In one of its first moves as a newly sworn in body, the Durham County Board of Commissioners unanimously selected incumbent Brenda Howerton to chair the historic board this week.

Howerton, first elected as a county commissioner in 2008, is a former president of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. She previously served as vice chair of the Durham commissioners.

She will preside over the county’s first ever all-female board of county commissioners.

On Monday, newly-elected Commissioners Nida Allam and Nimasheena Burns were sworn in, along with Howerton and her fellow incumbents Heidi Carter and former board chair Wendy Jacobs, who was selected as vice chair.

“As a history-making board, we have an opportunity to demonstrate cohesiveness about how we operate as board members with decency and respect so that we focus on the issues that matter most to our community,” Howerton said in a Monday press statement after she was selected.

Jacobs, who was first elected in 2012, served as chair for the last four years.

“I look forward to working in partnership with Chair Howerton and all our board members to center the needs of our community over the next critical and challenging months of this pandemic,” Jacobs told the INDY. “The vaccine light is at the end of the tunnel. Our board has the ability to accomplish great things for the people of Durham with everyone’s shared vision and love for Durham.”

Howerton said the safety and wellbeing of the community during the ongoing pandemic tops her list of leadership priorities.

“We must mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on our local economy and remain financially sound while doing so,” she said. “We must also work closely with our state government and industry leaders—every area has been affected—to successfully get a safe vaccine to our residents.”

Howerton said it is also imperative for county leaders to identify ways and means “to reduce the burdensome obligation on our residents during this economic downturn.”

In a candidate questionnaire earlier this year, Howerton told the INDY that “safety, social justice, public education, economic development, and affordable housing” were the most important issues facing the county. She recently voted to raise the minimum wage for some Durham Public Schools staffers and her campaign website lists several other priorities including environmental preservation, supporting veterans, and quality of life for seniors.

After being named chair, Howerton told the INDY that she will share more of her goals and the shape of things she’d like to get done “as chair and as a partner of the board” early next year, when she delivers the state of the county address.

“As chair, it’s not ‘I,’” she said. “It’s ‘we.’”

“This is my town, and I love being in Durham,” she added. “So let’s just get the work done.”

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.