Name as it appears on the ballot: Nimasheena N. Burns
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: www.BurnsForDurham.com
Occupation & employer: External Affairs Liaison at the NC Department of Public Safety
1) In your view, what are the most important issues currently facing Durham County? If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
Both before, during the pandemic and well after it is over I feel that the top priorities will still be the following:
Connecting Durham Residents to Employment and Training
Supporting School Renovations, Repairs and Teacher Pay
Building an Inclusive Economic Development Ecosystem and Supply Chain
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.
a. I earned my Bachelors in Communications and Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is there that I polished my rhetorical and analytical research skills. My previous work history showcases my planning and strategizing expertise. Earning my Masters in Public Affairs – Quantitative Analysis and Government Relations Track, from North Carolina Central University, provided me the opportunity to hone in on my managerial skills in the field of government. I also am currently a student a Brown University working towards a second Masters in Cyber Security. I was in the Leadership North Carolina Class of XXII. I was named the Government Relations Chair for the class of XXIII.
I currently Manage External Affairs for ReBuild NC, a $745 million program that established the Homeowner Recovery Program to help homeowners repair, reconstruct or elevate homes damaged by the storms and the Strategic Buyout Program that liaises with local governments to identify areas with the greatest risk of damage from future hurricanes and flood. I also currently am supporting the development of the state’s first eviction and utilities assistance program, NC Housing Opportunity and Prevention of Eviction’s (H.O.P.E.) strategic communication plan, equitable application process, program launch, external relations statewide approach and fund disbursement of $94 million.
b. I was tapped by Secretary Larry D. Hall of North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to publish the state’s first defense supply chain study and the state’s first definitive defense cluster analysis; I co-founded the North Carolina Defense Industry Diversification Initiative. Governor Cooper recently recognize her for the development of the NC Defense Industry Diversification Initiative and for her pilot program for NC companies entitled U.P.G.R.A.D.E.; This is a multi million dollar small to medium enterprise investment initiative. I was recently been tapped by the US Department of Defense to work with Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness to develop best practices for contractors looking to develop enterprise wide cybersecurity plans. Developed Cyber Security tool kit and curriculum for the States Defense contractors to fulfill National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) cyber compliance requirements.
c. Developing the NC Department of Justice’s first online frauds program and presentation for the NC Consumer Protection Division; I was tapped by then Attorney General Cooper to develop and manage the first “College Cash and Credit Tour”. She traveled with AG Cooper to our state’s public and private institutes of higher education, presenting on the most recent correlations between identity theft and cybersecurity for individuals between the ages of 18-34. Acts as a spokeswoman and represents the Attorney General’s Office by educating governments, non-profits, religious institutions, veterans, citizens, businesses and commissions through the development of policy positions, speeches, advisory columns and outreach initiatives. Security Breaches, Financial Fraud, Cybersecurity and Identity Theft expert speaker for the Consumer Protection Division. I have acted as an in-person panelist/spokeswoman/keynoter for the agency on over 900 occasions. I worked across the state to design a curriculum for teachers, administrators and parents aimed at combating child internet safety.
d. While at USDA I served on the national coordinating team for USDA/White House Rural Council on Opioid Epidemic during the Obama Administration. While there I coordinated the effort to open a much needed opioid addiction facility with beds for veterans. I spearheaded the initiative to open the first USDA office on Federal Tribal Lands in North Carolina. I detailed as a congressional liaison for the State’s USDA office, to spearhead the approval of 39 county disaster designations. All qualified farm operators in the designated areas were eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans. Worked to invest $327 million dollars of capital into the
e. I was awarded an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in Public Health to develop the Don’t Kid Yourself Foundation. The project addresses kidney disease disparities and prevention in social disadvantaged and underserved communities in North Carolina with poor water quality. I implemented an 8 part series of outreach initiatives and provided various screenings for persons at increased risk for developing Chronic Kidney Disease.
f. While at the NC Dept. of Transportation Public Affairs staff I Successfully advocated for the ban on Teenage Drivers Cell Phone use (Senate Bill 1289) and the new Motorcycle Helmet Laws. I Revamped the “Vince and Larry: Test Dummy Program” statewide for government agencies as well as for us in private enterprises. I managed a grant program for traffic officers that provided community policing resources, traffic equipment and developed the states first statewide student highway safety summit.
