Mark Kleinschmidt | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Mark Kleinschmidt

Candidate for Chapel Hill Mayor


Name as it appears on the ballot: Mark Kleinschmidt
Full legal name, if different:
Date of birth: 03/25/70
Home address: 208 Village Gate Dr., Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Mailing address, if different from home: PO Box 9421, Chapel Hill, NC 27515
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Attorney and Executive Director of The Fair Trial Initiative
Home phone: 919-260-2488
Work phone: 919-680-2986

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 held a number of leadership positions including having been elected twice to the Chapel Hill Town Council. In addition, I have served as the President of the ACLU of North Carolina and on the Board of Directors for Equality North Carolina. I have also been an active member of the Democratic Party having served as the Chairman of the Weaver Dairy Precinct, as a delegate to the county and state conventions, and as a member of the State Executive Committee. Through my role as the executive director of the Fair Trial Initiative I have been a leader in the effort to reform our criminal justice system and particularly the way the death penalty is used in North Carolina. My work at the Fair Trial Initiative has required working closely with state policy makers to craft statewide reforms and to educate the public on the effect of these reforms.

As Council Member I have served on several committees mediating differences between neighborhoods and developers, and I have served as chair of the Council's Economic Development Committee and the Council's Communications Committee. My work on the Economic Development Committee has lead to the creation of an Economic Development Office that has transformed the way local government works with businesses, developers and the public on economic issues. On the Communications Committee, we have implemented programs to enhance transparency in government and to educate and inform citizens regarding how their government works and on issues that affect their quality of life.

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

I am the only truly progressive candidate this year in the race for Mayor of Chapel Hill. My entire public and professional life has been dedicated to public service and advancing goals of environmental protection, social equity, and responsible government. As a Council Member, I am proud of the work that has lead to the creation of our land use management ordinance. Chapel Hill's land use policies have some of the strongest environmental protections in the state while providing for the opportunity for growth in a way that protects and enhances our community's character. As a Council Member and a private citizen I have been a one of the strongest voices in our state for the rights of gay and lesbian citizens, and this year I worked tirelessly toward passage of the Racial Justice Act in the State Legislature. I am one of the Council's strongest advocates for our Town Employees, I am on the record supporting collective bargaining for municipal employees and have played an instrumental role in creating a strategy for addressing the needs of the Rogers Road community. Because both my professional and political lives have been focused on identifying solutions to difficult social problems you can trust that my leadership as Mayor will continued to be guided by these values. I will continue our community's commitment to protecting our environment, reducing our carbon footprint, improve our inter-city and intra-city transportation systems. I realize our social and environmental goals will require a strong economic climate and to that end Chapel Hill must continue an aggressive approach to redeveloping our under-utilized commercial centers and to increasing our commercial tax base.

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 believe to meet our goal of producing a less auto-centric community that encourages alternative modes of transportation, promotes pedestrian and bicycle activity, supports regional transportation efforts, and enhances our commercial tax base, we must remain committed to our transit friendly land-use policies. This commitment requires that we engage in a very challenging community conversation about where future growth will occur. At least part of the answer to our growth questions will be identifying appropriate locations for somewhat higher density mixed-use developments along our major transportation corridors. Deciding exactly where these developments should go and how they will be developed will be challenging. Because this process will require reflection about a type of development that our community has limited experience with, I understand that there will be concerns about how this kind of development will impact our existing neighborhoods. I have confidence in our well-practiced community process and in our town's ability to meet this challenge, but I suspect that it will not be entirely free of controversy.

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?

My biography demonstrates a life-long commitment to public service and to advocating for the interests of all members of our society. I have served our community not only as an elected official, but also as a teacher, the President of our state's ACLU affiliate, a leader of our state's gay and lesbian community, and as an advocate for criminal justice reform. I have been a champion of civil rights and civil liberties, anti-discrimination, equality, and transparent government both as a Council Member and as a private citizen. No other candidate for Mayor comes to this campaign with comparable experience or credentials. My experience and record as a Council Member has shown that my service history informs the policy decisions I have been charged to make. As a member of the Council, I have been one of the strongest advocates for our Town employees, improving our affordable housing policies, protecting our environment and promoting land use policy that encourages our interest in creating a vibrant, walkable, bicycle-friendly community that respects the contributions every member.

