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INC forum: Wrapping up the BOCC Q&A

Last week we gave an overview of the Inter-Neighborhood Council's Board of County Commissioners candidates forum, and looked at two of the questions posed by INC members and the audience. Today: A wrap-up look at the last four questions posed to the nine BOCC hopefuls present last Tuesday night.

Q: Are you in support of funding additional vocational education programs that exist in the community?

Victoria Peterson: Yes, but she stated her support for such additional programs to be run by members of the community and local non-profits, not the government.

Joe Bowser: Said it was hard to give a yes-or-no answer on the question. He stated that he generally supported the idea, but needed to know what programs in particular were proposed. "Government has failed with these programs and we have to look outside the government," Bowser noted.

Doug Wright: Yes, for programs for which we can measure success.

Don Moffitt: Stated that public/private partnerships are very important to make these programs work. Noted that it doesn’t matter to him who delivers them, but that they need to be measured both on how effective they are and how cost-efficient the programs are.

Fred Foster, Jr.: Yes.

Ellen Reckhow: Yes, and noted that there was a need for additional public-sector programs as well as non-profits. Noted that diversity in programs was important, as a "one size fits all” approach doesn’t work with these efforts. Reckhow also highlighted the efforts of the Durham Public School, noting it has had success with alternative programs for students failing in the traditional school system.

Brenda Howerton: Yes, if the programs can be designed to show the outcomes and results of their efforts.

Josh Parker: Stated that he supported implementing “meaningful vocational education” throughout the community.

Becky Heron: Yes, as long as the programs demonstrate they’re gong to work.

Q: Bail bonds were recently increased in the criminal justice system. Regardless of the role the BOCC plays in setting these levels, do you support the recent increases?

Moffitt: Yes; noted we also have to look at other ways to improve the criminal justice systems beyond raising bonds alone.

Wright: Yes; aso stated that there was a need to heed requests coming from our criminal justice system and give them resources to meet their responsibilities.

Bowser: Yes; the former BOCC member also called for end to the DA office's practice of plea bargaining for cases of serious crime, and noted he had spoken out on this issue publicly several years back.

Foster: Yes, and we need to do more; noted that raising bonds was the tip of the iceberg.

Peterson: Stated her opposition to the increase in bond levels. "The criminal justice system in this community is a mess [when] you look at 10,000 people [each year] going in and out of the jail." Noted that higher bonds become a financial burden on the families of the largely young men incarcerated.  Stated that she supported increased bonds perhaps for homicides, but said that bonds were raised for petty crimes as well. Peterson returned to her campaign theme of vocational education, saying “let’s take the $30 million we’ve given to companies to come into Durham to hire our citizens, but they’re not doing it.”

Reckhow: Stated that she did support the increase. The incumbent referenced a study of the jail population last summer which showed that more than half of the people in jail were there for misdemeanor charges or non-payment of child support. Reckhow noted that we need to get these people out and make room for the people who are committing felonies and are dangerous to the community. "The bond [increases] are a major step in the right direction."

Heron: Yes, but noted that many of these youth are sitting in jail because we don’t have a good court system and it takes too long to get to trial.

Howerton: Supports the bond increase, with the exception of low-level crimes for which people might now sit in jail waiting to have their case heard.  Also claimed that that the persons who are in the detention center now come out with no training to even be able to go to work, and need GED-level education or skill set increases to be able to work when they are released.

Parker: Does support higher bonds, but noted there is a need to make sure we have judges and magistrates be able to understand the big picture of an arrested person's record. Parker also emphasized thee need to clear up the current warrant backlog.

Q: Do you support a merger of city and county governments?

Wright: Yes.

Moffitt: Said it is a “complex issue,” and he doesn't have a stand on the issue today. Moffitt pointed out that the two governments deliver very different, generally non-overlapping services, and the 1999 commission looking at merger couldn't identify any significant cost savings.

