The Greensboro City Council, after an acrimonious discussion, voted to allocate $250,000 in economic development funds to assist an estimated 50 businesses repair the damage from the vandalism and looting on Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31.
The City Council had agreed to allocate $250,000 for repairing the damage to businesses at a previous meeting and this was simply the formal affirmation of that vote.
The city staff’s plan – to have Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI) do all the work determining which businesses are eligible and how much to award, up to a maximum of $3,000 – makes sense because the vast majority of the businesses damaged are downtown. It appeared to be an item that wouldn’t be discussed at all in the midst of a long agenda.
But some councilmembers have a lot of hostility toward DGI. So with the mention that the allocation would be turned over to DGI for distribution, the swords came out.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower said, “Why is DGI the one that is going to be the one over the money? I’m a little concerned about that.”
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said that the payments would be capped at $3,000 but, with a 10 percent administrative fee, DGI would be receiving eight times what any damaged business received.
DGI Director of Operations Sarah Healy said that the DGI board had voted to allocate $25,000 to the cost of the program but, when she was first asked, she didn’t say that would cover all the administrative costs, which caused a lot of discussion.
Healy later said she was told that the $25,000 would cover all DGI’s administrative costs and the full $250,000 would go to help damaged businesses.
But that didn’t stop the discussion.
Councilmember Justin Outling said that he was disappointed in city staff for not giving the City Council a more detailed program.
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said, “I don’t remember this council digging down so deep on administrative fees for other nonprofits, whether it is the IRC or whether it is One Step Further.”
The Interactive Resource Center (IRC) is run by Kennedy and One Step Further is run by Councilmember Yvonne Johnson; both receive considerable allocations from the city.
Kennedy said that many nonprofits that worked on tornado recovery didn’t take an administrative fee and that the IRC didn’t charge the city an administrative fee.
Councilmember Goldie Wells said, “Sometimes I think we have a little prejudice against DGI.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “When the downtown comes up and it comes to funding, we give them a hard time. I think DGI has been a good steward for their funds.”
She added, “At some point we’re going to have to step up and help some of these business owners get back to business.”
She noted that the downtown businesses had been closed because of COVID-19 and then, just when they were reopening, they were hit with this damage.
Hightower said, “What happens when the next protest comes, because it’s coming.” She added, “Are we going to continue to do this repeatedly?”
The motion to have DGI handle the distribution of $250,000 to businesses damaged on May 30 and May 31 passed on an 8-1 vote with Hightower voting no.