I was the 2016 Triangle Business Journal Woman of Year in Public Policy Award Winner, the 2019 UNC Chapel Hill Harvey Beech Outstanding Young Alumni Award Winner, a 2017 40 under 40 Awardee for the Triangle Business Journal, the 2016 Triangle Business Journal Woman in Public Policy Award, the 2016 Wells Fargo/Blue Cross and Blue Shield Young Executive of the Year Award, and the 2016 Spectacular Magazine Emerging Leader of the Year.
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?
Currently the public schools in Durham have an overall average of only 19% enrollment for Caucasian/White students. Durham County is almost 50% white. This number is especially staggering when you take into account that number of students in charter schools, private schools and at-home-schools for the most part are majority white.
The answer to this question is not simply one of busing. Those were remedies for the civil rights era and the 1990’s era. The question then becomes why are parents not choosing Durham Public Schools? It begs the question are Durham Public Schools becoming purposefully segregated outside of Durham Public Schools? There are 1000’s of reports nationwide that prove, with empirical data, that students learn/work best in diverse classrooms. With the upcoming school assignment shift, I will be curious to see how the board will work with the parents and the superintendent.
I do think this discussion has to come from a leadership. A real announcement. Not one found on social media, but an open uncomfortable conversation. A conversation that is so carefully choreographed that the county nor the school board seems to be helping one group or pointing the finger at one group while the other feels ignored. I also think we follow the data.
I feel confident that the county is taking appropriates steps in the right direction. The county has invested in the leadership that lead equity based work. The recent hires of Dr. Kelvin Bullock as the Executive Director for Equity Affairs in Durham Public Schools as well as the hiring of a Boys of Color Coordinator speaks to Durham’s commitment to start to have those difficult conversations at an administrative level that will hopefully trickle down into the classroom.
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 the biggest issues that Durham is having with charters schools is the expansion of new charter schools and the lack of regulatory oversight of those charter schools. Years ago I was indifferent to charter schools. Charter schools were touted as an opportunity to use public funding to build more “innovative” and “creative” schools. Every school district in the south wanted to be the next Ron Carter Academy. Charter school were also touted as a safe haven. As a proponent of social equity I saw the systemic higher rate of suspension and expulsion for young men and women of color, as a problematic in our public school systems. Especially when their white counterparts who were guilty of the same violation received far less punishment, if any. This lead both black and white parents to start accepting these alternative to traditional public schools.
Sadly around the state and county, new reports of unqualified teachers, false reporting on class sizes and loss of funding in traditional public school funding has triggered the public to question these schools and their place in our community. They have also becoming machines for for-profit institutions to abuse the system in some places across the state. Additionally, if you look at enrollment numbers for our charter schools in the county they are segregated and the data leads one to the conclusion that their existence might be leading to some of the segregation in public schools, as they continue to draw largely depending upon the charter school on one race of children.
The most recent approval was Oak Grove (not to be confused with the current Oak Grove elementary). This is a school that neither county, Durham nor Wake County wanted. However the school will be able to pull students from Durham, Granville and Wake County. According to a December 2019 article in the News and Observer reports found, “ Durham school officials cited multiple concerns, including how they fear it will lead to white flight from traditional public schools. In the letter, Durham pointed to how after Wake Forest Charter Academy opened, the demographic balance of nearby Wake Forest Elementary School changed dramatically. Wake Forest Charter Academy is also a National Heritage Academies school that Oak Grove says it wants to replicate academically.”
Dramatic segregation is not what this Board of County Commissioners candidate wants for her county.
In our very own Durham, one school had to remove their high school enrollment as recently as 2017 for improperly awarded diplomas. I do not want any student facing that level of embarrassment, when they simply did what they were told to do by instructors.
I think we should look at how neighboring counties have moved on a local level to have more regulatory oversight in charter schools and I agree with halting the expansion of new charter schools in Durham County. There are 14 charter schools in Durham. Until recently, rising charter school enrollment had caused a drop in the school district’s enrollment. So parents are choosing public schools. As a county we just have to tell that story better. I have walked the halls with a few principals and they don’t have the marketing budget or the staff to tell the community about all the great things that their schools are accomplishing, but I would love so to see such a county-wide strategy utilized by our board.
While I recognize there are children on waiting list for charter schools public school enrollment improved in Durham County on last year. Hence, the Schools Boards new proposal for the possible construction of “Elementary School C”.
5) What is your vision for growth and development throughout Durham? How can the county balance growth while also ensuring gentrification doesn’t push longterm residents out?
Many might question why should governments get involved with gentrification since private property purchases are just that, private? I would reply that if government had defalcated to build racially separate public housing in cities where segregation hadn’t previously taken root, and instead had scattered integrated developments though out the community, those communities might have developed in a less racially toxic fashion, with desperate ghettos and more diverse suburbs.
