Former councilwoman seeks to serve again

by Jordan Green

Nancy Vaughan has been watching Greensboro City Council meetings ever since she retired from the council in 2001 to give birth to her daughter. She had married a fellow council person, Don Vaughan, in the middle of her second and final term. He served on the council through 2005, and is now a freshman in the NC Senate.

In February, she took a break from watching a city council meeting from home and called her husband in Raleigh as he was conducting his legal practice from a condo after a day at the General Assembly. The former councilwoman was exasperated by the council members’ decision to delay a vote on restoring the protest petition — a measure that allows rezoning opponents who gather a sufficient number of signatures from neighbors to require council to approve changes by a 75-percent supermajority.

The council had voted unanimously to recommend that the General Assembly restore the protest petition in January, but with the proviso that three competing interest groups negotiate new thresholds that would be unique to Greensboro. In March members of the Greensboro legislative delegation, including Nancy Vaughan’s husband, voted to restore the protest petition without any changes.

“It came up during the short session in 2008,” she recalled. “If the council was to broker some kind of compromise, the time would have been then, not the eleventh hour.”

The council’s dithering on the protest petition was part of a trifecta of disappointments that contributed to Vaughan’s resolve earlier this year to run for city council.

“The other thing I found frustrating is it appeared the council didn’t have its act together with the legislative agenda,” she said. “With the stimulus funding, nobody was asking, ‘Have we actually asked for enough money?’ It never seemed to get done. Whether or not you agree with the federal stimulus package, the money is coming to North Carolina and Greensboro should receive some of it.”

Vaughan also said she has been disturbed at the council’s lack of cohesion.

“When I was on council we could agree to disagree,” she said. “The art of compromise is that nobody comes away 100 percent happy. We’ve dug our heels in too deep in a win-lose stance, and the city’s losing.”

Vaughan is a seasoned politician in a herd of candidates stampeding for the council’s three at-large positions. Incumbents Sandra Anderson Groat, who currently serves as mayor pro tem, and Robbie Perkins have also filed. So too has Marikay Abuzuaiter, who came 623 votes short two years ago from securing an at-large position. Abuzuaiter lost to Mary Rakestraw, who is filing this year in District 4. The field also includes newcomers Julie Lapham, who managed Yvonne Johnson’s successful bid for mayor in 2007, Max Benbassat, DJ Hardy and Danny Thompson.

The 48-year-old Vaughan moved to Greensboro after dropping out of Fairfield University in Connecticut. “My dream job was to be a lobbyist in Washington, but life intervened,” she said during a recent interview at her house in Greensboro’s tony Irving Park section. “I moved to Greensboro because of its great quality of life, its good climate, its relatively low taxes and its better housing values.”

The future candidate cut her political teeth in a rezoning fight against Jefferson-Pilot Corp., a Greensboro insurance company that was later absorbed by Pennsylvania-based Lincoln National Corp.

She and other residents of the Jefferson Gardens neighborhood launched a petition drive to block the company from building a shopping center on New Garden Road that would have rivaled the Friendly Center in size. Vaughan and her allies contended that the area did not have enough infrastructure to support the planned growth. Most critically, it lacked an elementary school. “It became a life of its own,” Vaughan said. “I got caught up in this whole rezoning craze. I had all this frustration that people weren’t listening.”

Ultimately, Jefferson- Pilot agreed to donate a parcel of land to Guilford County Schools to build a new school and agreed to sell some land for open space when funding from the Piedmont Land Conservancy materialized.

During her two terms on city council, Vaughan grappled with at least two issues that may prove relevant again.

Then representing District 4, which covers much of the city’s northwest quadrant, she was part of a unanimous vote to close the White Street Landfill in District 2 to household waste. Over the past two years Mike Barber, District 4’s current representative has proposed reopening the landfill.

“We would need to see what has changed in the last five or six years,” Vaughan said. “I don’t see there is a harm in looking at the facts, but I think there would have to be a compelling reason to reopen the landfill. It’s something that has to be looked at in both its economic and emotional aspects. I’m sure everybody who lives there thinks this issue was put to rest. Now, they’re in for some sleepless nights.”

Vaughan recalled recognizing that there weren’t enough votes to keep the landfill open, and resigning herself to vote with the majority to avoid acrimony. On other issues, she stuck to her guns, voting against a living-wage ordinance, favoring a decision to tear down the old Morningside Homes public housing project and rejecting a police review board with subpoena power. On the final matter, she has changed tack.

“The issue with the police review board, people who didn’t support it last time, support it now,” she said. “People who supported it last time don’t support it now. I’m one of those who have changed positions in the past 10 years. I think we do need a review board, so we can air some of these issues more quickly.”

Vaughan said she considers race relations in Greensboro to be “at an all-time low.” Then she waded into the most racially polarizing subject currently bedeviling the city — contending allegations of racial discrimination against black police officers and allegations of improper conduct by the same group. The candidate said she favors allowing the lawsuits to go to court. “I think we should have a full airing of the facts,” she said. “If the city is guilty of institutional racism, then we need to fix that. If not city is not, then we need to be vindicated.”

She harbors some skepticism towards the plaintiffs’ claims, explaining that she finds it odd that an assistant chief, Ron Rogers, is among the plaintiffs alleging discrimination.

Chief David Wray “was basically emasculated from his position” when Mitchell Johnson locked him out of his office and accepted his resignation, she said. “The way that happened set us up for everything that has come.”

Vaughan’s husband was once asked at a town-hall meeting whether his wife’s candidacy for city council would influence him against supporting a bill that would allow public financing in municipal elections. The city council candidate took umbrage, noting that she and her husband have always run separate campaigns. She added later that after their wedding, they voted the same way on council as before and, if anything, expressed disagreements between each other a little more stridently than before.

“Certainly I don’t see a downside to it,” she said. “We’re not a voting bloc. We don’t serve on the same board. And I have had council people calling me and asking me about” business before the NC Senate.

She doesn’t support the Public Municipal Campaigns bill, citing the burden on local taxpayers. And besides, money doesn’t determine the outcome of elections as much as people might think, she suggested.

“In my first election I raised $7,000,” she recalled. “My opponent raised $34,000. I beat him. I outworked him…. In a local race you can really work hard. I went to just about every door in the district. My opponent went out and bought sweatshirts for poll workers on election day. I think you can make it up in sweat equity.”