Name as it appears on the ballot: Patrick Byker
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.byketoprogress.com
Occupation & employer: Attorney, Morningstar Law Group
Years lived in North Carolina: 31
1) In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County? If elected, what would be your top three priorities? The reduction of systemic poverty is the most important issue facing Durham County.
I will address that issue with my 25 years of experience in economic development, community development and housing development so that we address the felt needs of our less fortunate residents. My three top priorities are: 1) Increase the County tax base by attracting new investment throughout Durham as appropriate; 2) Attract better paying jobs for our citizens; 3) Forge the partnerships with the faith community discussed in Question 2. I see these three priorities as the key to reducing systemic poverty. I am hopeful these priorities do not warrant any significant tax increase, but can be accomplished through hard work and creativity.
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.
Over the past 20-25 years, I have served as Chairman of the Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA), the Chairman of the City of Durham Capital Program Advisory Committee, the Chairman of the Durham Convention Center Authority, the former Treasurer of Discover Durham with oversight during most of the Durham 150 celebration, and I currently serve as the Vice Chair of Discover Durham, Durham County’s Tourism Development Authority. In each of these roles, it was imperative to formulate a budget and then stay on-budget. This requires dedicated monitoring, attention to detail, and a determination to live within the adopted budget. In the case of the Convention Center Authority, during my time as Chairman, we were able to reduce the taxpayer subsidy significantly and improve quality. In all my years of service, my recollection is that I did not have to request additional funds from the elected officials. I also served as Secretary of the Durham Crime Cabinet from 1997-2000, which focused on collaborative strategies to reduce crime.
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?
I will support appropriating funds for the Durham County Sheriff to have School Resource Officers in every middle and high school in DPS. However, I am not running in order to second guess the duly-elected DPS Board of Education and I trust them to implement policies to address the aforementioned gap between black and white DPS students.
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?
I think both assertions are true in that I think charter schools have increased segregation and offered opportunities to parents looking for the right educational situation for their children. I am not running for Durham County Commissioner in order to second guess the decisions parents make in regard to their children’s education. Any changes in charter school regulations will need to be addressed with the General Assembly.
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?
We need to undertake a very focused review of the Unified Development Ordinance in regard to regulations that drive up the cost of housing. While Expanding Housing Choices is a good start, I think it is only a start, and there is work to do in regard to suburban tier standards, building setbacks, infill standards and other items that impose greater costs on new housing than is truly warranted.
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?
This question is addressed by part 3 of my answer to question 1, which is forging partnerships with the faith community. We need to address the felt needs of families, and every family is different. Regardless of a family’s need, be it transportation, job-related, child-care, or another need, we need address the needs of families in, say, Oxford Manor, with the same vigor and determination that our community is addressing the McDougald Terrace crisis.
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?
I supposed I am biased as the former Chairman of the Durham Area Transit Authority, but I will advocate for greater investment of transit sales tax dollars in our local bus system. I think the transit system in Richmond, VA is one worth emulating to some extent, but I do not have direct knowledge of Richmond’s financial performance. We have to invest in much better amenities, such as bus stops, for our riders. Richmond, in my observation, has done a good job with this facet of transit provision.
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?
I believe the tax rate is about right. I will use my 20-25 years of local government agency budget management (see answer to question 2 above) to spend tax dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible so that we can address growing needs for services with, I hope, minimal increases in the property tax rate.
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?
Property taxes are governed by sections in Chapter 105 of the North Carolina General Statutes, historically referred to as the “Machinery Act.” The Machinery Act applies to all 100 counties uniformly and therefore any revisions to the property tax statutes must be addressed by the General Assembly. If elected, I promise to work on such revisions to the Machinery Act with the General Assembly.
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?
While I agree with Sheriff Birkhead’s leadership, I do not have enough information to assess if District Attorney Deberry’s policies have helped Durham County. I recall from my service on the Crime Cabinet under County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow and City Council member Howard Clement that these are complex issues involving various officials in the law enforcement and judicial systems, and whether or not Durham County employs appropriate technology to assess these situations is an important task that I will work on if elected.
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?
If elected, I will strive to convene the leadership of our criminal justice system and our top management to discuss how we can reduce crime in Durham. I hear too many folks across our county who are scared in their neighborhoods and this is unacceptable. I agree we need to do all we can to address the needs of our citizens suffering from dual diagnosis and will ask the Manager to explore alternatives to help these folks and what increases are warranted above the $6,336,751 Durham County currently allocates 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?
I think we need a new approach to this problem; hence my desire to forge partnerships with the faith community across Durham to help people who are caught in systemic poverty. This is a work in progress that will have to follow the “learning by doing” theory espoused by John Dewey. If some county government had figured this out by now, I’m sure it would be replicated without any pride of authorship.
13) Are there any issues not included in this questionnaire that you would like to address?
Not that I can think of right now.