May primary to decide two Orange commissioner seats

tgrubb@newsobserver.comApril 19, 2014 

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    Name: Bonnie Hauser

    Age: 60

    Address Sugar Ridge Road, Hillsborough


    Family: I live with three rescue dogs, mom and brothers Ed and Mark and their families live in Orange County

    Party affiliation: Democrat

    Education: Master’s degree in business administration, New York University, 1981; bachelor’s degree, SUNY at Buffalo, 1974

    Occupation: Management consultant, retired partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers

    Boards and groups: Several community leadership and board positions; Orange County Justice United; founder and former president of Orange County Voice

    Campaign statement: I am running for county commissioner to bring fresh ideas along with skills and experiences to meet the challenges we will face in the future. Urban growth, aging, and changes in the legislature are placing greater demands on schools, social safety nest, and essential services. I bring a unique combination of business and community leadership skills to address upcoming shortfalls, and align critical services with expected growth and development.

    I am committed to support our unique lifestyle with an open and transparent government that we can afford. I’m prepared to work with the other commissioners, staff and communities to reprioritize spending in the short term, and begin planning for education, service and growth in the long term. If we clarify the rules for doing business with Orange County, we will improve predictability for citizens, schools and businesses that we want to attract. I’m committed to engage professionals, experts and communities in deliberate conversations about services and funding for the future.

    I bring a proven track record for results when the county was unresponsive. I was instrumental in closing the county landfill and securing fair sewer rats for Efland. When the county was unresponsive to emergency services issues, I started the conversations which resulted in the Emergency Services Workgroup. We demonstrated that collaboration can dramatically improve services and fixed insurance and radio problems and improved ambulance response times by co-locating ambulances in fire stations – all while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

    Name: Barry Jacobs

    Age: 63

    Address: 2105 Moorefields Road, Hillsborough

    Contact info:;

    Family: wife Robin Lackey Jacobs

    Party affiliation: Democrat

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in history, Duke University

    Work experience: restaurant worker, farmer, site supervisor at historic site/wildlife refuge, writer and author

    Boards and groups: chairman, Orange County Board of Commissioners; chairman, Triangle J Council of Governments; chairman, Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization; president, Conservation Leaders Network; chairman, Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center; chairman, Orange County Planning Board; chairman, Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors; co-chairman, Farm and Open Space work group, N.C. Smart Growth Commission

    Other activities: Gardening, hiking, canoeing, reading

    Campaign statement: I know Orange County. I’ve lived here for almost 40 years, first as a farmer and for the last 36 years as the site supervisor at Moorefields, a 70-acre wildlife refuge and 1785 house on the National Register of Historic Places near Hillsborough. I've been a public servant since the mid-80s -- six years on the Orange County planning board, six on the OWASA board, and the past 16 years as a county commissioner. I currently serve as chair of the board.

    I’m recognized as someone who listens, works hard, treats people fairly, values teamwork, and tries to understand all sides of an issue before making a decision. My record is one of support for Orange County’s essential values: quality public education, protecting our local environment, maintaining a diverse community and a strong social safety net, and forging public and private partnerships for the betterment of all. I’ve promoted development consistent with our land use plan to improve our tax base and quality of life, and taxation and governance that balances the demand for services with raising the costs of property, goods and services.

    My experience in office is crucial, with at least four of the other six board members in their first term of office, a new manager about to be hired, and a new county sheriff elected. I bring institutional memory that will help to avoid replication of past mistakes, capitalize on forgotten assets, and build on existing relationships to enable Orange County to better navigate challenging times.

    Name: Mark Marcoplos

    Age: 61

    Address: 7207 Southern Trail, Chapel Hill


    Family: wife Wanda Sundermann; three sons, Lucas, 34, a waiter in Louisville, Ky., Dakota, 26, a Sous Chef at The Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, and Riley, 21, a Cedar Ridge High School graduate now studying sustainable technologies at Appalachian State University

    Party affiliation: Democrat

    Education: one year of college, 42 years of work, travel, writing, coaching, political activism, parenting, gardening, government boards, etc.

