The City Council candidates have had a plethora of forums in the past week. Rather than write about each one, I’ve taken some of the comments made at three forums and combined them together.
In the mayor’s race, Mayor Nancy Vaughan talks about her service to the community as a city councilmember for eight years, then as mayor for four, as well as serving on a long list of civic boards and commissions including the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority, which is of particular note with all the emphasis on development in the airport area.
Mayoral candidate Diane Moffett, who was not a resident of Greensboro until the day she filed to run for mayor, talks about what she has done as the pastor of Saint James Presbyterian Church and makes a big point of the fact that she was recruited to move to New Jersey from her home in California and then recruited to be the pastor here.
But the depth of Moffett’s lack of knowledge about Greensboro was revealed in the answer to a question where she said there was a little known plan for how the city should move forward called Connections 2025 that she said was last updated in 2007.
Connections 2025 is not a forgotten or little known plan, but a plan that comes up frequently at City Council meetings and has been amended countless times since 2007. In fact, it was amended at the last City Council meeting. The working document for Connections 2025 is the Generalized Future Land Use Map, and it is usually amended when the City Council rezones property.
Vaughan pointed this out when she said, “We do talk about the Comprehensive Plan at just about every single meeting.”
The fact that Moffett doesn’t know this is proof that not only has she not been a resident of Greensboro, but she has not been following what the Greensboro City Council does. Moffett also said that the city shouldn’t just try to recruit new industry but should focus on particular types of industries. This is also something the city has been doing for years.
Vaughan does have an advantage because she can talk about things she has done for Greensboro, while Moffett hasn’t lived here and, according to what she says, has almost exclusively been involved in her church and church-related activities.
Many of Moffett’s answers are so general they could be about anything because she talks about getting everyone involved in decision making. It sounds like a good idea but it doesn’t work.
The City Council used to have a meeting to discuss the proposed budget in every district, but so few people wanted to be around that table that the council reduced the number to two and didn’t have many more people at those.
Participatory budgeting, where people get to spend $100,000 in each district, hardly has anyone participating. Only 8 percent of registered voters voted in the primary election. Clearly people don’t want to participate in city government.
The City Council at-large race has six candidates running for three seats, which means everybody is technically running against everyone else. In reality, everyone knows that
City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson is going to finish first in the primary. City Council candidate and Guilford County Board of Education member Diane Bellamy-Small has not appeared at most of the forums I’ve attended. Bellamy-Small finished sixth in the primary, hasn’t raised any money and it appears she has all but given up on the idea of being elected. She did attend the Neighborhood Congress Forum on Tuesday night briefly and made a short impassioned speech about why she should be elected.
City Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter finished second in the primary, finished second in the election in 2015 and it appears that she will most likely finish second in the general election.
The race within a race in the at-large election is City Councilmember Mike Barber, who finished third in the primary, against City Council candidate Michelle Kennedy, who finished fourth only six votes back, and Dave Wils, who finished fifth but is campaigning hard to move up to third.
It’s an interesting race because while all three are Democrats, Barber is the more business-friendly moderate while Wils and Kennedy are far to the left of any current city councilmember. Electing either of them would cause a dramatic change on the council.
When the question was whether the City Council should appease or oppose the state legislature, Barber said, “Absolutely, 100 percent appease.” He said, “We have zero power against the legislature. We will lose every single time.”
Wils said, “I don’t think we need to appease.” Wils has also suggested that the city sue the state for being derelict in public education. He noted that the City Council has nothing to do with public education but that the City Council could still sue. Wils also suggested suing the state if it gerrymanders districts.
Johnson said the City Council needed to build a good relationship with the legislative delegation. She said, “We need to build relationships and start on mutual ground.” Johnson added that she was not afraid to stand up if she thought they were wrong.
Both Wils and Kennedy are proponents of an independent police review board with subpoena power – something that no city in the state has and can only be granted by the legislature.
Both Wils and Kennedy say they would take the side of neighborhoods over property owners when it comes to rezoning disputes.
And both are in favor of telling developers where they can develop, primarily in east Greensboro, and industries where they can locate, primarily in east Greensboro. Both are in favor of community benefit agreements, where a developer and the community make a side deal that often includes wage requirements, local hiring goals, Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise percentages, job training programs, open space set-asides and environmental issues. This is in addition to whatever agreement the developer reaches with the City Council.
Barber said, “I strongly believe that we need to develop. We need to build and we need to grow.” He added, “The developers are the good people. They create jobs. They fund our nonprofits. That’s not always popular but it’s reality.”
Wils said the he favored helping small businesses rather than trying to attract big industries.
Abuzuaiter noted that she owned a small business for 22 years and when the big textile corporations were doing well she did well, but when they struggled she struggled and had to lay off employees. She said, “Small businesses also thrive when big corporations are here.”
In answer to a question about moving homeless services out of the downtown, Abuzuaiter said that she was a proponent of “one stop shops.” She noted the success of the Family Justice Center, which put all of the services related to domestic violence under one roof, and the housing hub, which is a plan to do the same thing with housing services. She said that considering moving homeless services to one location was something that should be looked into.
