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10 stories that rocked Greensboro in 2006

by Amy Kingsley

1. Police scandal

On Jan. 7, City Manager Mitchell Johnson locked then-Police Chief David Wray out of his office. In the year that’s followed, several of the department’s top brass resigned or retired amidst allegations they treated black officers unfairly, altered performance evaluations and engaged in cronyism.

This scandal began in the summer of 2005 when Lt. James Hinson discovered a tracking device on his police cruiser. Chief Wray called a press conference and insinuated that Hinson collaborated with members of an international drug cartel. Although Johnson initially stood by his man, officers soon started coming forward with concerns about the chief. Johnson and the city council enlisted the help of Raleigh-based Risk Management Associates, which quickly concluded that Wray’s actions undermined the department.

The confidential report was leaked first to the News & Record, then to anyone with a street address and online handle. Dozens of journalists and bloggers have weighed in on the scandal, and the availability of the RMA report has fractured an already divided media landscape. Expect to see Wray, Hinson and Johnson duke it out well into next year.

2. Fire destroys Eastern Guilford High School

On Nov. 1, firefighters and faculty at Eastern Guilford High School watched helplessly as a fire that started in a trash can climbed into the open attic and consumed the facility attended by more than 1,000 students. While we’re sure that many of them genuinely mourned the loss of the building that had served Gibsonville since 1974, we were once high school students ourselves and have to believe some serious partying happened in the rubble.

A relocation plan that split students into two groups has sparked controversy among parents who want them reunited before school starts next fall. Also, investigators recently concluded the fire was arson. The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department is interviewing roughly 100 “persons of interest,” according to the News & Record.

3. 13th District Twilight Zone

Political gawkers and reporters bless the day oddball candidate Vernon Robinson threw his hat into the 13th District ring. He variously titillated and revolted voters with vicious attack ads that accused his opponent of paying for sex studies while denying body armor to overseas troops.

In classic schoolyard style, incumbent Brad Miller avoided the rhetorical slings by completely ignoring his batty opponent. In a series of image ads, Miller played up his commitment to bread-and-butter issues like community colleges and predatory lending.

Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate.com, singled Robinson out for the vile nature of his attack ads in an essay bemoaning the rancid state of political ads in 2006. Of the “Twilight Zone” ad he wrote: “In 60 seconds, the ad manages to tie Democrat Brad Miller to Osama, gay marriage, ‘lesbians and feminists,’ activist judges, infanticide, flag-burning, racial quotas, space aliens, illegal immigrants, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton.”

Oh, and Miller? Well, he trounced Robinson in the general election, depriving us all of his hijinks for at least two years.

4. Truth and Reconciliation Report

After a two-year investigation that included public hearings, hundreds of interviews and reams of official documents, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded a lack of police presence on Nov. 3, 1979 contributed greatly to violence that ended with five deaths.

On that day more than two decades ago, Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan rolled up on protesters from the Communist Workers Party. They pulled shotguns from the trunks of their cars and blasted away for 88 seconds. Police assigned to the march were inexplicably stationed about half-mile away.

The report included a number of suggestions for city, county and school leaders. So far, in the shadow of more recent turmoil in the police department, the report hasn’t gained much traction. We’ll see whether it closes the book on one of the most painful moments in Greensboro history.

5. RIP? Flying Anvil, 4/2006 – 12/30/2006

It’s easy to infer a lot about the prosperity of downtown Greensboro in the rise and fall of a single cement structure at the corner of Lee and Eugene Streets. Downtown boosters ballyhooed the project that promised to bring to town both world-class and groundbreaking musical acts.

After opening in April, owners of the Flying Anvil did just that. But after seven months of running the coolest bar in town, major investors Pete Schroth and Brian Crean, alongside booker Andrew Dudek, announced their intention to quit.

All hope is not lost. Time is running out for another ambitious soul to step forward and take the reins from Greensboro’s three hipster musketeers, but the option still exists. If not, Greensboro will gather to say goodbye to the Anvil on Dec. 30.

