Name as it appears on the ballot: Jim Merritt
Full legal name, if different: James I. Merritt
Date of birth: 2/26/44
Home address: 106 Crest Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Town Council
Home phone: 919-929-8825
Work phone: N/A
1. 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.
I have demonstrated leadership in both my private and professional life. While working as a Middle School Administrator in Gloucester, Virginia. I volunteered my services to the community by working with the citizens to bring a Boys and Girls Club to that area. Gloucester, Virginia is a rural community that is isolated from the mainstream cities that offer these basic Services. I was selected by the Gloucester community to serve on their Steering Committee to do planning, organization and appointment of individuals to various committees and meeting with Chairpersons to accomplish our goals.
Since returning to Chapel Hill, after retirement, I have been involved with organizing fundraising and initiating programs in my hometown with my High School Alumni Association. I have served as treasurer and currently Vice President of OCTS- Lincoln High/ Northside Alumni Association. This organization is involved primarily in working with the disadvantaged members of the African American community to provide services that they cannot afford. I initiated a Thanksgiving food dinner for families that are economically deprived from lists that were given to us by the African American churches in Chapel Hill.
During my short term of time on Town Council, I have advocated that the Town consider supporting the Chapel Hill Museum financially. It is my belief that a Town with such a Historical past should be funded and led by your community and not funded by private donation.
2. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I define myself as a life long Democrat, who believes that all people should have the quality of life that is available for any citizen. This philosophy has been ingrained in me by my parents, that no one should have access to a better standard of living that is denied to other individuals or group of people.
3. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
I favor a much more structured approach to panhandling than is currently being followed. I would advocate programs and services that would hold panhandlers accountable for following specific guidelines. These programs would be opened to all individuals consisting of the economically disadvantaged, homeless, panhandlers and to anyone based on a set of criteria that they should qualify for. It has been my experience that individuals, who don't have the skills and knowledge, have a sense of insecurity and many times are discouraged because they don't have the background to apply for a job. This type of accomplishment gives an individual a sense of self worth. By establishing this structure, it will be giving these individuals the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities to be successful in the job market.
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 serve as the Town Council's representative to establish a Civilian Review Board. I don't see this as an opportunity to police the police, but an opportunity for the citizens of Chapel Hill to have an alternative to voice their discontent with the Town Government. All too often, once our leaders enter public service they forget about the will of the people. Our government is built on the values and the beliefs of our community in which I fully expect to be held accountable to the citizens I serve. My position on a Citizen Review Board should effect what I feel as an individual citizen, to be objective, fair and I will evaluate the facts as I see them. This should not be looked at as an opportunity to conduct witch hunts into Town government or The Public Safety Division, but the ability to make recommendations for improvements throughout all facets of government.
5. In the midst of a difficult economic situation and a tough budget year, what's one thing that the town is cutting that you would save and what's one thing that's been saved that you would cut?
Medical insurance is definitely one budget item that needs to be addressed. With medical cost escalating every year, this is a "budget buster" for everyone. We need to look at options that are available and make some hard choices. I don't advocate change for town employees, because Town benefits are the reason that we are able to attract and keep good employees.
I regret that some of your budget was cut for youth programs. We need to continuously invest in our youth to get job training and work experience. Many college eligible students work year round and during the summer months in order to save money to go to college.
6. What's your approach to growth in Chapel Hill? Where should the town grow? How do leaders manage it?
I would encourage growth along the major transient corridors for high density. I think that light rail will be the most economical transportation of our future. Because, as the cost of fuel for automobiles increases, the demand for public transportation will also escalate. Residents of high density areas are less likely to drive their cars long distances commuting back and forth to work. They will begin to depend on jobs that are closer to where they live and shop in areas near their residences. I support balanced growth, where we will continue to protect the rural buffer and regulate the buildings to reasonable heights that are consistent with the values desired by the citizens of Chapel Hill.
7. Do you think recent efforts to revitalize Franklin Street, such as adding welcome flags, using new parking rules, implementing Touchdown Carolina, etc. have been effective? What more needs to be done downtown? What would you do to increase occupancy rates and make Franklin Street a more vibrant and economically successful entity?
Downtown Franklin Street reflects the charm and essence of what our citizens expect to have personified to project our image to visitors. With the recent hiring of an Executive Director for the Downtown Partnership, I expect many positive changes to occur. This change should attract major tenets in the retail industry as well as artistic vendors. An example would be the return of flower vendors who complemented the culture and beautify the downtown area of Chapel Hill.
The Towns tax base has to be balanced by recruiting and offering incentives to businesses to attract employers that will employ individuals with a wage that will enable an individual to work and live in Chapel Hill. Affordable housing brings the tax base back to our town and generates revenue for our community. This becomes more apparent when a wage earner can afford to work and live in Chapel Hill. I feel that there should be more entertainment available to attract our over fifty crowd back to the downtown area. Something such as a dinner theater or major retail stores would be examples of these improvements in the future.
8. While Greenbridge has been lauded as an environmentally friendly housing development, there are also concerns that it threatens adjacent lower-income neighborhoods. What do you think the town's strategy should be in regards to gentrification?
