A bill passed by the North Carolina state legislature on Monday, Nov. 29, if signed by Gov. Roy Cooper, will alter the way the Greensboro City Council does business.
Senate Bill 473, titled “Enhance Local Gov’t Transparency,” passed the state Senate by a 42-6 vote and the state House by 64-44 vote.
One portion of the bill that will have a decided impact on the Greensboro City Council states, “No public official shall knowingly participate in making or administering a contract, including the award of money in the form of a grant, loan or other appropriation, with any nonprofit with which that public official is associated.”
The statue defines participating in making or administering a contract as, “Any of the following actions by a public official:
“a. Deliberating or voting on the contract.
“b. Attempting to influence any other person who is deliberating or voting on the contract.
“c. Soliciting or receiving any gift, favor, reward, service, or promise of reward, including a promises of future employment, in exchange for recommending, influencing, or attempting to influence the award of a contract by the political subdivision of the State with the not-for-profit with which that public official is associated.”
If this bill was not written with the Greensboro City Council in mind, it could have been.
City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson is the executive director of One Step Further, which the city has contracted with to run the Cure Violence program for the City of Greensboro.
Johnson was recused on the final vote to award the contract of about $500,000 per year to One Step Further, but she participated in the deliberations and as a councilmember spoke at meetings in favor of awarding the contract to One Step Further.
Johnson was also a member of the committee of councilmembers and Guilford County Board of Commissioners that met in secret and made the decision to award the contract to One Step Further.
Greensboro Neighborhood Development Department Director Michelle Kennedy while she was a city councilmember and the executive director of the Interactive Resource Center (IRC), a daytime facility serving the homeless population, often spoke about the need for funding for homeless programs including the IRC.
Kennedy also spoke about the need the IRC had for surplus city vehicles that were donated by the city to the IRC. Kennedy was recused from votes on the vehicles and funding for the IRC but not from speaking in favor of those items.
City Councilmember Goldie Wells while she was chair of the board of the IRC, because she had no financial interest in the IRC, fully participated in the decisions by the City Council to fund the IRC. This law would have prohibited Wells from participating in the discussions about the IRC or voting for funding the IRC.
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter is a board member for Crime Stoppers and was instrumental in raising the City Council’s allocation to Crime Stoppers by $75,000 in the current budget. Under this law, Abuzuaiter would not be allowed to lobby for more money for Crime Stoppers because she is on the board.
The Greensboro City Council has a history of providing funding for organizations in which councilmembers are involved, either as employees or board members. The law would not prevent that from continuing to be the practice but it will require that the councilmembers involved not lobby for or vote for that funding.