having the skills to be employed and make a living wage?

As a candidate/county commissioner, I will advocate for our schools, economic development that helps families thrive rather than survive. I also want to make sure we have highly skilled teachers who can keep our kids in school and on track to better lives. Our court systems are under-funded and I’ll work with local and statewide stakeholders to get a well-funded, functional criminal justice system. In the City of Medicine we shouldn’t have people using emergency rooms for a pound of cure, when an ounce of prevention would have kept them well. Until we have universal health insurance, Durham can do a better job keeping healthy people at their jobs

On the board of the Soil and Water Conservation District, I worked to keep our water safe from runoff from farms and construction sites. I also made sure that our environmental education efforts were aimed at inner city schools as well as the suburbs and rural areas. As a community organizer for Durham CAN I worked for a living wage policy at Duke, as well as for preventive health care, bilingual government employees and safer neighborhoods.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I believe citizens deserve the ability to participate in their community offerings in an equitable manner, therefore as an elected official I will strive to make sure there is equity in our government.

5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected, that you know would cost you popularity points with voters.

We must figure out constructive ways to reintegrate ex-offenders into our community once they are released from jail. Too often they come back to our community only to be repeat offenders. We must provide job training, job opportunities and other amenities to fully re-integrate offenders into our community if we are to reduce the criminal element in Durham.

6. Durham city leaders have been criticized for failing to act quickly on dealing with the extreme drought. As a county commissioner, what policies would you recommend—and try to build consensus on—to address the existing crisis? Do you think Jordan Lake is an appropriate water resource for Durham? Why or why not? What permanent, new water conservation measures should be implemented in Durham County?

It is not the responsibility of Durham county the drought. The City of Durham manages the water quality. However, the county can and have instituted water savings measures by installing low-flow water devices and encouraging it’s workforces to do the same. I would encourage barrels, drought resistant landscaping, the use of rain barrels and reclaiming wastewater from our wastewater plant. Recommended creative methods like building an infrastructure to alleviate drain on existing resources by piping in from the James river and Karr Lake.

7. In any county budget, some agencies’ expenditures must be cut, while others need increased. In the current budget, where can the cuts be made—most painlessly—and in what areas should allocations be increased? Explain your reasoning.

The biggest part of the budget is the schools and the social services, but within that efficiencies most be reached in equation and in that we must make sure that dollars are wisely spent. Another area to be explored are the departments. Making sure that all departments are efficient in the way funds are spent. Any new funding should be looked at another time.

8. Last year, a public poll suggested the majority of Durhamites were hesitant to approve the land-transfer tax, which could bring $17 million to county coffers. What are the pros and cons of the tax? If the land-transfer tax were to fail, what other development-funding mechanisms should the commissioners explore?

See answer #5 and..

Without the land transfer tax, we will either have to raise money for schools with property tax increases or continue to work for a school impact fee.

9. On a related note, the cost of Durham Public Schools’ long-range facilities plan is $551 million. Given the financial constraints of the county and the lack of an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, how will the county pay for these schools?

We will pay through General Obligation Bond. Durham County is one of 22- Counties that enjoy s double triple a Bound rating.

10. The Cultural Master Plan has also encountered funding problems. Where does this plan rank among the funding priorities for the county and why? Where can additional funding are identified?

The Cultural Master Plan should definitely receive priority status. We must be far-sighted in our planning. If funding for the plan is not continued, we stumble into the future without a plan instead of acting boldly and purposefully. It has been documented that the arts play a major role in an area’s growth and revitalization. If we want to further enhance our quality of life, and make Durham County an attractive destination, we have to keep the master plan fully functional.

Some leaders want to pay for the Cultural Master Plan with a prepared meals tax. As long as Rep. Luebke opposes this, that idea will go nowhere in the Gen. Assembly. I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to broker a compromise that raises money for the Plan and reduces taxes on the working poor. Luebke led the fight to eliminate the state’s 4 % sales tax on groceries. That saved the average household several hundred dollars a year. But the city and county still levy a 2% sales tax on groceries. It seems conceivable to me that a joint effort between the city, county and our Gen. Assembly delegation to eliminate the local food tax and replace it with an equivalent 2% or less prepared meals tax would yield:

  • A decrease in net taxes from low-income and middle class families,
  • An increase in taxes paid by people who visit or work (and eat) in Durham County, but don’t pay property taxes here, and
  • A reliable source of revenue to implement the Cultural Master Plan, which should help us draw even more visitors who would be paying the meals tax ( and hotel tax, rental car fee, etc.)

