The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Maria Palmer is a former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council.
As UNC students organize themselves and lead our town in the fight for a just society, I hope they will focus some of their efforts and attention on the upcoming race for the Orange County Board of County Commissioners. Few students realize this, but Hillsborough — and not Washington, D.C.— ultimately controls much of what makes a “progressive” community, from transit emissions to affordable housing administration and a host of other issues. And what’s coming to Hillsborough should be enough to make any progressive pay attention.
For the last four years, we’ve had a majority progressive Board of County Commissioners that has made significant investments in clean energy, public transportation and affordable housing. For instance, Commissioner Mark Marcoplos provided unprecedented leadership on climate change by successfully getting a local climate property tax passed (maybe the only one in the nation) and creating an innovative countywide climate council with broad representation from governments and citizens groups. The first investments from the climate tax will result in a low-income weatherization and LED bulb distribution program and a sizable solar array on a school in each system.
Unfortunately, a conservative coalition of wealthy Chapel Hillians masquerading as progressives and disgruntled rural conservatives have united to undermine much of the progress Marcoplos and his progressive allies have made. Deceptively calling themselves CHALT (Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town), this NIMBY coalition has organized to defeat local public transit measures, sidetrack progress on the Greene Tract expansion of affordable community development, preserve the racial achievement gap in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and orchestrate a smear campaign that marks a turning point in local politics.
In 2019, a leak in the roof of Phillips Middle School became a local flash point. The CHCCS school board has been struggling for a long time with the lack of funding from the Republican legislature in Raleigh, and while Orange County Commissioners have traditionally been #1 or #2 in school funding in the state, this strong commitment has not been enough to offset the malfeasance of the legislature.
When a torrential rain overwhelmed the Phillips Middle School leak last fall, there was plenty of outrage to go around. A new PAC calling itself “Save Orange Schools” began to decry the county commissioners’ negligence. Supporting CHALT-backed candidates Amy Fowler and Jean Hamilton, Save Orange Schools demanded we replace our progressive incumbent commissioners with new ones who would protect our students. Except the entire storyline was a fabrication, a stunt coordinated by CHALT allies to install more sympathetic candidates at the expense of progressives.
School board members Fowler and Hamilton, along with Save Orange Schools, may not have known at first that the county commissioners had approved and funded the necessary requests for Phillips, but they absolutely should have. CHCCS had the money and requisite support to make the repairs, but never did. The CHCCS board is controlled largely by allies of Hamilton and Fowler, who were content to ignore the facts to make it seem like progressive incumbent commissioners were failing their constituents.
It is often difficult to make the vagaries of local politics clear, but make no mistake: wealthy conservatives calling themselves Democrats manufactured a bad-faith charge against longtime, effective public servants — all in the name of playing on cheap fares and quick sound bites that hide the truth. It’s the kind of playbook that has turned our national politics into a cruel joke, and threatens to undermine the progressive legacy our community has spent decades building. It’s the kind of playbook that Jean Hamilton, Amy Fowler and their allies in CHALT and Save Our Schools will continue to use to make Orange County a homogenous community that better protects the interests of the affluent.
Mark Dorosin has a longstanding record of effective progressive advocacy, but I cannot support the other candidates for Board of County Commissioners. We simply cannot allow our county to be governed by the dishonest manipulations of local power brokers who would rather sow distrust than stand behind effective, truly progressive incumbents. I was planning on writing in Mark Marcoplos for Commissioner at Large, but today I received my ballot and it turns out, there is no write-in line. Without a line and an oval to darken, my write-in vote would not be counted. However, I can leave my vote blank— this time. In the next election, I will make sure there is a candidate I can support. And I hope students will join me in resisting the coordinated efforts of groups like CHALT, Save Our Schools and their crony candidates and make sure we re-elect Mark Marcoplos for Orange County Commissioner in 2022.
If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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