Julia Olson-Boseman presided over the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners as chair in a historic year. There was a public health crisis to grapple with, a “once-in-a-generation” vote on selling the county’s largest asset and several other major topics that came before the five members, who at times publicly were at odds with each other during the year.
By the time you read this, two of the commissioners – Pat Kusek and Woody White – will have handed over their seats at their final meeting Dec. 7. Neither ran for re-election, and Deb Hayes and Bill Rivenbark will join the board. Incumbent Jonathan Barfield Jr. narrowly hung onto his seat. Rob Zapple, who was not on this year’s ballot, rounds out the new mix.
At that same meeting, the board unanimously elected Olson-Boseman as chair again for 2021, with Hayes as vice chair.
Here's excerpts from a recent conversation with Olson-Boseman.
In your opinion, what was the Board of Commissioner’s biggest successes this year?
“I believe we had a lot of successes. A few of those include:
We led locally what has been one of the most unprecedented and difficult crises for the world – COVID-19. Working with our Public Health Department, we made difficult but necessary decisions and helped the community navigate in this new normal. We provided $1.3 million in business grants for small businesses and another $1.3 million for families who need housing or child care assistance.
We were able to understand more about the possibilities for health care in our community and make a decision as a majority board to transform health care for generations to come by joining NHRMC with Novant Health. This decision not only impacts health care for the better, but it also brings billions of dollars into our community for mental and behavioral health, revenue stabilization for the county, innovative health care and a $1.25 billion Community Endowment that is going to make a lasting and profound difference in New Hanover County for many, many years to come.
We also collaborated with the city to revamp Wave Transit and work toward a more efficient, convenient transportation system for our residents, which will come in July 2021.
We began working on the county’s Master Aging Plan, which will come to fruition next year and be our guide to ensure we have the right and best services in place for our aging community.
With the support of County Manager Chris Coudriet, we created the county’s first Office of Diversity and Equity, with a mission to promote an inclusive and fair work environment and build a culture and community where employees and residents are respected, valued and understood for their own identity.”
What were some of the missed opportunities or votes you wished would have gone differently?
“I would have liked for the vote about the hospital joining Novant Health to be unanimous, given the need we all know is there and the tremendous opportunity this is, but there isn’t anything else I wish would have gone different. I look forward to all of the opportunities this upcoming year brings with two new members and the work we will all accomplish together as a board.”
As a commissioner, what are your priorities for 2021?
“Just to name a few:
• Enhancing economic development opportunities despite COVID-19 and helping our local businesses recover
• Finalizing the Senior Resource Center’s Master Aging Plan
• Redeveloping the Government Center
• Breaking ground on the Healing Place treatment center and expanding the county’s efforts in mental and behavioral health (utilizing the $50 million fund we are creating with the use of the hospital proceeds)
• Become a real partner with the school system to make sure our students and our teachers have the resources they need. Specifically, I’d like to have conversations about building a new solar powered elementary school at Riverlights along with other systemwide improvements including making sure each student has access to the technology they need at home
• Implementing a much better and enhanced public transportation system that benefits our community
• Implementing initiatives focused on affordable housing
And so much more – we have so many opportunities and I am exciting for what’s to come.”
There have been sharp disagreements at times this year. Do you see the relationships on the board improving next year or is that just an inevitable part of politics?
“We are a diverse board with diverse views – but we all have the same thing in common and that is wanting what is best for our community.
There will always be differences, and that’s a good thing because otherwise, we wouldn’t grow as a board.
And this year we were able to come together and accomplish one of the most transformative decisions that has ever happened in our county for the hospital and its future – which is our community’s future.
I look forward to being a part of this new board and welcoming our new members. I believe we can and we will work together and accomplish even more as we listen to the community, engage our residents and serve the public on their behalf.”