11. In appraising and property valuations, how should the county address any inequities not only within the residential sector, but among the industrial, commercial and warehouse sectors?

Every time a property is assessed at a below market rate, for any reason, it means that the property tax rate will be set higher than necessary and other property owners will bear an unfair share of the tax burden. This problem becomes more pronounced with high value properties. It’s critical that the tax office have the staffing, training and tools to do the job right the first time so that taxes are levied fairly. Instead of assessing properties every 8 years, we should aim to assess them every four years, as many counties do. This would reduce the sticker shock that many property owners experience in growing communities.

12. The county’s economic incentives policy lays out several criteria. What are the pros and cons of this policy? How would you amend it? What oversight mechanisms are in place to ensure companies adhere to the policy? Are those oversight mechanisms sufficient?

Generally the incentive policy is good in terms of investing taxpayer money in stages and investing it in infrastructure that will be there if the company leaves, but it could be better:

  • We need good faith efforts from the companies to recruit, train and hire Durham residents. That’s one of the things we need if we want all this growth to actually reduce the county’s poverty rate.
  • We need these companies to not only adhere to a Living Wage policy indexed to inflation for their employees, but also for their contractors’ employees.
  • Ditto for a sick days policy that applies to these businesses and their contractors.

13. The county has adopted a Greenhouse Gas Reduction plan. How should the county monitor the performance of that plan? What incentives would be appropriate in persuading the commercial and industrial sectors to cut their greenhouse gas emissions? The residential sector? At what point will Durham need to take more aggressive steps in emissions reductions?

We need to be taking more aggressive steps today, if we want our children to have a better life than we have had. With a sustainability manager on board, that person is responsible for implementing and monitoring, the local action plan, which is designed to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, sector we can provide rebates for buying energy efficient appliances. As commissioners we can use our encourage businesses and citizens to invest in a smaller carbon footprint so our children and grandchildren will have better lives.

14. The county’s poverty rate is 15 percent. Although there are several committees whose charge is to tackle issues such as affordable housing and homelessness, what concrete steps can the commissioners take to reduce that rate? Be specific.

Cracking that poverty rate is largely what informs my campaign, as you can see by several of my previous answers. Bringing our poverty rate below 10% should be part of the mission statement of county government and should inform our development incentives policy and other documents. In Wake county the human services department has set a goal of moving 1000 residents out of poverty. Durham can do that too. In Durham CAN we have sparked or improved Living wage policies with the city, county, schools and Duke that have raised wages for over 1000 workers from $6-$7 an hour to over $10 an hour. The non-profit sector like CAN and the Affordable Housing Coalition are doing their part—now county government needs to use it’s resources in the Social Services, Mental Health and Public Health Depts. to assist people who are willing to work for a better life for themselves and their families. For example, many of the people succumbing to drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and absenteeism at work are suffering from various levels of depression. This is a problem that is treatable at a much lower cost than arresting people and housing them in the county jail for a year waiting for trial or sending them to state prison where they can bone up on skills for the criminal economy. We need to use the county’s human services departments to smooth the way for people to get on top of their lives, so they can acquire the training, transportation, mental health services or childcare that will allow them to break out of the poverty “basement” and climb the steps into working class or middle class homeownership.

15. The criminal justice system is a large component of county government. What are your priorities for improvements in services, such as the court system, jail, re-entry programs, and juvenile justice? How will you fund those priorities? How will you measure the success of those programs?

Most of the money for these improvements should come from the Gen. Assembly—we will need local and statewide stakeholders to unite in pressing that body to find the money in their $43 billion budget to fund the criminal justice system so that we aren’t increasing the numbers and the skills of criminals as people come in contact with the system. The state should also be funding job training programs that operate off-site in state prisons as part of the state’s commitment to education. That would certainly be cheaper than building new prisons to hold recidivists.

Many of the non-violent people awaiting trial locally don’t need to be in jail for so long. I mean, what is going on, that violent offenders with long rap sheets are getting out and committing more crimes while they wait for court, but the jail is near overcrowding partly because of non-violent offenders? As a Durham County Commissioner, I would encourage the county commission to work with entities like the Durham Roundtable that has been doing good work on smoothing out some of the inefficiencies in the system, such as pre-trial detention and monitoring with bracelets—much cheaper than building a new jail.

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