Wendy Jacobs | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Wendy Jacobs

Candidate for Durham Board of County Commissioners


Name as it appears on the ballot: Wendy Jacobs

Date of birth: 4/20/61

Campaign Web site: www.wendyjacobsfordurham.com

Occupation & employer: Administrative Assistant/Project Manager, Unique Places

E-mail: geewen@nc.rr.com

1. Describe your past leadership roles, both in career and community. How will these experiences help you serve on the Board of Commissioners? Please be specific about how these roles correspond to a commissioner's responsibilities.

I have been involved in the Durham community for more than thirty years and have served in many leadership roles. The two roles that I feel have prepared me the most for the work of a county commissioner are my experiences with New Hope Preserve and the Durham Planning Commission.

I gained considerable experience that will help me be an effective county commissioner when I led the campaign to create New Hope Preserve in 2004-2005 while chair of the Erwin Area Neighborhood Group. This effort involved using effective organizational and communication skills as I coordinated the involvement of hundreds of citizens in Orange and Durham County, fourteen neighborhoods in Durham, the four governments of Durham County, Durham City, Orange County and Chapel Hill, Triangle Land Conservancy and Duke University to successfully create an historic regional park effort. I became knowledgeable about local government when I simultaneously navigated the processes of each of the four governments to achieve unanimous support for the park. During 2006- 2008, I served as chair of the multi government Hollow Rock Access Area Master Plan Committee which developed a plan for the park that was adopted by all four partner governments. In this role, I had the responsibility of guiding the efforts of elected officials, government staff, citizen and community stakeholders representing all four governments to achieve a mutually agreeable park plan. Similar to commissioner responsibilities, my job was to keep us effectively on task, fulfill the objectives of the interlocal agreement, involve public input through public meetings and achieve an implementable plan. In my leadership experiences with New Hope Preserve I developed skills that are integral to being an effective commissioner: 1) Ability to provide public leadership toward the achievement of a unified community goal, 2) Ability to work effectively with many different stakeholders, 3) Ability to understand how local government works and how to collaborate with government staff, fellow elected officials and citizens to achieve a specified outcome.

As a county appointee to the Durham Planning Commission from 2005-2011, I also developed many leadership skills that are relevant to the duties of a county commissioner. The work and process of the planning commission is most similar to that of the Durham County Board of Commissioners than any other advisory board, committee or commission on which I have served. As a planning commissioner I learned to work closely with citizens, developers, government staff, and fellow commissioners. I learned how to analyze and apply complex documents such as a our Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Unified Development Ordinances. Similar to the work of a county commissioner, I became accustomed to thick agenda packets, long meetings, complex issues, public hearings and media scrutiny. As a hard working member of the planning commission, I led by example. I did my homework, asked tough questions, made difficult decisions and always acted with respect, honesty and integrity toward my fellow commissioners, staff, citizens and applicants. This is the type of leadership that I will bring to my work representing the citizens of Durham as a county commissioner.

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 a life long Democrat. I believe in the power of people and the power of government to effect positive change in society. I have always been an activist. I believe that if you see there is a need or a problem, then as a citizen it is your responsibility to figure out a way try to do something about the problem as a member of our democratic society. I believe in the power of people coming together to solve problems and the sense of community and strength that is created when people come together in this way. I have seen this when I helped start the Coffeehouse on Duke's campus as a student, when I organized biannual family outdoor work days at Forest View Elementary School, when hundreds of citizens raised $200,000 in just four months to create a new park and when a Development Plan left the Planning Commission an improved plan because of the input of all parties involved. I also believe in the positive role that government can play to make sure that all members of our society have equal social and economic opportunity to have a good quality of life. I believe in the responsibility of elected officials to act as representatives of the best interests of their constituents and the vital importance of government to be transparent and effective in serving the people. I believe in the importance of all stakeholders- citizens, government and private and public partners - coming together to achieve common goals. This is the political philosophy that I bring toward my campaign and my desire to serve Durham as a county commissioner.

3. List the three most important issues facing Durham, in order of priority. If elected, how will you address these issues? Please be specific.

