Leading from the Left

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Technology and Socio-economic status

Last week, I wrote about the need to hire a new county manager who understands information technology and how it’s changing government. My point was that Americans now conduct a significant part of our personal and business lives through the internet, and Orange County citizens expect our county government to make full use of technological innovations. These innovations can lead to more efficient delivery of services and more effective communications.

My writings on this subject elicited enough response that I decided to expand the conversation a little and talk about the economic impact of technology innovations—specifically, who’s getting left behind and what we can do about it as a community.

I believe it’s important, as our society moves deeper into the age of information technology, that we ensure these changes are available evenly across our economy. Is it JUST for a moral society to leave behind folks at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum as we continue on our path into an internet-based economy?

I worry about schoolkids who live in families that can’t afford computers, or who may have a computer but can’t afford the monthly fees for an internet provider. How will these kids be able to keep up in school as more and more research and homework assignments are done on the internet? Will they be permanently disadvantaged as their peers grow up with information technology embedded as a part of their daily lives?

As these children mature and enter the workforce, will there be an economic divide between those who have deep familiarity with information technology and those who don’t? My fear is that children who come from families with access to technology may succeed while others are left behind.

Some say that if kids don’t have computers at home, they can go to public libraries for internet access or to complete home work assignments the old fashioned way—book learnin’. But the practical problem with that is that many of our kids locally who need that access to computers outside of school hours—evenings and weekends—do not live close enough to public libraries to reasonably avail themselves of those services.

We need to fully fund the Orange County Library Task Force recommendations so all county residents have equitable access to information technology and text resources.

If elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners I will search for ways to extend access to information technology to citizens who don’t currently have it. They shouldn’t be left behind in our new economy. Of course, one local government, acting alone, can’t resolve this issue. But we can do our share—provide leadership and vision for a new, more inclusive community.

For starters, I think we need to begin treating information technology as an infrastructure like any other. Like sidewalks, streetlights and water/sewer, governments should ensure that access to information technology is available to all regardless of socio-economic status. Carrboro’s wireless downtown wireless network, which I spear-headed as mayor, is one example of how local government can show leadership on this issue.

I’m looking forward to continuing this dialog as the campaign progresses.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Using Technology in New and Better Ways

There have been media reports recently about the retirement of County Manager John Link. And while that search is likely to be completed by the time this campaign is over and a new county commissioner is sworn in, I’d like to add my two cents on the search.

The County Commissioners should look for a new manager who ‘gets it’ when it comes to using technology in new and creative ways to deliver services more efficiently. In my experience, you have to have a leader at the top who understands what questions to ask and who understands that innovations can be put to work to improve public service and to reduce the costs of delivering those services. Additionally, technology can be used to provide our citizens with more information in a timelier manner.

Most people now use the internet daily for purchases, research, communication—nearly all the necessities of daily life. County government hasn’t kept up. Check out the Orange County website. It’s nearly impossible to find anything on that site.

Continuing on the theme of technology, I have added an audioblog component to the site. In other words, I’m now able to post voice messages directly to the blog for folks to check out. Pretty cool, eh?

In the category of “way cool,” I’ve recorded 4 emailable videos that will be released during the course of the campaign. Two are fundraising pitches, the first of which will be posted to my website for you to see later this week. The second two are issue videos which will be released a little later in the campaign.

I will be posting all of these on the campaign website and we’ll be emailing them to voters.

Let me know what you think of this new technology. This is new territory for local candidates….heck, there probably aren’t many political candidates anywhere in the country who are using this kind of technology yet! Consequently, I expect the campaign will be learning as we go along. We definitely want to maximize the use of this technology. Please feel free to offer advice or suggestions.

The point is to experiment with technology as it evolves in order to figure out the best way to deliver information to voters as people are in the process of making up their minds about whom to vote for.

On a final note, I’m having a campaign fundraiser this Sunday from 4:30 to 6:00 at the home of Sharon Mujica and George Shepard, 500 North Street in Chapel Hill. Come if you can and spread the word!! RSVP if you can, but it’s not necessary. Just show up for a glass of wine and some good company!!

Monday, March 20, 2006

The U. S. of ANT

Well, today was interesting.....

Mark Kleinschmidt and I were interviewed by ANT, a gay stand up comic and reality TV show host. ANT was in town filming a segment on us for his new show, "The U.S. of ANT" on LOGO, the new gay and lesbian cable TV network started by MTV.

We went Go-Cart riding with ANT in North Durham (in a hail storm, no less) and then sat for an interview. The segment will air on LOGO this summer, probably May or June. Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable doesn't carry LOGO locally so none of us will be able to see it.

You may have noticed a new audio button on my blog. The message I posted this weekend was a simple "Thanks for visiting my blog." In the future, though, I hope to add a variety of voice postings.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Thanks for Visiting My Blog

this is an audio post - click to play

Have a Nice Weekend

Here's hoping that our North Carolina teams do well this weekend. I imagine most everyone will be watching the Heels tonight, and I wish our boys lots of luck.

Not much to report from the campaign trail today. I've been struggling to fill out and return the questionnaires that have come from newspapers and citizens groups this week. Generally, the questionnaires are excellent and reflect a broad range of interests here in Orange County. I've recieved questionnaires from the PTA Council, the News & Observer, the Herald, nomerger.org, the Democratic Party, and the Chamber of Commerce. I will be posting as many as I can online as the campaign progresses.

