Name as it appears on the ballot: Heidi Carter
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.heidicarter.com
Occupation & employer: Durham County Commissioner
Years lived in North Carolina: 58
1.) In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County? If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
I think our most important issue is setting the County on a path that brings prosperity for all. As we move into a new decade with a swelling population and a growing economy, we need careful planning and thoughtful decision-making to ensure new investments coming to Durham benefit us all.
My two top guiding principles for decision-making are racial equity and environmental sustainability, and I think we must focus on three interlocked areas to bring shared prosperity: health, education and economic security. I work hard on complex social challenges in these three areas every day, and you can count on me for the following:
First, to build a culture of health for all in Durham, I am devoted to:
· Aggressive carbon-reduction policies and changes that make Durham greener
· Safe, affordable housing in neighborhoods free from drugs and violence
· Access to nutritious food from local farms and distributors
· Strong public health and social services that connect people with the resources they need
· Sustainable growth that protects our natural resources and watersheds
· Pedestrian- and bike-friendly trails and open spaces for physical activity and recreation
Second, to guarantee outstanding educational opportunities, I will fight for:
· A fully funded Durham Public Schools budget for school operations, maintenance, and school construction
· Expanded access to universal, high-quality Durham Pre-K
· Delicious, nutritious food in our schools that 20,000 children depend on each day
· Prevention of adverse childhood experiences and trauma for families
Third, to promote a vibrant economy with opportunities for everyone, I will work hard for:
· Economic development that creates well-paying jobs and benefits our residents and communities
· Work-force development that aligns our residents’ skills with jobs coming to Durham
· Transit options that serve the needs of all and connect people to jobs, schools and services
· Increased County contracting with local and minority businesses
I believe these initiatives in these top three priority areas are critical for ensuring prosperity for all.
2) What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Board of Commissioners? Please be specific.
My 12 years of experience on the Durham Public Schools Board of Education (including four years as Vice-Chair and another four years as Chair) and my current role as a Durham County Commissioner are the foundation of my qualifications for being re-elected to serve in this role again for a second term. These positions have enabled me to gain extensive experience overseeing and evaluating the administration of large public institutions.
Nearly one third of the County’s General Fund is allocated to the public schools, and I have a solid understanding of the DPS budget and NC public school finance. I also now have three years of experience with the development and management oversight of the County’s budget and capital improvement plans. I have participated in the recruitment, hiring and evaluation of three superintendents and in the evaluation of the County Manager, Sheriff, Register of Deeds, County Attorney and our Clerk.
Along with financial and personnel management, I have led the creation of policies and programs to shape the growth and development of our school system during a period of trying times for public schools and now of our County, as we work to manage our growth. My deep knowledge of DPS policies, programs and practices is an excellent base for strengthening the Board of Commissioners-School Board relationship.
I have worked with a variety of community stakeholders during my tenure on the School Board and County Commission, including collaborating with City, County, and State elected officials and leaders, and the relationships I have formed will facilitate ongoing partnerships.
I was a member of the Durham County Board of Health for eight years and understand the County’s public health needs and services. In general, I am very interested in the array of services that the County manages, especially Education, Public Health, Mental Health, and Social Services. The County also plays an important role in economic development. I have been a member of the City-County Economic and Workforce Development Board and support an alignment of our workforce development and our economic development practices.
In addition to these experiences, I am extremely hard-working and conscientious. I have a record of doing my homework, following through on responsibilities and using sound approaches to policy development. I research all issues thoroughly in order to evaluate the costs and benefits of all decisions. I listen and learn from constituents and respond to every email and phone call I receive. I seek consensus when making Board decisions, am an excellent team member and work well with others. I have refined my communication skills as an elected official for the past 15 years and am comfortable speaking both publicly and interpersonally.
I have a record of championing important initiatives and fostering collaboration across sectors of government, while maintaining focus and sustaining ongoing investment. A prime example is my work, which began when I was Chair of the school board and continues now in my role as a County Commissioner, to make significant strides toward universal preK in Durham. I led the creation of a task force, jointly commissioned by the City, County and School District, to recommend steps forward in the development and implementation of Durham’s locally funded preK program. We are now providing over $5 million toward the expansion of access and quality of preK in Durham for our four-year-olds, especially for children from families with low incomes who could not otherwise afford a high quality preK experience.
