Name as it appears on the ballot: Alice Gordon
Full legal name, if different: Alice Marie Gordon
Date of birth: July 1, 1937
Home address: 282 Edgewood Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign website: www.alicegordon.com
Occupation & employer:County Commissioner, Orange County
(Former research psychologist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Spouse’s name: Alan Biermann
Spouse’s occupation & employer: Retired Professor
Years lived in Orange County: 37
Home phone: 919-933-9550
Work phone: 919-245-2130 (Clerk to the BOCC)
1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
First I will address an overarching issue with which Orange County must deal, since it will affect all facets of county government. Then I will discuss three specific issues that are important if we are to proactively deal with growth challenges so that we can continue to enjoy our quality of life.
The overarching issue is crafting a sustainable county budget so that we can maintain essential county services that support our core values, while recognizing that the county has significant budget constraints. In these tough economic times, the county must increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations and prudently streamline county services to reduce expenses. We must encourage thoughtful economic development to promote green businesses (e.g. the solar energy companies that located in Hillsborough) and to provide jobs. Support for our local businesses and local farms is crucial. I believe that my experience as a proven leader will be helpful as the county deals with these difficult and complex issues.
My top three priorities, which are related to quality of life issues, are in the areas of schools, the environment, and transportation. I believe I have made a difference over the last few years as a leader in these areas, and I would like to build on those contributions to county government.
My top priority in the area of schools is fair funding of both school systems to address operating and program needs. In partnership with the two school boards, the commissioners must develop a plan for action that will provide this fair funding in a climate of scarce resources. That includes directing more attention to improving older school facilities. I have worked for quality education for students all over Orange County, and believe it is important to support excellent schools, while continuing to remain fiscally responsible.
My top priority in the area of environmental protection is the complete implementation of the county’s Water Resources Initiative. Clean water is one of the county’s most precious resources, and this initiative will help Orange County better protect and more responsibly utilize the county’s water supplies, with an emphasis on ground water protection. For example, the first element in the Water Resources Initiative is the “impact of droughts on ground and surface water availability.” Water is going to be a key element for Orange County’s future, especially as we have experienced extended periods of drought. Orange County, in cooperation with the USGS, completed in 2001 key ground water studies on which this initiative is based, and we should completely implement it, as soon as financially possible.
Other areas that I consider priorities include (1) supporting the county’s Lands Legacy Program, and wisely allocating the bond and other funds already budgeted for land acquisition, when it is financially possible (2) promoting sustainable growth policies, including recycling, (3) protecting open space and completing the parks we promised to build as a result of the successful 2001 bond referendum, (4) pursuing wise land use policies, including the protection of the rural buffer, and implementing the county’s comprehensive plan.
My top priority in the area of transportation is to continue to advocate for improvement in public transit and other alternatives to cars, and for the associated efforts to improve air quality in the region. Triangle Transit provides regional transit services and some areas have local bus service. However, we need other transit improvements including either regional rail, or some comparable mode of transportation, to meet our long-term transportation goals. Otherwise we will continue to see worsening traffic congestion and air quality degradation in the Triangle area. Because I am a member of two regional transportation boards, I am in a good position to positively influence the outcome.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
Effectiveness as a commissioner can be measured in several ways, including the judgment of others concerning your leadership and also by your record of accomplishments. I believe that my record of proven leadership at the county and regional level is a demonstration of effectiveness as a county commissioner.
In 2006 I received the Goodmon Award, presented by Leadership Triangle, for “Exemplary Regional Leadership by an Elected Official.” The award citation stated that, as an Orange County Commissioner, Alice Gordon has “proactively addressed regional growth while enhancing the quality of life that defines the Triangle” and it recognized my contributions in the areas of environmental protection and regional transportation.
Organizations have placed enough confidence in me to choose me for positions of leadership. That includes being the chair and vice chair of the county commissioners. I will mention other leadership positions in my discussion below. Moreover, the Independent Weekly had enough confidence in me to endorse me in all of my previous election campaigns, including 1990, 1994 (when I was one of four candidates featured on the cover of the endorsement issue), 1998, 2002, and 2006. The five groups endorsing me in 2006 included the Sierra Club, which also endorsed me in all of my previous election campaigns.
I believe I have made a difference over the last few years, especially in the areas of school excellence, environmental protection, and regional transportation. These are all areas in which I have been proactively dealing with growth challenges so we can continue to enjoy our quality of life. In two of these areas, initiatives on which I have provided leadership have received national planning awards, as described below.
As a commissioner, I chaired the county-wide group of elected officials that crafted the Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance for Orange County. SAPFO is used to coordinate long-range planning for future school needs and thus it helps prevent future school overcrowding. The effort involved getting agreement from the three towns, two school boards, and the commissioners, and took some negotiating. When it was adopted, the Orange County Planning Director verified that is was the only functional Schools APFO in North Carolina.
