Leading from the Left

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sustainable Economy

In an on-going effort to meet with citizens from different walks of life, so I can hear what's on their minds and learn more about Orange County, I met yesterday with a group of Southern Orange business leaders.

We talked for about an hour about Orange County's economic development plans, our Economic Development office, the job situation, affordability, the tax base, development rules, and host of other issues.

Aaron Nelson, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, raised serious concerns about our 'job future.' Aaron is worried that our high school students don't stay in Orange County when they graduate; that is, there is no real job future for them here. We send them off to college, say "bye-bye," and that's that. Aaron advocated for a more diverse job market place in which there are a wide variety of careers available for people from all walks of life.

Others in the room mentioned that far too many of our residents commute out of Orange County every day for work (including me). I heard a figure recently that 40% of our residence commute out for work every day and another 40% commute into OC.

There were also some excellent suggestions about how Orange County can do a better job of attracting business. Folks noted that our Economic Development Districts were designated 10 years ago and nothing has happened in any of them yet. The EDD at the intersection of Buckhorn Rd and I-85/40 was raised as a good example of a wasted opportunity. That EDD is superbly located along two major interstates and has excellent access to the rest of the Southeast. The location is exactly what businesses that need good distribution capabilities look for, someone noted. Why hasn't the water and sewer infrastructure been put in place yet so that EDD can thrive?

Jack Graham and others suggested that OC could do a better job marketing ourselves. They were frank in their assessment that Orange County has a reputation for being unfriendly to business which discourages businesses from locating here.

Orange County receives only about 12% of our tax revenue from commercial property taxes. Various folks suggested that we should articulate a clear goal to change that ratio. Attracting good commercial would help alleviate the tax burden from our residential property owners.

This was a good meeting. It's always helpful to me to hear from individuals...what do folks think we're doing well? What do they think could be done better? You'd be surprised how much you can learn when you simply ask people what's on their minds.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Good News for Democracy

Several days ago I blogged about House Bill 91 which, if passed, will allow new voters to register and vote up to three days in advance at any one stop voting site in North Carolina. This is a great bill that makes it easier for average folks to participate in the voting process.

Today the State House passed this bill 68-52. This is a great development for the citizens of North Carolina, and I commend the State House to having the vision to pass this bill. Of course, HB 91 still needs to be heard by the State Senate, but we're heading in the right direction. States that have same day voting have higher voter turnout than North Carolina. Passage of this bill will make it easier for people who engage in the process late...typically the young....to register and vote.

NC at the Top (of a not-so-good list)

When North Carolina tops a national ranking, we usually like it to be for something good. But a report out this week, ranks NC as the 2nd highest state in the nation in terms of releasing toxicants into the air. Clink on the link and read for yourself.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sad State of Section 8

Did you know that there are 612 families in using the federal government's Section 8 housing program in Orange County, but there is a waiting list of 1,678 applicants?!

Those are stunning figures and highlight dramatically the depth of the problem we have here in Orange County when it comes to providing adequate affordable housing.

Section 8 is the federal government's rental housing program. It's funding has been stagnant for the past two years, receiving no increase in the budget despite a significant upsurge in US housing costs. No wonder we have families living at the Daniel Boone campground and a persistent homelessness problem.

With escalating costs for the war, it's hard to imagine significant increases for the Section 8 program in upcoming federal budgets. Which is unfortunate....a misguided war is hampering our ability to address important issues for our people here at home. All the more reason for the citizens of Orange County to redouble our efforts to address the housing crunch.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Strength of Elizabeth

Most of us have been touched by cancer. Many of us have been touched by breast cancer--friends, family, loved ones. We know the importance of carrying on, of staying focused on work and family and our goals.

Elizabeth Edwards has been exhibiting enormous strength of character this week by 1) sharing her diagnosis with us honestly and openly and 2) deciding to stay focused on the important things in her life. Some have critcized the Edwards' for continuing with the campaign despite Elizabeth's diagnosis. I disagree. They should be commended for the dignity and grace they've shown.

