After a weekend filled with conversations, Town Council member Penny Rich has set a new goal: joining the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
“It’s a different race than a town council race,” said Rich, who was elected to the council in 2009. “I’m a little out of my comfort zone right now, but the biggest thing is to get out and talk to people.”
If she wins a seat on the board, Rich said she hopes to help the commissioners move forward with issues where lengthy debate has delayed decisions, especially closing the county landfill and bringing a light rail system to the county.
“We all need to get on the same page,” she said. “We need to have open discussion at the beginning of issues, not at the end.”
Rich is seeking to fill the seat of Commissioner Valerie Foushee, who is running for a spot in the N.C. House of Representatives left open by governor hopeful Bill Faison.
“There are all different sorts of moving pieces involved. I wasn’t going to challenge anyone if they were all going to run for their seats again,” Rich said. “With Valerie leaving, we miss that really strong voice for Chapel Hill, and I want to be that voice.”
As of Tuesday night, Rich and Commissioner Pam Hemminger, both Democrats, are the only two candidates in the race for the two available District 1 seats. The filing period ends Feb. 29 at noon.
Hemminger, a board member since 2008, said she expected competition when Foushee announced her departure.
“I’m looking forward to an exciting race and trying to get people interested in voting,” she said. “It’s a tough economic time, and we’re trying not to raise taxes again.”
Board Chairwoman Bernadette Pelissier, who is running for re-election, said the next term will mean facing the continuous realities that accompany budget cuts.
“Everyone is suffering from a loss of revenue but wanting to continue to provide the quality services that we provide,” Pelissier said. “To do that, we need to continue to balance the needs of the entire community and remember to pull back and think about the big picture.”
Pelissier worked with Rich for six years on the Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors and said Rich is familiar both with the growing needs of the business sector and with how to get out and talk to individuals.
“I always thought of Penny as someone who listens before she makes decisions,” she said. “She could help individuals understand that residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have their town representatives, but they also have their county representatives to talk to as well.”
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