ORANGE COUNTY – Orange County Board of Commissioners chair Barry Jacobs says he’s decided to seek reelection to make sure the changing of the guard runs smoothly.
“I thought about it; I had not intended to do so,” Jacobs says. “But, there are a number of things that need to be addressed—especially with the way that the government is changing at the state level and also the tremendous turnover in Orange County governement.”
The new faces will include four first-term commissioners, a new manager, and a new sheriff.
“I will serve as a bridge between the people who came before me who upheld a lot of the values and policies that we hold important and hopefully be able to bring those forward before I step aside,” Jacobs says.
Long-time Orange County Commissioner Alice Gordon announced she won’t be seeking re-election, prompting Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board Vice-Chair Mia Burroughs to seek the seat representing District 1.
Bingham resident Mark Marcoplos says he’ll challenge incumbent Earl McKee for the District 2 seat representing rural Orange County, and Bonnie Hauser will take on Board Chair Barry Jacobs for the at-large seat.
Jacobs was first elected to the board in 1998; he was reelected in 2002, 2006, and 2010.
He says the number one thing the board and the county needs to focus on going forward is remembering the issues that are the foundation of the county.
“We need to protect what’s important to us as the General Assembly tries to attack it,” Jacobs says. “Whether that’s education, or the environment, or helping those who are least able to help themselves; whether it’s the unemployed, or people who are on food stamps, or people who are just trying to make ends meet.”
The filing period runs from Monday through Friday, February 28. For information on filing locations and other details:
County – Click here
State – Click herehttp://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/barry-jacobs-seek-fifth-term-commissioner/
ORANGE COUNTY - Hillsborough resident Bonnie Hauser announced she will seek a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Hauser said she will campaign for Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs’ at-large seat. Jacobs has not announced whether or not he will seek a fifth term.
WCHL’s Rachel Nash spoke with Hauser Thursday to hear what issues rank at the top of her platform.
“Running for County Commissioner is a logical next step for me. I know how the County works. I see an opportunity to change how the County does business. Too often, from what I have seen, department heads and planners control the discussions,” Hauser said. “The Commissioners end up approving funds for new buildings and obsolete services. I would like to work to bring a real agenda to the table and explore new ways to address issues.”
**Hear the Full Interview with Hauser**
One of Hauser’s major projects in the county was the formation of Orange Voice in 2008, which opposed the construction of an airport and waste transfer station in the county. She has also been involved with the local social justice group, Justice United.
Hauser said if she were elected to the Board, she will work to make education the first item funded in the County’s budget.
“What happens is today, schools are funded last after the County has funded all of their pet projects. Schools are an easy way to ask voters for a tax increase. If schools are our priority, then we have to fund them first.”http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/oc-commissioner-candidate-bonnie-hauser-breaks-platform/
A couple months ago, I asked: “What is Orange County’s biggest hidden issue?” What is the biggest issue in Orange County that ISN’T being talked about, in any way, in any news outlet?
There are a lot, obviously. Even in a county as per-capita prosperous as this one, there’s bound to be room for improvement in numerous areas—and as for “not being talked about,” well, I’ve already used this space to drone on about the limited resources available to modern-day media. Enough with that.
But of all the un-discussed issues in Orange County, what’s the biggest? What’s the most pressing?
Many of you responded.
Is it the old-boy network? Twitter user @W0CG0 wrote: “Quite simply, (it’s) the attempt by older residents to limit activities and access of those under the age of 50.”
Is it overpriced housing? “The subtle effect of the anti-development, anti-growth zealots is to keep housing prices inflated due to lack of supply. A good example is the Estes Road plan. People want less development to keep up home prices. The road needs to be widened.”
Or—related—is it the lack of workforce housing? “We can build a homeless shelter, but god forbid we build apartments or town homes for police, teachers & firefighters.”
(That’s all @W0CG0, by the way.)
Mark Marcoplos suggested home rule, or rather the lack thereof — the extent to which state law restrains local governments from doing much of anything without permission from the General Assembly. “I consider this to be the biggest obstacle to progressive policy that we face,” he wrote. This has come up recently in a variety of issues — most notably Chapel Hill’s attempt to ban cell phone use while driving or to update its towing ordinance — but Marcoplos said it’s more wide-ranging than you think. “It’s an unnecessary shackling of local governance.”