    Work experience: owner of Marcoplos Construction, specializing in residential green building since 1987; former material savings coordinator at This End Up Furniture Co.; freelance writer

    Boards and groups: Defended rural Orange communities from a landfill in 1991-92 and an airport in 2008-09, Orange County Economic Development Commission 1998-99, OWASA 1999-2006 (two years as chair), Orange County Planning Board 2009-2011

    Endorsements: Sierra Club

    Pending: Marcoplos will appear in a Wake County courtroom in a few weeks to answer for his June 3, 2013, arrest at the Moral Monday protest in Raleigh.

    “If I had been a county commissioner, I still would have done it. It was the right thing to do, it was useful, and then just being a part of it and learning. I went over there knowing a lot of the injustices that were going on, but actually to witness it and to hear in depth from people that were affected and just learn about the effects of these policies on people around the state, it was very moving and inspirational,” he said.

    Campaign statement: Citizens in both districts value our schools. We cannot fail to provide children the resources needed to lead fulfilling lives. Educated people are key to a thriving economy. From an economic standpoint we cannot afford to let our systems backslide. This means paying for needed maintenance and paying teaches properly for their essential work.

    It’s time to end the decades of wasted time and money. I am alone in calling for implementation of a comprehensive waste resources plan centered upon having our own transfer and recycling stations located in the county near I-40. The current commissioners agreed to allow our waste to be shipped to distant transfer stations at an extra annual cost of over $1 million to the county, towns, and UNC, plus unnecessary pollution.

    In addition to attracting businesses to our Economic Development Districts, I’ve proposed that we promote our local businesses with a county local business database. Let’s drive customers to our local businesses to strengthen communities, generate sales tax and jobs, and keep money circulating locally.

    We are facing challenges that are quite different from those of even the recent past. We will be increasingly affected by climate change, dangerous state policies, and an unpredictable economy. My experience in so many issues, my decades long interest in sustainability, social justice, and authentic democracy – and the large personal network all this has spawned – gives me confidence that I can help with creative solutions to meet identified challenges and unexpected ones that will surely arise.

    Name: Earl McKee

    Age: 61

    Address: 5200 Kiger Road, Rougemont


    Family: wife Sandra Lloyd McKee, one child and 2 stepchildren; my mother, sister and brother all live on the family farm in northern Orange County

    Education: Orange County Schools, associate’s degree, agriculture, N.C. State University

    Work Experience: I own and manage a diversified farming operation in Northern Orange County. My wife and I own and manage rental property and have completed several small residential properties.

    Previous offices held: Orange County Planning Board; vice chairman (second year), Orange County Board of Commissioners

    Boards and groups: Little River Presbyterian Church, deacon and elder; Caldwell Fire Department, co-founder and 22-year volunteer firefighter, former president, treasurer and member, Fire Department Board of Directors

    Campaign statement: I was elected in 2010 to the Orange County Board of Commissioners. At that time I focused on schools, public safety, and economic development. Since joining the Board I have become more outspoken on many other issues that affect the residents of Orange County. As a candidate for re-election I continue to stress the importance of the basic services provided by the county but also campaign on the need for a more focused effort on other concerns. Affordable housing, poverty, public transportation, solid waste and recycling collection and disposal, water quality and protection of our natural resources are a few of the issues that are a high priority for Orange County residents.

    My business experience as a farmer has provided me with the skills to help our board meet the challenges ahead. I listen to new ideas, let go of old ways when they no longer work, and adopt new strategies to move toward solutions that work for all. In an effort to educate myself on issues I have chosen to serve on a diverse mix of boards and commissions as a representative of Board of Commissioners. Believing that “trust must be earned” I have also reached out to many individuals and groups in order to understand their concerns.

    I joined the board with only one objective and that was to ensure that every voice was heard, every viewpoint was given consideration, and that all decisions be made in a fair, open, and inclusive manner.

    I hope to continue that goal in a second term.

— The winners of the May primary for two seats on the Orange County Board of Commissioners will help make several major decisions, from schools and county finances to solid waste.

