If you want to know how dysfunctional the Greensboro City Council is, all you have to do is look at how the it handled the recent vote to approve a resolution to spend $2 million to build two new soccer fields at the Bryan Park soccer complex.
The City Council had voted unanimously to go forward with the expansion over a year ago, as well as supporting it on March 7, when a presentation was made at a City Council work session by Pete Polonsky, the executive director of the Greensboro United Soccer Association (GUSA).
The City Council expressed such overwhelming support that councilmembers asked if they couldn’t go ahead and vote to approve it at the work session. (The council can legally vote at a work session but usually the council doesn’t take votes except at meetings in the Council Chambers.)
When councilmembers were discouraged from voting, several asked if the item couldn’t be added to the agenda for the regular meeting later that evening in the Council Chambers.
There where two things that held that up. One was that the resolution had not been written and city staff asked for time to prepare it, and two, Councilmember Sharon Hightower wanted to discuss the matter in more detail – not for any particular reason. Hightower usually wants to discuss everything in more detail.
So the vote on the resolution – which appeared to have the support of all but one councilmember – was delayed until March 21.
It appeared that when the item came up on the March 21 agenda, Hightower would complain about not having enough discussion, ask questions about the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) participation as she does with every contract and then the resolution would pass on a 9-to-0 or a 8-to-1 vote, depending on Hightower’s mood.
But in the interim, a question was raised in an email from Richard Beard, a member of the Greensboro Sports Commission.
Beard sent an email to Mayor Nancy Vaughan asking that synthetic playing fields be lined for both soccer and lacrosse. Beard said that lacrosse was the fastest growing youth sport in the country, and with more fields lined for lacrosse the city could start attracting lacrosse as well as soccer tournaments.
The email actually was not about the two new fields because they will be grass and not synthetic. Beard noted that the additional cost of the lacrosse lines on a field was $6,000 at installation and $12,000 once the field was in place.
So based on that email from one person with a pretty simple request about lining fields, the resolution – at the request of Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, who was sitting in for Vaughan because Vaughan reportedly was sick – was continued to the next meeting.
Polonsky contacted the City Council the next day and said Greensboro could potentially lose youth soccer tournaments with an economic impact on the city of $60 million if the fields were not approved immediately.
Beard also contacted councilmembers to say that he had in no way meant to hold up the approval of two grass soccer fields and that his issue concerned synthetic fields. But since the council was considering soccer fields it seemed like a good time to bring up the lacrosse issue.
Beard also noted that nowhere in the email does he suggest that the approval of the soccer fields be delayed.
After receiving the email from Polonsky, several councilmembers suggested holding an emergency meeting to pass the resolution, but Hightower wrote that she was opposed. No emergency meeting was held and the two soccer fields remain in limbo, as do the bids on the youth soccer tournaments.
It seems odd all the way around, particularly not holding a special meeting if tournaments worth $60 million in economic impact were on the line and the council made a mistake in not going ahead and approving the resolution on March 21.
One explanation is that Hightower seems to have more power on this City Council than the other seven councilmembers and mayor combined.
At a recent meeting, when Hightower was complaining that a contract to monitor the water from the old White Street Landfill that was going to a white contractor, Assistant City Manager David Parish explained to Hightower that it was only a three-year contract instead of the usual five-year contract because Hightower didn’t like the longer-term contracts.
Since when did one councilmember have the ability to control the length of the contracts that the city enters into? Shouldn’t the length of the contract be based on what is best for the city and not the personal preference of one member of the City Council?
No one else on the City Council complained about the city staff following the wishes of one councilmember.
And going back to soccer, councilmembers who were asked said they didn’t know why an emergency meeting wasn’t held to correct their mistake, which could cost the city $60 million in economic impact.
It certainly appears that no one is minding the store.