It's never easy to tell an incumbent office-holder who's done a tolerable job in the past that, thanks very much, but we think there's a better candidate running and we're backing him. But that's our position in the City Council runoffs. We've supported District D incumbent Benson Kirkman for three terms. But we're persuaded that Thomas Crowder, an architect who's been a standout on the city's planning commission, will be the more forceful and effective council member this district deserves--and Raleigh needs.
We also endorse Jessie Taliaferro, another member of the planning commission, in her District B runoff against Karen Moye-Stallings.
Here's how we see it. If Taliaferro wins, as is likely, Raleigh could have a moderate majority on the council for the first time in a decade, led by Mayor Charles Meeker. Meeker allies Janet Cowell, an at-large member, and James West in District C, were easily returned to office in the first round of voting Oct. 7, along with the mayor himself. Taliaferro, though not our first choice for the District B seat (we backed Bruce Spader, who ran third), is a middle-of-the road Democrat and much more likely to follow Meeker's lead than was outgoing Councilor John Odom, the Republican who lost the mayor's race this year. Moye-Stallings, afflicted by cerebral palsy, is appealing as a disabilities advocate who urges us to "pay attention to my abilities." But on the issues, she has almost nothing to say beyond her self-identification as a conservative Republican.
So Meeker could have a working majority of 5-3 on the council, or even 6-2 on those occasions when at-large Republican Neal Hunt departs from the party line. But a working majority for what?
On the key issues involving growth in Raleigh, Kirkman has tended to blow in the wind--which comes, almost always, from the developers--instead of leaning into it on behalf of his constituents and good planning. If he follows form, the council still would be hamstrung whenever a tough choice presents itself.
For example, when Meeker and Cowell called for a study of whether Raleigh's low, low impact fees on new development should be increased, Kirkman voted no, helping to scotch the initiative. Low impact fees mean that the residents of District D, which is mostly downtown, are subsidizing the new houses out in North Raleigh; the only question--which a study would answer--is how much the downtown folks are getting soaked. Kirkman's vote not to even study this issue was irresponsible.
Similarly, Kirkman's seemingly been on every side of the difficult issue of student housing in the neighborhoods around N.C. State, which could be interpreted as seeking a middle ground except that, while the council dithers, the conversion rate of older houses into unregulated rental properties has only accelerated. That's one reason the Avent West precinct where Kirkman and Crowder both live went for Crowder in the first round of voting. Clearly, Kirkman's own neighbors have lost confidence in him, as have the two former council members who served with him: Julie Shea Graw, who also lives in Avent West, and Stephanie Fanjul--both have endorsed Crowder's candidacy.
We're not blaming Kirkman for the conservative policies of past councils, nor discounting the good things he's worked for, including the new stormwater utility fee and land acquisitions around Lake Johnson. But progressive leadership in Raleigh has historically come from District D, and in Crowder, we think the voters have a chance to renew that legacy.
On the planning commission, Crowder is the leader on zoning reforms, often standing alone on a panel that, until the recent addition of Russ Stephenson, was overwhelmingly pro-developers. That doesn't make Crowder anti-development. It does mean he's pro-urban development and in favor of citizens helping shape Raleigh's future growth. It also means he's against letting developers do whatever they want to do, and in favor of tightening up a zoning code that, left unchanged, not only perpetuates but encourages sprawl. "Pro-active, not reactive planning," is Crowder's theme.
Crowder was a force in bringing Raleigh its new Urban Design Guidelines, which are a step in the right direction--if followed. He's led Avent West in calling for tougher inspections, and licensing, of houses owned by absentee landlords. He co-chaired the Livable Streets Task Force, which thrashed out--with the business community--a plan for downtown growth. Outside of downtown, he's voted for development projects that enhance the surrounding neighborhoods and against those that detract from neighborhoods. And he's been uniquely able, in official Raleigh anyway, to articulate the difference.
His voice, and vision, is needed on the City Council--as the fifth vote on the tough issues, and a leader on the toughest ones.
We think Cary is now on the right track, after slowing down its frantic growth rate, raising impact fees on new development and going into "catch-up" mode on roads, parks and other public facilities after decades of letting developers get away with--well, they weren't asked to throw much into the public realm, were they?
Outgoing Mayor Glen Lang gets much of the credit for this. We didn't endorse his re-election because we saw his imperious personality and conduct as the main threat to his own good policies. We did endorse, and once again support, Town Councilor Julie Aberg Robison, who promises to follow through on the good work already begun while recognizing that, between Cary's slower growth and economic bad times in general, some changes are going to be needed.
