Last week the Greensboro City Council at its meeting on Monday, April 1 and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Thursday, April 4 both discussed moving forward to implement a Cure Violence program in Greensboro. Bringing Cure Violence to Greensboro is a topic that has been discussed in the community for over a year.
At least at these two meetings the City Council and County Commissioners were openly discussing the program which is supposed to reduce violence and homicides in certain neighborhoods. The premise behind Cure Violence is to treat violence like an epidemic and use the same methods used to halt the spread of disease to stop the spread of violence.
Members of the Greensboro City Council and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners met secretly several times during the past year to discuss bringing the program to Greensboro. But since the meetings have been held in secret, not much is known about the progress that has been made.
But it is known that during those secret meetings, it was decided that One Step Further the nonprofit run by City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson would be awarded the contract to oversee the program in Greensboro.
It is curious that while councilmembers and commissioners say there is nothing improper about awarding the contract estimated at $600,000 a year to a nonprofit directed by a councilmember, the discussions on doing it were held at unannounced, secret meetings closed to the public and media.
The Greensboro City Council is hoping to get $300,000 from the County Commissioners for the program and Mayor Nancy Vaughan made a suggestion that would certainly change the tenor of the negotiations. Vaughan suggested that the City Council and County Commissioners hold a joint meeting which means it would not be in a secret location behind closed doors, but held in public.
At the April 1 City Council meeting at Vaughan’s request Johnson gave an update on where they were in planning the program and signing a contract with One Step Further.
Johnson said that she did not seek the contract for One Step Further and added, “I will not accept or receive any financial fiduciary money for this because that to me would be a conflict and I wouldn’t do that.”
Vaughan said, “Obviously any vote we would have, Yvonne would have to abstain from.”
But abstaining would create a problem because councilmembers are required to vote unless they have a direct conflict of interest. If they do have a conflict of interest not only are they not allowed to vote, but they are also supposed to refrain from any discussion of the matter. You often see elected officials leave the dais when they have a conflict of interest, so they won’t even be present for the discussion.
In this case, Johnson has participated in the discussions both as a councilmember and as the executive director of One Step Further. In fact at this council meeting it appeared that she was making no attempt to separate the roles, speaking about meeting with the County Commissioners and in the next breath about the requirements of One Step Further in contract negotiations.
The way the statutes have been interpreted in the past, if it is not a conflict of interest then Johnson will have to vote on awarding the contract to One Step Further and if it is a conflict of interest then she can’t vote but she also isn’t supposed to participate in the negotiations or discussions which she has been doing.