Name as it appears on the ballot: Jen Weaver
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.facebook.com/JennWeaverForTownBoard
Occupation & employer: Stay at home mom, former public policy researcher & yoga teacher
Years lived in Hillsborough: 12
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the Board of Commissioners do differently or better over the course of your term?
I’m running for mayor of Hillsborough because I love this town. I love the landscape, the river, the people, and the shared pride we have in our sense of place. To me, those are things most important to our local character. I care about the future of this sweet place and feel that continuity of leadership is important as we transition away from over a decade with Mayor Stevens at the helm. This is especially important as we face some pretty big challenges such as affordability and the climate crisis. I have six years of experience as a town board commissioner, the temperament to bring diverse viewpoints together to workable solutions, and the courage to speak loudly and clearly when necessary.
The mayor’s position is both outward facing as the go-to voice and face of the town, and inward facing as the facilitator of the group dynamics of the elected body. These are strange and urgent times when both of these skills feel critical. I want Hillsborough to continue to provide excellent services to our community, and I want to us to stay on the path to being an inclusive, sustainable community where everyone can thrive. Doing this work at the local level feels more important than ever. It is so important that our Board be clear about what our priorities are, how we plan to move on them, and remain focused, yet flexible to dynamic circumstances. Our Town was founded over 250 years ago – the choices we make now will determine if it’s still here 250 years into the future. I want future generations to look back and think we acted wisely.
I look forward to serving in this new capacity with colleagues old and new, and I hope Hillsborough will turn out to vote on November 5th.
2) Given the direction of Hillsborough government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Generally speaking, Hillsborough town government is on the right course. We have a strong mission and values guiding our decision-making, including our multi-year budgeting process. We have excellent staff, a good relationship between staff and the Board, and good working relationships among board members. This helps create a culture of trust – the community trusts their town government even when they disagree with decisions the government may make.
As mayor, I hope to encourage the commissioners to be courageous and focused in prioritizing and giving direction to staff to make progress toward our shared goals.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
We need to take care of what we’ve got. This refers to the need of Hillsborough to provide the most basic town services such as public safety, roads, water/sewer, and taking care of our employees. We have several capital investment needs and several critical hires we need to make but we cannot do them all (at once). After several years of stretching “one more year” we are likely at or nearing the end of our ability to do that without raising revenue, likely (but not necessarily) in the form of a bond package, which means raising taxes.
Related to the above is the next challenge – affordability. Hillsborough is becoming less affordable for middle and lower income residents, and that threatens to change the character of our town we treasure so much. Because of our small size, we lack the scale to easily fund capital projects or new hires. Raising taxes a penny brings in an additional $100,000 +/-, which is enough to fund one full time employee, or to build 1/10 of a mile of sidewalk, so every tax raise must be carefully considered to be sure it’s really worth it – getting a bang worth the buck – because we run the risk of making the town unaffordable for the people we most want and need to stay here. If we lose our socioeconomic diversity, Hillsborough won’t be the same Hillsborough we know and love.
Climate change, climate change, climate change. We are already suffering the effects. For example, a road washed out during a storm last year – not a named storm, just a big rain in a small amount of time – and the cost of repair is 3x our entire streets budget for a year. There will only be more incidents like this due to the climate crisis. Hillsborough faces an enormous challenge in discerning how to be resilient in the climate crisis era, and also in how to meet ambitious clean/green energy goals by 2050. We also need to figure out how to get the broader community engaged in lowering the community carbon footprint, as town operations comprise a small sliver of overall Hillsborough emissions. The urgency of doing our part here cannot be stressed enough.
4) What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the Board of Commissioners and its duties? What made you seek this position?
I am seeking the office of mayor because Hillsborough needs a leader who is prepared to step right into that role and keep the board moving in light of several pretty big challenges before us. I have six years of experience on the board and have been a voice for building an inclusive, sustainable Hillsborough since the very beginning. Our community wants to make progress in that direction, our board wants to make progress in that direction, and our staff wants to make progress in that direction. I believe I can help us get there.
