Candidate applies engineering sensibility to city politics

by Jordan Green

As an engineering consultant with 34 years of experience working with municipal governments, Gary Nixon holds an inside view of how cities provide one of their most basic services to citizens — water. As a retired company president who rose through the ranks as a partner and as someone who has studied interpersonal dynamics of elected bodies, he has formed some ideas about political decision-making. “My experience in business is, there’s always room for differences of opinion,” the 67-year-old candidate says. “There’s always a use for discussion. There comes a time when you make decisions. You have to live with that decision, whether you’re on the winning side or the losing side. “Sometimes I think the council is unwilling to make decisions,” he continued. “There was a bond last year — $1 million for housing rehabilitation. The city council could have just done that. They’re afraid to make decisions. Even if you’re elected in a landslide, which is 60-40 — you’ve still got 40 percent of the people against you. You need to step up and make the decision.”

Nixon is a true believer in annexation. “The majority of residents in the county are already hooked up to city water and they pay double,” he said. “Garbage pickup is not a big deal. You just switch over. The real judgment part is whether they have a sewer system that can be hooked up to ours. Every time we can connect their sewer systems at a reasonable cost, we should annex.” Contrary to those who argue that annexation stretches the city’s resources thin, Nixon said that county residents are already placing a burden on the city by putting wear and tear on streets but not paying their fair share of taxes. The candidate said there are several areas where the city needs to improve intersections to relieve traffic congestion. “What I can bring to the city council — and I’m going to have to check the budget to see what we can do — there’s not a soul on city council that understands capital improvements,” he said. On the matter of garbage disposal, he decried the fact that the city is paying to have its solid waste shipped down to Montgomery County, but said he does not favor reopening the White Street Landfill in northeast Greensboro to household waste, noting that “the city made a promise to those people.” Instead, he favors pursuing a regional compact to reduce the cost of garbage disposal. He said he’ll have a more detailed proposal on water and sewer rates if he clears the Oct. 6 primary, but for the time being noted that he supports the inverse rate — as a conservation measure, rates increase with volume — but would like to reduce rates for the elderly and poor so that nondiscretionary use for dishwashing and bathing is practically free. On the topic of job creation, he spoke in favor of helping small businesses. “Until we can change the national atmosphere, we need to provide tax incentives for small and medium-sized businesses. One of the great assets we have is Greensboro is a great place to raise a family. RF Micro Devices, for example, doesn’t need our help to maintain their livelihood…. The management of the company, they like living here.” Nixon applies the same dollarsand-cents perspective to the police controversy — a source of much of the polarization that has bedeviled the current council.

“I would rather that we try to mediate the legal disputes we have, and try to find a settlement that’s fair to all,” he said. “We need to move on. It happened. It’s not a very happy type of thing.” Again, he returns to his business experience. His company was sued once, and they tried to reach a settlement with the plaintiffs right up to the point in which the jury reached a verdict. The jury awarded the plaintiff nothing, but Nixon would have still preferred to settle to avoid exorbitant legal fees. “It’s not worth it to go to court,” he said. “All you’re doing is making lawyers rich. They’ll get most of that settlement anyway.”