I'm off to Charlotte for a EqualityNC's quarterly board meeting and a fundraiser. I'm now Chair of Equality's Board of Directors which has been loads of fun, but hard work. ENC is in the process of developing a 3 year plan to help us do a better job of addressing LGBT issues in North Carolina. It's extremely important that state-wide, gay/lesbian groups like EqualityNC be as strong as they can be right now. The radical right is demonizing the LGBT community and the only way to beat them is to be stronger, wiser, and to work harder.

On another note, Chapel Hill Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt and I are scheduled to be interviewed by ANT, a gay stand-up comic and reality TV show host, for his new show on the LOGO TV network. We're meeting ANT at a Go-Cart facility in Durham on Monday afternoon for some fun and games. Then ANT will be interviewing me (he interviewed Mark on a previous visit).

For those who haven't heard of it, LOGO is a new LGBT cable television network started last year by MTV. It's sort of a BET for gay people. Time Warner cable has thus far declined to add LOGO to the local offerings, so you all will be out of luck with segment airs later this spring.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

PTA Council Questionnaire

Below are my answers to the PTA Council Questionniare. I plan on posting most of the questionnaires during the course of the primary campaign. The more information you have, the better for this process.

Mike Nelson

1)Are the funding differences between the two school districts in the countya result of local control? What does funding equity mean to you?

Regardlessof the reason, funding differences exist between the two school systems. Many parents in the Orange County School system believe their children arenot getting the resources they deserve. In a county that values qualityeducation as much as ours does, this is not acceptable.

I believewe should measure equity in terms of results. We will know that we’ve achievedequity when parents in both school systems are equally satisfied with theeducational resources their children receive.

2) Do you support giving taxation authority directly to the school boards?

Generallyspeaking, I favor local taxation authority for school boards. I understandthat the state legislature is the ultimate decision-maker with regard toallowing local school boards to have this responsibility. If the localschool boards request such authority, I will support seeking enabling legislationfrom the North Carolina General Assembly.

3) The School AdequatePublic Facilities Ordinance (SAPFO) requires that adequate classroom spaceexist before new residences are constructed. Do you support SAPFO? Shouldthe SAPFO formula be changed to honor the state mandate for smaller classsizes?

I was one of the first elected officials in Orange County tosupport SAPFO when it was proposed in the mid-1990’s. As mayor, I monitoredits progress as it was developed from a concept to a policy on the ground.

Like any policy, SAPFO should be reviewed periodically for effectiveness. One of the criteria used to evaluate and fine-tune SAPFO should be class-sizerequirements as prescribed the state of North Carolina.

4) Schoolsaccount for 85% of the existing square footage funded by Orange County. In 2005, the county commissioners lowered capital allocations for schoolsto 60%. What are your capital funding priorities for Orange County and howdo schools rank in those priorities?

The voters of Orange County haveclearly indicated, time and again, that education funding is their priority. And I agree—there is no higher priority than funding for our schools. Asa county commissioner, I will be committed to providing adequate educationalresources in both school districts. Other capital priorities include parksand soccer fields, land preservation, and construction of facilities thatprovide important public services such as law enforcement, public works,and social services.

5) As state and federal funding for educationcontinues to erode and as employee benefit costs and teacher pay raisesincrease the need for local funding, would you raise taxes or cut educationservices?

Yes, if necessary. However, I think we also should findnew ways to expand our commercial tax base in Orange County. While I opposestrip malls and big box retail, I believe we can do a better job of encouragingthe creation of small, entrepreneurial businesses that expand our tax base—particularlybusinesses spun off from research at UNC. New ideas and new business opportunitiesare being created everyday at UNC and we’ve failed to take full advantageof them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Good morning, everybody.

We recently made some changes and plan on making more as the campaign progresses. Most importantly, we added an issue section on social justice. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that social issues were noticeably absent from the first incarnation of the electmikenelson.com website. These issues are simply too important to the long-term health and well-being of Orange County to get short shrift. I hope to add even more coverage to social justice topics in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

I’m excited to announce that we’ll add a brief video to the website, hopefully early next week. And I intend to add daily messages to the blog starting this week. I’ve started by posting my responses to the first candidate questionnaire. Stay tuned for more.

In other news, while it hasn't been officially announced in the mainstream press yet, I received the first endorsement in the campaign---from EqualityNC. ENC is a statewide political organization that works for equal rights for the LGBT community in North Carolina, and they lobby at the state legislature on issues of importance to the lesbian and gay community. And while ENC typically only endorses candidates for the state legislature, the organization will make an exception and endorse in local races if an openly gay or lesbian candidate is running. I am honored to have the ENC endorsement.

EqualityNC believes that it’s important to have the LGBT community at the table. In this crucial time in our country’s history, as the US is grappling with questions of equal rights and equal treatment for LGBT Americans and as the far right continues to gain traction by demonizing the gay people, it is critical to have openly gay people in elected office. Gay and lesbian elected officials can help shape the debate, educate the electorate, and change the tone of the discussion swirling around LGBT equal rights.

If elected this year, I will become North Carolina’s first openly gay male to serve on a County Board of Commissioners.

School equity. You may have read in the paper this week that the County Commissioners are recommitting themselves to resolving the issue of inequity of funding between the two school systems. Judging by their statements at a recent County Commission meeting, the commissioners seem determined to begin a gradual process of restoring equity. This is the right thing to do. I hear often from parents whose children attend school in the Orange County system that they do not feel they get the resources they deserve. In a county that values quality education as much as ours, this is not acceptable. I support efforts to resolve this disparity and, if elected, will work to seek a solution that benefits children in all parts of the county.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or ideas. The easiest way to reach me if via email: mikenelsonnc@aol.com