Robison, for instance, says that impact fees on commercial development, which for some kinds of business are nine times as high as neighboring Raleigh's, may need to be reduced to keep Cary from losing the kinds of companies--and jobs--the town wants. We think Raleigh should have higher impact fees (see above). But until it does, Robison's call for a study of Cary's is only common sense. So is her observation that Cary's ability to play catch-up on public amenities--and improve its "quality of life"--depends on its ability to grow sensibly. Otherwise, tax rates would go up, and she's promised to hold the line there.
A local government specialist with the nonprofit Research Triangle Institute, Robison's strongest credentials are her experience with "best practices" around the country and her commitment to lead by inclusion--with citizens and her fellow Town Councilors involved--so that what this council does is sustained by future ones.
Her opponent, banker Ernie McAlister, is probably not as far to the right of Robison as some of his rhetoric suggests. Both, for example, came out in favor of a domestic partners ordinance, which would include the gay and lesbian partners of Cary employees for purposes of their employment benefits; both said developers should be assessed when their projects reduce so-called "level of service" traffic ratings at adjacent intersections.
But McAlister's warnings of "out-of-control spending" are scare tactics, as he certainly knows. Cary's recent borrowing for road and parks improvement does not threaten its credit rating, since the amounts are small and Cary still owes very little compared to its tax base. And that tax that McAlister says the Town Council tried to raise 300 percent (!) was a motor vehicle fee of $10, plus $5 for the senior citizens C-Tran service, which the Council asked the legislature to raise to a total of $30. An extra $15 won't break anybody in Cary--if the General Assembly passes it, which so far it hasn't.
In the at-large runoff, contractor Michael Joyce is running as a compassionate conservative who says, sure, many citizens need the government's help, but the money should come from voluntary contributions to a public fund, not from taxes. Even more than McAlister, he accuses Cary of profligate spending. That's just not even remotely true. We're backing incumbent Councilor Harold Weinbrecht, a SAS software developer, who's helped lead Cary's smart-growth turnaround the last four years and who promises to keep at the job of adding affordable housing. Weinbrecht differs with Robison on impact fees, saying they should stay high, and Cary should use "targeted incentives" to attract the specific companies it wants. That sounds a little iffy, but in general, we endorse Weinbrecht's "sustainable growth" platform, in contrast to Joyce's free-marketeering.
Wake Voter's Guide
On Nov. 4, Wake County voters will vote in runoffs for Raleigh council members from Districts B and D; Cary mayor and the Town Council at-large seat; and local officials in other municipalities in which The Independent is not making endorsements. For information on all races and where to vote, call the Wake County Elections Board at 856-6240 or go to msweb03.co.wake.nc.us/bordelec/default.htm.
Below are The Independent's endorsements, based on extensive research and detailed questionnaires sent to every candidate.
Raleigh City Council District B: Jessie Taliaferro
Raleigh City Council District D: Thomas Crowder
Cary Mayor: Julie Aberg Robison
Cary Town Council At-Large: Harold Weinbrecht
The Bull City's October primary narrowed the large field of 15 mayoral and council hopefuls to eight--two candidates per seat who now face voters Nov. 4.
The mayor's race is the most predictable and the easiest endorsement choice. As expected, incumbent Mayor Bill Bell came out way ahead of his two challengers in the primary, winning 85 percent of the vote. We heartily endorse Bell's re-election in the general election, where he faces newcomer Jonathan Alston, the distant second-place finisher with 11 percent. Durham voters should give Bell another two-year term to continue all the fine work he has started in his first term, including guiding development with some sorely-needed modulation. Bell's sharp political acumen and his long experience as a county commissioner make him the right man for the thorny job of mayor, though that same savvy has kept him from speaking publicly about the job performance of the city manager, an issue that's gained steam and sparked debate in candidate forums and on the street in recent weeks. Given the recent mishaps and the level of buzz around town, we predict that management issues at City Hall will top the next council's agenda, and encourage Bell to be both more aggressive in his approach and more public about the problems--and his proposed solutions.
All six of the council finalists who made it through the primary come to the plate with support from at least one of Durham's three powerful political action committees--the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, the People's Alliance and the Friends of Durham. The first two groups endorsed the same three-person slate in the primary (though the Committee changed its endorsements for the general election); the conservative Friends endorsed the other three. The combination of candidates that voters ultimately choose will surely feed future debates about the muscle of PACs in Durham politics.
In the general election, for three seats with four-year terms, we support our same picks as in the primary: progressive activist Diane Catotti, former councilwoman Diane Wright, and businessman and City Hall watchdog Eugene Brown.
