District 5 Commissioner Laura Meier

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

I am proud of how the BOCC has recently adopted more inclusive language on its advisory boards/commission applications to include "nonbinary, third gender, prefer to self-describe, prefer not to say." It's important for me and for my colleagues to ensure we have ALL of the county represented on our boards. This topic is discussed among us at our meetings quite regularly, particularly from which district  applicants reside as well as their race and gender. I believe we are moving in the right direction and I fully support more dialogue towards the inclusion of more representation from the LGBTQ community. 

One possibility to create more interest and gain more applications from the LGBTQ community is to be intentional when advertising for our boards and commissions by directly contacting various local organizations such as LGBTQ Democrats, the LGBTQ Chamber and the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. We do often say that we don’t get enough applicants in general for various board positions. Not only advertising within our own social media and email networks, but directly contacting these and other organizations would be a win-win. I would definitely volunteer to make sure when there are openings, I alert the local LGBTQ organizations.

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 rate Mecklenburg County with an “Above Average” rating in addressing rising cases of HIV/AIDS because once the county implemented its various programs including expanding community-based testing, PrEP initiative, and treatment services, the new cases of HIV/AIDS are actually decreasing. While Mecklenburg County still has a higher than average rate of HIV/AIDS cases, we are finally making headway. 

The “Getting to Zero” plan for Mecklenburg County is an aggressive plan to bring the numbers of HIV/AIDS cases to zero by partnering with our many health organizations across the county as well as receiving input from community-based organizations, studying other major cities’ responses to the rising crisis, and consulting the national HIV/AIDS Strategy. In other words, the “Getting to Zero”  plan wasn’t developed solely by the county. Input from aforementioned sources is key to creating a successful outcome.

I believe that we must continue to fund and support the plan as well as expand it because the problem isn’t going away. There are alarming statistics that HIV/AIDS affect men of color and those who are experiencing health disparities or lack of accessible health care. The plan addresses this with an increase in education and testing among priority populations, including testing in non-traditional settings; the PrEP Strategy (increase its use, educate the medical community, educate the general community, increase access to the uninsured); and the TasP Strategy, increasing the entry of patients into treatment which suppresses the virus. 

More than anything, since its inception in 2017, I believe that while it might not have been prioritized as it should have been, I want to see that it does become front and center and gets the funding and attention it deserves. Undoubtedly, COVID had a detrimental effect on the implementation of “Getting to Zero” but education, testing, PrEP and treatment are key to stopping the epidemic. I think the county is back on track to prioritizing the plan, and I want to advocate and push for funding to strengthen it. 

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 completely and unequivocally support equitable access to our parks and green spaces. 

Using a recent example in a park in District 4: Unbeknownst to the BOCC, the county park staff decided to remove a basketball court (mostly Black residents used)  and replace it with a pickleball court (mostly white residents used). Community outrage ensued. Most of us on the BOCC didn’t know anything about it until the story appeared on a local news organization’s site. I assure you, we reacted–thanks to the leadership of District 4’s representative, Mark Jerrell. The BOCC is a check and balance on county staff; therefore, pressure from not only the public but also members of the BOCC (including me) helped to change the plan, and county staff came up with a solution with which all were satisfied. The removal of the basketball court was certainly obtuse and short-sighted to say the least. But thanks to the BOCC and its pressure and advocacy, things took a turn for the better. 

This situation makes one think: would have this happened if the tables were turned? We must stay vigilant and protect the equitable access to our parks for all our residents. I truly don’t think that any malice was intended on the part of the staff. It simply takes the checks and balances of the BOCC to ensure that all our residents are being heard and served and that equitable access to parks and amenities is achieved. 

The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP for which I voted) is full of plans for new parks, greenway segments, recreation centers and renovations for–the majority of the projects– in low-income or historically Black neighborhoods.  This has been a long-held priority for the BOCC as well as for the Park and Recreation Department. I will continue to advocate for green space–I have been advocating for green space and parks since I campaigned in 2020 for ALL county residents–because the cost of green space is worth the  mental health benefits, physical health benefits, as well as the economic benefits. No matter the zip code in which you live, you should have the opportunity to walk to a park.

