DeDreana Freeman has called us to order at 7pm sharp, followed by John Martin introducing the ten candidates, in the order that they appear on the ballot -- which is something far from anything resembling alphabetical order.
Turnout is about two-dozen residents, INC forum members and media folks, which is not many multiples greater than the ten candidates.
This year's forum will ask all candidates questions on the same topics (like schools) but different questions to different candidates, preventing the repetitiveness that sometimes happens with fora of these size.
1 minute per answer. And each candidate gets a chance to give their view on the performance of the existing BOCC -- starting with the incumbents.
Q: BOCC good, average, fair, poor in the past four years?
Howerton: "That's quite easy, excellent job." Uses words conscientious and accountable, and says she's been a "very good steward" of the tax dollars.
Jacobs: "I believe our board has done a good job." Approved important projects, supported local services, worked in a respectful manner.
Page: "done an excellent job working together in the past four years" -- praises the "teamwork" of the board.
Reckhow: "I believe we've done a good job, I'm proud of what we've accomplished" -- AAA bond rating, new jobs, new courthouse and human services complex, Whitted School renovation, Rougemont clean water supply, among others.
Foster: "I would say we've done an excellent job," noting 1,600 jobs in community, working on drinkable water, completing projects, serving on multiple boards.
Hill: "Average to good job" -- 45 murders in the county last year; teachers assistants and support staff without raises in years; young men dying in jail while in county custody. "If that's a good job" would hate to see a bad job. Says "largess" of good jobs brought in are not evenly distributed; economic prosperity needed for all.
Hyman: Says she "would like to applaud anyone" who devotes time and attention to public service. Says the current board has made "significant progress" with the programs prioritized. "I do believe that more progress is needed, and sometimes it's necessary to think outside of the box in order to be able to focus on those issues."
Massenburg Beasley: Excellent job in some areas, good in others; calls it a challenging position. Feels BOCC could do better working with DPS, but have done well in other areas.
Carter: Believes BOCC members are "excellent public servants" and have done a good job with issues, but struggles with promoting "prosperity for all." Describes social services, public health services as excellent. Notes BOCC/BOE challenges working together, but believes they have done a good job working with BOE. Appreciated the 1% classified raise and smart-growth work.
Fikes: "Good job" of managing county resources and astute to county needs. "I say that, but there are also some areas" where work is needed, including school relationship and funding. "Encouraged" that the board is willing to talk about these things.
(Updates every few minutes, beyond the jump.)
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Planning: three specific questions, first to Hill/Howerton/Hyman - UDO is complex and several neighborhoods have hired attorneys to challenge zoning; would you support a staffer to help neighborhoods advocate.
Hill: yes; says UDO is hard to understand, and protest petitions have been lost as a tool. In other cities, these have prevented groceries and strip malls from coming in and "protecting the value" of people's homes.
Howerton: yes; serves on JCCPC committee, and has heard of this idea before, along with talk of redoing the UDO. Losing the possibility to have protest petition "is not something that really supports our community."
Hyman: says UDO is complicated, and citizens are faced with having to navigate it quickly; thinks a liaison would be helpful to neighborhoods, given passion about residents' properties.
Second, to Jacobs/Massenburg Beasley/Page: Golden Belt, Cleveland-Holloway submitted local historic district proposals five years ago, seem stalled by the JCCPC; should this board raise the priority and is preservation important?
Jacobs: "We were just discussing" the work plan for Planning. "This is a problem of funding;" 54 staff in Planning, down to 38. Golden Belt, Cleveland-Holloway proposed for work plan this next year. "I know that it has taken a long time for that to happen." Adds that neighborhood liaison is a funding issue, too. Durham is the only county in NC to have the petitions (only ruled out in cities).
Massenburg Beasley: says citizens themselves should be able to "make comment" relative to preservation for an area, and should be a community liaison. Citizen and county staff input should lead to prioritization of items to determine whether raised to a top priority.
Page: "Yes," but says that it is "unfortunate that so many items on this [priority] list" have not been able to be done, says staffing is just too short. Need to work with staff to address these items that have been delayed. "It's urgent that we really put some priority in terms of trying to address these things."
