Name as it appears on the ballot: Kathleen Ferguson
Date of birth: 6/28/1963
Occupation & employer: Associate Director, Delivery Strategy and Budget, Quintiles
Campaign website: www.kathleenfergusonfortownboard.org
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Hillsborough? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?
I believe that the three greatest challenges facing Hillsborough are addressing needs of middle income families and the unacceptably high number of residents who are impoverished; effectively managing growth and increased demand on Town services; and navigating the uncertainty of what, if any, additional burdens will be place on municipalities by the legislature.
My priorities are ensuring that the concerns of all of our neighborhoods are being heard on equal footing with those of Historic District residents and addressing how several ongoing quality of life issues ranging from crime/safety, location of school bus pick-ups, sidewalk priorities, and traffic calming to response times of first responders, public transportation routing, and affordable housing. Because I believe healthy neighborhoods require a healthy economy, I also am eager to support expansion of our commercial tax base by reaching out to local and area entrepreneurs and businesses with the goal of retaining growing businesses; attracting more basic service businesses nearer to neighborhoods lacking easy access; attracting those businesses who already are considering the Triangle and those whose management and staff already live here or who are likely to look to live here; and supporting increasing collaboration between Town, industry, and our schools, DTCC, and local universities.
2. If you are not currently serving on the Town Commission, what will you bring to the body that it now lacks? If you are an incumbent, what perspective have you brought that the town still needs?
For 13 years, I have lived in and have been active in the neighborhood community. I am keenly sensitive to the diversity of neighborhood needs and desires and am proud that my campaign has helped make neighborhoods a central issue of this election. But just talking about neighborhood concerns is not enough. One of the reasons I accepted calls to run is that for years our Town Board has had too few members who live and are active in the neighborhoods.
This election cycle, I am the only candidate living in the heart of our neighborhoods, and when Frances Dancy steps down, our Town Board will not have a single member living outside of the Historic District. This lack of representation by neighborhood residents contributes to the perception by many that their voices don’t count and that Town policy heavily favors Historic District priorities and concerns.
Electing active neighborhood residents to the Town Board not only will symbolically demonstrate commitment to our Town neighborhoods but also will materially ensure that neighborhood concerns will be heard. As an elected Board member, I will continue to reach out to citizens at the neighborhood level and will continue being active with our neighborhood communities, CERT, and HPD’s citizen programs.
I also am eager to apply my task force and EDC experience as well as to leverage my personal and professional experience and networks to benefit our Town by reaching out to area businesses and entrepreneurs, DTCC and our universities to reinforce the message that Hillsborough welcomes business.
3. In the last four years, what do you feel are the three best accomplishments of Hillsborough town government, and why? Conversely, what are three things you would have done differently?
Our Town’s best accomplishment has been to consistently deliver a high level of service throughout the Great Recession without raising taxes on a yearly basis. Two other best accomplishments include bringing Riverwalk and Mountains to Sea Trail to fruition and successfully bringing in UNC Hospitals into Waterstone. Overall, I have been pleased with the preponderance of our Town’s decisions and actions. If I were to have changed anything, I would have preferred that the Town and County negotiate respective differences with less rancor. I also would have preferred allocating less Waterstone land towards single unit housing and instead reduced the residential footprint with increased density while allocating more land towards commercial development.
4. Indy Week’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
Our Town is only as strong as the places where we live, and for more than 10 years, I have worked towards building and maintaining healthy, safe neighborhoods throughout our Town by reclaiming and preserving our neighborhoods from within. When I came to Hillsborough 13 years ago, I found myself living in a neighborhood in decline. It was not uncommon to hear neighbors, outside residents, and even town staff and elected officials talk negatively about specific neighborhoods, including mine, as if things would never change.
Refusing to give in to such attitudes, I led the turnaround effort by listening to and collaborating with my neighbors, reaching out to other neighborhoods, and building relationships with Town staff and elected officials. (And, it wasn’t until I reached out to the Town Board that our neighborhood was visited by a few of the Board members.) Since then my neighborhood has seen a dramatic reduction in crime and nuisance activity, an increase in owner-residents, and increased property investment without gentrification. These results were achieved by coming together and facing a variety of challenges that many residents across our Town continue to grapple with in varying degrees, including drug and nuisance activity, landlords failing to maintain properties, race and culture relations, inconsistent first responder response times, as well as a variety of other safety and quality of life issues. I continue to maintain the many relationships established over the years and will continue to reach out to my fellow neighbors to help resolve challenges particular to their individual neighborhoods.
