Last November, the voters of Greensboro passed a $126 million bond referendum. At the time, one of the arguments in favor of passing the bonds was that this money would be spent quickly, in part to give the economy in Greensboro a boost.
One reason taxes were raised this year was to pay for the bonds. But bonds don’t have to be paid for until they are sold, and they aren’t sold until the money is spent – or is about to be spent.
So far the only money that has been spent was $3 million for the soccer fields at Bryan Park, and that was in order to have fields ready for a tournament.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that meetings are being held on the bonds and plans made, and that for some of the housing bonds the city is looking for matching money. But it hasn’t reached the point yet where the City Council needs to vote on issuing bonds or spending money.
You would hope that before approving bonds the City Council would spend some time discussing how the money will be spent, but then the City Council could treat the bonds like it treated the budget and accept the recommendations of staff.
Which kind of proves our point from a year ago: One of the reasons this newspaper opposed the bonds is that the City Council didn’t have anything more than broad ideas on how the bond money would be spent.
For example, $25 million is slated to be spent to enhance some streets in the Central Business District – with new streetscaping, perhaps, or maybe by buying the old News & Record building, taking it off the tax roles and turning it into another downtown park. No one has suggested this, but with five votes on the City Council it could happen.
The point is there was – and nearly a year later is – no set plan on how to spend the $25 million.
Downtown Greensboro Inc. President Zack Matheny had some pretty pictures created of what could be done with the money, but Matheny is no longer on the City Council so he doesn’t get a vote on how the money will be spent.
It is now the middle of September and the City Council met once in July, once in August, has one meeting scheduled for September and at that meeting will cancel one of the meetings in October. It is also likely that because of the City Council election and the Thanksgiving holiday that the City Council will only meet once in November.
The monthly meetings that the City Council has had haven’t been enormously long, which makes me wonder what is happening with city government. At one time the City Council had meetings three weeks out of the month – a formal meeting, a work session and another formal meeting.
For a third of this year the City Council will have met one day a month, with an abbreviated work session before the full meeting.
Vaughan says that there is nothing unusual going on but that one meeting in July is usually canceled, a meeting in August was cancelled because of National Night Out and a meeting in September because of Labor Day.
She said the meeting in October would be canceled because the only items on the agenda were four resolutions.
When asked if the city was doing less, Vaughan said, “Maybe we have become more efficient.”
It is possible that the City Council is more efficient; it is also possible that the City Council is less involved.
One part of the cancelled meetings that is a little scary is that it means the City Council doesn’t have many rezoning requests.
That could be good because under the current system rezoning requests that aren’t challenged don’t have to go to the City Council. For a while just about every rezoning request had to go to the City Council because they also involved amending the Comprehensive Plan.
But rezoning requests also mean development. If land isn’t being rezoned then it isn’t being developed.
Another issue that may pop up is that the city is supposed to be run by the City Council, not the city staff. If the City Council isn’t meeting, making decisions and giving direction to staff, who is doing that?
I have to admit that I enjoy it when the City Council doesn’t meet because it makes my schedule much easier, but in 25 years of covering the City Council, I have never seen a council go four months only holding one meeting a month.
If it is due to increased efficiency then the City Council has become way more efficient than in any time in over two decades.