Name as it appears on the ballot: Lisa Mead
Campaign website: www.lisaforwake.com
Profession or occupation: Non-Profit Professional Fundraising Consultant/Grant Writer and WCPSS Substitute Teacher
Party affiliation: Democrat
Years lived in Wake County: 16 years
1. In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing Wake County? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?
Affordable housing, public education (including Pre-K and Community College), and rapid growth of our community. Affordable housing is a complicated but critical issue. There are many definitions of affordable housing and many different ideas about ensuring it. Still, as County Commissioner, I’m most interested in building consensus. We have all seen housing costs increasing dramatically. We know that it has disproportionately impacted low-income and fixed-income residents, particularly in our communities of color. I want to work with these communities and other groups priced out of housing in our area, and we should involve them in redevelopment conversations. Our county should work with our municipalities to develop solutions that work for everyone. I believe public-private partnerships, innovation, and robust social services are critical to affordable housing accessibility.
As a current substitute, I have been in over 25 schools for almost 90 days since 2021. Additionally, I currently have three kids enrolled in WCPSS, and I am a former public school teacher. I know what the needs of our educators and families are because they are my needs, too. I intend to hold our state elected officials accountable for increasing the state’s contribution to school funding. I believe all education professionals, from School Nutrition staff to teachers, should have a wage that supports living in Wake County. I will support funding the salaries of our public early childhood teachers equally across all employers. Whether that be Wake County Public Schools or early childhood programs funded by the county, this will help ensure we maintain the best educators, including in our pre-K classrooms.
Lastly, as someone born in Durham and who has lived in Wake County for 16 years, I have seen the growth our region has experienced and am paying attention to what is coming. If elected, I would make myself available to the public similarly to the county-wide community conversations I have held throughout my campaign.
2. With Wake County’s rapid growth comes challenges related to suburban sprawl, transportation, and affordable housing. What have been the county’s successes in managing this growth in recent years? What about its failures? What would you do differently?
More than 1 million people call Wake County home, and the county is growing more than twice as fast as the rest of the state. The number of rental households paying a significant portion of their income towards housing is increasing. We need to address how this impacts our most vulnerable communities. Affordable housing can help everyone – students recently graduating from college and just entering the workforce, lower-income families with children, and senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
In 2017, after forming a committee, the Wake County Board of Commissioners adopted the 20-Year Affordable Housing Plan, and this plan’s guiding work is a strength. Despite these efforts, I learned in meeting with The Raleigh Wake Partnership to End Homelessness that children are the largest group of the homeless population in Wake County. That has to be considered a failure. We should strengthen existing partnerships to address the needs of families facing housing insecurity. As Commissioner, I would ensure that Wake County’s housing programs minimize the number of residents experiencing homelessness and unstable or transient housing using the ‘Housing First’ model.
3. What should be the county’s role in addressing issues of economic inequality, such as gentrification and affordable housing? Do you believe the current board is doing enough to help its municipalities manage Wake County’s growth to prevent current residents from being priced out?
There are ways to revitalize neighborhoods without also gentrifying them. Wake County should further embrace the positive development model that builds community health and a sustainability vision that benefits all residents. We should continue bringing different groups to the same table to identify our shared interests and shared struggles. These conversations are vital to ensuring development that empowers entire communities.
We should include the community members living in these areas to identify the types of housing, services, and infrastructure needed in their neighborhood. Additionally, valuing longtime residents’ visions of neighborhood change is equally important. Healthy neighborhoods acknowledge and support the importance of racial equity, community, values, and the local culture.
We can foster positive development by supporting a shared neighborhood vision and working with community institutions to ensure a successful revitalization that values culture, health, and positive human development, not just increased economic activity. As Commissioner, I would like to see continued coalition building, increased creation of partnerships, and thoughtful decision-making surrounding inequality issues. By collaborating and placing citizens first, we can work together on this issue.
4. The Wake County Public School system is asking for a $56 million budget increase next year to hire more employees and raise teacher pay. Given the General Assembly’s longstanding reticence to adequately fund public schools, does this seem like a reasonable request to you?
My simple answer is yes I believe the request is reasonable. However, last year, all three teachers of my children had a second job. We should support our school employees better, so this is not needed. With the state’s reluctance to adequately fund public schools, I believe counties must try their best to fill the gap. Still, this gap is becoming wider and wider. Much of my volunteer work has centered around education advocacy issues. If elected, I would use my voice to educate and empower citizens to hold elected officials accountable. We cannot solve the education finance issue just on a local level; it will require collaboration, problem-solving and uniting voices across multiple platforms to bring education funding to the level it should be to meet our state constitutional obligation.
5. Wake County has received $216 million from the American Rescue Plan and so far has allocated about half of those funds. Has the county done a good job investing that money into its COVID-19 response, healthcare, housing, public safety, and other community initiatives? What would you like to see the county do with the remainder of those funds?
