The 2022 City Council election will be one for the record books.
All indications are that the Tuesday, July 26 election will set a record for low voter turnout, which means the few who turn out to vote will determine the direction the city will take in the coming four years.
Greensboro is currently the third largest city in North Carolina, but that is likely to change in the next four years because Durham, which currently has a population about 10,000 less than Greensboro’s, is growing more than twice as fast as Greensboro.
It will take a radical departure from business as usual for Greensboro to grow because Greensboro currently has a major housing shortage, which means that people who want to move to Greensboro may not be able to because they can’t find a suitable house or apartment.
With Toyota and Boom coming to the area, but not to Greensboro, the benefit to Greensboro has to be in new residents and new businesses locating near these economic engines. With the current lack of housing, high taxes and unfriendly attitude toward private business, Greensboro could be left behind.
Radical change means electing new people with a different attitude to the City Council, and with the anticipated low voter turnout, there is a great opportunity to do just that.
Chris Meadows For Mayor
The Greensboro mayor’s race, which has been going on for over a year and a half, got a new twist when on June 13 June Chris Meadows announced he would be running for mayor as a write-in candidate.
District 3 City Councilmember Justin Outling declared his candidacy for mayor in December 2020. Mayor Nancy Vaughan officially announced she was running for reelection in February 2021, but unofficially has always said she would be running for reelection.
At the time of those announcements, the City Council election was scheduled for Nov. 2, 2021, but it was delayed once because the release of the US Census data was late due to COVID-19, and then was postponed again by the North Carolina Supreme Court because of the congressional redistricting, which had nothing to do with the City Council election.
Vaughan easily won the primary on May 17 with 45 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Outling. But as Outling has noted, when you add in the totals of the other two candidates, more people voted against Vaughan than for her.
However, a very telling data point from the primary was that Outling only won 13 precincts out of 108. Mark Cummings won one precinct, two were ties, and Vaughan won all the rest.
Both Vaughan and Outling voted against the 2022-2023 budget and the nearly 30 percent tax increase. But it was a hollow vote. Neither offered an alternative budget or made motions to cut spending in particular areas. They also voted for all of the motions that deal with individual parts of the budget after voting against the full budget.
In campaigning, Vaughan touts her ability to put five votes together to get things done, but she didn’t put five votes together to defeat the bloated budget or to give police officers a raise that would keep them on par with peer cities or to fully fund the police take-home car program.
If the election had been held in November 2021 as scheduled, Outing had a great issue in the lack of economic development during Vaughan’s term as mayor. However, in December 2021, it was announced that Toyota was coming to the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite and, in January, that Boom Supersonic was coming to the Piedmont Triad International Airport.
Those announcements gave both Vaughan and Outling some campaign fodder. Vaughan notes that Outling has to be recused from council votes on both Toyota and Boom because the Brooks Pierce law firm, where Outling is a partner, is involved.
Outling notes that both are outside Greensboro, which means Greensboro won’t receive tax revenue from either and that it is likely they will create a doughnut of economic development around Greensboro with Greensboro as the doughnut hole.
Meadows makes similar points.
Vaughan once said that she didn’t want to be the mayor of the fifth largest city in North Carolina. If Vaughan is reelected for another four-year term, it is highly likely that she will be mayor of the fourth largest city in the state.
Greensboro’s population growth rate is less than the growth rate for North Carolina and far less than the growth rates of peer cities. The huge economic development wins aren’t likely to change that because the current city policy is to hinder, delay, restrict and reduce residential development projects. Both Outling and Vaughan play a role, but Outling is more anti-development than Vaughan. Greensboro doesn’t need more of the same, but a radical change in attitude – which you can only get by electing someone who is not part of the problem. Meadows says that he understands the city’s need for growth.
Like other challengers who are on the ballot, Meadows has placed public safety at the top of his list, followed by the need for the city to be more business friendly.