I have consistently worked for quality public education for children all over Orange County. I have advocated for the funding of new schools when they are needed while also pushing for the renovation and maintenance of the county’s older schools. That is because of my strong commitment to excellent schools in both school systems. As you know, county commissioners are responsible for providing adequate school facilities. In Orange County we have a done a good job. The challenge now is to continue to provide excellent schools in a climate of fiscal constraint.
My most important legacy as an environmental leader will be my initiatives to make environmental protection a separate function of Orange County government. In the past, environmental issues were handled by the Planning Department. To change that I proposed several initiatives, implemented by the commissioners. A fundamental one was the creation of a separate department for the environment to focus on clean air, clean water, and other environmental concerns. I also proposed the creation of the Commission for the Environment to advise the commissioners on environmental matters such as air quality, biological resources, and water resources. I promoted far-sighted studies of the county’s groundwater resources before there was a crisis, like a drought. Upon completion of those studies, I advocated for the adoption of the Water Resources Initiative, approved by the commissioners, to further protect our water resources and plan for the fair use of our water supplies.
I proposed the creation of, and helped establish, these different parts of county government to strengthen the county’s focus on environmental protection. All of these innovative proposals met initial resistance, either from the staff or some of the commissioners, so it required considerable effort and persuasion to make them a reality. That was particularly true for the creation of the new environmental department, and the associated proposal for a land preservation program, which was initially approved on a 3-2 vote. This national award-winning Lands Legacy Program, adopted in April 2000, is the first comprehensive land acquisition program in North Carolina. The program acquires or otherwise protects the county’s most precious natural and cultural resources before they are lost. In ten years, the County has protected over 2500 acres of land, both for natural resource and farmland preservation, and for parks. This is a success story that is unusual in North Carolina.
In 2007 this program won the Excellence in County Planning Award from the American Planning Association. It was also a finalist for the Leadership in Conservation Award from the National Association of Counties and the Trust for Public Land.
As recent chair of two regional transportation policy decision-making boards — Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro (DCHC) Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Triangle Transit — I have worked for wise transportation planning in the Triangle area. My regional service has included the following responsibilities:
*Current member and 2007 and 2008 Chair, Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) for the Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization
*Current member and 2007 Chair, Board of Trustees for Triangle Transit
Each of these boards is responsible for the planning of millions of dollars worth of transportation facilities. My particular focus while serving on these boards has been to promote public transit in the region, and other alternatives to cars, and efforts to improve air quality.
As an officer of the Triangle Transit Board of Trustees, I spearheaded the creation of the bus service from Hillsborough to Chapel Hill which began operation in 2006, and now is one of the agency’s most successful commuter routes. In recognition of my contributions in the area of transportation, I was given an environmental award several years ago by the Sierra Club.
As the DCHC MPO Transportation Advisory Committee chair in 2007 and 2008, I helped lead the effort to create the 2035 regional long range transportation plan that will guide transportation investments in the Triangle. The DCHC MPO is the regional organization responsible for transportation planning for the western part of the Research Triangle Area. The DCHC MPO is governed by the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), a policy board consisting of elected officials.
In 2009 the two metropolitan planning organizations in the Triangle region were honored with a national award for their collaborative efforts in creating this joint 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan. The National Award for Outstanding Achievement in Metropolitan Transportation Planning was presented to the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO and the Capital Area MPO by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO). The award citation noted that “starting in 2007, the two MPOs departed from their past practice of creating two separate planning documents for the one region. Instead they came together to produce a joint 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan that was adopted in June 2009. FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) has already commended this effort as an example of ‘exemplary practice within the planning process,’ and today AMPO does as well.”
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a progressive Democrat who works on issues such as environmental protection, excellent schools, improved transportation, and responsive county services while promoting fiscal responsibility and effective county government.
What I am going to describe is my approach to county government. I listen to the concerns of all the residents, analyze the facts, and then try to find an approach that will address the concerns. I also try to identify the challenges of the community, preferably before a crisis arises, and propose initiatives to address those challenges.
For example, I proposed the establishment of an Orange County Water Resources Committee and investigation of water resources back in the mid-1990’s, before there was any crisis, like a drought. Now I advocate building on those completed studies of groundwater availability and quality by implementing a “Water Resources Initiative” to help us better plan for our long-term water needs. I also proposed various initiatives to make environmental protection a function of county government, with the result that our “Lands Legacy” program has successfully preserved precious county lands before they were lost. My work also includes promoting the protection of open space and the provision of park and recreation facilities.
