Erv Portman | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Erv Portman

Candidate for Cary Council at large


Name as it appears on the ballot: Erv Portman
Full legal name, if different: Ervin Portman
Date of birth: 08/18/1955
Home address: 101 Fern Bluff Way Cary, NC 27518
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Manufacturing business owner- Weststar Precision
Home phone: 919 233 8551
Work phone: 919 557 2820
Cell phone: 919 924 6025

1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Cary? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

Ensuring that as we grow, we don’t lose the reasons Cary has been one of the best places to live in the entire nation. We need to keep our tree lined streets, open space and parks while planning for a better community. I will work hard to review every project and ask this question…will this project make Cary better. I’ll support those that do, and vote no for those that won’t.

We need to protect our environment, in particular our water supply, Lake Jordan. I will defend our tough stream buffer standards to be sure as we grow we don’t damage our water supply.

I will support out law enforcement and firefighters to be sure Cary remains one of the safest places to live work and raise a family. I supported adding 6 police officers to the 2008 budget and will continue to do what it takes to keep Cary one of the safest places to live in the nation.

2) What is your philosophy regarding the pace of growth in Cary? Has it been too fast, about the right pace, or has growth been encumbered?

There are many reasons people choose to move to our region in general, and Cary in particular. I don’t think we can or should “control” who can move to our region. In this country we are free to live where we choose. However, I feel our responsibility is to plan for this growth and ensure it occurs in a way that adds to the community and quality of life as we do that. Generally I feel we do a good job of planning and that shows, and is a reason people want to live here. I will continue to watch each project carefully and support those that build a better community, and say no to those that don’t.

3) Please reflect on the recent developments approved by council at the intersection of Davis Drive and High House Road and explain whether you believe those development plans, and the process by which they were negotiated and approved, represent healthy growth for Cary.

This corner had two proposals, one for the Sears Farm retirement community, which I supported, and the other, Crosslands project which I did not. I am not happy with the way the neighborhood protest petition was invalidated. I don’t think it is good public policy and I will work to change that portion of our town approval process. I also felt the intensity and density of the Crossland project was too high a contrast to the existing neighborhood. The design I felt was good, but needed to be built in a new area with access to major roads, and not where if would invade an established large lot single family neighborhood.

4) How can the Town of Cary best ensure that infrastructure needs keep pace with growth? Please cite specific examples of policies or actions that the Town Council might undertake, or has undertaken, that you believe are effective or ineffective.

Good planning to recognize the projected demand and compare it to the current capacity is key to maintaining good service levels. Our utility projects with water and sewer capacity are good examples where we are working on a regional basis with our neighbors, sharing investment and ensuring adequate capacity for projected future demand.

Our current conservation overlay is an example where we have a good concept with bad math. The objective is to incent development to build while keeping a portion of the land natural. However we don’t have a minimum threshold to qualify for the incentive and the incentive of 10 new home sites per acre saved is too strong, resulting in projects out of character with the base zoning (too dense with too little fringe open space) I consider open space and trees part of infrastructure.

Cary builds a lot of roads, and given the lack of state funds to deal with the problem we will continue to need to. I think we need to prioritize our roads projects with neighboring towns to be sure we focus on projects that will be completed across town lines, this will result in the best improvement in service for everybody. It does us little good to widen a road to the Morrisville town line, then it goes back to two lane, nobody gets the through flow benefit. We can do a better job with this cooperation and I will be sure we do.

5) Would you support Wake County’s Commissioners if they chose to put a land transfer-tax referendum on the ballot? Why or why not?

The legislature has approved options for additional revenue if approved by the voters. Given the challenges the county has with capacity and growth I would support the voters having the right to decide if they support these taxes or not. If they do, fine, if not we need to address our future infrastructure needs some other way. We need to get school seats built sooner vs. later. It will cost less to do so because land and construction prices are rising each year. It is not fiscally responsible to build schools later and pay more for them because we delayed action. It is also not responsible to overcrowd our kids in schools because we have not solved this issue. Our citizens expect leadership from all elected officials to improve this issue and I will do my part.

6) What sort of relationship do you think the Town of Cary should have with the Wake County school system? Do you believe that, in the future, western Wake County municipalities should form their own school system, either by a formal breakaway or through the creation of a sub-district? In general, what can town leadership do to improve or strengthen the education system for Cary’s public school students?

We should be open to all new ideas for improvement; the education of our children is one of our most important responsibilities. Today 20% of Wake county students don’t have a permanent classroom, and have to go to school in trailers. Overcrowding results in extended lunch periods and lots of challenges including excessive reassignment. Current plans to build over 50 new schools don’t reduce the projected percentage of kids in trailers at all. We can do better, but need to carefully review the options to understand cost and quality impacts. I am open to all options.

One thing we can do today is help get new schools built faster. With rising land and construction costs that will save us money by building the seat we need today at a lower price than the higher costs we will have to pay after the land and construction prices have gone up.

Cary and other towns in the county approve new developments to meet the needs of a growing region. We have funds collected to support this effort of school capacity and we need to work with the school district to be sure those funds help locate and construct school sites.

7) Do you believe the Town of Cary has done a good job in recent years of involving citizens in the public process with regards to growth, education and other issues of interest? What, if anything, would you change about the way public input is incorporated into the town government’s decision making?

Cary has done a good job of keeping citizens informed, Bud TV brings all town council meetings into everybody’s home, and now these broadcasts are available 24/7 via the internet.

We need to do a better job clarifying when and how the citizens can participate on growth. People are frustrated that the process is to complex, and foreign with lots of terms and jargon that is intimidating to a citizen with a new concern. I know the Mixed Use Sketch Plan Overlay section of the LDO (land development ordinance) and the Conversation Overlay are just two examples that need to be more citizens friendly. Cary was shaped by our old PUD (Planned unit Development) concept which gave us a holistic view of great developments like Lochmere, Preston and Kildeer Farms and Cary Park. These developments were well planned and gave us a great place to live with lots of mature trees saved. We need to go back to this method to be sure as we grow we keep the trees and the view that is classic Cary.