On his campaign website Meadows states, “We are down about 130 police officers in the Greensboro Police Department, we are short about 100 patrol cars, and the current City Council ran off one of the best Police Chiefs Greensboro has had in many years. The Greensboro City Council is anti-police and does not give them the tools to do their job and puts policies in place to restrain them from doing their jobs. To have a prosperous city, we must have a safe city.”
In 2020 Vaughan voted to turn down a $250,000 federal grant for the Greensboro Police Department based on statements from a member of the Working Class and Homeless Organizing Alliance (WHOA), and despite the fact that Assistant City Manager Trey Davis explained at length that the speaker from WHOA was incorrect. Outling did not vote to turn down the grant.
Meadows has also said that he would like to do away with closed sessions all together and have all City Council business conducted at meetings open to the public.
Meadows was opposed to this year’s property tax increase and says that the mayor’s office needs someone with his business experience to control spending.
Some people hesitate to vote for a write-in candidate because they think they are throwing their vote away, but write-in candidates have won, and this year – with the evidence that the voter turnout is going to be extremely low – Meadows has a much better chance of success than in a normal year. In 1997, the write-in candidate for mayor finished second with over 9,000 votes, which would likely be more than needed to win this election.
At-large City Council
In the at-large race with six candidates, the endorsement goes to first-time candidate Katie Rossabi – the only candidate in the race who is conservative. In fact, the only candidate in the race who is not a far-left liberal.
All three incumbents, City Councilmembers Yvonne Johnson, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Hugh Holston, voted for the massive tax increase, which increased the average property tax bill by close to 30 percent. Never before in the history of Greensboro has a City Council increased taxes by so much, and the massive tax increase doesn’t come with any new services.
The massive tax increase didn’t result in raising police salaries to be on par with Greensboro’s peer cities, nor did it provide take-home cars for police patrol officers something that all of Greensboro’s peer cities already provide.
The nonprofit that Johnson runs, One Step Further, has a huge $400,000 a year contract to run the Cure Violence program for the city – contract that Johnson lobbied hard and successfully for her nonprofit to receive. On the final vote to hand over the money to Johnson, she recused herself. But that is not how recusals are supposed to work. When a councilmember is recused, they are recused from the discussion as well as the vote, but Johnson was not and continued to participate in discussions about the contract after the Cure Violence contract was awarded.
Despite all of this, Johnson won the primary by a large margin and will most likely once again be the top at-large vote getter and will again be chosen as the mayor pro tem.
Abzuaiter finished second in the primary and Tracy Furman third, beating out Holston at fourth. Holston is running his first race for City Council having been appointed in September to fill the seat left vacant when Michelle Kennedy resigned to accept a job with the city. Holston questioned the need for the tax increase and indicated he was opposed to the budget, but then voted for it
Rossabi finished fifth and Linda Wilson finished sixth, which in the at-large City Council race means Wilson won a spot on the ballot.
Furman is campaigning as a progressive and is definitely running to the left of the current City Council – not that there is a lot of room on the left.
Wilson, in her campaign, seems to be pretty much in line with the current City Council, but she does propose further restricting development, which is something Greensboro does not need.
Conservatives and moderates have one chance to elect an at-large councilmember who is not on the far left and that is Rossabi. By voting only for Rossabi, and not any other candidate, voters can greatly increase the opportunity to have some diversity of opinion on the City Council.
When everyone on the City Council is attempting to out-liberal everyone else, you end up with things like a 30 percent tax increase with no increase in city services.
District 1 City Councilmember Sharon Hightower is running for reelection against Felton Foushee.
Hightower was first elected in 2013 and, judging from the primary results, she will be reelected in 2022. In the May 17 primary, Hightower received 78 percent of the vote to 13 percent for Foushee.
That is a lot of ground to make up.
It is hard to overstate how much more efficient and effective the City Council would be without Hightower. Because of Hightower, the City Council spends more time on the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) program than any other topic.
While other councilmembers follow the rules and wait to be called on to speak, Hightower does not. She speaks when the mood strikes her, which is often. Hightower interrupts other councilmembers, the mayor, city staff and speakers from the floor.
