Toward the very end of the most recent City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 20, Councilmember Sharon Hightower said to Mayor Nancy Vaughan, “You have disrespected my district. I hope they turn out in droves to allow Mr. Barber to take over you as the mayor and tell you what to do.”
Councilmember Mike Barber had made a motion to adjourn and City Attorney Tom Carruthers had ruled it a legitimate motion with a second.
A motion to adjourn is not debatable and Vaughan was attempting to hold a vote on that motion as Carruthers advised that she should. The motion to adjourn failed and Hightower was allowed to finish her tirade against the rest of the City Council, in particular the men on the council who she accused of repeatedly attacking her. One would assume she meant verbally attacking.
Because Vaughan and Hightower were talking over each other, it appears most of those at the meeting missed Hightower’s support of Barber for mayor.
But Hightower’s statement is audible on the video of the meeting, which came as a surprise to many who were there.
The problem is that Barber has not announced he’s running for mayor. Barber said that a number of people have talked to him about running for mayor and he thinks he has the experience and the ability to be a successful mayor. Barber is a former Guilford County commissioner and served one year as chairman of the Board of Commissioners, so he is no stranger to difficult meetings.
But, when asked, Barber said, “I’m awaiting the final court ruling on City Council elections before I make any decision on the 2017 election.”
There is little doubt that Barber would like to be mayor, but it makes sense to wait to make a decision. The at-large City Council seat that Barber holds will go away if Greensboro’s lawsuit against the new districts drawn by the North Carolina General Assembly doesn’t prevail in court.
There will be a City Council election in 2017, but what nobody knows at this point is whether the City Council candidates will be running for five district seats and three at-large seats or eight district seats with only the mayor elected at large. That is because the issue has yet to be decided by federal District Court Judge Catherine Eagles.
In 2015, the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 263, which changed the Greensboro City Council’s method of election to eight districts and a mayor elected at large who would only vote in the case of tie. But the Greensboro City Council didn’t like the change and, along with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, filed a lawsuit to fight the changes in federal court.
The court hearing on the case in 2015 was unusual because no one showed up to defend the state. At that time, Gov. Roy Cooper was the North Carolina attorney general and he declined to defend the General Assembly in court, even though it was his job.
He had an out, because Greensboro didn’t sue the state but the Guilford County Board of Elections, which was represented by Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne, who offered no arguments against granting the city’s request for an injunction to prevent the 2015 election from taking place according to the new law. What Payne said in essence was that the Guilford County Board of Elections didn’t have a dog in the fight and would run the election however it was ordered to do so, but he did ask for a decision to be made quickly since the fall election was fast approaching.
Eagles granted the injunction and the 2015 election was held according to the system of five district councilmembers, three at-large councilmembers and a mayor at large.
However, the case has not been heard in its entirety, and until Eagles rules, nobody knows how many districts there will be.
There is no doubt that the state legislature has the legal authority to establish new city council districts. In the same HB 263 that changed the Greensboro City Council districts, the number of districts for the town of Trinity was changed by the legislature also. The portion of the law applying to Trinity was allowed to go into effect by Eagles while the portion dealing with Greensboro was not.
One thing at this point seems certain, and that is that the City Council will be running for four-year terms. It was part of HB 263 and the voters of Greensboro also passed a referendum in 2015 in favor of four-year terms.
One candidate has already announced his intention to run for mayor. In the first week of 2017, John Brown, who owns Jessup Service Company on Battleground Avenue, announced he is running for mayor.
It is Brown’s first run for public office, and as with all first time candidates he is facing an uphill battle as far as name recognition goes. According to his campaign resume, he is a licensed general contractor and also holds licenses for plumbing, HVAC and as an electrician. He is a graduate of Mountain Heritage High School in Burnsville, North Carolina, and has been an instructor at Randolph Community College.
Brown’s “Core Campaign Platform” states: “Reduce extravagant local government expenditures which only serve to increase Greensboro’s debt and do not produce local growth.” The platform also states he is in favor of expanding economic opportunities, creating new jobs, increasing wages and wants to “Reclaim the vibrancy of Greensboro, celebrate our neighborhoods and communities and connect them to our growing Downtown.” It states he is in favor of “creating equitable services to all neighborhoods.”
Brown is a registered Republican and lives at 5907 Green Meadow Dr., which is in District 5 represented by Councilmember Tony Wilkins, the only Republican on the City Council.
It’s devilishly hard to get elected in a citywide race first time out. But 6th District Congressman Mark Walker won his congressional seat in his first political race, so it can be done. Not to mention Donald Trump, who was elected president the very first time he ran for office.