The northwestern district of Chatham County will see a change in its county representation in November with a race featuring Democrat Katie Kenlan, an educator, and Republican Joe Godfrey, a service operations supervisor at Siemens Industry, for the Dist. 4 seat.
The seat on the commission board is now occupied by former Chatham County School Superintendent Robert Logan, who was appointed to fill the term of former Commissioner Jim Crawford. Crawford resigned from the seat in December; Logan opted not to seek a full term as commissioner.
Kenlan’s platform focuses on climate issues, including land preservation, improving wastewater infrastructure and smart growth strategies. Godfrey is interested in improving the county’s affordable housing stock, lowering taxes and limiting what he calls “wasteful spending.”
While their platforms differ in many arenas, both agree on the need to protect green spaces as the county continues on a rapid path of development.
Both candidates are lifetime Chatham residents. Godfrey grew up on a farm in Pittsboro, where he has lived for more than 50 years. He says growing up in the county means he understands first-hand the pain the rapid development has caused.
“I feel I can relate to how much our families struggle to make ends meet because of inflation and bad decisions by the current administration,” he told the News + Record.
Godfrey’s involvement in the county also includes being a member of Baptists on Mission and a former coach and referee for Chatham County’s recreation department.
Kenlan, also a lifelong Pittsboro resident, is the daughter of Elaine Chiosso, the executive director of the Haw River Assembly. Kenlan said the speed of development is also one of the things that inspired her to run for office. While Godfrey believes the development may harm the local economy, Kenlan is more focused on development’s potential destruction of natural resources.
“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,” she said.
The Democrat candidate also helps her mother as a volunteer with the Haw River Assembly, and a frequent foster parent at Chatham Animal Rescue & Education (CARE). Kenlan has also previously served as the Hadley Precinct Vice Chair for the Chatham County Democratic Party.
Ensuring the county properly addresses climate change is Kenlan’s biggest goal for office. She said she believes all issues stem from our ability to properly care for our environment, and says development and growth have downstream impacts on the environment in the form of burdening our wastewater systems and need for improved greenspaces.
As her top goals for office, Kenlan said she would prioritize safe drinking water, strong public schools, affordable housing and land conservation. She said this means focusing on developing a well-thought comprehensive plan that focuses on these issues. And while climate may be an international issue, Kenlan said there are local actions Chatham can take to ensure the community is doing its part.
“I’ll tackle climate change through local actions for green energy and fuel and resilient buildings,” she said. “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.”
Godfrey said his top goals for office are reducing taxes on small businesses in an effort to cope with rapid development. With Wolfspeed, VinFast, FedEx and others occupying spots in Chatham’s two megasites, Godfrey said taxes on other businesses need to remain low to ensure they survive with big corporations nearby.
He also said the county can properly prepare for corporations by investing in education programs at Central Carolina Community College and ensuring there are enough skilled workers to meet local demand.
“Right now, there is no long term solution,” Godfrey said. “It seems that the current board has not planned for rapid growth. We are already behind, so I would work with planning leaders, recreation leaders and other committees to solve these issues.”
Both candidates say they want to do their best to protect natural resources in Chatham, especially when it comes to ensuring clean drinking water and proper wastewater infrastructure. Each vowed to work with the Northeast Chatham Wastewater Study Commission, which was assembled by the current board of commissioners to analyze unique wastewater issues in that region of the county.
The candidates also agreed that the current strategic plan for wastewater in the county, which is presented in the 2017 Plan Chatham report, is inadequate for the current needs of the community. Since then, the county has grown substantially and will continue on a rapid trajectory with the aforementioned megasite tenants on the way soon; this growth will also inevitably lead to new water issues for the county.
Godfrey said he believes the county doesn’t have a good plan to address these issues, and while he isn’t a wastewater expert, there are plenty of community partners to look to in the Town of Pittsboro and Haw River Assembly.
“There have been multiple violations of quality standards, but again there is no real answer,” Godfrey said. “I will work with the Northeast Wastewater Study Commission to provide a tangible answer for the problems in that area of the county, and keep working with leaders in Siler City as the CAM site [Siler City’s Chatham Advanced Manufacturing megasite] gets up and running. The county should not depend on counties around us to manage wastewater.”
For Kenlan, wastewater is even more of a priority. She said the county should develop a multi-pronged approach to the issue by regulating local laws to ensure pollution is stopped at the source. This approach would include examining the reports from the Northeast Chatham Wastewater Study Commission and beginning progress toward a non-private wastewater treatment plant in Chatham. She also said the county should work to improve testing of well water and support management programs to mitigate flooding threats.
“The county needs to champion clean water for all our residents,” Kenlan said. “Including those in town jurisdictions, particularly as our Haw and Rocky rivers are being polluted by industrial wastewater.”
While both candidates said there is a need for “affordable housing,” their ideas of what “affordable” means and how the county gets to that goal are different.
Godfrey said the county is in a housing crisis because of failures by the current board of commissioners. He believes the board made poor zoning choices in an effort to lure VinFast and Wolfspeed to the megasites.
“We are already behind in providing any housing for families wanting to relocate to take advantage of these business opportunities,” he said. He added that the county should attempt to build apartment complexes on or adjacent to the megasites so incoming workers can live and work near their new jobs.
Meanwhile, Kenlan said the focus should be on both affordable and “missing middle” housing. The missing middle, she said, refers to the need to bring in workforce and middle income housing in the form of duplexes, triplexes and condos to move away from single-family housing models. She also said she supports increasing downtown density through apartments and tiny homes.
“The county currently lacks nearly 2,000 affordable rental units, and an increasing number of new houses being built are priced beyond middle class earners,” she said. “New affordable housing should have access or proximity to jobs, transportation, services, schools and open space.”
To read more about the candidates’ platforms and view their full responses to candidate questionnaires visit chathamnewsrecord.com/elections.