Durham is growing. There are new 20+ story buildings being erected as I type this very sentence. These developments will needed employers and employees from all backgrounds to work and maintain those buildings upon completion. How will those workers get to those locations without decent transit or readily available affordable housing in close proximity to those developments? Individuals from 36 different counties come into Durham every day. My development plan includes making sure that people in Durham can work, live and thrive in Durham. Right now, we are going in the wrong direction with $700k homes beside $25K bungalows. I want to engage developers who have a vested interest in corporate social responsibility. That work improves their bottomline and the lives of the people who will work and live in their developments long after they have gone to the next city.
Many of the jobs brought to Durham over the past two years were manufacturing jobs that are great for all education levels. I am hopeful that we begin to work with Durham Tech, NCCU and Duke earlier in the process of recruiting these jobs.
I have been monitoring the current programs being developed by the county to aid those struggling to pay their taxes in the some of the county’s most gentrified areas. While the solution was not perfect, I was happy to see that individuals were able to vote with their heads and not just their hearts.
I do not know if the county should move forward with any newer changes in distribution to the property tax burden. Many coalitions offered plans that work in other states, but are just not legal here in NC. The idea to raise taxes on 99% of all people in Durham to illegally pay the taxes of 1% of people was both, illegal and fiscally irresponsible at a time when revenues are less than projected because of the pandemic. The offset of taxes over a 10 year period with help from the community, coupled with a payment plan was the best choice forward. I applaud those board members and staffers who choose to be creative and preserve the land of those who have it the hardest.
I understand that the wealthy tend to own the most expensive residential property, but I feel many middle class owners too will feel overly burdened by possible higher fees, especially if we put a tax in place that moves their cost of up. I would be open to listening to any policies that my counterparts or the county managers would like present, however I would approach them cautiously, especially since many homeowners in Durham are still recovering from the housing and mortgage bubble of the most recent recession. The last thing I want to do is discourage individuals from purchasing homes. I recognize that many existing property taxes tend to be regressive. I am not a proponent of taking proportionally more of the income of poorer households.
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? Additionally, what steps can the county take to assist those living in substandard public housing?
I think that the as public officials we have to hold other bodies of government accountable as well as the should hold us accountable. The displacement of people is a huge priority now especially with the level of construction taking place. I am hopeful that I can be a champion for those people to speak in the spaces where they think they cannot.
I think the biggest facing affordable housing is an affordable housing shortage. I think we have to alleviate the need for affordable housing by making sure that there are not only jobs available for all of Durham’s residents but also training for those jobs. As someone who once lived in the adjacent housing development, Lincoln Apartments, I know that those residents are hardworking and are not looking for a handout but a hand up. I feel confident that those same individuals will “Lift as they climb” as I have done.
While I can appreciate the housing opportunities that the county commissioners have developed on Main Street, I would argue that more has to be done. Those 300 units are considered affordable housing, but are will most likely be in the 80% AMI range. Those units will most likely not be available to the those in the category of extremely poor. Those will be great for our public servants who find it hard to find housing in downtown. Downtown has become consumed with $1300 studio apartments and $1million townhomes. We have sent a message to our teachers, first responders and county employees that we want them to handle our children, resuscitate our loved ones, respond to burglaries and manage county business, yet we do not want them to leave next door to us.
The county commissioners are in a position to advocate at the legislative level for inclusionary zoning. We can use our voices and our bodies to say to our great legislative delegation, “Open this door for us” so we can get Developers to reserve 10% to 15% of their units at 60% or 40% AMI.
I am disturbed by what has occurred at all of our public housing developments. Year after year of failing scores, poor water quality and bad piping has raised many major concerns. This on top of numerous evictions. I am happy to see that the county commissioners have elected to support some of the legal fees and I am hopeful that if elected I can work towards maturing that program.
Young professional individuals making low six figure salaries cannot afford to live in downtown Durham or even in parts of midtown. There are no first responders, teachers or city/county staff that can afford these rates. It is almost as if we have said, yes I want to come to my home during an emergency medical issue, and yes I want you to teach my children and yes I want you to stop criminals and yes I want you to process my deed, but I do not want you to live close to me.
