Council business: golf, smoking and HIV

by Jordan Green

The Greensboro City Council dispatched two welcome items on their agenda in unanimous votes at a Feb. 7 meeting, following two consecutive meetings overshadowed by questions of how much information to share with the public about turmoil within the police department over contending allegations of racial profiling and corruption.

The council voted 8-0 to approve a resolution in support of the PGA golf tournament previously known as the Greater Greensboro Open. District 2 councilwoman Goldie Wells was absent. Although the resolution fell short of a binding commitment it obligates the city to back the tournament with $332,000 if the tournament fails to find a new corporate sponsor following DaimlerChrysler’s withdrawal.

‘“If we do find a title sponsor, this obligation will disappear,’” said George House, a board member of the charitable foundation that oversees the tournament. ‘“I don’t believe we’ll have any difficulty finding a sponsor.’”

The council members voted for the resolution of support with smiles on their faces.

‘“Y’all need to be commended for breathing life into a tournament which was about to breathe its last,’” said District 3 councilman Tom Phillips.

The tournament was required to make a $25 million guarantee to the Professional Golf Association to keep its place on the calendar. Private individuals quickly pledged $21 million, and the tournament has turned to the city and other local governments to make up the rest. Tournament director Mark Brazil also happily announced last month that the Greensboro tournament’s date will be moved back from October to August starting in 2007. The new date is a more prominent slot on the tour calendar.

Lee Porter, a Greensboro real estate broker who played professional golf on the PGA circuit for six years, made a case for the tournament’s economic benefit to the city, although few council members seemed to need persuading.

‘“There are 156 players and each player spends three to four thousand dollars in the city on lodging, rental cars and food,’” he said. ‘“Each player every week will have a caddy. They could have teachers, trainers. There are getting to be marketing agents. Family. That’s a big group of people that will spend money.’”

House said the tournament has donated $3 million to charitable organizations over the past 10 years. The tournament donated more than $842,000 to more than 80 charities in 2005, and has set a goal of more than $1 million in 2006. Some of the organizations that have received funding from the tournament include the MS Society of Central North Carolina, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Triad Health Project and Second Harvest Food Bank.

The council also voted unanimously to ban indoor smoking at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. A designated indoor smoking area has never worked out satisfactorily, said Managing Director Matt Brown.

‘“We’ve tried using an exhaust system, but it never worked in anybody’s estimation,’” he said. The new designated smoking area, he added, will be in an outside area that allows access to event-goers.

At-large councilwoman Florence Gatten said the indoor smoking ban will be in effect in time for the Women’s ACC Basketball Tournament that begins on March 2.

In a section of the meeting set aside for council members to make reports on items of personal interest, the council briefly visited the grimmer issue of HIV infection among African Americans, though not with the level of engagement as those of indoor smoking at the coliseum or preserving the golf tournament.

District 1 councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small noted that Feb. 7 was National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day, and read from a brochure produced by the US Department of Health. As she outlined instructions for how to avoid contracting HIV, members of the council and city staff, including Mayor Keith Holliday, council members Phillips and Sandra Anderson-Groat, City Manager Mitchell Johnson and Assistant City Manager Ben Brown and even Bellamy-Small herself, burst into laughter.

‘“That’s a first,’” the mayor said.

Bellamy-Small continued: ‘“I do want to take this seriously. In Guilford County we are at epidemic proportions in terms of HIV and AIDS. Okay.’”

The mayor caught himself, and agreed. ‘“This is very serious,’” he said, before moving the meeting forward by calling on Gatten to make her report.

According to the US Department of Health, an estimated 1.0 to 1.2 million HIV positive individuals live in the United States today ‘— the largest number ever. African Americans represented half of all newly diagnosed AIDS cases in 2004.

HIV and AIDS also disproportionately sicken blacks and other non-whites in Guilford County, said Caroline Moseley, community health education manager for the county Department of Public Health.

State researchers gauge the effect of HIV and AIDS on North Carolinians by estimating the potential years of life lost because of the disease, Moseley said. In Guilford County, 907 potential years of life were estimated as lost in 2004 by members of all races due to HIV and AIDS. Of those, nonwhites ‘— mostly African Americans, account for 686 years, or 76 percent of the total.

‘“HIV is categorically killing our minority population,’” Moseley said. ‘“It’s taking away years of productivity. People die of HIV so much younger than when they die of heart disease or cancer or other chronic illnesses. We’re losing our minority population’s contribution to our culture and county ‘— their work, their creativity, their time with their family, the money they spend.’”

The rate of infection is growing in Guilford County ‘—’ in some groups faster than others, she said.

‘“Where we see it going up the most in Guilford County is among young African American males under the age of 25 who have sex with other men but do not identify themselves as gay,’” Moseley said. ‘“To a lesser extent we see it going up with young African American women who have sex with those men.’”

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