And another responder (who chose to remain anonymous) pointed to “administrative cover-ups (and) misappropriations in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools,” as well as an unequal distribution of resources from one school to another — both of which, the responder says, contribute to “poor working conditions (and) teacher dissatisfaction.”
But easily the most common responses revolved around the prevalence of poverty in Orange County — notwithstanding our status as North Carolina’s wealthiest.
“Poverty and children going hungry,” wrote Rachel Hawkins. “No excuse for it.”
Vicki Vars Boyer agreed: “Too many of our kids are on free/reduced lunch” — another stat that’s unequally distributed from school to school, incidentally — “and in need of backpacks of food to take home so they can get through the weekend.”
And it’s not just backpacks. “At Chapel Hill High this week they are running a granola bar drive,” wrote Kathy Kaufman (in November). “(T)he school social worker needs a ready supply to give to kids who don’t have lunch money and may not have had breakfast either. There are other ways hungry kids are quietly helped in the school as well.”
Ricky Spero took the issue beyond the schools. “With the recent drop in SNAP benefits, I’m curious to learn where we have food security issues in our community,” he wrote. “As a national issue, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about how our family could help, but as a local issue, it’s an area where we could pitch in.”
And George Cianciolo added that solving the problem would require more than just dealing with immediate food security issues. “As in many other areas of the country, the disparity in income levels continues to widen here with no easy solutions in sight,” he said, so “(m)ore jobs paying living wages are desperately needed.”
Poverty is something we’ve discussed on WCHL and on Chapelboro.com, but there are many facets of the issue that have gone unexamined — and even as it gets reported, that old notion still lingers that poverty’s not really an issue here.
So as promised, I’ll be writing more about poverty in the months to come. Thanks to everyone for their contributions.http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/orange-countys-biggest-hidden-issue-part-ii/
ORANGE COUNTY – The Orange County Board of Commissioners honored former N.C. Sen. Ellie Kinnaird Tuesday evening.
Kinnaird received a standing ovation and then spoke to the crowd, getting a little choked up as she reflected on her career.
“I have really appreciated representing the people of all of Orange County and all of the municipalities, and working with all of us to try to solve what we can for the people we serve. Thank you very much.”
Barry Jacobs, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, passed a proclamation thanking the nine-term senator for her years of public service.
“Senator Kinnaird has been a been a persistent advocate for the underprivileged, a dedicated protector of the environment, a champion of social justice, a resolute opponent of the death penalty, and a supporter of fulfilling employment and quality education,” Jacobs said.
Kinnaird also served as Mayor of Carrboro from 1987 until 1996.
“Orange County is unique, and so when you speak for Orange County, you speak in a very different voice,” Kinnaird said. “Our values are the ones that we know are so much a part of the leadership of the state.”
In total, Kinnaird served 26 years as an elected public servant.
“I never expected to be in government at all except as an advocate for things,” Kinnaird said. “What a privilege to work with all of these wonderful local governments.”
Kinnaird resigned her seat as Senator for District 23, which covers Orange and Chatham Counties, in August. She said she was frustrated over the policies passed by the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly and believed her time would be better spent countering the Voter I.D. Law.
Sen. Valerie Foushee was nominated in September to fill Kinnaird’s vacant seat.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ellie-kinnaird-honored-by-oc-county-commissioners/
CHAPEL HILL – As the date for Orange County Manager Frank Clifton’s resignation approaches, Barry Jacobs, Chair of the County Commissioners, says the Board hopes to have a permanent county manager in place by late winter.
Jacobs says the Board plans to hire an interim director within the next two weeks “if things go according to plan.” He wouldn’t specify if the Board is promoting someone within or bringing in an outside hire.
“That should at least get us through the period while we are searching with minimal disruption,” Jacobs says. “I feel confident that we can do this in an expeditious manner, but without having the pressure to change regimes too quickly.”