Another example is the leadership role I played in establishing a Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to keep up with school facility needs before the county fell too far behind. The children all over the county need adequate schools in which to receive their instruction.
In the area of transportation, I have promoted public transit and efforts to improve air quality. For example, it was through my leadership that the Triangle Transit bus route was established between Hillsborough and Chapel Hill. I will continue these efforts in another term.
In general, I have worked to provide the infrastructure — whether it be green infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, school infrastructure — that the county needs to sustain the wonderful quality of life we enjoy now. When the infrastructure is in place, then the county can better provide the programs and services that our residents require. Fifty years from now and on into the future, I want Orange County to be a community where it is still a great place to live.
Finally, I work hard as a county commissioner because I care about Orange County and the people who live here. I work for effective and transparent county government. I ask the hard questions, do my homework, and people know they can count on me to do what I say.
4. Provide a candid assessment of the county’s waste transfer site location process, what went well, what didn’t and what can be learned from the debate? Do you agree with shipping trash to Durham? How ultimately should Orange County dispose of its trash?
The commissioners worked to make the most recent process for siting the waste transfer station (WTS) comprehensive and systematic, and attempted to get the public involved at every step of the way in the development of the siting criteria. The commissioners added extra meetings and spent a lot of time trying to move the process forward in a timely manner. Of course not everyone took advantage of the opportunity to shape the selection criteria. Then, after the final WTS sites were identified, there were months of discussion involving residents who lived near the potential sites whereas most members of the general public were not involved. Meanwhile, the county did not really engage the municipal partners in the site selection process, although some weighed in at the end.
What I learned was that all the stakeholders should be involved at the beginning, and from the start there should be a consensus among all the stakeholders concerning the process and the desired end result. The membership of the board of commissioners has changed over time, but in this search and previous searches for solid waste sites, the result has been the same great difficulty in reaching a decision. It is a structural and process challenge.
Shipping the waste to Durham is an interim solution only, recommended by the new county manager and adopted by the commissioners as a short term solution. We need to figure out a long-term solution that will work in a fair and environmentally responsible way to handle the trash we all generate. To do that, we need to start all over to see if we can agree on a new technology or a fresh approach to solid waste disposal so that we can handle our waste in clean and sustainable ways The answer as to how Orange County should ultimately dispose of its trash will only come via a collaborative effort by all the stakeholders to address this challenge. We also need to recognize and keep up the good work that Orange County has done in recycling its trash. Orange County is a leader in the state in its percentage of waste reduction.
5. The county is culling, combining and eliminating some of its advisory boards and commissions because of overlap and inaction. What types of advisory boards and committees are productive and useful to the board? Which boards should be eliminated? How will you work with these groups in office?
The most productive and useful advisory boards are those that provide special expertise and/or that study issues in depth to deliver a well-reasoned recommendation to the commissioners. It is the responsibility of the commissioners to provide these boards with a clear mission so that the boards can help the commissioners reach agreed-upon goals and objectives. The commissioners have insisted that we get input from the advisory groups before taking definitive action concerning merger or elimination, with the understanding that the county has dwindling resources for staffing all of the existing boards. The most likely result will be that some boards with similar missions will be merged in such a way that they can still fulfill the essential missions that the separate boards fulfilled in the past. The way I work with advisory boards is to carefully consider their recommendations and to sometimes attend their meetings, and I do not see that changing. I am tremendously appreciative of all the work our advisory boards and commissions have done for Orange County. They leverage our precious resources and allow the county to do many things we would not be able to do otherwise.
6. What your position on library services in Orange County? To what extent should the country pay for the Chapel Hill Public Library and how much money can the county reasonably afford to commit to this effort?
I support our public libraries and believe that library services are a significant part of our community and play an important part in lifelong learning for our residents. The county has just finished construction of a new county library in Hillsborough. There are plans, based on library services task force reports, for improved library services in other parts of the county when financially possible. The county has in its budget funding for a southwest Orange County library in Carrboro (to replace the branch library at McDougle Middle School and the Carrboro Cybrary), and continued support of a branch library in Cedar Grove. The county is currently discussing the possibility of increased funding for the Chapel Hill Public Library.
I believe the county should pay more than is now budgeted to support the operation of the Chapel Hill Public Library, in recognition of its provision of valuable library services for those outside the town. How much money will be provided is under discussion, but I believe we should provide some increase in funding. We should also work with our municipal partners on a long term plan for comprehensive library services in this county that we can all agree to support.
7. Do you support the half cent regional rail tax? How do you envision regional rail working for Orange County. Where will it connect? When and how?
I support the half cent sales tax for public transportation, which will be subject to the vote of the people in a referendum. The county commissioners are responsible for placing that referendum on the ballot, and will not be able to do that until the economy improves. Initially the sales tax will support expanded bus service, and only later will light rail be constructed in Orange County and the Triangle area. There are also other sources of revenue, including an increased vehicle registration fee, which are figured into the county financial plans.