Third, for Reckhow/Carter/Fikes/Foster: can UDO changes encourage affordable housing?
Reckhow: "We've done about as much as we can do under current legislative authority" -- reducing parking requirements, providing density bonuses, increasing density bonuses. Inclusionary zoning and the like would require state intervention. Only other option: rewrite ordinances with special use permits, might allow some latitude with developer negotiations.
Carter: Says everyone is talking about affordable housing being important; concurs with other commissioner on revising the UDO and challenges, assumes that's true. Says could land-bank public land to be used for affordable housing; could purchase land and put in land-bank for future; continue with smart growth around transit with density, affordable housing.
Fikes: "Affordable is near and dear to my heart," saying she has spent 30 years working in this area. Agrees with Reckhow that there are constraints. "But, it is possible, in light of those, to adopt some of the principles of inclusionary zoning and some other things that have been used in other communities" to encourage affordable housing. Should mention further with developers.
Foster: Have done all we can with UDO, but in favor of changing zoning in areas where BOCC owns land or wants to encourage affordable housing in downtown.
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Schools: Do schools receive enough funding:
Howerton <long pause> "Complicated question... Yes and no." "For me, it's yes and no. It's not that cut and dry."
Carter : "Yes but"
Fikes: "I'm yes/no, too"
Carter, Fikes, Foster: Spending that is above other districts (BCR series) towards central administration, is it justified?
Carter: "The information that was used was provided by our superintendent and CFO because we, this year, are planning to scour our budget" for efficiencies and opportunties to redirect to classroom. "That's our number one budget this year," to find more effective ways to redirect funding to improve literacy.
Fikes: Articles "really gave me pause." Thinks funding should be directed to student achievement; "concerned" that so much funding appears to be "centralized in the central office," if you will, and appreciates that the school board is looking at the issue. Have to provide resources necessary.
Foster: "It's always been my contention that we support the schools and the stueents, and the resources that this board gives" needs to be in line-items for classrooms and students who need help to achieve. "I believe we need to move that money out of the central office" and into the classroom.
Reckhow/Page/Massenburg Beasley: Durham Tech supports both Orange and Durham County, but Durham puts in six times the funding as Orange despite only having two times the population of Orange? "Stinginess of Orange?"
Reckhow: Doesn't want to call another county stingy. Says it may be that when Durham taxpayers included quarter-cent for education, it included funding for high schoolers in Durham to get "connect scholarships" to help get them to Durham Tech. "We're very proud of that."
Page: "I won't call the county stingy; I will say that, based on population sizes and the number of students that are enrolled there" Durham might be more responsible for spending than Orange. Connect scholarships are one part. "I feel that we really do have a responsibility" due to the number of students Durham enrolls there to support DTCC at the current level; open to other ways of equitably sharing.
Massenburg Beasley: Would like additional information on the original Durham-Orange conversations and the agreement between the two counties; would be premature to make a decision. "There could be valid reasons, and there could be benefits to the current model that's in place."
Jacobs/Hyman/Howerton/Hill: Charter schools have proliferated; good or bad, and what should county do?
Jacobs: Not good/bad issue, but "part of the reality we face today in Durham, and what can we do about it?" Need to have high expectations for charter schools and all schools, and need transparency for school achievement and operational budgets. Says we can also encourage a better relationship between charters and public, and to allow charter schools that show high results with minority students to be shared back. Answered yes earlier: 34% of county budget on DPS, third highest in state.
Hyman: Parents need to be able to make best choice for their children. Charters are about reform, and individuals need to decide. Thinks county can maintain better oversight over charters; is concerned that all the oversight goes towards DPS where we can track all numbers and progress, but charters don't have oversight. Thinks they serve a purpose and would like to embrace them where they are.
Howerton: Not up to BOCC to encourage or discourage, and says oversight would require legislative change. Does believe relationships between DPS and charters is important, and avoiding a them/us. "Charter schools are Durham public schools, and it's up to us to support all our children in all our schools."
Hill: Wants "what's best for children of Durham," and all children able to reach full potential. Says we can "clearly see the effect" of charters in resegregating schools, not providing the same services. Says our lieutenant governor, the "darling of the Tea Party," skewing reports on charters. Says we need to support our traditional schools, teachers and staff, and give every student in Durham Public schools "a chance to achieve their full potential."
