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The Daily Tar Heel

Phyllis Portie-Ascott to fill vacant BOCC seat on Feb. 16, replacing Renée Price

Phyllis Portie-Ascott poses for a portrait in Hillsborough on February 13th, 2023.

Phyllis Portie-Ascott will fill the vacant seat on the Orange County Board of County Commissioners. The BOCC voted unanimously in favor of her appointment — one of four final applicants for the position.

Portie-Ascott was also the Orange County Democratic Party’s recommended applicant to fill the vacancy.

N.C. Rep. Renée Price (D-Caswell, Orange) formerly occupied the seat on the Orange County BOCC as chairperson until her election to the N.C. General Assembly created the vacancy. 

Portie-Ascott has involved herself in numerous organizations. She served as the first vice chairperson for the Orange County Democratic Party and also served on the Northern Orange NAACP leadership team. 

“She's an incredibly thoughtful and deliberative leader,” Jonah Garson, chairperson of the Orange County Democratic Party, said. “She's someone who people trust.”

Portie-Ascott said growing up as a tobacco farmer in rural Bertie County instilled in her the value of hard work. She also said her leadership in her church community shaped her priorities from a young age.

“We were expected to help our neighbors when they were in need,” she said.

In her application, Portie-Ascott expressed her desire to serve others in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemics' far-reaching impacts have shaken the safety net that our most vulnerable residents have come to rely on,” she wrote in the application.

Alongside her involvement in civic organizations, Portie-Ascott has worked in multiple human services positions. She managed a mental health agency and now works in property management as the owner and broker in charge of PPA Properties. 

Additionally, she completed more than three years of volunteer work at Duke University Hospital to become a board-certified chaplain.

“I believe that I have a servant's heart — to be of service in the community — which is why I majored in social work initially at ECU,” Portie-Ascott said.

She emphasized her willingness to collaborate with community members and stakeholders in order to solve pressing issues in Orange County such as affordable housing.

BOCC Chairperson Jamezetta Bedford said Portie-Ascott spoke well during the Orange County Democratic Party’s recommendation process and that her responses were well thought out and supported by facts. 

She also said she believes Portie-Ascott will work well with the existing BOCC members.

Commissioners deal with a large slate of issues and niche regulations in their monthly meetings, and Bedford explained that one of the biggest challenges that comes with assuming the position is the learning curve that comes along with it. 

“I think she'll be a quick learner, and she'll be what I really like about this board — when we disagree, it's not personal,” Bedford said.

Portie-Ascott said her experiences managing both real estate and mental health services have made her aware that community needs in Orange County are great.

“The greatest challenge is going to be, in my mind, just dealing with the dollars that we have, knowing that they are limited,” Portie-Ascott said.

She also said her biggest goal is to prioritize affordable and reliable broadband access in the rural areas of Orange County, having previously lived in an area with poor coverage. 

“I am really happy about what the commissioners have done so far with Lumos to get the broadband where it will be starting in this spring through 2024,” she said.

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Portie-Ascott added that there are people that won’t be covered by this project, so continuing to expand those services is still a high priority for her.

She will be sworn in on Feb. 16 during the next BOCC work session. Her duties become effective immediately after the ceremony. Portie-Ascott will cover the remainder of Price’s term, which lasts until the end of November 2024.


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