Name as it appears on the ballot: Aja Kelleher 

Age: 55

Party affiliation: Independent 

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Sr. Principal Engineer, Fidelity Investments

Years lived in Carrboro: 9 

1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the town council do differently or better over the course of your term? 

I am running not as a politician but as a principled problem solver who gets results. I am a woman of color who has lived through and pushed past racial barriers. Our priorities are straight, but Carrboro can be even better.  Every day I see real world issues that need more effective, timely solutions and plans that never make it to reality.  I am running because I want to see strong alignment between what we say, the money we spend, and the results we get.  

Carrboro is at a crucial turning point. We must continue to help our businesses recover from the pandemic and commit to a vibrant downtown.  We need responsible growth that doesn’t say yes to every developer. Too many people who work and want to live in Carrboro can’t afford housing here, get around easily on public transit, or aren’t within walking distance of a park.  We need to track progress on our priorities using dashboards so everyone can see just how well we are doing.

We are in a climate emergency right now. We must respond with urgency and make smart decisions to lower greenhouse gas emissions, increase the use of solar energy, and manage flooding at the level of Town policies and programs.

We need to upgrade our Town’s infrastructure so people can get basic Town info more easily, find more electric vehicle charging stations and board electric buses, ride their bikes and cross streets more safely.

I believe in community-first planning and participatory budget processes that value diverse community voices.   We need engage more citizens in decision making to make sure these much needed changes happen.

So we can coast on the status quo or change for a better future. As a Town Council member, I will be a leader who sees plans into reality.

2) Given the direction of Carrboro’s government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?

In many ways, Carrboro is headed in the right direction by working on a new Comprehensive Plan with input from the community, its leaders and business owners. It takes a lot of political savvy, diplomacy and prudence to gather diverse, sometimes opposing community interests around a shared vision.  But previous to Carrboro Connects there was the Carrboro 2020 Vision plan.   How did Carrboro measure up to it?  How did the Town measure progress, success or failure? What did we learn from the past that is informing this Comprehensive Plan? Too often Carrboro heavily front-loads on planning, while skimping on implementation and ignoring the critical backend of accountability for results. We need to develop priority dashboards that regularly indicate progress and outcomes. If something isn’t done or done on time, we need to find out why and make changes. I will advocate for thorough Implementation milestones, metrics and budget requirements to be added and aligned before the Comprehensive Plan is approved.  We need clear accountability and a way to measure the results if the vision is to be more than a progressive dream.

3) Please identify the three of the most pressing issues Carrboro currently faces and how you believe the town should address them. 

The three most pressing issues Carrboro currently faces are accountability for results, pandemic recovery and affordable housing.   

For better accountability, the Town needs to provide information that is current, clear, and easy to access across all of its priority areas. We need to track progress towards goals using scorecards and transparent reporting. That will allow us to monitor results and improve on any implementation issues or failures.  

 The pandemic continues to bludgeon our community’s physical and economic health. Carrboro must continue to support local businesses and residents that are affected by the pandemic through the funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act.   

The Town must prioritize the creation of more affordable housing by strategically utilizing any Town-owned land and working with nonprofit builders. Carrboro can continue to find ways to help identify and/or fund rental or home ownership subsidies for the 30 – 80 AMI (area median income) range through local nonprofits. Zoning decisions and updating the Land Use Ordinance are the biggest levers the Town can use responsible development and sufficient affordable housing.

4) What’s the best or most important thing the town council has done in the past year? Alternatively, name a decision you believe the council got wrong or an issue you believe the town should have handled differently. Please explain your answer.

The most important thing the Town Council has done in the past year is working on the new Comprehensive Plan for the next 20 years.  This is the first long-term “big picture” for our entire community.  The plan is being built through input from our residents, business owners, partner organizations and the Town Council.  The Plan’s foundations in Climate Action and Race & Equity have the capacity to address and redress serious problems that require serious attention.

I believe approving Lloyd Farm development’s (special use permit) that will soon begin construction on the last large tract of land available in Carrboro was a poor decision. The Town of Carrboro, including all three incumbents in this race, approved the development after five years of contention about how it did not fit with Carrboro’s 20/20 vision. The development plan calls for 220 rental units for ages 55 and over in the $2,000 – $3,000 per month range.  The anchor tenant for retail space is a Harris Teeter, a second one for our town – that will be within sight of a Food Lion in a strip mall right across the street. This location would have been better zoned for middle housing with some commercial spaces. It is creating suburban sprawl and housing for only those that can afford the high rent. It draws more people away from downtown local businesses and pushes more retail to the edge of town. This development is a missed opportunity that could have been a model of how to create housing for essential workers, teachers, and others who work in Carrboro but cannot currently afford to live here. Mixed income middle housing makes for a truly diverse, stronger community.

5) What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the town council and its duties? What made you seek this position?

