Coalition politician promises to get job done

by Jordan Green

Municipal governance is a fluid business, said Robbie Perkins, who at 53 is a veteran on Greensboro City Council, First elected in 1993, Perkins has served continuously, with the exception of a two-year hiatus in 1996 and 1997. A commercial real-estate executive, Perkins sat in a conference room in his 6th floor office suite in downtown Greensboro and contemplated a pending vote to appropriate $153.5 million in bond funds for everything from street improvement to retrofitting rental housing to make it more energy efficient. (The council ended up voting unanimously to approve the appropriations.) “A great example is the statement the city council made last October about not issuing any new bond debt,” Perkins said Perkins. “As soon as that statement was made, we realized that there was a thirty to forty percent savings that could be had. When the new information came in, it became an easy decision to start spending the money. We’re buying the product cheap and we’re financing it at a low interest rate. It’s going to save the citizens millions of dollars over the next twenty years. I led that push.” Perkins is one of two incumbents seeking reelection to one of the council’s three atlarge seats. The crowded field also includes nine challengers. The councilman attached the same caveat to the police controversy that is currently marked by a bevy of lawsuits against the city alleging racial discrimination inside the police department. “I think the council’s posture at this time is to let them play out in the courts, so we can find out the truth,” Perkins said. Settling the suits might save the city money, “but it may not provide the level of transparency and clarity that people want.” He quickly added, “New information could change that. That’s part of our job, to respond to new information and use our judgment. It’s a dynamic process.” A registered Republican, Perkins considers himself a friend and political ally of Mayor Yvonne Johnson, who is a Democrat. He has enjoyed support from all parts of the city. The councilman said he believes his longevity in municipal politics can help steer the next council through turbulent waters. “I consider myself a stabilizing influence between the various factions,” he said. “I’ve tried to keep it statesman-like. It got down in the gutter with our firing of Mitchell Johnson.” In the past two years, Perkins has held the line against a proposal by District 4 Councilman Mike Barber, who is retiring, to reopen the White Street Landfill to household waste. Perkins’ stance is likely to play well with voters on the predominantly African-American east side. Perkins described Barber’s proposal as “a short-term solution, at best.” “The long-term solution,” he said, “is to create a series of authorities to site facilities, probably incinerators because fairly soon we’re not going to have enough ground to bury our trash. No one wants an incinerator in their backyard, so you set up regional authorities to site them. That way you also get enough mass to make it cost efficient.” The councilman has proposed that the city lend $16-17 million to the state of North Carolina to buy up the remaining right-of-way for the western section of the Urban Loop as a way to expedite the roadway’s completion. He said he would also like to revisit the city’s sign ordinance “to eliminate the clutter” on traditional corridors such as High Point Road and Battleground Avenue. “There’s nothing hard about this,” he said. “There’s not a Democrat or a Republican way to fix a pothole. Set your sites on what you’re trying to accomplish, get the job done.”