Bowser:  Yes. “I don’t like the idea of coming from Roxboro and seeing signs welcoming me to the City and County of Durham.” Bowser says he'd like to see the signs just say the county of Durham.

Foster: Agrees with Moffitt that there's a need to study the issue further.

Peterson: Notes her support for merger because the community “is in trouble.” Peterson pointed out that the City and County Planning departments have already merged. The challenger brought up the issue of the 50,000 warrants backlogged, and notes that they weren't served in part because of officials in the City and County pointing fingers at each other.

Reckhow: Stated she supports a fresh study of merger.

Heron: The incumbent cautioned it would take significant study, because the City tends to perform "hard services" versus the "soft services" (large human/social services) of the County. Tongue in cheek, Heron noted that "we could merge government tomorrow – all the City has to do is dissolve City government!"

Howerton: States the issue would have to be studied again.

Parker: Motioning with his arms, Parker said he had read a thick stack of reports going back to 1972 and can’t find a reason other than politics for merger not to have happened already.  Parker stated that he supports merger, noting that the school system merger showed benefits. The challenger stated that if elected, he would support beginning discussions immediately at least on merging the police and sheriff departments.

Q: An audience member noted the discussion throughout the forum of "disconnected" youth in the community; what do the candidates think are the reasons youth feel disconnected in the first place?

Parker: Notes that firstly, not all youth are disconnected -- the problem, Parker said, is that some are connected to the wrong things, getting the wrong kind of support systems through gangs. Mentioned he had been at First Antioch Baptist the other day hearing about this very issue of the need for a support system for youth. The community needs to start talking with youth about youth issues, Parker said, noting that they are often left out of the discussion.

Howerton: Points out that when we talk about disconnected youth, we’re talking about families, churches, and school systems, and that youth are disconnected because of failing family strucures and problems in community and educational organizations. Notes that the root cause of much of this is economics, as when children are left alone because parents have to work three or four jobs to make ends meet, kids will become disconnected.

Heron: Agrees that much of the issue has to do with families who have to work, especially the preponderance of single parents, leaving nobody home for the kids. Heron did emphasize that the school system was providing some “super” after-school programs.

Reckhow: Noted that one-third of households in Durham are economically challenged, and it is much harder for these families to support youth. The incumbent noted that the January BOCC retreat led to a proposed approach to start with stronger pre-kindergarten program so youth are ready to learn. Reckhow also noted that the county is starting Durham Connects, a program which will have a public health nurse visiting all Durham homes with newborn children, with all such homes visited by next year, based on an idea to connect homes to the appropriate services. Reckhow agreed that economics and lack of family support were the key root causes.

Peterson: Emphasized that she has been working with ex-offenders who went to Durham Public Schools, and that many of them can’t read and write and therefore don’t even have the basic skills to fill out a job application. Many of these kids get into drugs, Peterson noted; they are entrepreneurs marketing the wrong products, she said.

Foster: Noted that education is a key, as the one thread that runs through so many social ills is illiteracy. Foster said there's a need to get to these disconnected youth at an early point in their lives. The challenger agreed that the family unit has broken down and is in disarray.

Bowser: Sees four root causes: poverty; failings in Durham's educational system; a lack of productive outlets of things to do in neighborhods; and a lack of love and respect from community. Bowser encouraged audience members to watch Al Roker’s documentary on gangs in Durham. “We are not listening [to what the youth are actually saying.]”

Moffitt: Notes planning is his strength, but that his impression is a cultural issue of isolation in our society. Agreed that there's an economic reason of poverty in community, leading to working parents and latchkey kids. Moffitt also noted that there are basic skills issues and an achievement gap among youth, with a growing gap between haves and have-nots.

Wright: Points out that "we’ve heard labels tonight." If we call these youth disconnected and challenged, Wright notes, they carry that as labels throughout our lives, and we need to be sure to keep that in mind. The challenger singled out economics and education as the key root causes.

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