Maria T. Palmer | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Maria T. Palmer

Candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council


Name as it appears on the ballot: Maria T. Palmer

Full legal name, if different: Maria Teresa Unger Palmer

Date of birth: 11-13-1960

Occupations & employers: chaplain intern (Alamance Regional Medical Center), translator, Vangard Publications

Campaign website:


1. Why are you running for office and what are your top priorities, if elected?

I am running for office to add a new voice to those that are deciding the future of Chapel Hill and to insure that many others in the community are heard on Town Council, including immigrants, young families, and low-paid workers. I can help include in decision-making voices that are not currently heard, and be instrumental in building bridges of understanding.

The most important issues Chapel Hill is facing, and therefore a priority if elected, are: how to remain solvent, provide a living wage to all who work in Chapel Hill, and plan development so that Chapel Hill remains diverse and becomes more affordable for all income levels and lifestyles.

As a leader in the development of the Chapel Hill 2020 plan, I am excited about the vision it presents for our community and want to assist in its implementation. I want to help make Chapel Hill a model of innovation to better meet the needs of its diverse population. I believe we must provide improved pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation networks throughout town, and increase housing options for all income levels.

I want to help make Chapel Hill a community that attracts entrepreneurs, artists, and green innovators. The town can nurture vibrant retail businesses that better meet the needs of our residents.

Chapel Hill can expand recreation options for all ages through creative partnerships. I want to improve cooperation between the city and schools to achieve better outcomes for all students and provide more recreation fields for the community.

2. If you are not currently serving on the Town Council, what will you bring to the body that it now lacks? If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?

I would bring the perspective of a Hispanic immigrant. I can also speak as the former pastor and current teacher of adult immigrants and refugees who make Chapel Hill their home and are struggling to raise their children in this community. As I said in the first question, I can help include in decision-making voices that are not currently heard, and be instrumental in building bridges of understanding. I also bring to the Council many years of experience in issues of social justice, community empowerment, and inter-agency collaboration. These will be invaluable as Chapel Hill seeks solutions to regional problems such as waste management.

3. In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Chapel Hill Town Government, and why?

1. I am extremely proud of Chapel Hill 2020, how it involved so many people in the community and how comprehensive it is. I also think we are doing a decent job of working on implementing the plan (for example, "Rosemary Imagined" and what downtown will look like in 10 years.)

2. I am happy with the concessions we have gotten from UNC for Carolina North and what a great asset it will be for our community when it is finally built. I think that agreement represents some of the best work of the Council.

3. I am proud that we finally closed the landfill and are working with the Rogers Road community to right an injustice. Town Council is taking responsibility and working with Carrboro, Hillsborough and, most importantly, with the residents of Rogers Road, to bring the services the area needs to thrive.

Conversely,what are three things you would have done differently?

I realize that one person in Town Council cannot change everything. There are decisions that are made before Town Council hears about them (such as how to respond to the takeover of a building or a flood). However, if I could change some outcomes,

1. I would have prevented the flooding of Camelot by more diligently working on buying out that property when the funds were available and redeveloping it in a way that prevented the loss.

2. I would have put in place better processes for dealing with worker grievances, avoiding costly litigation,

3. I would have accepted payment-in-lieu as recommended by Robert Dowling, executive director of the Community Home Trust for the one-bedroom apartments on 140 West and used that to help refurbish multifamily housing in Northside rather than get stuck with property that low-income buyers don't want and the Community Home Trust cannot sell.

4. Indy Week's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

Building a just community is what I have been about since I came back to Chapel Hill to start a Hispanic Congregation with the United Church of Chapel Hill. My goal was (and still is) to empower those in the community who find themselves voiceless. Through education, organizing and building coalitions, we can help everyone enjoy what Chapel Hill has to offer. My election would give Major Kleinschmidt and Lee Storrow an ally in working for youth empowerment, Sally Green and Donna Bell an ally in developing affordable rental partnerships and in addressing homelessness, and a knowledgeable and experienced partner to the whole council in implementing CH 2020's transportation goalssince I co-chaired the committee that recommended the connected pedestrian and bicycle pathways and the increased public transit.

