If it’s the job of the Greensboro City Council to listen to complaints from any citizen who walks in city hall, the City Council is doing a great job.
At the monthly town hall meeting held on Tuesday, June 5, the City Council heard from 43 speakers. There was shouting. There was crying. And in the midst of all that was a request for $10 million for a $100 million development in east Greensboro.
A good number of speakers talked about the recent disparity study and the city’s Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) program.
Former City Councilmember and former state Rep. Earl Jones spoke as the co-chair of the Greensboro Business League.
Jones said the Greensboro Business League was asking for three things: that Griffin and Strong, who did the disparity study, be hired to implement the recommendations it made in the disparity study; that the city appropriate $1.5 million to the MWBE office; and that the city make the MWBE office independent of the city manager and report directly to the City Council.
The MWBE office currently has 2.5 employees, and in 2018-2019 is budgeted at $279,000. No one who spoke on funding the MWBE office with $1.5 million said anything about how that money would be spent.
Currently, only two city employees report to the City Council – the city manager and the city attorney.
Speakers representing the NAACP, and the Pulpit Forum spoke in favor of the proposal from the Greensboro Business League.
Chuck Byrd noted that he had helped start the MWBE program 40 years ago and said, “What we have been doing for the past 40 years has not been working.”
Hurley Derrickson talked about slavery, Jim Crow and separate but equal, and he said, “In 2018, we feel like things are moving backward.”
Many speakers complained that the disparity study was finished in March and no changes had been made.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan explained that in April the City Council had voted in favor of the 90-day plan presented by staff to get input from the community and develop a plan to implement changes to the MWBE program.
Assistant City Manager Barbara Harris said that after the April meeting the plan was to come back to the council with a proposal in the July/August time frame. She said that the tornado on April 15 had caused some delay in getting the meetings scheduled but that the meetings were now scheduled to start on June 12.
Vaughan said it wasn’t that the City Council wasn’t doing anything, rather the City Council was following the plan but it had been delayed by the tornado.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower said, “It’s not a priority of council.”
Vaughan replied, “You can’t speak for other councilmembers. You can’t speak for me.”
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said loudly, “You can’t say I don’t care.”
Councilmember Goldie Wells said, “It might be better for us if we speeded things up a little. I’m tired of hearing this argument.”
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson, referring in particular to one speaker’s issues, said, “I think it is a part of institutional racism. It is a part of institutional racism. We ought to face it and we ought to fix it.”
The meeting also included the public hearing on the budget, but as it turns out it’s not just the City Council who isn’t very concerned about the budget. Nine speakers spoke at the budget public hearing portion of the meeting.
One was Hester Petty, who spoke three times during the meeting on every topic possible. She said all city employees and not just benefitted city employees should be paid $15 an hour and there should be a step plan of regular raises instead of the city’s current system of giving merit raises.
Dave Coker, representing the Professional Fire Fighters of Greensboro, brought up an interesting point. He said that since firefighters are salaried and work 56-hour weeks that when the city implemented the $15 an hour for employees the firefighters would become Greensboro’s lowest paid employees on an hourly basis. He asked that their salaries be included in the $15 hour a week minimum wage.
Other speakers spoke in favor of more bike lanes, more affordable housing and higher pay for city employees.
Rebecca Clark from the Piedmont Triad Film Commission thanked the City Council for their continued support.
Kay Hutchins Self said that eight people in her neighborhood paid city taxes but didn’t receive city water and sewer service, which she thought was unfair.
At the end of the public hearing Hightower wanted to talk about the budget.
Vaughan told her that the City Council would be having a work session on the budget next week.
Hightower said, “We really haven’t talked about it,” and asked if they would have a chance “to go into in depth” at that meeting.
Interim City Manager, soon to be City Manager, David Parrish assured Hightower that they could discuss the budget in detail at that meeting.
Hightower noted that all they had talked about were some of the nonprofits, and she is correct. The City Council has yet to discuss the budget in any detail and it is scheduled to be passed on June 19.
Former City Councilmember Jim Kee presented a site plan for what he said was a $100 million development named Crosstown on East Cone Boulevard near the Walmart. Kee said it would be mixed use with a hotel, retail, residential, a skating rink, a bowling alley, movie theaters, restaurants, entertainment venues and a variety of businesses.
Dr. Don Linder, who owns the 26 acres they are planning to develop, told the City Council they would need approximately 10 percent in city funding to make the project work and it would provide significant economic stimulus to the area.
District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells said, “It’s in District 2 and we don’t have a single hotel in the whole district. I’m really excited about it.”
Johnson said, “You can certainly depend on my support.”
Vaughan said, “The minute you deliver it we are ready to support it.” She said they were waiting to get more information.
Hightower said, “We are ready to move forward with it.”
None of the councilmembers who spoke seemed concerned that the request was for a $10 million incentive, which is off the charts as far as the city’s economic development policy goes.
The panhandling ordinance was also on the agenda, but it was just to be read with no action taken. The panhandling ordinance has actually been passed by the City Council twice, but because of legal technicalities won’t go into effect unless the City Council passes it a third time.
The first time it passed was by a 6-to-3 vote and the ordinance did go into effect, but Hightower, who voted for the ordinance, said she wanted to have the vote reconsidered so she could change her vote.
At the next business meeting the City Council did reconsider the ordinance and Hightower changed her vote to a no, so it passed 5 to 4. For an ordinance to go into effect it has to pass with at least six votes or pass a second time with a simple majority.
The fact that the City Council currently only has one meeting a month where it votes has caused this issue to drag on and on. The ordinance, according to City Council policy, had to be read into the minutes at this meeting, but it won’t be voted on until the June 19 meeting.
However, since the panhandling ordinance was on the agenda, it gave those opposed to the ordinance yet another opportunity to talk about homeless people and panhandling.
It was much the same crowd as has been at previous meetings, saying basically the same things that the City Council has now heard four or five times. But, who knows, with this City Council a vote could change and the panhandling ordinance could fail on June 19, which means Greensboro would have no ordinance covering panhandling and would have to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new ordinance.