Name as it appears on the ballot: Susan P. Evans
Campaign website: evansforwake.com
Years lived in the county: 38
1. In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing Wake County? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?
It is critical that Wake County maintain a strong commitment to public education, especially in the context of waning commitment at the state and federal levels. Our children’s future and our economic viability depend on it. I’ll be a strong advocate for well-funded public schools both at the county level and with our state legislature. Our growing population requires planning for efficient and sustainable growth especially in the area of transit infrastructure. As we want everyone in Wake to share in our economic prosperity, we must address the growing deficiency of affordable housing and deliver effective health and human services. I’m interested in working with municipal and other community partners in coordinating the expansion of transit options and implementing affordable housing solutions and am willing to commit resources to these important areas.
2. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your voting record and experience do you believe merits another term? In races with no incumbent, please tell us in what ways your presence on the board will be an improvement over your predecessor.
Having served on the Wake County School Board from 2011-2016, as the chair of the Finance Committee, I will bring a great deal of knowledge about the school system’s finances allowing for more informed, collaborative budget negotiations. This will be extremely valuable as the school system appropriations made by the County are currently over 50% of the County’s budget.
Also, while on the school board, I was Vice-chair of the Facilities committee charged with working with the school system staff to prioritize the needs for new school construction and school renovations and the review and approval of school designs and budgets. I helped develop a seven year rolling plan for the school system’s capital needs that the County Commissioners have accepted and are now implementing a plan to fund.
Additionally, my background as a business accountant who spent a significant portion of my career in the local home-building and land development industry, uniquely prepares me for effectively collaborating with municipal leaders, business and non-profit entities, and others in putting solutions in place to address the shortage of affordable/workforce housing in Wake.
3. The county is by most accounts prospering and growing. What do you think Wake County has done effectively in recent years? What policies would you like to see put in place to ensure growth going forward?
We have had an award winning public schools system, but continued pressure placed by growth, and cuts on the state and federal level are putting that at risk. Our schools have been a prime economic driver for us in attracting and cultivating jobs. It’s imperative that we continue appropriately investing in our schools.
Cooperation with our municipalities and regional partners has been important. It is critical for us to work together on expanding transit options and addressing affordable housing needs, as well as, encouraging a living wage for all our residents. Being proactive in dealing with these challenges will keep Wake one of the best places to live, work and learn in America.
4. With that rapid growth, of course, comes challenges related to suburban sprawl, transportation, and affordable housing, among other things. In your opinion, what have been the county’s successes in managing this growth in recent years? What about its failures? What would you do differently?
Under previous GOP leadership, the County virtually eliminated it’s planning capabilities, relying solely on municipalities to plan for growth and we are years behind in advancing transit infrastructure as a result of their unwillingness to take any steps in that direction. Since the Democrats have controlled the Board of Commissioners, the planning capacity has been expanded and the County is working closer with our municipalities. Under the GOP controlled Board we were constrained from addressing transit issues. The successful transit tax referendum and the adoption of the Wake Transit Plan now has us moving forward and the affordable housing task force has started us on the right path for addressing those needs.
One of the biggest challenges in recent decades has been keeping up with school capacity needs as the Wake school district was adding thousands of students a year to its rolls. While the school district planning department was working with the municipal planning departments to identify the highest growth areas in anticipation of additional schools, the funding was never able to keep pace with the need. The taxpayers overall have been supportive of Wake’s school construction bonds, but one failed bond in 1999, the recession and bond referendum totals that were insufficient to meet the full needs have kept us playing catch up for years. Too many students are still taking classes in modular buildings and families have experienced the frustrations of having their base schools under enrollment “caps”. The crisis to bond approach has not been efficient. In 2016 the school district leaders collaborated with the County leaders in approving a rolling 7-year plan for school construction. I was pleased to be part of this process and appreciate that having an ongoing snapshot of short-term and long-term needs will enable the County to plan beyond a 2-year or 4-year bond cycle for school capital funding.
5. What should be the county’s role in addressing issues of economic inequality, such as gentrification and affordable housing? Do you believe the current board is doing enough to help its municipalities manage Wake County’s growth in order to prevent current residents from being priced out? Shortly after the May primary, the county released an affordable housing plan that, among other things, called for municipalities to take a more aggressive approach toward missing-middle housing. What about this plan do you support? In what areas do you think it goes too far or doesn’t go far enough? Please be specific.
Traditionally, the County has been less proactive on the affordable housing issue than our municipalities, primarily Raleigh. Fortunately, under Commissioner Holmes leadership, the County has now undertaken first steps towards thoughtful participation in finding solutions. The County now needs to work collaboratively with our municipalities and the Wake County Housing Authority to implement the recommendations of this Affordable Housing task force.
Gentrification is largely a municipal issue, but we should partner with our municipalities to push the legislature to specifically allow more local government authority over implementing inclusionary zoning ordinances. Local solutions will be needed now more than ever due to recent reductions in Federal affordable housing tax credits, which had been one of our best tools for encouraging the development of such housing.
To lessen income inequality, the County should participate in recruiting more manufacturing and other blue-collar type jobs. Currently, our area is more heavily weighted with higher-paying technical jobs, and lesser skill labor jobs, with a gap of middle-income economic opportunities.
It is also imperative that we push for equal pay for equal work. We should start by ensuring this for County employees and then also work to encourage employers around the county to implement policies that do the same.
