Brenda Howerton

Executive Coach/Management Consultant

Years in Durham: 30years


1. In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County? If elected, what would be your top three priorities?

The most important issues currently facing Durham County are:

• Creating Jobs and Strengthening the Economy

• Strengthening Education…Improving outcomes for children, youth and teachers

• Building safer neighborhoods…enhancing community trust and justice

• Investing in affordable housing initiatives…creating strong, stable neighbors where families thrive

• Promoting healthy lifestyles…boosting wellness, vitality and quality of life

If re-elected the top three priorities will

In conjunction with these priorities will be an inherent need to address regional growth. Our region is expected to experience robust growth adding approximately one million new people in the next 15-20 years. This means that we must work to achieve the strongest foundation and investment for creating jobs, strengthening our education, building safer neighborhoods and affordable housing opportunities for our current residents and planning for future growth that will benefit new and current residents.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Durham County Board of Commissioners? (This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.)

As a commissioner and as a business woman I have a long-standing record of leadership and achieving results. In both areas, I have been most effective in representing the needs of the community, building consensus and utilizing my analytical skills to study the issues with an understanding I represent a diverse constituency. In addition, I have a very clear understanding of what it means to govern—to not just talk about the issues –but to put in place the policies and procedures that allow real change to take place. At the County level, I have been very instrumental in advocating for public investments initiatives through economic incentives. As our downtown has redeveloped, I have supported incentivizing the Downtown Innovation District for new hotels and most recently the Park Center Project, which will be an important vibrant economic center for our community.

I have also advocated for the Whitted School that adds pre-school and senior living, also support expanding pre-K Universal school services to all four year olds in Durham whose parents want such services,

building of safe neighborhood that are walkable (have sidewalks, bicycle trails, etc) and be safe, whereby the city has already accepts Safe Streets and must be close to good schools.

Although rising home prices and rents reflect the vibrancy of the Durham economy, with that comes the unfortunate potential for displacement of lower income residents. The City of Durham, through both the Community and Development Department and the Durham Housing Authority, has the responsibility and authority to address issues of displacement of lower income residents. Durham County Government has no jurisdiction over these issues within the city limits. However, in regulating development outside the city limits, the Board of County

This type leadership I believe is important in making sure that there is social and economic opportunities for all of our citizens.

3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

Politically, I am a Democrat. I believe in government by the people and for the people. I firmly not only believe but practice that all people should be treated with respect and should be afforded equal treatment in justice, work devoid of discrimination based on status, age, race, creed, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

My political philosophy is why I have been given the distinction of being the “People’s Commissioner. In my past and current achievements I have been a leader to promote reforms in our education and justice system where I serve on Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Public Health Board, Durham Crime Cabinet, With the number of citizens returning to our community that have criminal records we must as a community create an environment of acceptance and empowerment.

-I define myself as a professional leader with a desire to embrace the quality of life for all of Durham. Whether it’s being an advocate for good schools, solid economic development, quality public service or fighting at the state level to make certain that those who need a helping hand get it. My basic philosophy and belief is that everyone deserves a fair share and equal chance to succeed.

4. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election help further that goal?

My re-election to the Board of County Commissioners would guarantee that the programs, policies and tremendous effort and commitment that I have put forth will continue. The current work has been the results of cooperative efforts among the County Board, City of Durham and agency and nonprofit organizations coupled with the citizens to build a better Durham. I will continue to Work with the City to continue the Downtown Durham Renaissance through strategic public-private partnerships and economic development incentives, work with the School Board to increase the high school graduation rate, collaborates with the Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils (JCPC) to galvanize community leaders, locally and statewide, to reduce, and prevent juvenile crime and advocate at the State level to be a voice for Durham through the NC Association of Counties

I have always advocated for fairness and equity in all of my public work and will continue to do so with the same vigor and integrity in the future.

5. What is your vision for development in Durham County? What sorts of development do you believe the county should encourage? What steps do you think the county should take to reduce sprawl? What should the county do to create more affordable housing?

My vision for development in Durham County has to be built on a balance of smart growth strategies, with affordable housing opportunities for everyone to participate. It also has to be inclusive of current residents. As our community will continue to grow and change. Whether it is in the construct of a vibrant downtown or a thriving suburban community all should benefit. I see continued investment in our infrastructure, including expanded transportation through our Light Rail and expanded bus efforts to reduce congestion, improve mobility without compromising the communities that have voiced concern. As we build homes, I see a Durham that has in place strong development strategies and policies that are inclusive carefully vetted to make sure that certain group and demographics are not priced out of the market places.

