Candidate Matheny reflects on first term in office

by Jordan Green

Candidate Matheny reflects on first term in office

District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny paced with his cell phone in front of the Green Bean coffeehouse on a recent Friday afternoon, fending off a request from a fellow council member to appoint a resident to a city board. The resident had already approached Matheny, who had turned him down, and had recruited at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins to advocate for his appointment. Matheny wasn’t having it, and he sounded a little miffed at Perkins for his intervention. “I’m the youngest tenured council member,” said the 36-year-old Matheny during an interview in the courtyard behind the coffeehouse as a freight train roared by on the Norfolk-Southern line. “Think about it: Trudy, Mary and Mike had served on the county commission, so they already had experience with government boards. Robbie had served previously on council although he took two years off.” He rattled a litany of small but important demands that come with the job of representing District 3: a three-way stop sign that residents wanted, complaints about dim street lights, a constituent who was opposed to having a sidewalk run in front of her house. The councilman said he puts in 12-hour days, working 65-70 hours per week at his day job as an investor relations associate for the Bell Partners real-estate firm and 25-30 hours per week on city council business. “My perception is that when you’re running for office you’re eager,” he said. “You want to make a difference. You feel that if you can get in there you can make it happen. After you get elected, it’s trial by fire. I had a murder within my district within six weeks of getting sworn in. It was January 15, 2008. We had a meeting in a middle school gym with 850 people. I learned quickly about policing. (That, incidentally, is the same night I met my girlfriend.) You deal with the struggles of building consensus with all these controversies, but what it comes down to for most people is three basic things. The things that matter are: Is my water turned on; is my garbage getting picked up? Do I feel safe?” The current council has been working under a cloud of controversy and mistrust, mostly arising from differences of opinion over an ongoing police controversy that pits allegations of corruption among black officers against allegations of racial discrimination by members of the last police administration. City Manager Mitchell Johnson was responsible for easing out former police Chief David Wray and his circle, and so a successful effort brokered by Matheny and Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat to fire Johnson led to bitter divisions on the council. “My legacy, most people would say,” Matheny reflected, “is releasing Mitch Johnson.”

The police department and improved communication with constituents is part of his legacy, the councilman concurs, but he also thinks the current council has made positives strides in economic development that will place the city in an advantageous position when the recession eases. Take the effort to revitalize Lee Street and High Point Road, as an example. “We’ve got $5 million invested with the Canada Dry building,” he said. “We’ve got $12 million invested in the swimming pool. We’ve allocated $7 million for streetscaping. That’s from Elm and Lee streets to the Coliseum. We did it in one year. We’ve allocated a total of $24 million. Don’t forget the $2 million that we took from the state for the ACC Hall of Fame. There’s a potential for Guilford County Schools to move over to South Elm Street. We’ve got the Wyndam Championship and Kisco Senior Living at one end and Gateway campus and Gateway Gardens coming online at the other end. If High Point Road has a negative connotation, let’s rename Lee Street and High Point Road between the Lee Street exit at I-40 and Kisco Senior Living ‘Gateway Boulevard.’” He is quick to dismiss opponent George Hartzman’s criticism that the current council has been irresponsible in placing municipal bonds on the ballot. Renovation of War Memorial Auditorium, which voters rejected, is a particular concern because the building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. “We’ve got to figure something out with War Memorial Auditorium,” Matheny said. “If we don’t get stimulus money from the federal government, we have to either fix it or let it continue to fall into disrepair. In 1952, the citizens of Greensboro passed a bond to build War Memorial Auditorium to honor our veterans.” Matheny raised $46,358 in the last election cycle, leading all other district candidates. This year, he’s setting a more modest goal. “I’d like to raise $30,000,” Matheny said. “I’m trying to broaden my base. The economy has gone down, and so my constituents are in general less well off. I want to send out mailers educating the constituency about what I’ve accomplished. Mailers are expensive.”