Name: Mark Bell
Party affiliation: Democrat
1. What motivated you to enter the current race? I’m running for re-election to the Hillsborough Town Board of Commissioner because I’m passionate about Hillsborough and public service to our community. When I first ran for office in 2015 I said that Hillsborough is diverse, historic, eclectic, compassionate, urban, rural, and everything in between, and it is this package that makes Hillsborough such a wonderful place to live. That is still true today as we continue to change and confront new challenges on our journey while remaining an authentic small town with a strong since of place.
2. What is your career and educational background I’m a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University where I majored in political science, history, and English, and Duke University, where I earned a graduate degree in religion. I have worked in the information technology field for the past 28 years, starting at Duke University, then as the CIO and VP for Health Information Technology at the North Carolina Hospital Association for almost 21 years. I’m a Principal with the national research and consulting firm Health Management Associates where I currently help clients in the areas of healthcare information technology, Medicaid managed care, social determinants of health, behavioral health, data and analytics. I’m the author of a dozen books about computers and technology and I serve on statewide boards that provide broadband and health informatics graduate education.
3. Have you previously held political office I was elected in 2015 to a first term on the Hillsborough Town Board of Commissioners, through which I am also appointed to town and county boards that work in parks and recreation, water and sewer, tourism, solid waste and recycling, and regional transportation.
4. What makes you feel you are the most qualified candidate to assume this role? I believe my professional and civic experiences have prepared me to effectively fulfill my duties as a Commissioner by building local and regional relationships and enhancing my subject matter expertise in multiple areas that are important to Hillsborough. As a healthcare executive and consultant, I have almost three decades of experience collaborating with divergent interests to solve problems, improve public health, and reduce the cost of care. My work in the US Naval Reserve and as a volunteer firefighter have taught me the value of working in complex situations and the importance of relying on my peers under difficult circumstances. I currently serve on numerous boards and commissions that inform my work as a Town Commissioner. I've also served in the past on the Hillsborough Historic District Commission, the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, a US Department of Labor-funded Certified Mission Critical Professional Program, and was appointed by North Carolina Secretary of State to the Electronic Notary Standard Committee. Overall, my professional and civic experiences have substantially contributed to my Town Board work, and my work in Hillsborough has informed my professional life as well.
5. What are the issues that are near and dear to you? The most important issue for me as an elected office holder is helping ensure we are good stewards of resources, whether it is the budget, staffing, or other town resources. I think that as a town, we do a great job on this issue but it takes a lot of planning and attention to detail. A current example of this is how the town manager has implemented Lean thinking into the operations of the town to help ensure our resources are directed towards the right priorities. Lean thinking helps us “take care of what we have” and utilize our resources accordingly.
Another issue that is important to me is how the town promotes equity in its operations and planning. Equity touches much of our town’s work, including increasing affordable housing, expanding access to parks and recreation opportunities, and connectivity between neighborhoods. In the coming year I’d like to see a comprehensive plan come into focus for increasing the number of affordable housing units, building our first inclusive playground, and an equity training program for all town staff and organizations that are significant recipients of tax proceeds for tourism.
6. What are challenges you see facing Hillsborough that you’d like to address? Regional and local growth pressures will continue to impact Hillsborough, especially regarding transportation, development and environmental issues. Hillsborough is growing at a slower pace compared to Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County as a whole, and growth north of Orange County has resulted in significant traffic problems during rush hour as commuters pass through Hillsborough on Churton Street along their way to I-85 and I-40 to reach their work destinations. The majority of traffic on Churton Street during these times is from non-Hillsborough commuters, and the only practical solution will be to reroute commuters around Hillsborough through county-controlled land via a new state-owned road. Any such solution will have to be a long-term, collaborative process with numerous stakeholders and I’d like to see us further this conversation with the county and NC DOT in the near future. In the shorter term, however, NC DOT is proposing widening Churton Street south of the Eno River to accommodate more vehicles, the overall impact of which remains to be determined. The Board will continue to respond to the draft proposals in 2019 and 2020, but construction would be four to six years away, if approved.
Hillsborough’s plan for environmentally-responsible development favors denser urban cores and reducing sprawl, which helps reduce dependence on fossil fuel-based transportation. This approach encourages walkability and bike access to commonly-used resources, such as employment, shopping, dining, entertainment, and recreation. Hillsborough’s downtown fits this model very well, which we recognize and seek to replicate in all other neighborhoods of the town. We have turned down several developments north of town that would have placed them further away from access to I-85 and I-40, which serve the RTP markets. Instead, we seek developments that encourage live-work-play and reduce reliance on individual transportation.