If you thought that since the budget was passed the Greensboro City Council was going to get to work on issues that matter – like economic development and jobs, two of the stated top priorities of this City Council – then you were wrong.
This City Council appears determined to concentrate on feel-good issues.
The good news is that there were only four speakers on the proposed panhandling ordinance on Tuesday, July 10, so it wasn’t a whole night of talk on homeless issues. Since the City Council has been listening to speakers and talking about the panhandling ordinance since April and held five public forums on that topic alone with a facilitator and an outside attorney present, it makes sense that the issue has lost some steam.
City Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said she had signed a letter being circulated among elected officials in the state advocating that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which she called “a lawless federal agency,” be abolished. Several councilmembers said they were also interested in signing the letter and Kennedy promised to send them a link, and to Councilmember Yvonne Johnson she said she would give her a call.
Of course, whether or not the federal government abolishes ICE is not an issue that the Greensboro City Council has any control over, but if you see your seat on the City Council as a soap box to promote far-left liberal causes, then it’s a great issue to bring up.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she completely missed the irony of the three speakers who asked the City Council to pass a resolution in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, which grants equal rights to women. Vaughan is joined on the City Council by seven women and one man. It would appear that men are more in need of equal rights than women on the Greensboro City Council.
There is also the minor stumbling block that the deadline for states to ratify the proposed constitutional amendment that was passed by Congress in 1972 was 1982. So the ratification by the states, if it happened, would be a mere 36 years past the deadline – no doubt seen as a legal technicality that could be overlooked.
This has to be some political ploy because back when the North Carolina legislature was controlled by Democrats, which it was for 38 years after the Equal Rights Amendment passed, it had a much better chance of passage than it does today with a conservative Republican North Carolina General Assembly. Also, Congress would have to make an exception, since the ERA didn’t meet the deadline for ratification and Congress could have done so in 2009 when both the Senate and the House were completely controlled by Democrats, but it didn’t. Now with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, that 36-year extension is not going to happen.
Nonetheless, Councilmember Sharon Hightower said that she was in favor of equal rights and would like to have the resolution in support of the Equal Rights Amendment on the next agenda. So it will give the City Council another feel-good but meaningless resolution to discuss for a couple of hours at the next meeting. After that discussion, if this City Council follows its usual pattern, the vote on the meaningless resolution will be continued, so that the City Council can get more input from the public and discuss it further. The proposed amendment has been waiting for 46 years for the Greensboro City Council to take a stand, so a few more months while the City Council discusses it won’t make much difference.
The only result of passing such a resolution would be to annoy the North Carolina legislature, and considering the number of local bills that the legislature passed in this term at the request of the City Council, that’s not too smart. At some point the legislature could get tired of the annoying resolutions that keep coming from City Council and decide not to pass special bills for Greensboro.
The legislature, for instance, did pass a bill that allows Greensboro to restructure its Police Community Review Board. Republican state Sen. Trudy Wade pushed it through the Senate and Republican Reps. Jon Hardister and John Faircloth worked to get it passed by the House.
Earlier bills making adjustments to the Police Community Review Board that were sponsored by Democrat state Rep. Pricey Harrison in the House and Democrat state Sen. Gladys Robinson in the Senate are still sitting in the Rules Committees of both bodies. Evidently, after that fiasco, someone on the City Council realized that Republicans control both houses of the legislature and having bills introduced by Democrats is a surefire way of making certain they don’t pass.
The City Council is technically nonpartisan but the current makeup is eight Democrats and one councilmember too liberal to be a Democrat.
Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott presided over the best part of the meeting because Scott brought two therapy dogs used in a program the Greensboro Police Department created to introduce elementary school students to police officers.
The labradoodle that the police had been using, Mia, was on loan to the department, but an Australian labradoodle puppy, Hero, was donated to the Police Department for the program called Students Overcoming Situations (SOS). Once Hero is trained he will take over for Mia.
The program was launched in five elementary schools in the spring of 2018 and Scott said that it had been so successful that he is getting calls from other departments around the state asking for advice on implementing similar programs, and in the fall, a presentation on SOS will be made at a national conference. Scott said the program would expand to 10 schools in the fall. So Hero is going to be one busy little puppy.
Scott said the main goal of the program was to have students build relationships with police officers in a non-threatening environment, and the dogs were a huge help in creating that atmosphere.
Scott also said that all the police officers who participate are volunteers, on their own time, so the program is done at no extra cost to the city.
During the public speakers portion of the meeting, Jason Yow suggested that the city start a gun buy back program that would provide those in jail a chance to get out or have their sentence reduced if they turned in a gun. Yow said this would get the guns that are involved in crimes off the streets.
Sondra Wright talked about the proposed changes to the Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) program and complained that Assistant City Attorney James Dickens was in charge of writing the new program. White said that Dickens had explained that the city had to follow the state statutes and she didn’t think he was as concerned about MWBE contractors as he should be.
City Attorney Tom Carruthers defended Dickens, noting that he had successfully defended the city’s MWBE policy in Superior Court three times so he knew how the courts looked at the statutes.
Carruthers also said that Griffon & Strong, which did the disparity study, was involved and had always been involved in developing a new program, but he noted that Griffon & Strong was prohibited by law from giving the city legal advice.
Several speakers spoke about the fire in May in the apartments at Summit Avenue and Cone Boulevard where five children died.
According to Assistant City Attorney Barbara Harris, the apartments in that complex are in the process of being inspected by the city to ascertain if repairs had been completed.
Vaughan said that the City Council would meet with the apartment community and asked that something be scheduled in that area.
Several of the four speakers on the homeless and panhandling issue talked about Duluth, Minnesota, voting unanimously to rescind its panhandling ordinance. What the speakers didn’t mention was the ordinance prohibited panhandling in the downtown area. The ordinance passed by the Greensboro City Council, which has to be passed a second time to go into effect, makes aggressive panhandling illegal. In Duluth, all panhandling was illegal in the downtown.
Marcus Hyde, an organizer of the Homeless Union of Greensboro, once again asked the City Council to pass a police protocol on dealing with the homeless population. One part of the proposed police protocol is that homeless people not be arrested for urinating or defecating in public.
The police protocol proposed by the Homeless Union states, “In particular, where persons experiencing homelessness are engaged in life-sustaining behavior, such as sleeping, resting, eating, drinking, urinating or defecating, in the absence of an adequate private alternative place to undertake those activities, they shall not be cited or arrested for performing those activities.”