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2012: Guilford County news in review

by Eric Ginsburg

 eric@yesweekly.com

Hopefully this isn’t the first issue of YES! Weekly you’ve picked up all year — while we’ve generated some expansive lists and summaries of 2012 in this issue, the memory-jogging and reminisces are no substitute for the in depth coverage we’ve provided all year. In case it is your first issue, let’s catch you up quickly and under score why you need to scour our news section each week.

The Greensboro City Council took up several controversial initiatives over the past year, with new Mayor Robbie Perkins carrying the torch on the noise ordinance and proposed performing arts center.

Perkins quietly pushed the city to reexamine its noise ordinance to lower the decibel threshold for noise. The ordinance changes were initially couched as a response to widespread concerns and dealing with noise violations citywide. A public information request by YES! Weekly uncovered what was happening behind the scenes — Perkins was responding to repetitive complaints from developer Roy Carroll, who turned the old Wachovia building downtown into luxury condominiums known as Center Pointe.

The ordinance was aimed at downtown nightclubs and Greene Street in particular, and staunch public opposition resulted in ordinance changes that turned Greensboro into what Carroll referred to as the loudest city in North Carolina. After a trial run with the new ordinance, some downtown nightclub owners said they were still frustrated with unmerited complaints from Carroll or unfair enforcement, but there was no public outcry and the ordinance remained in effect.

Perkins also championed a performing arts center, designed to replace the aging War Memorial Auditorium and originally slated for the coliseum complex. Plans shifted to try and erect a center that would rival the Durham Performing Arts Center in downtown Greensboro. A task force led by the Community Foundation was appointed and began researching options, hosting public input sessions and finally proposing the center be built on the former YWCA site downtown.

The timeline for the project was extended throughout the year, but as of the end of 2012, it wasn’t clear how or if the performing arts center would move forward. Council voted to put the issue before the voters, but Perkins said he planned to revisit the decision, while some council members expressed their reservations about moving forward at all.

City council also tackled a proposed entertainment security ordinance that would impact nightclubs and strip clubs, and though there has been a small, vocal opposition from club owners and a handful of others, the biggest barrier to the ordinance may be its advocate. District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny, who has championed the ordinance alongside police Chief Ken Miller, said at the last subcommittee meeting earlier this month that he had serious doubts about the ordinance’s potential effectiveness.

Council took on several other major issues this year, including municipal solid waste, a recycling contract with ReCommunity and passing resolutions against the anti-gay marriage amendment and Citizens United in addition to its normal load of zoning and budgetary decisions. Food trucks were the other stand-out issue before council this year, as restaurant owners pushed to keep “mobile food units” out of downtown and council moved forward anyway amidst strong community support and after a two-month trial program on Commerce Place downtown.

Council, of course, didn’t dictate all of the primary community issues this year. In addition to elections for local, state and federal office, workplace concerns, housing and homelessness, food security, police conduct and immigration were prevailing themes this year.

Council did side with postal workers who brought their concerns about a potential branch closure in Greensboro before council on May Day, which is when almost every country in the world celebrates Labor Day. The Greensboro Industrial Workers of the World, a solidarity union, formed this year and successfully fought for unpaid back wages at Sessions. Wage theft was featured on the cover of YES! Weekly this summer and continues to be a pervasive issue locally. Concerns about job security, layoffs and changes to unemployment benefits persist.

High poverty rates and unemployment continued this year, and a glitch in the food stamps system sent shock waves through Guilford County in June, increasing food insecurity for thousands in need. The elusive grocery store for east Greensboro that Councilman Jim Kee and community activists have been unable to lure did not materialize this year.

Nor did a rumor that Trader Joe’s was considering a location near the Friendly Center near where the city’s first Whole Foods store opened earlier this year. Residents fought against the rezoning request that was allegedly connected to Trader Joe’s and the project has been dropped for the foreseeable future, though the company did open its first Triad location in Winston-Salem this year.

Neighborhood residents in Glenwood also expressed their frustration about development in their backyard — or lack thereof. In February we wrote about how UNCG’s expansion into the neighborhood, already a sore spot for some, angered residents after houses the school owned were burned to the ground and not cleaned up quickly. The university moved to clean up its waste, later fencing off a large swath of the neighborhood it owned, and now the framework of new campus buildings is up along Lee Street.

Our news editor, Jordan Green, covered two trials in detail this year — Greg Harrison and the Latin Kings. In September, Harrison was sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to repay $43.3 million for tax fraud. Harrison, a Greensboro businessman who operated a several staffing agencies, maintains his innocence.

After nearly a year sitting in jail and a month-long trial, a jury delivered a verdict in the Latin Kings case the day before Thanksgiving. About half of the people associated with the Almighty Latin King & Queen Nation in North Carolina who were indicted for racketeering took plea deals, most of them as cooperating witnesses.

The jury found that three of the remaining six were not guilty but that leader Jorge Cornell, his brother and an associate of the group were guilty of several counts. Charges were dropped against a seventh defendant after the prosecution rested its case, and another will be tried separately. The three defendants who were found guilty have not been sentenced yet, and their lawyers have filed motions for a retrial.

Cornell and the Latin Kings and Queens were community organizers and a regular presence in Greensboro for several years. Cornell ran unsuccessfully for city council twice, worked to open a nonprofit staffing agency, organized alongside immigrant and anti-police brutality activists, supported Hairston Homes residents facing eviction and — most notably — initiated a successful gang peace treaty in 2008. Cornell and the other defendants pleaded not guilty and many of the people they had organized with stood by them throughout the trial.

We covered other legal issues as well, including a lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging the state’s secondparent adoption laws on same-sex couples, which was filed in Greensboro in June. An October cover story explored the role of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industries Coalition and how it stays on the legal side of the line for lobbying, but the article also posed questions about the lack of local ethics and lobbying guidelines.

The primary and general elections took up a significant portion of our coverage this year as we worked to provide information on candidates and issues to inform voters. Once they were over, we provided extensive breakdowns of what happened and scoured campaign finance reports.

Our only endorsement this election cycle was to vote against the marriage amendment in May. The amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage passed easily across North Carolina and more narrowly in Guilford County, but brought organizations together to fight against it that created lasting alliances.

The general election in November saw many incumbents returning to their posts, including Sandra Alexander in the only competitive race for the Guilford County school board. Incumbent Democrats Kirk Perkins and Paul Gibson lost their county commission seats to newcomers Jerry Alan Branson and Jeff Phillips respectively. Republican Hank Henning defeated Linda Kellerman to round out the conservative bent of incoming commissioners, while Democratic newcomer Ray Trapp walked onto the commission unopposed.

Greensboro District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade won her state Senate race against Democrat Myra Slone, and city council appointed Tony Wilkins as her replacement in early December. Wilkins was approved with a 5-4 vote and will hold the office until the city council election in the fall of 2013.

Bernita Sims was elected as mayor of High Point, the first African-American to hold the position. Former Mayor Becky Smothers ran at large and was re-elected to council, as were Britt Moore and Foster Douglas. Jeff Golden, Judy Mendenhall, Jay Wagner, Jim Davis and Jason Ewing also joined them on the High Point City Council.

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