Mayoral candidate and City Councilmember Justin Outling is a partner in the Brooks Pierce law firm, which is one of the largest in the area, with over 100 attorneys.
Because he is a partner in the firm and therefore has a financial interest in all the firm’s business, he has to frequently ask to be recused from votes because of a conflict of interest.
At many meetings this means that Outling has to be recused from a couple of “consent agenda” items. The consent agenda are a number of noncontroversial, routine and housekeeping type items that are grouped together and passed with one vote. Whether the consent agenda passes with an 8-0-1 vote or a 9-0 vote isn’t a big deal. However, at the March 15 City Council meeting, Outling asked to be recused from items 17 through 38 on the consent agenda, and then three items on the general business agenda.
All of the items had to do with the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite and the City of Greensboro providing water and sewer service to the Toyota Battery Manufacturing, North Carolina plant at the site. Toyota plans to spend $1.29 billion on building the battery manufacturing facility creating over 1,750 new jobs and it is an extremely big deal.
The recusal of Outling from the 21 consent agenda items at the March 15 meeting led to some confusion on how to proceed. Mayor Nancy Vaughan said she had been told that she would have to read each item and the City Council would have vote on each item separately. Because the City Council meetings are considered “hybrid” meetings, where councilmembers and the public can participate remotely, votes have to be confirmed by voice votes, which is a tedious process.
Fortunately, after the first couple of items, Councilmember Tammi Thurm asked why they were voting on consent agenda items separately and City Attorney Chuck Watts was consulted. Watts said there was no need to vote on the items separately and like other consent agenda items they could all be approved with one vote, which allowed the meeting to move much more quickly.