6. How would your experience―in politics or otherwise in your career―make you an asset to the county’s decision-making process? Be specific about how this experience would relate to your prospective office.
My experience as an elected Wake County School Board member provides me with relevant knowledge of the structure and scope of the issues the school system is managing. Having been the Finance Chair of the Board through five budgeting cycles, I will bring a detailed understanding of the complexities of public school finances that will allow for better-informed decisions by the Board of Commissioners. As an accounting professional whose career has been focused in business management and as a former small business owner in the residential building and development industry, my background allows me a fundamental understanding of many of the areas the County Commissioners are charged with overseeing.
Having served as a local elected official, I have proven experience in gathering input and data in developing sound policy that benefits the overall good of the community.
7. The replacement bill for HB 2 that passed last year prohibits local governments from passing living-wage or nondiscrimination ordinances until 2020. Since the winner of this race will be in office in 2020 when the moratorium expires, what sort of nondiscrimination and/or living-wage policies will you push the county to adopt, if any? Do you favor, for instance, a nondiscrimination ordinance that would apply to public accommodations, like the one Charlotte passed in 2016 that led the legislature to pass HB 2? Would you consider raising the county’s minimum wage?
I was concerned that the compromise legislation, HB 142, constrained the local governments’ authority around these issues and do not favor discrimination of any kind. I will be eager to explore non-discrimination ordinances when the County is free to do so and hope that we will be able to establish policies that encourage dignity for all our citizens.
It is commendable that the County Commission has enacted a policy that will raise wages for employees directly paid by the county to $15.05. However, there are many Wake County School District employees who have not been granted the same minimum wage, including school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and clerical workers. We must pursue paying these folks a living wage and encourage employers in our County to do the same for their employees.
8. In recent years, the county and the school board have argued over school funding—an argument that directly led to two commissioners losing their primaries in May. How would you approach these funding decisions differently? Do you believe, as some commissioners have suggested, that the Board of Education should be given taxing authority? Why or why not?
There is inherent tension between the Boards of Commissioners and Boards of Education in North Carolina. School boards are charged with setting policy and establishing the budget needed to effectively operate the school system, while the Commissioners control the level of local funding that will be allocated to cover school facilities needs and to supplement state operating funds. It is in the best interest of the community that these two boards conduct their budget negotiations with mutual respect and it is advantageous to have open-minded, non-judgmental relationships between the members. I am committed to treating the school system’s Board and staff with the utmost of respect. My prior experience as a school board member will be valuable in diffusing some of the uncertainties around the school system’s finances. Having Commissioners who are better informed, as a result, will enable more productive budget negotiations.
Our state leaders decided during the great depression that state government would have the responsibility for providing operating funding for our public schools across the state and they gave the counties primary responsibility for funding school facilities. This model is unlike most other states, where each individual community must raise the money needed to fund their public schools. Providing equitable school funding across the state was a noble goal and therefore no taxing authority was granted to local school boards. In more recent decades, as wealthier counties were able, local supplemental support for the school’s operating budgets has taken shape. Nonetheless, I feel there is some inherent value to the checks and balances provided by our current scenario. Having one Board who determines our overall county spending and property tax levels while assessing all needs under one umbrella likely yields the most efficient funding. In reality, the General Assembly would be the governing body who would decide whether to grant local school boards taxing authority. I am open to exploring the idea but feel there are pros and cons to either scenario.
9. The argument over school funding this year was often tied to the county’s decision to acquire parkland near Fuquay-Varina called Crooked Creek. Critics asked how, if the county couldn’t afford the give schools everything they wanted, it could afford this new park. How do you view the debate over Crooked Creek? If elected, would you want the county to proceed with the park plan?
My concerns around the action last fall initiating the purchase of the Crooked Creek property centered around the process. Having been required to make tough prioritizing decisions for capital improvement projects for the school district as a School Board member, I was concerned that this decision didn’t appear to follow typical protocol, was made outside of the context of the County’s existing master plan for parks and open space, and was approved on a divided 4 to 3 vote by the Commissioners, against their staff’s recommendations. In my experience, this type of decision, made outside of the typical planning processes, should only take place when there is consensus by an entire board and only when warranted by some remarkable circumstances.
I certainly value the preservation of land for parks and open space as all available land will likely be developed in Wake County eventually. Now that the purchase of the Crooked Creek property has been approved and finalized, I will consider the most appropriate use for this land and the appropriate timing for development of the property in the context of the overall master plan for open space in the County.
10. Give an example of a time, during your political career, when you have changed your position as a result of a discussion with someone who held an opposing view.
While on the school board, there were several times that I was leaning towards a particular decision and changed my position after being presented with data and staff recommendations and or discussing with other board members. There were also times that members of the public raised my awareness of considerations I hadn’t thought of that influenced my final decisions on certain issues.
11. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
At this time I cannot anticipate a stand that I would make that would be inconsistent with my positions that I have put forward. However, I am not afraid to make tough decisions that I feel are warranted once I’ve weighed the data and input received around an issue. For example, while on the school board in 2012, we had to make the decision to fire a Superintendent who was not a good match for our Wake County School district for a number of reasons. Some in the community disagreed with us and we took heat from news outlets and some community organizations at the time. I was confident that it was the best decision based on my experience with this Superintendent over a 10-month period and I believe most in the community came to agree it was a positive move for stabilizing the school district.