Regarding education I am working with school board and county commissioners to streamline school board authority and responsibility. Today the school board has to go to the county commissioners to get their budget approved. We elect our school board members and I feel they should be given taxing authority so they have both the responsibility and the authority to do their job. If they spend too much money the voters will replace them, if they spend too little the voters will do the same. I have confidence in the voter’s wisdom. Citizens fell this results in a lack of alignment of both accountability and authority. However this change will require state government approval as they set the rules.

8) Are you concerned about the long-term water quality of Jordan Lake, Cary’s primary source of drinking water? If so, what measures would you take to preserve or improve it?

Yes I am.

…that water is too alkaline and has too much chlorophyll, nitrogen and phosphorus for the good of the creatures that live in it, or for the people who play in it and drink it.
In essence, the lake is not fully meeting its designated uses; those uses include recreation, aquatic habitat and human consumption.
In 2002 the Upper New Hope Arm reached federal standards for “impairment”, by 2005, N.C. Water Quality designated the entire lake "impaired" due to high levels of nutrients -- primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, which lead to growth of algae that can render the water toxic to fish and unfit for swimming or drinking. Federal and state law require remedial action for the reservoir now serving Chatham County, southern Wake, Cary, Apex, Holly Springs and Morrisville. Cleaning up the lake could cost more than $1.2 billion. (Article from the internet regarding Lake Jordon, used here for background to answer this question.)

The major cause of this pollution is the development of our area. We need to be good stewards of our land and protect our water supply. That’s why on April 26th I made the motion to reject the largest request to infringe our stream buffers in the history of the town. Cary leads the state with tough stream buffer requirements for no development or encroachment for 100 feet either side of a stream. In April we had a developer ask to not only encroach the buffer but to actually pave over two streams and pave to the edge of a third. I am proud that I was the person who made the motion to say NO, and 5 of the 6 members of council agreed with me. We stood up to development pressure that was just too much density on too little land. The developer said they could not meet their goals without paving over the streams. We said NO, if it does not fit you’re trying to build too much on too little land and we won’t compromise our water quality for you to do it. This is an example of what I have already done to help protect our water supply.

Additionally Cary is one of the first towns to recycle and distribute our treated water for irrigation purposes. This reduces our need for water and help reduce strain on the lake.

In the southwest area of Cary closest to the lake we are working to conserve natural land and use low impact development on the development that does occur. These concepts reduce the major source of water pollution, runoff from reaching the streams and eventually the lake by using the soil to do what it does well, filter and delay storm runoff to keep our water quality high. I will continue to fight for strict rules to be sure as we grow, we grow responsibly, and respect or need to be good steward of our environment.

9) What is there in your public record or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be an effective leader? Please be specific about your public and community service background.

My degree is in Urban and Regional studies. I have served on the Planning and Zoning boards for three of the towns I have lived in. I have spent years serving on and leading community efforts including the Wake County Healthy Schools Task Force, the Mayor’s task force on student assignment and now the Town Council representing all of Cary.

My leadership skills come from this community service, and 18 years of business experience as a division officer for Baxter Healthcare and Bristol Myers Squibb. In 1996 I left corporate life and started my own small business Weststar Precision in Holly Springs. We have grown each year and created good jobs here in North Carolina. I have demonstrated the ability to manage budgets large and small and have solid operational and strategic management skills that serve Cary well. My business success combined with my community service show that I know how to listen to the needs of others and drive to win win solutions for all. They also demonstrate that stewardship is something I take seriously and have for many years. I enjoy helping to focus interest and concern to reach solutions we need to build a better community.

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

Stewardship and service are core elements to my political views. Growing up in Wisconsin I learned at a young age, if you take care of the farm, the farm will take care of you. As one of eight siblings I also learned the need to share a table with others, to be able to get your point across but also to listen and understand others point of view. At town Council seven of us share one table, and I know those early lessons have helped me work through agendas and concerns to reach solutions that build a better community.

I am a Democrat, and I believe in careful spending and balance budgets. I am a business owner who knows what it like to meet a payroll and grow a company creating good jobs. I also feel we have a strong responsibility to our children to respect and protect our environment, and fight to do so at every meeting.

The office I seek on the Town Council is NON PARTISAN, by law and I am committed to keep it that way in spirit as well. We deal with roads, parks greenways, trash, water and sewers, these are not partisan issues. At council table we need neighbors coming together to find common ground and solutions to build a better Cary, not partisan politicians dividing the council and town into camps opposed to each other. There is a place for partisan politics, it Washington and the statehouse, not town hall.

11) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

We have a lot of interest in the downtown plans for Cary and I too am impressed with the concept and vision, however before I can say yes to these plans that total $165 million dollars I need to understand how we will pay for these investments. To date I have asked and been told there would be a significant tax increase required by all Cary taxpayers to repay this debt. I will be careful to be certain I know the details of this tax increase before I can support these plans.

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

Local office should be filled with citizens who have no conflict of interest to serve the town; I don’t have any conflicts in my business or personal life that prevent me from serving with an impartial open view.

I bring a global business experience base that recognizes that we live in a very interdependent world and I approach our decisions with this broad perspective.

My faith requires me to be a responsible steward, working each day to help others in need and build a better place. To respect the rights of individuals while safeguarding the rights and interest of the community as a whole. This balance requires experience and understanding of the issues. I have both and am willing to do the work needed to be sure every citizens voice is heard when the town government makes decisions. Isn’t that what is needed to build a just community?

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