This is an educative moment, I believe; a moment in American discourse in which we can all learn how to live with cancer. Perhaps Elizabeth can teach us all a little bit about strength, character, honesty, and personal integrity. Hat's off to Elizabeth Edwards....

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Good News for Democracy

Yesterday, a the Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform of the State House gave a positive recommendation to a bill that would allow same day regisatration and voting. I strongly support this bill because it will open up voting opportunities to a much wider range of individuals.

The bill, sponsored by Wake County Democrat Deborah Ross, would make it easier for 'last minute voters' to register and vote in elections. As hard as it is for political junkies like me to believe, there are many people who don't focus on elections until the last couple of weeks. Under current NC law, individuals must register at least 25 days before an election in order to be eligible to vote. Young people and others who engage late in the process find that they are not allowed to vote.

Ross' bill (HB 91) has 57 co-sponsors, including Orange County Representatives Verla Insko and Bill Faison. Speaker Hackney is not listed as a co-sponsor but speakers seldom co-sponsor legislation. I understand that he supports this measure as well.

Under the language of bill, folks with valid ID will be allowed to register at any of the one-stop voting sites in their county and then vote the same day. One-stop voting sites operate up to three days before the election. This change would allow many of the folks who don't get excited about an election until a week or two before hand to partiicipate in the process.

Interestingly, states with same day registration all have higher voter participation than North Carolina. The three states with the highest voter turnout all have same day registration, though the specifics vary from state to state.

I'll be watching how this legislation proceeds. It could be the most important election reform in NC in many years.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

More on the Displaced Residents at the Campground

The Chapel Hill News today covered the unfolding story at the RV Campground in Hillsborough. As I reported here yesterday, a number of families are being asked to leave the campground by May 1st because of redevelopment plans at Daniel Boone Village. A lack of affordable housing opportunities in Orange County means that some of these families may not have anywhere to go.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In case you were wondering...

No, I did not fall off the face of the earth. It's now been over two weeks since I last posted; a much longer break than I would have ever anticipated. I've been laid up with something that can only be described as the "cold from hell". It wasn't quite the flu, but it knocked me down hard for about two weeks and alot of my normal activities--including blogging--fell by the wayside.

But I'm back!

Last night, at a joint meeting between the Board of County Commissioners and the Hillsborough Town Board, we learned that the tenants of an RV site in Hillsborough are going to be evicted as of May 1st. This is troubling because these folks are, essentially, homeless and have been living at this site because they have no where else to go. The Town of Hillsborough, led by Mayor Tom Stevens, has been exemplary in working to find a solution for these residents as well as the residents of an adjacent mobile home park who will also soon be dislocated.

This situation illustrates a serious need we have in Orange County for housing for our residents of modest means. When these families leave the RV facility, there is no where like it for them to move. We live in one of the most affluent counties in the state, a county with a low unemployment rating, a reasonably high level of public services, and a progressive value system. Yet, there are still far too many families--the chronic poor, the chronically unemployeed or underemployed--who simply have few affordable housing options.

As a community, we need to roll up our sleeves and do everything we can to increase the amount of affordable housing in our community.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A New Day in the State House

House Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Orange) continues to clean things up in Raleigh. His new rules for the House, which he announced this week, are a giant step forward in terms of creating more transparent operations. Good government advocates have been calling for these changes for a long time. Hat's off to Speaker Hackney for taking more steps to clean up the cesspool at the state legislature.

Specifically, Hackney's new rules do the following:

• Ban committee floaters
• Ban blank bills
• Ban same day consideration of legislation
• Limit special provisions in the budget unless they pertain to appropriations

The Senate adopted their rules on the first day of session, back in January, so they will not be taking up any of these reforms. While it's unfortunate that they will not act on reform this year, the Senate is now under increased pressure to also institute reform measures when they next adopt rules.

Hillsborough's Hybrid

I learned from the Sierra Club's Tom Jensen that Hillsborough has purchased a hybrid. The Town of Hillsborough is showing some geniune leadership with regard to addressing global warming and energy consumption. They should be commended for their leadership and thanked for setting a good example for other local governments. Here's Tom's post on the Sierra Club blog.