Leading from the Left

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Announcing New County Attorney

The BoCC has named a new county attorney. The appointment will be made official at our April 7 Board meeting. The following is the text of the press release issued this morning.

Roberts Named as New Attorney for Orange County

Valerie Foushee, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, announced the selection of John L. Roberts as the new Attorney for Orange County starting April 23, 2009.

As County Attorney, Roberts will provide legal services for the Board of County Commissioners and county departments, reporting directly to the Board. He will work in coordination with the Staff Attorney on all legal matters including ordinances, contracts and as necessary on litigation and other legal matters.

Roberts comes to Orange County from Stanly County, where he served as County Attorney. His experience providing a full range of legal services for the Stanly County Board of Commissioners includes advice on legal issues, policies and procedures for both the Board and all county departments. Prior to work with Stanly County, Roberts served as a managing partner of Ferrell & Atwater, a law firm in Raleigh.

His educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in Law Studies from Davenport College in Kalamazoo, Michigan and a Juris Doctorate Degree from North Carolina Central University. He also has a Master of Public Administration degree from North Carolina State University and has completed a certificate program in Municipal and County Administration from the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The Board looks forward to John serving as part of the Orange County team,” Foushee said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us and hope he can hit the ground running.”

Roberts is ready for the challenge. “I am very excited about my future with Orange County. I have heard many positive comments about both the community and future co-workers,” Roberts said.

Roberts will be replacing Geof Gledhill who served as primary legal counsel to Orange County for over 30 years.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Setting the Record Straight

The following letter, signed by all 7 members of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, will appear in local papers in coming days. It's an attempt to get the facts out on the table, after months of misinformation being thrown about. Read on...

To The Editor:

Let’s set the record straight.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners seeks to avoid a tax increase in 2009 and is committed to spending cuts and a revenue neutral tax rate (no increase in income).

We accept the county attorney’s opinion that rescinding the 2009 revaluation is not legal at this date, and believe that such an adjustment would not solve our collective and individual financial difficulties, anyway.

The other night the commissioners directed the county manager to produce a budget for fiscal year 2009-10 that reflects a rate of spending no higher than supported by a revenue neutral tax rate. Assumed is a spending level reduced by a minimum of $8.7 million from 2008-09, about five percent.

The manager also was asked to provide recommendations for additional, significant, targeted cuts below that rate of spending. Those reductions, to be considered later this spring, could allow property taxes to be set below the revenue neutral rate. Further cuts will be balanced against our historic commitment to public safety, education, environmental protection, and support for those least able to help themselves.

The commissioners agreed to apply the same cap on increases for all taxing districts, including the district tax for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and fire department tax rates, subject to consultation with each affected entity.

The commissioners pledged to dedicate 48.1 percent of Orange County’s spending to our public schools, a previously agreed-upon target that maintains a longstanding tradition of superior support for education.

We also directed staff to send letters offering assistance in reviewing and reducing appraised values to the approximately 10 percent of Orange County property owners who saw valuations increase by 40 percent or more. (The average increase was 24 percent.) County staff will assist with appeals through calendar year 2009. The back page of the letter will provide eligibility information for seniors and the handicapped seeking homestead exemptions and circuit breaker assistance under state law.

The Orange County commissioners understand and share concerns raised by taxation, government spending, and shrinking services in these difficult economic times. We remain committed to responding to, and balancing, the needs of all the residents of Orange County.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why Libraries are Important in Hard Times

Carrboro Alderman Dan Coleman sent me a link to the following article. It highlights one of the points many of us have been making about the importance of libraries in hard times. Read on....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Budget Editorials in the News

There was a good editorial in the Chapel Hill News today about the tough choices the County Commissioners with regard to budget cuts. Check it out here.

Kirk Ross also had a conversation-provoking piece in the Citizen this week. He's advocating for a reduction in county property taxes in conjunction with the implementation of a county Income Tax. While you may or may not agree, it makes for interesting reading.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Important National Pesticide Conference

A major national pesticide conference will be held in Carrboro in a few weeks. The organizers have sent the following information:

We wanted to let you know about an exciting environmental conference focusing on a range issues facing NC and the nation. Bridge to an Organic Future: Opportunities for health and the environment, will be held April 3-4, 2009 at the Century Center in Carrboro, NC. Registration and info at www.beyondpesticides.org/forum.

