Penny Rich

Penny Rich

What is your educational background? BFA, Pratt Institute; MA, Communications Technology, New York University  

What is your professional background?  Small Business Owner, Personal Chef/Catering Company; Director of Community Engagement, Durham/Chapel Hill JCC

Have you ever held political office? If so, please describe your experience. I served on the Chapel Hill Town Council from 2009–2012

I have been a County Commissioner since 2012, Chair of the board 2019 and 2020

Why are you choosing to run for Orange County Commissioner/Board of Education at this point in time? I am proud of what I have accomplished over the past eight years, and I want to continue to use my experience to help guide Orange County. Working with my colleagues, we have made progress in making good on promises to the Rogers Road community, bringing environmental and social justice considerations into every decision, and creating more than 1,000 jobs in the county over the next five years with more than $100 million in Economic Development investment.

I have also used my position to stand up for progressive values by sponsoring resolutions in response to events that have taken place in our community, including:

• Resolution in Response to Recent Acts of Racial and Ethnic Intimidation on the Campus of UNC-Chapel Hill;

• Resolution Supporting the More Powerful NC Campaign Against the Opioid Epidemic;

• Resolution Supporting North Carolina’s Working People and Their Families;

• Resolution in Support of Expanding Medicaid Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act;

• Resolution Condemning the Ku Klux Klan and Other Similar Groups.

I will continue to fight to protect the health and welfare of every resident in Orange County so everyone can grow and prosper. 

What are some of the challenges that you see facing Orange County in the coming years that you’ll have to take on if elected? 

The most important issues facing Orange County are:

• Climate and the Environment

• Affordable Housing

• Public Education

• Climate: We cannot wait any longer to take meaningful action to address the climate crisis. Our number one goal must be to limit the use of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas and replace them with renewable and cleaner sources of energy, while also increasing energy efficiency. My priority is to take the local action that is under our control to address the crisis. Until the state and federal government catches up, local elected officials need to lead by example. I support policies that reduce single occupancy vehicle use, including public transit, car pools, and bike/ped infrastructure. I also support local farmers to help break up the subsidy system that rewards large food companies abusing and ignoring the climate. As county commissioner I have asked our finance department to divest funds from polluting industries including fossil fuels, and banks that invest in high-emission industries. I recently voted on two resolutions to address the climate crisis: to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels; and to transition to a 100 percent renewable energy-based economy by 2050. Unfortunately, our impact is limited by a General Assembly that does not believe there is an emergency.

• Affordable Housing: I believe affordable housing is vital for Orange County. We’ve seen high prices push too many people out of the county, and few open units for those most in need. I supported the affordable housing bond in 2016 and we have used that money to implement various efforts detailed in question 5. Looking forward, my priority is to leverage the Greene Tract to provide affordable housing opportunities. With its size, location, and the support of the Rogers Road neighborhood, the Greene Tract is one of the best opportunities we have to make our county more economically diverse.

• Public Education: Orange County is synonymous with strong public education. It is why so many people chose to live here. Ensuring that all of our residents have access to a solid public education is one of my core values. Over the past decade, our state has seen a strategic assault on public education, and as a County Commissioner, I do all that I can to step up and fill the gap. My priority is to collaborate with the school boards and staff to prioritize urgent needs and to create a path forward with a maintenance plan that will allow us to address school facilities. I will also use my position to push the state for parental leave for all school employees, restoration of capital improvement funds, teacher pay raises, and flexible calendar schedules.

Please describe briefly your vision for Orange County: “Protect what we love while creating opportunities for every resident in Orange County”

Why should voters vote for you in the March 3 Spring Primary? Over my 20 years of service to Orange County I am proud of many accomplishments but nothing compares to the relationships I have built and the collaborative efforts I have undertaken with my colleagues and fellow leaders around the state and country.

I want to continue to;

• Support the creation of a new public transit plan that reduces our carbon footprint

• Encourage renewable energy sources for all new construction

• Work on solutions to turn our solid waste into energy

• Protect sensitive land surrounding watersheds

• Economic Development efforts to bring new companies to OC

• Support trades programs in the high schools and Durham Tec to grow our workforce

• Explore building affordable housing on the Greene Tract

• Address unfunded mandates by the state within the schools

• Encourage a long-term prioritized maintenance plan for the schools

• Create options to fund maintenance of older schools

• Explore a Universal Pre-K program

• Create safe homes for Women and Children survivors of Domestic Violence

When elected I will continue to protect the future of Orange County creating opportunities to ensure the health and welfare of every resident.