It’s not all Hightower’s fault. Mayor Nancy Vaughan allows Hightower to speak whenever she wants and for as long as she wants.
Hightower voted for the huge tax increase and demands that the city spend more money, not less. Despite complaining about the lack of development in East Greensboro, Hightower regularly leads the effort opposed to rezoning requests in East Greensboro that would facilitate that development.
Foushee seems like a reasonable person who agrees with Hightower on many issues, but at least in candidate forums Foushee has not demonstrated the need to always be the center of attention.
If Foushee could somehow get elected, City Council meetings would improve tremendously the moment he was sworn into office.
District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells is being challenged by first time candidate Cecile (CC) Crawford.
Wells is in her second go round on the City Council. She first served from 2005 to 2009 when she didn’t run for reelection. In 2017, she was appointed to finish out the term of Jamal Fox and then won election to a four-year term later in the year.
Wells voted for the huge tax increase and bloated budget, but she often cuts to the chase in City Council discussions and says in plain language what everyone else is trying to say without saying it. Like a lot of candidates, Wells promised to hold regular town hall meetings once she was elected, but unlike other candidates Wells has kept that promise.
Crawford and Wells seem to have similar opinions on many of the issues facing City Council but it appears Crawford is the more liberal of the two. The City Council has more than enough far-left liberal views and Wells is the better choice.
In District 3 we wholeheartedly endorse City Council candidate, former District 3 City Councilmember and president of Downtown Greensboro Inc. Zack Matheny.
Matheny is running unopposed for his old District 3 seat. Chip Roth, who finished second in the primary and would have been on the ballot, declined to run for health reasons.
Matheny isn’t even facing a write-in challenger, so as long as he gets more votes than the perennial write-in favorites – Donald Duck, Micky Mouse and None of the Above – he should be serving on the City Council as soon as the election results are certified.
Even if Matheny is the only new face on the City Council, it will be a far different City Council with his presence. Matheny will add some diversity. He is a white male and for the past four years there have been no white males on the City Council.
He will also add some diversity of thought. Matheny is definitely to the right of all current City Council
District 4 City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann was first elected to the City Council in 2011 and has had little difficulty getting reelected.
Hoffmann is known for consistently running one of the best funded and most well-organized campaigns in the City Council election cycle.
For years Hoffmann came to meetings, voted and didn’t say much. Since 2017, Hoffmann has been more outspoken and often has made comments to bring the council back to reality. Unlike other councilmembers who generally speak off the cuff, if Hoffmann speaks for any length of time, she has written down what she plans to say.
However, Hoffmann voted for the huge tax increase this year as well as the tax increase in 2019. She doesn’t say as much but has been a reliable vote for the most liberal city councilmembers.
Thurston Reeder is making his first run for public office as a candidate for the District 4 City Council seat. Low voter turnout is anticipated in this election and, if the shagging crowd turns out in force, Reeder could do well. Reeder was the owner of Thirsty’s and then Thirsty’s 2 from 1992 to 2017.
Reeder is running a low-cost, old-fashioned campaign which means he’s knocking on a lot of doors. In a district City Council race, knocking on doors can make a big difference.
Reeder’s main concerns are the out-of-control budget and public safety.
On his website Reeder states, “I feel there are more ways to adjust the budget and get unnecessary spending (pet project, unused studies, unnecessary positions, etc.) eliminated.”
Vote Reeder in District 4.
The District 5 City Council race is a redux of the 2017 race with the notable difference that in this race the District 5 councilmember is Tammi Thurm and the challenger is former District 5 Councilmember Tony Wilkins.
In 2017, Wilkins had a record to run against and Thurm, never having been elected, had no record. Now Thurm has a record of over four years of doing very little on the City Council. Thurm voted with the majority of the City Council for the 2022-2023 budget ,with the largest property tax increase in the history of Greensboro, at a time when the residents of Greensboro are already dealing with out-of-control inflation and high gas prices.