I am not a politician nor have I ever run for public office. I first started getting involved in local Town matters first as a small business owner years ago in Carr Mill Mall.   One of my first meetings I attended was about parking spaces for downtown businesses.  It was then I learned about how and why we had parking issues in downtown Carrboro. As a homeowner in Carrboro I became further involved in neighborhood advocacy when the Lloyd Farm development was first proposed.  I joined other residents who were concerned about the traffic, noise, lights, trees, affordable housing, stormwater and other planning issues that would impact our neighborhood. Unlike other subdivisions, my neighborhood is an older one built over 50 years ago that acts as a passthrough neighborhood to the Post Office, Carrboro Plaza, and Main Street.  Over the past eight years I have lived amidst stormwater issues because Toms Creek regularly floods our neighborhood properties and homes. 

I have a passion and persistence to drive issues that are important to our neighborhood.  I wanted to affect change by running for Town Council.  At first my main reason was because I felt many of us residents were largely ignored by the Town council and staff. I want to be a Council member who does more than just talk and tell us what we want to hear, with little follow up or results.  It’s been over 8 years since we moved into our neighborhood and to date, nothing has been done about the stormwater issues that have plagued our neighborhood for years. As a neighborhood we have spent countless hours attending meetings and talking to Town Council and staff to no avail.  I felt it was time to get involved and make change happen any way I can.  

6) As with most places in the Triangle, Carrboro is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? Should it promote apartment living, duplexes, and/or triplexes? Encourage density in single family housing? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?  

I think the Town needs to change its approach by promoting density housing, supporting accessory dwelling units and an overhaul of the outdated Land Use Ordinance. That does not mean I want the Town to encourage expensive high rise rentals.The property tax increase that feeds the Affordable Housing Special Revenue Fund should be a sustained allocation.  We need home ownership and affordable housing for those in the 30 -80 AMI range. Creating more of it in existing buildings or properties in areas like downtown would be ideal. The Pee Wee Homes project is a good example.  I think we need careful and thoughtful Town planning about questions such as how much, where, and what funding is needed is critical to meeting the need. We have to get away from the cookie cutter solutions that many developers propose that do nothing more than create more suburban sprawl and add to the cost of infrastructure maintenance for the long run.  

7) For those who rent or own homes in Carrboro already, how should the town and county address tax revaluations that increase property taxes and rising rents, particularly for residents in public housing and those low-income residents who face displacement? 

The impacts of the tax revaluation process that we saw occur in neighborhoods such as Northside this year were an affront to the concept of equity that Carrboro is embracing. I believe that the Orange County revaluation process needs to be scrutinized and revised with an equity lens. I support a property tax relief fund and trained community resources to help people challenge property tax revaluations.  I think the Town and County needs to continue to provide some relief to seniors, low income and residents in public housing with subsidies or reduced property taxes.   

8) In what ways should Carrboro work on growing its tax base?

The Town needs to work with the Carrboro Business Alliance, residents and leaders to attract more businesses to the downtown area by providing incentives and improving the infrastructure. You have to have more commercial tax revenue and not just rely heavily on residential property taxes.  

9) What do you think is the best course of action for the town’s parking issues? 

I think the Town needs to work with the local business leaders and the Carboro Alliance to develop and commit to a comprehensive parking plan. The 2017 Downtown Parking Plan was essentially stillborn. It called for starting with development of a couple of case study examples of parking challenges faced by local business owners. Four years later not a single case study example has been completed. The New Carrboro Connects Comprehensive Plan devotes only one of its 196 pages to parking. There are a number of things the Town could do: lease parking spaces from local businesses and implement a Town-funded valet parking solution for peak times.   I believe the Town should collect revenue for parking. They could extend the use of the parking app that is used in Chapel Hill and put meters in Carrboro’s public places. The Town could work with other land owners to develop parking solutions where available, preferably at the edge of town to reduce the amount of traffic generated by people driving around looking for a place to park.  The key is they have to be willing to work out a solution and not continue the stalemate over parking.  The town loses and local businesses are hurt financially by the loss. Visitors will go elsewhere and the businesses will continue to fail at an alarming rate.  

10) In your view, how can the town improve public transit, especially in terms of serving lower-income residents? How can the town recruit and retain more bus drivers? How can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?

I will strongly advocate for an increased transportation budget for Carrboro’s partnership with Chapel Hill Transit.  Carrboro’s stated priorities are to improve the levels and quality of transportation service available and extend beyond fixed route service. But the current Town Council approved only a 1.3% increase in its bus transportation budget over the previous year,  basically maintaining the insufficient levels of current service, which has recently been imperiled by reduction of bus service due to operator shortages. 

Significantly increased funding could provide for expanded Carrboro bus routes in terms of routes and frequency, accelerate conversion to more hybrid and/or electric buses to the fleet, which would decrease dependency on cars and reduce emissions that contribute to the climate crisis. It’s all connected!