Kennedy described the proposal to move services for the homeless out of the downtown as a “morally bankrupt concept.”
At another forum on the same question, Kennedy said, “Downtown Greensboro is never going to be the hub for large economic development in Greensboro.”
And she added that there was a lot of data about how much the daytime homeless shelter downtown benefitted the downtown. A lot of downtown business owners would no doubt like to see that data.
As far as the district candidates go, in the District 1 race City Councilmember Sharon Hightower says she decided to run for City Council because of the inequities in east Greensboro that she didn’t think were being addressed.
District 1 candidate Paula Ritter-Lipscomb said that she was running because she wanted to be able to use her voice to make a change.
In District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells made a point that she had been in Greensboro since 1967 and that she and her opponent Jim Kee had worked together to form the Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro. She said she was running because she was concerned about the living conditions in District 2.
Kee, who like Wells has previously served on the City Council, went a different route from most candidates who talk about how long they have lived in Greensboro. Kee, who changed his party affiliation to Republican last week, said that he had lived in seven cities and six states and that had given him a more global perspective. As a small business owner and developer, Kee said he knew how to bring jobs and affordable housing to east Greensboro.
District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling emphasizes being chairman of Greensboro’s Minimum Housing Standards Commission before running for the City Council. He talks about authoring the city policy on viewing body-worn camera videos, which was overturned when the state legislature passed a law governing the release of the videos that is much more restrictive. He also talks about using his experience on the Minimum Housing Standards Commission to develop a new policy that allows the city to repair homes rather than tear them down.
City Council District 2 candidate Craig Martin makes a point of being a public defender, not a corporate lawyer like Outling, who is a partner at Brooks Pierce, and the fact that as a public defender he is helping people every day. He doesn’t have any civic activities outside his job that he talks about.
District 4 City Council candidate Gary Kenton wants to make certain that everyone knows he is far to the left of his opponent, District 4 Greensboro City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann.
Kenton introduces himself as an “advocate and activist.” He notes that he is a member of Greensboro Operation Transparency and says the city should stand up against the state law governing the release of police body-worn camera videos.
District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins, the only Republican on the City Council, makes the point that he is the most conservative member of the City Council.
District 5 City Council candidate Tammi Thurm talks about returning phone calls, attending community meetings and being available to the people in the district.
Thurm also talks about the need to have more bus service for the district, including mini-hubs so people don’t have to travel all the way downtown to change buses. She also said, “It’s critical that we have a livable minimum wage in our city.”
Wilkins said that in his five years on City Council he has never heard a complaint about bus service in District 5 and is opposed to the city having its own minimum wage.
Wilkins and Thurm agree that they disagree on a lot of issues, but have done so amicably.
+ + +
At forums candidates get asked questions that they all know are coming and some that catch them off guard. One that seemed to catch Wils off guard concerned big industry. Wils is not a fan of trying to attract big corporations to Greensboro and said that the big corporations come and go. He said, “These jobs don’t last forever. We just lost those textile jobs.”
It’s true the White Oak plant announced it’s closing, but Cone Mills had been here for 112 years; that’s not forever, but it might as well have been for generations of employees. Maybe Dell in Winston-Salem would have been a better example.
+ + +
At the candidates’ forum held at Friends Homes West on Thursday, Oct. 19, District 5 candidate Tammi Thurm made the comment that probably won the most votes of any comment in the forum. She said, “My mom is a new resident of Friends Homes West.”
At that forum no one wanted to answer a question about what to do about Confederate monuments, but Johnson said she would.
Johnson said, “I was a part of the civil rights movement that was a passion of mine.” She added that some people wanted to honor the Confederate dead and “There ought to be a place that they can do it. I’m not going to go there, but I think a community needs to be inclusive of all its people.”
None of the other candidates at the forum felt the need to add anything to that answer.
There is a reason that Johnson keeps finishing first in at-large City Council elections and that answer is one of them.
+ + +
The Simkins PAC has released its endorsements and there are not any surprises. Mayor: Diane Moffett; At large: Yvonne Johnson, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Michelle Kennedy; District 1: Sharon Hightower; District 2: Goldie Wells; District 3: Justin Outling; District 4: Nancy Hoffmann; and District 5: Tammi Thurm.
At one time the Simkins PAC controlled almost all the votes in east Greensboro, but there has been a split and Rev. Cardes Brown has his own PAC – the Guilford County Community PAC. That PAC’s endorsements are – Mayor: Diane Moffett; At large: Yvonne Johnson, Michelle Kennedy and Dave Wills; District 1: Sharon Hightower; District 2: Jim Kee; District 3: Craig Martin; District 4: Nancy Hoffmann; and District 5 Tammi Thurm.
+ + +
Early voting for the Greensboro City Council election continues, weekdays through Nov. 3, as well as Saturday, Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For hours and locations, visit www.myguilford.com/elections or call (336) 641-3836.