Leading from the Left

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Swearing In

On Monday I was sworn in as Orange County's newest member of the Board of Commissioners. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for electing me to this position. I am humbled by the faith you've shown in my abilities and promise to do my utmost to represent your interests. I am excited about the opportunities to work on environmental matters, school funding and education, and social services. Below are my remarks Monday night after the swearing in ceremony.

"I would like to begin my remarks by publicly thanking retiring Commissioner Steve Halkiotis. While Steve may be retiring from this position tonight, Steve is not by nature a retiring, shy person. His great strength as a County Commissioner was his passion, energy, fervor, and the color commentary he brought to county government.

Steve set the bar high, and we are indebted to his service and dedication to our community.

I humbly thank the people of Orange County for electing me to this position. I will do my best to serve your needs.

And as we embark upon a new term of the Board of County Commissioners, we have an opportunity to take a step back and cast a fresh eye on county needs and county goals.

Taxes. Let’s start with taxes. The County’s tax rate has increased every year for the past 18 years. Eighteen years in a row of tax increases. That is not sustainable, and on a number of different levels is just plain wrong.

In a community in which we often TALK about affordability, I believe we are obligated to look deep into the causes of those increases and make some changes. As your new county commissioner, I intend to do so.

Environment. Orange County has a well-deserved reputation for being a leader in land conservation. Our Land Legacy program is a model.

In the area of energy use and energy efficiency, however, there is room for improvement. Energy use is emerging as a critical environmental issue, as a component of any realistic plan to address global climate change, and as a matter of economic and national security. Orange County can do our part to address energy use.

There are an infinite number of steps the county can take to address energy use by government, business, and citizens at large.

Tonight is not the night to explore in detail those options. However, I submit that Orange County can emerge as leaders in North Carolina on these issues by taking steps to reduce Orange County’s energy consumption by doing the following:

§ improve efficiency by in lighting and appliances
§ increase the availability and use of alternative means of transportation
§ require or encourage the use of LEEDS standards
§ increase the use of alternative fuels by both county government and our citizens.

Technology. Local governments, including Orange County, must begin to treat technology as an infrastructure need---like water and sewer, roads and sidewalks, and parks. Technology has revolutionized how we do business, how we are educated, how we live and how we work.

Those with access to technology get ahead, and those without fall behind.

There is a digital divide in Orange County—between rich and poor, white and non-white, and—perhaps most dramatically—between urban and rural.

This digital divide threatens to leave segments of our community behind while at the same time giving great advantage to other parts of our community.

Orange County must take steps to ensure that technologies--such as high speed internet, mobile telephones, wireless access—are available county wide. Regardless of where you live in the county, you deserve to have access to technology because without that access you will fall behind your neighbors in the technology age.

Library Service. I believe the Board of Commissioners is committed to following through on the Library Task Force report.

And I am fully supportive of the new county library being planned in Hillsborough. Our county needs a new, improved facility that will meet the needs of Northern Orange County in the 21st century.

The Library Task Force report also calls for a county library to serve Southwest Orange County, located in Carrboro. As your county commissioner, I will work diligently to ensure that a county branch library is built in Carrboro. Additionally, I look forward to working with my colleagues—particularly the chair and vice-chair—to reevaluate the county’s position on sharing the cost of that facility.

I believe the formula previously proposed by the Commissioners bears an undue hardship on smaller communities like Carrboro. I am looking forward to exploring other options so this much anticipated facility can be build expeditiously.

School Merger. We have many pressing needs and priorities in Orange County. I believe school merger is an issue that is best laid to rest. I will not support revisiting that issue.

School merger battles distracted us from focusing on issues that need to be addressed ASAP for the good of the county as a whole---issues such as the achievement gap, funding equity between the two school systems, and much needed renovations to the older schools particularly in Northern Orange.

It’s time we laid school merger to rest and focus on the immediate needs of our schools and the children they educate.

Again, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the people of Orange County for electing me to this position. I will do my utmost to represent your interests regardless of where you live, how much money you make, the color of your skin, or your sexual orientation.

This is a great county in which to live, and I intend to do my part to make sure it stays that way.

Now, let’s get to work!