The coming NS BRT in Chapel Hill is a model of what forward-thinking transportation planning can be. Through upgrading the current public transit infrastructure, it recognizes the interrelatedness of better serving those with affordable housing, reducing the carbon footprint by using electric buses, and encouraging ridership through its digital interface and multi-use paths.  As a Carrboro Town Council member I would have the opportunity to serve on the Orange County Transit Partners that will influence decision making, funding streams, and accountability for completion of the NS BRT. My goal would be to identify how to optimize existing Carrboro-based routes to serve as express connectors to some NS BRT stops, and look for ways to introduce some of the features of NS BRT to other Carrboro service routes. 

Recruiting more bus drivers will likely require signing and longevity bonuses, better benefits and work conditions must be addressed if we are to effectively expand public transit.  

We need more protected bike lanes, including some off-street lanes, better connectivity between existing ones, and a safety awareness campaign for both drivers and cyclists. 

11) Carrboro has traditionally struggled to attract businesses run by people of color. Why do you believe that is? How can the town work to attract minority-owned businesses?

There are several factors that have contributed to this struggle. Many people of color have difficulty getting access to grants or loans to start a business. Some rents are too high here to make it a viable opportunity. Many do not feel valued or invited into the business community. The Town can provide incentives to minority-owned businesses by providing start-up spaces, subsidies, grants or other incentives.  

Transitioning to a participatory budgeting process is another way that people of color in Carrboro can directly impact and feel a sense of ownership over a portion of the Town’s capital budgeting process.  It could also bring more BIPOC individuals to the table for sharing ideas, developing proposals, and voting on community projects.

12) In March, Orange County’s Board of Commissioners voted to allocate an additional, unexpected $1.8 million to the county’s Southern Branch Library project. Do you support the design and funding of the library in its current iteration? Would you lobby the commissioners to do anything differently in regard to the library?

While having our own branch library and other important county services in the same location is desired by many, it comes at a very big cost. I would not approve of the 203 Project in its proposed location over other needs such as affordable housing and encouraging commercial spaces that I believe are better aligned with our priorities such as affordable housing and commercial spaces.   The 203 Project will also sacrifice over half of the currently available parking spots. Currently there are 100 parking spots at the site of the 203 project.  After the project is completed, less then 60 will be available for public parking as the remaining spots will be dedicated for the 203 Project.  We could build or create parking in alternate locations using renewable energy (solar) for EV parking stations while charging for parking.   It does not have to be at the 203 Project if that proceeds as planned.  

13) How do you feel Orange County, municipal, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board officials have handled the COVID-19 pandemic? If you don’t think the pandemic was handled well, what should have been done differently?

Given that COVID called for fast adaptations by school systems and teachers, I think the Orange County, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board officials handled the pandemic response very well. They did a lot of work coordinating relief through various programs such as food distribution, housing assistance, vaccine information and other aid.   

14) What role does Carrboro have in developing the Greene Tract in partnership with Chapel Hill and Orange County? How do you think that land should be developed? What are your priorities for the property?

Carrboro is one of three governmental bodies that owns the Greene Tract and would be partly responsible for approving any plans.  Chapel Hill would be in charge of the zoning.  While it is a challenge to get all three governing bodies to agree on how the land should be developed, it is critical to consider the community impact, especially for those most impacted by the plans, the Rogers Road community.  I think the priority should be for affordable housing, mixed use with an emphasis on minority businesses as well as the land that will be set aside for preservation.   

15) Carrboro has a new police chief whose stated goal is to build trust between the community and the police department. How successfully do you feel the police department is realizing that goal? What, if anything, should the town be doing differently in regards to policing?

From what I understand the Town Council has created policies for the Carrboro Police to work on building trust with the community.  I have read the reports that the Carrboro Police provide to the Town Council. They indicate that the Police department is making progress on implementing these directives. Many of our police officers have taken Community Intervention Training, which was developed with input from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I would like to see this training become a job requirement so all of our officers know how to de-escalate and use non-violent intervention techniques in tense situations. I would like to see the Town provide more social support services, outside of law enforcement that can deal with community issues such as mental health, domestic violence, and homelessness.  One example is the county’s new Street Outreach, Harm Reduction, and Deflection (SOHRAD) program, which is a team of clinical and support staff who connect people with such services, but it is in the pilot stage and needs much further development.   

16) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.

The top three things I would do as Town Council member to address our climate crisis:

1) Encourage use of solar energy: Homeowners and businesses can transition to using more solar energy through private financing from non-profits like C-PACE.  For example, a local downtown business could install rooftop solar panels to save on energy and reduce greenhouse emissions.    

2) Mitigate flooding and stormwater damage: The Town of Carrboro should change from the current 100-year flood standard to a 20-year flood standard for its stormwater systems. This level of protection would provide a reasonable balance between flooding protection and cost. It also develops a realistic expectation that flooding will be happening more frequently and helps encourage action to prevent future damage. The Town should accelerate the still-pending rollout of its RainReady program, including the financial assistance program that would help residents install green solutions to mitigate flooding, which would be paid for by the current Stormwater Utility tax. Given the town’s reticence to improve drainage because of fears of negatively impacting anyone downstream, all new development that is upstream should be planned with more than adequate retention in mind.  

3) Minimize impervious surfaces when planning, permitting, and paving wherever possible. 

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