The proposed Orange County transit plan is based on the joint 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan approved by the two regional metropolitan planning organizations, and describes the services that we could afford over the next 25 years. The county’s proposed transit plan has changed over time, and will most likely continue to change, so I will only be able to describe the situation as of this writing, in March 2010. The light rail corridor, as now proposed, would start in Chapel Hill near the UNC Hospitals, go to East 54 and Meadowmont, and then across the county line to Leigh Village in Durham County. Also, as now proposed, the light rail service would start in Orange County ten or more years from now. Expanded bus service, with 34,000 hours of increased service annually, is proposed in the near term for areas in Orange County, with the exact routes to be determined. Triangle Transit staff and staff from the local jurisdictions have been preparing the proposed plan, with some presentations to local leaders. Local elected boards will be reviewing the proposal in the future.
8. As a commissioner, how will you provide effective oversight of the many county departments, sheriff’s office, etc. while in office?
As you know, under our current form of county government, the county commissioners provide policy direction and hire a county manager to implement that policy and run the county government. The commissioners hire and directly supervise only the manager, the attorney, and the clerk to board. The manager, in turn, supervises most of the county departments. Exceptions are the departments run by elected officials (sheriff, register of deeds) and those supervised by their own boards (Health Department, Department of Social Services). So the first thing we need to do as commissioners is hire a good manager.
To provide effective oversight, the commissioners must set clear policy direction and then be diligent to make sure that policy is effectively implemented. I always read my agenda materials thoroughly, do my homework and ask the hard questions. I try to find out the pros and cons for what the manager recommends, study the issues so that I am knowledgeable, and then form an independent judgement concerning the best way to act. If the manager does not follow the policy direction of the commissioners, then it is the job of the commissioners to hold the manager accountable.
The annual review and evaluation of the manager is an important part of the oversight process. This review is significant because every year the commissioners, at their organizational meeting in December, formally appoint (or not) the manager, attorney, and clerk. If Board policy is not being implemented effectively, then the Commissioners will address the necessary improvements at that time. Ultimately it is the power to hire and fire the manager that allows the commissioners to hold that person accountable. For the departments not directly supervised by the manager, there are separate evaluation methods in place. For the sheriff and register of deeds, the chair of the commissioners participates in the evaluation, and for the Health and Social Services departments, a commissioner is a member of the board that does the evaluation.
In addition, since the commissioners are the ones who approve the county budget, they have the power of the purse with respect to all county operations, so there is an incentive for county staff to follow the policy direction set by the commissioners.
9. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
My election would help because I would continue the progressive direction that I have taken already. Let me give you examples of some of the things I have supported. I have continued to support our work in promoting human rights and relations, including women’s rights; and to support paying a living wage and providing health benefits for domestic partners. I have supported our affordable housing bonds and our other endeavors to increase the amount of affordable housing. We believe in caring human services in the areas of health and mental health, and social services. Furthermore, we encourage diversity in our advisory boards and commissions, solicit extensive public comment before we take action, and try to make our services accessible to all of our residents, including our seniors, children, those with low income, women as well as men, and those in both rural and urban areas. We have a Skills Development Center and have built a Durham Technical Community College satellite campus to bring job training to people in our county. We also encourage small businesses and green businesses, and buying locally.
The other thing I would point to is the work I have done in the area of schools, the environment and land use, and regional transportation. We cannot have a just society without the basic things that all people need, including clean air and clean water. We need excellent schools for all of the children in the county. We need a transportation system that is not dependent on cars, both for environmental reasons and so that people who do not own cars can get to their jobs, their doctors, and other essential services. I also bring a regional perspective, a Triangle-wide perspective to issues, as well as the perspective of encouraging cooperation within Orange county. That will be helpful in building a just community here in the Triangle.
10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.
As the county budget gets tighter, there are going to be more and more issues which will cost me popularity points with at least some voters. What I have done recently is to object to cost-overruns in building construction or renovation, and instead to advocate that we keep the original budget even though there are groups that would like the additional features. So I anticipate that in the future most of my unpopular stands will revolve around budget cuts. I will continue to do what I have done in the past, which is to analyze the pros and cons for each issue, and base my decision on the facts.
In the past, a principled stand that brought me many negative comments was one which involved the commissioners speaking out on a controversial national issue. Some people have told me that the commissioners should stick to local issues and not get involved in national politics. I experienced that as a reaction to resolutions to end the war in Iraq that were on the agenda of the Orange County Commissioners. In that case, I felt that federal priorities were misplaced, and that as a result, local interests and local governments were being negatively affected.