There are fifteen running for County Commissioner, and there is a lot of talk about progressive values. What sets me apart is that I have a record of progressive leadership and have made change happen. Here are a few examples:
- For more than 30 years, I have championed our public schools
- I authored the first DPS Living Wage policy and Wellness Policy
- I helped create the vision for the DPS Hub Farm
- I led the way for Universal Pre-K
- I’ve been the strongest voice on the Board advocating for and securing increased funding for teachers and schools
- I supported redevelopment of county lots with 300 affordable apartments
- I pushed for eviction diversion and support for renters
- I set targets for 100% renewable energy and led the ban on plastic water bottles
- I pushed for an economic development policy that makes business incentives contingent on enhanced community benefits
- I was the first commissioner to advocate against charges for protesters who toppled the confederate statue on county land, and I pushed the board to say the statue had zero value
I remain focused on policies that eliminate disparities in education, health and economic security.
3) One of Durham County government’s primary responsibilities is school funding. A 2018 report from ProPublica found a wide gap between black and white DPS students in terms of discipline, achievement, and opportunity; it also rated DPS high in segregation. Is there anything the county can or should be doing to combat these issues?
Absolutely! The highest quality public education system, one that eliminates disparities in discipline, achievement and opportunity and is where all of Durham’s families choose to send their children for school, is my top priority. The state is constitutionally responsible for providing a sound basic education for our children in a unified system of public schools, but per pupil funding for public schools in NC has not returned to its pre-recession levels, when adjusted for inflation.
This puts tremendous pressure on County governments to provide extra funding our schools need to succeed with all children, and I believe we must do all that we can to fully fund the requests of the DPS Board of Education. The Board of Education has a strong strategic plan, and the County has a role to play in helping fund its implementation.
The County is also stepping up to help tackle gaps in discipline, achievement and opportunity by providing funding for universal preK, so that our lower income four-year-olds who might otherwise not have a high quality preK experience will indeed have one.
The research is strong that there is a significant and lasting return on a community’s investment in early childhood education in improved school readiness, decreased exceptional children and discipline costs, increased earning potential, decreased crime, and improved health for those who attend high quality preK. Durham PreK will help all children arrive in kindergarten fully prepared to learn and flourish socially, emotionally and academically.
The County is also helping fund Community Schools Coordinators in two schools out of a four-school pilot study. The Community School model is one that values high quality teaching over high stakes testing, genuine parent and teacher engagement and empowerment, continuous improvement science to identify challenges and set goals, and coordination of community resources to support children and families in the schools. This model has the potential to address educationally relevant social disparities that can affect school outcomes.
Children will do well in school when they live in decent housing in safe neighborhoods, have nutritious food at every meal, have access to the healthcare they need, and have the necessary family and community supports. The County has a role to play in providing funding in these areas, as well. The County has increased funding for eviction diversion support, emergency rental assistance, and is building over 300 affordable apartments at 300 and 500 Main Street in mixed use developments. The County supports the many social support services within the Department of Social Services and the Department of Public Health. These are all ways the County helps improve school outcomes.
4) In your view, what effects have charter schools had on education in Durham? Do you believe they have increased segregation, as critics contend? Or have they offered opportunities to those who would otherwise be trapped in poor-performing schools, as supporters say?
The unfortunate reality is that charter schools have become a substantial part of the education landscape in Durham County, especially since the NC General Assembly lifted the 100 count cap on NC charter schools. Durham is among the top counties with the greatest number of charter schools per capita. Currently, approximately 10,000 children from Durham and the surrounding region attend one of 14 Durham brick-and-mortar charter schools. The large number of charter schools in Durham has led to another reality—the creation of a two-tiered education system.