Catotti has continued to shine on the campaign trail, holding up under tough questions and articulating clear ideas for improving city government. Though she's making her first bid for elected office, she comes to the job with a long record of community activism and racial bridge-building through the People's Alliance and other venues like the public schools. Durham needs more leaders like Catotti, and we believe she'll hit the ground running in her first term. It was a shame that the Durham Committee switched its endorsement from Catotti to two-term incumbent Thomas Stith last week after Stith supporters packed the group's endorsement meeting and overrode the recommendation of its political committee. That marked a step away from the progressive coalition that leaders of the Committee and the People's Alliance were trying to forge.
Wright, a veteran of the council from 1989 to 1997 and a leader in many important organizations like the Campaign for Decent Housing, is devoted to progressive principles such as the living wage ordinance. A county social worker, she will take extra care to speak up for the voices that are all too easily lost in municipal bureaucracy--those of Durham's economically challenged residents. Wright has also shown she has a sense of humor on the campaign trail, a quality that will come in handy during fractious council meetings.
Speaking of fractious meetings, that brings us to Brown. We've endorsed him above the rest of the field primarily because of his long record of involvement in city issues as a leader of the now-defunct Durham Voters Alliance, his shrewd business sense and his timely, no-nonsense "clean up City Hall" approach. While Brown is not necessarily on the progressive side of every issue, he does support key priorities like the living wage ordinance and impact fees on development.
Brown's main drawback continues to be his interpersonal style. His lack of patience for differing opinions has shown up in candidate forums in the form of eye-rolling and sighs. Durham needs smart leaders who do their homework and care deeply about the city--like Brown does--but it sure doesn't need more divisiveness, so our endorsement comes with a strong recommendation that Brown listen more thoughtfully to all points of view if Durham's citizens trust him with their vote. That skill will be critical if he is to successfully participate in council coalitions that will allow him to accomplish his goals.
Also seeking seats in the at-large race are Stith, retired Duke administrator Warren Herndon and furniture merchant Matt Yarbrough.
ADurham voters face five referendum questions on their ballots--four county bond questions and a poll about doubling the two-year terms of Durham County commissioners to four years. The Independent endorses all four bonds, which will fund $123.3 million in public projects, and encourages voters to say yes to the change in commissioners' terms.
The lion's share of this year's bond package is aimed at $105.3 million in renovations, new construction and other capital improvements in the Durham Public Schools. Two years ago, a school bond half that size came under fire from some African American leaders, who called for the referendum's defeat as a protest of the lack of funds for inner-city schools. This fall, bond supporters addressed that issue thoroughly. Some of the biggest-ticket addition-and-renovation projects on the bond list include: $9.8 million for Shepard Middle School, $6.1 million for Fayetteville Street Elementary, $5.9 million at the Durham School of the Arts, $5 million at Mangum Elementary and $4 million at Morehead Elementary. As former county commissioners chairwoman and current bond committee co-chair MaryAnn Black told NAACP members in September, "We heard you loud and clear."
In addition to much-needed maintenance in older schools, nearly $27 million is slated for construction of two new elementary schools in Southeast Durham and at the Hillside High School site--an expense attributable to the county's residential growth and a cause for concern raised by both the People's Alliance and the Durham NAACP during their bond-endorsement debates. While both groups, and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, supported the bonds, they did so with reservations, including the PA's reiterating its call for an adequate public facilities ordinance to help the schools keep up with the student population.
Rounding out the $123.3 million package is $8.2 million for Durham Technical Community College, $4.6 million for the Durham County Library system and $5.2 million for the N.C. Museum of Life and Science. The community college funds will pay for expansion of classroom buildings, overall upgrades across campus, and provide $3 million (to be matched by $6 million in state funds) to build a new student services center with computer labs. The county library funding will be used to build a new building in southwest Durham, where the existing Parkwood branch is woefully inadequate for the growing needs of that region of the county. Finally, the museum funds will fund the second phase of the "BioQuest" project, a partnership with Duke University's Primate Center that includes the much-touted "Dinosaur Trail" and other improvements to parking and classroom space at the popular museum.
The final ballot question about commissioner terms is long overdue. County leaders put it off a few years ago because the question of Durham's city-county government merger was on the table, but now that that issue has been pushed back to the back burner, it makes no sense for the county's five commissioners to run campaigns essentially every 18 months. The four-year terms will give them more time to spend on issues and require less time for fund-raising and candidate forums.
Durham Voter's Guide
On Nov. 4, Durham County voters will select a mayor, members of City Council and vote on four bonds and one referendum question. For information on where to vote, call the Durham County Board of Elections, 560-0700 or go to www.co.durham.nc.us/common/db-dept.cfm?ID=2 . Below are The Independent's endorsements, based on extensive research and detailed questionnaires sent to each candidate.
