The Greensboro City Council held what it called a virtual public hearing on the 2020-2021 budget on Tuesday, June 2.
Only one person spoke on the $612 million budget, which should not be surprising since the City Council didn’t advertise or offer public notification of how people could speak at the virtual public hearing.
It was advertised that people could submit comments by email, with an implication that since this was a public hearing where the City Council was supposed to be hearing from the public, that those comments would be read or at least summarized during the meeting.
But the comments were not read, they were placed in broad categories based on topics, but not one word of any of the emails was read for the councilmembers or the public watching the meeting to hear.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that she didn’t have the list of comments, so Greensboro City Clerk Angie Lord read the names of people who had submitted comments by email and the topic. According to Lord, most of the people who submitted email comments had concerns about the reduced Greensboro Transit Agency (GTA) service, or about the GTA budget, but what those concerns were or if those commenting suggested solutions for the funding issues at GTA was not revealed.
All of the people who submitted comments by email were contacted and asked if they wanted to speak at the meeting. These were the only people given the opportunity to speak at the public hearing.
The one person who did comment virtually was Ralph Thomas who asked that the City Council take a second look at reducing the service provided by GTA.
That one comment sparked a discussion by city councilmembers on the proposed reduction in bus service in Greensboro.
Councilmember Tammi Thurm asked about the actual amount of money that was collected in fares.
Vaughan said, “We get about a 12 percent return on the whole budget.”
Thurm also asked if GTA had new riders because during the COVID-19 crisis all rides were free.
City Manager David Parrish said it would be difficult to track new riders, but that ridership overall was “drastically down.”
With people ordered to stay-at-home by an executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper, it would be surprising if ridership were not drastically down.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower asked if the city could use some of the federal coronavirus money from the CARES Act to make up for the revenue shortage in the GTA budget.
Parrish said the city was possibly eligible for $12 million, but the staff was investigating how much of the city’s needs met the criteria for federal funding.
It was the type of discussion that comments from the public often cause, but since there was only one comment heard during this public hearing, there was only one discussion.
Unacceptable violation of open meetings and the spirit of transparency needed. No notification for public comment needs to be addressed. The folks responsible for these sneaky at best tactics need to be removed from their positions. I don’t know if it is PR folks, city attorneys, or exactly who in city government is in charge of compliance and transparency but they need to be replaced with a anyone that can follow morals and laws.