The Greensboro City Council met on Tuesday, July 18, the first time since June 20, and the councilmembers paid for their long break with a seven-hour meeting in which they covered a lot of territory.
It was the final meeting for District 2 City Councilmember Jamal Fox and the first meeting for his replacement, former and now current District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells.
Fox resigned shortly before the meeting ended at 11 p.m., and Wells was the only person nominated by the City Council to replace him. She won the seat with an 8-to-0 vote.
Jim Kee, a former District 2 city councilmember and a current candidate for the District 2 seat, spoke at the beginning of the meeting in favor of appointing Wells to serve out Fox’s term. District 2 City Council candidate Tim Vincent, who put his name up to be appointed to replace Fox, said he would have liked the appointment but understood why the City Council would want to select Wells since she has experience.
Mebane Ham had also put her name in the mix for the appointment to the District 2 seat and spoke at the meeting. She said that she had lived in the district for 25 years and would like to serve.
The two other candidates who nominated themselves to replace Fox until the new City Council takes office in December, Sherry Walker and C.J. Brinson, who is also a candidate for the District 2 seat, didn’t show up to speak to the City Council.
Wells has not filed to run for the District 2 seat, which she left in 2009, but filing is open until Friday, July 21 at noon, so there is still time.
After sitting at the council dais for the final 10 minutes of the meeting, Wells might have caught the bug and decided that she would like to be a councilmember for more than a couple of months.
When he was elected in 2013, Fox was the youngest person ever elected to the City Council in Greensboro.
Fox first announced this summer that he was not going to run for reelection but planned to finish out his term. Then, on June 28, Fox announced he would be resigning from the City Council at the July 18 meeting.
Fox is getting married next month and his fiancee lives in Portland Oregon. This week Fox announced that he was moving to Portland to accept a job with the City of Portland as the property and business development manager.
Fox has been an active member of the City Council and a lot of changes have come to District 2 during his tenure. A couple of items he mentioned in his final speech as a councilmember were Revolution Mill on Yanceyville Street, the Renaissance Community Coop grocery store in the Renaissance Shops on Phillips Avenue, raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and the Guilford Cup athletic contest between Greensboro and Guilford County.
City Councilmember Justin Outling said that a lot of people talk about problems but “Jamal has ideas for solving problems.”
Several councilmembers said, “Greensboro’s loss is Portland’s gain.
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said, “You’re going to soar. You soared here and you’re going to soar there.”
Councilmember Mike Barber described Fox as the “strongest advocate for city employees.”
The City Council voted 7 to 2 to annex and zone land on Lake Brandt Road at the Trosper Road intersection for a mixed-use development. The same rezoning request had passed the Zoning Commission with a unanimous vote, and a 7-to-2 vote on this City Council is as close as it is possible to come to unanimous for a contested rezoning case. City Councilmembers Marikay Abuzuaiter and Sharon Hightower voted against the rezoning, but they vote against virtually every contested rezoning, so that was simply par for the course.
The fact that developers start out two votes down makes development in Greensboro tougher than it should be.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan noted that with construction picking up, City Council is going to be facing more rezoning cases, and if the city is to grow then property has to be rezoned.
Vaughan added that because of the current annexation laws, the council could expect to see more infill development requests in the coming term and that infill development requests tend to be contentious.
In this case, the main reason given for opposition was traffic concerns. The idea that a 7,000-square-foot restaurant and/or coffee shop is going to generate enough traffic to make a major difference on Lake Brandt Road is an argument the City Council didn’t buy.
City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann noted that this was the kind of development that the city was promoting, where people in neighborhoods would have places they could go to eat or shop that didn’t require getting in a car and driving somewhere.
It didn’t help that most of the people opposing the rezoning request live outside the city limits and can’t vote in the City Council elections.
A request to rezone the same piece of property for commercial and office was withdrawn last fall in the face of overwhelming opposition.
This request, which was for Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning, is mostly for townhomes with a 7,000-square-foot commercial building and a 20,000-square-foot office building. The townhomes will wrap around the commercial development, providing a buffer between it and the single-family residential neighborhood.
Marc Isaacson, who represented the developer, Sun Capital owned by Ken Miller, said that they would like to see a medical office in the 20,000-square-foot building but that they did not have a tenant.
Several opponents said that commercial development, particularly a restaurant that might serve alcohol, should not be across the street from Jesse Wharton Elementary School. Barber noted that his children went to St. Pius X Catholic School, which is surrounded by commercial development, and it never seemed to be a problem.
In what was a first for a City Council rezoning hearing, the opposition showed a video shot from a drone traveling down Lake Brandt Road.
The City Council also voted to cancel the construction manager at risk (CMAR) contract for the construction of the Tanger Center for the Performing Arts. That passed 7 to 2 with Hightower and Abuzuaiter voting no.
Hightower said she was voting no because the contract had already been canceled. She also said that without the CMAR contract she thought the level of minority contractor participation would go down, which is Hightower’s main concern. Abuzuaiter votes against everything that has to do with The Tanger.
At the work session at 4 p.m., before the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m., Coliseum Manager Matt Brown, who is in charge of building The Tanger, said that after the experience with the grading contract where the CMAR, Skanska Rentenbach, bid $2.2 million, and when it was rebid, D.H. Griffin bid the project at $1.2 million, he realized the CMAR was not going to work.
The good news is that D.H. Griffin started the Phase 1 work last week, which consists of grading and putting in utilities, so the construction process is finally underway. Brown said the deadline for completion of Phase 1 was Oct. 31.
After a request for proposal (RFP) process, a consultant hired by the city, and the city staff, recommended that the city’s health insurance policy be taken away from United Healthcare, which has had the contract for over 20 years, and awarded to Cigna.
After hearing from numerous speakers from Cigna and United Healthcare, the City Council voted 6 to 3 to reject the RFP recommendation. Johnson, Fox and Hightower voted against the motion.
Both Outling and Barber said they didn’t think the RFP captured all the necessary criteria to make a decision.
United Healthcare has over 3,500 employees in Greensboro. Considering how much the city pays companies to move here, it wouldn’t make sense not to do business with a company that is one of the city’s largest employers. It is a service contract, which does not have to be bid.
So after spending thousands of dollars on a consultant, and hours of staff time, to figure out what is what, the city is going to continue to do what everyone knew it was going to do in the beginning, which is contract with United Healthcare.
At the work session before the regular meeting, the City Council also voted to suspend the Police Community Review Board after consideration is given for two cases that are pending.
David Sevier, the co-chairman of the Police Citizens Review Board Assessment Committee, gave a presentation to the City Council where he said that the way the current review board is structured, it isn’t helpful and isn’t perceived as helpful by people in the community.
Vaughan asked if his committee would keep working and come back in August with a more detailed report on how to develop a police oversight review process that will be effective.
During the month-long break, the Council Chambers had some changes made.
Not many people would notice, but press row is now on the left side of the room next to the windows and the city clerks are on the right where the press used to be.
But what made the room look a thousand times better is that the old faded cloth shades, that I believe came with the building in the 1970s, were removed and you can now see the floor to ceiling windows, which make the room look bright and new.
The room also has new neutral colored carpet replacing the red carpet that had also seen better days.