Clifton, who announced in June that he would step down on September 29, was hired as the Interim County Manager in 2009 and was found through the Association of County Commissioners. He then applied for the permanent position, but had to go through the process of reapplying and competing with other applicants found through a consulting firm, the Mercer Group.
The firm was used in the past two county manager searches in 2009 and in 2006, when Laura Blackmon was hired following John Link’s retirement after almost two decades of service, according Donna Baker, Clerk to Board of County Commissioners. Baker says the cost of using the Mercer Group in 2009 was between $20,000 and $25,000.
Jacobs says it is a hefty cost but can be worth it to find the best candidates.
“So with me personally spending it, I would say it is very expensive. If it is the County spending it, $20,000 out of an $180 million budget, it is surprisingly inexpensive,” Jacobs says.
The Mercer Group was also used for the county attorney search in 2009.
Jacobs says Nicole Clark, the County’s Human Resources Director, solicited a number of firms for bids and has narrowed it down to five firms.
“We have solicited proposals from consulting firms and hopefully before the end of September we’ll have someone [a consulting firm] in place to begin working with us to flush out the parameters of the search,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs says it is too early in the process to say which firms the County is considering at this point. He adds that once an interim director is in place, should they decide to apply for the permanent position, they will have to compete against other candidates found through the consulting firm.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/search-is-on-for-next-orange-county-manager/
Protesters rally for voter rights at Moral Monday; Photo by Rachel Nash
CHAPEL HILL – Our state became the 34th state in the nation to require voters to show a photo I.D. at the polls after Gov. Pat McCrory (Rep.) signed it into law last week. The new measure will bring sweeping changes to the state’s election process by reducing the early-voting period by a week, abolishing same-day voter registration and ending straight-party voting. The passage of the bill was immediately met with lawsuits filed in federal court questioning its constitutionality.
Mark Dorosin, managing attorney at UNC’s Center for Civil Rights and a member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, has been following the course of this legislation since it was proposed in the General Assembly.
“A full and final resolution of the case could take several months or potentially more than a year, so I think that this issue will be tied up in litigation for quite some time,” Dorosin said.
Backers of the Voter I.D. Law, set to take effect in the 2016 election, said it will protect against voter fraud, but Dorosin said he believes fraud is not a problem in this state. He also added that the other provisions of the bill have nothing to do with preventing voter fraud.
“There is no basis or any justification, I don’t think, for getting rid of same-day registration or early voting, other than to keep people from voting,” Dorosin said.
Several lawsuits have been filed in federal court after McCrory signed the voter I.D. bill into law on August 12. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Foundation and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a suit on the grounds that provisions of the new law would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminates against African-American voters in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The N.C. NAACP and the Advancement Project filed a separate suit on the grounds that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans voting procedures that discriminate based on race or membership in one of the language minority groups. The NAACP also said the voting restrictions violate the 14th and 15th amendments.
“The thing about the North Carolina case is that it is just not about the Voter ID Law, but in the case filed by the NAACP, challenges the range of voter suppression components of the new election law,” Dorosin said.
Groups in North Carolina aren’t the first to challenge Voter I.D. related legislation. In Pennsylvania, voter I.D. legislation has been in legal limbo since Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill into law in March of 2012.
Dorosin said he believes court battles concerning the N.C. Voter I.D. will be more challenging than other cases in other states because the provisions of the bill are broader.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/nc-voter-id-court-battles-likely-to-be-lengthy/
CHAPEL HILL- Bethan Eynon is an attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights representing the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA. She says the EPA investigation should not put a stop to the work of the Rogers Road Task Force, which has been working on a sewer plan for the neighborhood for nearly eighteen months.
“We don’t believe that the county is prohibited from even discussing the Rogers Road situation and getting sewer infrastructure to Rogers Road through the task force,” says Eynon.
The task force is made up of elected leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County as well as representatives from RENA. During the past year and a half, the group has been developing a remediation plan for the neighborhood that’s lived next to the landfill for four decades.
That remediation plan features the extension of OWASA sewer service to the area, at an estimated cost of about $6 million dollars. The task force was in the process of creating a cost-sharing plan to present to the various local governments this fall, when the EPA announced in June it would investigate a complaint filed by RENA years ago.