1) Poverty/Unemployment, 2) Low School Achievement/Disconnected Youth, 3) Future Land Use and Transportation.

With the poverty rate at more than 16% in Durham, higher than the state average, and unemployment at more than 8% but concentrated as high as 30% in some neighborhoods, we must address poverty in our community which affects crime, homelessness, poor academic achievement, social services, and public health. Many of the jobs that are created in Durham are not being filled by Durham residents. We need to make sure our residents have the education and training to access the jobs of our changing economy and we need businesses and industries in Durham with a diversity of skill levels. As a county commissioner, I would like to spearhead a community campaign- Durham Works- that focuses the many resources and stakeholders in our community involved with economic development, job training and education in a more focused, strategic and accountable way toward the goal of full employment for Durham citizens.

2) While Durham Public Schools tries to meet the needs of our student population with an array of school choice and magnet programs and innovative high school options, we are still faced with low achievement and a high drop out rate amongst minority and low income children. With only 34% of economically disadvantaged Durham students passing the third grade EOG reading test in 2010, it is vital that we focus on literacy in Durham Public Schools. This is the foundation of successful academic achievement. Like the Durham Works campaign, I would like to focus on literacy with dedicated involvement from the entire community – parents, community volunteers, businesses and school resources – to make sure that all of our children are reading proficient by third grade. We also need to integrate more vocational education options into our high school programs so that youth who do not intend to go to college still have a path toward a good job and a reason to graduate from high school.

3) Durham is at a pivotal time in its history. We have many good things happening in our area from downtown revitalization, high quality infill and mixed use projects, the growth of start ups and local small businesses, to the expansion of industries such as Cree and institutions such as Duke University Medical Center. But the land use and transportation decisions we make now will have a great impact on what path Durham takes toward the future. With more than a million people expected to move to our area by 2030, it is vital that we coordinate implementation of our mass transit and Comprehensive Land Use Plan so that we encourage high density mixed use projects within our mass transit corridors as a way to support economic development, and high quality jobs as well as avoid sprawl and congestion and protect our farmland, drinking water, open space and quality of life.

4. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected, that you know would cost you popularity points with voters.

Although the Durham Board of County Commissioners has declined to take a stand on the issue of Amendment One, I would take a public stand against this amendment because I believe that it will discriminate against many Durham citizens. I believe that it is the responsibility of elected officials try to educate and inform the public about what the amendment really means and its possible consequences for citizens if approved. It is also the responsibility of elected officials to uphold equal rights for all citizens. While some in our community may support this amendment, I believe that they may not understand the possible negative legal ramifications for many families and that gay marriage is already illegal in this state.

5. Please describe how you handled a difficult decision in your community leadership experience or career. What were the possible consequences of the decision you made? Looking back, please explain whether you are still comfortable with how you handled the situation, or how you would change your actions.

As a member of the Planning Commission, I took a public role on the issues surrounding the 751 Assemblage rezoning. As a Planning Commissioner I wrote extensive comments as I, along with 11 fellow commissioners, sent a nearly unanimous recommendation of denial of this rezoning to our elected officials. But I took a more public stand by speaking at City Council and Board of County Commissioners public hearings on this issue and by writing two opinion columns in the Herald Sun. I took this public role because it was a very complicated and contentious decision that could have far reaching consequences on the future of Durham, impacting taxpayer costs, traffic, water supply, and setting precedents for process. Because of my knowledge and understanding about the complexity of the issues involved, I felt that I had a responsibility to try to inform our elected officials and fellow citizens about the problems with the rezoning application and what was at stake. Because this issue has generated such strong feelings on all sides and has been so polarizing for our community, assumptions have been made about my overall stand on development issues. But my extensive record of six years of work on the Planning Commission shows that I am a strong advocate of high quality development projects that comply with our land use and transportation plans and are of overall benefit to the Durham community. I would not change my decision to take a public stand on this issue.

6. Last fall, voters approved new sales taxes to generate new revenue for the Durham Public Schools and for mass transit in the county. Did you vote for or against these measures? Please explain why.