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Downtown, development and taxes:
Millions in incentives for downtown. Wise expense or not?
Fikes: Considering county economic development goals, "critical" to support the "revitalization of our center city." Says the projects also provide some community jobs, and that investing in downtown is a good investment.
Carter: Says while doesn't know specifics, "I can see the logic" in providing incentives to increase tax base, get more jobs. "If I were to be elected... I would have certain guiding principles" on incentives for private enterprise. Would want to know that it would increase the tax base, add jobs, protect a public or historic site, and that the enterprise wouldn't come without it, and would be tax-positive on day one.
Reckhow: Hotels were justified as co-owners of convention center; felt providing more hotel rooms would make it easier to attract larger conferences. Chesterfield: felt this was a "key building" as a large structure that needed "substantial renovation," dividing Brightleaf Square from rest of downtown, and a chance to provide significant public parking downtown.
Foster, Hill, Howerton: BOCC has changed downtown including tearing buildings down for new buildings and parlors. Is county constructive in downtown revitalization, or need a better plan?
Foster: County doing right thing; with all the development here, need to be "good stewards" of tax dollars. Value of the building next door has appreciated to millions of dollars, so makes it more valuable to us; and, have outside leased space outside downtown, would like to bring them back downtown.
Hill: Anyone who's spent time in old courthouse knew we needed a new one; also needed new human services complex. But, wants to be careful that buildings east of Roxboro are not warrened off as government only, and that the 1970s courthouse needs to have retail and social space on the first floor. And, need to be "wary" of development downtown to make sure it serves all citizens.
Howerton: Notes in the process of working on CIP (Capital Improvement Plan), and that takes input from staff, community -- not "created in a vacuum" as to what kind of buildings are on county property.
Hyman/Jacobs/Massenburg Beasley/Page: 2016 revaluations; some citizens are not happy, and some of them felt they couldn't get good answers on the process.
Hyman: her appraisal she was unhappy with for a different reason -- "it was lowered." Says she believes the Tax Office did a very good instructional process; went through the information and her comparisons. "Whether or not they were able to reach the general population to get that information out there is one thing." Acknowledges some were steep, but others lowered.
Jacobs: BOCC has no control over the property tax revaluation process; it is required by the state against 2015 market values. Need to look at how "unencumbered exchanges of property." Can control how often it is done, and notes tax administrator wants it done every four years, not every eight. Also, have not set the tax rate yet and is sure it will go down.
Massenburg Beasley: Works with homeowners on a daily basis. Says homeowners are most often unclear about the process, and that we need to educate homeowners about the process and formula currently used. Knows one homeowner who appealed valuation twice but saw no movement, then had an appraisal be done, and saw movement in the valuation -- says we can revisit the process and educational efforts.
Page: Says he was going to share thoughts from both of those answers. Says citizens are sometimes disappointed, but notes there is an appeal process in place, and that this year there have not been as many appeals as they were expecting. Thinks process can be made more user-friendly for citizens.
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Light rail and transportation: Yes or no, do you support D/O LRT?
All were yes; Massenburg Beasley, Hyman, Page and Hill all said they wanted "some modifications."
Some neighborhoods have asked for modifications -- Downing Creek, East Durham line extension, ROMF facility. Do you support changes and is lack thereof a dealbreaker?
Page: Says that he is open to modifications, for "Downing Creek in particular." Will it be a dealbreaker? Doesn't necessarily believe it would, hopes Go Triangle will be responsive. Notes the project has been worked on a long time and made much progress.
Reckhow: Notes that this BOCC crafted a strong, specific letter during the draft EIS where they "weighed in on most of the issues you mentioned" and asked Go Triangle to weigh in on them. Says she hopes and expects there will be ways to engineer the LRT to respond to the issues, such as in Downing Creek (by linking to NC 54 widening plan.)
Carter: Says we are at a "defining moment" for transit in Durham, and in a good condition to get federal funding despite state's withdrawal of funding. Says would be open to another body reviewing Go Triangle recommendations. Notes that others have visited Charlotte and been impressed with their system/
Fikes/Foster/Hill: $500,000 cap in state budget, and NCDOT has only approved $138m out of the assumed $400m state contribution; where will rest come from?
