Mark Dorosin | Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County | Indy Week

Elections » Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County

Mark Dorosin

Orange County Commissioner


Name as it appears on the ballot: Mark Dorosin
Campaign Website:
Phone number: 919-967-1486
Years lived in Orange County: 25

1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, how would you address those issues? Please be specific. 

#1: We must address poverty and the growing income inequality and in the County, which is among the highest in the state. I have been a leader in the Family Success Alliance, a coalition providing resources and opportunities to impoverished communities and families in Orange County. I also fought for a real investment in affordable housing - $5 million dollars - in the upcoming bond referendum, and pushed to expand the county living wage ordinance to include a broader range of county workers and school employees. We need to expand the FSA and coordinate it with efforts to expand affordable housing and support local businesses and job creation opportunities, to build synergy for our efforts to address economic disparity.
#2: Continued support for schools in the face of drastic state budget cuts. This will require that we aggressively push to expand opportunities for collaboration, coordination, and innovation from the school boards, to demand that all school children in the county have access to equal educational opportunities, and to more deliberately and effectively link the school districts’ education policies to other county priorities, particularly as they relate to the needs of low wealth children and families.
#3 More meaningful community outreach and engagement. The county must redouble its efforts to engage residents, and particularly to excluded and underserved communities, in order to secure broad-based participation, and thereby become a more responsive and effective county government. This can be done by working more closely with county agencies that are already engaged in those communities, and with the schools.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County Board of Commissioners? (This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.)

Since being on the county commission, I made social justice and community engagement a priority in county policy-making, specifically focusing on poverty, affordable housing, education equity, racial and socio-economic diversity, and broad-based resident participation in county government. I championed expansion of the scope the county’s living wage ordinance to include ABC, seasonal, and school employees, and led the fight to include money for affordable housing in the upcoming bond. I also pushed the county to join a wide range of efforts aimed at resisting the legislature’s regressive agenda, including opposition to Senate Bill 2, against efforts to privatize public education, and in support of immigrants’ rights.

While all the candidates talk about social justice, I have the longest, strongest, and most consistent commitment to addressing inequity and exclusion of anyone running. I have been a civil rights lawyer for over 20 years, and am currently the Managing Attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights. There, I lead a team of lawyers that advocates for minority and low wealth communities that are fighting the continuing effects of racial discrimination and exclusion, including inadequate and substandard housing, lack of access to public water and sewer, the siting of environmental hazards, and school segregation in communities all across the state. In representing these communities and organizations, I have developed a unique appreciation of the power that a progressive ally within local government can bring to the struggle, and I bring that experience to the BOCC.

I have also worked representing community organizations promoting economic development in under-resourced communities. I also have insight into the particular challenges facing small business owners—for 10 years my wife and I owned and managed Hell, a popular nightclub in downtown Chapel Hill.

With my background and experience as a civil rights lawyer and longtime community activist, I have been a unique perspective, clarity of vision, and approach to leadership, which my colleagues recently recognized by selecting me Vice-Chair.

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

My political philosophy is driven by the belief that the primary role for government is addressing the persistent legacy of structural inequalities and exclusion in our society. The primary “good” that we distribute is full and equal membership and participation in our community, and it is the government’s role to ensure that every member of the community enjoys the same rights, privileges, benefits, and opportunities as every other person. This philosophy is evident in my enduring efforts to ensure that the Rogers Road community secures the full measure of reparations for the environmental injustices it has suffered, in demanding better wages for county employees, and in helping push the county to prioritize addressing poverty and access to affordable housing.

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

My entire professional and political career has been predicated on the fight for justice in the Triangle and beyond, through advocacy for school integration and educational equity, fair housing, and environmental justice. While the particular manifestations of these issues can vary by community, my election and my advocacy and leadership on the BOCC will be a valuable asset in continuing to raise the profile of the structural inequities that underlie these impacts of exclusion. In addition, I believe that as a result of my longtime community advocacy, I have developed unique and important relationships with grassroots organizers, activists, and residents working to address civil rights and social justice.

5. What is your vision for development in Orange County? Do your development ideas include preserving the rural buffer? Do you think it was worthwhile to rezone hundreds of acres in economic development districts to attract businesses?

Economic development efforts should include identifying, seeking out, and then providing support for businesses that meet targeted needs, including job creation, local entrepreneurship, market demand, and environmental protection. We have very successful small business loan and grant programs in the county, but there is no specific recruitment or incentivizing of businesses that would better meet the priorities of the residents, or reach underserved demographics or geographic areas. We also need to find ways to collaborate with the private and nonprofit sector to expand broadband and internet access throughout the county (which is critical infrastructure for new businesses, just like water and sewer). Finally, we should continue to promote the payment of a living wage as broadly as possible.
The rural buffer has been a critical component of managed growth, but is often unfairly singled out as an impediment to affordable housing. We need to more broadly revisit our planning regulations to identify policies that undercut or otherwise impede affordable housing and positive development, including fees and secondary services, and prioritize ways to reduce the overall cost of living burden for low-wealth residents.
The economic development nodes have not been as successful as they could be. Although “big-game hunting” economic development model is of limited utility for Orange County, the successful recruitment of the Morinaga factory demonstrated that the continued infrastructure development and focused marketing of the economic development districts is critical. But we also need to reframe the way we promote the county to potential businesses. If we allow the property tax rate to be the determining factor for recruitment, we will lose out to neighboring counties. We have a very unique set of community advantages to offer, including high-performing schools, environmental quality, and cultural resources that should attract desirable economic development.
6. After the tragic shooting death of one-year-old Maleah Williams in Chapel Hill on Christmas Day, what can the Orange County Board of Commissioners do to promote respect, safety, and peace in your communities—particularly those beset by crime?

