Effort to provide disclosure on solid waste vendors scuttled

by Jordan Green

The Greensboro City Council was scheduled to discuss a proposal Tuesday night requiring anyone with a request before council to disclose all communications with elected officials, including private companies seeking to contract with the city to handle its solid waste.

The motion reflects the outcome of a clash between at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins and District 4 Councilman Mike Barber during the Nov. 10 meeting.

“The way this process has been handled so far, I don’t like it a bit,” Perkins said. “I want to flush out some of the reasons it’s being handled the way it’s being handled.” He added, “I do not think it’s being handled properly, and it gets worse and worse. I’m just not going to stand for an inside deal being cut on solid waste in this community.”

City Manager Rashad Young issued a request for proposals for a solid waste management system at the instigation of Barber. Perkins has argued that the city should hire a consultant to guide the city council on alternatives for solid waste disposal instead of allowing private vendors to make proposals.

“Because of the size and length of this contract and the amount of money that is on the table, there’s going to be an extraordinary amount of lobbying of elected officials, both those that are seated in this body and those that will be seated on this body, with regards to the various vendors that are interested in responding to the RFP,” Perkins said at the council’s Nov. 10 meeting. “And I would ask that we put an addendum on this RFP that would require that anyone who makes application detail their meetings and/or contacts with the various elected officials that have the responsibility of making this decision.”

Barber offered a substitute motion to include any communication with a council member by any person with a stake in any item on the agenda.

Perkins derided Barber’s attempt to broaden the motion, stating that his colleague’s intent was “simply to confuse the issue further as opposed to being productive,” prompting applause from a group of residents from the area surrounding the White Street Landfill.

Perkins’ statement that he wanted to restore public trust set Barber off on a tirade.

“Let’s talk about public trust and about real estate,” the District 4 councilman said. “Let’s go all the way back to Project Homestead.… Robbie had a close relationship with Mike King, got a lot of money from the city, always an issue about disclosure, never any disclosure. Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart or Lowes out Cone Boulevard, out Highway 29. Conversation with those builders. Lunch with builders and the developers. Gotta have $300,000 to bring that in. $300,000 never materialized. It was built anyway. High Point Road. You and I exchanged e-mails and had conversations on that…. If we really want to have public trust then let’s just broaden it and have disclosure about any conversation about any matter that’s on this agenda. And don’t fear it; just do it. Same thing, you objected to the disclosures with regard to state disclosures. If we’re going to disclose, let’s disclose. I think it was probably an error for you to bring this issue up.”

Perkins is president of NAI Piedmont Triad, a commercial real estate brokerage. Later, he responded to Barber’s remarks by saying that all the properties represented by his company are marked by signs.

Perkins said he didn’t think the motion would go anywhere on Tuesday, and expected it to be deferred until the newly elected council holds its retreat on Dec. 11 and 12. Barber retires from the council on Dec. 1.

Greensboro council reduces fines for landlords

The council voted on Nov. 10 to eliminate fines for the first 45 days after landlords are cited for housing code violations, and to reduce the fine thereafter from $75 to $25. The new language reads: “If the unit is found to be out of compliance during the initial inspection, and the violations are not corrected within the 45-day cure period, or the applicable cure period as determined by the building inspector… a daily civil penalty of $25 per day shall be imposed beginning on the expiration of the cure period, and shall continue to accumulate until the violations are cured as verified by the building inspector.”

The amendment was requested by the RUCO Appeals and Advisory Board, and approved by council. The two dissenting votes came from Mayor Yvonne Johnson and District 2 Councilwoman Goldie Wells. Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat, at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins, at-large Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw, District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny, District 4 Councilman Mike Barber and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade supported the measure. District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small was absent.

Two landlords have appealed fines levied by the RUCO board, according to meeting materials provided by city staff, and the board felt that the fees were excessive. Reno LLC was assessed a fine of $7,250 for violations at 800 Hertford St., and the trustee for the estate of Virgil A. Spaulding was assessed a fine of $4,325 for violations at 705 W. Terrell St. Materials included in city council members’ packet state that the amendments will retroactively reduce the fines respectively to about $1,500 and $500.

“I was very disappointed that the majority of the RUCO board is made up of landlords [who] will bring to the council proposed changes of the code of ordinances with respect to inspection fees and civil penalties,” said Willena Cannon, a Greensboro Housing Coalition employee who holds a seat on the board. “I strongly oppose and ask the council to oppose amendment to eliminate the current 75-dollars-a-day fee for substandard housing to zero dollars a day for 45 days. Why should this council reverse all the hard work that we’ve done to ensure safe housing by amending an ordinance to allow slumlandlord conditions to go unpunished?