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?

This year Chapel Hill had a very challenging budget process, like many communities we were facing decreasing revenues and increasing costs. The prospect of increasing the residential property tax was unthinkable in this economic climate. Through a process that included lengthy public input, Council discussion and staff work, we were able to achieve a budget that actually reduced the cost of local government and held down our tax rate. My greatest regret was that we were unable to provide even a cost of living salary increase for our employees. Although our employees receive a competitive salary, most of them are unable to afford to live in the Town of Chapel Hill. Because the way we treat our employees is a reflection of our values, we must always seek to adequately compensate them for all they do to provide the high quality of life Chapel Hill citizens enjoy. This budget year was difficult for other reasons as well; we had to delay capital improvement projects and maintenance, as well as progress toward completing our long awaited library expansion. I believe the process we engaged in to create this year's budget was a responsible reaction to the current economic climate and that the burden to achieve it was distributed across many areas. In addition to no pay increases, a hiring freeze was imposed, travel was restricted, and every department was required to cut 5% of their 2008-2009 budget. Given that reality, I am hard pressed to identify any specific area of additional cuts that would not further compromise the quality of services our citizens expect.

6. What's your approach to growth in Chapel Hill? Where should the town grow? How do leaders manage it?

I am proud of our commitment to our Town's urban growth boundary. We have rejected the policy of other towns that have lead to sprawl and diminishment of community character and identity. Because the town will not be growing much further beyond its current boundaries, future growth must be accommodated within city limits. I believe we can direct this growth in a manner that will help us achieve our regional transportation, community development and environmental protection goals. There are several primary transportation corridors that exist within the town: NC 54, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, and Fordham Blvd. I believe these areas along with our underutilized commercial centers such as Ram's Plaza, University Mall, and Timberlyne Shopping Center are areas we should explore for future growth. I am pleased the town is currently engaged in a process that will help us identify what appropriate growth in these corridors will look like. And because I believe that Chapel Hill can be a walk able, multi-modal community, I expect that some higher density multi-use development will be part of the product of these conversations. No one envisions a sea of twenty-story mixed use condo developments lining these transit quarters. But if Chapel Hill continues to want to be a town where people can live, work, play and remain connected to the larger region with minimal reliance on automobiles, some development of this kind should be encouraged in appropriate places. The challenge is in identifying the specific places along these corridors and how these future developments will interface with our existing neighborhoods. I am confident we can find solutions for both to co-exist. Our development review process is well known for its deliberate pace and for the opportunity for substantial community input. We have a history of ensuring that community input is included in the design of developments and this should give us confidence in our ability to successfully navigate the challenges of growth in the future.

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?

These strategies have been an important part of creating a climate that will promote continued vitality in our downtown. I believe it is important for our town's leaders to be advocates for our downtown and to celebrate it as one of our state's most attractive destinations. I certainly recognize the challenges of downtown -- empty storefronts, lack of residential development, and lack of retail diversity, but I am disappointed when some leaders insist on using language that operates to alienate visitors. Too often the only thing mentioned is limited parking and panhandling. We should not ignore these issues, but we must be conscious to continue to highlight the fact that our downtown's commercial vacancy rates are better than most and that our downtown remains one of our state's most attractive destinations for visitors. These achievements portend a healthy future for our downtown where it will remain not only an asset for our community, but also our state.

We are just beginning to see the benefits of new town policies that are designed to increase the number of people living downtown. We have heard, for a long time, that people desire a greater diversity of commercial activity in order to attract the kind of commercial activity people are interested in, it is important that there is an established market to support desired amenities such as a downtown grocery store.

In order to create a demand for something more than bars and t-shirt shops there need to be people frequenting downtown who want to do something more than buy t-shirts and patronize bars. The Town has created a new downtown zoning district, and established an effective downtown partnership and has co-operated with the Orange County Visitors Bureau to inspire the economic diversity desired. We are also actively engaged in negotiations to improve our downtown anchors attractions to make it an arts destination and home to a premiere children's museum. What we need now is the leadership to help us fully implement these new policies. As the current chair of our Economic Development Committee, I have played an active role in these efforts and look forward to continuing to do so as our Mayor.

Another key element to downtown's future will be how the university re-develops University Square. Our relationship with university leaders will be critical to a redevelopment effort that meets both the town and university's interest.