5. How do you define yourself politically (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid, etc.) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I am proud to be called a "liberal." However, I see myself more as a common-sense, practical person who wants to build a society where everyone can live in peace and prosper. I have been part of HKonJ since its creation, and a proud member of the NAACP and of Dr. Barber's inner circle. I was among the first 17 people jailed on the first Moral Monday. I see my willingness to be arrested for my convictions as evidence that I believe that all God's children deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labor and deserve decent housing, health care, and education. I do not want to live (again) in a third world country. Part of the reason I immigrated to the United States 35 years ago as an idealistic young college student, is that I wanted to be part of a society which guaranteed every citizen freedom and opportunity and took care of all its residents. I found out once I arrived that this idealistic image of the US was something that was still in the works, and not a reality for everyone, I believe my platform, with its focus on access, empowerment and opportunity, reflects my moral and political philosophy.

6. Chapel Hill has a reputation as a town that is anti-business. Is that fair or not? What would you do to change that reputation, if at all?

I think this reputation is somewhat deserved. Having attended most of the meetings of the Central West Planning Committee, I can see why that is the case. A very vocal minority of our citizensa well organized oneseems to believe that development is synonymous to selling out. I don't think that is the case. I think we can do better by our residents. Folks who live in Chapel Hill deserve to be able to spend their money in the community. For example, you cannot buy a soccer ball in Chapel Hill. I have tried. I try to buy local and it is extremely frustrating. I think we can turn this around through the small-area plans developed by CH2020, which need to be implemented carefully with community input but with flexibility. We need to attract the businesses we want, including a food market for downtown (maybe a Weaver st. extension?), and commercial outlets need to be a part of mixed-used development for Fordham Blvd. The eyesore that is Ram's Plaza needs to be redeveloped with a streamlined process for the developers, but with a comprehensive flood protection plan for the area and design requirements. I know there are many things that both the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce can agree on, and one is sense and mixed-use development that protects the environment. (On a related note, I support requiring all employers to page a living wage.)

7. What is your view on the town's recent moves to support high-density, mixed-use developments in downtown Chapel Hill? What can be done to revitalize and support downtown?

I have attended and support the Rosemary Imagined project and think downtown revitalization is critical if we don't want Chapel Hill to become a bedroom community to a vibrant Durham. We need to build the kind of housing and attract the kind of businesses that twenty-somethings want and need. We also need "third place" destinations, like the climbing club in downtown Asheville and such community gathering places.

8. What are your thoughts on the town's panhandling ordinance and its enforcement by Chapel Hill police?

I think panhandling is an issue in every downtown and we can learn from other communities how to handle this. We need to enforce "no aggressive" panhandling" for sure, but we can also create donation meters or posts where people can be prompted to give to a feeding program or the IFC shelter instead of giving directly to panhandlers. However, I believe folks have the right to beg respectfully if they so desire. I also believe a place where homeless people and day laborers can receive help and take shelter is needed downtown, or between Carrboro and Chapel Hill, specially after the IFC Community House moves to MLK. This is something we need to work on with Carrboro and Orange County.

9. What do you think of the town's comprehensive plan, Chapel Hill 2020? What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? As a council member, how would you go about implementing the plan?

I helped develop Chapel Hill 2020, so I know one of its strengths is the incredible effort we put into getting the input of a huge percentage of our population. Over 10,000 had the opportunity to hear and comment about the plan. CH2020 also represents the best thinking of many competent professionals who facilitated community conversationsboth staff and volunteer leadersand devoted hours to researching best practices. The weakness is that many details are yet to be worked out, and as we get "down in the weeds," some people realize how the changes that benefit the whole community might impact them personally in ways they didn't anticipate. However, I think we need to work diligently to implement the plan and bring people around through education and outreach, to understand the benefits of these changes.

10. Chapel Hill continues to struggle to offer affordable housing. As a council member, what would you do to push affordable housing in the town?

I will work to continue increasing the stock of affordable housing by all the means available to the community, from Habitat partnerships like Phoenix Place, to new non-profit partnerships to develop rental property on Legion Road, to working with the Community Home Trust. We also need to push UNC and the Hospital to provide workforce housing for their employees, who constitute 60% of CH's public housing occupants. Perhaps a Home Trust model can be used in Chapel Hill North, but this is something that needs to happen.

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