Groat looks for fresh start with new manager

by Jordan Green

When it came time to give her closing statement at a candidate forum held at the Greensboro Historical Museum on Sept. 22, Sandra Anderson Groat used her time to explain why she made the motion and cast one of the deciding votes to fire City Manager Mitchell Johnson in March.

“I met with the city manager on a regular basis every Friday morning for a year and publicly supported him,” she said. “I was not coerced by anybody. But over a period of a year I really just had questions. I just couldn’t get a hundred percent behind him, not because of anything directly to do with the police department. But our city council was divided and a lot of that division was to do with him.”

Since her first run for city council in 2005, Groat has garnered the highest number of votes in the at-large race, giving her the title of mayor pro tem. With that privilege has come the burden of having to please divergent constituencies, and in March Groat made an anguishing decision to withdraw her support from Johnson. Along with District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny, she joined a faction of three council members who had been pushing for Johnson’s removal since the beginning of the term.

Groat also assumed a leadership role in the selection of Greensboro’s new city manager, Rashad Young, who starts his new job on Oct. 16. Groat was selected to chair the subcommittee that chose the executive search firm that located Young, and acted as liaison between staff and the search firm.

“Our new city manager is going to change the energy,” Groat said in a recent interview. “He’s a very forward-thinking, driven guy. I think everybody was working together when we hired him.”

With the opportunity for a fresh start, Groat is calling for the new council to establish a 10-year plan for the city.

“I think we should spend however long it takes in a retreat,” Groat said. “We will have to talk about our individual things that are important. We need to choose a few really important things that we can work on in the long term, and I think we need to be able to agree on those things. I think Rashad will be able to implement those. I think we’ve had to put out some fires with this council, and there’s not been an opportunity to do that. It should be revisited every two years, probably not at election time.”

Despite the desire of many candidates and citizens to get beyond past divisions that have roiled city council, the manager’s office and the police department, Groat acknowledged that the council has more work to do on that front. Several lawsuits filed by current members of the police department remain pending against the city, and the next council will have to decide whether to settle them or go to court.

“On one hand, I hate to spend a lot of money for attorneys,” Groat said. “On the other hand, I feel that the public is going to feel betrayed and feel that we have something to hide if we settle. I believe so strongly that public trust is so important that we need to let it play out.”

Groat has plainly told the voters that she wants to serve another term, but approaches the campaign with equanimity. “I would like another term,” she said. “I don’t know what my political future is.

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