Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Mark Marcoplos
Full legal name, if different: Mark Warren Marcoplos
Date of Birth: March 19, 1953
Campaign Web Site: www.MarcoplosForCommissioner.com
Occupation & Employer: Owner of Marcoplos Construction
Home Phone: 919-933-5562 Work Phone: 919-968-0056 Cell Phone: 919-524-6287
Twitter handle, if applicable: @mmarcoplos
1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
a) Funding educational needs despite the current difficulties imposed upon us by the rogue NC Legislature and Governor.
b) Implementing a comprehensive solid waste plan that gives the county maximum control over its waste resource stream.
c) Strengthening our economy to provide jobs and tax revenue, support local businesses, and promote a living wage.
EDUCATIONAL FUNDING & SUPPORT
The county has gone five years without a tax increase. Citizens in both school districts truly value our quality school systems. With the state legislature giving us no support, in fact actively injuring our school systems, we will likely decide that raising taxes is necessary. I resent the false austerity imposed upon us by the state and federal governments, but we cannot fail to give our children the resources they need to lead fulfilling lives.
This will be very difficult since there will be negative effects for some from a tax increase. We will just have to do the best we can to craft a budget that balances the competing interests. We will need to keep in mind that well-educated people are key to a thriving economy and that from a purely economic standpoint we cannot afford to gamble with allowing our school systems to backslide.
Fighting poverty can help student achievement. Data shows that job creation and a living wage strengthen families and help students succeed.
I believe that we have a responsibility as local elected officials to take an activist stance against the type of dangerous policies coming out of Raleigh. Beyond expressing ourselves through resolutions, I’m not exactly sure what shape that could take, but I will be alert to possible alliances with other county commissioner boards, opportunities to support our legislators as they attempt to regain some ground in Raleigh, etc.
SOLID WASTE RESOURCES
This may be the most mishandled issue in Orange County history.
I first became aware of the solid waste issue in 1991 when the county was attempting to create a mega-landfill in one of sixteen potential sites around the rural countryside. One of the sites was in my community in western Bingham Township, near the Haw River.
There were many contentious meetings with people from all of the affected communities holding signs – No Site 11, No Site 2, No Site 9, etc. There was a strong NIMBY atmosphere at these meetings. Many people would have been satisfied if the chosen site was simply not in their community. A few of us perceived that we had to find a way to overcome this divisiveness. We identified willing people from all of the affected communities and formed the Orange Citizens Landfill Council with the goal of finding common ground.
We concluded that waste reduction was that common ground and we publicly stated that no rural community should have to accept a landfill until an aggressive waste reduction plan was created and an appropriately smaller landfill footprint was calculated. We called upon the county commissioners to suspend the landfill search until these two tasks were done. To our astonishment, they told us that they would not link waste reduction with the landfill site search process. Furthermore, they said that there was no time to waste because the current landfill would be full in 1996.
Using the county’s own data, I did my own research and predicted that we had until at least 2004 before the landfill reached capacity. I was wildly wrong. The landfill closed in 2013 with at least another year of capacity left.
On the heels of this bungled process, the commissioners called off the landfill search and started what would turn out to be a county commissioner tradition for the next twenty-one years. They ignored the need for a comprehensive solid waste solution and they punted the decision forward in hopes that some future commissioners would be stuck making the tough decisions.
Elections and commissioners came and went. The hopes of the Rogers Road community near the landfill for respect and mitigation were inflated and then ignored in many cycles over the years. The resentment from the community grew, feeding upon the “wound of racism”, as Wendell Berry calls it. Things just got worse. Eventually even reasonable negotiations with the community were nearly impossible.
All of the bungling finally led to Orange County’s governments squabbling over how to cooperate and deciding to go their own ways. As a result of that, our solid waste resources are being trucked to two different transfer stations in Durham County at a cumulative extra annual cost of about $1 million, plus unnecessary road traffic and pollution.
The solid waste from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC goes to a landfill in Sampson County. I went there to see it for myself. There is a poor African-American community right on the edge of the dump, much closer than the Rogers Road community. There is lots of trash in the road ditches leading to the landfill entrance. Meanwhile people in Orange County are patting themselves on the back for ending environmental racism in their own backyard.
In 1992, I could never have foreseen that in 2014 the county would still be mishandling the issue and paying the price.
