Greensboro council meeting packed with controversy

April Fool’s Story

After hours of debate, the Greensboro City Council voted 5-4 in favor eliminating council District 5, currently represented by Tony Wilkins, who is filling out the remainder of Trudy Wade’s term after her election to state Senate. Most of the district will be redrawn into District 4, though an eastern strip will be added to District 1. District 4 Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann voted against the item, saying it would decrease the chances of a progressive holding the seat.

The debate was so divisive that several city staff members remarked that it was reminiscent of the previous council, which was known for bickering. Speakers from the floor, including several local bloggers, said this was an attempt to eliminate opposition to the performing arts center. District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small saw it differently.

“I said when we voted on Tony [Wilkins] that I couldn’t serve with him,” she said. “I meant it. It was only a matter of time until we figured out how to get rid of him.”

Bellamy-Small, Yvonne Johnson, Jim Kee and Mayor Robbie Perkins said it would help offset the historical imbalance of power west Greensboro has held over the city and would speed up decision-making.

“Look, if the Republicans can redistrict to create favorable county commissioner races, then I don’t see what’s wrong with us eliminating a pesky district,” Johnson said. “This way, some of the disenfranchised poorer folks in D5 will have a champion in Dianne [Bellamy-Small].”

The redistricted map cedes neighborhoods near High Point Road and other less wealthy areas to District 1, while turning the more homogenous, conservative white areas over to District 4.

Matheny said Greensboro has successfully eliminated racism and that he didn’t appreciate the mayor “playing the race card again,” but he still voted in favor of the item, citing the similarity between the wealthy white people in Districts 3-5.

“Let’s be honest, we go to the same golf courses, country clubs and restaurants,” Matheny said. “We sit on boards together, our kids take horseback riding lessons together… I like the practicality of the proposal but we still need to tweak it.”

Matheny, who represents downtown and northern Greensboro in District 3, added that ideally the redistricting would eventually turn District 4 over to District 3 because he could most effectively represent the west side of town. Matheny’s amended map — which weighs District 3’s vote on council to compensate for consolidation — did not pass at last week’s meeting but will be taken up in April.

Wilkins would not comment on whether he would return to blogging after being legislated off of council or whether he would run against Hoffmann for the District 4 seat.

Permanent mayor?

Council tabled a motion by Perkins to modify this fall’s city council election to allow a mayor to be elected for life. Perkins, who is serving his first term as mayor, said that Charleston has benefited from long-term leadership of Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. who took office in 1975.

The proposal would allow a candidate elected by a 65 percent margin or more to serve a life term if they desired, providing much-needed stability and the constant campaigning required by two-year terms, Perkins said. Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the proposal at its April 2 meeting.

According to the City of Charleston’s website, Riley is “widely considered one of the most visionary and highly effective governmental leaders in America,” and Perkins has routinely encouraged Greensboro to follow Riley’s example and construct a downtown performing arts center. Winston-Salem has also benefited from “mayoral consistency,” Perkins said, referring to Mayor Allen Joines.

Occupy Greensboro participant Amanda Samaritan decried Perkins’ motion, calling it “despotic” and an example of the increasing concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few.

Law enforcement

Police Chief Ken Miller addressed council to unveil the department’s new Crimestoppers campaign and to explain an upcoming temporary restraining order the city is seeking against YES! Weekly.

“Our new campaign is called ‘Stop Snitching’ and is aimed at increasing community trust in the police department,” Miller said. “Snitches are often self-serving, undermining community trust and providing false information to law enforcement in the hopes of receiving favorable treatment, and it actually makes our jobs harder. Given that there are no legal protections for confidential informants, we started to feel guilty taking advantage of people who were already in a hard place.”

Miller said the department’s cooptation of the term “stop snitching” would help the police department seem “cool” and “relatable” to youth, something the previous campaign — which consisted of texting “BADBOYZ” to the department — tried and failed to achieve.

Capt. Mike Richey spoke in support of the changes at the meeting as well.

“Nobody trusts us — it’s embarrassing,” he said. “This will help.”

Council endorsed the department’s changes 8-1. The city failed to obtain a restraining order against a YES! Weekly article about police surveillance in late January but Miller said this time is different.

“If we don’t stop the publication of rogue paper’s next cover story, the good people of Guilford County will suffer,” Miller said. “Every year a significant number of them are fooled by YES! Weekly’s incisive April Fools issue humor, and we aim to stop them. That’s why we’re here — to protect you and serve [restraining orders and search warrants].”