I supported both the cent sales tax for education and the 1/2 cent sales tax for transit. Sales taxes are generally more regressive than property taxes in terms of impact on the poor but these programs will directly benefit them and excluded items such as food and medicine. The education tax is a local means to try to supplement the loss of state and federal funding for public education in Durham. The $9 million in funds collected will go toward loss of federal EdJobs funding in Durham Public Schools, to help with cuts to Durham Tech and the Partnership for Children's Pre-K programs from the state and will pay down debt from school construction. I supported the transit tax because I thought it was important that Durham take the lead on mass transit and hopefully Orange and Wake will follow suit so that we can have a reliable local funding source to take advantage of the state and federal matching funds already designated for our area. I supported the tax because it is vital for the future of our area that we begin the construction of infrastructure and implementation of a regional light rail, commuter rail and bus mass transit system that will take many years to complete but will have a huge impact on the future of growth and development in Durham.

7. The newly adopted Durham County Strategic Plan identifies the need in Durham County to expand residents' access to technology. As a commissioner, how would you work toward this goal and how would you finance the efforts?

Access to technology is clearly an issue evidenced by the numbers of residents taking advantage of computer and internet access at our libraries. There are currently organizations in Durham that rehab and donate computers to needy families. But the challenge is access to computers as well as access to the internet. This is an area where our local internet providers could partner with local government to assist with providing internet service. Other private and public partnerships could step up to help with these needs and pursue state and federal grants for computer and internet acquisition. This is a challenge within Durham Public School as well. DPS is implementing new educational programs with I pads at target schools that it acquired through a Race for the Top Grant. Durham County government currently donates computers that are retired during periodic system upgrades to DPS. These are the types of creative initiatives and partnerships that need to take place to deal with this equity issue that affects people's access to jobs, information and opportunity.

8. What are the pros and cons of the county's economic incentives program? How would you amend it? What oversight mechanisms are in place to ensure companies adhere to the policy? Are those oversight mechanisms sufficient?

The benefits of the current economic incentives program is that we can give incentives to companies who are already located here, like Cree and Merck, to help keep them here and to further their investment in Durham, contribute more to our tax base and add more possible jobs for Durham residents. Economic incentives can also help attract new industries and businesses to our area as we compete at the national and global level for them to locate to Durham. The cons of the current model we are using is that we are focusing on larger companies as opposed to smaller scale projects and there does not seem to be enough follow up data to know exactly what economic benefits to Durham residents have resulted from the incentives. I would like to see more accountability of the incentives process. Contracts are negotiated with businesses and industries that receive economic development incentives from the County. These agreements may include stipulations related to job training, number of jobs to be created, capital improvements, etc. But it is not clear to me that there is any sustained follow up to see if the target goals of the contract or stipulations have been met over a period of time. It is my understanding that incremental pay outs are usually part of the incentives contract and that there is some county government oversight of terms of the contract which trigger successive payments. But it would be helpful to have some type of yearly report which provides more transparency, oversight and analysis of the incentives program. It is also worth considering other ways to use the incentives program, for instance targeting specific locations in Durham for new business and industry and supporting smaller scale businesses/industries and start ups.

9. What incentives would be appropriate in persuading the commercial and industrial sectors to cut their greenhouse gas emissions? The residential sector? Durham County in 2007 adopted a Greenhouse Gas Emissions plan, but at what point will Durham need to take more aggressive steps in emissions reductions?