I am attaching a press release that my campaign recently distributed that includes my proposal for the most comprehensive solid waste and recycling plan that we can now implement.
STRENGTHENING OUR ECONOMY
These are difficult days for working people, the poor and jobless, and young people entering their working years. Our economic system has been hijacked by the 1%. They have bought political power at the state and federal levels to further their goal of accruing obscene amounts of wealth at our expense.
These are some of the key ways we need to address economic needs.
• Continue with the traditional economic development strategy of convincing businesses and industry to locate in our Economic Development Districts. These businesses should pay a living wage and contribute a positive product or service to society.
• The county economic development office should put some effort into supporting and promoting our local businesses. I have proposed a simple, effective way to do this. My press release announcing my call for a county database of local businesses is attached.
• While commissioners cannot pass a law requiring that a living wage be paid, I believe it is important to use the proverbial bully pulpit to advocate for it. I will look for creative ways to promote the idea, including trying to persuade the local Chambers and other business associations to promote it. The data supports the fact that a living wage makes local economies healthier and does not kill businesses.
• We need to continually improve our transportation systems so that people can get to jobs, including people with fewer resources who don’t have a vehicle and those who choose not to have one. Plus transportation improvements attract economic development. We will see this initially around the planned Hillsborough Amtrak station.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
I served on the county Planning Board during the work that was done on the Unified Development Ordinance. I learned a lot about zoning issues and also about the Planning Department in general. I also witnessed how communities that are affected by zoning changes are handled.
Here is an excerpt from a letter that I recently received: “Speaking for a large number of citizens in the Eno Township, we are aware that you expressed your concerns for us at the public hearing regarding zoning and land use in our home neighborhood. We are aware that you were the only one at that meeting who did this. We are also aware that the public servants in Orange County, under the banner of “economic development’, rammed their ambitions and plans down our very unwilling throats…this is the first time that Orange County ambitions and priorities have outweighed the sentiments of the affected citizens and also the environmental concerns for water and air quality.”
I served on the board of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) for 6_1/2 years from Dec. 1999 to June, 2006. It was a challenging period, beginning with the great drought of 2001-02. Following this drought, I was instrumental in making sure that we crafted the best water conservation rules that we could in order to make our community more resilient to future droughts. I can honestly say that, if I had not been on the board, the rules would not have been as effective. These rules resulted in long-term patterns of water savings which translates into resource security and avoided costs of new infrastructure. They may be the most effective in the state.
During my two terms as Chair, we negotiated a reclaimed water agreement with UNC which is currently saving about 600,000 gallons per day for OWASA customers. The system will continue to grow as other partners connect to it.
In general, I felt that I really learned the art of governing during my OWASA years. As an activist who has often championed issues that were ahead of their time or outside the comfort zones of some, it was very useful to explore how to move an issue in the right direction while maintaining support for the core aspects and not stretching beyond what the group would effectively support. I think I surprised a lot of people who considered me to be a firebrand when I proved very capable of understanding my role, working with the diverse views of my colleagues, and successfully facilitating the implementation of many types of sound policy.
My involvement in the politics of energy and the ecological impacts may be unmatched on this board or any previous board. I was a key activist with the Coalition for Alternatives to Shearon Harris (CASH) in 1986-87. This began my deeper understanding of these issues. It dovetailed well with my construction business that I was starting at the time. The politics of energy gave rise to a commitment to build in an environmentally responsible manner.
I spent a week in Washington D.C. in early 1987 lobbying our congressional representatives about Shearon Harris and working with the media to get our story out. A highlight was working with Jack Anderson’s investigative reporting organization.
During the CASH period, I had my first opportunity to spend time with Amory Lovins. I was able to sit and speak with him a couple of more times in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I also had the honor of sharing the stage and an afternoon with Hunter Lovins as part of a clean energy panel discussion. In the mid-90’s, I had the privilege of introducing Wendell Berry when he gave a talk at UNC.
Throughout the 90’s, Jim Berry of Raleigh organized annual seminars based upon the spiritual ecology of his brother Thomas Berry (best known book is “Dream of the Earth”). Thomas often attended and I enjoyed lots of time with him.
I have served on the boards of the North Carolina Solar Energy Association and the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network.
