Name as it appears on the ballot: Amy Fowler
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: https://www.facebook.com/amyfowlerfororange/
Occupation & employer: Pediatrician, Chapel Hill Children’s Clinic
Years lived in North Carolina: 52
1) In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Orange County? If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
The three most important issues Orange County currently faces and my top priorities are 1) addressing the backlog of school reconstruction and renovation needs – COVID-19 has made addressing air quality in our school buildings an especially important issue 2) supporting existing businesses and growing new ones in a rapidly changing environment, and 3) climate action, because we only have one earth.
2. What in your record as a public official or private citizen demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Board of Commissioners?
I currently serve as an elected official as vice chair of the Chapel Hill–Carrboro City Schools Board of Education. In that role, I am very focused on the importance of good governance. I consider evidence presented by the administration and listen to and value input from the public in determining the best course of action. I also work collaboratively with my fellow school board members to best serve the community. Working with the administration, we have made equity a focus of all that we do. This started with rewriting our governing principles and now includes overhauling our code of conduct to become less punitive and more supportive of our students. We have created an equity advisory council and are developing culturally relevant curriculum.
I am also a pediatrician at Chapel Hill Children’s Clinic, where I make important and difficult decisions on a daily basis. I have a BS in biomedical engineering from Duke, and a MD with honors, and a master’s in public health from UNC. I am qualified and experienced in both individual and community-level problem solving. In addition to that, I have long served in a volunteer leadership role for the Autism Society of NC and have served as the leader of the Special Needs Advisory Council of CHCCS. In my professional and service roles, I always strive to work with others to create real, positive change in our community.
3. How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
First and foremost, I define myself as a rational, caring, and fallible human being. Politically, I am a Democrat. I aspire to be progressive on many issues such as education (as noted above), equity, health care, and the environment. It is important to me to actively listen to constituents and make sure that I understand and weigh all sides of an issue before making decisions. As a data driven person, I prefer to study each situation in terms of costs and benefits to ensure that intended results will actually be realized.
4. What is your vision for how Orange County should grow economically? What policies would you like to see implemented to enhance economic development in Orange County?
The Orange County Economic Development Office has done good work recently in attracting several large new employers. We need to continue to grow the commercial tax base to relieve the tax burden on residents. We should continue tax incentives for businesses that provide a living wage/health care and that are environmentally sustainable. We should continue to support flexible working spaces and incubators such as the Piedmont Food and Agricultural Center and the Eno Arts Mill Project. We should collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce to market our assets to desirable businesses. Orange County should also be hosting regular Business Roundtables to bring entrepreneurs, local government and UNC leaders, and potential investors together to discuss ways to retain local start-ups as they grow. At the same time, we need to be looking at our existing local businesses and how we can best support them during these challenging times.
5. What steps should the county take to address challenges related to growth and development, such as sprawl and transportation? In your opinion, what have been the county’s successes in managing this growth in recent years? What about its failures? What would you do differently?
The county should continue to support smart growth that is beneficial to the community and that has minimal negative impact on the environment. The rural buffer has been a successful endeavor in preventing sprawl; whereas, the DOLRT project was a failure in addressing the transportation needs of this county. We need to address the current needs with viable projects such as the North South Bus Rapid Transit with extensions to Hillsborough and Pittsboro and consider a similar BRT between Chapel Hill and Durham. Growth should be concentrated along current transportation routes. An on-demand service for more rural areas also makes sense. We also need to be cognizant of the changing landscape that COVID19 has accelerated, taking into account the likely sustained increase in telecommuting and future use of drones for deliveries, and consider how that changes our transportation needs.
6. Similarly, what should be the county’s role in addressing issues of economic inequality? Do you believe the current board is doing enough to prevent current residents from being priced out?
I support working on economic inequality and social justice in many veins. First and foremost we need to be providing high quality education to all of our students to ensure all students have the skills needed to be career and college ready, including expanding pre-k. I also would support expanding programs and continuing scholarships at the Orange County campus of Durham Tech. We need to continue working on affordable housing, especially focusing on subsidizing home repairs that help residents with fewer resources to stay in their homes. We need to build a transportation network that connects Orange County citizens to work, to school, to social services, and to amenities. And finally, we need to continue to improve the justice system, such as working to eliminate cash bail and continuing preventive and diversionary programs that work to support individuals rather than punish and maintain a cycle of poverty. We must remain mindful of tax rates so that we do not price lower and middle income residents out of their homes.
7. There is a lack of affordable housing in Orange County. What steps do you think the Board of Commissioners could take to address this problem?
The affordable housing bond funds have been used to 1) support repairs and renovations to existing homes, 2) subsidize rents for low income families, and 3) partner with nonprofits to expand affordable housing in a variety of ways. The county is also collaborating with Chapel Hill and Carrboro to provide land on the Greene tract that could be used to develop affordable housing. These are all actions that I support. I believe the county should continue looking for federal and state grant funds and partnering with nonprofits to help expand their efforts on affordable housing. However, as mentioned, we do need to be mindful of tax rates to avoid making Orange County unaffordable for middle- and low-income families.
8. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
Orange County has a great and also complicated history. Over the past few years and especially with recent events, it is important to acknowledge systemic racism. Only then can we work together towards justice and opportunity for all. This starts with individually and collectively making an effort to learn about systemic racism. On this issue, I am the first to admit that I have much to learn and many ways that I need to grow. This is not about pointing fingers, but about healing our entire community and realizing our collective humanity. Then we must actively look at everything we do through an equity lens. Are small business loans and housing supports being distributed equitably. Are we providing transportation equitably? Are we having inequitable environmental impacts based on where we locate a landfill or business? Educationally and in the law enforcement realm, are we providing supports rather than punishments? Can we increase social supports to decrease the need for law enforcement intervention? Asking the tough questions to address systemic racism should not be a push or pull, but a team effort to support all Orange County residents.
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