Mayor: William V. "Bill" Bell
City Council At-Large (3 seats): Eugene Brown, Diane Catotti, Diane Wright
School bond: Yes
Library bond: Yes
Durham Tech bond: Yes
Museum of Life and Science bond: Yes
Referendum on four-year terms for county commissioners: Yes
While Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson is technically unopposed, Guilford College history professor Jeff Vanke is putting up a fight as a write-in candidate. So we're taking a stand: We endorse Mike Nelson, a seasoned veteran who has done a great job working with the Board of Aldermen to strengthen environmental protections, work for affordable housing and involve citizens in a visionary master-plan for a walkable, economically vibrant downtown.
Vanke has accused Nelson of being arrogant and of not listening, which may earn the challenger votes from some dissatisfied quarters of town. Nelson is at the very least mercurial. He pushed for the controversial Winmore development, which added high-density townhouses to an upscale residential tract. Winmore annoyed a few people who don't want housing that could attract student tenants to their neighborhoods. But it fit with Carrboro's goal of providing more affordable housing in-town. As the project worked its way through the system, however, Nelson wound up voting against it (it passed anyway).
While it may be a minority, there are a few folks in Carrboro who feel that their local government doesn't listen. Vanke is bringing those people out of the woodwork and into the political process. We hope Nelson will use his fifth mayoral term to keep them there. While a future run at higher office seems likely for Nelson, we hope he'll spend the next four years focused on Carrboro, providing the leadership it deserves.
Board of Aldermen
There are three seats up for election, and one incumbent, civil rights attorney Mark Dorosin, has declined to run again.
The two incumbents in the race, Joal Hall Broun and Alex Zaffron, have been positive forces on the board and get our hearty endorsement. Broun is a public defender and affordable housing advocate who brings deep knowledge of the economic and cultural hurdles that town and citizens must address in order to solve complex issues. Zaffron understands and articulates the intricacies of new urbanism at the ground level, creating and putting in place truly green and sustainable projects. He's taken the unpopular position in favor of taller buildings downtown, and has pushed for connector roads and mixed-use zoning such as that in Winmore. We endorse both Broun and Zaffron wholeheartedly.
Mark Chilton is our pick for the open seat. The executive director of EmPOWERment, a non-profit community development corporation, has good ideas for how to tackle the complex problems of affordable housing, sustainable development and tax structure reform. He also has experience: While he was a UNC undergrad, he was elected to Chapel Hill Town Council, where he fought increases in bus fares and founded the Land Trust in Orange County. We think Chilton will carry on Dorosin's legacy and make sure development in Carrboro is walkable, green and economically just.
Steve Rose, an attorney for the N.C. General Assembly for the past 20 years, used to be a strong progressive political voice in Orange County. Lately, though, his voice has had a different ring. Rose is part of a lawsuit against the controversial Pacifica development that the board approved last year. He's fighting plans for downtown density, and pushing for lower taxes. Rose represents those in Carrboro who feel threatened by development in existing neighborhoods. We know their frustration is genuine, but Rose's agenda would not serve the greater good.
The future of town-gown relations are critical, whether that affects planning to revitalize Chapel Hill's downtown economy or the massive Carolina North project looming on the horizon in the 1,000 undeveloped acres of the Horace Williams tract. While it's important for the university and the town to work together, both have responsibilities to their constituencies. The university is charged with serving the best interests of its students and the state, while the Town Council has a responsibility to represent the best interests of the people of Chapel Hill. Those duties are sometimes at odds.
For that reason, we're endorsing a slate of candidates that we feel can work with the university, but not at the expense of the people they would be elected to represent. With longtime board members Flicka Bateman and Pat Evans retiring, and 12 candidates vying for four seats with four-year terms, it's especially important for voters to have a sense of who might take over.
Our choices are: Sally Greene, Cam Hill, Andrea Rohrbacher and Bill Strom.
Greene is an attorney with extensive experience in environmental and civil rights issues. She's on the town Planning Board, and has spent several years serving on committees to design sustainable use of Merritt's Pasture and preserve the Morgan Creek Valley watershed. She knows the intricacies of both law and politics, and has demonstrated strong leadership in building the cooperative relationships that can stand up to development interests when necessary. During the campaign, she proposed an inclusionary zoning ordinance as a creative solution to the town's chronic affordable housing crunch.