Fikes: "I think that's a good question," and that that gap is too large for any one entity like county government. Are more federal funds or state increases available? Says she doesn't know the answer but it is too big a gap for local government.
Foster: When this project started, there were three counties, but now Wake on their own track. Says the Federal government sees this region as an opportunity, and we're "right at the very cusp" with Federal funding through MAP21 and TIGER there for next six years.
Hill: Says the cap and the deficit with the state shows "we need to take politics out of transit." Says we cannot build enough lanes of road in the Triangle to accommodate growth over next few decades, and that we need to change the politics on Jones St. Adds that it's good there is support for lifting the cap in Raleigh from last year's budget.
Howerton/Hyman/Jacobs/Massenburg Beasley: Should we also be looking at bus rapid transit?
Howerton: There are plenty of other transit approaches we should be looking at.
Hyman: Other things we can do. We have done road diets to accommodate scooters and other vehicles. Rapid transit buses, connectors -- should try other things to move traffic from one area to another, reduce car dependence.
Jacobs: LRT is "just a piece" of an overall transportation plan we need. JCCPC yesterday heard the draft station area strategic improvement plans, looking at bike/pedestrian/bus linkages. Says we need a "fluid" system. Just had a city/county survey that heard desire for bike/ped improvements. Says bus improvements are already happening, and we need more access to jobs.
Massenburg Beasley: Regarding LRT and BRT, says these are typically for a specific purpose, and says getting citizens to work is a high priority. Adds that due to the budget situations, would like to see a way to improve upon the current bus system as a possibility, and then decide if a BRT system is affordable.
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Are development rules changes needed to reduce runoff?
Massenburg Beasley: Notes that Durham is on a ridge and water runs to two different watersheds; when treatment plants are removed, quality of runoff and flow is changed. Says development impacts the quality and flow of runoff. Says each project needs to be looked at in re its EIS and decide based on analysis.
Jacobs: Says we have had some of the best SWM processes in the state, and getting nitrogen and phosphorus levels reduced ahead of state timing. But notes that General Assembly-based laws could impact some of Durham's rules. Durham has stronger riparian buffers, and will be able to keep in place. Says we are doing "inventive things with BMPs" through stormwater staff.
Page: Says we have responsibility as elected officials to protect water supply in the community, and adds that the Clean Air Act must be adhered to. Certain ways to address this.
Do you support bond issuance for major county water projects? (Ed. note: this is a stumper of a question. Who wrote this one?)
Carter: Says she honestly does not know, would want to do research and confer with fellow commissioners. Thinks of bonds for infrastructure, like schools and libraries.
Reckhow: historically, the City has provided the potable water. County only owns the NC 55 Triangle WTP, rebuilt 10-12 years ago. Says she is not aware, other than having funded a small water project for Rougemont related to contamination - but didn't have to issue bonds, got help from state and other funds.
Fikes: Says the only time bonds should be issued for water is in case of public health or public safety; would not recommend issuing bonds for other purposes except alleviating public health problem.
Is the county doing enough to protect the environment? (And, moderator John Martin just quasi-apologized/explained the last question.)
Foster: County is doing all we can and then some. Reducing phosphorous/nitrogen, and trying to improve water flow to Raleigh. Not sure more can be done.
Hill: County has done a good job in this area. County has been a good steward. Wants to keep encouraging things like green roofs.
Hyman: in last year's Neighborhood College, staff were thorough in talking about WTP. While thinks they do a good job here, notes there are individual SWM treatment and drainage facilities that aren't working. Isn't sure it's the county's responsibility, but that all mechanisms in the network should be working.
Howerton: Believes the county has a good partnership with the city; keep on working to make government as efficient as possible.
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This completes INC questions. Now have audience questions. Says several have to do with Durham Public Schools spending on administration. Giving all first opportunity to discuss these issues.
Reckhow: says BOCC has been consistent for a couple of decades in asking BOE/DPS to "prune the central office." Remembers Becky Heron often bringing this up. In June, Reckhow notes she raised it; looked at the previous year's budget by comparison, said she was told there would be central office cuts, but admin budget was the same.
