Thank goodness. With more discussion and debate than this City Council has devoted to the budget in the past three years combined (or the recent bond referendum), the City Council finally – on Tuesday, March 7 in the Council Chambers – passed the “2017 Legislative Agenda.”
This is a list of items the City Council would like the North Carolina General Assembly to pass in its 2017 session. Now the Greensboro legislative agenda can be sent to Raleigh where it will promptly be put in the round file.
What would be a vast improvement is if the City Council actually spent some time discussing an issue that mattered, like the budget or how the recently passed $226 million bond money will be spent, but that is unlikely to happen. This council is a master of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
The City Council didn’t even follow its own policy on this year’s legislative agenda. What the City Council had agreed to do at several earlier meetings on the legislative agenda was to only include items that Greensboro needed and that the City Council had reason to believe that the state legislature would pass.
In the past, the City Council has included a slew of political issues where the City Council, with eight Democrats, is diametrically opposed to the political will of the legislature, where both the state Senate and House have veto-proof Republican majorities.
City Councilmember Justin Outling was the chief advocate for trying to get along with the legislature and actually attempting to get some legislation important to Greensboro passed rather than using the legislative agenda to make political statements that only serve to alienate the Republican lawmakers in Raleigh.
However, Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter insisted that a resolution supporting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants be included. It is not a city issue and is not one that the Republican legislature supports.
Outling said, “I am not going to support it because I am not going to support putting politics over our goals.”
Outling said that if that item was going to be added, he believed the City Council would be better off not having a legislative agenda, and he then made a motion that the City Council not pass a legislative agenda.
He said he was absolutely in favor of in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students but that this was not the forum to promote the issue.
Outling added that if the City Council was going to insist on including the in-state tuition for illegal immigrants issue then the city should fire its lobbyist because it didn’t make sense to hire a lobbyist to try and get along with the legislature and then do something that defeats that purpose.
Outling’s motion failed on a 3 to 6 vote with Councilmembers Tony Wilkins, Mike Barber and Outling voting in favor of not having a written legislative agenda.
The items on the legislative agenda all passed. Outling said that if his motion failed he would vote for in-state tuition because he was in favor of it, although he didn’t think it should be on the legislative agenda.
The nine items on the legislative agenda are:
Jordan Lake: Requesting that the city not have to purchase nutrient offsets from the Jordan Lake Rules.
Parking Fines: Requesting that the state link City of Greensboro parking fines to vehicle registration.
Sales Tax: Opposing sales tax redistribution from urban areas to rural areas.
State Tort Cap Reform: Requesting a study to expand the limit of $750,000 granted to state on tort claims for wrongful imprisonment to cities as well.
Body-Worn Cameras: Amending the current state police body-worn camera video viewing law.
Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction: Raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 16 and 17 year olds.
Repair of Nonresidential Buildings and Rewrite of Planning Statutes: Allowing a municipality to order repairs of nonresidential buildings.
Water Resources Capacity User Fees: Allowing cities to charge a water capacity user fee.
Tuition Equity: Allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities.
Fire Department Search and Rescue Funds: Providing funds for search and rescue by local fire departments.
Ben Holder, who was once a regular speaker at City Council meetings, spoke about the lawsuit that former Greensboro Police Chief David Wray filed against the city to have his legal fees paid.
The city has a policy of paying the legal fees of employees who are sued because of actions they took on the job. Wray was sued for actions he took as police chief, but the city has refused to pay his legal fees, at different times citing different reasons for that refusal.
Holder said that the city has spent over $500,000 defending itself in the lawsuit whereas Wray is asking for $220,000 in legal fees.
City Attorney Tom Carruthers said he would not dispute Holder’s figures.
Wilkins said that he had reviewed Wray’s personnel file and it showed that Wray had an “exemplary career” as a Greensboro police officer.
But the majority on the City Council is opposed to settling the case.
Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center has found another reason to attack the Greensboro Police Department, which he has been fighting since he was involved in the Communist Workers Party shoot out with the Klan and Nazis in 1979. This one is a young man that Johnson and his disciples claim was beaten up by police at the Fun Fourth Festival last year.
The matter is before the Police Citizens Review Board (PCRB) and the City Council voted 5 to 4 to review the police body-worn camera video of the incident after the PCRB makes a decision on the case.
The vote followed a long discussion on whether the City Council should pre-empt the PCRB and vote to review the video before the PCRB had the opportunity to make its decision.
Outling said to decide to view the video before the PCRB had made a ruling “defeats the purpose of having it.”
Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann said, “If we have confidence in the people we appointed, we need to let them do their work.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “I believe we shouldn’t interject ourselves in the process.”
But then Vaughan reversed her stated opinion and voted to view the video before the PCRB had a chance to make a ruling. Voting in favor of ignoring the PCRB and viewing the video along, with Vaughan, were Councilmembers Jamal Fox, Sharon Hightower, Yvonne Johnson and Abuzuaiter.
Voting against the motion were Wilkins, Barber, Outling and Hoffmann.