I am hopeful that planners can relax work towards relaxing lot size requirements and that we can begin to work with developers to set aside a minimum of 10% of their units for those seeking affordable to moderate priced housing. I would also want to work with housing developers to add pricing incentives for public school teachers, law enforcement and first responders. I know that the planners are looking at many concepts for getting more homes in the county. As it stands only 3% of county can have duplexes. I would be open to looking at spaces where land can accommodate duplexes. I also want to look at ways in which the county can relax regulations on accessory dwelling units.
Lastly as I mentioned above, I want to make sure that the planning office works on making more diverse higher.
To accommodate the approximately 160,000 people expected to move to Durham by 2045, the county needs to add about two thousand units per year to its housing stock. Additionally, Information gathered on individuals moving into Durham shows us that they on average they make $10,000 more than the average Durham County Citizens. I do not want those who have always lived in Durham to feel left behind. I am hopeful that if made a County Commissioner I can work to develop housing for both our current neighbors and our new neighbors.
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?
The first think thing I think the community needs are answers. The community still does not fully understand why the light rail failed and what happened to the funding for the light rail. Durham deserves better, especially when those local dollars would have been used to move people who are not in a position to get to jobs, opportunities and even the homes at the end of the day. I would really love to see our community come to terms with the real failures of the light rail. Outside of blaming outside cities and private entities, we need to talk about the lack of expertise and oversight that was at the table. Our growth in Durham is only going to continue and at some point we do not want to stunt that growth because traffic congestion has choked the avenues to enter our great county. I would like to see more
I am worried about how this can affect affordable housing and access to jobs. Residents have to remember that we have had land use plans designed around that mode of transportation. Those plan included some affordable housing initiatives. I want to make sure that whatever mode of transportation the counties moves toward that it takes into account the people that needed help. About 70% of people who ride buses in Durham live in a zero car household.
There are schools without bus stops in this county. What happens when a parent needs to get to a child or a teacher wants to alternate driving to school in an effort to be more eco-friendly? Why are there so few direct routes from NCCU to Treyburn or RTP where there are valuable internship and job opportunities?
I think these are some of the questions we should be asking and focusing on making strides to keep the community supported. I have often rode the Durham Raleigh Express. So do some of my employees. I am hopeful that we can get people at the table like myself who actually utilize public transportation, so that user voices can be elevated.
8) 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?
The nation failed when we could not pass comprehensive gun reforms after Sandy Hook. I do not want Durham to do the same. Durham needs to stop pretending that children getting shot and killed in their beds and on their birthday parties is okay. Our current officials absent of a very select few have been silent in word, deed and action. I hope I can join many of the men of color in this community as they strive, 1000 men strong, to be a beacon of hope and tangible representations of real manhood for young men in the community who just do not see that every day. I need to continue to be that for young women who might feel their only option is their current situation. I need to amplify that work and bring more women who look like me into the community.
The easiest way to stop a bullet is with a JOB. We create jobs in Durham County but we do not do a great job in connecting individuals with those jobs once they got here. By no means do I believe that we should spoon feed people, but we have to do a better job with our messaging to communities facing unemployment. Thousands of jobs came to Durham in 2019. Many were manufacturing jobs that are great for all education levels. I am hopeful that we begin to work with Durham Tech, NCCU and Duke earlier in the process of recruiting these jobs.
We have thousands of registered and non registered non-profits. More than half of them state that they help underserved young people in their mission statement. While all those do not get funding from the county, I would love to review the measurable deliverables from those that do receive funding. I want to make sure the investment we are making in our young people are actually helping reduce the gang problem.
First of all, Durham County needs to let the public know that Mental Health Services Exist. This is not a criticism of the work being done by the employees of our county’s Department of Public Health. That said, upon going to DCOPH’s website there is no link on any of the main menus to any mental health services. I recognize that mental health crosses over with numerous other physical ailments or social issues. Example: There are who sections and brochures on diabetes in mental health or LGBTQ and mental health. I also recognize that DCOPH utilize many outpatient services and partners for their mental health services. That’s fine, but where they are is cumbersome to locate on the website and might lead to the already vulnerable patient seeking help in believing those services do not exist.
The main resource for Mental Health Information is the Partnership for Healthy Durham. As of July 2018, the committee decided to focus on mental health rather than substance use disorder and mental health. The Mental Health committee seeks to increase public awareness of mental illness and access to mental health services.
I think the biggest hurdle is improving access to mental health services. In 2019, the Kennedy Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity gave North Carolina and “F” on how equitable the states laws treat mental and physical health issues. The two from a legal and regulatory standpoint still lack parity. 1 in 5 adults has a mental issue in NC and 1 in 7 adults in NC with mental illness go uninsured. While those with insurance can go to traditional hospitals and private doctors, those without have a tougher time finding help.
