2013 news in review: Greensboro

by Eric Ginsburg @Eric_Ginsburg

Anytime there is a municipal election, it’s bound to be a busy local news year, but 2013 was particularly packed. Greensboro started off its packed year accordingly, with a robust neighborhood-level mobilization against Duke Energy’s tree-trimming practices.

It only grew from there, as city council considered and passed two more noise ordinance revisions, pushed for a shakeup at Downtown Greensboro Inc., dealt with external and internal police issues, called an emergency meeting to pass a temporary teen curfew, struggled with a shopping center in east Greensboro, approved a loan to the International Civil Rights Museum and soldiered forward on a planned performing arts center.

The Greensboro City Council tackled more, of course, formalizing a committee structure including one to take a more serious look at the idea of a participatory budgeting process. The city wasn’t the only force propelling news in the Gate City this year though, not by a long shot.

As is to be expected in a city with so many colleges, Greensboro’s universities traded places taking YES! Weekly’s headlines, and not just due to a September profile of each college’s sustainability efforts.

Much of that news related to growing pains. The board of NC A&T University shot down a city plan to extend Florida Street to McConnell Road. City leaders said the effort to increase connectivity on the east side is a core way to correct imbalanced development in the city, but nearby residents and A&T saw it as an unwelcome incursion onto the historically-black university’s campus farm. The board’s vote against the plan immediately killed the city’s plans, at least for now.

Residents living in historic neighborhoods just south of Lee Street — that city council voted to rename Gate City Boulevard this year — expressed frustration at two schools’ actions. Resistance to UNCG’s planned $91 million recreation center gained momentum in the fall semester, with a cadre of students pushing back against their school’s expansion and some residents joining in the fight.

Greensboro College’s plans in the city’s oldest black neighborhood, Warnersville, were less transparent as the year began. The school aimed to unload property it acquired during an earlier expansion phase, but the uncertainty frustrated some residents, who previously expressed a desire to save the JC Price School and a wariness of what they saw as the college’s unwelcome takeover.

A&T and UNCG also made headlines, alongside GTCC and Cone Health, when a joint downtown university campus was announced at the corner of South Elm and Lee streets.

Other news emerged from the grassroots this year, too. Nonprofit FaithAction International House initiated an immigrant ID program to provide residents with a recognized form of identification, decreasing the likeliness of unnecessary arrests and headaches. The Greensboro Police Department embraced the program, and it successfully launched in mid-summer.

Several of the things on city council’s agenda were placed there by a groundswell of community mobilization, including a persistent push for participatory budgeting, a rapid mobilization for a stricter tree-trimming ordinance and the Renaissance Shopping Center.

After gearing up in the latter half of 2012, an effort to bring a grocery store to the former Bessemer Shopping Center on Phillips Avenue garnered significant city council support in 2013. The Renaissance Community Cooperative urged the city to come up with a way to help the grocery move in after more than a decade of unanswered community desire for greater food accessibility. The initial plan, that involved investors represented by former Guilford County commissioner Skip Alston, fell through after it was clear co-op supporters opposed the deal. A community meeting involving the city planned for mid-December was postponed until January, leaving the issue unresolved in 2013. Co-op supporters, including a majority of council, are hopeful a plan will be worked out that includes the Renaissance Community Cooperative.

The Beloved Community Center and other community members continued to push for a citizens review board of the police department, an idea that gained little traction with the new or old city council. Several major policerelated developments did occur this year, including the settlement of the majority of the internal discrimination lawsuits in the fall.

New issues popped up too, especially after two incidents involving Bennett College and A&T students in the Sebastian Village apartments at the end of the spring semester. In the more prominent interaction between police and students, four Bennett Belles were arrested at a graduation party.

NC Sen. Gladys Robinson brought more than 150 people together at a community meeting in support of defendant Ashley Buchanan, who was later found not guilty of assaulting or resisting an officer. The incident led to an officer being fired for untruthfulness and other disciplinary action in the department, but calls for wider reform went largely unnoticed.

This year will also be remembered for dramatic legislation coming out of the NC General Assembly, including changes to voting laws. A preliminary hearing in three lawsuits challenging the law was held in Winston-Salem earlier this month, but the trial won’t begin until 2015. The US Justice Department is one of the plaintiffs taking action against the state.

The state legislature’s new bout of laws, affecting everything from abortion to teacher tenure, caused a political backlash around the country and birthed the Moral Monday protest movement at home. Countless Greensboro residents, including Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter and now- Councilman Jamal Fox, participated. And several, such as the Rev. Frank Dew, were arrested as part of a massive civil disobedience campaign.

YES! Weekly covered plenty of other Greensboro news issues in depth as well; a company that allegedly scammed more than a dozen employees and at least two other agencies, a fast-food workers strike, development along the downtown greenway’s north side, a new performance space called the Crown at the Carolina Theatre.

At the end of January, YES! Weekly revealed the results of a multi-month investigation into Greensboro police surveillance of activists. The night before the issue was distributed the city attempted to obtain a temporary restraining order to prevent the article from circulation, but a judge slapped the request down. Months before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA, the article painted a detailed picture of the police department’s surveillance operation and altered the city’s public-information request process.

And of course, there was the fall city council election. Mayor Robbie Perkins lost his reelection bid to Nancy Vaughan, who was serving as an atlarge councilwoman. Even more unexpected for many, two first-time candidates toppled experienced incumbents in the southeast and east northeast of Greensboro. Jamal Fox, who is just 25, defeated Jim Kee in District 2 while Sharon Hightower, a former ally of Dianne Bellamy-Small, squeaked past her with a mere 12 votes.

Mike Barber, who previously served on council, joined the team by filling Vaughan’s vacant at-large seat and Nancy Hoffmann beat back conservative ex-mayor Bill Knight in District 4.

Before it was all said and done, YES! Weekly provided extensive coverage of the races. Thanks to repeated interviews, forum coverage and investigative work, readers learned about Kee and Fox’s allegations about each other, a candidate who ran in the hopes of meeting a wife and the nuanced differences between the mayoral candidates.

There are a few things that 2014 will almost certainly bring, including NC Utilities Commission hearing about four issues Greensboro and Duke Energy couldn’t agree on and some resolution around the Renaissance Center. Other issues will possibly resurface, such as the noise ordinance when a related case makes it to court, scheduled for summer 2014.

It’s reasonable to expect more community-police issues, debates about the city’s annual budget, progress on the greenway and continued discourse about downtown including the performing arts center and downtown university campus. Whatever important issues emerge in Greensboro, YES!

Weekly will be in the thick of it, pen in hand, asking probing questions, digging through files and exploring the complexities of each topic at length. !