6. Lincoln National + Jefferson-Pilot = Lincoln Financial

On April Fool’s Day, federal officials approved Lincoln National’s buyout of Jefferson-Pilot, an insurance company that had been headquartered in Greensboro for the better part of a century. A few days later, the parent company shut off the JFP that had blinked for years from the top of the city’s tallest building.

The sale will resonate in the city in ways that are more than just nostalgic. Lincoln National planned to cut 10 percent of the combined companies’ 8,000 jobs, according to the News & Record. It is unclear how many of those cuts will affect Lincoln Financial’s 1,000 Greensboro employees, or whether more jobs will actually be created by the merger. Either way, the purchase added one more shock to a county that has seen its major industries (textiles and furniture) evaporate during the last ten years.

7. Alma Adams brings home the bacon

Rep. Alma Adams finally succeeded, after 10 long years, in securing a one-dollar raise for North Carolina’s lowest paid workers. On July 14, Gov. Mike Easley signed a law passed by both houses of the NC General Assembly raising the state’s minimum wage to $6.15. Easley handed the signed legislation to Adams, who had become known over the years for her vocal support of higher wages.

Now that the US Congress is a considering a similar move, Adams has set her sights even higher. In a press conference held shortly after the minimum wage bill passed, Adams announced she would be working for legislation that would require employers to pay a living wage of $12.32 an hour. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath for that one, but we can be sure Adams will try her best.

8. Carlos Claros-Castro

On Jan. 7, Carlos Claros-Castro, an inmate in the Davidson County Jail, was beaten to death by two prison guards. Claros-Castro, a cook at Elizabeth’s Pizza in Thomasville, had been arrested after drunkenly crashing his car into a cinderblock wall and then hitching a ride with a friend. His conduct in the jail, including taking off his clothes and urinating in the shower, riled his keepers, who strapped Claros-Castro into a restraint chair.

Several hours later, after beatings and Taser shocks, Castro died. On June 30, Brandon Huie, one of the guards responsible, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. About a month and a half later, a jury found Lt. Ronald Parker guilty of the same thing. Huie and Parker were the highest-ranking officers on staff at the troubled jail the night Claros-Castro died. Family members of the deceased inmate filed a federal civil suit against the county on Nov. 21.

9. Joey Cheek makes Greensboro proud

In a year with no shortage of bad news, the feel-good story of the year came courtesy of Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek, a graduate of Dudley High School. Cheek burned up the oval in Turin, Italy to win the 500-meter long track speed skating event on Feb.

13. Before the race he had already shown himself to be the classiest skater on his team. Two other American gold medal winners, Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick, spent most of the games feuding.

After he won (he also earned silver in the 1,000-meter race), Cheek donated his entire $40,000 bonus to Right to Play, an organization dedicated to helping refugees. Greensboro politicians and business leaders honored Cheek a month later, more for his heart than his prodigious athletic ability. The city is still in swoon over its golden-haired golden boy.

10. Progressivism comes to the Gate City

Thirty-minute bus schedules. Bike lanes. Domestic partner benefits. None of the aforementioned policy changes caused a huge stir, but each is indicative of an attitudinal sea change that is sweeping Greensboro government.

That’s right, folks, progressivism has sunk its ideological hooks into the city character, meaning that forward thinking on environmental issues, gay and lesbian rights and urban sprawl might not be too far behind. Part of the change can be attributed to the dawning realization that quality of life affects economic development at least as much as tax breaks.

To that end, leaders have wised up and decided to install bike lanes to reduce pollution, increase physical fitness and just make Greensboro a funkier place (and we don’t mean that as in used bike shorts funky). The same goes for buses, which have seen a dramatic increase in ridership since gas prices rose.

As for domestic partner benefits, well politicians realized that being competitive in attracting employees also means being tolerant and accommodating. We do, after all, still have an opening for a police chief.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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