Campaign website: www.elainehyman.info
Occupation and employer: Retired HR Director - Durham County Government
Years in Durham: 40 plus
Phone number: 919-957-7480
1. In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County?
Jobs, poverty and education and affordable housing are the four that I prefer to list together because I see them as interconnected. Without a solid education that leads to a good paying job, poverty is inevitable. We have more than 1500 people per month, moving to this wonderful place and we must make room for them while protecting and preserving a high quality of life for all of our residents. The cost of living grows higher and many of our citizens have to work more for less pay. While we own our problems, they are not unique and come with a growing community. As such, we need more affordable housing for low-income families, seniors on a fixed income, veterans and the disabled. Consequently, we must act with urgency, energy and purpose if we are going to tackle these issues on behalf of our citizens.
2. If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
Jobs, poverty and education are the three that I prefer to list together because I see them as interconnected. Without a solid education that leads to a good paying job, poverty is inevitable. My plan includes:
Economic and Workforce Development
• I will seek commitments from prospective employers to hire locally and pay a livable wage.
• I would continue to support workforce development programs such as DERC, that prepare residents for jobs provided in this community. I would also become a collaborative partner with any jurisdiction willing to share intellectual properties and ideas about advances already made.
• Strengthen our educational system by supporting universal pre-K and for funds to be directed to the classroom. We must improve performance in our current list of 21 low performing schools that do not meet state standards for proficiency.
• I will support economic development opportunities that focus of the areas of the County that are in the greatest need which would include any manufacturing opportunities willing to relocate jobs and opportunities to our County. Moreover, I would specifically seek commitments from prospective employers who are willing to hire locally and pay a livable wage.
• I will continue to support workforce development programs such as Durham Economic Resource Center (DERC) that prepares residents for jobs provided in this community. I would also become a collaborative partner with any jurisdiction willing to share successful best practices and ideas about advances already achieved.
3. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Durham County Board of Commissioners?
I currently serve as Vice Chair of the Planning Commission. In my role as a Planning Commissioner, I participate in public hearings, listening intently to the pros and cons from our citizens and developers about the merits of changes to zoning requests. I take this responsibility seriously to the point that I have met with individuals personally so that I am able to see from their perspective, the impact on their communities. I was also a Durham County department head who served on the County’s Management team and was a part of the original team charged with crafting the County’s first Strategic Plan; Steering the Way, which identifies work priorities and measurements as defined by the citizens. Although I worked at the highest level of the County, serving on the County Manager’s Management Team, I retired in 2012. In an effort to be brought up to date about priorities and circumstances in local government, I returned to the classroom in 2015 by enrolling in the City/County Neighborhood College where I spent more than nine weeks receiving up to date information about the City and County. As a part of my job in Human Resources for Durham County Government, I have participated in the County’s budget process, providing extensive information and justification for multi-million dollar expenditures and negotiated large contracts for services that impacted the entire workforce.
I also serve on the Board of Directors for my Homeowners Association and took on our “failed community project” as a result of our developer filing bankruptcy before completing our planned community. I have worked on behalf of my community for more than four years, seeking a resolution to incomplete infrastructure issues. Consequently, I have gained great insight about communities and the role that local government has on the lives of ordinary people, all of which has prepared me for greater responsibility as a County Commissioner, serving on behalf of the citizens of Durham.
4. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a bold progressive from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party. Progressives focus on Jobs, Education, Poverty alleviation and affordable housing and other issues that uplift those struggling in our communities. My progressive positioning was solidified when I trained and shared ideas with more than 200 other progressive attendees from all across this country who participated in the first annual Progressive Change Campaign Committee training held in Washington DC for an entire week in 2015. I was interviewed and screened for this opportunity before being accepted into the training program. As a result of an economy that crashed, leaving many individuals without homes and jobs that support families, I feel compelled to offer and share my experience. My own community was among 100 such properties that were abandoned by developers who filed for bankruptcy, leaving Durham communities with incomplete roads, sidewalk, storm water ponds, overgrown lots, etc. I volunteered to take on this challenge for my community which included resolution for 51 homeowners. I developed a relationship with City of Durham’s public works staffers, one in particular, and began a process that took more than 4 years of follow up, negotiations and communications with residents to find the right developer to complete our community without undue hardship to the residents. I am happy to say, regardless of the outcome of this election that my efforts on behalf of the community are paying off as work has begun in earnest, that will complete our original site plan.
My platform remains the same from 2012; Jobs, Education, poverty and support for at-risk youth with the addition of affordable housing as Durham is rapidly becoming a place that is unaffordable. We must do better for all of our residents.
5. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?
I am a bold progressive with an eye for inclusion of the most vulnerable living in our communities. If elected, I will vigorously be looking for opportunities to influence change in policy and programs that have a direct impact on this population. With my election, I will join other progressives in the pursuit of a fair, just and equitable system that effectively supports the needs of all members of this community.
6. What is your vision for development in Durham County? What sorts of development do you believe the county should encourage? What steps do you think the county should take to reduce sprawl? What should the county do to create more affordable housing?
My vision for development in Durham County is smart growth that supports the citizens but does no harm to the environment. It also creates living spaces that allow individuals to live, work and place in the same areas with less dependency on cars and more emphasis on mass transit and novel modes of transportation. I believe in using the comprehensive plan and UDO as guides for incorporating the right projects in with existing development. The comprehensive plan speaks to compatibility. Further, poorly planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic and pollution, crowds our schools and drives up taxes is undesirable. One thing that can be done to impact sprawl is more consideration to well planned, higher density projects that are more compatible with the environment. Clear cuts should be avoided whenever possible. Additionally, I believe the County needs to support development efforts that contribute to the growing shortage of affordable housing even if it means downzoning properties owned by the City or County to make this possible. Moreover, I see the need for the County to work collaboratively with partners to clarify and define guidelines around affordable housing so that developers competing for opportunities can clearly articulate what they are willing to do to support this need based on well defined, written guidelines.
7. Parts of Durham’s future development plans are closely tied to the updated comprehensive plan. What changes to the comp plan do you believe the city and county need to make?
Low to medium density is still desirable and efforts to approve projects that support the current comp guidelines and UDO are more desirable. However, higher density is warranted as a means of controlling sprawl.
8. At a meeting in January, the DPS Board of Education discovered that it needed to cut as much as $16 million from the 2016–17 budget. Do you believe the county commission needs to find additional revenue to fund public schools? If so, how would you go about doing so?
Yes. I am of the opinion that the County should do a better job of providing funding through the sanctioned budget process. This means granting budget requests as presented or justifiably modified to prevent any disruption to funding sources that impact the classroom. First priority is ensuring that dollars reach the classroom therefore, I would encourage assessments and reviews to ensure that funding is going where it is needed the most.
9. Last year the legislature ended a waiver to the federal food-stamp program, limiting the ability of able-bodied adults without dependents to access food assistance. This change will affect as many as 2,700 people in Durham County. What do you believe the county should be doing to help this population?
The County has a huge human services function that serves Durham neediest citizens. Citizens with clear needs can access these services. The County has always been required to do more with less as more and more programs are cut at the Federal and State level, thereby pushing the responsibility down to the County. As such, the County will continue to serve its most vulnerable citizens. The County is bursting at the seams but our community and citizens continue to suffer the effects of a weak economy that has produced low wage jobs that do not adequately support individuals or families.
10. Over the past year, there have been frequent protests outside of the Durham County Detention Center over allegations of unsanitary conditions, lackluster health and mental-health care, and gouging by jail contractors. In December, Chairman Michael Page told the INDY he would propose an independent investigation into the jail. Do you believe such an investigation is necessary and should move forward? What changes, if any, do you believe the sheriff’s office should make regarding the jail?
I agree that an independent investigation should occur to avoid any potential liability or litigation for potential negligence. Although I have witnessed the protests and have listened to complaints from family members about conditions in the jail, without the benefit of additional data regarding staffing, turnover rate and policy, it would be difficult for me to give anything more than an opinion. In my opinion, when the complaints are substantial and continuous, action is warranted. Moving forward, I think the Sheriff should be willing to provide more transparency around policies affecting detainees in an effort to restore trust and confidence in the system. Unanswered complaints only grow louder.
11. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
When funding is cut, adjustments must be made doing more with less is getting very old but this is how the County has been operating for years and the necessary get accomplished. Departments are always asked about the possibility of identifying and eliminating programs that have either outlived their usefulness or are no longer needed. I would continue to advocate for that type of review and for a budget process that allows a spirited defense of spending but would not automatically assume that waste exists. With shrinking dollars coming in however, it will be necessary to examine the usefulness of all programs which sometimes means looking at programming from a zero based perspective and moving forward. While I plan to be firm, I plan to be fair.
I am unwilling to take any position that has the potential to hurt a single child in the public education system. This position however is in conflict with budget recommendations made during the last budget cycle where the numbers supported a different outcome and recommendation. While I respect the position, logic and rationale, sometimes you must look beyond the numbers when the impact does not fit a “one size fits all” approach or in the case of the budget, the same per pupil amount.