Jacobs: Says everyone is now aware of this, and DPS' L'Homme has said in the paper he will look at the budget closely. Notes BOCC has requested an MOU to be clear on funding expectations. And, says the data will be important to understand how budget is linked to student outcomes.
Carter: "Our number one guiding principal as the Board of Education is to protect the classroom," and says it has been for the 12 years she has been on the BOE. Says there is an implication of "bloat" in central office. Says every year, get answers that it is hard to compare central office staff district to district, due to coding differences. There is a leadership services line, which has increased by less than 1%, this year vs. last. Also, have held the line with teachers than any other district -- only 21 fewer teachers, vs. state seeing a 3.1% decrease vs. Durham 0.9%. Says DPS pays teachers more and defends teachers.
Howerton: Says she would be interested in seeing more resources directed to classroom and teachers.
Hyman: She had been part of budget process in County, and says there is an opportunity to bring fresh eyes and a new perspective. Says there is always something to be seen from a different perspective.
Page: Notes he served on BOE, and says that BOCC has gone through this every year, and now almost line item by line item. Says it boils down to, what's working and what isn't? What we were doing ten years ago may not be working. Says we need more resources in classroom, and pay more attention to the items and what can be cut -- not just central services but other places.
Massenburg Beasley: Notes she has been a bank auditor. Agrees with Page's comments, and asks for this to be a year-round conversation, not just budget time.
Q: What can you do to make sure largely-innocent people awaiting trial get toiletries, safe food, clean water, etc.?
Carter: Says this issue has been raised before at a forum and in email, and says it sounds like there are complaints in the community. Says she contacted Gail Harris in public health, and learned that Harris' staff would make an unannounced visit to the jail to "approach the allegations."
Jacobs: Says there is an expectation those issues would "not be taking place." Says there is an independent investigation being led by the department. Says BOCC does not run the jail but has oversight of it and will act on that.
Howerton: Says Durham has the "best health department director in the country," and that she will do everything she can to ensure policies are followed and "humanity is followed."
Hill: Notes we just had a young man "die in our jail." Says it was not a suicide, but the young man sent letters home stating that he would die in jail, and wasn't receiving insulin on time. Says "most of the people there, they aren't guilty, or haven't been found guilty." Says he supports an independent group of citizens investigating.
Howerton interjects: "I've experienced, I know aht it feels like to lose your child. I understand that feeling that you don't get over when you lose your child." Says that the board, and she as a mother, understands this. "We feel it. You want to paint us as not caring. It pains me, and it grieves me." Says "we care, and its' not just about policy, it's about humanity."
Hyman: Says the BOCC is responsible for accountability, performance work plans, pay raises for those who lead county functions.
Page: Says he takes allegations seriously, and that while uncertain what has caused the death of the inmate - - awaiting to hear it -- he says he supports the sheriff, jail director and corrections staff. Says he finds the allegations of not receiving materials for daily living and sustanance at the jail hard to believe.
Reckhow: The BOCC invited the Sheriff, and he agreed, to allow a national corrections group to review the jail. There are also biannual reviews and grand jury reviews, and national accreditation review for jail health programs. Hopes we will hear very soon from the health director and have a better understanding of whether health care was provided "in a comprehensive and timely manner to that gentleman."
Q: How to address questions of wage disparity, affordable housing and economic opportiunities.
Page: Says constantly hearing questions of wages for low-income service workers, and believes in an increased living age for these populations and allow individuals to support their families.
Foster: Says he is co-chair of poverty reduction initiative in NECD; says need to "re-educate" the population there as an entire family. Says there are a lot of jobs and incentives, but these individuals don't have the job skills. Individuals need to be connected to these jobs, and need to get citizens in that area both a livable wage and connection to jobs.
Fikes: notes she has heard about living wage, and says there is actually a housing wage calculated by a national low income housing committee; says $17.60 an hour needed to support a 2-bedroom unit in our community. Says she agrees with Foster that job growth in our community must be led with workforce development.
Reckhow: Says Durham is more pronounced than the nation as a whole in having an increasing segment of poor residents, increasing affluence, and decrease in middle class. Calls this a huge problem for the country and for our community. Adds that only half of Durham's jobs are held by Durham residents. "There's a huge issue here with income disparities and it's one we need to focus on as a community."