While Greenbridge has been referred to as a major housing development, it does not attract the type of influence that is desirable for that area. The Northside area has historically been an area of town where African American small businesses were able to flourish and meet the needs of the community. Greenbridge has disrupted that way of life, because with the infusion of one or two bedroom Condominiums that escalate taxes and property value for that area, small business will eventually be forced to move from the area. Primarily because the cost of the units being marketed is not traditionally what has lived in that area. I anticipate parking problems for the businesses and residences of that area once the condos are to be occupied. Additionally, panhandlers will re-locate to an area that is more lucrative. Taxes will rise for residents and they will sell to developers, who typically renovate houses for rental. They have no vested interest in preserving the neighborhood or the detriment it brings to those small businesses.
9. Do you agree with Community Home Trust Executive Director Robert Dowling that the town's affordable housing policy is not working? If so, what needs to be done to correct this? As for public housing, how should the town continue to manage these developments in light of reduced federal funding?
I have had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Dowling only briefly, but I do understand his position. It is a reasonable conclusion that he has stated that families do not grow up in Condos. Families interact better when they are able to communicate with each other in the neighborhood in which they live. I feel that the inclusionary approach has the best chance at success, where single family homes are best. Studies indicate that when home prices are stable and affordable, families have a tendency to stay long-term. Condos are not desired as a place to raise a family because of the transitional nature of families growing and needing additional space. Payment in lieu should be accepted because it enables the Town to have revenue in the budget to perform regular maintenance for our public housing units along with the costs associated with the reselling and scheduled maintenance of homes that are managed by the Community Home and Trust. I believe that Mr. Dowling's recommendation should be seriously considered since he is the person responsible for running the program on a daily basis and has for more than ten years. With my limited knowledge of the programs success rate, I would be reluctant to predict its success or failure at this time.
10. What makes Chapel Hill unique to you? How would you preserve that while advancing it?
What I think that is unique about Chapel Hill is we have one of the best educational environments that reflect our hometown values. Chapel Hillians feel a part of the University and are proud to be a part of the growth that the University is under going currently. This University, being the first State University established is of significant importance. It is recognized globally as being one of the most progressive institutions in the United States as well.
11. With that in mind, the town's comprehensive plan emphasizes regional planning and cooperation. How should this collaboration take place? On what kinds of issues? And, what strategies would you borrow from your neighbors that could work in Chapel Hill?
The most important issue that we need to work on with our neighboring counties and cities is transportation. Light rail, I feel will be the most economical transportation to move citizens to and from work. Cooperation and collaboration has already been established between Durham and Raleigh, but planning needs to be accomplished between all counties and cities that light rail would affect. It is possible that this has already begun, but I have not reviewed any reports to that effect. I think Raleigh has taken great strides to revitalize its downtown and renovating storefronts on Hillsborough Street, in addition to creating more parking for the downtown area.
12. How do you view UNC's relationship with the town? What's the state of it, given recent Carolina North developments? How will you help further that relationship in the future?
It is my opinion that UNC's relationship with the Town is at an all time high. I only had an opportunity to work with the Town Council and the University staff for approximately six months. However, during this period of time everyone was respectful of each others opinion, because we were working towards a common goal that will eventually benefit everyone. I anticipate that the relationship will grow and together we can utilize the creative technology that will come from the innovative center that was built near the University's North Campus.
13. The 10-year plan to end homelessness is underway. How will the town monitor progress on the plan? What accountability measures are or should be in place? What are the hurdles to accomplishing it? How can the town overcome those obstacles? What is not in the plan that should be?
I would recommend a concrete program, based on systematic goals to approach the homeless problem.
A) Counseling and outreach to address each individuals needs.
B) Referral to the appropriate social services that the Town of Chapel Hill has available.
C) Training an individual to a specific job or occupation.
D) Follow-up counseling to motivate clients to complete short and long term goals.
E) Housing and permanent contact information, so that they can be referred out for a job placement.
By establishing this structure, it will be giving these individuals the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities to be successful in the job market.
14. What important town departments or agencies have been, in your opinion, chronically underfunded? What have been the ramifications of that shortage? If elected, where would you find the money to more fairly fund these areas? Conversely, what town departments or agencies have been overfunded?
I would have to say that the budget for affordable housing has the greatest need. The Town has a need to provide public housing for its citizens and also maintenance on these units are absorbent, because housing regulations don't require the residents to repair and replace large ticket items such as heating and A/C units and the cost is absorbed by the Town.
Unfortunately, the Town of Chapel Hill has been burdened with the responsibility of fully funding the Public Library. This is one area that we should be looking at so that each municipality and their citizens should support it on an equitable basis.
15. Many of the town's workers live in outside communities due to the high cost of living in Chapel Hill and the lack of what some term "a living wage." What would you do to address this? Should it be addressed? Is it important for our police, firemen and public works officials to live in the community that they serve?
The Town Council supported the Town Manager's position that Chapel Hill will increase the "living wage" in increments, based on budget restraints. It's definitely an advantage when our workers live within the boundary of where they are working, because it cuts down on the response time when they are called back in for emergency situations. This is another argument for affordable housing, where citizens can live and spend their earnings in the area where they live and work.