Keynote speakers include Jim Hightower, author and radio commentator; Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC); and, Philip and Alice Shabecoff, authors of Poisoned Profits: The toxic assault on our children. Featured panelists include Freya Kamel, PhD, NIEHS scientist who linked pesticides to diabetes; Alex Lu, PhD, Harvard professor examining dietary pesticide exposure; Brett Ramey, Native Movement project director teaching urban agriculture to indigenous youth; Niell Lindley, NC organic dairy farmer; Jim Riddle, former
USDA NOSB chair; Chip Osborne, national expert on organic lawn conversion; Lani Malmberg, self-described "gypsy goat herder" managing invasive weeds; Tom Acury, PhD, director of Wake Forest Center for Worker Health; and more.The Forum will begin with an optional tour of Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsboro, NC on Friday at
1:00pm. Piedmont Biofuels is a cooperative that runs a research farm and sustainable biodiesel production facility, manufacturing fuel out of waste vegetable oil. Space is limited. Please RSVP to

The Forum is convened by Beyond Pesticides and Toxic Free NC. Co-sponsoring organizations include Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Haw River Assembly, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Rural Communities Assistance Project, Piedmont Environmental Alliance, Rural Advancement Foundation
International – USA, UNC Alianza, UNC Environmental Science and Engineering Student Organization. Register online (Students $35, Members $65, Non-Members $75) and learn more about the conference at

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Save the Library

We started a facebook group to help us organize to save the Cybrary in downtown Carrboro. Here's the link. Check it out and join if you want to help keep the library open. I'm hoping someone starts an effort to keep the Cedar Grove Library open as well.

As of late Sunday afternoon, 130 people have joined our group to save the Cybrary. A petition was circulated at the Carrboro Farmer's Market on Saturday, and Jackie Helvey recorded a commentary for WCHL. You can listen to her commentary here.

Folks are fired up and ready to go. Most seem to agree that closing two branch libraries is excessive, even in a recession. Cutting hours because of a constrained budget is to be expected, but shutting down two entire branch operations?! It's particulary troubling because these branches serve very unique populations.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Lots of Potential Cuts

Ok, y'all are gonna be ticked off.

The Board of County Commissioners got our first look at a (partial) list of potential cuts to county government. The cuts are deep; the manager directed each department head to cut his/her departmental budget by 10%. The bottom line is the county is facing a possible 8.7 million dollar shortfall and cuts will have to be made if we stick to our pledge not to raise taxes this year. Here's a run-down of some of the proposed cuts.

The Library Services Director is recommending closing two libraries: the Carrboro Cybrary and Cedar Grove branch libraries. Yup, that's right. She's not suggesting cutting hours of operation, she's proposing that they be closed completely.

The Health Director wants to CLOSE the dental clinic at Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro. For some of our poor and working poor, this is the only access to dental care they have. Without this care, they will likely allow dental issues to linger and eventually cause even worse health issues.

The Emergency Management Director suggests eliminating Hep B vaccinations for our EMS workers. These vaccines protect our workers from exposure to bloodborn pathogens.

The Aging Director wants to cut hours at the Senior Center in Chapel Hill and wants to discontinue the Wheels for Work program which supplies donated cars to people looking for work.

The Social Service Director is proposing a whole bunch of cuts. One of the most disturbing to me is a fairly small allocation. She's recommending cutting $12,305 for covering incidental needs for children involved with Child Protective Services and "helps prevent removal of children from the home by providing items that might allow a child to remain safely at home or remain with relatives." This is one of those things that doesn't cost much money but can really make a difference in a child's life.

I hope y'all stay on top of what the proposed cuts are. We'll be cutting more proposals at a budget worksession later in March. It's not going to be a pretty picture, and we need to make sure the public is aware of what's being proposed.

In particular, I'm concerned about CLOSING two libraries. While I could possibly see reducing hours in a tight budget year, completely closing two branches is a draconian proposal that I simply can't support.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Young Leaders, Part II

As I reported here a week or so ago, my precinct elected an 18 year old precinct chair at our annual meeting. Apparently, another Orange County precinct--Grady Brown, in Hillsborough--also elected an 18 year old precinct chair. Great news! Congratulations to Kimberly Rider the new precinct chair of Grady Brown!

Here's an article from today's Chapel Hill Herald about my precinct Chair, Matt Hughes.