It was a sad but fitting end to the last Greensboro City Council meeting of 2016.
The meeting Tuesday, Dec. 20 in the Council Chambers devolved into chaos at the end as Councilmember Sharon Hightower went on what appeared to be an endless tirade about why she voted against a resolution in support of the Greensboro Police Department and Councilmember Mike Barber made a motion to adjourn.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan asked City Attorney Tom Carruthers if Barber’s motion was valid. Carruthers said that yes and that it had to be voted on by the City Council, while in the background Hightower continued her tirade. It was a like a three ring circus, which is great for entertainment but not much for good government. A voice vote on the motion to adjourn was taken, but so many different councilmembers were talking, including Hightower, plus the fact that two councilmembers – Barber and Councilmember Tony Wilkins – were walking, around made it impossible to determine whether the motion passed or not.
Vaughan polled the City Council and it appeared the motion to adjourn had failed on a 7-to-2 vote with Barber and Councilmember Justin Outling voting in favor.
So Hightower was allowed to finish her tirade, which as it turned out did have an end, and then the meeting was adjourned at 8:59 p.m. The City Council is not scheduled to meet again until Jan. 17, 2017.
It was an appropriate end to the last meeting, where the council did essentially nothing, unless you consider approving routine items and resolutions something.
The longest discussion of the evening took place over an item on the consent agenda, which is supposed to be for noncontroversial matters that don’t need to be discussed. Wilkins pulled the approval of a $300,000 contract for a disparity study for the Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) program off the consent agenda for discussion and asked why the city didn’t go with the low bid.
The answer provided by Assistant City Manager Barbara Harris was that the city didn’t have to accept the low bid.
Wilkins also brought up the cost. He said he couldn’t find the figures for a disparity study done by any city in North Carolina, but Tampa, Florida – which has 55,000 more people and has a budget $350 million larger than Greensboro’s – had a disparity study done for $220,000, which is $80,000 less than the contract recommended for approval by city staff.
As it turned out both Outling and Barber, who are attorneys, had problems with the justification for spending $300,000 for a study.
Barber said that the report from the staff said that the disparity study was required by a Supreme Court decision, and Barber said this was not true. Barber said all he could find was that the federal government recommends having a disparity study done every five to seven years, but it is only a recommendation. Barber said that other federal recommendations include that you shouldn’t sky dive drunk and that it was a crime to take milk from a quarantined giraffe.
Barber said that if it was only a recommendation and not a requirement, spending $300,000 could be “the dumbest” $300,000 the council had ever spent.
The City Council did get some explanation of the disparity study, and from what Assistant City Attorney William Dickens said, the purpose is to establish that there was racial and gender disparity in the jurisdiction, so a program is legally justified.
The MWBE program discriminates against white males; in order to legally justify this discrimination the federal government recommends that jurisdictions have a disparity study to prove that the MWBE program – which discriminates based on race and gender – is justified to right the wrongs of the past. It is evidently based on the theory that two wrongs make a right.
As some point MWBE programs are supposed to no longer be justified and government contracts will be awarded based on price and performance rather than based on race and gender.
As Barber said, “There is not a community in America that talks more and does more on MWBEs.”
It appears the disparity study was planned because the city has followed the federal recommendation, not because one was needed or required.
The City Council voted to postpone the consideration of the contract for the MWBE disparity study until the next meeting. Councilmembers Hightower, Jamal Fox and Yvonne Johnson voted no.
The meeting began with a motion from Hightower to release all the information on the investigation of the arrest of Dejuan Yourse by former Greensboro Police Officer Travis Cole. The investigation is considered part of Cole’s personnel record and, by state law, must be kept confidential unless the city manager and City Council agree that portions must be released to maintain public confidence.
The motion was defeated on a 7-to-2 vote, with Hightower and Fox voting in favor.
Vaughan noted that the city is aware of two possible lawsuits stemming from the Yourse arrest and investigation. She also noted that after Hightower looked through these records she said that she saw no evidence of a cover-up but did think the timeline of the investigation could be speeded up.
Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott, when he gave the first presentation to the City Council after looking at the same investigation, said pretty much the same thing – that although the investigation met the deadline, it could have been completed faster, and that the department would work to reduce the timeline on investigations.
At this meeting Scott gave a presentation based on questions that Hightower had about the investigation and said, as a result of going over the investigation in order to make sure the investigations are moving along, he would like to add four police sergeants at a total cost of about $400,000 in order to have someone in each patrol district overseeing investigations.
Hightower and Fox didn’t like the idea of adding four more police officers.
City Manager Jim Westmoreland said that they planned to identify the funds and get the four sergeants hired this fiscal year. Once again, the city staff can always find the money to do what it wants. In the Greensboro city budget, $400,000 is not that much money, but coming up with $400,000 here and $500,000 there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.
Toward the end of the meeting Wilkins brought up his current favorite pet peeve, which is what he calls the “floppy leaf” city logo. Westmoreland said it was called the “leafy G.”
Wilkins said he had been told that it had been the city’s logo for 35 years. He said it had served the city well but that it was time for it to be updated.
Unlike so many things that Wilkins brings up, this got support. Barber said the logo for Greensboro should say Greensboro or at least G-boro.
Vaughan said that they had a group of stakeholders working on a new branding campaign for the city.
It is a little frightening to think about the City of Greensboro being in charge of a branding and marketing campaign for the city. Greensboro has a lot of talented people who work in the advertising field, but they don’t work for the City of Greensboro. One of the very things Greensboro is worst at is branding and marketing itself. From highway signs, to maps, to magazine articles, if there is a way Greensboro can be left out, it is.
If the city is going to go take the time, effort and money to launch a new branding and marketing campaign, it should be done by professionals who make a living based on whether their branding and marketing ideas work. It should not be done by city employees who have no financial incentive to get it right.
The Greensboro Economic Development Committee evidently approved a new slogan at its last meeting, “Grow Greensboro The City of Opportunity.” I stayed awake through that entire meeting and never once did I hear a new slogan mentioned. I thought it was simply the name of the report being presented in excruciating detail.
Coliseum Manager Matt Brown understands branding and marketing, but he’s not only running two coliseums, now he’s also building a new performing arts center, so he might not have time to replace the floppy leaf.
If the city is going to do this, it should be done well.