As the number of charter schools has grown in Durham, the public schools have become increasingly segregated by race and class. Additionally, the increase in charter schools is associated with greater numbers of schools with very high concentrations of disadvantaged students, the overwhelming majority of whom are African American and Latinx. Given these realities, charter schools should play a limited role in educating our children, and our community’s energy should flow to Durham Public Schools and the 33,000 children they educate.
There are many good people who have supported the creation of charter schools and continue to believe these schools can help improve academic outcomes for students. There are many parents, avidly seeking the best education possible for their children, who choose charter schools. And there is much good teaching and learning taking place in some of our charter schools.
Despite these truths, charter school policy is not good public policy for several reasons. First, charter schools have not led to the improvement of traditional public schools in the US or in North Carolina, as is demonstrated by research on charter schools in NC by Duke University’s Helen Ladd and by the national 2013 CREDO (Center for Research on Educational Outcomes) report. Second, charter schools make it more challenging for traditional public schools to serve the community’s children, the vast majority of whom will attend our traditional public schools.
The challenges include an inability to accurately project student enrollment which drives the budget and efficient financial planning, an inability to effectively plan for the siting of a school based on projected enrollment/capacity, and diminished resources for educating what is often a higher-needs population of students.
The state’s budget for charter schools has grown from just over $16 million in 1997 to more than $674 million for the 2018-2019 school year, and most of that money would have gone to school districts for traditional public schools. A recent study https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3082968 by Helen Ladd found a large and negative fiscal impact in excess of $500 per traditional public school pupil in one urban school district, which translates into an average fiscal cost of more than $3,500 for each student enrolled in charter schools. Third, charter schools in Durham tend to be hyper-segregated and have accelerated re-segregation in DPS.
If charter schools are going to co-exist alongside our traditional public schools, it is important that they offer innovative programming not available in DPS and are located in an area where student enrollment exceeds public school facility capacity. County oversight of charter schools should be comparable to that of DPS. If we assume the NC legislature is going to continue to support and expand charter schools, the state must expand its oversight of financial practices and academic outcomes of charter schools, and they must close all low performing charter schools and schools with financial mismanagement.
The state must limit the expansion of charter schools in NC overall, and especially in counties with a high per capita number of charters. The state should give local boards of education chartering authority to help control for duplication of programming and/or location, to allow a school to be chartered based on a specific need, and to ensure accountability to a governing body elected by the people. Charter schools must provide transportation, school meals, and services for children with limited English skills and special needs.
In order for charters to have any chance of helping to improve outcomes in the public schools, the paradigm in NC government must change from one of competition to cooperation. That is why I spent over a year working with charter school leaders to try to develop a common vision for high quality public schools in Durham and a compact for collaboration.
There are many operational areas where DPS can provide support for charters, but the one way charters could help DPS would be to share the challenge of educating our most high-needs children—those who are poor, have limited English skills or special needs. For DPS leaders, this was the single, non-negotiable element in the draft vision. Our attempts to collaborate with charters fell apart when a commitment to sharing the burden of poverty was not forthcoming.
Without this commitment, attempts to integrate our schools are stymied, and re-segregation is likely to continue. We know that segregated schools belie the promise of public education and American democracy. And we know that diverse schools raise test scores and help kids learn to live with empathy in a multi-cultural world. In as much as charter schools are associated with increasing re-segregation of our public schools, they are harmful to the advancement and progress of Durham’s school system.
We must seek policies, programs and solutions that lead to systemic improvements in public education. Charters schools operate more like private schools with little regard for the good of the system, and for many in North Carolina, are a step toward dismantling public education and replacing it with a more privatized system. Public education system improvements will require a massive shift in thinking, one that at a minimum mitigates against the significant negative externalities of charters on the system.
5) The City-County Planning Committee is reviewing and considering revisions to the Comprehensive Plan and Uniform Development Code. What sort of changes would you like to see emerge from this review? What is your vision for growth and development throughout Durham?
