The Orange County Board of County Commissioners swore in two new members on Monday after the midterm elections in November.
Sally Greene, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, and Jamezetta Bedford, previously on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, replaced Commissioners Barry Jacobs and Mia Burroughs in uncontested races.
Bedford returned after an unsuccessful run in 2016, losing to incumbents Penny Rich and Mark Dorosin. With campaign experience under her belt, Bedford said she was ready in November to win the election and join the board.
“To lose by 1.1 percent can cause a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘shoulda dones,’ so this time I prepared to spend hours and hours canvassing, only to run unopposed,” Bedford said. “I learned that it is critical to cover early voting sites.”
Both Democrats, the new commissioners ranked school funding and social services for the homeless as their top priorities. Greene pointed to economic development as another focus area, especially through arts programs. Bedford noted environmental health as a chief area of concern for her tenure.
Greene traces her political roots to her parents, both journalists. She watched her parents cover community issues while she grew up in rural Eastern Texas, which fueled her desire to make change in her own community.
Growing up as a self-described “army brat,” Bedford said exposure to many types of people shaped her perspectives. While she said her original motivation for political involvement was her 31-year-old daughter with autism, Bedford, now a grandmother, said her grandchildren inspire her to make the world a better place.
Bedford and Greene both said they think current commissioners will be receptive to their priorities because many of them share progressive political views.
During her time on the Town Council, Greene said she became familiar with homelessness support, affordable housing, criminal justice reform and mental health issues in Chapel Hill. Having tackled these issues on a smaller scale, Greene said she can apply her Town Council work to the county level.
Affordable housing, in particular, is an area of expertise for Greene. As member of the Town Council, Greene helped create Chapel Hill’s largest federal low-income housing tax credit project, Greenfield Place and Greenfield Commons.
“I especially look forward to working on these and other human service issues in this larger role,” Greene said.
Like Greene, Bedford said her previous position provided her with valuable experience as she moves into the role of commissioner, notably in terms of education.
Bedford served as chair of the CHCCS Board of Education for three years, advising 15 local school improvement teams and leading a variety of committees.
“I learned how important it is to give everyone time and a safe place to be heard," Bedford said. "All children should have what they need. I am a fierce advocate for children. As a community, we must care for all of our children during their early years, too, before formal schooling begins.”
Former commissioner Burroughs served on the CHCCS BOE with Bedford. Burroughs said Bedford shares similar policy goals as her and will fight for some of the same values.
“Naturally, we share an interest in ensuring the students in our schools are getting what they need to learn to their potential,” Burroughs said. “We also have a particular interest in the success of the human services departments in the county.”
Bedford filled the time between the 2016 and 2018 midterms by campaigning for other Democrats and preparing her own campaign.
Greene said she is excited to begin working with her new constituents, emphasizing her accessibility and willingness to accept suggestions and feedback.
“I'm eager to understand what they value and what particular issues concern them at the county level," Greene said. "Listening comes first.”
Bedford made similar claims, also promising her commitment to her constituents over political gains.
“I will always cast a vote to do what I think the evidence shows is best for the residents of Orange County after reading and listening, and not to be re-elected,” Bedford said. “When I make a mistake, I apologize, try to make amends and try not to do it again.”
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