A rift between the City of Greensboro and one of its longtime community partners, Greensboro Beautiful, Inc. burst into public view at the Tuesday, June 4 City Council town hall meeting.
The purpose of the meeting held the first Tuesday of every month is not to conduct city business, but to hear from the public and the City Council heard from two upset members of Greensboro Beautiful which has been collaborating with the City of Greensboro in its parks, gardens and open spaces for more than 50 years.
Daniel Smith, the chair of the Greensboro Beautiful Executive Committee and Lee Britt a member of the executive committee were there looking for answers about why they had been told that representatives of Greensboro Beautiful were not welcome at construction meetings concerning Gateway Gardens on Gate City Boulevard.
Britt made her points that Greensboro Beautiful had been a partner with the city from the very beginning of Gateway Gardens.
Britt said she had served on the original steering committee for the garden in 1999 and Greensboro Beautiful had raised millions of dollars for Gateway Gardens. But she said, “We were told we could no longer attend the twice monthly construction meetings.”
She asked only that the City Council find out why representatives of Greensboro Beautiful had been banned from meetings concerning a garden when they had been involved in every aspect of its development and paid for much of it.
It might have ended there, but City Councilmember Sharon Hightower said they had been told not to attend because they were causing confusion with the contractor and the city wanted the process to move along quicker, but the intent was not to eliminate the participation of Greensboro Beautiful.
Britt said that she had no contact with the contractor, but Hightower disagreed.
Smith then said that despite what Hightower had said Greensboro Beautiful had been banned from the meetings and read the portion of the email from Parks and Recreation Director Nasha McCray that uninvited Greensboro Beautiful from future construction meetings.
He said, “That’s a problem and if that’s the view of the entire City Council then you have a problem with the ongoing partnership with our organization and it is a threat.”
Smith noted that Greensboro Beautiful was an all volunteer organization and said, “ And I am angry. Why should I serve on a volunteer board if this city is going to take ownership of everything?”
And he added, “Ms. Hightower I do not appreciate being told we are included when we are clearly excluded.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan and the rest of the City Council tried to repair the damage created by Hightower. Vaughan said, “I think we can resolve this.”
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said, “I don’t think it is the opinion of anyone sitting at this dais that we under value the contributions of Greensboro Beautiful. As someone who very much understands being passionate about a cause and the things you contribute you time to I understand your frustration.”
Councilmembers Goldie Wells and Marikay Abuzuaiter also made conciliatory remarks and noted the value of Greensboro Beautiful’s contribution to the city.
But Councilmember Justin Outling cut to the heart of the matter. He said. “I would respectfully ask that we address the format of these meetings at a future work session.” He said that when the town hall meetings were established the Council agreed, “that we would listen to the people of Greensboro but we would not engage with them.”
Most of the city councilmembers follow their own rules for the meetings and don’t argue with the speakers, however, Hightower regularly argues, offers her opinion and in this case poured gasoline on a small flame turning it into an inferno.
Outling has made similar remarks at previous meetings, but his requests that either all city councilmembers be held to follow the rules, or that the rules be changed have fallen on deaf ears. He said the current situation was unfair to councilmembers who do follow the rules.
The de facto rule is that councilmembers other than Hightower are not to argue with or enter into discussions with the speakers and Hightower speaks whenever she so desires.
After the meeting, Vaughan said that the situation appeared to be caused by a misunderstanding between Parks and Recreation and Greensboro Beautiful and she believed city staff could resolve the issue without the City Council getting further involved.