Name as it appears on the ballot: Jean Hamilton
Party affiliation: Democratic
Campaign website: jeanhamilton.org
Occupation & employer: clinical social worker, Jean Hamilton Counseling PLLC
1) In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing Orange County? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?
The most three most pressing issues facing Orange County are: providing quality education to all students, including addressing aging school facilities and systemic racism; supporting the needs of vulnerable residents, including those who are elderly, disabled, and immigrants especially given the Covid-19 pandemic; and sustainable economic development. To address these issues, I will look to re-allocate county resources, as well as, strengthen partnerships with public, non-profit, and business sectors, and the community. I addition, I will review how well the county is providing services to the community, including how well the Orange County Board of Commissioners functions.
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.)
My service on the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) Board, including my elected tenure (2005-2009) and two board appointments (2010-2011; 2019), has direct relevance to effective I will be on the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC). First of all, the school funding is a significant part of the county budget and I understand the needs of the schools very well. Second, I am used to being on a board that works with a hired manager, both in government and the non-profit sector, and I understand the balance of support and oversight. Third, during my CHCCS Board service, I was not afraid to ask hard questions and look to improve the functioning of the Board including especially in dealing with the evaluation of the Superintendent, establishing efficient Board meetings, demanding timely information on the results of school district initiatives and refusing to accept incomplete or incorrect data. I did not hesitate to say no to the expansion of programs if the costs outweighed the benefits. I welcomed community input always and worked to facilitate conversations among board members. Fourth, I have experience on non-profit boards like Women AdvaNCe and the ArtsCenter Board where I brought the same approach as a thoughtful, fact-based, collaborative decision-maker. Finally, in my work as a social worker I served clients/patients in group homes, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and private residents across the Triangle including Orange County so I have a deep knowledge of the health and social service needs among different populations.
3) How do you define yourself politically, and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I define myself as a progressive who believes in liberty and justice for all. And I define “all” to include everyone, no matter what race, color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, or class. To attain liberty and justice for all we have to address systemic racism, provide a strong social safety net, promote sustainable economic development, and invest in our children through strong public education. This political philosophy is reflected in my campaign platform focused on education, economic development, the environment, and equity, as well as, in my service on the CHCCS Board and non-profit boards.
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?
I think that the county has to grow economically in a way that is consistent with our values of protecting the environment and promoting equity. The county has made good progress in bringing commercial projects including ABB, Medline, and healthcare technology company WELL to Orange County that diversify the tax base and increase jobs. I would continue supporting the efforts of the Economic Development Department and assess which initiatives are most beneficial and if the incentives we provide pay off for the county. Included in the assessment would be how many jobs went to Orange County residents versus employees from out of town. I will also encourage regulations and processes that do not put up unnecessary barriers to new business and encourage coordination with the public school systems and Durham Tech to train the workforce.
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 existence of the rural buffer has helped contain urban sprawl and make sure we have adequate water supplies and public services. The rural buffer also protects our environment through protecting tree stands and allowing corridors for wildlife to live and travel. The county needs to take into account the capacity of the public schools as well as the preservation of natural spaces as it pursues sustainable growth. Transportation is an area where the county has not been as successful. The light rail was an expensive failure. I will bring an evidence-based approach to analyze transit decisions. I see improved bus service, including bus rapid transit system in key corridors, as a better solution than light rail for Orange County, given the lower upfront cost and the flexibility for meeting the needs of a county with rural areas and urban centers.
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?
The county should focus on providing the strongest social and health safety net that it can to the most vulnerable residents, support public education to set the foundation to decrease economic inequality, support sustainable economic development, and confront systemic racism. The board has limited influence on the market forces that drive gentrification; however, it should review zoning ordinances to see if there can be denser housing in existing neighborhoods and support affordable housing developments.
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?
I think Orange County can do more to provide housing for lower-income residents. The county has limited control over market forces when it comes to increasing housing prices. I think that the county should strive to achieve affordable housing for those with earnings below 60% of AMI through a wide range of possible solutions. These solutions could include preserving moderate-priced housing, rehabilitating existing homes, offering a rental subsidy programs, and developing affordable housing that is targeted to low- and middle-income workers. As a commissioner, I would encourage owner-occupied affordable housing to foster household investment in the community and build individual wealth. Affordable housing should be spread as evenly across the county as possible; however, more affordable housing should be located near good public transit to help residents without cars get to jobs and services. We also need to make plans for mobile home park residents and those who need emergency housing.
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.
I would re-direct the quarter cent climate tax to be used to address deteriorating school facilities with a priority on projects that would address energy inefficiency as well as health and safety. This aligns with my view that the county commissioners have to focus on their responsibility to provide safe and healthy school facilities that promote student learning and invest in our future.
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