For the last several years, the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have found themselves mired in something like an existential crisis.
Caught between the desires of many residents to see the towns grow, modernize, and expand their tax bases, the pushback from another contingent of residents who would rather see them stay mostly the same has been fierce. It’s a fight between those who would move forward and those who want to go back in time to an idealized version of the past, one that perhaps only ever existed in their minds. While the town has been making progress in the last few years and seems to be on the right track, that tension persists this election cycle, and the towns are at a crossroads once again.
On the one side, there are progressive candidates who favor innovations in the fields of housing, transit, community spaces, and commercial development. They understand that homes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro are or are rapidly becoming out of reach for many, including young people, workers, and longtime residents of color, and they see that expanding the built environment is one way to address such disparities. On the other side, there’s a preoccupation with parks and green spaces, of which the towns have plenty and are not in danger of losing, and a complacency about the reality that the area is becoming one that’s unlivable for anyone but the rich.
On both sides, there are dramatic levelings of PAC interference and dark money influence as relationships between residents and their preferred slates of candidates have frayed. It’s exhausting. And we haven’t even mentioned the school board yet.
We at the INDY know where we stand going into these municipal and school board elections, and that’s with the candidates who favor progress, inclusiveness, and equity. A town can’t be stuck in time. Progressive beacons of the South can’t open their ranks to stealth Republicans. And absurd sums of money from the home-owning class shouldn’t be able to dictate the direction of the future for groups of people who include students, renters, and public workers.
Without further ado, here are our endorsements for Chapel Hill and Carrboro mayor and town council and two of four open seats on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education.
Chapel Hill Mayor
Jess Anderson has done impressive work during her two terms on the Chapel Hill Town Council, and we think she’s the best choice to succeed Mayor Pam Hemminger and continue that work from the top seat.
As a council member, the UNC-Chapel Hill public policy professor was integral to the town’s adoption of the Complete Community framework, which emphasizes new housing choices, greater greenway and transit connectivity, and people-oriented placemaking. Other successes include negotiating a partnership with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to provide spaces for kids for affordable summer camps; advocating for ARPA funding for parks and playgrounds and “a penny for parks” in this year’s budget; and securing affordable housing in addition to preserving green space on the Legion Property in a booming part of town.
An energetic, collaborative leader, Anderson has already served as mayor pro tempore and chaired the town’s Council Committee for Economic Stability. A proponent of data-based decision-making, Anderson’s background in public policy has guided the council to be more inclusive and transparent in terms of community engagement, and her voting record speaks to a vision that Chapel Hill really should be a town for all and not just the privileged.
Anderson’s opponent, Adam Searing, has done impressive work in his career as a lawyer and lobbyist advocating for expanded health care coverage for North Carolina residents, particularly for children and low-income families. But his first term on the council has been less productive. A no vote on some of the more substantive issues that come before the council, from new housing initiatives to the budget, we’re not sure what Searing’s vision is for Chapel Hill besides preserving neighborhoods and parks and expanding bike trails. And while those are all important, there are a lot of people who feel left out of the conversation. As an elected official, being responsive to your colleagues and your constituents—all your constituents—is an important attribute that we feel has been lacking during Searing’s first term on council.
Chapel Hill needs a leader who will listen to diverse perspectives and work collaboratively to find consensus for the good of all. We think that leader would be Anderson.
Chapel Hill Town Council
While we don’t agree with every decision she’s taken on the council—her vote against the expanded housing choices text amendment in June was disappointing, but she said the proposal needed more guardrails—we think Amy Ryan’s knowledge and experience will serve a council well that will see, at minimum, three new members elected. And it never hurts to have an independent voice at the table.
A longtime public servant, Ryan has served on Chapel Hill’s town council since 2019, as well as on its Planning Commission and its Community Design Commission. On council, she’s served on various committees and is adept at communicating the work of the council and its bodies to her constituents.
A champion for the environment, Ryan, a professional writer and editor, brings detailed knowledge of Chapel Hill’s land use and town ordinances to the council chamber, as well as conscientiousness, strong communication skills, and a collaborative approach to governing. We endorse Ryan for another term.
A trained ecologist and career-long civil servant who spent more than two decades working for the EPA, Melissa McCullough has years of experience in service to Chapel Hill, too. McCullough has sat on Chapel Hill’s Planning Commission for seven years. She’s served on the board of the Bike Alliance of Chapel Hill, as a Democratic Party precinct chair, and as a leader of the local Sierra Club. And McCullough helped shape Chapel Hill’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan.
Her comprehensive campaign platform prioritizes housing, transportation, green spaces and the environment, and, importantly, equity and affordability and the town’s students specifically. We think McCullough will make a thoughtful member of the council who’s willing to consider and listen to different perspectives and voices.
A graduate student leader at UNC-CH, Theodore Nollert has stood out this campaign cycle for his earnest desire to improve life in the town for residents, both current and future. Organizing busy graduate students and successfully winning them a pay raise is no small feat, requiring a lot of energy and persistence. We’ve seen that translate in Nollert’s far-reaching ground campaign this fall (knocking on doors on a rainy Saturday morning to talk with future constituents takes dedication).