Hill, a town native, made a rather offbeat run for mayor last time out, eventually pulling out of the race and backing current Mayor Kevin Foy. But Hill hasn't faded away. He's proven that he's willing to do the work of staying engaged in key issues by serving on the Horace Williams citizens committee and representing the town on the university's Carolina North advisory committee. Hill is outspoken and plainspoken in a way that's refreshing. He will be a strong advocate for neighborhoods, and as a professional builder, he brings knowledge that will help solve housing issues. He's also one of the few people who knows what folks mean when they talk about the way Chapel Hill "used to be"--yet he's grounded in the reality of the Chapel Hill of today.
Rohrbacher is a soft-spoken but firm advocate for greenways and neighborhood protection. A longtime active member of the Sierra Club, Rohrbacher is liked by almost everyone in town, but failed to win some support because she's perceived as being less assertive than some of her fellow challengers. We think Rohrbacher wins out in terms of knowledge and experience. She's worked on greenways and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission. She took a gutsy stand last year against building a third high school on public park land. If the green infrastructure bonds pass, as we hope they will, Rohrbacher would be uniquely qualified to implement the plans--she helped design them. She has also acquitted herself well in debates, handling sticky questions about school merger with candor and level-headedness. We encourage Rohrbacher to make her voice heard on Town Council, and we expect that her calm manner could come in handy when dealing with the emotionally charged public response to merger and other issues that are likely to spill over into the council's chambers.
Strom stood up to the university on neighborhood preservation issues, protected clean water and green space, fought against the widening of Weaver Dairy Road and Columbia Street, pushed for this election's bond proposals on library expansion and green infrastructure, worked on plans for major regional transportation projects, and helped to strengthen the town's rural buffer. He's got good ideas for public arts and downtown revitalization. He's also one of the few who fought the town's overly restrictive panhandling ordinance, and has demonstrated a commitment to fighting for people who don't have much of a voice. Though early in his term he was sometimes strident to the point of arrogance, he's matured on the job since elected in 1999. Strom has worked effectively with other council members and citizen groups to provide a counterbalance to Mayor Foy's shift toward the right. But Strom's political adroitness sometimes exacerbates tensions on the council. We urge him to be thoughtful and conciliatory in negotiations, while standing firm in his positions.
We've decided not to back incumbent Jim Ward, a former Indy endorsee who seems to have lost his resolve in preserving neighborhoods and civil liberties. Ward voted for the university's first plan to build a chiller plant and the two parking decks--then took credit for the negotiations that brought about the final compromise. Ward caved in on the panhandling ordinance, voting in favor of it. The list goes on. Ward is well-liked and has unparalleled experience on everything from sustainable development to parks and recreation. But given the stakes this council faces in dealing with the university and preserving economic diversity, we need council members who will stand up on such crucial issues.
Thatcher Freund is a progressive with good positions, but not enough of a political base to be effective on council. Rudy Juliano is another progressive who's mostly on the right side of things, but lacks either vision or grassroots support. What's more, by funding costly campaigns out of their own deep pockets, Freund and Juliano have effectively set back efforts toward "citizen-owned elections" which several candidates (including all of our endorsees) have been working for.
And some of the challengers are clearly not right to lead Chapel Hill: Woodrow Barfield has declined to attend any candidate forums or share his positions with The Independent, so why he bothered to fill out the paperwork to run is a mystery to us. Mike McSwain, a UNC undergrad, has no relevant experience and has demonstrated little in the campaign besides arrogance and lack of preparation. Oh, and some pictures of a trip to Hooters on his Web site. Doug Schworer is out to stop a Habitat for Humanity project being built in his neighborhood. He's also less than forthright when it comes to explaining his occupation (he says he's president of his own telecommunications firm, but he sold it years ago), which doesn't inspire confidence. Terri Tyson is a business advocate who would not preserve the crucial Land Use Management Ordinance. She has also been campaigning on her position against the proposed merger of town and county school districts--which seems strangely divisive, since Town Council members have no direct say in that decision; their only involvement with the school systems is through decisions that affect growth.
Dianne Bachman is an especially troublesome candidate. She works for UNC's facilities planning department and answers directly to university administrators. Bachman is a knowledgeable architect and a longtime veteran of the Community Design and Appearance Commissions. In fact, besides the incumbents, she's one of the most qualified candidates on the ballot. But her experience is in many ways her greatest liability: Bachman is still project manager of the university's plans to build housing complexes on Mason Farm Road, one of the many university plans that has neighborhoods up against the wall. What's most troubling is that even after facing intense criticism over her university role, Bachman still doesn't see why so many people view her council candidacy as patently inappropriate. That she can't acknowledge the glaring conflict of interest is hard to understand.
(Editor's Note: Independent Staff Writer Jennifer Strom is married to Chapel Hill Town Council member Bill Strom. She did not participate in the endorsement selection process for any races in Orange County.)
