What is Wake County doing right, and wrong, on managing growth? *
Wake County has a long-term plan called PLANWake that outlines strategies for land conservation and smart growth. It is a collaborative effort between the county and all the municipalities to chart a course for growth over a ten-year period, and it was completed in 2021. It is great that our county and municipal government staff and elected officials can work collaboratively to create such a plan, and I applaud them for that effort.
When I worry about Wake County, I think about what we will look like in 20, 30, 40 years, and even beyond. Creating a comprehensive public transit system convenient to most areas is something I have heard so much talk about, but little action. Bus lines and bike lanes are important, but they will not solve our current or future traffic issues. Nor will a proposed $2 billion rail line that only serves 12,000 people per day, won’t open until 2030, and doesn’t even have stops at RDU Airport, in North Raleigh, in Eastern Wake, or in Southwestern Wake. If we want to make sure Wake County remains a great place to live, we will need a comprehensive, county-wide transit system that makes rail service a convenient option for most of the county.
How should the county support K-12 schools, students and teachers?
The county has limited power to affect change in our schools, but they do have the power of the purse. Adjusted for inflation, the Commissioners currently pay $326 less in local per pupil expenditures for each Senior in the class of 2022 than they did for those same students when they entered Kindergarten. That money could be spent on raises for school staff, investments in textbooks, or to fund intervention programs for students who are struggling. The county should increase its funding at least to the levels we’ve previously enjoyed in Wake County.
Also, WCPSS has an estimated $1.1 billion in construction and renovation needs over the next 5 years. The cheapest way to pay for these capital improvement projects is through a bond package, and the county must make sure that the public understands the need for these expenditures, as well as the benefit to this funding mechanism. Our schools are huge capital investments, representing tens of billions in investment for our community. We must take good care of them, or we will only be wasting our own money.
What do you think Wake County should do, if anything, to address racial injustice issues, and what kind of changes would you propose?
I have experience as a criminal defense attorney and have worked with both the Durham County and Wake County District Attorney’s offices. In Durham, I worked as part of a volunteer legal team through a program with Emancipate NC, and we helped 20 Black Lives Matter protesters get their felony charges dropped. In Wake County, I have faced pushback on my efforts to obtain relief in matters pertaining to social justice.
There is a clear difference in leadership at the two offices. Durham has a progressive DA who is invested in creating a more just legal system. Wake County’s DA is decidedly less progressive, supports the death penalty, prosecutes minor offenses that disproportionately affects nonwhite communities, and believes people who smoke marijuana need help. She also said she would “keep an eye on” WCPSS and the literature it chooses to put in its schools, which I do not support.
If Wake County wants to make real progress in social justice, it should elect Damon Chetson for Wake County District Attorney.
What new steps should Wake County take to recruit businesses to the area?
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think Wake County doesn’t need to do anything else to recruit and retain businesses to the area. We are already doing a great job of that, and the proof is all around us. I am particularly impressed with the partnerships being developed between Wake Tech and our business community. Whether we are talking biotech or automotive companies, Wake Tech is a leader in creating job pipelines for students, and that is extremely impressive work.
All these new jobs, however, have contributed to the spike in housing costs and the congestion on our roads. As we maintain our position as an economic powerhouse, and a desirable community in which to work and raise a family, we must also expect these corporations to contribute to the communities that they call home. Our roads, schools, and environment are all stressed by each new arrival. Growth does not pay for itself. The NCGA is lowering corporate taxes to 0%, which is a decidedly lower rate than you or I pay. As your commissioner, I will feel comfortable asking corporations how they plan to improve our communities and contribute to our common good.
What’s the top issue facing the county? What specific legislation or changes would you propose to address this issue?
Housing affordability is the top issue facing Wake County. Our county leaders have used in influx of Covid-related funding to reach their 5-year affordable housing targets in only 3 years, but we must do exponentially more if we are going to fix this crisis before it becomes unmanageable. Truthfully, it may already be unmanageable, but we must still try our best to ensure that Wake County remains an economically diverse and inclusive community.
Doing our best, will entail putting forward a serious affordable housing bond proposal for a public vote, in an amount that can truly impact our community. As part of this bond process, the county should reevaluate its 20-year housing plan, which was approved in 2017. Things have changed a great deal since this plan was created, and we must always remain flexible and amend our strategies when circumstances substantially change. Price increases and speculative investment driven by a global pandemic is an act of God unforeseen by our previous plan. We must account for these unexpected market forces and adapt accordingly.
If elected, what would your two or three priorities be during your first year in office?
- Work on an affordable housing bond.
- Fully fund WCPSS budget requests and increase supplemental pay for school staff.
- Expand pre-K programs, helping both children and working families.
What unique skills or life experience would you bring to local governance?
My creativity sets me apart from my opponent. I’m the son of an English teacher who always encouraged me to use my imagination, to write, to explore new ideas, and to think outside of the box. I often find myself viewing the world through a different lens than my peers, and I think this skill set will be incredibly valuable to Wake County as we plan for our future.
Also, I grew up in Wake County, attending our K-12 public schools. I knew I was gay early on, but I hid that from the world until late in college. Growing up having to live life as an imposter in your own body is a painful experience. Visibility for our community is important and having even a single supportive adult in a child’s life can be the difference in whether that child lives or dies. According to the CDC, about 1 in 4 LGBTQ+ children attempted suicide in 2021. We must take steps to protect these children, and that starts by elevating the voices of LGBTQ community members.
As an adult, I have been granted the right to marry the partner of my choice 3 times, and had that right taken away twice. I was on the front lines of the Prop 8 movement in California in 2008, and I watched as voters came out in record numbers to elect our nation’s first black President while simultaneously voting to strip me of my right to marry. A court later gave me back that right, but I lost it again in 2013 when I moved back to NC. A 5-4 US Supreme Court decision would later restore that right, but my life had long since been altered by the experience. My lived experience has provided me a window through which I can better understand the struggles that many in our community face for one reason or another. When elected, I will lead with compassion and use the lessons learned from my own struggles to help build a better future for all.