Our new Comprehensive Plan is such an opportunity to plan for a new decade of more shared prosperity for Durham County. I look forward to learning more about our community priorities that emerge from the Engage Durham process. Some elements I would like to see include:
- Promotion of a healthy, livable, safe, environmentally sustainable, beautiful and equitable community for all
- Protection of our natural resources and open spaces
- Discouragement of more urban sprawl which decimates our green spaces, increases carbon emissions, puts residents further away from jobs and services, and strains our infrastructure and maintenance budget.
- Fewer parking requirements and less construction of parking garages which drives up the cost of housing, subsidizes wealthier residents and encourages driving: we should prioritize housing for people, not cars.
- Gentle density, like backyard cottages, duplexes, triplexes, townhomes and small apartment buildings. Until the City and County recently adopted amendments that expanded housing options in the urban tier, these types of units have been restricted in the past, even though these homes are present and well-loved in many of our neighborhoods. More options for more compact homes allow for more affordable housing, more vibrant neighborhoods, more community green space and less carbon emissions.
- Planning for housing and commercial development that is closely tied to how we think about transit. We should prioritize transit-oriented development, making it easier for people to live along transit priority corridors so that they can take the bus to work, bike to school and walk to restaurants and grocery stores.
- Stronger school level of service standards and more careful analysis of school capacity by zones rather than district-wide so that new development does not outpace nearby school capacity
- Development of more permanent supportive housing and transitional housing options for specific special needs populations using federal, state, and local housing programs
- Strengthened conservation and environment elements that support the City and County goals for 100% renewable energy by 2050
- Policies to support increased access to affordable housing to meet the demand, including sites with access to public transit. For example, I support the policy to include a goal of 15% of the housing units around transit stations as affordable for those earning 60% of the area median income
- Land use policies and regulations that support complete streets and transportation options that are not car-centric
- Policies that promote growth through infill and the development of old parcels, rather than harvesting open space or undeveloped land in a pattern that would contribute to urban sprawl
I envision a Durham where development is carefully managed to promote smart and sustainable growth. Durham must expand and develop in ways that will protect our critical watersheds, farmland, open spaces and neighborhoods; bring good jobs with good wages; include a transit plan for the future that meets the transportation needs of all; takes advantage of dense, compact design; promotes bike and pedestrian infrastructure; and leverages existing infrastructure and resources.
6) City voters passed a $95 million bond to fund affordable housing efforts last year. What more should county government be doing to further housing affordability? In light of the ongoing crisis at McDougald Terrace, what steps can the county take to assist those living in substandard public housing?
I am proud of the work that Durham County is doing to directly build affordable housing at 300 and 500 East Main Street. Using publicly owned land for affordable housing is a key strategy for increasing our supply, and I fought to use these two County parking lots for not just parking decks but for mixed use developments of housing, commercial, and office space. Working with our developer (a minority, woman-owned business), over 300 new affordable units will be built downtown near transit and services. This will help prevent downtown from becoming the realm of only rich white people.
Other areas where County government can affect housing affordability include:
- Providing emergency assistance for renters and legal counsel in eviction proceedings
- Aggressive outreach and promotion of the state property tax relief programs (Homestead Exemptions for Elderly/Disabled; Circuit-breaker Deferments for Elderly/Disabled; Disabled Veteran Exclusion), and Home Repair Collaborative
- Adoption of a Local Tax Relief program for low-income homeowners: While the state has put unfortunately strict limits on how we implement local taxes, I believe we can and should explore programs to make property taxes more equitable. The County Commissioners and City Council are exploring the possibility of implementing a Longtime Homeowner Tax Relief Program based on time of residence and income alone. Eligible homeowners would pay an income-limited amount of property taxes. This would be like a local version of the state circuit-breaker approach that permits a deferred tax payment for the amount that exceeds a limit based on income. We need to help all low-income families, not just the elderly, veterans, or disabled, get relief from excessive taxes.
- Reducing other significant costs associated with homeownership, such as those for utilities and repairs. The County has a Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP), which is a federally funded program that provides one-time grants and emergency cash payments that are used to help eligible families pay their heating bills and keep them in their homes. The County also helps fund and coordinate the Home Repair Collaborative to aid with home maintenance costs. I support these programs and continued outreach to raise awareness about them.