The University Square property offers opportunities for new businesses, new residents, and new parking that have the potential to catalyze like development throughout the downtown. I have the experience and existing relationships that will be important to ensuring the success of this future partnership.

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?

The concern of our long- time residents about increasing property values and consequent tax implications is important. The Town has a challenging task in balancing the interests of those residents with its other goals. The Greenbridge development, a world class environmentally friendly housing complex, promises to transform a formerly depressed property into an asset that will increase the number of downtown residents, provide additional commercial activity, and enhance the overall vitality of downtown.

The town has a long standing commitment to the residents of the near-by Northside neighborhood, the town has invested in several affordable housing projects, sidewalks, park improvements, and public safety. We made these investments because like Greenbridge, the Northside neighborhood is an important community asset. With all these improvements, it is not surprising that Northside is an increasingly attractive place to live. Historically, the greatest threat to the character of the neighborhood has been the invasion of students and the increased interest of property investors. This trend began decades ago and the town has responded in recent years by creating a neighborhood conservation district. Through the NCD process, the town has allowed the neighborhood to define strategies to limit its attractiveness to investors and increase interest in maintaining a community focused on the concerns of long term residents. As Mayor, I will champion these interests and continue my commitment to the future health of this important neighborhood.

9. What your opinion Chapel Hill's inclusionary zoning procedure and its intent? Are the right people being served by it? Are the right types of properties (ie) condos, single-family homes, etc) available through the program? Should payment in lieu be accepted? Is the program, as it stands now, in a position to provide long-term success for residents?

The Town's commitment to affordable housing is unquestioned. Unlike other communities Chapel Hill has been working hard to ensure that permanent affordable housing is integrated into every new residential development. Our efforts to develop policies have evolved over the last two decades, and will continue to evolve into the future. The Town is always interested in improving the policies we have in place and addressing the deficiencies in our programs. To that end, we are now on the cusp of completing a new Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that will directly respond to this question. I have served on the committee charged with creating the ordinance. The group that has gathered to develop it includes representatives of our affordable housing non-profit community, members of our development community who are committed to the issue, and other citizens interested in defining a program that works.

Our proposal contemplates a recommitment to affordable housing and will be inclusive not only of those earning 80% of area median income, but will also reach out to provide housing for those earning 65%. The new ordinance addresses problems associated with floor area ratio and density. These are important issues that we have failed to consider in the past. That failure has led to an increase in the cost of the market rate housing included in a project -- an effect we previously had a hard time addressing.

Leaders of our non-profit affordable housing programs have made observations that increased funding is necessary and that our policies related to condominiums require readjustment. The town has already implemented changes to our affordable housing policy to respond to these concerns. We have expanded the use of payment in lieu options to address those occasions when units are impractical or when we are presented with higher quality units; in addition we have shifted our focus from the number of units necessary in a condominium development to focusing on ensuring affordable units have adequate square footage for families. These changes are incorporated in the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance I support.

In addressing the needs of the Land Trust to fund its stewardship of our existing units, we must seek collaborative solutions with the governments of Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County. I am the only candidate for Mayor who has the necessary experience to guide this process. I am confident we can develop a funding mechanism to meet the needs of the Trust either through increased direct allocations, through possible bond referenda, or through pursuit of federal, state, and local grants.

10. What makes Chapel Hill unique to you? How would you preserve that while advancing it?

Chapel Hill is unique to me because of its strong sense of community identity and character. Since it did not adopt a sprawling auto-centric growth pattern, it has not lost its distinctiveness. As a holder of two degrees from UNC, I value it as a national academic and research center and will work diligently to preserve the good relationship the Town currently enjoys with the University. It is a pedestrian and bicycle friendly town, an exciting destination for visitors, and has an un-matched commitment to environmental protection. I first ran for Council to advance these aspects of the Town I love; I will continue to hold strong to preserving these elements as Mayor.