We support a vote for the library bond and for all five green bond questions on the ballots. Most of the money, $16.26 million, would fund expansion of the library from 27,000 to 70,000 square feet. Chapel Hill's library is the most used library per capita of any in the state. The public already decided expansion was necessary. But a bond vote back in 1989 failed by just a few votes. Now the situation has gone from urgent to critical. This money is clearly needed and will be well spent.
Chapel Hill voters will consider four bonds that make up a coordinated set of green initiatives: $5.6 million for sidewalk improvements; $5 million for parks and recreation expansion; $2 million for additional greenways and open space; and $500,000 for energy-efficiency improvements to public buildings.
As part of the same initiative, Carrboro voters will decide on $4.6 million in bonds for sidewalks and greenways.
All of these things will be crucial to quality of life as Chapel Hill and Carrboro continue to grow, and they will allow the county's greenways systems to connect with those of neighboring communities in Durham and Chatham counties. Bond funds would allow the towns to carry out in a comprehensive way plans that they have not been able to implement on a piece-meal basis.
These bonds make sense economically too. Now is the perfect time, while the market is low. And simply approving the bonds doesn't mean the check will be cashed. It just gives the towns the fiscal elbow room they needs to do things right. Especially where environmental initiatives are concerned, this big picture approach makes all the difference.
In the background of this year's race for four four-year seats on the school board are two big issues, one the school board has authority over, and one it doesn't.
Curriculum changes put in place to deal with the achievement gap have concerned some parents of gifted students, who don't think a unified, district-wide curriculum will ensure that all needs are met. There is a lot of work to be done in fine-tuning these issues and addressing district-wide standards. Plus, there's President Bush's unfunded mandate, the No Child Left Behind Act, to implement, which means more testing and more bureaucracy.
Frankly, though, it's been hard to discern the differences in where candidates stand on these issues. When they're not offering empty rhetoric in favor of good education and high standards, they're competing to see who can scream the loudest against merger.
The possible merger between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools has so overshadowed this campaign, it has practically drowned out all other conversations. Yet not only do town school board members not have decision-making power, if the systems (and the school boards) were to merge, some of them would likely be out of a job. That puts all of the candidates in an odd position.
Whatever solution is ultimately taken to solve the funding inequity between city and county schools, one thing is certain: The two districts must work together. Cooperation was the ultimate recommendation of the last merger study done in 1986, but cooperation hasn't been much of a reality. The county system has some programs the city schools don't have, such as those for the children of migrant farm workers. City schools have foreign language instruction at the elementary school level, for which some county parents are clamoring. Both are funded by Orange County taxpayers, and with Chapel Hill and Carrboro's push into their northern edges, the lines between them are seeming more and more arbitrary. Considering that these districts aren't entirely separate to begin with, it only makes sense, economically and ethically, to find a way to share resources. That much is within the board's power.
It's simply not good enough for the city schools' leaders to say the funding woes of the county schools aren't their problem.
It's the job of parents to advocate for their children; it's the job of school board members to provide for all children, while keeping in mind the big picture of what's best for the district as a whole. That's why we've chosen a slate of candidates for four four-year seats on the board we feel can stay focused, constructively channel parental criticism, and stand up to groups that don't have the big picture in mind. They'll also need to ratchet down tensions and work with the county commissioners and the county school system in a way that's constructive, in order to preserve the quality of education and parental involvement that make this an exemplary district.
We endorse two incumbents, Elizabeth Mason Carter and Ed Sechrest. While they should take some responsibility for the mess made finding a new high school site, they have shown they are firmly focused one of the district's most important goals: closing the achievement gap, something that can be difficult to stay focused on in a district that has traditionally focused on high achievers. Carter can remember when schools in Chapel Hill were segregated. She's been on the board since 1994, and can be thanked for many of the things that work well about this district, especially its empowerment of teachers and its ability to gracefully cope with state- and nationally mandated testing that would tend to distract from day to day quality of life in the classroom. She is experienced, caring and knowledgable. Keep it up.
Sechrest was appointed to the board when another member left last year. He's new, but has so far been a good presence on the board. Sechrest has a business background that contributes to a rational, pragmatic approach. He also has unique insights on the achievement gap--his father was one of the first African Americans to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, and instilled in him a sense of high expectations. Hopefully, Sechrest can become a stronger voice for better organization and communication inside and outside the district.
We also endorse Michael Kelley, who has a big-picture approach. He realizes that the process of planning for growth is the central issue to planning for the district's future. He also has some innovative ideas for dealing with curriculum, and talks about English as a Second Language instruction in the same breath as gifted education. We encourage him to address issues of equity in innovative, conciliatory ways.