I would like to explore the idea of emergency mental health assistance much like that of our current emergency management system (EMS). While it is still a new idea for many parts of the country, Durham is as it has always been innovative. Durham County is the home of the city of medicine and we have the professionals who could aid the planning for implementing even a pilot program.
There are a broad spectrum of mental health issues so there will be no one sizes fits all solution. However, think there are strategies that the county can utilize to improve those services and overall access to those service. The goals outlined in the Durham County Community Health Improvement Plan are in alignment with my goals for the county. I mostly want to see improvements around the communities knowledge of trauma informed care and I want to see targeted improvements in access to culturally responsive mental health services.
The county recently released a mental health plan for 2019 – 2020 under a partnership for a healthy Durham. I noticed that many of our mental health services from a county standpoint come from private companies. One the counties goals is to see residents in target populations have increased comfort with what mental health is and what services are available. There is still a stigma around mental health and I am hopeful that the counties new mental health goals can get citizens to open up about the real possibilities to receive help. I think many of our young people are going undiagnosed and never receive the assistance they deserve.
I also think that we need to make sure that our local law enforcement has what they need to continue to sufficiently support their community policing division.
We also need to make sure our law enforcement agencies have what they need to fully investigate gun crimes in the same manner they investigate homicides.
9) 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?
To begin, I would like to see, the public bodies in our city, county and school system come to terms with racism. I, along with at least 40% of the community, are watching and waiting. Durham has many panels, commissions and trainings made available to the public and public administrators, but as leaders we have to set the example.
One that many of our current officials unapologetically fail at each day, with both their rhetoric and their actions. Reading books on racism or one hour videos delivered via forced federal requirements or shared social media post, promoting racial equity are not enough. Repeatedly saying words like diversity, inclusion, racial equity over and over again, in prepared statements and hollow sentences, as if they are trying to hit a word quota, falls on the deaf ears of communities of color who see day in and day out that your words never have aligned with the work being done to falsely improve their lives.
During 2020’s dual pandemic of both, the Covid-19 Healthcare crisis and Racism, I have been troubled by politicians who have evoked the names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, to push their own political agenda on issues ranging from school funding to improved sidewalks. It is time to put in the hard work. The work recommended by countless lawyers, the School of Government and professional associations, that has not happened. How can one work on the economic inequality in this very diverse community when at every turn you have shown that you are blind and deaf to what really makes those inequities real?
I would also like to see our county work on a more inclusive supplier diversity plan. Our state is currently in the process of reevaluating the states Historically underutilized business plan. While it might be a herculean task at this point to move the county to reach a 40% participation rate that mirrors it’s African American population or a 10% rate that mirrors the population of other races, the county has to do better on services, products and construction contracts.
There are companies in Durham that provide a wide range of services and products yet, that are also overly qualified, yet never receive contracts. Working in the supply chain space for a few years now, I recognize how hard it can be to engage businesses. While I appreciate the great work being done by the Chamber, I think there is room at the table for other stakeholders like the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce and the Institute. Improvements in access to contracts for our county’s valuable entrepreneurs will lead to more local job creation. We have to work to establish quantifiable goals or targets for utilization of historically underutilized businesses. We then have to hold the various departments within city government accountable and celebrate them for demonstrating progress. We also have to let the public know about these efforts.
I think the county as well as the city needs to take a look at their proposals. In public policy the first and only questions are:
1. What is the budge for this policy, program or proposal?
2. What are the intended outcomes?
In an effort to, introduce a race equity framework we have to as in addition to the above questions, the following question.
“What does this proposal have an ability to impact?” These answers to these questions need not be traditional. Planners often taking into account housing, health, transportation, utilities, environment, etc.
If the individuals at the table do not have answer to this question they need to do 3 things.
1) Get someone(s) at the table who can answer this question,
2) Look at the data
Data lets us know what neighborhoods will be affected and what the racial makeup of those areas looks like. Then we can move forward in asking what racial inequities already exist in this communities and how might our new policy might exacerbate these situations.
3) Engage the community
How will the community be engaged. What opportunities exist to expand on community engagement. Engaging the community will aid in educating planners on the factors that produce or perpetuate the racial inequity related the proposal.
10) Are there any issues not included in this questionnaire that you would like to address?
Absolutely. GOD willing, if elected and sworn in, I’ll start raising those issues on December 7th.
Comment on this questionnaire at email@example.com.
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