5) In light of the recent Klan protests—though the Klan members were not from Hillsborough—how do you believe the town can best project an image of inclusivity? Has the town done a good job of this in the past?
I believe that Klan chose to come to Hillsborough in part BECAUSE of our overt expressions of building an inclusive community. The Klan showing face is part of the lineage of the anger at confederate symbols being taken down in Orange County – beginning with the Hillsborough Town board decision to remove the lettering from the museum, continuing with the banning of the confederate flag in Orange County Schools and the removal of Silent Sam, and protests against confederate flags and flaggers as expressed by both community members and the town board. The Klan, long time users of confederate symbols, came to show they could. That’s it. The Klan is a terrible, dangerous sign that is indicative of rising white nationalism nationwide. Keeping them away is important, but breaking down structural racism is just as important, if not more.
Several things the town board has done to promote inclusivity – several that I am proud to have been the initiator of – are to: pass a resolution against House Bill 2; proclaim the first Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples Day; write an open letter reminding our community who we are, what we stand for and that everyone is welcome here, regardless of status (written and published in the wake of the 2016 elections when the Muslim ban was initiated and ICE activity became much more aggressive). In these types of responses to specific events the town has done a good job of expressing inclusivity. Where we have more work to do is in the more mundane, but extremely harmful area of structural inequality that leaves many of our neighborhoods segregated, our volunteer boards and our town board lacking racial diversity (and thus political power being held mostly in the hands of white people), and our communities of color being the hardest hit by the affordability crunch and gentrification. Finding those remedies, or at least making progress in that direction, is where we get past the mere projection of inclusivity and into it being real.
6) Do you believe the town’s stormwater management plan is effective, or is there a way to make it more efficient and less costly? How can the town decrease the cost of water and sewer services?
The storm water management plan is effective, fair, and experiencing widespread community buy-in, in part because our stormwater program manager really listened to people during the creation of the program and fee structure and made changes based on feedback. The storm water program has done remarkable work in revenue raising for necessary mitigation projects, has facilitated the removal of an incredible tonnage of debris from the Eno, and has helped neighborhoods fix urgent issues by listening, engaging, and prioritizing. Keeping the Eno clean for our downstream neighbors is one of Hillsborough’s most important responsibilities.
7) In your opinion, what are the best methods to lure businesses to Hillsborough? How should the town seek to make itself more attractive? What types of industries should it pursue to grow its tax base?
The best way to lure businesses to Hillsborough is to remain focused on our job to make Hillsborough an inclusive, welcoming place for all kinds of people to live, work, and play, with excellent town services and infrastructure. That’s the kind of place that grows local businesses and attracts new ones.
Hillsborough’s proximity to rural Orange County, plus our robust local foods culture including restaurants, PFAP, and numerous food entrepreneurs, make this community ripe for expanding food systems-related enterprises. Our community of writers and other artists remains ever-important to our sense of place, what makes us special, and what draws people and businesses in. It has been great to observe the number of Latinx and Black-owned businesses in Hillsborough grow over the past several years. Hillsborough maintains a residential/commercial tax base balance that is in the recommended ranges for local jurisdictions, and unique among the four jurisdictions in Orange County.
Adequately funded affordable housing, public transportation (like extending commuter rail from Raleigh to Mebane), and bike/ped projects at the state and federal levels would go a long way to fostering a Hillsborough that works for businesses of multiple sizes and multiple types of workers to thrive.
8) As with most places in the Triangle, Hillsborough is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
Hillsborough will be revising our Vision 2030 plan over the coming two years. The general goal is to have that document be more specific than the one we have now – more clearly tying policies to goals such as affordability and climate crisis mitigation/adaptation. Related, the board will be examining land use policies to be sure we are encouraging practices that foster affordability and responsible planning in the era of the climate crisis. These are not easy conversations to have. Best practices and expert research on the importance of compact, walkable communities is one thing, talking about what happens in real neighborhoods is another. It requires real courage on the part of elected officials and residents alike to find the path toward the type of community we aspire to be. That process must be broad and inclusive.
