Katie Kenlan, candidate for Chatham Board of Commissioners — Dist. 4


Editor’s Note: All candidates were sent two questionnaires by the News + Record. The first asked general questions about candidates and their goals; the second asked office-specific policy questions.

Questions are indicated in bold, any question left blank was unanswered by the candidate

Katie Kenlan

How long have you lived in Chatham County?  Since 1985 (born and raised in Chatham)

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Age on Election Day: 37 years old

Occupation: Outdoor Educational Program Director and Teacher, Carolina Creek Club

Campaign website/social media: KatieKenlan.com 

Campaign Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katiekenlannc 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-kenlan-14b71122b

Party affiliation: Democrat

Current and previous elected offices held or sought & terms of service: Hadley Precinct Vice Chair (previous)

Campaign manager: I have a campaign management team

Campaign treasurer: Jan Misenheimer

Why are you seeking this office?

I grew up in Chatham County and have witnessed firsthand the rapid growth taking place here. I want to make sure development is done thoughtfully, so we don’t sacrifice the beauty of the natural world that makes Chatham so special. Let’s fund and support our schools and community college, to be sure all students have the education they deserve. We need to address the issues of climate change to protect our children and grandchildren and understand and prepare for the impacts ahead.

What makes you the best candidate on the ballot?

I know and value this county, east and west, and believe I’m the best candidate to bring us together. Being fluent in Spanish, with wide and varied life experiences, gives me skills and knowledge to work with people of diverse backgrounds and increase opportunities and equity, especially for youth. My energy and commitment will serve our county well, and I have the endorsement of many Chatham leaders who believe I’m the right person for the job. I understand the critical issues of water quality, wastewater, smart growth, climate impacts, education and rural life, and will work to find the best solutions.

Give us a job description you’d write for yourself if you’re elected to this seat: When you vote for a commissioner, you vote for someone who shares your values and who will place the interests of our community first. As commissioner, I’ll face important issues including budget spending requests, new developments and working for equity and fairness for all our county residents. I’ll listen to all constituents and to our county advisory committees. I have a strong relationship with people throughout Chatham and will take seriously the decisions to be made for our future.

What three specific, measurable and attainable goals would you pursue if elected?

1. Ensure adequate and safe drinking water for all residents of the county, and wastewater systems that do not create new sources of pollution.

2. Support for strong public schools and community college, and affordable housing for all residents including frontline workers and young adults. 

3. I will work with citizens and county staff to increase land conservation, protect important watershed corridors, and increase and ensure connectivity of parks and trails.

What are the biggest challenges in Chatham and/or N.C. right now — and how would you address them?

The impacts of rapid growth mean that policy decisions should reflect the needs of Chatham people and be guided by our comprehensive land-use plan.  I’ll support affordable housing and increased public and mental health resources, opportunities for small businesses and sustainable agriculture to flourish, and broadband internet for all residents. I’ll tackle climate change through local actions for green energy and fuel and resilient buildings. I’ll work to protect our natural resources and be a champion for clean drinking water,  and for solutions to our troubled private wastewater systems, examining the recommendations from our Northeast Chatham County Wastewater Study.

 

Chatham County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. What do you see as the major challenges/opportunities coming from this growth and how would you address them?

We are in the fifth year of Chatham’s Comprehensive Plan and I’m excited to support and commit to fulfilling the ten main visions and goals of the Plan, which include preserving rural character, agriculture, and natural resources; promoting more compact and walkable communities; creating a more diverse tax base; providing more recreation and open space across the county; improve infrastructure and high speed internet, planning now for climate change resilience, and seeking better access to quality education and health services.  Critical to Chatham’s  success is perhaps most importantly addressing our wastewater treatment infrastructure in a responsible fashion that serves a diverse citizenry and a diverse county that requires different solutions.

What’s your overall view of the role of the elected body you’re seeking to join? Is it fulfilling its  mission now? If not, what needs to change?

I find the Board of Commission’s role to be that of a listener, a solution seeker, a bridge builder, building & developing partnerships with other municipal and county leaders in the region, and with all stakeholders in Chatham’s future; I intend to bring all of these qualities to the Board.  Values I firmly believe in and that I believe community members have seen in me over the years. 

Do you believe the 2020 Presidential election produced fair and legitimate results? 

My neighbors here in Chatham County – indeed some of my relatives – and people I know in the community are poll workers, election workers, volunteers, and help to ensure our elections are fair and secure EVERY election cycle.  The same holds true throughout this country.  While it would be really convenient to answer this with a pat ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, I earnestly hope we can remember that when we hear arbitrary shouts of fraud in current rhetoric, we’re potentially seeing harm caused to our own neighbors and fellow citizens who help make our elections accurate and legitimate.

 

Fast facts

Political/government hero: Margaret Pollard and Barbara Beye Lorie

Favorite book: Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray

Book most recently read: Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell M.D. (Author, Reader), John J. Ratey (Author)

Favorite film: King Richard (2021) and The King’s Speech (2010)

Hobbies: Spanish, accordion, drawing, gardening, hiking and dog training

Church/civic involvement: Volunteer as a foster Parent with C.A.R.E. (Chatham Animal Rescue Education), Volunteer with the Haw River Assembly

Personal motto or one-line philosophy: Make the Covert Overt

Strongest childhood ambition: President of The United States

Most significant life goal you’ve accomplished: Designed and personally built a two-story studio out of local sourced materials and natural materials from the building site

Goal you haven’t accomplished yet: Getting PhD in child psychology; running a bilingual English-Spanish forest kindergarten and pre-k.