For the fourth spot, we endorse Jamezetta Bedford, a substitute teacher and parent of three very different children: one who's identified as academically gifted; one who's autistic with mental retardation; and a third she describes as a "sweet, average, all-American boy." While this gives her a unique perspective on the need for diverse programs, we're not convinced that it translates to a holistic approach. Bedford is one of the candidates campaigning on an anti-merger position--not that surprising, considering that the overwhelming majority of district voters feel the same way. But her vehemence doesn't inspire confidence when it comes to dealing with crucial county-wide issues. Bedford has demonstrated for many years that she is an informed and involved parent and advocate for schools. We hope she will bring that work ethic and energy to tackle these larger problems.
Incumbent Gloria Faley has been a strong leader in several areas, but has been a disappointment when it comes to working with the county. When first elected, she was a refreshing, independent voice. But she carried the ball for a poorly conceived effort to persuade the Town of Chapel Hill to give up plans for a park next to Southern Village in order to site the third high school there (cooler heads prevailed, and the site was changed). The school board should never have put the Town Council in that position. Picking a school site is a key land-use planning process that brings into play all of the other land-use planning that boards and commissions in Orange County are charged with. This school board's clumsiness and indecision have left them open to pressure from parents' groups and created ill will with other elected bodies in the county. Faley's combative attitude on the site issue hasn't helped to change the tone or engendered much confidence that the school board can do its job. For that reason, we're declining to endorse her this year.
George Griffin is a professor of school administration at N.C. Central University. He's white and has devoted his professional career to studying minority achievement. Griffin speaks out against the role of white, male privilege in perpetuating the achievement gap, and he proposes some fairly big changes at the elementary level to address it. He also has some innovative ideas for small neighborhood schools that we'd like to see explored. Griffin says he's not opposed to merger on principle, but at a recent forum on the issue he berated the county commissioners for their role in the funding inequities. While he has a valid point, the tone of his remarks was far from demonstrating the kind of cooperation we feel is crucial right now.
Hillsborough is one of the nicest places to live in the state. The downtown is quaint, vibrant and varied; the people are warm and friendly. In addition to its Southern charm, Hillsborough maintains close ties to it agricultural roots. Minutes from downtown are picturesque two-lane roads that pass through breathtaking landscapes.
All is not the Garden of Eden, however, in this northern Orange County community. Ugly big-box monstrosities such as Wal-Mart have come to life, and like kudzu, these national chains are threatening to overtake smaller businesses that have been Hillsborough's lifeblood for generations. Limiting residential growth is also essential to maintaining the town's uniqueness. Much is at stake in next week's election for three seats for four-year terms as town commissioners.
That's why The Independent is enthusiastically endorsing 12-year incumbent Evelyn Lloyd and newcomer Eric Hallman for two of the three open commission seats. Both are strong progressives with the best interests of Hillsborough front and center. Lloyd, a self-employed downtown businesswoman, has consistently worked to preserve what's good about Hillsborough. A pharmacist, Lloyd brings experience and knowledge to the commission, and she has a proven track record of level-headed decision making. Lloyd, who has sat on numerous study commissions and boards over the years, says she is committed to protecting Hillsborough. Most importantly, she has fought for managed growth in a town that has developers licking their chops.
"We must take control of our destiny and not be influenced by developers to approve ill-considered projects that will not be in our overall best interest and may even destroy what we hold dear," Lloyd wrote in her response to the Independent's candidate survey. "We do not need more 'big box' developments owned by national corporations, but instead we need to continue to encourage local businesses that keep revenue circulating in our community."
Hallman, who is an N.C. Central University adjunct faculty member, has distinguished himself as a workhorse during the campaign. He has pressed a lot of flesh and kept phones glued to his ears as he learns the ins and outs of the workings of both town and county government.
His top priority--establishing a community land-use plan--would be a good step toward helping the town monitor its growth patterns and make sound decisions about future expansion. Hallman wants economic development to go hand-in-hand with his planning vision. Hallman supports "clean" commercial growth. A volunteer with youth and Habitat for Humanity, Hallman co-founded Citizens for Responsible Growth, the group that played a leading role in stopping a proposed asphalt plant from coming to town.
On the other end of the spectrum are candidates Paul Newton and incumbent Brian Lowen, both endorsed by Friends of Hillsborough, a political action committee with a pro-business, pro-growth slant. Newton founded the group, and Lowen stepped down from its steering committee to run for office.
