Name as it appears on the ballot: Jack Nichols
Full legal name, if different M Jackson Nichols
Date of birth: 9/13/1951
Home address: 2501 Kenmore Dr, Raleigh, NC 27608
Mailing address, if different from home: PO Box 2107, Raleigh, NC 27602
Campaign website: JackNichols2010.com
Occupation & employer: Attorney, Allen and Pinnix
Spouse’s name: Carol Spruill
Spouse’s occupation & employer: Senior Lecturing Fellow, Duke Law School
Years lived in Wake County: 32 years
Home phone: 919-783-8755
Work phone: 919-755-0505
1. What are the three most important issues facing Wake County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Creating Jobs, Ending Excessive Partisanship, Ensuring that Wake County Public Schools maintain their national excellence.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Wake County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I served on the Board of Commissioners in the early 90s. We put in place the plans that helped make Wake County what it is today, including public-private partnerships that promoted economic development; improved infrastructure and established environmental standards that protect our watershed, and created and maintained an excellent school system.
I was a co-founder of Planned Parenthood of Raleigh and Wake County Smart Start. I am most proud of my service as a Boy Scout, where I have taught many children the importance of leaving nature better than we found it, fulfilling our duty to the country and always being honest.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a practical progressive, who knows how much money there is in the checkbook. I have always been focused on practical solutions that will move our community forward and benefit every citizen. I have been involved in progressive issues in the Triangle for over 30 years.
4. The Commissioners board is often termed the school board’s banker, and the school board’s performance is the biggest issue in Wake County by far. What’s your take on the new Wake school board majority’s direction, including its opposition to using diversity as a factor in school assignments? If elected, what steps will you take, if any, to support or oppose the new majority?
Both of my sons went through the Wake County Public School System, (Hunter, Ligon, & Enloe) and as a parent, I know what a difference those schools made in my sons’ lives. Some of the Board’s recent actions quite simply break my heart. Our school system was a reason that businesses moved here, and a corner-stone in our consistent rankings as one of the best places to live and work in the nation. Their actions endanger those rankings, and more importantly, they have created unnecessary schisms within our community that will take years to mend.
I am not running for County Commission to tell the School Board how to do their job. However, their decisions will have deep financial impacts for our county. I will insist that they use our precious resources effectively. Some of their decisions, such as the elimination of some year round schools, and reducing the magnet system are not fiscally justified. I will insist that they justify any inefficient use of taxpayer money.
5. If elected, will you vote to put the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit on the ballot in 2011?
6. The closing of Dorothea Dix Hospital is making a bad situation worse for mental health patients in Wake County. The commissioners have taken some steps to address the problems? Are they enough? If not, what else is needed?
Mental health across the nation, state and county has gotten steadily worse over the last several years. It is certainly true that in the past, Wake County was overly dependent on Dix Hospital; now, the delayed closing of that facility has made Wake County’s situation more acute. Even still at Dix, the adult short term unit has been reduced from 85 to 60 beds; however, since the adult short term stay at Dix was cut and the length of stay has almost doubled, the net effect is even fewer available beds.
Wake County needs to encourage use of existing facilities. In 2009, Holly Hill added 44 beds, but because of decreased state funding and limited access to state beds, the net effect has not been more access. WakeMed (which receives no county funding) receives most of the emergency room patients. It usually holds 6 to 8 patients waiting for a bed.
Many mentally ill citizens are homeless; Wake County uses Capital Improvement Plan dollars to fund rental subsidies for homeless persons with a severe and persistent mental illness who are not otherwise receiving services. Wake County has also set aside funds for people who frequently use hospital inpatient services. In 2009, the County broke ground on a $22.7 million, two-building facility, WakeBrook, which is scheduled to open in 2011.
Despite these and other efforts, in 2009, Wake County only served 24% of eligible adults and 30% of children needing mental health services. Clearly, it is not enough, but these needs must be balanced with the other pressing fiscal needs of the County.
7. A woman’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy is once again a major issue in politics at every level. Please state your position on the question of abortion, choice and women’s rights.
I am pro-choice, and have already been attacked by my opponent for my work as an attorney for Planned Parenthood, which I helped found. I support the right of county employees to have access to all health services, including their right to an abortion.
8. Do you support equal rights for gay and straight citizens, including equal protection from workplace discrimination and equal marriage rights?
Yes. I have represented many gay and lesbian clients in their efforts to obtain the same legal protections that married couples are granted automatically.
9. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
The differences between me and my opponent are clear. I have spent a lifetime advocating for progressive causes and candidates, and working to build our community. My opponent has declared his political hero to be his uncle, Jesse Helms. As mayor and during his tenure on the county commission, he has put partisanship above the needs of our community. He has consistently opposed public-private partnerships such as the Civic Center that would promote economic development and jobs. I would bring a strong voice of cooperative and pragmatic leadership to the board.
10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.
It is rarely popular to change the manner of election of public officials. I believe that we must rethink the method that we use to elect County Commissioners and School Board members in Wake County, which is now larger than a Congressional District. I propose that we expand the County Commissioners from 7 to 9 members. Under my proposed plan, Commissioners and School Board members would run at the same time from the same district, with some elected at large and some within a district. Also, electing the County Commission and School Board during the off years would allow for more focus by voters and the media on local issues.
I have put a longer proposal on my website, which I will not reprint here, but, I believe that it would remove the constant blame-passing between County Commission and School Board, by forcing them to run in the same election before the same voters from the same district.