Nollert currently serves on the town Planning Commission, which sets him up to hit the ground running if elected to council. We also appreciate Nollert’s platform’s inclusion of diversity, noting the work that needs to be done to help the town’s women and minority business owners as well as LGBTQ+ youth. With incumbent Tai Huynh leaving the council, Chapel Hill urgently needs a voice to speak for the young renters that the town should hope to attract and hold on to in coming years.
We hope to hear Nollert’s voice advocating for them on the council.
Erik Valera is an executive at El Centro Hispano, the largest Latino-led/Latino-serving organization in the state. An advocate for cultural diversity, Valera serves on Gov. Roy Cooper’s Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. We appreciate Valera’s reminders that Hispanic/Latino residents and voters are not a monolith—something that can be forgotten in conversions about minority groups.
Valera’s current work on the town’s Planning Commission gives him a good understanding of the processes that drive local government, and we appreciate his desire to serve the community by helping Chapel Hill live up to its potential as a leader on climate change.
We support Valera’s bid for council.
Honorable mention: Jon Mitchell
The chair of the Chapel Hill Planning Commission since 2022, Jon Mitchell understands the role growth and development will play in this election and the town’s future. We’d urge readers to give the avid e-biker, regulatory lawyer, and part-time stay-at-home dad a hard look; he’d likely bring a thoughtful, actionable approach to governing to the town council.
She’s running unopposed, but we’re still happy to throw our support behind Barbara Foushee for Carrboro mayor.
In her nearly six years on the town council, Foushee has been a driving force behind race equity initiatives, a community action plan on climate change, zoning amendments related to housing and infrastructure, and improved connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians. This work is reflected most clearly in the town’s adoption of its Comprehensive Plan last year.
We’re confident that, as mayor, Foushee will continue to prioritize community engagement, expanded and inclusive economic development, and affordable housing initiatives.
Carrboro Town Council
One of the youngest members on the town council, we support reelection of Eliazar Posada.
The founder of a consulting firm that works with nonprofits and other grassroots organizations, Posada is the son of migrant farmworkers and the former president and CEO of the state’s oldest Latino organization, El Centro Hispano.
Posada’s work on the council has included overseeing the adoption of Carrboro’s Comprehensive Plan, advocating for zoning reform and greater connectivity, and championing the 203 Project. We want to see Posada’s good work in the areas of affordable housing, equitable public transit, and equality for all residents continue on the council.
Catherine Fray has served on Carrboro’s Planning Board since 2012 and was twice elected to serve as the board’s chair. Fray also co-chaired Carrboro Connects, the task force created to implement Carrboro’s Comprehensive Plan, from 2020 to 2022.
We think Fray’s deep knowledge of land use in Carrboro, their professional experience facilitating discussion among disparate groups of people as a software implementation consultant, and their advocacy for LGBTQ+ residents and students will serve them well on the town council.
The former owner of bike repair shop Back Alley Bikes, Jason Merrill spent six years on the Chapel Hill Transportation Connectivity and Advisory Board, where he says he learned a lot about how municipal governments function.
He’s a proponent of affordability and housing choice initiatives, increased transit connectivity and access to green spaces, and support for local businesses, and we like Merrill’s specific focus on the town’s opportunity to grow the Bolin Creek Greenway. We think Merrill will make a great addition to Carrboro’s town council.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education did an admirable job this year prioritizing pay raises and benefits for the district’s teachers and staff. But it could use some new leaders willing to test fresh, innovative ideas and expand the district’s equity lens as the achievement gap between white students and students of color persists. In short, it needs leaders with vision.
Prioritzing students’ mental health, incentivizing staff to stay and support teachers, and creating community partnerships will be key to the district’s success in the coming years, as will continuing to support the superintendent.
There are four open seats on the CHCCS Board of Education, but this year, with 13 candidates in the running, we feel informed enough to endorse only two candidates for these seats. Here are those recommendations.
A member of the CHCCS board since 2015, Dasi, a former chair and vice chair, has championed higher pay for teachers and staff during her tenure and overseen implementation of the district’s five-year strategic plan. She advocates for partnerships between the district and community stakeholders, reinstating teacher fellowships, investing in facility improvements, and investing in mental health resources.
Dasi has put her time in as a CHCCS volunteer, with PTAs and school improvement teams, and her professional experience as the director of corporate finance for nonprofit RTI International speaks well to her ability to pursue investment goals in the annual budgets.
We endorse Dasi for another term.
Barbara Fedders is a UNC-CH law professor who, as director of the law school’s Youth Justice Clinic, works with law students to advocate on behalf of court-involved young people who are in need of resources and support.
Fedders’s vision for education in the district transcends test scores, and she emphasizes the importance of fostering students’ social and emotional well-being, encouraging their willingness to take risks, and growing their appreciation of cultural diversity as key to a well-rounded education. A commitment to ensuring equity and promoting safety and well-being are the twin pillars of Fedders’s campaign platform and she has actionable ideas around how the district can achieve these goals. Fedders’s connection to the LGBTQ+ community, too, will ensure that there’s a powerful voice on the board for queer and trans students, whose identities and rights are under attack at the state level.
We strongly endorse Fedders.
Read more about CHCCS board candidates in their candidate questionnaires.
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