Leading from the Left

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Meeting with Central/Northern Orange African American Leaders

Last Saturday I met with a group of about a dozen African-American leaders who live in or around Hillsborough. I arranged the meeting because I wanted to learn more about what their concerns and interests are. As I'm starting my first year as a County Commissioner, it's helpful to hear first hand what's on people's minds.

The conversation was wide-ranging and covered topics as diverse as housing, homelessness, jobs, water quality, and parks.

The issue that probably got the most discussion was water quality. Judge Beverly Scarlett, along with Mariah McPherson and Frances Dancy, was very concerned about folks in the Hillsborough area who do not have indoor facilities. We think of this area as being pretty advanced, but there are still too many families in Orange County who have outhouses. Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Lowen and Frances Dancy echoed.

Leo Allison and Judge Scarlett were very concerned about folks in Orange County without clean drinking. There far too many families who have well water that is dirty. It may not be contaminated with toxic chemicals like arsenic, but it comes out of the faucet red or brown. These families cannot drink their water, they can't wash their clothes in it, and they don't cook with it. Often families of modest means, they have to buy water at the store just to go about their daily business.

Some of these families live close enough to city water and sewer to connect, but can't afford the steep connection fees. Still others could get access cleaner water by digging their wells deeper, but can't afford the thousands of dollars that would cost.

Judge Scarlett made a passionate plea for clean water, saying "People have a basic human right to clean water!" Our group talked briefly about ways we might help these families and agreed to talk about this issue in greater detail later.

The conversation turned to jobs and economic development. Keith Cook made excellent points about the hardsheps caused in Northern and Central Orange as textile jobs dried up. Keith said the county hasn't done enough to bring in new business that pays decent wages and families are hurting. Commissioner Brian Lowen also made good comments about the need for jobs that pay decent wages.

Tony McKnight and Hazel Lunsford brought up education concerns. Mr. McKnight ran for the Orange County School Board last year and is planning on running again next time. Mrs. Lunsford's years working in Orange County schools taught her the value of a good education. They both want to make sure we take steps to address the drop out rate and keep young people in school.

I want to thank all of the individuals who attended this meeting. It was important to me to hear first hand what's on the minds of my constituents. The enthusiasm the attendees demonstrated was catching. It reminds me that most of the problems we face as a county can be resolved if we sit down and hear what each other is saying.