The 2019 Greensboro City Council day long retreat at the ACC Hall of Champions at the Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday, Jan. 31 should win an award for the most improved retreat of the year.
There were no colored dots. No facilitators to make everyone feel better about themselves and, after hearing the same old reports in the morning, in the afternoon the City Council actually sat around the table and discussed policy issues that they believe should be high on the city’s priority list.
It was a welcomed change for the City Council to discuss policy, but if you own a home or rent an apartment, drive your own car and pay taxes, the City Council has very little interest in you, except they are most likely going to demand more of your money to spend.
The beginning of the discussion was fascinating because this City Council, which has now served together for over a year, for a good half an hour discussed how they were going to go about discussing policy issues. It was no surprise that Councilmember Justin Outling suggested they have some guidelines about what they were going to discuss and how they were going to discuss it.
Outling was also the councilmember who brought up jobs, encouraging small business growth and young entrepreneurs. Outling suggested that Greensboro set a goal to have “More start up and small businesses than any other city in North Carolina.”
It’s an admirable goal, but one that would require the Greensboro government to completely change its culture, from one that puts up as many roadblocks as possible in front of small businesses, to one that encourages and assists small businesses. Outling is right, the change would have to come from the City Council, because the corporate culture of the city is not going to change on its own.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan talked about the need for affordable housing and said, “that is probably the biggest problem that we have.” And that led to a long discussion on the problems with getting the substandard housing repaired when there isn’t enough affordable housing to move people out while the repairs are made.
City Manager David Parrish said, “We can do anything you want, but we can’t do everything.”
Councilmember Sharon Hightower asked, “Why can’t we do everything?”
Vaughan replied, “Because we have to pay for it.”
The council was distracted for a while talking about how to collect fines for minimum housing code violations, but managed to find its way back to policy issues.
There was a lot of talk about spending buckets of money in East Greensboro in what councilmembers referred to as “the crescent.” Earlier in the meeting, Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott had pointed out the “crime crescent” on a map where high crime areas were shaded. He said the crescent which starts in south central Greensboro, goes east and then back to the north central part of the city had been there for his 30 years as a police officer.
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter noted that most of the fires in the city were in the same crescent and most of the housing code violations.
Councilmember Goldie Wells said, “It’s that same little area that has all of the problems.”
There was general discussion about how to solve the myriad of problems in that area. Using bond money and encouraging Opportunity Fund investments in East Greensboro were brought up.
City Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said that rather than spend money all over East Greensboro that the City Council should select a small neighborhood, a five block area “which is the absolute worst,” and concentrate efforts in that area. She said that a real difference could be made by using all the city’s resources and people could see the area transformed.
Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said, “I like the idea of identifying five or six blocks in the absolute worst area.”
Councilmember Sharon Hightower talked about the need to greatly expand the bus service by spending a lot more money on it. She also, as expected, talked about the need to pass the new Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) program.
But the serious discussion of policy couldn’t last and devolved into personal pet peeves. Hightower said there was tractor trailer that parked halfway on the sidewalk in her neighborhood every weekend. Vaughan talked about the need to get the trees that had come down in the recent storms cleaned up. Councilmember Tammi Thurm talked about the lack of enforcement of the sign ordinance on Randleman Road. Kennedy said the city needed to join the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
And there was a long discussion of a privately owned water tower near Revolution Mill.
City Manager David Parrish wisely brought the meeting to a close.
But considering it was the first real discussion of policy this City Council has ever had, it all went pretty well. Who knows maybe they’ll chose to do it again.