City Councilmembers don’t usually vote against gifts that come to the city with no strings attached, or building new fire stations.

But then City Councilmember Sharon Hightower is different. She cast the lone vote against both on at the Tuesday, Feb. 7 Greensboro City Council meeting in the Council Chambers.

It seemed like a pretty joyous occasion with big smiles all around. The Greensboro Police Foundation had raised about $190,000 and bought a new mobile command center and was asking permission to donate it to the Police Department.

Marc Isaacson, secretary of the Police Foundation, noted that the mobile command center currently in place was so old it had slots for a VCR.

Police Chief Wayne Scott explained that this was a vehicle that cost $400,000 new, and while, “it’s not brand spanking new, it’s new to us.”

Scott explained that the current vehicle could be sold for enough to cover the cost of wrapping the new one with the Police Department colors and logo.

He said the current vehicle was used about 16 times a month, often for community events.

Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter described the new mobile unit as “fantastic.”

Hightower complained about not getting the details before the meeting and asked who was going to pay to wrap it.

Scott explained again that the current unit would be sold and that would cover the cost.

Hightower asked again if selling the current unit would pay for wrapping the new one.

Scott said that it would.

Hightower complained that they weren’t using Police Foundation money to buy back guns and getting them off the street.

Scott said that he had $5,000 in local tax dollars he was going to use to start a program to buy back illegal guns. Through Crime Stoppers, Scott said they would have a program where people could supply information about illegal guns and, if it resulted in the confiscation of illegal guns, they would get a reward.

The motion to accept the mobile command center from the Police Foundation passed on an 8-to-1 vote, with Hightower voting no.

Later in the meeting there was a motion to approve a $4.5 million contract to build a fire station at 4306 Burlington Road.

Hightower complained about the low Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) program participation. Assistant City Manager Barbara Harris explained once again to Hightower that the MWBE program is based on goals and that the contractor made a “good faith effort” to meet those goals and was unable to do so.

Hightower said that with the new disparity study perhaps the city “would get some stronger implementation in place.” The disparity study has nothing to do with the fact that, by law, the MWBE program is based on goals, not the quotas that Hightower wants.

The motion to build the new fire station passed on an 8-to-1 vote, with Hightower voting against building a new fire station.

The City Council had a good discussion on allocating $200,000 for the new Van Dyke Performance Space in the Greensboro Cultural Center. The project is mainly being funded with a $1 million donation from the Van Dyke family.

Councilmember Tony Wilkins asked how the city was using $200,000 from the 2006 Parks and Recreation Bonds when he had been told a couple of months previously that all of that money had been allocated.

City Manager Jim Westmoreland said the funds were likely from savings in other projects.

Wilkins responded, “You didn’t have that money two months ago.” And asked what specific project this money was being taken from since it had all been allocated.

Wilkins said, “One month I’m told that there were no funds and the next you have $200,000 for a new project.”

Assistant City Manager Chris Wilson suggested the funds might have come from the park land acquisition account.

Wilkins said if he had known the money was available he might have had a project in District 5, which he represents, where he could have used the money. He asked how councilmembers are supposed to know that money is available when they are told that it isn’t.

Later Wilkins came back to the topic and asked, “Is this staff driven or council driven?” He added, “Did someone from this council bring it forward or did someone on staff bring it forward?”

Westmoreland said, “This is something that we are bringing forward?” Which seemed to indicate it was from staff.

But Wilkins wasn’t satisfied with that answer and wanted a name.

Former City Councilmember Florence Gatten came to the podium and said that she had gone to the manager when a grant for $200,000 for the Van Dyke Performance Space had not come through.

She said that she and Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann went to the staff to ask if $200,000 might be available.

Councilmembers often talk about the fact that if they have a project they have to find the money for it, but if staff has a project the money is always available.

Councilmember Jamal Fox asked, “What is the overall strategic plan for that building?”

Fox noted that the city was great at investing in new projects but added, “We need to take care of our old infrastructure.” He said the Cultural Arts Center was an old building where the arts organizations that are tenants pay $1 a month in rent. He was way off on the rent – it is $1 a year.

Fox asked staff for figures on what the actual rent income from that building would be if it were rented at market rate.

It’s the kind of question you’d expect a Republican to ask.