The Christmas day killing of Maleah Williams once again brought the reality of random violence to our community. We must recognize that the parts of our community that are particularly vulnerable to criminal activity are also neighborhoods that suffer from other impacts of exclusion: lack of adequate housing or economic opportunities, racial segregation, insufficient civic outreach and engagement, limited educational opportunities, and strained relationships with or suspicion of law enforcement. Too often these impacts are ignored until tragedy strikes. Any effort to make our neighborhoods safer must broadly consider the range of these issues, and start by directly reaching out to the residents of these neighborhoods and allowing them residents to determine their needs and priorities, as well as help develop policies to address them. We also need to encourage better outreach and engagement by law enforcement, as well as racial equity training and increasing diversity among police.

7. Do you have interest in waste-disposal alternatives to landfills in Orange County? If so, what ideas appeal to you? Are there cost benefits to the alternatives you favor?

While we must continue to explore waste disposal alternatives (waste-to-energy, pay as you throw, expanded recycling efforts), given the relatively small waste generation in the county, these efforts will only be feasible in collaboration with other local governments. These possibilities should be fully explored as a first priority, but we must be realistic about costs and time. We closed our landfill to help address the environmental injustice its location and operation created, but now we haul our trash to a Rogers Road in another county. Talk of building a local waste transfer station is a short-term solution but does not address our environmental and moral responsibility to dispose of our own trash here in Orange County. Ultimately, we will need to consider siting a new landfill (or other final disposal method) here, guided by new technologies and our commitment not to burden minority or low wealth neighborhoods

8. Is the current school-funding model working for both districts? Should the board revisit the policy that allocates 48.1 percent of general-fund revenue to education?

Education is one of the primary values and there is a deep commitment to supporting schools, as evidenced by the ongoing commitment to allocate nearly 50% of the county budget to schools. Continuing to provide that level of support is especially critical as the state cuts direct funding (per pupil as well as for teachers) and aggressively pushes anti-public school policies like private school vouchers and expanding unregulated charters. In the face of those cuts, I was the only commissioner to support the full funding requested by the school boards. But the engagement with the school boards needs to be about more than funding. Emerging community priorities, specifically related to racial and economic disparities for families and children, require us to revisit the dynamics of the relationship between school policies and other critical county objectives. Most significantly, we have to be guided by the opportunity to more deliberately link our education policies to the challenges of income inequality, loss of diversity, and economic opportunity.

Additionally, we need to look at the funding disparities between the two districts that results from the special district tax that Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools collects. While the per-pupil allotment from the county is the same for both districts, the special district tax adds an additional $1800 per pupil for the city school district. That means every student in Orange County does not have the same access to educational resources or opportunities. I would like to see us continue to provide the same high level of school funding, but work to have a greater portion of that funding come from the county’s general fund (which is distributed equally) and less come from the district tax, thereby reducing the inequity.

9. Do you support the $125 million bond package to fix aging schools? Even if voters approve it, that’s only one-third of what districts estimate they’ll need. What is your plan for funding the rest?

I support the bond for schools (and I am also very pleased I was able to convince my colleagues to also include 5 million for affordable housing). Fully funding the rehabilitation of older schools will likely require a combination of consistent investment from the annual CIP (to which the county added $5 million for schools) and other borrowing. I led the county to require that the renovation plans include and prioritize increasing school capacity. As a result, the investments in our aging facilities will help postpone the need and costs for new school construction.
Additionally, as the only one of the three elected boards accountable to all residents of the county, the commissioners need to push to expand collaboration, coordination, and innovation from the boards, which should result in cost savings as well as ensure that all school children in the county have access to equal educational opportunities. A growing community focus on the urgent need to address racial and economic disparities for families and children and the resulting achievement gap require us to more deliberately link our education policies to the challenges of income inequality, declining diversity, and economic opportunity. I believe, through the bond discussions and with new members on all three boards, this has begun.
Finally, we must work together to advocate for increased funding and against the radical anti-public schools agenda of the state legislature.

10. The issue of bicycle safety is on the minds of many people in Orange County, particularly in rural areas where road sharing can be challenging. What recommendations could you offer to the ongoing conversation about bikes on roads?

As an initial matter, we need to bring together rural residents, cyclists, the sheriff’s department, county staff, and other interested parties to begin to get people talking about their respective goal and concerns, and to also build some important context around the issue (safety, recreation, our evolving transportation models, tourism). Out of those discussions should come public education and outreach efforts about laws and best practices for motorists and cyclists, as well as identifying opportunities for designated bike trials and paths or other improved road safety measures (e.g. speed limit changes, widening shoulders). We must understand that there will be an increase in bicycling throughout our rural areas, and that our historic, auto-centric approach to these issues is no longer effective.

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.

As previously discussed, I would not accept an approach to our sanitation and waste disposal issues that negatively affects low-wealth, marginalized neighborhoods in any community. The intersection of racial and NIMBY politics has been potent in convincing even liberal-minded office holders to give into the path of least resistance on these issues. While ecological and cost are core concerns, I would not accept a solution that fails to prioritize environmental justice, though I doubt strongly that would be a net benefit to me politically in the county.

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