- The recent revision of our policy to allow the conveyance of County-owned property to the City for creating or preserving affordable owner-occupied and rental housing
Land use policies are also important in creating affordable housing over the long term. We should design our housing regulations to allow and encourage naturally occurring affordable housing rather than restricting it. More options for more compact homes allow for more affordable housing, more vibrant neighborhoods, more community green space and lower carbon emissions.
Unaffordable housing is caused by a combination of increased costs and stagnant wages. If residents’ wages keep pace with cost increases, then there’s a home that’s affordable. An important long-term strategy for increasing wages is the County’s universal pre-K program. Studies show that a high-quality pre-K experience correlates with greater adult earning potential.
Although the County does not oversee the Durham Housing Authority which manages local public housing, the County can do the following to support public housing residents:
- Continue to attract good jobs with decent wages, like the 2500 jobs that economic development incentives helped attract in 2019-2020. Many of these jobs do not require an advanced degree but pay above the median wage in Durham, on average.
- Invest fully in our public schools and universal preK,
- Provide additional funding for Alliance Health to ensure all residents have access to behavioral healthcare
- Lobby for Medicaid expansion
- Support job training programs
- Fund the enhancement of local bus service so it is more frequent and reliable
7) With the light-rail plan having collapsed, what do you envision as the future of mass transit in Durham? What initiatives would you like to support? What do you believe to be a viable next step?
A public engagement process to develop a new County transportation plan has just begun, and I look forward to hearing the community’s priorities and suggestions, as well as working with the City’s new Transportation Director, who brings expertise from the DC Metro area.
With those details still to come, I anticipate a new public transit plan should include the following priorities:
- Frequent and dependable local bus service
- A network for active transportation
- Regional transit connections
Investment in public transit is a win-win-win: we can fight the climate crisis, improve our economy and reduce racial injustice at once. High-frequency buses can replace many solo car trips for commuting, shopping, entertainment and visiting friends and family. A network of protected lanes that is friendly, accessible and low-stress can make it easy to walk, bike, roll or ride a scooter: not just on the American Tobacco Trail (which I love), but on existing streets and new trails throughout Durham County.
While I strongly supported the light-rail plan for mass transit, we can also make substantial regional connections with commuter rail service through RTP to Raleigh and with bus rapid transit by the Duke, VA and UNC hospitals.
In our budgeting and allocation of public space, we need to consistently prioritize active transportation and public transit over polluting automobile traffic. As a matter of racial equity, reliable bus service is essential for the current GoDurham ridership who are overwhelmingly people of color, and it provides economic opportunity for those people in Durham who don’t have a vehicle.
And for environmental sustainability, our urgent shift towards renewable energy and away from carbon emissions requires more shared trips in buses and fewer miles of driving. Plus, public transit and active transportation are more efficient and will make residents safer, happier, wealthier and healthier!
Durham has a transportation work group composed of lead staff from Durham County, City of Durham, Go Triangle, and the Durham Chapel-Hill Carrboro MPO who report monthly to the Board of County Commissioners on the status of the Durham County Transit Plan’s current implementation and possible revisions, now that the light rail is no longer viable. This work group will be making recommendations for Transit Plan revisions, all the while taking into account the priorities and concerns we learn from the equitable engagement work in the community.
Next viable steps include the continuation of this work with the adoption of a new Durham County Transit Plan in late 2020, which will lay out the priorities for projects the half cent transit tax will fund.
8) Do you believe the county’s current property tax rate is too high, about right, or too low? If you believe it is too high, what programs would you be willing to cut to bring down taxes? If you believe it is about right, how will you accommodate the growing need for services? If you believe it is too low, what programs or initiatives would you be willing to raise taxes to fund?
The property tax rate is about right for the current level of County service provision. As our population continues to swell and our economy grows, we should also expect an increase in tax revenue coming into the County. But the rate of increase has slowed over the past couple of years, and we are also cautioned by our finance and budget staff that we must be ready for a recession, should one ensue. Indeed, we must be prepared for the ups and downs of the market.
