Wake County is governed by a seven-member Board of Commissioners. The Board enacts policies such as establishment of the property tax rate, regulation of land use and zoning outside municipal jurisdictions, and adoption of the annual budget. Commissioners represent districts and are elected at the same time, at mid-term elections, to serve 4-year terms.
Wake County needs forward-thinking leadership that will make smart investments in our schools, our infrastructure, and our workforce.
Managing COVID-19 and its impacts will be our defining challenge this year. Assuming, however, that COVID-19 subsides early in the next term, managing growth will be Wake County’s most significant issue. Since I took office in 2014, my colleagues and I have worked hard to catch up on school construction. We also made great strides by passing an historic transit referendum, adding hundreds of new affordable housing units every year, increasing job training opportunities, and raising wages for teachers, first responders, and others to ensure that we can effectively compete in the job market.
We must continue to foster manageable growth by redoubling our efforts to build new affordable housing. We must also link our public transit buildout with our development ordinances and affordable housing goals so that we can create dense, vibrant centers throughout Wake County. This will allow us to stem needless sprawl while preserving the character of many of our more rural areas. Lastly, we have got to partner with our 12 municipalities to help them put in place transportation, planning, and affordable housing policies that will give us the best chance of success as a county.
As the son of a high school principal and the proud product of public schools from kindergarten through college, I believe that Wake County must continue its robust support for public education. In my time as a County Commissioner, I voted to increase county support for public education by more than a third. I have worked to raise the local portion of teacher pay by more than 50%, making it the highest in the state. I also voted to make Wake County the first county in the state to put local funding toward SmartStart, and I have been perhaps the county’s leading advocate for combating childhood hunger in our schools. In addition to building on these efforts, I hope to provide needed teaching supplies and hire more school counselors and social workers. I will also push for further decreasing the school-to-nurse ratio and will work to ensure that our schools have what they need to educate safely and effectively amid COVID-19. Lastly, as we continue to grow, we will need to build and renovate our facilities to keep up with a growing population and create good learning environments. Of course, we must respect the co-equal role that our elected school board plays and work collaboratively for the benefit of our children.
I am proud to have spearheaded several efforts aimed at improving the economy: greater incentives for small businesses as well as companies who commit to paying a living wage; supporting numerous entrepreneurship efforts; and the creation of a Wake Tech program that provides paid apprenticeships and scholarships to students enrolling in “critical need” professions such as HVAC maintenance, electrician, and cyber security. Of course, more must be done. The vast majority of the businesses we survey say that access to talent is the number one priority when choosing where to grow. Competing for a smart, cutting edge workforce requires us to prioritize education, transportation, open space, and the development of vibrant downtowns. We should also work to expand opportunities for working class families to become upwardly mobile. I have worked hard to lead by example by authoring a living wage ordinance for county workers, working to enact our first paid parental leave policy, and even creating programs that provide worker training, life skills courses, and GED classes to jail inmates so we can decrease recidivism and give them the best possible chance at success. In my next term, I will endeavor to improve opportunities for upward mobility and worker training. I will also work to ensure that growing companies--and startups, specifically--have access to capital and other supports that they need to succeed.
Wake County administers a great number of federally supported social services and housing programs. While we have worked to improve the efficiency of food, housing, economic, and medical services, we should continue to minimize wait times while increasing our efforts to bring services out into the community. I would also like to investigate possible partnerships with the school system to see how we might better deliver services to our children.
We should continue our record-setting efforts to expand affordable housing. As part of that, we must be vigilant about the natural loss of affordable housing as we continue to grow and as the cost of living increases.
I will also continue to develop partnerships with nonprofit, faith, and business communities to ensure all families have access to food. Underprivileged children often rely on the schools as their most stable food source. But the arrival of COVID-19 has disrupted school-based food programs. In recent months, I have worked to help lead the county’s provision of millions of meals to families in need.
Lastly, Wake County has funded two innovative pilot programs: (1) an EMS pilot that enables licensed clinical therapists to respond to 911 calls involving behavioral health issues, and (2) Wake County’s first behavioral health urgent care facility. Both provide opportunities for diversion away from emergency rooms and the jail, and they ought to receive permanent funding.