Ever since serving as a member of the Highway 70/Cornelius Street Corridor Redevelopment Focus Group and Task Force, I have been a voice advocating our northern neighborhoods as vibrant areas worthy of community investment and believe my advocacy will be more effective as a Board member than as a private citizen. At the same time, I am highly sensitive to the concerns that our southern neighborhoods have about the impact of increased Waterstone and Hampton Point development could have on their quality of life. All of our neighborhood concerns are important and my commitment is to ensure that they are heard, considered, acknowledged, and respected.
5. How do you define yourself politically (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal, third party, hybrid, etc.) and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I consider myself to be a pragmatic liberal and believe public policy should empower and help citizens have access to greater choices for themselves and their families. My approach is to gain and share knowledge, seek connections with others, and achieve goals through bridge-building and collaboration rather than positional ideology.
I first became involved in community empowerment in early 1990s when I was invited to join a team working with women in the barrios of Puerto la Cruz and Barcelona, Venezuela by teaching them project organization and management skills. As a result of our work, these women formed several cottage businesses, which enabled them to better provide for themselves and their community. Building on lessons learned from this experience, I cofounded the Hillsborough Heights Neighborhood Watch as a way for neighbors to reclaim their voice with the Town and the neighborhood from drug houses and slumlords that had proliferated to the point where people did not feel safe, personal property was continually at risk, and property vacancies were rising. I continue to be passionate that each of our neighborhoods are safe for families, children, and seniors while reflecting the character, needs, and desires of their residents.
Human dignity requires that policy and infrastructure support meaningful education, jobs, and access to healthcare. I wasn’t content to watch so many of my neighbors grapple with unemployment, under-employment, and lack of access to basic services nearby, which is why I’ve sought out opportunities to contribute my skills towards increasing economic diversity and opportunity for more of our residents by participating on area planning task forces, the county Economic Development Commission, and the county Small Business Loan Program board of directors. We already are home to executives and employees of businesses forming and coming into the Triangle, but unless we also are home to the actual businesses too, we will continue to export workers/shoppers and limit local opportunities for local residents—particularly the choices of those who have the least personal resources. I believe solving this will require a multi-pronged approach involving expanding and diversifying the commercial tax base to include opportunities across the job skill/income ladder, increasing incentives for affordable housing, increasing workforce development, and continuing our focus on community safety and quality of life.
Knowledge is a key component of empowerment, and in keeping with my belief in data-driven decision-making, I made it a point not only to actively listen to grassroots community desires but also to acquire and share relevant data with our decision-makers. For example, as Chair of the Orange County EDC, I led the EDC in preparing and presenting strategic recommendations, along with a competitive analysis of the industry clusters as well as economic development tools and policies of almost every jurisdiction in Orange, Alamance, Durham, Wake, Johnson, and Chatham counties. In addition, the EDC engaged UNC’s graduate planning program to perform research on a variety of topics related to economic development and tourism. Copies of this analysis and the respective policies, along with research prepared by UNC graduate planning program students engaged by the EDC, were provided to both Hillsborough’s and Orange County’s commissioners and used by the Hillsborough Town Board in their development of the Town’s current incentive policy.
6. Town commissioners continue to pursue completion of the Riverwalk greenway. Do you agree with this and what is your long-term vision for greenspace in Hillsborough?
Bringing Riverwalk to fruition and linking it to the Mountains to Sea Trail are among Hillsborough’s best accomplishments. Not only will this destination attraction increase connectivity in Town and offer a wonderful place for residents to spend leisure time, but it also will attract visitors who otherwise might not come to our town. The more we can connect sidewalks and biking paths throughout the Town with this centerpiece, the better access all of our citizens will have regardless of where they live. Ideally, I would like to see our Town’s greenways, walkways, and bike paths further connect with those of neighboring communities so that Hillsborough is better connected with Mebane, Chapel Hill, and Durham through these alternative corridors.
One of the charms of our neighborhoods is that we have so many pocket parks and believe that they are an essential component of neighborhood quality of life. In addition, balancing greenspace and building/impervious surfaces is an area that Hillsborough has managed well as part of the development process and believe that our UDO provides a reasonable framework for ensuring that we do so moving forward.
7. With so much development in the town’s future, what is your vision for Hillsborough? How do you balance the town’s small-town, local charm with the push for growth?
So much of our small town local charm is centered on our Historic downtown and the appearance and scale of our neighborhoods. We have a strong protections for our Historic District, which will ensure its preservation and maintenance for decades and more to come without sacrificing creature comforts of modernity. In addition, our existing Strategic Growth Plan and UDO provides a sound framework for both infill and outer development for areas outside of the central district.
