The City Council chambers were full for the monthly City Council town hall meeting, with the main topic supposed to be gun control; but also on the agenda was a resolution recognizing April 28 as Marty Sheets Day.
It turned out that about half the main seating area was filled, not with gun lovers or haters, but with friends and family of Sheets, who died in May 2015 and is best known as a Special Olympian.
Sheets, who had Down syndrome, participated in the first Special Olympics in 1968 where he was presented with a gold medal by Eunice Shriver, and through his career as a Special Olympian amassed over 250 medals.
Sheets also was a regular volunteer at the Wyndham Championship golf tournament and worked at Macy’s for 38 years.
In a touching speech laced with humor, Marty’s father, David Sheets, noted that Marty was a “taxpayer, not a tax burden.”
Marty Sheets was a graduate of Smith High School and won many honors, including being inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and being presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Gov. Jim Hunt. In 1995, he sat with then President Bill Clinton and his wife at the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics.
David Sheets recognized his wife and Marty’s mother, Iris, and many others in the audience who had come to honor his son, including other members of his family, and friends like Duke basketball legend Gene Banks.
As David said, Marty Sheets touched a lot of lives.
The gun debate had some surprises. There were, as expected, some young people who spoke in favor of military weapons being banned and background checks. Military weapons are already effectively banned and background checks are required by licensed dealers, but the supporters of abolishing the Second Amendment say the same thing constantly on television and are not corrected, so you can hardly fault speakers for saying what they have heard repeatedly on television
One speaker said that a semi-automatic rifle can’t be used for hunting. This would be a shock to the multitude of hunters who use semi-automatic weapons to hunt. It would appear she meant “automatic weapons” can’t be used for hunting.
But there were some speakers who deviated from what is expected.
Mark Robinson got up and said he was representing the majority, which was an unusual statement because Robinson is a black man, but he said, “When are y’all going to stand up for the majority. I’m the majority – a law-abiding citizen.”
Robinson said if guns were banned he would turn in his guns because he is a law-abiding citizen, but the gangs and criminals would keep their guns, and who would be there to protect him.
He said that talking about banning guns was crazy because the police can barely enforce the laws as they are now.
He also said that the guns wouldn’t be taken away from law-abiding citizens without a fight. Robinson also pointed out that an AR-15 is not a military grade weapon. He said, “Anybody that would go into combat with an AR-15 is a fool.”
TC Mohammad talked about gun violence in the black community. He said gun violence in the black community had been going on for years. He said, “This is violence we are perpetrating against ourselves. Gun violence in our community is real.”
Christopher Oaks, who said he was a representative of the gun and knife show, noted that all the mass shootings have taken place in gun-free zones. He said that state law protected the gun show from cancelation by the City Council, and if the City Council did try to regulate what was sold at the show, or cancel it, they would sue and the city would be responsible for paying their legal fees.
The state statute is clear that cities cannot regulate gun sales or gun shows.
One speaker said that gun violence was a public health issue and needed to be dealt with as a public health issue.
Andy Stevens accused several members of the City Council of being hypocrites because he said he knew they owned guns and had concealed carry permits but they didn’t want others to have the same rights they enjoyed.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that the discussion about the Greensboro Gun and Knife Show started after the Parkland, Florida, shooting. She said that no mention was ever made of restricting the businesses in Greensboro that sell guns but that, because the gun show was on city property in a city building, “We thought it was our little thing that we could do.”
She said, “It might have been our stake in the sand. Something we could do to make a statement.”
Vaughan also noted that Stevens knew she had a concealed carry permit because she posted it on Facebook and that most of the discussion about the gun show had taken place on Facebook.
She said, “There was never an instance where we considered taking away anybody’s right to bear a firearm.”
What turned out to be almost as lengthy a discussion at the town hall meeting was a request from a number of people who described themselves as homeless, and several homeless advocates, to abolish the laws against panhandling. Numerous speakers noted that the current city ordinances against panhandling were unconstitutional.
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson asked City Attorney Tom Carruthers if that were true and Carruthers said that, because of recent court decisions, it appeared the current city ordinances would be found unconstitutional.
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy suggested that the City Council declare a moratorium on enforcing the panhandling ordinances.
Carruthers asked the City Council not to tell Greensboro police officers not to enforce the law. He said that the Legal Department would craft new laws that would be constitutional.
Kennedy then asked for a moratorium on the licensing process for panhandling.
City Councilmember Justin Outling said, “I don’t want my comments to be misconstrued. These meetings as I understood them were for listening to concerns and developing a plan for action.” He added, “I have real concerns when somebody calls for a vote.”
He also complained about the city attorney’s office, saying, “I share latent frustration with the city attorney’s office. It’s hard for me to understand why it takes so long to get an answer to a relatively simple question.”
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said that she had not had time to meet with people and discuss the issue and she thought that as an at-large city councilmember she had a duty to do that before making a decision.
Councilmember Goldie Wells said, “I think when we started our new schedule for council meetings, we’d agreed we’d have town hall the first week and a business meeting on the third. All of us feel passionate about things.”
Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann noted that there is a much larger group that wasn’t heard from that evening who feel “threatened and unsafe” when encountered by a panhandler. She said, “that needs to be considered as well.”
She added, “This is a big picture item we are looking at and it’s not going to get solved tonight and it’s not going to get solved quickly.”
Kennedy withdrew her motion and said that she would make it at the regular meeting on April 17. Carruthers said that the Legal Department would have ordinances to consider at that meeting.
Several speakers mentioned a poverty commission and Vaughan said that when they had a meeting on boards and commissions they would discuss how to handle a poverty commission.
Then, during the final portion of the meeting, Outling, who is usually rather stoic at the meeting, was not.
First, a woman complained about Duke Energy refusing to leave her property and then made some complaint about her sewer line, driveway and porch steps. Carruthers said that his department had done all they could for her and it was not a city issue. Vaughan finally said that there was nothing the City Council could do.
Then Tony Hayes came to the podium with an issue about some equipment that he had left at a shop where he used to work and in two years had not been able to get his equipment back.The city’s only responsibility in the case was to provide police presence to make certain the equipment transfer went smoothly. Carruthers and police attorney Polly Sizemore said that they had followed the court order to provide police, but that there was nothing else the city could do.
Outling said, “I just don’t understand how you can offer legal advice to a private citizen.” He continued saying that the City Council was waiting for answers from the Legal Department about a number of policy issues. Outling said the council should be concentrating on “big picture issues” and not trying to solve the problems of everyone who appeared before them.
He said, “This is insane. It really is.”
Councilmember Sharon Hightower said, “Some stuff you have to do because it’s the right thing to do. We’ve gotten to the point where it’s policy, policy, policy.”
Finally a speaker gave a lengthy report on why the Millennium Campus, a joint project between the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University, was illegal.
After the meeting, Vaughan said that she thought the town hall meetings needed some tweaking. She said that speakers would no longer be allowed to sign up to speak after 6:15 p.m. and that they would have to state what they wanted to speak about. Vaughan said she hoped they could keep some of the people with personal legal disputes that had nothing to do with the City Council from coming to the podium.
But Vaughan said that overall she thought the meeting went well and that having 28 speakers proved that people want to be heard by the City Council.
She also said that the council needed to firm up its commitment not to make motions and try to solve problems on the fly.