Massenburg Beasley: Supports all earlier comments, and says she feels it's important to inventory citizens' skill sets. Companies are moving in and bringing jobs, but a tremendous percentage of Durhamites do not meet the skill requirements for these jobs. Would like companies arriving to be certified as living wage companies, and follow the model of Asheville in identifying just-economy companies.
Jacobs: Says she has been co-chairing job task force for poverty reduction initiative, and there are jobs like ex-offender/criminal background and day care. Says the criminal background issue affects many residents being unemployable. Need to look at better early childhood education and linking incentives towards hiring Durham residents including those with criminal backgrounds.
Howerton: Says this begins with economic growth and job incentives. Says the Chamber assessed companies in Durham to look at needed skill sets in order to be able to hire Durham citizens. Mostly, this showed the need for soft-skills for individuals to be hired. Lots of medical/science industry, but not enough soft skills. Constantly looking for ways to give those blocked from jobs access to employment.
Hill: Agrees we need to address these barriers. And, our schools need more technical, vocational education to help citizens get jobs. Apple CEO asked why not manufacturing in the US, but said workers in the US didn't have the skills. Why aren't companies at the Park linked to getting skills into schools and hiring from the schools?
Hyman: Said that some employers as they look at the range of skills are schools are developing, may be deciding not to come to Durham. We're not producing workers with the right skill set is what she has heard, and we need to close that gap.
Carter: Says most important intervention to increase earning potential is an investment in high-quality universal pre-K for Durham youth. Research shows large ROI and this will set our children up to be fully-ready to take advantage of Durham's generous investment in public schools.
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Foster: Says he was careful in raising taxes and supported managers' accountability initiatives. Says he will be fair, balanced and reasonable and voters should as well.
Fikes: Says she is uniquely qualified, with 30 years of county government experience to address residents' housing needs, to serve on BOCC. Has also unfortunately seen persons who lacked the basic plumbing facilities. Understands work of county government and importance of BOCC.
Carter: Says it has been one of her life's highest honors to serve on BOE, and would be doubly honored to serve in guiding all of Durham's services. Says she supports economic prosperity for all, good schools and jobs, smart growth, and a healthy community.
Reckhow: Says that Durham County has the "ingredients" for a bright future, but that government and citizens need to come together on issues that face us, like poverty, which she feels is linked with crime rate. Need to work closely with school board and start even earlier. Sees students at Y.E. Smith not ready for kindergarten.
Page: Says a number of issues have been highlighted tonight, and wants to focus on some other issues he sees as a priority -- homelessness, job creation and development, health/safety, and programs like My Brother's Keeper. Says he has demonstrated leadership over 20 years of public service.
Massenburg Beasley: Feels she is uniquely qualified having worked for and besides governments for past 25 years. Have worked with citizens and asked citizens what they want to see; based on this, she is focused on education, job creation and closing the wealth gap.
Jacobs: Says she loves being a county commissioner and has been a privilege and honor. Says she works hard, does homework, makes thoughtful decisions and is responsive. Says she is proud that she shows she gets results, such as Durham's first sports commission and helping to facilitate concrete goals. Also notes concrete changes at the Holton Center. Also wants to address poverty in our communities.
Hyman: Says she cares about Durham's many communities and neighborhoods, where we raise our families and do things on a day to day basis. We are sometimes challenged by needs we have from government, and government's impact. Says she has extensive public service experience and wants to bring it to bear on BOCC, Says services must be delivered well from an accountable, user-friendly organization.
Howerton: Says she is a friend, neighbor, mother, elected official, board member, business owner and colleague, and enjoys serving people. Says she "stands in the shoes" of the community. Says she is an experienced commissioner in eighth year of services. Notes 532 commissioners across the state voted her the president of NC county commissioners association.
Hill: Native Durhamite, loves the city and its citizens, and says this is a special place. Says he is committed to Durham and seeing every person reach their full potential. Universal pre-K, incentivizing jobs that will hire Durham citizen, support for those impacted by the new economy, a Durham that isn't a "two-tiered" community of innovators vs. those serving the innovators.