Questionnaires

Candidates for Carrboro Mayor

All candidates for local offices were sent the same ten questions, and were given two weeks to complete a written questionnaire. These are the answers that were given by the candidates, with no editorial changes.

Mike Benson

Did not submit a questionnaire

Damon Seils

1. The Orange County transit plan currently identifies only $300,000 for new or expanded transit service in the coming year. This is barely enough money to run a bus that comes every 30 minutes for only 6 hours per weekday, with zero weekend service. What are your thoughts on expanded transit funding? 

The update of the Orange County Transit Plan, currently ongoing, is a good opportunity to rethink how the plan provides a sustainable, meaningful source of funds for local transit service improvements (in addition to meeting critical regional needs). As recently as a few days ago, in an interview with consultants seeking input on the governance of the Orange County and Durham County transit plans, I stressed the importance of both meeting Chapel Hill Transit’s needs and securing a place for the Chapel Hill Transit partners at the staff-level decision making table. Chapel Hill Transit is the second largest transit system in the state and is the primary transit service provider for the areas of Orange County that have, by far, the highest propensity for transit use. As the mechanism for securing ongoing revenue for transit funding, the county’s transit plan should reflect this reality. 

2. The NS BRT is a vital service that Chapel Hill Transit is developing for our community. Recently, due to delays in state funding, the projected opening date has been pushed back to 2028. How will you support and champion this project? 

Among elected officials in the Triangle, I am one of the strongest advocates for local and regional public transit, including the now discontinued Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit

Project, the Chapel Hill N-S BRT Project, and the other pillars of the Orange County Transit Plan. I have been a leader in the implementation of transit projects locally and throughout the region as a member and former chair of the board of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO) and as a Carrboro representative on the Chapel Hill Transit Partners Committee (including the N-S BRT Policy Committee and the Short Range Transit Plan Policy Committee). 

The suspension of NCDOT’s prioritization process has not left us with many options for keeping the N-S BRT Project on its previous schedule. Chapel Hill Transit staff is exploring several possibilities, including federal loans (which would require additional local commitment through the Orange County Transit Plan) and an increase in the federal share of the project cost. I don’t know what the solution will be, but I will continue to champion the project locally through Chapel Hill Transit and the Orange County Transit Plan amendment process, as well as regionally through the DCHC MPO. Meanwhile, the planning and project development work should continue. 

3. What are the top three things you will do as an elected official to address climate change? 

Local governments should adopt and implement policies and plans that reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions. In Carrboro, these efforts should include implementation of the town’s climate action plans. We are making capital improvements to address local effects of climate change, such as energy efficiency upgrades to town facilities. This year, we adopted a definition for “net zero” buildings by agreeing that new and renovated town buildings will be evaluated in terms of their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. On the topic of stormwater, the Town Council approved a change in the rate structure for the stormwater utility. The utility is now bringing in $1 million in revenue annually to expand delivery of stormwater services. 

We are also developing the Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan, which should include updates to land use policies to promote more compact, walkable, transit-oriented development with less environmental impact. I have long advocated for a comprehensive plan, and I’m glad the town is now reviewing a preliminary draft. 

Finally, we should work with other jurisdictions to advocate for changes in state and federal laws and policies, collaborate in joint efforts to achieve greater impact, and set an example for other communities. Much of the work we would like to do—to address everything from climate change to affordable housing—is blocked at the state level by regressive lawmaking and excessive preemption of local authority. Carrboro should be a leader in driving a statewide progressive agenda on these and other issues. 

4. “Complete streets” are streets that provide users with multiple options for getting around by accommodating people on bicycles, walking and in cars with safe facilities such as off-street bike lanes, sidewalks, and safe roadway crossings. To provide complete streets, would you support removing a travel lane for cars? If yes, where? 

I was the leader on the Town Council in bringing forward the redesign of E Main Street, which includes a lane reduction and the addition of bike lanes. The project will be a major improvement for downtown Carrboro. It has been approved and is currently scheduled for completion in the spring or summer of 2022 as part of NCDOT’s resurfacing of the road. I also supported the lane reduction on Jones Ferry Road, and I led the effort to upgrade the buffered bike lane on Jones Ferry Road to a separated bike lane. Other than NC 54 (and the upcoming E Main Street redesign), I’m struggling to think of roadways in Carrboro that would be candidates for lane reduction. I’m certainly open to it. 

5. Aside from projects currently underway or recently completed (e.g. the Estes Road connectivity project, the Fordham Blvd. sidepath, protected bike lane on Jones Ferry Road), what accessible biking and walking facilities should be a priority? Would you support speeding their development and construction, and how would you do so? 

