The Greensboro City Council squabbled for 14 months over the role and powers of then City Manager Mitchell Johnson and an administrative matter related to the resignation of former police Chief David Wray — an event that had little to no significance to the quality of life of the vast majority of the residents — as a global economic crisis bore down on the city. It should come as no surprise that the council’s disunity is now spilling over to matters vitally important to the economic health of Greensboro. The council held a lengthy discussion on April 7 about the city’s request for federal economic stimulus money. Assistant City Manager Denise Turner allowed that it would be helpful for the council to outline its priorities, but members quizzed staff about arcana instead of deliberating as a unified body, making some personal compromises and giving staff clear direction. Finally, Mayor Yvonne Johnson advised her fellow council members to communicate their “passions” individually to Turner. At-large member Robbie Perkins has many flaws, including contempt for the press and a refusal to examine policies as formulated and executed by department heads, but credit him for making bold proposals when the council is mired in disarray. Perkins moved that the council give staff clear direction to “number one, go out and get all the money we can,” and two, to utilize council to go to Raleigh to lobby legislators for funding. Perkins and District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small are members of the Transportation Advisory Committee for the Greensboro Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and, as such, Perkins pointed out that they have a level of expertise on transportation that could be helpful in lobbying state lawmakers on the NC Senate Select Committee on Economic Recovery, which will be steering federal money to municipalities. Incidentally, Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford), a former Greensboro council member, holds a seat on the committee. Yes, citizen watchdogs and journalists should closely monitor which projects the transportation advisory committee advocates and which ones the General Assembly funds. Perkins is a developer, with a vested in interest in where roadway is laid down, which influences where shopping centers are likely to be built and real estate prices are likely to rise. So, too, incidentally, is Guilford County Commissioner Mike Winstead, also a member of the transportation advisory committee. And Perkins is a longtime champion of the Heart of the Triad concept for managed development in the remaining rural area between the Greensboro, High Point and Kernersville. There are major issues of ecological integrity and local landowner rights that need to be carefully deliberated with all stakeholders at the table, local and state officials should take care not to ram projects through in this sensitive area without adequate consultation. Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat made a plea for transparency. To which lame-duck District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells responded, “We have a problem getting everybody together…. I think you need to trust everybody in their expertise…. Everybody’s not going to hear the same thing at the same time, and even if we do we won’t interpret it the same way. Fair enough. Delegate some authority, and move fast on federal money at a time when people are hurting from unemployment and poor consumer confidence. But District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade made a request that was reasonable. She asked that Perkins, who chairs the transportation advisory committee, to report periodically to council members on new developments in the stimulus funding requests. Unfortunately, Perkins missed an opportunity to build trust. “I don’t perceive it to be my job to disseminate information to the entire council,” he said.
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