The Greensboro City Council held its annual public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, June 6 in a full Council Chambers.
But the main topic of the evening was not the budget, it was more attacks on Councilmember Mike Barber and all white males by those associated with Nelson Johnson and his various organizations.
For the speakers from the floor portion of the meeting, 23 speakers had signed up to speak. Regarding the $533 million 2017-2018 budget, two signed up and four spoke.
A number of the speakers from the floor, including Nelson Johnson, took their three minutes from the floor to attack Barber for statements he made at the meeting on May 16 about the Jose Charles case, a juvenile who was arrested on July 4, 2016 near Center City Park, and Brian Watkins, a member of Nelson Johnson’s group who has been disrupting meetings for months and was escorted out of the meeting on May 16.
At that meeting, before Watkins was escorted from the Council Chambers, Barber stated that Watkins was a registered sex offenders. He also noted that Watkins had attended a meeting at the YWCA and asked City Attorney Tom Carruthers to determine if it was legal for Watkins to attend a meeting at a facility frequented by children. He also asked Carruthers to find out if it was legal for Watkins to attend City Council meetings since there are often a number of children in the audience.
Watkins is a follower of Nelson Johnson and has been regularly attending City Council meetings to complain about police behavior.
What Barber said is a matter of public record and, as he noted Tuesday night, it is true.
Barber also talked about Charles and the fact that he had pled guilty to two counts of breaking and entering and one count of conspiracy to commit breaking and entering, which are felonies. He described Charles as being caught up in the “classic cycle of crime and poverty,” noting that his mother, who has spoken before the City Council about the wrong being done to her son, had been charged with drug trafficking, and his father was in prison when Charles was born.
Evidently people coming to council meetings to accuse city councilmembers repeatedly of being racists is acceptable, but for a councilmember to tell the truth about the protestors is a terrible wrong.
Several speakers from the newly formed City Workers Union spoke out against the 7.5 percent raises for police officers and firefighters. They said if the city was going to give the Police and Fire departments raises they should give every city employee a 7.5 percent raise. They claimed that no city employee was more important than any other city employee.
Other than police and fire, city employees are slated for a 3 percent raise in the proposed budget.
This was the first meeting in which a change in policy advocated by Mayor Nancy Vaughan and passed by the City Council regarding consent agenda items was implemented.
The consent agenda is a group of noncontroversial, housekeeping-type items that are supposed to not need discussion and are all passed together with one vote. For the past several years, Councilmember Sharon Hightower has regularly pulled contracts off the agenda in order to harangue the staff about the percentage of the contract being awarded to Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBE). Week after week the city staff has had to respond to Hightower’s questions and accusations, often reminding her that the MWBE goals are goals and by law cannot be quotas.
The new policy is that if an item is removed from the consent agenda by a councilmember, then it is added to the next meeting’s agenda as a business item, which makes it eligible for discussion.
The policy worked at least at this one meeting because the consent agenda passed unanimously with no discussion. It will certainly help keep things moving in an orderly fashion if Hightower is not allowed to grandstand at every meeting.
The public hearing on the budget was short if not sweet.
David Hampsten, an advocate for bicycling in Greensboro, asked that a number of pro-bike items be added to the budget including city-operated bike repair stations in east Greensboro, where there aren’t any privately owned bike repair shops. He also asked that every intersection in Greensboro with a traffic light be set up to be pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
Of the other speakers, one was from the Piedmont Triad Film Commission to thank the city for funding, one was from a nonprofit that didn’t get $22,000 to paint the town purple, and one was to complain that MWBE contractors didn’t get their fair share of work.
It appears that the proposed city budget, with a couple of changes made by the City Council to add more money for nonprofits, increase the raise for police and fire from 5 percent to 7.5 percent, and reduce the water rate increase for those in the city from 3.75 percent to 3.25 percent, will pass on Tuesday, June 20, without any other significant changes.
However, the City Council does have a scheduled budget work session on Tuesday, June 13, and since this council is all about spending more money and not about reducing spending, if changes are made it will likely be to add some more nonprofit funding or perhaps just to put a big basket of money out in front of city hall one day for people to come and take a handful.
The proposed budget raises taxes by 2.11 cents over the revenue-neutral rate, but only Councilmember Tony Wilkins and Barber voted against the proposed tax increase.
The meeting ended with Hightower making a motion to pass a resolution opposing what she called “HB 972,” which governs the release of police body-worn camera videos in North Carolina. One huge problem with such a resolution is that HB 972 passed the legislature and was signed into law by then Gov. Pat McCrory last July. So it’s almost a year late to oppose HB 972.
Hightower begin by complaining that the police body-worn camera video of the arrest of Jose Charles on July 4, 2016 had not been released.
Vaughan noted that the problem with release of that particular video was that Charles was a juvenile when he was arrested. It is unlikely that any law would allow the release of the arrest of a juvenile except under the most extraordinary circumstances. Even the names of juveniles who are arrested are not released.
Councilmember Justin Outling said that the council had already voted against opposing the bill and had decided that it would be more productive to work with the legislators, which he and Vaughan had been doing.
Barber said that passing such a motion “is completely ineffective and undermines our lobbying efforts.” He said that if the motion passed, “We should follow up this motion with a motion that we not have a lobbyist and we not even attempt to have a relationship with the legislature.”
He said that even voting on the motion was “a terrible idea.”
Hightower, who always thinks she has the floor, tried to shout Barber down at the end of his statement, but Vaughan got control of the meeting back and said that Wilkins, who had been waiting his turn, had the floor.
After some more discussion, Councilmember Yvonne Johnson, who had seconded the motion, convinced Hightower to withdraw her motion.