At-Large Candidate Blake Van Leer

What steps will you take (or have you taken) to ensure LGBTQ+ people are included in decision-making, including on advisory boards and commissions?

Recognizing the many positive ways LGBTQ+ citizens add to our county, I feel an obligation to strive for inclusion. Whether through leadership in successful businesses or developing and running many successful NPO’s in our community, LGBTQ+ people and groups often times do it better than many in our county - including elected officials - and leadership must not be afraid to recognize their success, knowledge, and talents.

Specific steps -
I will work within the community to build alliances with the end goal being to bring members of the LGBTQ+ community to the collective table. 

I will help to create opportunities for voices to be heard - speaking out in meetings and community events, 

Bringing LGBTQ+ experts and their talents/skills to the forefront. 

Communication is key. Listening and learning is imperative. LGBTQ+ people can be a vital part of determining solutions and answers.

How would you rate the County's efforts in addressing rising cases of HIV/AIDS in Mecklenburg County? Please provide a rating of "Very Poor", "Below Average", "Average", "Above Average" or "Excellent", and why you provided this rating.
Do you support expanding the"Getting to Zero" Campaign for Mecklenburg County?

I am aware that the rate of positive testing for HIV is on the rise. I work closely with Kathy Ireland and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation where we discuss this and how to address these concerns.  There are several reasons including: the effects of the pandemic and the difficulty in offering tests, availability of testing, and lack of focus on specific communities seeing an increase. It is important that the county work with local community groups(people of color, different cultural groups, religious organizations) to provide opportunities for testing and programs oriented towards prevention. I believe that we have to expand access to PrEP particularly for the underserved and uninsured. 

As a first-time candidate, I am committed to making HIV testing/programming a priority in my service to Mecklenburg County. I am not 100% comfortable in offering a rating at either end of the spectrum. Today, I believe Mecklenburg County is average in their services/outreach. I am doing my homework and will possibly offer a different rating once I am more comfortable in my knowledge and my ability to effect change.

Do you support expanding the "Getting to Zero" Campaign for Mecklenburg County?

In doing my research about this campaign, I do support expanding it if the program is operated with focused and committed leadership. Our positive testing rate is higher than before the pandemic but we now cannot use excuses of funds being tied-up in other areas. With any program or effort, goals must be met, the ongoing program must be monitored for effectiveness, and that staffing must be skilled and committed to the program. The BOCC must be held accountable for its administration and ultimate outcome.

What actions do you support (or have you supported) to ensure people have equitable access (including transportation and housing) to jobs that provide a living wage, including supporting minority-owned businesses? How are you addressing the Leandro ruling to ensure equitable access to education? 

I would rate Mecklenburg County's efforts as Average. There are several contributing factors for my rating of "Average". The county's Getting to Zero campaign planning stage began during an unfortunate time--the COVID 19 pandemic. Despite that fact, I believe the county did an admirable job of pivoting to Zoom meetings to keep conversations about the strategy from being dormant. However, it does not appear from current reporting, which I believe is lacking in transparency, that the county is on track to hit their self-imposed goals of the four key indicators by 2025. There should be clearly communicated benchmarks for each of the goals in the key indicators to diagnose, treat, prevent, and respond to the HIV pandemic. I do support the Getting to Zero campaign, but a good strategy is always flexible enough to pivot on areas where forward progress is not being made. In this case, I do not believe there is enough data to support whether the strategy has made forward progress.

What will you do (or have you done) to maintain equitable access to green spaces and parks in Mecklenburg County? What plans do you have to ensure affordable housing is accessible to Mecklenburg County residents?

I believe that the BOCC must hold staff accountable for the administration of park and green space services. I believe that all parks must offer the same equipment, playing fields, and programs for the community regardless of which part of town they exist. Staff must be empowered to act productively for our citizens. I will make it a priority to visit parks across the county to document how the parks are meeting or not meeting the needs of all of our citizens. The county must acknowledge disparities and fix them - no question.
In regards to housing, the county has not typically been the entity responsible for housing issues. It has been the focus of the city. Because of the current crisis, we are all responsible for addressing the situation. The county must address the financial realities - does our budgeting process do anything to effectively address the issue or is it a bandaid to the need. Quite simply, we have to hold developers accountable(percentage commitments, gentrification, ami), align with external groups and churches working to offer housing opportunities, and work with the city to ensure that the city and county are working together; this is imperative. While there are no quick or easy solutions, the county and city must commit to lessening our housing crisis together. 

What actions do you
support (or have you supported) to ensure people have equitable access to jobs that provide a living wage, including supporting minority-owned businesses? How are you addressing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities to ensure equitable outcomes for students in our public schools, including through adequate funding?

I believe that the county must lead the way in establishing jobs that provide living wages. We must take hiring processes outside of the bubble to places where people live. The county must create standards for government hiring to demonstrate to outside businesses how they can improve their hiring standards. 

All RFP and bid processes must include opportunities for minority businesses. The county must build relationships with businesses that were built by minorities that include favorable hiring practices for minorities. It is not strictly an issue about ownership.

In regard to the schools, The county cannot ignore obvious issues between funding and outcomes. Funding must be allocated to all schools equally. Our schools should not become a tool in building divisiveness and separation. Commissioners must work with the Board of Education not against them. Accountability is required related to all funding allocations and expenditures on both sides of the funding process.

In 2020, the County Commission declared racism a public health crisis. What steps do you support (or have you supported) to address the racial inequities that exist in Mecklenburg County? These include but are not limited to environmental racism, overpolicing, and healthcare access.

Racial inequalities is a huge problem for Mecklenburg County directly affected by housing practices, employment or lack of, and the criminal justice system. We have long-time black neighborhoods being destroyed by developers and buyers and we have no place for the residents to move because our city is pricing out a large portion of our population. The income gap in the county is huge. Our healthcare system does little for the uninsured: options are thin to none. To put it simply, proclamations are great on paper but I believe they do little to nothing to effect change. The BOCC must engage with the people most directly involved with our county’s reality and not be afraid to recognize and deal with hard truths. I don’t advocate for more task forces or feel-good committees. It is time to do the hard work to establish and enforce new standards designed to meet the needs of the underserved. The BOCC must be ready to get their hands dirty.

In regards to policing, our law enforcement services are definitely not equal. In Mecklenburg County, a black man is 10 times more likely to be arrested than a white man. I am not an advocate for an across the board defunding of the police but I do advocate for effective policing that builds support teams of qualified people(substance abuse, domestic violence, non-violent to name a few) that work across the county with the goal of verifiable equality of services. As a commissioner, I will always expect accountability from all local police leadership and will always support change if we don’t get it. Having more resources available for the police (courses on effective policing, ongoing education, funding etc) will go a long way. 

Healthcare services must meet the needs of people where they are. Emergency Rooms cannot be the first line of service for the uninsured. I will work to build coalitions of service providers who are willing to go into underserved neighborhoods and communities. The county is a major funder of a local healthcare provider and I believe that relationships need to be expanded beyond new buildings and special zoning. I know that change will be hard and parts of it will not happen but the crisis is clear and we have to get busy.

Any other accomplishments or priorities you'd like our Scorecard Committee to consider?

Raised in a family with a long history of being committed to social justice. For example, Blake Van Leer stood up against segregationists, supported HBCUs, fought twice, and finally won the acceptance of women to be admitted to Georgia Tech and NC State. Grandmother Ella Van Leer (his wife) and her daughter Maryly founded the first sororities at Tech and chapters for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) across the country to support young women in college. I myself helped found the “Dream Fearlessly” campaign for young women, was a supporter/member of WIRL and SWE and was a donor and supporter of The Trevor Project.