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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Balancing various concerns as a county commissioner

As a county commissioner, Clement faced serious decisions as she helped shape Durham's development. Here she explains how she tries to balance her concerns for social justice, her interest in environmental issues, and her pragmatic recognition that new building in Durham had to occur.

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Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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I wonder too, because it seems that the County Commissioners would have to deal with so many issues based on growth and development in the county, that it certainly could happen that they would overwhelm the time spent and people would be coming to you with those issues. You could not choose not to deal with them.
This is true. Right now we've had one public hearing and getting ready to have a second one next week on the public thoroughfare system. The county does not do roads, the city does streets and the state does road, but more and more the county and the city are going in together and we're planning . . . [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
The county does not do roads, per se, the city does streets and the state does roads, but we are beginning to sit with the city to listen to planning. We merged the planning department for the city and the county because this is one county and one municipality and it makes sense to do it that way. The people on a certain street who are very much up in arms about the prospect that their street might be widened for a thoroughfare. Now I know that nobody wants that to happen to them, but I think that perhaps, here again, you can be a little more sensitive to people in terms of how many hours do you need, and can we not use a road that's already here, and maybe you have to go out of your way a little bit, but would it not serve that neighborhood better. The traffic engineer on the other hand is doing his job. His job is to find the quickest way to get from here to there, and that's what he presents. And so we've had lots of people saying, "Save our trees, save our roads," and this sort of thing. I am constantly looking for a balance. I think this is the big struggle in our country today. The balance between the kind of neighborhoods and communities that people want to retain and yet being able to meet the needs of a modern society that we live in. It's very nice to have a winding street, tree-lined streets, but they don't get you very far very quickly. [Laughter] Then those same people will come back next week and say there's the worst traffic jam down there, you can't get through. So there's a balance I think you have to do. People like the efficiency of a big city, but they want the amenities of a rural area.
I wonder too if the development issues--it seems to me that there could be, for your interests, a sort of double-edged aspect--on the one hand, growth could provide the tax base for some of the more costly programs that you might be interested in, and then finding the time simply to deal with this.
Exactly. This is what I was saying. It's a balancing act. Growth is necessary. Now there's some people who say I want to keep it just like it is. This is the way it was when I grew up, and I want my children--it doesn't quite work that way. We don't have neighborhood schools, we don't have children walking down tree-lined streets anymore. You do have to face up to the fact that we live in a different society, but I think our planners can help to keep as much of that atmosphere as possible while, as you said, expanding the tax base. This is very important. It's just like a family trying to live without money. The government can't live without revenues and people cannot provide all of the revenues. We are very fortunate in Durham County in having the Park [Research Triangle Park] which is a great asset to our tax base. You're very right about that. We have also been fortunate, I think, in having some very good developers. Not all of them, and you have to learn to look and to take advice from the professionals who do these things. I'm not a professional, I'm the people's representatives. We are elected and that's different from being a professional staff person. We had a meeting one day this week to meet with a very large national firm that's coming here, and we're very pleased to have them. The attorney has had them meeting with the County Commissioners two at a time because you can't have a quorum. He made a remark when I left, said "You still want to maintain an air of mystery." That was not my point at all. I started off by saying to him, "We are very please to know that you are coming to Durham County and we are very happy to have you." I made that clear. But I also said throughout, "I know you're working with our funding department, and I know you're going to meet all of our ordinances and so forth." I can't say, "Yes, come on," and then they come and not meet our ordinances. I'm putting myself on the spot. I have to know first of all that they have met the P and Z Board--that's the Planning and Zoning--they have met our planning staff, and the Planning Commission. When we get a clearance from them, we know that all of these details that we can't keep up with have been attended to. I fully expect this to happen because they're the kind of company that would, but I have to put it that way, based on the facts I know. Now you take Treyburn. From the very beginning those people came into the planning department with their plans, and they said we want to work with you and we want to do it right all the way through, and when we get through we want to make sure that we've met all of your requirements and not have any problems. I think, personally, that's probably one of the best planned developments--they've been an asset to this community--that we've ever had. The idea of rezoning 5,000 acres was more than some people could take. But you know, though we spent months on this, and decided it was better for those people who were people--Mr. Sanford, Sr. who was a man I'd known and respected and admired for years. They had convinced me that they were going to have a first-class development. It's better than being with twenty-five or thirty people who may put up a hodgepodge here and a hodgepodge there. I think he's doing the same thing in Erwin Square. There's a lot of difficulty--and of course that's the city. I'm not really dealing with that. They're going to make it very difficult for developers. Well, I don't say the developers should have it easy, but you can't drive them all away. We have to have industry. That's a fact of life. We talk about jobs for poor people. Poor people suffer most in a depressed economy or when money is not circulating. The economists can tell you how many times a dollar must turn over before it gets down to the poor community and how many times they can turn it over before it goes away. If you don't have a viable economy everybody suffers, and the poor people most of all. But we have to balance this with our ecological concerns. I think everybody's an environmentalist now, whether we started off that way or not. We just didn't know. Who could not be in fear of the hole in the ozone layer and all of the things? The water problems that we have, and the sewage, and what not. I never thought about sewer beyond flushing a toilet seat, because we always had running water in Atlanta. I had to learn about septic tanks and sewers and things like that. It's very important for your future health and to preserve your streams, to preserve the purity of the water. We have very good ordinances here in Durham County. Among the best in the state, certainly. We want those and we want people to observe them and live up to them. This way I think you can have a good community for everybody. This is what I think we ought to have, an opportunity at least for people to rise about poverty and having to ask for help.