 

Office-specific questions

Chatham County historically faces large socioeconomic divides between the eastern and western sides of the county. What can be done to mitigate that divide, and how do you foresee County Commissioners aiding in that process?

As a lifelong Chatham resident in Hadley Township I have witnessed the fast paced growth taking place in Chatham. I have friends and family in both the eastern and western sides of the county and share their concerns about the socioeconomic divide. I have seen the problems with the fast growth in the east as well as the struggles for good paying jobs and adequate housing in the west. I am well acquainted with the tremendous talents and resources of the many people who call Chatham County home, including entrepreneurs, artists, chefs, teachers, scientists, farmers, non-profit workers and so many more.  I believe that together we can create a future that protects the health of our families, community and environment, while finding innovative solutions to meeting the future, including the impacts of climate change. As a Commissioner, I will work to ensure continued fair funding for schools, parks, social services and other resources in the western part of the county.  I applaud the Chatham County elected officials and staff who were instrumental in landing the new Wolfspeed semiconductor chip manufacturer for Siler City which will drive new economic growth for the town and western Chatham.  Like many Chatham residents, I also value the forests, rivers. towns and farmlands of Chatham, and know what we need to protect. I value the diversity that makes Chatham County a great place to live, and pledge to work to build a truly resilient and equitable community for all our residents.

Increased development in the county has put strains on its stormwater and wastewater infrastructure. What can be done at a county level to ensure residents have access to sustainable and clean water sources?

I’ve listened closely to respected experts and believe solutions for our wastewater problems will be multifaceted. The county’s ability to better regulate and enforce wastewater treatment is currently hindered by state laws, but I pledge to work to address these issues, including the troubled private wastewater systems. The county needs to champion clean water for all our residents, including those in town jurisdictions, particularly as our Haw and Rocky rivers are being polluted by industrial wastewater. 

My goals for Chatham’s infrastructure are:

  1. Thoroughly examine the upcoming Northeast Chatham County Wastewater Study, and their recommendations to open further discussion with neighboring counties to send wastewater to their plants, seek reuse wastewater options for agriculture, and centralize management of existing systems using EPA guidance. 
  2. Carefully examine the issues of building a county owned wastewater treatment plant, which would be a huge cost to taxpayers, requiring a state permit that might not be granted due to discharge limits to Jordan Lake. New development along the 15-501 corridor must have a viable plan for wastewater treatment, instead of compounding the existing problems.
  3. Work to increase access to low cost testing for private wells, still a major source of drinking water in the county. Ensure that those who are in the county water system have safe drinking water and support the proposed western Jordan Lake water intake.
  4. Support the strong stormwater management and sediment erosion control programs we have in Chatham and ensure that they can meet heavier rainfall events predicted with climate change. 

With major investments in the county from the likes of VinFast, FedEx and the CAM site, how do you believe the county should manage growth while ensuring the interests of existing residents are heard?

We have an excellent map for growth already in the Chatham County Comprehensive Land Use plan, and the new ReCode Chatham effort underway will result in a a stronger and clearer set of regulations as the new Unified Development Ordinance.  These tools will guide the growth that is coming both to the southeast and western megabyte areas, as well as the continued growth pressure in the northeast quadrant.  We must listen to concerns of current residents as changes and growth in infrastructure and development threaten the communities they live in and be proactive in voicing our concerns to state agencies to minimize impacts. It is important that we do not lose what has been essential and special in Chatham County, including forests and farmlands. We need to preserve more natural land as parks, with connected trail systems for the health and recreation of our county residents and wildlife habitat. We can look to neighboring Alamance County for their successful efforts, such as the creation of the beautiful Cane Creek Mountain Natural Area and the many river trails and paddle accesses. We can support more rural land staying as farms and forest through development and tax incentives, agricultural centered communities and continued support for our nationally recognized Sustainable Agriculture program at CCCC. 

Increased economic growth is projected to cause a population boom as well, many of whom will need middle- to low-income housing. How do you think the county should address its looming affordable housing problem? 

Ill work to make sure frontline and essential workers, including teachers and first responders, and young people can afford to live in our increasingly affluent county.  The county currently lacks nearly 2000 affordable rental units, and an increasing number of new houses being built are priced beyond middle class earners. I support Chatham Countys housing goals to increase missing middle housing and access to affordable rental units for residents, through vouchers, community trusts, and greater density near more urban centers.  We can provide incentives for construction of housing with restricted sale prices, rents, and owner/tenant income thresholds.  Higher density options, as guided by Chathams Comprehensive Plan, can include more apartments, tiny homes and other community building options.  New affordable housing should have access or proximity to jobs, transportation, services, schools and open space. We should consider long-term maintenance requirements to address sub-standard housing issues, and address displacement (by development pressure) of residents in trailer parks or low-income rental housing. I will support funding for non-profits working on issues of affordable housing and homeless shelters.

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Katie Kenlan, candidate for Chatham Board of Commissioners — Dist. 4

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