The NC General Assembly has reduced funding for critical services in numerous areas, and this puts additional pressure on the local governments across the state. Two examples of areas of reduced funding, when one controls for inflation, are public schools and mental health services for the uninsured. Inflation-adjusted state funding for public schools remains below pre-recession levels, and funding for mental health services for those without Medicaid or private insurance continues to receive recurring cuts each year. Durham has seen more than $67 million in recurring cuts over the past four years, without an expansion of Medicaid. The number of uninsured individuals has not decreased, and their needs are still pressing.
County government spends over $140 million for DPS current expense funding, not including debt service or capital funding, and the County spends over $6 million on mental health services through Alliance Health. With pressures like this on local funds, the possible need for tax increases is omnipresent. Commissioners should always try to find inefficiencies in government spending first and eliminate any programs that are not effective before raising taxes. But if there are essential services that cannot be provided without a tax increase, commissioners should weigh the pros and cons of raising the property tax rate and enact an increase if in the best interest of the community.
I believe that if our community is to achieve prosperity for all, we must invest in pre-K for all. Durham County is currently funding high quality Durham PreK for low income four-year-olds, and I support the continued expansion of this program. If the state refuses to take on this responsibility, then we must do so at the local government level in Durham.
I would consider raising property taxes to fund continued county expansion of pre-K services, if there is no other way to achieve more universal and equitable access. Rigorous research shows that the main direct benefit of early childhood education is the improvement in the life course of the children served. But the benefits of pre-K are broad enough and local enough that taxpayer support can be justified.
One major concern is that as taxes increase, longtime low-income homeowners have tax relief. While there are several state or federal tax relief programs, we don’t have a locally designed program of tax relief. The City and County are offering a new program where longtime homeowners below 30% Area Median Income can defer a portion of their taxes over a 10 year period, or until a disqualifying event. This may provide some needed relief, but I support a tax assistance grant program for these same homeowners. A tax grant program is the only way to provide immediate assistance and preserve wealth of the homeowner.
At the end of the deferral program, the homeowner will owe all unpaid taxes that have accumulated, plus high fees and interest. This will diminish the wealth the resident is trying to build through homeownership. Without a tax assistance grant program, we are allowing property taxation to push people out of their homes. This burden is landing unequally along racial lines, and we must address it. A tax assistance grant program will lead to a decrease in revenue from property taxes, so it will require a tax increase to break even. I support funding this more equitable approach that will help keep people in their homes.
9) Property tax hikes can hit lower-income homeowners the hardest, especially those who own homes in gentrifying areas and are already seeing their land valuations rise as well. Is there anything the county can do to make the property-tax system more equitable?
While the state has put unfortunately strict limits on how we implement local taxes, I believe we can and should explore programs to make property taxes more equitable. The County Commissioners and City Council are exploring the possibility of implementing a Longtime Homeowner Tax Relief Program based on time of residence and income alone.
Eligible homeowners would pay an income-limited amount of property taxes. This would be like a local version of the state circuit-breaker approach that permits a deferred tax payment for the amount that exceeds a limit based on income. We need to help all low-income families, not just the elderly, veterans, or disabled, get relief from excessive taxes. See answer #8 for more.
The County currently has state-approved property tax relief programs for specific categories of homeowners, such as the Homestead Exemptions for Elderly/Disabled, Circuit-breaker Deferments for Elderly/Disabled, and Disabled Veteran Exclusion programs. We must vigorously promote these exemptions and widely disseminate information for residents about these opportunities for tax relief to help prevent displacement, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Another important way to help distribute the tax burden is by reducing other significant costs associated with homeownership, such those for utilities and repairs. The County has a Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP), which is a federally funded program that provides one-time grants and emergency cash payments that are used to help eligible families pay their heating bills and keep them in their homes. The County also helps fund and coordinate the Home Repair Collaborative to aid with home maintenance costs. I support these programs and continued outreach to raise awareness about them.
