Our municipal elections are over and change is in the air. Surprising election results in Chapel Hill suggest a desire for more open communication, less animosity and less politics. Newly elected leaders bring impressive management skills and a real world focus on the serious challenges that lie ahead.
Up next is the Orange County Board of Commissioners race. This is a partisan contest, which our county typically decides in the Democratic primary. Four seats, two in District 1, one in District 2, and one at-large seat will be up. Sitting Commissioners Mark Dorosin, Penny Rich and Renee Price, are all seeking re-election. Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier is not seeking re-election and a competitive race has already begun for her at-large seat.
If you are uncertain about county districts: District 1 roughly aligns to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District; District 2 with Orange County Schools. The at-large seat is county-wide. Primary voters can only vote for commissioners in their district and for the at-large seat. Democrats and unaffiliated voters can vote in the Democratic primary, which will be held in March. Filing begins Dec. 1. This is the same primary as the presidential and other important national and state primaries, so turnout should be good but the local races are easily sidelined.
Whats at stake in the county election? Plenty.
Our schools are in an embarrassing state of disrepair, and it’s becoming difficult to attract and retain qualified teachers. A growing senior population is placing new and different demands on services, and fewer people can afford to live in Orange County. Our most valued public servants teachers, police, firefighters, and others are already commuting from other counties.
This year, voters have the opportunity to encourage a serious debate around key issues including:
▪ School funding with a focus on improving transparency and ways to protect our classrooms from ongoing political uncertainty. With a large bond on the November 2016 ballot, voters should be asking for plans to address aging school facilities.
▪ Economic development with a renewed emphasis on attracting commercial development and private-sector employment to the county. With intense development pressures on our towns, it’s time for voters to ensure that the county is doing its part to diversify the tax base and alleviate the tax burden on residential property owners.
▪ Improving access to housing, jobs, and transportation as the foundation for affordability. This includes ways to encourage teachers and other public-service professionals to return to our communities. These issues are also significant for our growing senior population
Times are changing, and the ground is fertile for exciting new ways for the county to serve its citizens. Not-for-profit partners, community centers, and active seniors are helping to bring resources closer to our communities. Early experiments with the Rogers Road community, Project Engage (senior outreach), the Family Success Alliance, and others are showing great promise.
Let’s remember Orange County does not exist in a vacuum. North Chatham, Wake and even Mebane now offer excellent schools, good services, and a progressive lifestyle for a lot less money. More than ever, it’s time for Orange County to move beyond politics, and assert its distinctive role in the dynamic, rapidly growing Triangle region.
The issues are complex, and creative new approaches are needed. Vision, professional leadership and a commitment to public service will be necessary for Orange County to live up to its responsibility as the standard bearer for progressive values.
The recent election suggests that change is in the air and voters are paying attention. Hopefully the enthusiasm will continue into the upcoming county election.
Bonnie Hauser lives in Orange County and can be reached at email@example.com. This is her last regular column as she plans to run for county commissioner. The Chapel Hill News invites all candidates to submit one guest column per month and one letter per month from now through Feb. 26, 2016.