The complaint alleges that the county planning department intentionally discriminated against residents of the traditionally low-income African American neighborhood by not applying for federal grants to build sewer infrastructure, even as the county sought similar grants for other communities.
In response, County Attorney John Roberts warned commissioners they can’t take action on the remediation plan or allocate funding while the EPA investigation is ongoing.
Eynon worries the county’s stance will bring the work of the task force to a standstill.
“Unfortunately, if their position is that strong on this issue, I don’t think we can change their mind,”says Eynon. “But we can make it clear to the public and the task force and the other elected officials that we don’t believe their position is necessarily correct.”
After filing discrimination complaints in 2007 and 2011, RENA officials received no response from the federal government, leading many to believe the complaints had been forgotten. Though some are concerned that this new complication could delay the work of the task force, Eynon says it’s not clear if RENA has the authority to drop the complaint.
“We’re not sure if RENA has control over withdrawing the complaint because of the way the complaint was filed with the EPA,” says Eynon. “We don’t want to promise to the county that RENA can withdraw the complaint if it possibly can’t, procedurally. I don’t want the task force and the public to think that was the case, then find out later that we can’t withdraw the complaint.”
Eynon says ultimately, the goal of all parties is to find a way to bring sewer infrastructure to the area. She believes progress by the task force could address the issues raised in the original complaint.
“The end goal of the EPA complaint and the task force is the same, which is to get sewer infrastructure to Rogers Road, and that’s RENA’s first priority, whether it’s through the EPA complaint or through the task force, which we believe has been very productive in the last six months,” says Eynon. “So if sewer is no longer an issue in Rogers Road, then the EPA complaint is moot.”
The timeline for the investigation is unclear, but Eynon argues that’s no reason for the group to lose momentum.
“We don’t feel like everyone should assume that it will take a long time and use that to further delay the task force meetings,” says Eynon.
EPA officials declined an interview request from WCHL, writing in an email: “We are committed to processing and resolving complaints as expeditiously as possible. The investigation is currently open, it would be inappropriate to comment further on the details of the investigation.”
Eynon says she’ll be consulting with EPA investigators to clarify RENA’s position moving forward. Meanwhile, the task force is preparing to hold its final meeting on August 21.
At that meeting the town managers will present a report examining the logistics of extending sewer service, but its not clear to what extent county officials plan to participate.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/rena-rep-rogers-rd-plan-must-move-on-despite-epa-investigation/
CHAPEL HILL – As the Orange County Commissioners and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education work-out their budget issues with in the county —the state Senate also released its proposed $20.6 billion budget this week.
“We had a pretty depressing weekend in terms of budget recommendations. First, the county manager’s budget came out on Friday and then on Sunday, the state Senate’s version of the budget was posted,” said Todd LoFrese, CHCCS assistant superintendent.
He says that the state senate’s budget proposal eliminates the discretionary reduction— LoFrese explains the discretionary reduction is a cut of the funding the districts were expected to return as a cost-saving measure for the state.
LoFrese says the understanding was that it was a temporary measure until the economy recovered. Now, he says the Senate has proposed to eliminate the discretionary reduction with out restoring the some of the funds to the school systems.
He says that loss in funds represents over 50 school positions for the school system.
And LoFrese says there are other funding cuts that concern him as well.
“It reduced support for ESL students, it reduced the funding for instructional supplies, it delays the replacement for school buses—the list just goes on and on,” he said.
The budget plan also calls cuts $142 million in teacher assistants funding. Lofrese says it will eliminate $1.3 million which equates to about 37 teachers. Funding cuts were also proposed to instructional support positions, like counselors, as well as the elimination of pay differentials for teachers with advance degrees.
Chair of the Orange County Commissioners Barry Jacobs says the board is aware of the problems that state’s budget cuts could cause for the district.
“The state is doing as much as it can to wound and dismantle public education in the name of trying to improve it,” Jacobs said.
“There are going to be all sorts of intended and unintended consequences of their actions.”
Orange County Town Manager Frank Clifton will present his budget proposal for OrangeCounty when the BoC meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Southern Human Service Center on Homestead Road. Public comment sessions will follow in the coming months.