That said, we already have some things to be proud of. We have an excellent relationship with Habitat for Humanity and always see new Habitat homes as good news. It is safe to say that people are very excited about the latest Habitat effort – Crescent Magnolia – in the Waterstone neighborhood that is built specifically for seniors to age in place. Part of the Collins Ridge development is slated to be 88 apartments built by CASA that are specified for veterans. For context, Chapel Hill is 8x larger than Hillsborough. If our southern neighbors announced 704 affordable units for veterans, that would be huge news – so 88 units is something to be very excited about for a town our size. Moving toward the future, there is broad agreement that the town needs to be nimble and take advantages of opportunities as they arise. More specifically, weaving in some affordable housing into the acreage the town owns around our future train station is something the current board has expressed a strong interest in, and I agree.
As mayor, I plan to use my voice in that position to continue to advocate for higher levels of government to make changes that are essential for solving the housing crisis: raising wages to keep up with the cost of housing; stronger worker protections and rights; expanding Medicaid; funding public transportation and bike/ped projects (transportation is an essential, but often overlooked piece of affordability); upping the funding for affordable housing programs; and giving local government better tools.
Hillsborough is a lovely town located in one of the biggest job engine regions in the state. People want to live here and the pressure on our most vulnerable residents will only increase in the near future. We need all of us, all types of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, in order to stay true to the Hillsborough vision, even as inevitable changes come.
9) Like most surrounding areas, Hillsborough is currently experiencing growth. What are the best ways for the town to manage this growth and capitalize on it?
Hillsborough needs to stay true to what I believe is a very good future land use plan – even as it needs tweaks from time to time – encouraging development mostly south of the river near with easy access to the interstates with opportunities for infill throughout town. We are limited by water/sewer capacity, our water/sewer boundary, and available land within that boundary. So far the growth we have experienced and approved still keeps us within that desirable residential/commercial tax base split, and we aim to keep that.
10) Describe something you think the town should have prioritized differently in the current budget.
Hillsborough has been in a continuation budget for the last two budget cycles. Both of those years have had long and painful lists of unfunded investments that all felt so important, but we had to figure out how to get by without for another year. In hindsight, if I were to change one thing it would be to put some additional money towards achieving our clean energy goals, because the climate crisis is so incredibly urgent and we need to get some momentum. Yet in truth, it would have been hard to find any amount of money that would have been meaningful. We are going to have to address that in the near future, however, along with other deferred priorities.
11) Walkability and recreation are important to town. What environmental initiatives would you like to see change or improved?
This question has largely been answered via previous questions, because so many of our most pressing issues are connected to environmental sustainability/climate change. In short, we need to more deeply orient our land use toward compact, walkable communities. We need to make progress in our clean energy goals, and find ways to encourage and foster engagement on lowering the carbon footprint of the community outside town operations.
Every transportation initiative is an environmental initiative – either advancing or hindering sustainability. We need to keep pressing in every venue possible for bike and pedestrian paths to be funded as valid modes of transportation, rather than just recreation assets. Extending commuter rail from Durham to Mebane, and extending bus Rapid Transit from Chapel Hill to Hillsborough have been added into the Metropolitan Transportation Plan. This is no guarantee they will in turn make it through the state funding process. As mayor I will advocate for transformative mass transit projects like these to have better odds of making it to the funding stage, rather than the focus being almost exclusively on road construction and improvement.
We need to set an example for private residences and businesses for tree planting and pollinator lawns rather than all manicured grass. We need to remain committed to the Falls Lake Rules re-write to keep the Eno safe and clean for ourselves and our downstream neighbors.
The Fairview neighborhood is awaiting results from groundwater testing conducted by the county/state. The testing is in the undeveloped part of Fairview Park (county park/property). as part of the state funded program for cleaning up old landfills. That neighborhood is hopeful the old landfill will be cleaned up, but this depends on test results and state prioritization. Though the park is in the County’s jurisdiction, the neighborhood is largely within the town of Hillsborough, and we need to be good partners and supportive of the neighborhood.
12) If there are other issues you want to discuss, please do so here.