Karen Howard is many things: mom, former attorney and children’s advocate. Since 2014, she’s also been one of Chatham County’s commissioners, stepping into the chairperson role in January of …
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Karen Howard is many things: mom, former attorney and children’s advocate. Since 2014, she’s also been one of Chatham County’s commissioners, stepping into the chairperson role in January of this year — mere months before the coronavirus pandemic would shift life in Chatham, and around the globe, dramatically.
Needless to say, it’s been a busy last eight months for Howard, who is seeking re-election this year as a Democrat in Dist. 1, facing Republican Jay Stobbs. In addition to serving as the BOC liaison for 10 county boards and committees, including the Board of Education, the Chatham County Partnership for Children and the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, as the BOC chairperson, Howard has also served as the public face regarding many county COVID-19 decisions.
“We have been consistent about our messaging, and I think that is probably the most important tool for the public — being able to rely on the consistency and efficacy of the information they’re getting from those in positions of leadership,” she told the News + Record.
From the beginning of the pandemic’s impact in North Carolina, Howard has consistently stressed the safety of the county’s staff and citizens at board meetings and in the county at large. As the government loosens restrictions, she told the News + Record, there will be more of a need for individual vigilance to ensure community safety.
“I think it’s critical for local governments to be thinking, not ‘How do you not die?’ in a pandemic, but ‘How do we continue to live? How do we thrive?’” she added. “The limitations aren’t an excuse to not do well — we still have to do well, we still have to meet the needs of the community.”
A retired attorney and former member of the Chatham County Board of Education, Howard is also the mom of six children. In August this year, she was elected to the North Carolina Association of Black County Officials. Following the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Howard has consistently challenged the board to continue thinking critically about how it can contribute positively on issues of equity and justice within the county.
“I am running for County Commissioner because I believe that strong local government is critical to the health and well-being of our community and that the best decisions are made closest to the people we serve,” Howard said in response to a News + Record September questionnaire. “Over the past six years, I have demonstrated that I am equal to the task of representing our diverse community and its unique challenges and opportunities.”
If re-elected, Howard said two measurable goals for another term would be to work toward county-wide access to affordable, reliable broadband service and increased options for safe, affordable housing for Chatham residents across the income spectrum.
On Facebook, many largely Republican groups have criticized the Democratic commissioners, including Howard, for wasteful spending. Some posters have questioned Howard’s legitimacy to run as a commissioner, suggesting she does not live in Chatham. Though she has a Chapel Hill address, Howard lives in Northeast Chatham with her three youngest sons — many residential homes and businesses in that part of Chatham also have Chapel Hill addresses.
“I will say that there is, in my mind, a stark difference between the candidates — the Democratic candidates that are running for election, re-election and the Republican candidates,” Howard said regarding the claims on social media.
“If their view of local government is that it is meant to hoard our tax money and sit on it and use it for some purpose that does not touch the people, that does not benefit and uplift our community, then I think that government would be very misguided, that government would be callous, and that government that would be irresponsible,” Howard said. “And that is not the kind of government that Chatham County wants or needs.”
As the election approaches — early voting begins this Thursday — Howard encouraged residents to vote all the way down the ballot, and to vote for people committed to doing the best they can to serve the community. And she believes she is that person.
“Chatham deserves a strong voice and a committed representative,” she said. “I am she.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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