10) Since the 2018 election, the county’s new district attorney and sheriff have adopted reforms aimed at making the criminal justice system more equitable. Sheriff Birkhead has declined to honor ICE detainers, for example, while District Attorney Deberry has mostly ended cash bail. Do you believe these reforms are working for Durham residents?
I support the reforms Sheriff Birkhead is making in his Office and think he is off to a great start. In particular, I support his position on not conforming with ICE detainers, which are unfair, unconstitutional, and can breed mistrust and increased crime in immigrant communities.
I strongly endorse several innovative programs in the jail, including one of the few Medication-Assisted Treatment programs for opioid addiction for detainees in the US, the mental health pod for male detainees with severe and persistent mental illness, and literacy and GED training and testing which has helped many obtain a high school diploma or equivalent while in jail. Additionally, the jail population is at an all-time low, which is an indication that these reforms, and others, are helping keep people who ought not be in jail out of jail.
11) Last year, Durham saw a spike in homicides over 2018. What can the county do to address violent crime in the community? Are there preventative steps the county can or should take with regard to mental health? Are there any innovative programs in place elsewhere in the country that you would like to see implemented here?
Reducing violence in our County is one of our most pressing issues. I support the formation of a Community Safety and Wellness Taskforce, in partnership with the City Council and Board of Education, to explore ways, not involving law enforcement, to promote safety based on the best practices in other cities. We recently approved the by-laws for such a task force, and we hope this will be up and running soon. The task force will examine evidence-based programs that do not involve armed law enforcement to reducing violence, and they will make recommendations for ones we should consider implementing in Durham.
Some of these programs are based on the premise that violence is a disease, and to decrease it, we must interrupt its spread. Those who have been exposed to violence are more likely to commit acts of violence. Programs that work with youth and others who have been exposed to violence can prevent more violence from occurring.
The County is already funding one evidence-based public health violence prevention program, Bull City United. This program is modeled after the Cure Violence program that has proven successful in other communities. In addition to working with the Office of the Sheriff to reduce violent crime, the County should continue to fund Bull City United. Trusted members of the target neighborhoods identify those at risk of violence in the neighborhood (either by way of perpetration or victimization), and then build relationships with those who are identified in order to reduce risk and increase protective factors, like connections to jobs and services. There are other public health programs that have scientific evidence of being effective at reducing violence, and we should consider adopting others that are a fit for Durham.
Getting guns out of the hands of youth is especially important, because gun violence often ends in death. Among 10- to 24-year-olds, homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans and the second leading cause for Hispanics. The risk of gun violence falls disproportionately on African Americans, especially males. Other interventions that can help reduce guns in the hands of our youth or decrease gun violence are:
- Public education about gun safety, targeted at adult gun owners
- Programs to reduce the fear among youth of being unsafe in their neighborhoods, including better police-community relationships and community-based policing
- Programs that increase opportunities for youth in after-school activities, internships and jobs
- Education to store guns locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition
- Tighter restrictions on gun sales so fewer end up illegally in the hands of youth
Increasing access, improving quality and reducing cost of mental health services are among the County’s most critical challenges. Mental health concerns are at the heart of nearly every social problem, and behavioral health and wellness are the foundation for being able to take advantage of Durham’s opportunities for prosperity.
Our first action should be continued pressure at the state level to expand Medicaid in North Carolina so that more will have mental healthcare coverage. Additionally, we must advocate loudly for the state to eliminate its recurring cuts to funding it provides for uninsured individuals. The state has cut this funding four consecutive years by nearly half a billion dollars statewide, which translates into $67 million for Alliance Health, the Local Management Entity/Managed Care Organization for the provision of mental health services in Durham County for Medicaid recipients and the uninsured.
Durham County should also bolster school-based mental health services and its System of Care, provide continued support for the Behavioral Health Crisis Center and Recovery Response Center, address mental health in the jail and support the jail’s innovative efforts to treat opioid addiction, support Lincoln Community Health Center’s integrated primary care behavioral health program, continue its Cure Violence public health model of stopping violent crime, support access to services for non-English speaking residents (such as El Futuro’s great work), and enlist healthcare and social service providers onto the state’s new platform (NCCARES360) to better connect the clinical services and social services that those seeking mental healthcare often need.