While the group backs a by-pass to reduce downtown traffic, Hallman is promoting more walkable communities and bicycle paths to discourage driving and connect Hillsborough's various neighborhoods with each other and to downtown. Some progressives fear that, if elected, Newton and Lowen would join ranks with Hillsborough Mayor Joe Phelps (who advocates a vote for the mayor on the town board; the mayor can now only vote to break ties) to move the town toward a more friendly relationship with the pro-growth forces. Outgoing Town Board member Mike Gering says the Friends of Hillsborough has Phelps in its hip pocket. Phelps denies it, and says the group is "a public mouthpiece for Paul Newton and Brian Lowen."
For the third seat, The Independent gives the nod to another political newcomer, Bryant Warren Jr., over former Hillsborough Mayor Horace Johnson. After 12 years as mayor, Johnson, a once-popular leader, was sent packing in the last election. His critics say Johnson, a retired real estate agent, is his own worst enemy. While Johnson says some good things about restricting growth, he is no longer perceived as an effective leader by many progressives.
Warren is an Orange County native who works as a customer service manager for PBM Graphics, an RTP firm. Warren impressed us by his decision to refuse campaign contributions. Said he: "I do not want to be obligated to any group."
Warren sits on the town's parks and recreation and planning boards. While he is inexperienced, supporters say Warren's heart is in the right place, and he will do the right thing for Hillsborough. Warren says he supports slow, manageable growth, especially light commercial that would create jobs, "not development after development of houses."
He also supports more cooperation with Orange County government and neighboring municipalities. That's good in a town that has a reputation for going it alone from time to time. In the debate over what to do with the former Wal-Mart site, Warren suggests the town and county work very closely together to draw something to the location that everyone would benefit from, like a community center or library.
In his capacity as a planning board member, Warren has backed pedestrian-friendly options such as sidewalks on both sides of the street, and he supports putting parks "in all new developments."
(Editor's note: Eric Hallman is the husband of Elizabeth Woodman, an investor in The Independent and a member of the paper's board of directors. )
Given all the hot political issues roiling across Chatham County these days (can you say "land rush"?), its county seat is an oasis of quiet. Pittsboro's 2,200 residents are apparently pretty happy with the status quo, since the town's commissioners generally run unopposed--as is the case again this year. That's not to say nothing happens there--rather, Pittsboro's downtown is alive with antique-shoppers and frequent live music at the General Store Cafe, and the town is starting to field some of the same growth pressures as the surrounding countryside.
Late last year, the town board gave the green light to Powell Place, a mixed-use development of homes and shops planned for the intersection of U.S. 15-501 and the N.C. 64 bypass, close to town. Progressives in northern Chatham hail that project as a relief from the strip malls planned on two other corners of the same intersection. At the beginning of 2003, town leaders fired their manager for unexplained personnel reasons. And yet, walk the streets in Pittsboro asking citizens what they think of the current mayor's race, and the most common response is a blank stare and a lot of "ums."
So, based largely on candidate questionnaires, we endorse incumbent Mayor Nancy May. May faces challenger Al Capehart, who is better known to many as "Santa Al," because of his annual--and compelling--impersonation of Saint Nick. May worked closely with developer Roger Perry to bring appropriate mixed-use development to town at Powell Place, and has steered the town with a steady hand overall. Her experience is needed to address the Pittsboro's most pressing problem of improving its troubled, aging sewer and water infrastructure.
Orange/Chatham Voter's Guide
On Nov. 4, Orange County voters go to the polls in local races in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough, and to vote on five bond propositions in Chapel Hill and one in Carrboro. In Chatham County, voters go to the polls in Pittsboro to elect a mayor (and Town Board, but three candidates for three seats are essentially unopposed). In Orange County, for information on all races and where to vote, call the Orange County Board of Elections at 245-2350 or go to www.co.orange.nc.us/elect. In Chatham, call 542-9206 or go to www.co.chatham.nc.us/dept/elections/web/electionhome.htm.
Below are The Independent's endorsements, based on extensive research and detailed questionnaires sent to every candidate.
Mayor: Mike Nelson
Board of Aldermen: Joal Broun, Mark Chilton, Alex Zaffron
Sidewalks and greenways bond ($4.6 million): YES
Town Council: Sally Greene, Cam Hill, Andrea Rohrbacher, Bill Strom
Library bond ($16.26 million): YES
Streets and sidewalk bond ($5.6 million): YES
Parks and recreation expansion bond ($5 million): YES
Open space bond ($2 million): YES
Energy efficiency improvements bond ($500,000): YES
School Board: Jamezetta Bedford, Elizabeth Mason Carter, Michael Kelley, Ed Sechrest
Town Commission: Eric Hallman, Evelyn Lloyd, Bryant Warren Jr.
Mayor: Nancy May