Select Page

Mark Marcoplos

Post-election Orange County Needs You

The dust is beginning to settle after the election. It was a time where national and state races took precedence over local issues, except for the transit tax referendum. Unfortunately, many local issues were not debated or discussed in any meaningful way because the County Commissioners were essentially elected in last spring’s primary. We again missed an opportunity where the 70% voter turnout could have been engaged on important local issues. If you have paid the slightest attention to County issues, the one phrase you’ve heard over and over again is “economic development”, as in “the number one priority for Orange County is economic development”. Sounds good, but what does it mean? We have some clues from a couple of recent County actions under the tenure of County Manager Frank Clifton.  The County used to have a citizen board called the Economic Development Commission. Over time this Board came to be viewed as a hindrance to “real” economic development by Chamber of Commerce leaders, county staff, and eventually even the Commissioners themselves. This Board was quietly dissolved. After many months, and in an unusual process with no publicity or advance notice, a new Economic Development Advisory Board was hand-picked by County staff led by Clifton in cahoots with the local Chambers of Commerce. From what little information is available on its membership, this Board seems stacked with conservative proponents...

Read More

High Time for Some Transition

If money were no object, I’d be hard-pressed to oppose a mass transit system on any of the major thoroughfares around here. But in these days of misplaced priorities, there’s not much money left after the corporate welfare kings and the war machine get done with our taxes. So we have to make choices about where we think we will benefit the most from increased bus service and rail options. I wish we had started this process a few decades ago, but here we are facing garden-variety traffic congestion on a daily basis, summers full of bad-air days as a result of our own pollution, and a future of dwindling oil supplies. It’s not surprising that some folks would rather see a transit plan take a different form than the one hammered out by local leadership. There are good arguments to be made for running rail along 15-501 instead of Highway 54. The argument for more bus service expansion and less light rail has some merits. But in the end we can’t have it all, and we need to start somewhere and soon. First of all, everyone can probably agree that an Amtrak station in Hillsborough is a great idea. For me, I’m excited that I can make the twenty-minute drive from my rural western county home up Orange Grove Rd. and be on my way to D.C. or...

Read More

Local Economic Health Equals Authentic Local Business Support

It’s no surprise that these challenging times for funding local government have caused many progressive leaders to change their mind about the type of economic development that we want in Orange County. Over the last decade, federal and state funding has been gradually pulled back from municipal governments for many of the programs that have benefited us locally. The ever-growing military adventurism, the corporate socialism represented by the “too big to fail” bank bailouts, and the success of the tiny minority of the fabulously wealthy at off-shoring their capital and buying legislators who reduced their tax rates has meant that our tax money is coming back to us in smaller amounts. There has yet to be any kind of pushback from local governments about this. Their response is akin to sufferers of spousal or child abuse. They profess support for the abuser while accepting personal responsibility for dealing with the effects of the fiscal manipulations. At some point there will be a breaking point, but for now we have to deal with the reality of the consensus to accept whatever financial constraints are put upon us. So we see recognized progressive leaders like Valerie Foushee and Bernadette Pelissier vote to over-ride legitimate community concerns in an economic development district vaguely defined about fifteen years ago in order to eventually provide more tax revenue. Guided by the man behind the...

Read More

I'm Taking Bets on the County Commissioner Election

It’s another fall election season, and the Commissioner election is not only irrelevant, but a huge number of voters won’t even know who is running until they go to the polls. I’ve been waiting for the first winner of the Democratic primary for Commissioner to finally break through the reality barrier and admit that they could die or be filmed running naked down Churton St. and still win the fall election. But the campaign meetings happen, and the game is played. Money is raised, signs are planted, and the earnest supplications for campaign money are sent. And the press plays along with the masquerade. Meanwhile, we all get dumber. A Republican has never won a county commissioner seat in county history. And it will be a good long while before it happens, if ever. The commissioners are elected by a very small number of primary voters in the spring, usually around ten to fifteen percent of the electorate. When the fall election rolls around, the larger crowds come out to the polls and cast their ballots for the big races that are in the news. Then they look down the ballot and see a bunch of names they don’t recognize and go with the straight-party ballot. Since a strong majority of Orange County voters are Democrats, it’s a done deal. The end result is that the citizenry is deprived...

Read More

Holden Thorp's Leadership on the Airport Issue

In 2008, a covert plan to site an airport in rural Orange County came to light. In the back rooms of the State Legislature, at gatherings of wealthy UNC alumni, and even in former Chancellor Moeser’s office, a plan had been hatched to locate an airport outside of Chapel Hill that would replace the Horace Williams Airport. The process successfully avoided citizen input and traditional democratic mechanisms to the point where several sites, primarily scattered across southwest Orange County, had been mapped and ranked for suitability. The wealthy crafters of this scheme, many of whom were pilots or plane owners hoping for their own backyard airport, were using the UNC Area Health Education Center’s (AHEC) medical air operations as a Trojan horse. The key talking point was that the health educators from UNC would not participate in the AHEC program if they did not have an airport located close to campus and the vaunted program would begin its decline. The obvious solution to the eventual closing of Horace William Airport, AHEC’s host airport, was to base their flying operations at Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU). This was portrayed by the backers of a new airport to be unpalatable to the AHEC participants. As a quick aside, since AHEC moved its operations to RDU, the program has actually grown more successful. In the summer of 2008, the Chapel Hill News published an...