Successfully addressing our community’s mental health needs will require a comprehensive, community-wide approach to achieve maximum collective impact. The County, City, Schools, Faith community, Medical community, Youth, Criminal Justice professionals, and other stakeholders should come together with a facilitator skilled in the “collective impact” framework and develop a community action plan for mental health.
12) Economic inequality rose significantly in Durham County over the past decade (though it declined somewhat from 2017–18). How can county commissioners address this problem and ensure that the county’s prosperity is more equitable going forward?
Please see Q.1 for the full response to this question. To ensure the County’s prosperity is more equitable shared, we must take a comprehensive approach and address challenges in the three interlocked areas: education, health and economic security.
The following are some specific actions the County should take:
- Invest in Durham Public Schools so the district can recruit and retain the best educators and fulfill the Board of Education’s strategic plan; continue to make strides toward universal preK, so all children have a high quality experience and arrive in Kindergarten fully prepared to learn and excel.
- Support the recruitment of well-paying job opportunities for all residents. Over the past year, the County added over 2500 jobs that pay above Durham’s median salary. Many of these jobs don’t require a college degree. But we must do a better job of connecting our residents to the jobs we are recruiting, as only 40% of jobs in Durham are held by Durham residents.
To better direct jobs to those who need them most, County government can:
· Link incentives to Durham-based Business and Workforce Plans for hiring locally
· Use incentives to leverage internships and summer work experience for youth
· Aggressively monitor for compliance with the County MWBE goals set in hiring ordinances
· Support a long-range transportation plan that will connect more people to jobs
To support the development of skills for jobs coming to Durham, the County can:
· Provide stronger support for Durham Public Schools and Durham Technical Community College to educate a demand-driven workforce, providing classes and connections to internships in high-demand industry clusters; improve articulation of coursework leading to industry certification between DPS and Durham Tech; increase DPS graduates taking advantage of Durham Tech Promise scholarships of $1000/year
· Support Made in Durham’s work to develop an aligned education-to-career pipeline that ensures all youth graduate prepared for post-secondary study or with skills for living wage employment by age 25
· Support DPS’s Career and Technical Education 3-2-1 model, where all students in grades 9-12 will have 3 career exposures, 2 work-based learning experiences, and 1 internship before they graduate
· Use economic development incentives to leverage participation in the MID Work-based Learning Collaborative
County government can directly help lift wages by continuing to pay all employees a minimum $15/hour wage plus benefits. The County can indirectly help lift wages by using its bully pulpit to support the Fight for Fifteen Campaign and the Living Wage Campaign.
13) Are there any issues not included in this questionnaire that you would like to address?
We cannot maintain a just, equitable and inclusive community in Durham County without directly confronting the urgent climate crisis. While this is a global issue, climate change has direct impacts on our local environment, and local policy can help fight climate change and develop resilience to it. This is a progressive priority because climate change and pollution have disproportionate negative impacts on our most vulnerable neighbors.
Durham can be a leader in sustainability, with lower carbon emissions and less pollution. We can shift to renewable energy and restore our local environment to help protect residents from the effects of increased heat, flooding and tropical storms. And we can do so in a way that provides economic opportunities.
I was the first local elected official to sign onto the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal pledge to support Green New Deal federal legislation, and I pushed for our 2018 resolution to shift to renewable energy. But we need to take more significant action to fulfill those pledges.
That action should include investing in community solar energy, including for our public schools with a Solar Schools Initiative that we announced recently. It should include energy efficiency retrofits for our public housing communities and low-income homeowners. It should include increased investment in public transit and enabling transit-oriented development so that more residents can use buses, bikes and scooters.
More trails, tree-lined streets and restored wetlands can bolster resiliency to a changing climate while also providing areas for outdoor recreation. And we should have local apprenticeship programs so that these retrofits and construction projects provide jobs to graduates of our schools and community colleges.
Comment on this questionnaire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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