From the time I brought forward the idea of a separated bike lane on Jones Ferry Road, I have seen this project as a pilot for implementations in other locations, such as the southbound bend of N Greensboro Street at Pleasant Drive. Other high-priority projects are identified in the town’s recently updated bike plan and Carrboro’s submissions to the Strategic Transportation Prioritization Process. These include a link across Homestead Road to Stratford Drive, a redesign of Shelton Street for bicycle accessibility near Carrboro Elementary School, and improvements at the Hillsborough Road–N Greensboro Street and Hillsborough Road–W Main Street intersections. 

NCDOT has approved several pedestrian improvements requested by the town that have yet to be completed because of the agency’s budget woes. These include crosswalks in several locations along N Greensboro Street, Jones Ferry Road, and W Main Street. Preliminary design has begun for several other pedestrian projects throughout the town, a prerequisite to seeking approval from NCDOT. 

I have pressed for increasing capacity in the town’s planning department, and will continue to do so. This advocacy has resulted in the creation of new positions (but hiring into only one so far, because of pandemic-related freezes). The town has spent down funds from its sidewalk and greenway bond. As we adopt and implement the Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan and implement the updated bike plan—and if NCDOT funding problems continue to erect barriers to progress—it may be worth exploring another bond referendum for pedestrian and bicycle projects. 

6. Free parking is a manifestation of white supremacy culture. Explain your understanding of this statement. 

To the extent that “white supremacy culture” is a reflection of the high priority our society places on notions of individualism and consumption, I suppose free parking and other amenities that privilege driving over safer, more accessible, more sustainable ones are manifestations of that culture. In the bigger picture, forms of development that give priority to sprawling neighborhoods of single-family homes that are largely accessible only by single-occupancy vehicles—at the expense of other types of development—is a recipe for unaffordability, economic and social segregation, and environmental degradation, the financial and health costs of which have the greatest impacts on communities of color. 

7. The town recently committed to funding a parking deck, estimated to cost $6.3 million. Yes or no – should the 203 Project Parking deck be the last parking deck the town of Carrboro ever builds? 

Yes. 

8. Recently, the City of Durham engaged the community in a participatory budgeting process in which ordinary people identify, discuss and prioritize public spending projects to allocate a portion of the city’s budget (https://www.pbdurham.org/). If elected, would you support engaging the community in a similar process? Would you do this in the same way as Durham? 

Yes. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation to Carrboro presents an opportunity to identify systems and processes that should change for the long term to support community resilience and foster community engagement. I would like for us to explore a pilot participatory budgeting process or other meaningful engagement in which community members participate directly in decision making about how to use the ARPA funds. This experience would inform future efforts to engage community members in identifying and prioritizing public spending projects. Such a pilot project would also be consistent with the federal guidance for how ARPA funds are to be used. 

9. Have you taken any anti-racism training? If so, which one(s)? 

I have attended the Racial Equity Institute’s phase 1 and 2 workshops. I attended a workshop on the role of government in advancing racial equity offered by the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and the Center for Social Inclusion. As a member of the Carolina Abortion Fund board of directors, I participated in a workshop on racial and reproductive justice offered by the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. 

I attended a 2015 conference at the UNC School of Law, “Police Violence in the Wake of Ferguson and Staten Island,” at which scholars, civil rights activists, and community organizers offered insights into the racialized history of law enforcement, overviews of racially disproportionate traffic stop data in North Carolina, and strategies for reducing disparities. In 2017, I attended the “Policing Color: Black, Brown, and Blue,” Duke University’s Provost Forum on Race, Community, and the Pursuit of Justice. 

10. What are your thoughts about how budgets for law enforcement are allocated and what services should be provided by other agencies outside of law enforcement? 

Local governments expect law enforcement agencies to provide services and address problems they are not best situated to provide or address. This has the consequence of pulling people unnecessarily into the criminal legal system, a system that is largely harmful, is overly punitive, and has disproportionate impacts on communities of color. I led the Town Council in implementing several critical changes to public safety in Carrboro, including changes in use of force policies and practices and a postponement in filling vacant police officer positions. Most important, I led the formation of a Community Safety Task Force that will consider a range of issues related to community safety, including racial disparities in law enforcement; diversion and deflection programs; alternatives to relying on public safety professionals for human service needs; and coordination with other jurisdictions to enhance programs and services that keep communities truly safe. The task force will review existing institutional and community-based public safety and wellness resources and learn from residents and experts about needs and interests that can be better addressed through alternative approaches. The task force will provide recommendations to the Town Council for services to enhance community safety that rely on prevention and intervention strategies as alternatives to policing and the criminal legal system, such as domestic violence intervention and prevention; homelessness prevention; youth-oriented and school-based programs; substance use disorder prevention and support; and on-call crisis response that allows certain calls for police assistance to be handled by social workers or crisis counselors.