There are three seats up for grabs May 6. Commissioners Vice Chairman Earl McKee and challenger Mark Marcoplos are competing in District 2, while Chairman Barry Jacobs and challenger Bonnie Hauser are competing for the at-large seat.

Early voting starts April 24. Only District 2 residents can vote in that race, but all county residents can vote in the at-large race.

The race for retiring Commissioner Alice Gordon’s District 1 seat will take place Nov. 4. Neither Democratic candidate Mia Burroughs nor Republican candidate Gary Kahn has a primary challenger.

Here’s what the four primary candidates had to say:

What are your top 3 priorities?

• Hauser said the county’s highest priority must be funding short-term school needs and long-term building and maintenance costs.

“Take the immediate pressure off by making sure the teachers are paid, making sure the social safety nets are in place, making sure the schools aren’t falling apart – that they’re heated and they have hot water – these are some problems that we’re having with our schools. Take those pressures off, spend another year and really plan these facilities,” Hauser said.

Her other priorities: Start real discussions about solid waste and recycling, transportation aligned with future growth and housing and other elements of an affordable community. She also wants more transparency and clarity so the county’s zoning rules are easier to understand, she said.

• Jacobs offered a litany of goals: Promoting Orange County values – quality public education, environmental protections, helping those who need a hand and building beneficial partnerships – and quality economic development “where we want it and in as diverse a way as possible.”

It’s also “a really important time in the history of the county,” he said.

“We’re going to have at least four new commissioners, a new manager, a new sheriff, we’re under assault from the state legislature, and I think we need some continuity of leadership and some leaders who understand the relationships that we have and the situations that confront us and can move us forward without too much of a pause while other people get up to speed,” he said.

• Marcoplos cited schools, solid waste and economic development. There hasn’t been a tax increase in five years, the budget is tight, and school needs have grown, he said.

“It’s going to be a real challenge, and I suspect the people in the county who really take a lot of pride in and appreciate the school system will begin to request that we raise the taxes a little bit,” he said.

Marcoplos said he expects the new Morinaga candy factory to spur growth in the county’s economic development districts. He has proposed a searchable database of small, local businesses to let residents, entrepreneurs and other businesses know what products and services are available.

• McKee said schools could be a critical budget driver over the next decade. The county also must decide whether to work with local or regional partners to handle recycling and solid waste, he said.

“I think we’re going to have to have a long and possibly painful discussion on how we handle solid waste, as well as how we handle, and along with that how we fund, our recycling services, which are overwhelmingly successful,” he said.

Clarifying the county’s rules will attracting more industry, and small, local businesses also are a priority, McKee said. Clear rules also attract and existing resources also attr, such as the small business loan program, the Launch business incubator in Chapel Hill and the Piedmont Food and Agriculture Processing Center in Hillsborough, could attract more companies, he said.

What are your thoughts on the budget?

• Hauser suggested the county assess its underutilized office space, consolidate and sell or lease the high-value properties. Without more revenue, the county’s unique lifestyle could become unaffordable, she said. The commissioners also need to be deliberate in financial matters, she said.

“Why are we talking about curbside recycling instead of talking about a plan for solid waste and recycling for the future? Why are we talking about a meeting room in the Whitted Building without a facilities plan? This kind of backward decision-making process gets very expensive,” she said.

• Jacobs said the commissioners are examining the need and cost of capital projects. A proposed $30 million jail could be built in pods over more years or a Southern Branch Library might be smaller than 20,000 square feet, he said.

It’s difficult, but the commissioners also will maintain their support for education in the face of state cuts, he said.

“At some point, because we have such a strong commitment to schools, it almost inevitable that we will have to raise taxes,” he said. A bond “is something that needs to be ratified, I believe, by the voters, because they are voting on a property tax increase.”

• Marcoplos said it’s getting the bottom when the commissioners talk about raising taxes. He wants to explore creative solutions, he said.

“This is a challenging time, a new era, with state government being irresponsible,” he said. “It’s crucial to fix the schools and help teachers. Not only buildings, but the maintenance side of it.”