This is wrong. It sends the wrong signal, and should be rejected.”

Cannon said the board is dominated by seven landlords, with the remaining four seats being held by people with no association to the industry, and that landlord members “hide behind the fact of being members of other organizations and not saying that they’re landlords.”

Cannon also asked the council “to pass a policy to remove a landlord from the RUCO board that’s not in compliance with the board that’s going to be ruling,” referring to Todd Rotruck. “It makes no sense,” she said. “It’s like the fox guarding the henhouse.”

Groat defended the reduction in fines. “It’s very, very hard for people to provide places to rent that are $350, $450 and actually keep people off the street and give them housing,” she said. “Very often these places are rented by immigrants who live in a different way than we do, and their places are all torn up. And I don’t believe in slum-landlords either, but I do believe in providing something that will give people shelter, and I think that we’re pushing people against the wall to where they’re not going to be able to do that, and it’s going to add another layer of homelessness.”

Jay Ovittore, chairman of the city’s Montgomery/Wells Housing Committee, also pleaded with the council to not approve the amendments.

Additional costs for swim center

The Greensboro Aquatic Center has all the markings of the Gate City’s version of Winston-Salem’s downtown ballpark, considering its ballooning price-tag.

Enter the Guilford County/ Greensboro Tourism Development Authority.

Henri Fourrier, president of the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, has asked the city council “to borrow the necessary funds against existing and future revenues… to construct the aquatic center. A resolution passed by the tourism authority notes that “the bond revenue dollars for construction of the Greensboro Aquatic Center are less than the amount needed” to construct the facility to US Swimming Association standards.

Finance Director Rick Lusk planned

to appear before thecouncil with City Manager Rashad Young on Tuesday to discuss thefeasibility and fiscal impact of borrowing the funds to complete theproject.

Thecontract for the project is valued at $16.7 million and the designcosts $1.4 million, with a total price tag of $18.1 million, and yetthe bond approved for the aquatic center covers only $12 million. Theresulting gap is $6.1 million.

At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins questioned Engineering & Inspection Director Butch Simmons about the cost of the project.

“Noone ever thought that the swim center could be built for $12 million,including the architectural,” Perkins said, “and we knew there would bea gap there, so to describe this as a ‘shortfall’ is maybe — therewasn’t ever any intention of getting it done for $12 million. If, Mr.Simmons, we don’t move forward with this project, in your professionalopinion, what would this same facility cost two years from now when theeconomy reheats?” “Two years from now, when material prices — concrete,steel and masonry — go back up, along with the business climate,”Simmons replied, “you’d be looking at $25 million.”

Perkins said, “This probably is this community’s best chance to do this facility.”

Theproject has been championed by both factions of council, and membersare likely to come through with the funds to close the gap, but theaquatic center has created resentment among some residents of eastGreensboro.

“You’regonna borrow money for that, and we can’t even get economic developmentin east Greensboro,” Sharon Hightower said. “I just don’t understandthat.”

City gives tax break to airport

The city councilsteered a total of $3.3 million to the Piedmont Triad Airport Authorityon Nov. 10. The package includes a $1.5 million incentives grant froman economic development bond approved by voters three years ago and$1.8 million from the City-County Joint Water & Sewer Trust Fund.

In approving the useof the economic development bond funds, the council bypassed aprovision of the city’s Urban Development Investment Guidelinesrequiring that the location be in the city’s corporate limits or in anarea likely to be annexed within five years.

DeputyCity Manager Bob Morgan explained that the majority of the monies inthe City-County Joint Water & Sewer Trust Fund “come from water andsewer customers that live outside the corporate limits of the city.”

The investment plays into the much hyped “aerotropolis” concept.

“Thisis one of our pristine areas of job growth potential,” District 3Councilman Zack Matheny said. “The fact that it is recognized that ifwe move forward [with] this, we will not receive taxes for quite sometime on the years, we’re making a statement that this is the best placewe’ve got to put our funds to create jobs for our citizens.”

State takes back beer and wine money

The state budgetadopted by the NC General Assembly in August included a 66 percentreduction in beer and wine tax revenue to cities and counties,resulting in a loss of $800,940 to the city of Greensboro. District 4Councilman Mike Barber, who puts in his last day on council next month,asked the public to assist the council on the matter, adding, “I’mdoing my part.”