The Covid-19 pandemic spotlighted areas of the community that were struggling before March 2020 and has shown us where we can invest resources to make a lasting impact on the community. The balance of the ARPA funds can be used in many ways, but I would like to see us expand early childhood educational opportunities by working with local agencies to ensure these needs are met for all families.
Using the funds to expand public transit would also be a wise choice. With our community growing, looking at alternate transportation options is a must on our priority list and cannot continue to be delayed. The average travel time to work in the Triangle region increased from 20.2 minutes in 1990 to 24.9 minutes, according to the 2000 Census journey-to-work survey. We must involve the residents living in our high-priority areas in these forward-thinking discussions, as they have the best knowledge of the places where they live and travel and the barriers they face along the way. Each part of the county is different and will have different needs. While I recognize these differences, it is important not to lose focus of the goal of connecting our municipalities and respecting the desire of the public to make safe and efficient trips not only by driving, but also by walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation.
6. How would your experience―in politics or otherwise in your career―make you an asset to the county’s decision-making process? Be specific about how this experience would relate to your prospective office.
My direct experience as a substitute teacher this last fourteen months has shown me the inside of twenty-six different public schools. With education making up over 50% of the county budget, we need someone with knowledge of educational systems in the role of County Commissioner. I am the current President of the NC Grant Professionals Association, leading professional grant writers statewide. I have experience writing and evaluating complex program budgets, and serving as a leader in the local non-profit arena. In 2021, I obtained my CFRE (Certified Fundraising Executive) designation from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and am a licensed by the State of NC. The skills obtained in my career outside of education will serve me well as your next District 3 County Commissioner. Additionally, I am the legal guardian for my elderly aunt with dementia. My experience as a consumer in our legal and social service system gives me a unique perspective to various services included in the county budget.
7. North Carolina is a “Dillon Rule” state, meaning that the only powers municipal and county governments have are the ones granted to them by the legislature. Would you like to see this changed? How would you work with state legislators from Wake County, as well as mayors and council members from the city’s municipalities, to ensure that Wake County, its municipalities, and the state are on the same page regarding policies that affect residents of Wake?
Confusion persists about Dillon’s Rule, home rule, and the relevant laws and court rulings that shape local government. Creating thoughtful, practical strategies for managing growth depends mainly on collaboration.
Our county and municipalities should not be preempted from advancing policies that benefit the health and well-being of our communities. More coordination among our 12 cities and towns in Wake County is something I hope to encourage when elected. I have been meeting with mayors, town managers, farmers, early childhood professionals, and the community to learn the varying issues across Wake County. Meeting the local leaders across the region has been an essential part of my campaign. I believe we must involve everyone in local government by going to the communities we represent. My experience in local government and community coalition building has me prepared to continue these conversations surrounding a wide variety of topics, including policies that impact the larger area.
Given the size and diversity of our state, and the increasing volatility of our politics at the state level, I think now would be a good time to explore granting our cities and counties some degree of constitutionally-protected autonomy. Empowering our citizens with a reasonable degree of freedom to choose what is right for them at the local level is vital to the political health of our state in the long term. In recent years, this freedom has been steadily eroding at the hands of state-level elected officials. That is a trend I hope to see reversed.
8. Is the county doing enough to protect, preserve, and maintain its natural resources, including parks, waterways, and green spaces?
Environmental and climate justice is a human rights issue. We all depend on the Earth and what it provides. Still, our citizens do not have equal access to clean spaces, including recreation opportunities, clean air, and water. When looking at our open space plans and remediation of polluted sites, I would ensure that we look at how these impact our marginalized communities. Our elected officials must be the voice for the community as a whole. My lived experiences contribute to my campaign values, including being a voice for all of Wake County. Meaningful community participation in land use planning and decision-making can produce development that meets the needs of a diverse group of residents, builds support for projects, and leads to more effective processes that improve the well-being for the entire community. This includes more preservation of open spaces and the creation of parks that the whole community can use.
9. 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 am an experienced leader, coalition builder, and advocate for our most vulnerable citizens. I am a strong supporter of our public schools because education is the foundation of our society. I do not support charter schools as they are currently being implemented in North Carolina and do not support the lifting of the statewide charter school cap that occurred in 2011.
10. What sets you apart from the other candidate(s) in this race?
In Wake, few parents of younger children hold elected office, especially at the municipal level, and especially women. As a mom to three kids attending WCPSS’s schools, I would be the only Commissioner with school-aged (K-12) children. As a former educator and substitute, I know the challenges and strengths of our public education system. As a parent, I know what those schools mean to families. This combination gives me a unique perspective to offer to this position.
I would be the youngest woman serving on the commission at the age of 43. I believe I have the experience, integrity, and work ethic to be a true asset in this role representing the citizens of Wake County. My extensive career in the non-profit arena, both in direct human services and management roles, has given me experience in many of the services funded by the county. I am the only District 3 candidate to be endorsed by these groups: EqualityNC, the VoteMama Foundation, and the Raleigh-W