• McKee said all the options must be on the table, including a tax increase, because it’s critical to provide students with adequate school buildings and a supportive learning environment.

“We have effectively used up all the low-hanging fruit over the last couple of years,” McKee said. “Our sales tax revenues are up, our impact fees are up because of increased building ... we have more revenue coming in than we did last year or the year before, but we have more demand. I think it’s going to be a very delicate balancing act.”

Relationships between county, towns

• Hauser recommended looking for solutions that cross jurisdictional boundaries. Instead of a county curbside recycling program, for instance, the towns could extend their curbside collection to residents just outside their borders, and the commissioners could find a way to pay for it, she said.

“We’re not all the same, but we need to be working together,” she said. “The context of the past is what drives us ... (but) our inability to talk, our inability to work together to get these things worked out is undermining our ability to deliver excellent services that are affordable.”

• Jacobs said there were some mistakes in the past and the towns started looking for their own direction on solid waste. Closing the landfill didn’t build any goodwill, he said. But the work to rebuild those relationships is starting to pay off, he said.

“The fact that Chapel Hill actually came to the Board of County Commissioners and said consider (helping with) Ephesus-Fordham, we think this is really great,” he said. “Regardless of what we do and regardless of whether we participate, the fact that they came to us with enthusiam and a lack of suspicion for how we would react is an improvement. I think that relationship is going to continue to flourish.”

• Marcoplos said there’s no reason why the county and towns can’t work together. A lot of the solid waste issues arose, because former County Manager Frank Clifton was “very uncooperative,” he said.

“In the end, the amount of money that has been wasted and the amount of undone work because of the solid waste ongoing fiasco needs to stop so we can get on with other stuff. I think as the local governments explore going on their own, which they had not done before, they are understanding we also work together. I think we’re on the verge of getting some cooperation going.”

• McKee agreed there’s going to be a lot of relationship building. Local leaders should talk regularly in all kinds of situations, he said.

“I (have relationships) with several of the municipal board members – talking with them when I see them, being open to questions, being open to explaining my rationale for the way that I voted and the way that I look at issues,” he said. “I think it is more of a board need to develop diverse relationships with the members of the various boards.”

What about recycling and solid waste?

• Hauser said the planning should have started last year, since the decision to close the landfill happened two years ago. The governments have not talked about how to handle future trash and recycling, the higher fees that residents might pay in the future or how the county plans to afford its solid waste operations without landfill-generated revenues, she said.

“All we have done so far is we’re almost at a contract with the towns to fund a service we’ve been doing for a long time,” she said. “How are we going to operate our solid waste system in a sustainable way without a landfill to subsidize it?”

• Jacobs said the first thing to do is implement a five-year interlocal agreement with the towns to work together on solid waste issues. The community then should spend the next year hearing what local and outside experts have to say before choosing from its options, he said.

“I’m reading that Carrboro wants to look at food waste. Well, so do we,” Jacobs said. “Those conversations shouldn’t be happening in isolation. We should all be sitting down.”

• Marcoplos, who named solid waste one of his priorities, was among those who successfully stopped the county in 1992 from siting landfills in the rural areas. The issue was brushed under the rug for 20 years, and people are paying more now to ship the trash to Durham, he said.

“So, present commissioners can sit there and say they’re always looking for a little way to save money here and a little money to save there,” Marcoplos said, “but the fact of the matter is they agreed to this wasteful process that’s costing the citizens of Orange County.”

The governments should build a transfer station near the Chapel Hill Operations Center on Millhouse Road, with an entrance off Eubanks Road beside the park-and ride-lot, he said. Couple with a recycling station, it could collect solid waste and recycling in the future, he said.

• McKee said the approach to solid waste has been piecemeal. Now, there’s no landfill, residents are paying to haul their trash to Durham and the commissioners have several options for rural curbside recycling services. That’s 13 percent of the county’s solid waste program, he said.

“I think we need to sit down and have a more comprehensive look at the entire program, all the way from solid waste and recycling to transfer station siting to whether we want a countywide waste collection system,” McKee said. “Look at it from a holistic standpoint rather than trying to fix each little problem as they pop up.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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