Abrupt, drastic change in our newer neighborhoods is less likely given homeowner association rules, leaving our older neighborhoods vulnerable to the forces of change and preservation. While I do not want to see homeowners prevented from improving or adding onto their homes or expressing personal creativity; however, I also don’t want to see multiple homes to be haphazardly torn down to make room for an out-of-place McMansion in the middle of a neighborhood. Rather, I would like to see our approach to infill development support the needs and complement the existing neighborhood and the greater community.
Because we have such a low percentage of land designated for commercial use, it only makes sense to support greater flexibility in structure, purpose, and design. Again, I believe our Strategic Growth Plan and UDO provide a sound framework for balancing function, aesthetics, and environmental concerns.
8. Following the approval of a half-cent transit tax last year, regional officials continue to pursue an expanded public transportation network. Do you support this? If so, what are your goals for regional public transit and how can they be accomplished?
For many citizens without access to private transportation, public transportation is imperative. Given the massive expense related to road building/maintenance, the need for public transportation will only increase as regional population increases. And, Hillsborough’s decision to leverage existing heavy rail with the new train station is another major accomplishment for our Town. I also support local efforts to increase and improve bus routing and am glad that Amtrak has received state funding for at least another year.
However, our transportation issues are symptomatic of Hillsborough, Orange County, and every other jurisdiction in our region having supported growth patterns that geographically separated jobs/shops from residences. Thus, to be most effective, an increase in public transportation also requires an increase mixed use development and development that brings jobs/shops/homes in closer proximity to one another. Otherwise we risk reinforcing unsustainable development patterns.
9. What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Town Board? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.
To be effective, each Board member individually and as a collective unit must be passionate about our people and must demonstrate a strong commitment to customer service, a high level of active listening, data-driven decision-making, and creative problem-solving.
Professionally, I have 20+ years of balancing and negotiating the needs of customers with the needs of those who are responsible for delivering services to those customers. This experience has instilled a deep commitment to customer service, which not only has helped me see common threads across seemingly divergent issues but also has helped me develop creative solutions that bridge competing needs. These skills are especially important given that the demand for Town services resources is greater than our ability to deliver to the level that satisfies all. In addition, Hillsborough is home to citizens representing a wide variety of opinions and perspectives, and public opinion related to a whole host of issues varies from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Additionally, although I have worked in the healthcare field since 2001, I previously spent over 10 years working in various business development and technical writing roles in an industry in which
my customers were municipal planning, public works, and engineering departments; emergency response centers, utility companies, state DOTs, as well as architectural, engineering, and construction firms. This experience has further informed my understanding of planning and infrastructure issues facing our Town from technical, budgetary, and service delivery perspectives.
Since moving to Hillsborough Heights in January 2001, I have been highly active volunteering my time to the community at the grassroots level. I have applied my organizational, communication, and advocacy skills to establish and maintain our neighborhood watch and to support other neighborhood groups; as well as researched and introduced the voluntary drug-free and crime-free lease addendum adopted by the Town Board. Our neighborhood watch initiated and led community events that raised $4000 for the purchase of our newest K9 officer as well as for the purchase of K9 vests. In addition, I researched, documented, and introduced economic development data that helped inform County officials in their decision-making related to support continued funding of the small business loan fund, funding EDD infrastructure development as well as Town officials in their decision-making related to developing a Town economic development incentive policy.
Part of the reason for my success in achieving these goals is that I spent several years attending county BOCC meetings, Town focus groups, public hearings, and Town Board meetings, including attending 3.5 years of consecutive Board meeting attendance. Long before I entered the race for Town Board, I invested this time and homework to familiarize myself with staff and elected officials, learn more about the issues facing the Board, learn more about Town priorities, understand more about the concerns of other neighborhoods and citizens, and to better understand the demands and time commitment entailed of Board service.
As an elected official, I will continue to invest in seeking to understand residents’ priorities, ideas, and concerns for our Town, and am particularly interested in hearing from those who feel left out. I will continue to invest in building relationships within and without our community so that cross-neighborhood, cross-county, and intraregional collaboration is in place long before a crisis occurs. I will continue seeking out multiple perspectives and relevant data to inform my decisions. At the same time, I will work equally hard to keep residents informed of Town business.
It has been a privilege and honor to have participated in community affairs for these many years, and I am eager, willing, and committed to serving in a broader capacity as one of our Town Board members.