Tax incentives, permit fee waivers, grants could all be considered as ways to incentivize the commercial, and industrial sectors to implement greenhouse gas reduction strategies such as improved energy efficiency, waste reduction, green building practices, LED lighting installation, use of solar hot water heaters, green power, passive solar and geothermal heating, or use of electric hybrid or alternative fuel fleet vehicles. For the residential sector the incentives could be similar. Thanks to the City- County Sustainability Office and nonprofits such as Clean Energy Durham, we have active programs helping residents learn how to do energy audits on their own homes and how to make their homes more energy efficient. We have many positive initiatives taking place in Durham but our greenhouse gas emission rate rose an average of 3% from 2006-2008, with the greatest increase in vehicle emissions. It will prove challenging to reduce our 2005 levels by 50% in government usage and 30% in residential, commercial and industrial usage by 2030. I believe that the best approach to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is to develop our mass transit system and promote more compact/less car dependent development. If we are going to meet our goal we will need to make a dramatic reduction in our current vehicle usage, especially with future projected population growth in our area. We need to be taking aggressive steps now- our city and county government are leading the way with use of LED lighting, public electric vehicle charging stations, use of electric, hybrid, and biodiesel fleet vehicles, LEED certified buildings, innovative practices at our Triangle Wastewater Treatment plant, expanded recycling programs and other efforts but even more needs to be done and with the involvement of all sectors of our community if we are going to show substantial progress toward meeting our Greenhouse Gas reduction goals.

10. Crime and safety is a large component of county government. What are your priorities for improvements in pre- and post-conviction services, such as prisoner re-entry programs and diversion programs for juveniles? How will you fund those priorities? How will you measure the success of those programs?

The Criminal Justice Resource Center seems to have an effective model for helping ex offenders transition back into the community and the workforce with their ReEntry program that uses various support services and collaborative supervision partnering with the Durham Police Department, Community Corrections, the Parole Commission, and the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham. They also use two other critical services for transition back into the work force with their Employment Service in the form of employment seeking and retention skills, Job Club, job skills training and referrals to outside agencies like NC Vocational Rehabilitation Services and their Education Services that offer GED and Adult Basic Education by Durham Tech. We can measure the success of this program by tracking the progress of the ex offenders over an extended period of time to monitor whether they are able to find and maintain employment and stay out of the NC prison system. Increased funding for this or any other program should consider follow up data supporting effectiveness. In terms of diversion programs for juveniles we need to work with the juvenile criminal justice system on sentencing alternatives so that we do whatever is possible to keep non violent offenders out of the prison system and instead put them in community programs that help with mental health and family support services to keep them on a path toward completing their high school education and developing job related skills. According to the latest annual report from our Juvenile and Crime Prevention Council the Teen Court and Restitution and Community Service Program is doing is an effective program but needs to be expanded. There is also the issue of overrepresentation of minorities in the justice system. NCCU's grant funded study on this topic will hopefully give us some insight as to how to effectively address this problem. When looking at county funding effective prevention programs should be funding priorities as this is a cost effective approach to crime prevention.

11. Among the most controversial issues to test the commissioners in recent years is development. Please explain the philosophy that will guide your decisions on development while serving as a county commissioner, and also share your definition of smart growth.

I have learned a lot about the land use, transportation, planning and the development process in Durham and our region as a member of the Durham Planning Commission for six years, a member of the Durham Orange Chapel Hill Work Group for six years and other advisory groups and commissions such as the Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, the New Hope Creek Corridor Advisory Committee and the Environmental Enhancements to the Unified Development Ordinance Committee. I believe that it is important that we follow our adopted Comprehensive Land Use Plan and adopted transportation plans which guide our effective land use and planning so that we have adequate areas for residential, commercial, industrial, office and retail development while at the same time preserving open space, farmland and drinking water. Our adopted plans give us a blueprint for smart growth; they allow us to effectively use our infrastructure, support the development of mass transit and high density mixed use projects which will contribute to opportunities for economic development, high quality jobs, a mix of housing types and an overall good quality of life. My definition of smart growth is growth that is sensible and sustainable. It protects local resources such as watersheds, scenic areas, historic sites and existing neighborhoods while encouraging development that is cost efficient by using existing infrastructure, infill and brownfield development, and revitalizing the urban core. Smart growth helps make communities more pedestrian and bike friendly with improved sidewalk and trail connections and encourages more dense, compact development with less residential and commercial sprawl. Smart growth supports the development of a seamless mass transit system as an alternative method of transportation, a way to connect more people to more jobs and a way to focus growth and economic development. I believe that we in Durham have the chance to become one of the most attractive, vibrant places to live in the United States if we follow the smart growth principles spelled out clearly in our Comprehensive Land Use Plan as we make land use and transportation decisions in the years ahead.

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