At large City Councilmember Michelle Kennedy says that she is going to hold a community conversation every month, in different locations and at different times of day.
Kennedy held her first one in a back conference room at the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) where she is the director from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday.
As one might expect because of the time and the location it was not heavily attended. Although some people came and went seven to nine people were usually sitting around the table, plus three city staff members, two reporters and Kennedy. Also as one might expect several were associated with the IRC. Also several worked at the Central Library and as city employees didn’t want to say much in a room with two reporters.
It was a small friendly crowd that threw a lot of softballs, but there were a few pointed questions.
District 2 Councilmember Goldie Wells came and sat at the table after the meeting started and left before it ended. She did not ask or answer any questions. School board member Byron Gladden also attended and he asked a number of questions about a variety of topics.
City Councilmembers and Guilford County Commissioners have been holding secret closed meetings for months to discuss jointly funding a Cure Violence program for Greensboro. Kennedy said she didn’t realize the meetings were closed and she would try to get them opened to the public.
The total cost for running the program, that is designed to reduce violent crime and in particular murders, for one year is estimated to be $600,000. Kennedy who is in her first term in elected office, but is no political novice said it appeared likely that the commissioners would not choose to fund the program. She was asked if the city would pick up the full cost, and she said that the city might find another partner to help fund the program, but she did not think that the City Council would vote to spend $600,000 on Cure Violence.
Kennedy noted that the city was operating with a budget deficit, but said even if the city had a budget surplus she didn’t think the Council would fund the entire project.
Kennedy said “I believe very much this is a public health issue.” She said in her opinion the Cure Violence program should be run by the Guilford County Health Department, but the county was not interested in that model.
Kennedy said that when it became clear that the Guilford County Health Department was not interested in running the program the group considered nonprofits that were experienced in running that kind of program and decided that One Step Further headed by City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson who also happened to be at that meeting representing the city, not her nonprofit would be a good fit.
As one might expect she was asked a number of questions about the death of Marcus Deon Smith on Sept. 8 and she said she was very supportive of having mental health professionals working with the police.
Kennedy said, “You cannot police your way through mental health issues.”
The Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) program was also a topic of discussion. Kennedy said, “Any contract that does not meet the MWBE goals is not one that I would support.”
Several times Kennedy reminded the small crowd that it takes five votes to get anything done on the City Council and she only has one vote.
There was a lot of discussion about development in East Greensboro and Kennedy said the development had to be accomplished without gentrification that displaced the current residents.
After the meeting, Kennedy said having a small group on her home turf at the IRC was a good place to start but she intends to take the show on the road and hopes to have larger crowds and expects more diversity of opinions.