Orange County Human Relation goals

According to this morning's Herald-Sun, the Orange County "Board of Commissioners is one of the first government bodies in the nation to seek to define social justice and make it a backdrop for its decisions." The Human Relations Advisory Board presented a draft of their document to the BoCC on May 13. The full document is available at:

For those who don't have time to read the full document, here's the bare bones.

In working to seek social justice, Orange County shall perform government duties including policy-making and budgeting with the express objectives of:

1. Striving for the elimination of oppression and inequity by creating an environment of equal opportunity in which no groups are targeted for harassment, exclusion, intimidation or violence.

2. Ensuring economic self-sufficiency by fostering a sustainable community in which individuals can sufficiently provide fo rthe physical, social and mental needs of themselves and their dependents, and by providing safety net mechanisms for those who find themselves unable to do so [for themselves].

3. Creating a safe community by supporting policies, procedures, regulations, and programs that reduce harassment, exclusion, intimidation, and violence against Orange Co residents.

4. Establishing sustainable and equitable land-use and environmental policies by creating land-use policies that are fair, reasonable and in line with a sustainable economy.


The recommended actions (my paraphrasing)for achieving this vision include:

  • Encouraging municipalities and school boards within the county to adopt this vision
  • Expanding the OC civil rights ordinance to include sexual orientation
  • Developing a county wide economic responsibility policy to balance the needs of affordable housing, economic development, county infrastructure and a sustainable environment that improves employment opportunities
  • Amend the economic development plan to attract businesses that pay a living wage and provide health insurance and to diversity the tax base
  • Adopt the Chapel Hill/Carrboro practice of requiring new developments to include affordable housing
  • Consider the environmental justice implications of any land-use decisions
  • Strengthen the public transit opportunities for northern and southern portions of the county

They also want to commission several task forces and policy review studies.

The vision came from multiple public sessions. Do you agree with the vision? If not, does it go too far or not far enough? Any glaring omissions?



Terri,In looking over what you've posted and paraphrased (and without having gone to the linked webpage yet) I would say that the Human Relations Board has done an excellent job.  I didn't see anything I would disagree with and I think all of the suggestions are excellent.  However, to use a well-worn cliche, "talk is cheap".  Even if the elected officials get behind these recommendations and adopt a lot, or even all, of the suggestions, in order to really make a significant difference in Orange County it is going to require that the County's citizens embrace these principles and ideals as well.  A line spoken in the movie 'The Contender' was "Principles only mean something when you stick to them even when it is inconvenient".  People will often say say they support such principles until they discover that such support is not without associated costs: some direct (increased taxes, development restrictions, increased costs of goods/services), some indirect (more government involvement).I hope these suggestions get a good airing in our community and I strongly hope that there will at least be a verbal expression of support by the citizens of Orange County.

A living wage is key. But what amount specifically will be viewed as a living wage? The county adopted a living wage about eleven years ago (around $10.85 I think?) and I don't think that has been amended.

Nothing I read above seems particularly objectionable to me, although the somewhat protectionist bent of statements like "Ensuring economic self-sufficiency by fostering a sustainable community" makes me raise my eyebrows a bit.  Still, nothing to write home about.My hesitation is a more general one.  I just don't have all that much faith in elected officials to determine what constitutes "social justice".  It's a thorny, complex issue with layered and sometimes subtle dynamics.  This is exactly the type of thing that governments -- so fond of their "zero tolerance" policies and by-the-book situational interpretations -- are notoriously ill-fit to handle.And, to be perfectly honest, talk of forming "task forces" and the like does little to assuage my feeling that government attempts at enforcing nebulous ideals like "social justice" will be ineffective and perhaps even counterproductive.  Again though, I'm not sitting here railing against anything specific written above.

I agree.  I think it is good to write down goals for social justice so that we can have a discussion and so that social justice can be considered when making decisions.  Unfortunately, the devil is in the details and some of this wording is an easy setup for the political whitewash that occurs when actually considering a policy or a proposal.As stated, "Social Justice is a thorny, complex issue".  Does social justice only apply to certain people?  Does it give those people rights over other people?  Or does it just ensure minimum rights?  Or does it apply to all people to some extent?Does "equitable land use policies that are fair"only apply to historically discriminated-against populations who live next to an overconcentration of landfills, or does it also apply to neighborhoods who are similarly targeted for an overconcentration of at-risk social services?  Ditto for the safe community language.   

It is interesting to see the suggestion re inclusionary affordable housing policies.  I think the County could do something about this, but it would have to be a somewhat different approach.  The BOCC mostly has planning jurisdiction in the more rural areas.  A lot of rural developments (most?) have septic systems (a homeowner maintenance problem) and little or no public transportation access.

What I am getting at is this: We want to be careful not to set anyone up for failure.

Is there any way to determine whether the affordable housing requirement in Carrboro has been effective at maintaining some kind of stable ratio of affordable to market price housing over the past several years? Does the town or the real estate community keep that kind of data?


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