I see the County supporting the City in initiatives that encourage mixed use developments that offers space for citizens to live, work and play within close proximity. Given the future population growth projections, some sprawl will occur. It is what we can expect from Johnston County to Mecklenburg County over the next several years.

Reduce Sprawl. The key is for to the County and City officials to be strategic about how we plan “our “future.

Affordable Housing: The County will have to not only a vison but put in place policies that incentivize developers and leverage community assets in the development of affordable housing with private development. We will also have to work closely with the housing authority and the neighborhood services to develop strategies to keep housing affordable. One possible strategy, consider unused public land and have policies designed to get development started quicker (like higher taxes for land that sits idle). “Inclusionary planning,” meanwhile, allows developers to build more densely in return for commitments to make more affordable housing available.

6. Parts of Durham’s future development plans are closely tied to the updated comprehensive plan. What changes to the comp plan do you believe the city and county need to make?

First of all, I believe that planning is critical to Durham’s future. I spend time with the experts in our planning department listening and understand that the Comprehensive Plan is an effective tool that has the benefit of both the County and City input and additional input from the community. Per our Planning Director Our comprehensive plan of 2005 has had many modifications that are limited in scope, with the growth of Durham. It is time for the City/County to do a new comprehensive plan from scratch. We need a policy that reflects the current community vision of how we would like to see Durham development and to ensure that a development is consistent with us becoming a sustainable community that serves the needs of our citizens.

7. At a meeting in January, the DPS Board of Education discovered that it needed to cut as much as $16 million from the 2016–17 budget. Do you believe the county commission needs to find additional revenue to fund public schools? If so, how would you go about doing so?

We have heard from the teachers and unions that additional revenues are needed for salaries. Generation of these funds can only be achieved with the engagement and support of the North Carolina General Assembly and the School Board working together with the County.

There is no question that well- financed schools are important to the success of Durham. However, at present, Durham is the third highest funded school district in the state, but as it has been pointed out by many over the past year; our academic outcomes are not commensurate with our funding model. The commissioners have presented the school board with a Memorandum of Understanding that calls for reporting requirements and progress data. Once we come to and agreed upon MOU between the County and Schools, I am comfortable supporting and providing additional funding for schools and increased pay for our teachers. I believe increases should be data driven and if the data indicates that our district is making progress on student academic outcomes it will be an easier prospect to have additional revenues allocated.

8. Last year the legislature ended a waiver to the federal food-stamp program, limiting the ability of able-bodied adults without dependents to access food assistance. This change will affect as many as 2,700 people in Durham County. What do you believe the county should be doing to help this population?

The County’s role in addressing the administrative action should be to continue working through our legislators, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and even our League of Municipalities to lobby for a different legislative direction. This action is equivalent to an unfunded mandate and it means that the only way for our community to absorb such cuts is through the local property tax. This approach is unsustainable to our local government and negatively impacts the much needed assistance for our local citizens in poverty. Durham County has a very strong Health and Human Service Division that works to address the growing as well as unmet needs. In addition, Durham County works with the City and supports a network of non-profit organizations that work to provide and fill in the gaps.

9. Over the past year, there have been frequent protests outside of the Durham County Detention Center over allegations of unsanitary conditions, lackluster health and mental-health care, and gouging by jail contractors. In December, Chairman Michael Page told the INDY he would propose an independent investigation into the jail. Do you believe such an investigation is necessary and should move forward? What changes, if any, do you believe the sheriff’s office should make regarding the jail?

Yes, I believe an investigation is necessary along with the Sheriff and the Board of Commissioners has requested an independent review of jail operations by a federal entity. In addition the jail is inspected and reviewed often by Public Health, the State and other parties to make certain that the jail is complying with all rules and regulatory policies. I believe changes will be determined by the results of the investigation. That has already been ordered.

I also think we need a mental health provider on call and not have 16-year olds in our jail. We are one of the only two state that treat 16-year olds as adults.

10. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

As an elected official I am prepared to take a stand on issues that may be unpopular even if it means losing some votes or support from some constituents. While it is my intent to be a leader of integrity where I stand up for my values and principles and those of the community when divisive issues are raised, I believe I am able to take on the difficult issues with confidence.

I support light rail even though it has not been popular in some neighborhoods, even with the opportunities of creating jobs and economic development.