The Greensboro City Council tried out some new rules at its monthly town hall meeting, aka “yellfest,” on Wednesday, Oct. 2 at the Greensboro Regional Realtors Association office at 23 Oak Branch Dr.
The purpose of the town hall meeting once a month is to give people a chance to come before the City Council and state their views. It replaces the 30-minute public comment period that was held at the beginning of the two City Council meetings a month.
Wednesday, Mayor Nancy Vaughan announced that she had asked the staff to develop some new rules for speakers. At the last town hall meeting in September, one speaker was asked to leave and did so. But the meetings didn’t earn the moniker “yellfest” because the speakers are calm, collected and have legitimate points to make.
The rules limit what people can speak about during their five minutes in several areas. Speakers are not allowed to talk about specific city employees. They can’t talk about issues in which the city is currently in litigation. They can’t attempt to incite unlawful behavior and their speeches have to be free from discrimination, bias and bullying.
Vaughan noted that the City Council has a “limited number” of employees that it can hire and fire. That limited number is actually two. The City Council can hire and fire the city manager and the city attorney and that’s it. Everyone else in the city works for the city manager. Vaughan said the appropriate venue for complaints about specific city employees was the city manager or the human resources department, not the City Council.
She also said that it appeared some speakers were attempting to affect ongoing litigation with their comments at meetings and “that will not be tolerated.”
As one might expect, the speakers who had been coming to these meetings to yell at the City Council about particular city employees, to yell at the City Council about cases in litigation, to promote illegal behavior such as attacking police officers and bullying people were not pleased with the new rules.
So instead of talking about the other issues, many of the speakers spoke loudly about the unfairness of the new rules. This was the fourth offsite town hall meeting, so it was held in City Council District 4. The November meeting will be at the Griffin Recreation Center in District 5, and at that point the City Council will have held a town hall meeting in each of the five City Council districts. The December meeting is currently scheduled to be back in the City Council Chamber.
Ben Holder, a one-time City Council candidate who was a regular speaker at City Council meetings but had not spoken at one in months, started off by speaking about the new rules and asked if he could say something nice about a particular city employee. He said the rules didn’t make sense.
Holder then managed to speak quite a bit about former Deputy Police Chief James Hinson without ever saying his name. Hinson retired after it was revealed that the group home Hinson co-owned had an employee who was arrested and charged with molesting one of the young men in the home. According to a state investigation, Hinson tried to convince the young man to drop his complaint and told him the police weren’t interested before it had been investigated.
That group home employee has since been charged with multiple felonies.
Holder said he had warned Vaughan about Hinson (without saying his name) and that he told her Hinson’s “outside job was a recipe for disaster.”
Holder said that deciding not to do anything about the situation was “a horrible decision.”
He said, “I would be wrong not to come up here and say how despicable and unfair that was.”
Holder said, “There is no way in the world anybody else in any other profession could have gotten away with that.”
And he noted that the city’s final words about Hinson were “We thank him for his service.” He added, “I don’t know what else to say. It’s disgusting.”