Read More

Orange County Needs to Prepare to Combat Election Theft Activity

Karl Rove has stated that the Republicans can win swing states like North Carolina by “reducing black turnout by one-quarter of one. In a column he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in June of 2011, he said, “even a small drop in the share of black voters would wipe out [Obama’s] winning margin in North Carolina.   He is not suggesting that black voters should be convinced to vote for Romney; he’s winking at the GOP operators and suggesting a winning strategy based on voter theft.   Veteran BBC journalist Greg Palast has been covering election shenanigans since the 2000 debacle in Florida. After acquiring and hacking into computer disks from the office of Secretary of State Katherine Harris, he went through the list of 91,000 purported felons who were not allowed to vote and found a grand total of zero actual felons. As he reported, “most were guilty of VWB: Voting While Black.”   He followed the vote purging of 2004 & 2008 and discovered that 5.9 million legitimate votes cast in 2008 were never counted. Furthermore he learned that, if you are a black voter, there is a seven times greater chance that your vote will be”spoiled”. He predicts that the 2012 election will be much worse.   His latest discovery is that Karl Rove is joining his computer-data-mining system, called DataTrust, with a similar system,...

Read More

BOCC Imposes New Zoning Over Community Opposition

In the biggest reflection of how business will be done in this new era of dedication to economic development as the County’s number one priority, the Count Commissioners voted 5-2 to rezone the Eno Economic Development District (EDD) for commercial use. This EDD was created about twenty years ago and has existed only in the deep layers of some nebulous future plan since then. The many residents of this community have been coming to grips with the realization that their neighborhoods will be radically altered because of the surfacing of this once-vague concept. Commissioner Barry Jacobs summed up the historic nature of the vote when he reminded the five relatively new members of the Board that it is rare for them to “ram something through” over clear opposition from the citizens most affected. Alice Gordon joined him in opposing the rezoning. I was on the County Planning Board for its deliberations on this issue and I found several facets of the rezoning to be sensible and practical. However I could not support the overall rezoning package primarily because it was being railroaded through without sufficient community understanding and support. Valerie Foushee issued a chilling rebuttal to Jacobs’ and Gordon’s assertion that the decision was hurried when she offered the time-honored excuse of many who have decided not to do the hard work of engaging with the affected community to...

Read More

Blind Groping the Economic Development Elephant

Since the phrase “economic development” has become the primary mantra of local political discourse, I’ve been trying to understand exactly what we think we mean. It is like the proverbial tale of the three blind men groping an elephant and perceiving three completely different animals. I’ve been particularly intrigued since the behind-the-scenes secret formation of a new Economic Development Advisory Board. Little is known about how this happened, but the Commissioners — in conjunction with the local Chambers of Commerce — created the board quickly and without publicity. I say the Commissioners created it, but in the era of County Manager Clifton, a lot seems to happen in the Commissioners’ name without much oversight or explained direction. In an attempt to learn about this curious board, I clicked on the County’s economic development calendar link and it took me to a calendar with no events listed for the rest of the year. The website in which this neglected calendar exists is actually a different website than the official County site. It’s www.growinorangenc.com, and it is also the only place I found any mention of the County’s Economic Development Districts (EDD’s). My curiosity about the EDD’s was raised during my recent tenure on the county Planning Board that involved rezoning the Eno Economic Development District for commercial development. Understandably, the residents there are confused and disturbed over the changes to...

Read More

Is Resiliency an Economic Priority?

A few weeks ago, I was in Iowa and South Dakota and saw first-hand the fields of stunted, parched corn that are the result of the worst U.S. drought in 56 years. Sioux Falls had .01 inches of rain in July. It was on everyone’s mind. I spent some time with my brother-in-law who farms corn and soybeans. He told me that the local economies across the Midwest, especially farming communities, were going to take a big hit. And he noted that national food prices will rise significantly at a time when low- and middle-class people in our fragile economy can least absorb them.    It’s no secret that we face a future that will feature more instability due to climate change, peak oil, and the evolving grip that the ultra-wealthy have on our society.   Unless I’ve completely missed it, our local discussions and efforts to improve our economy seem to exhibit no significant discernible theme of prioritizing economic development strategies that increase our odds of weathering the turbulent transition years that are upon us. Chatham County recently celebrated the ground-breaking for a Walmart just south of Chapel Hill. Setting aside the many documented damaging externalities that come with these sales-tax-generating behemoths, there has been no consideration of how a Walmart affects our sustainability and resilience. We know that fuel costs will rise. We know that climate change...

Read More

The County Needs an Alternative Energy Task Force

The growth of alternative energy is accelerating. Here and there across Orange County, photovoltaic systems are being installed, solar water heaters are appearing on rooftops, and geothermal systems are on the rise. A large solar electric generating system will soon be installed on White Cross Rd. As the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling said, “The future is here. It just isn’t very well distributed yet.” Local builder and environmentalist Tom O’Dwyer, who serves on the County’s Commission on the Environment, proposed that future developments be required to set aside suitable space for future solar installations. This evolved into a broader proposal to consider how the County might encourage all forms of alternative energy, as well as energy efficiency. This idea is percolating through the County’s often tortoise-like staff and committee structure. It really needs a jump-start from the County Commissioners. A task force should be formed asap to consider the many issues and policy questions surrounding how we will incorporate and encourage local sustainable energy production and energy efficiency strategies. If we make the right decisions and pro-actively address these issues, we can make Orange County a model of sustainable energy practices, boost economic activity, and become more resilient in a future which is likely to be more unpredictable than...

Read More
Translate »