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 town engages in several regional planning groups with our neighbors. Of particular importance, now and into the future, is our regional transportation planning. For each of us to meet our goal of a region that is less dependent on automobiles that will have a smaller environmental footprint, we need to continue this collaboration. Chapel Hill has been a leader in creating land use policies that advance our regional transpirations goals. Through collaboration with other communities we are trying to educate our neighbors to do the same. Other areas of collaboration that would benefit the region might include more work on regional economic development so that the region as a whole can benefit from new industries spawned by our major research institutions. In recent years it has become evident that we must work more effectively with others in the region on environmental issues such as the issue of Jordan Lake's water quality. When I am Mayor, Chapel Hill will maintain its support of high standards for water run-off and its effect on our regional water supply.

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?

The town and the University's relationship is better today than it has been in more than a decade. While creating the Carolina North Development Agreement was challenging for both parties, we have emerged from the experience with a great deal of mutual trust and respect. My experience with the Carolina North negotiations extends back to the early part of this decade as one of the Council's liaisons to the Horace Williams Citizen Committee and has continued through the creation of the June 2009 Development Agreement. As the only candidate who attended the University, served as a student leader and has worked with its representatives, not only as a Town advocate through the Carolina North Process, but also through implementation of the Main Campus Development Plan, I bring to the relationship a perspective heavily informed by the lessons and challenges that formed the development of the Carolina North Project.

Although Carolina North Development Agreement process has concluded, all work is not complete. We are now entering an era where the Town will be charged with vigilantly enforcing the agreement. We are now creating a mechanism to follow up on some of the most important issues, including transportation, environmental protection, fiscal equity.

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?

One of the most significant challenges to accomplishing the goals of the 10-year plan to end homeless is the plan's reliance on a number of government agencies supervised by different jurisdictions and elected bodies. These agencies also must rely on the cooperation of a myriad of private non-profit organizations. There is no question that each participating member is firmly committed to the success of the plan, but it is likely that all will have significant financial hurdles to overcome during the plan's implementation period in light of the current economic crisis. Historically, projects such as this one are some of the first to experience cuts when budgets are constrained. In order to be successful every jurisdiction must remain committed, not only to achieving the specific goals of the plan, but also to an on-going public education program to ensure continued community buy-in. I believe accountability measures need be added to the plan in order to inspire continued commitment. This can be achieved through regular updates from the County to the participating municipalities at joint meetings and through frequent publication of the plan's accomplishments. A review of the plan, available here:, reveals that its goals reflect a comprehensive approach to addressing chronic homelessness. When the new director is hired, he or she will have at his or her disposal a well studied, realistic and achievable plan for success.

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?

The underfunding of our Planning Department and the Inspections division of our Public Works Department have had significant impact on the Town's responsiveness to applicants seeking approval of new developments and home owners and businesses seeking approval to modifications of existing structures. This issue was exacerbated during the last year because of the focus on managing the Carolina North Development Agreement process. The completion of the Development Agreement will free up resources that can be reallocated to more traditional planning department activities. I believe that the current Council is committed to addressing the staffing shortages of both of these departments in coming years as the economy and Town revenues improve.

I cannot, with good conscience, name an overfunded department. During the last year all departments have had to institute a hiring freeze and cut 5% of their 2008-2009 budgets. The current economic downturn has had an impact on the delivery of Town services and has, in fact, led to a decrease in the Town's overall budget.

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?

Because Chapel Hill is such a desirable community to live in, market forces create some of the highest property values in the region and as a result are unaffordable to many except high earning households. The most recent Chapel Hill Data Book listed the median home price for the town at over 350,000 dollars. This rightly creates a community concern to provide housing for hard working middle class families, including our public servants. I am proud that the Town Council has directed our staff to create a living wage policy to help address this problem, but that alone is insufficient. Although I believe we don't need a policy requiring police, firefighters and public servants to live in town, we certainly need to do everything possible to create the opportunity. To help ensure Chapel Hill remains a welcoming and diverse community, in addition to supporting the living wage policy, I have been a strong advocate to increase opportunities for self-advocacy including supporting changes in state law to allow collective bargaining rights for town employees. Until that right is achieved, the Council must be, in part, their advocate. By ensuring town employees have a voice in the wage they receive, they are able to bring the pressures of the market that create such a high cost of living, to the bargaining table. In addition to these two programs designed to empower our public servants, and create fair compensation, town employees are high on the list for those who qualify for Chapel Hill's affordable housing program. Chapel Hill should always remain a community within reach to its public servants, both to ensure that the town's employees remain included and invested in Chapel Hill, and that the Town remains committed to principles of social equity.

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