I have supported land acquisition in our budgets ($50M for the last three years) and most of the land being acquired is in park-poor areas of the county, creating more equitability. 

I am the representative for one of the wealthiest districts in Mecklenburg County. I continue to advocate for my district. Yet, I have a strong belief that while I represent District 5, my vote affects the whole community and therefore, I want to see ALL people, regardless of zip code, have access to not only green space but affordable housing as well. I am proud to continue to support our partners who buy and renovate NOAHs (Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing) as well as supporting projects that will bring affordable housing to all. There are several NOAHs in my own district and I certainly hope that we can continue to help fund such invaluable projects across the county. 

Speaking with developers, affordable housing is cost-prohibitive to build. The numbers do not work. It seems clear to me that if the government is going to tackle the issue of housing affordability, it is going to take public-private partnerships to make a dent in the problem. I think it can be done, but it’s not just the responsibility of city and county governments to partner with local corporations– this will take the state to help solve, and until we get the General Assembly to listen, we will continue to dive deeper and deeper into the crisis. 

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 fully support our BOCC priority of workforce development. Mecklenburg County is in partnership with many organizations who are leaders in job training, including CPCC, and part of our funding since 2021 has gone to workforce development. I do believe that we can do more, however, and I am fully committed to advocating for more funding toward this initiative during this upcoming budget season.

While the BOCC and the county do not have any legal recourse when it comes to the equitable outcomes of our students, we do have the responsibility of funding education. Since I was elected in 2020, I have loudly advocated for the full funding of our public schools. Furthermore, I have also been an outspoken advocate for addressing what the county actually IS responsible for, all of which affects children’s learning: poverty, affordable housing, access to mental healthcare, access to healthcare, and food insecurity. If the county does its part in addressing these issues, our children will go to school ready to learn. Clearly, it is not a simple solution; however, not funding education appropriately is definitely not the answer. 

Having served on many selection committees over the years, I can say with great confidence that the county takes very seriously–as do I– our MWSBE policies (Minority Women Small Business Enterprises). The county also, through the Economic Development Office (of which I serve on the Economic Development Committee) has various programs specifically designed to help small and minority businesses become successful, offering low-interest loans, grants, mentoring programs and general guidance. 

The county has also made it quite clear that we support second-chance employment and housing opportunities through our loans and grants to various organizations who work to assist the justice involved. I personally have advocated for several organizations who do just this, such as Freedom Fighting Missionaries, Center for Community Transitions and Home Again.

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.

By declaring racism as a public health crisis, the county opened the door to address systemic racism by focusing on policies rather than just individual behaviors. When I joined the board, Commissioner Mark Jerrell and I commissioned the Mecklenburg County Public Library (big shout out to the Spangler Room) to research systemic racism in the county. What came of it has become an invaluable resource for many organizations and groups, including the Racial Equity Committee, on which I serve. 

Much was learned from this document, from intentional discrimination based on race in government, neighborhoods, healthcare, justice, and education to the understanding that things won’t change overnight; and that as intentional as it was to discriminate, it will have to be just as intentional to turn it around. 

Mecklenburg County has made narrowing racial disparities a priority since the new board was elected in 2018. When I came on, the BOCC made reducing racial disparities a cross-cutting factor in everything we do by unanimous vote and it has remained a factor since. This past budget cycle, we finally approved the full-ask of CMS; healthcare access is a priority; equity in parks and green space continues to be a driving force; environmental stewardship (including environmental justice) has become a front-and-center priority for the county by establishing a sitting committee and hiring a full-time Director of Sustainability. 

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

I serve on the Domestic Violence Advisory Committee as the BOCC representative. I think that same-sex domestic violence is not addressed nearly enough and I would like to see this issue brought to light more than it currently is. 

I think that we have to stay vigilant as we watch what is happening at the state level with same-sex marriage, transgender rights, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and voting rights. As a government body, I hope the BOCC can do what is necessary to protect our residents even as the state chooses not to. It is our responsibility and I take it seriously.