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Council members object to rushed code enforcement contract

by Whitney Kenerly

Local bloggerBen Holder, a former City Council candidate, has been contracted by the City ofGreensboro to perform code enforcement services to assist with neighborhoodimprovement efforts.

In the lastseveral months, Holder has been outspoken about what he feels to be negligencein the maintenance of properties that include corner markets and a downtown propertyowned by council member Nancy Hoffman.

At a CityCouncil session on July 15, some members were outraged by the way the contractwas issued.

The hiringprocess was atypical for contracts, council members said, as the city onlyposted the RFP online.

One of thespecial projects highlighted in the RFP is code enforcement for Heritage Housein Greensboro. Councilwoman Sharon Hightower felt that the contractinfringed upon her efforts as someone who had been working on Heritage Househerself.

During thepublic comment period, Ed McKeever brought up his indignation over theagreement, prompting council to respond.

“Today, I’mvery upset,” said Hightower. “I’m very disappointed that we are operating inthis way. I’m a person on this council and I keep getting overlooked and I justdon’t understand that.”

CouncilwomanMarikay Abuzaiter felt it was an insult to Council for the City Manager’s officeto hire someone who has been known to publicly berate council members duringmeetings and on his blog. Holder’s blog,thetroublemaker.blogspot.com, iscurrently set to private.

During a CityCouncil meeting on June 3, Holder presented a slideshow of dilapidatedproperties on downtown Lewis Street, one owned by Hoffman. Holder accusedHoffman of hypocrisy for not keeping her properties up to a code that sheherself voted for.

Hoffmanresponded by thanking Holder for bringing the state of the properties to herattention, and attempted to explain that she had purchased the buildings inOctober for historic preservation, but Holder turned his back and walked out ofthe chambers as Mayor Nancy Vaughan and other council members tried to regainhis attention.

On June13 the City issued a request for proposals (RFP) for code enforcementservices. The city needed assistance with special projects related tohousing. “Our housing department is severely understaffed,” said Vaughan.”And as you know, housing is an extremely important issue to us.”

The cityawarded contracts to the two bidders who responded, Ben Holder and Beth McKee-Hugerof the Greensboro Housing Coalition. “The Neighborhood DevelopmentDepartment routinely bids and retains contracts for multiple services includingnuisance and board-up work, testing and inspections, and code enforcementservices,” said Greensboro Communication Specialist, Jake Keys.

In light ofHolder’s colorful personality, Mayor Vaughan said the applicants were hired forprofessional reasons. “They were chosen based on their skills, not theirpersonalities,” said Vaughan.

At themeeting, Abuzaiter also said that she had gone to the City Manager personallyon July 2 and asked him to suspend Holder’s application.

“This hascertainly gone behind council’s back with someone who has stood here andscreamed at almost every person on this council,” said Abuzuaiter. “I’m notsure what is going on here, but it does not smell pretty.”

The terms ofthe contract were also curious to Hightower and Abuzuaiter. Holder isbeing paid $2,000 upfront for his services, and then $45 an hour over thecourse of 20 weeks.

“I’ve neverheard in the history of contracts of a case where there has ever beenprepayment for a person’s services,” said Abuzuaiter.

Abuzuaiterthen asked the City Manager Jim Westmoreland to publicly confirm that he hadasked council to refrain from discussing the matter with the public for thepresent time. Westmoreland acknowledged that he had requested that council membersbring all concerns directly to his office.

After nearly30 minutes of discussion, councilmember Mike Barber said he felt it was time tomove on. This further angered Abuzuaiter and Hightower.

“The personwe are talking about has stood here and commanded 30 minutes or more ofcouncil’s time on several occasions,” said Abuzuaiter.

Barbersuggested that a Town Hall meeting might be a more appropriate venue for thediscussion.

“I would lovea Town Hall,” said Hightower. “I think that’s a great idea. Of courseMike probably wouldn’t come just like he hasn’t been to the last 15 that I’veattended.”

EventuallyVaughan attempted to reign in the heated discussion. “Say what you have to say,but say it with some dignity,” said Vaughan.

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