When it came time to build a home for my family, I built a model eco-home utilizing passive and active solar technologies, reclaimed wood from the deconstruction of the Internationalist bookstore in Chapel Hill, daylighting, the most effective passive cooling design I have ever experienced, and more. The house was featured on the Discovery Channel and on the cover of the Independent in 2003. During the big winter storm of 2002 when the grid was down for nearly a week, our on-site photovoltaic system kept us powered, the wood stove and passive solar design kept us warm, the sun heated our water, my business stayed up and running so I could quickly help those with house damage, and a bunch of happy people got to watch the Tar Heel basketball game at our house. I understand resiliency on the household level
I have defended my rural community against a landfill siting in 1992 and an airport siting in 2008-09. I know what it is like to have to react to poor policy decisions, organize your neighbors, and win successful grassroots campaigns. We don’t yet know what form it may take, but there will arise a threat to a rural Orange County community. It will be beneficial if I am on the board when that happens.
Our children were educated with a mix of homeschooling and public education. One son who homeschooled has begun a successful career as a chef. Another graduated from Cedar Ridge in 2011 and is attending Appalachian State in the Appropriate Technologies” major.
As a builder, I interact regularly with county offices and policies. This gives me practical insights into the day-today function of government.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I know that no society can be healthy without healthy local communities. Local relationships, local food, local businesses, local art, local education, local democracy – these are the ties that bind us and make us strong.
I’m uncomfortable with labels. I wish the county commissioner election was non-partisan. My experience is that when confronted with a local, community issue, common sense and love of place lead people of varying political stripes to agree on the proper solution. I try to keep focused on shared problems and solutions that strengthen our communities.
4. Plans for the Durham to Orange County light rail and enhanced bus service are underway at this time. What can the county do next to improve public transit?
I am pleased with the progress we are making on all fronts of our transit plan. The Hillsborough train station recently received an American Architectural Foundation 2014 Sustainable Cities Design Academy grant that will assist in the design process.
The light rail proposal received a vote of confidence from the Federal Transit Administration when they authorized further development of the project. I fully support this visionary investment in our future. It will promote sustainable density, attract businesses, and reduce our carbon footprint.
The bus routes are currently being expanded. Studies are being done to maximize the impact of our bus system. I speak regularly with some key players in the transit issue and my understanding is that we are progressing very well.
5. 5) How would you address the challenges of providing affordable housing in the county?
It’s time to explore the “tiny house” model. The tiny house movement has shown that people can live very comfortably with less space. I propose that the county experiment with a tiny house co-housing development. There could be 800 sf homes for families of 3-4, 600 sf homes for couples, & 400 sf homes for individuals. The development could include a shared garden space, laundry facilities, tools, etc.
I’d like to highlight the word “experiment”. Too often we get bogged down when exploring a new approach by thinking of all the things that could go wrong if we instituted it in a big way. So let’s experiment. Let’s try a small ten house development and see how it works. Big systems fail in big ways. Little systems fail in small ways. (Thank you Stewart Brand.)
Orange High students have been building an affordable house each year. It’s in the mini-McMansion style, maybe 1800 sf. Why not build three small homes instead? Also, it would be far easier for volunteers to build smaller homes. Maybe get other schools involved. Students could not lose by learning a little about construction and helping people who need a home. Additionally, these homes would be more affordable.
A living wage is crucial. As a builder I know that houses are expensive. To state the obvious, houses are not affordable because a lot of people cannot afford them. Our economy is out of whack and people are not getting paid a fair wage that enables them to purchase what should be available to them in exchange for their hard work.
6. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.
Siting a transfer station near Chapel Hill. See the solid waste section above.
7. What do you believe are the board’s greatest successes and failures in recent years?
The solid waste fiasco is far and above the biggest failure of this and recent boards.
Mass transit planning & implementation is probably the greatest success.
8. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
You can see from my previous answers that I believe strongly in a fair, democratic process with authentic community engagement. I understand the economic injustices that cause so much suffering. My experience in the Moral Monday movement has further enriched my understanding. I have a wide understanding of environmental issues. My varied experiences over the years have resulted in a very expansive network that includes people from all walks of life and very diverse fields of expertise. On issues that I need more information, I am confident that I can find the right source. I know almost all of the elected officials in the county, most for many years. It’s imperative that there be good communication and cooperation between the various governments in order to most effectively meet the unprecedented challenges we are facing.