Thurm did have one notable initiative during her four-year term and that was to force the police to have a written consent form signed before they did a consensual search of a vehicle or home. The Greensboro Police Department was vehemently opposed to this, noting that the police body worn camera records the entire event and that police are already required to fill out a form about a consensual search after it takes place.
Thurm not only wanted a written consent form signed before the search, but she wanted the form provided in the native language of the person who was giving their consent, whatever that language happened to be.
Fortunately for the GPD and the people of Greensboro, after working on the written consent issue for close to a year, Thurm could not convince the majority of the City Council to vote for her proposal.
On a City Council that is anti-police, Thurm is arguably its most anti-police member. She also voted against accepting a $250,000 grant from the Department of Justice based on a statement by a member of the Working class and Homeless Organizing Alliance and ignoring Assistant City Manager Trey Davis who said the speaker from WHOA had his facts wrong.
Wilkins by contrast, supports the police and has the support of the Greensboro Police Officers Association.
Wilkins is also opposed to raising taxes. During his years on the City Council, from 2012 to 2017, Wilkins had a reputation for asking city staff tough questions and continuing to ask them until he received answers. One such question resulted in the City Council discovering that the city manager had handed over a check for $750,000 as a loan to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum without a signed contract. In other words, what was supposed to be a loan, was actually a gift until Wilkins got involved.
The City Council needs someone to support the police and ask the tough questions and that would be Tony Wilkins.
Five individual bond referendums are on the ballot for the Tuesday, July 26 election. In all they total $135 million.
According to the City of Greensboro website, there is still $45.3 million unspent of the $127.6 million in 2016 bonds.
The city also received $59.4 million in American Rescue Plan funds over and above what was needed to cover the city’s COVID-19 costs. The City Council periodically discusses spending some of this unexpected largess, but the vast majority has not been allocated or spent.
Unlike bonds, which have to be repaid with interest, the ARP funds are a grant from the federal government that does not have to be repaid. There is $12 million in the current bloated budget to start repaying the bonds that haven’t even passed.
Councilmember Justin Outling said that the City Council should reconsider the bond referendums, since some of the projects could be paid for with ARP funds, but the majority of the council didn’t agree, and even Outling voted to put the bonds on the ballot.
Most of the discussion by the City Council on the bonds centered around how high the total could go without an additional tax increase, not what was needed.
If the bonds don’t pass, the City Council may consider using the majority of the ARP money on meaningful projects rather than allocating it to favored nonprofit and private for-profit organizations, which is what the City Council is currently considering.
The main push to put the bond referendum on the ballot was for the $70 million parks and recreation bond, and the vast majority of that money is for one project. While the City Council can spend the bond money on anything covered by the one paragraph description on the ballot, the City Council has said that it intends to spend at least $50 million of the parks and recreation bond to combine the Vance Chavis Library and the Windsor Recreation Center into one facility. The estimated cost of that project in 2021 was $70 million, but with the rising cost of construction and the way the cost of government projects grow, it is likely that the total cost will be in the $90 million to $100 million range. It has the potential to be a huge boondoggle.
If you eliminate the $70 million parks and recreation bond from the package, you have $65 million in bonds, which could almost be paid for with the $59.4 million in ARP money instead of borrowed money.
The other bonds are $30 million in housing bonds, $14 million in firefighting bonds, $6 million in law enforcement bonds, and $15 million in transportation bonds.
The City Council didn’t spend much time on discussing the projects that would be funded with these bonds and added the law enforcement or police bonds to make it look like they were not ignoring the Police Department.
The $15 million in transportation bonds were added because Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter explained to her fellow councilmembers that the federal government paid 80 percent of the cost of most street projects, but that the city had to have a 20 percent match to qualify for the federal money.
With the housing bonds the City Council has talked about raising the amount of assistance for first time homebuyers as well as raising the income level to qualify currently set at $79,000 as well as building more affordable housing.
With so much money available, it’s difficult to see any real need for the bonds and there has been little effort to explain that need to the voters.
Vote “No” on each of the five bonds.