District 6 Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell

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

One of the steps I have taken is when I chaired the Ad-hoc committee that reviewed and redesigned the County's online application. Under my leadership we sought advice from multiple sources on how best to ensure that the language on the application is inclusive. For example, the choices for Gender are now: Male; Female; non-binary or third gender; prefer to self describe; prefer not to say. I was adamant in my advocacy for inclusion. In addition, all applicants are encouraged to reach out to commissioners to introduce themselves and explain why they would be a great candidate. In doing so, if an applicant disclosed to me that they are LGBTQ+ I would consider that as a very positive way to bring diversity to our advisory boards and commissions - which is one of our stated goals. Also, I have encouraged my friends and other members of the LGBTQ+ community to apply to serve! Lastly, I believe seeing and listening to the voices of the LGBTQ+ community is an important way to make sure that they are included in decision-making. It's not about what I think is needed - it is about hearing them.

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 would rate the County's efforts as "Above-Average" while believing there is always room for improvement. There has been a lot of progress in the last 18 months with expanded access to testing, especially with the County's partnerships with providers out in the community. The County's "Let's Get Checked" initiative with confidential, at home, free testing is a positive step. Also, we have expanded access to PrEP by opening a new clinic last year and we have multiple marketing campaigns targeting increased compliance for medication intake. Mecklenburg has the highest HIV burden in the state but we have a robust set of strategies investing more than $500,000 per year across efforts.  

"Getting to Zero" is more than a campaign for Mecklenburg County - it is a framework, a roadmap for addressing HIV in the County. I support more aggressive implementation to make sure we reach our goals. I am glad that as a result of COVID, zoom meetings have allowed more community stakeholders to join the process and discussions, however It is definitely time for an update. 

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 have been a leader on the BOCC in advocating for record amounts of land acquisition to be used for parks. In the past few years, we have gone from allocating only $6.6m per year to $20m, and then to $50m per year! These investments have been made all over the county, including many in D6. I believe that this is an urgent need as Mecklenburg County will soon reach build-out. I also believe land acquisition is an ideal use of our fund balance dollars. In addition, I have advocated for park improvement dollars to go to underserved areas of the County that have become run-down and require investment. 

As far as affordable housing is concerned - it was not even acknowledged as a County priority until my first year of service on the BOCC when I and my fellow new Board Members (Fresh 4) began to advocate for it. I have been a strong champion for affordable housing because it is my belief that if you don't have housing you don't have health, a chance at a sustainable income, or the ability to receive a proper education. Housing affects every facet of the quality of one's life and the return on investment is unmistakable. Unfortunately, our efforts have felt like a drop in the bucket compared to the need. I have always pushed hard for affordable housing to be included whenever tax grants are being sought by developers and in my role as chair of the BOCC Economic Development Committee. This is a continuous battle and I wholeheartedly believe that in addition to building more units, the answer lies in additional opportunities to maintain NOAH's (Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing). Lastly, I support County efforts to keep people in their homes through programs like Habitat for Humanity and others that do critical home repair - this is an often overlooked but extremely important piece of the puzzle.

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 continue to support multiple initiatives to bolster minority owned businesses and living wage jobs. As chair of the Economic Development Committee I have advocated for bringing high paying jobs to the County through business grants countless times. As chair, I have taken the lead on pushing for higher wages and better benefits for employees as a "deal-breaker" part of negotiations. I have requested that staff no longer give us "average wages" as part of any equation - we never want to consider wages that are skewed by averaging with high paying C-suite jobs. Additionally, I have supported multiple programs that are geared toward leveling the playing field with minority owned businesses getting the opportunity to compete for government projects such as the "Business Launchpad" program. Our Economic Development Department has a number of services geared toward small business support that I am extremely proud of. In addition, I have had the opportunity to serve countless times on committees that choose contractors for County capital projects and I have heavily supported businesses with robust inclusion practices or that are minority led. I am also a proponent of union jobs and push for their inclusion in opportunities.

In terms of supporting equitable outcomes in our public schools I have been a tireless advocate (and in the minority of commissioners) who believes that resources are a major component. I recognize that our public schools are majority-minority and investing in them means investing in racial and socioeconomic equity. Our district schools have been starved of funding over many years by the state of NC and the effect is cumulative. I have always advocated for higher supplements for our educators and greater resources for our students. This includes through very important staff roles such as psychologists, assistant teachers, bus drivers, etc. Our children deserve a level playing field and we must fight to give that to them - not strip them of funding, or distort the curriculum to match ideologies that are not based in reality, or ban books, or limit their healthcare, etc. We must always be child-focused and not get distracted by the behavior of adults! I am serving on a state steering committee and on a national committee to advocate for focusing on better outcomes for all children. 

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.

I was one of the three Commissioners who worked on that declaration in 2020 and brought it to the full board. It was the beginning of a process that led to a study of Mecklenburg County's role in contributing to racism over decades in various sectors such as healthcare access, environmental racism, redlining, law enforcement, court systems, elections, etc... As a result, I now serve on the Equity Investments Committee that is focused on bringing meaningful, proactive investments into the lives of newborns and Pre-K children that can grow over decades and provide a platform from which to launch their futures into higher eduction or career paths. We are also looking into financial supports for folks re-entering society after incarceration to lower recidivism and promote rehabilitation. I am excited to be a part of this work and support its development.

Additionally, I have supported efforts to bolster black maternal and infant health outcomes as well as other health access disparities such as during COVID. I fully support the use of community nursing to reach people in their homes and bring healthcare into the community itself. Going door to door to reach people who have limited transportation and resources is effective and the right thing to do.

As a member of the Environmental Stewardship Committee I have been an advocate for recognizing and addressing disparities in air quality and other environmental racism factors. Educating the public is an important piece of addressing this type of racism while also taking action to acquire green spaces and clean-up pollutants in underserved areas. Much of this work goes unseen by the public but I am extremely proud of these initiatives.

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

I am very proud of the fact that I was on the team of commissioners who worked on the Non-Discrimination Ordinance for Mecklenburg County and brought it to the full Board. At my very core, I strongly believe in the dignity of ALL people - that is one of the driving forces that caused me to run for this job in the first place. I have given my heart and soul to this job - and that is how I see it - a real job that takes a LOT of time, digging deep, focusing on fairness, balance, and opportunity for all. I have not treated it in a performative way - I don't show up for selfies and then leave. I am frustrated by those in government who are focused on promoting themselves and not on those we serve. I do the real work of focusing on issues - research, listening, and policy advancement. I am not afraid to stand up to the powerful. I believe in investing in our collective future. With your support, I look forward to continuing to be your ally on the BOCC.