To read Clifton’s budget proposal for Orange County, click here.
“It’s like in Star Wars when Princess Leia said to Obi-Won-Kenobi ‘You are our last hope’—the commissioners do realize that we are the district’s last hope,” Jacobs said.
Click here to see Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/nc-senates-budget-proposal-raises-red-flags-for-chccs/
CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill Carrboro City School board members are concerned about Orange County Manager Frank Clifton’s budget proposal. They say this will leave the District short of what it asked for by about $4.5 million. But county commissioners say it’s still early in the budget process.
“We’re going to need to be prepared to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks,” said Todd LoFrese, Assistant Superintendent for CHCCS.
LoFrese explains the additional funds could be made up by raising the Special District Tax— that only tax those with in the CHHCS borders.
Northside elementary school is opening this year and in the past when new schools are opened—an increase Special District Tax has been used to help cover the cost.
However, that was not included in Clifton’s budget proposal.
“Not to see it there and to see Northside left unfunded was discouraging,” LoFrese said.
Chair of the BoC Barry Jacobs says it’s too early for panic because the commissioners haven’t formerly been presented the budget and still have yet to hold public comment sessions.
“This is like a dance. The school boards asks for their optimal budget, but we can never match it, but then we come to a preferred budget,” Jacobs said.
He says the BoC recently added several new members and have not discussed raising the Special District Tax.
Clifton and Jacobs both say the CHCCS can tap into its fund balance.
“We have to maintain some fund balance cash-flow purposes so we can pay our bills and meet our payroll obligations and we didn’t see much more available moving forward,” LoFrese explained.
Lofrese says $6.1 million available in the fund balance— $3.4 million above the required minimum. He says $3.2 million of the fund balance has already been committed to balancing the budget. They can’t operate if any more of the fund balance is dipped-into.
Jacobs says the commissioners will take into account the challenges the school board is facing.
“The BoC has a proud history of supporting our schools to the full level that we can and we are not going to back away from that commitment,” Jacobs said.
Clifton will present next year’s budget proposal when the board of commissioners meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Southern Human Service Center on Homestead Road.
To read Clifton’s budget proposal for OrangeCounty, click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chccs-asst-superintendent-and-oc-boc-chair-talk-county-budget-conflict/
CHAPEL HILL – A bill proposed by the state Senate is seeking to overturn local rules on smoking bans has some Orange County leaders concerned. The bill’s future is now uncertain as it was not discussed Thursday before the cross over deadline—but still it raises questions about state versus local authority.
“I absolutely do think that this bill is continuing a pattern of chipping away at local rights. It’s the general assembly saying to the county commissioner that ‘We know better what’s right for your community than you do,’” said Orange County Health Director Dr. Colleen Bridger.
Senate Bill 703 attempted to overturn outdoor smoking bans in cities, on beaches and on community college campuses. The Senate Environment Committee passed the bill Tuesday. WRAL reports it stalled in the Senate but might come-up in other forms in the future.
The North Carolina Health Alliance counts 249 local ordinances under threat by the law and most of the state’s community colleges.
The Orange County Board of Health and the Board of County Commissioners approved a county-wide smoking ban last fall and it’s slated to go into full effect in July.
Orange County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier stands by the Board’s decision.
“The overwhelming majority of the people here want to see that we make more progress towards health because we already have a good track record,” Pelissier said. “To suddenly take that away is just not a good way to do public policy. If you’re going to tell counties what to do then you might as well run the county then.”
The ban prohibits smoking in any public place, including parks, sidewalks and outdoor dining venues. Private vehicles, homes and tobacco shops are exempt.
“We keep hearing from the General Assembly from supporters of this bill that there’s no harm to people who breath in second hand smoke outdoors—but there is harm and there is proof that there is harm to people who breath in smoke outdoors,” Bridger said.
Both Bridger and Pelissier say they hope Bill 703 does not resurface in any form.
“That’s not okay. That’s not how we work in North Carolina. In North Carolina, we know that the best regulations come from those that are passed by the elected officials that are closest to those regulations,” Bridger said.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/state-bill-to-roll-back-smoking-bans-stalls-county-leaders-hope-its-killed/