Knight runs on business and policing issues

by Jordan Green

Bill Knight, a 71-year-old retired certified public accountant who is challenging Yvonne Johnson for mayor, recalled that he would meet his best friend and former running buddy, David Williams, at Port City Java before his friend died.

Williams had been a deputy police chief and considered a strong contender for the top job in the Greensboro Police Department before his retirement in the late 1990s.

“We would sit and read the newspaper and solve the problems of the world,” Knight recalled. “Officers would come in; they probably didn’t recognize him because of the chemo. It really demoralized him: It seems like the officers would be there longer than we would. They would spend 30 to 40 minutes on a break.”

Knight has spent a lot of time talking about the various challenges in the police department over the course of the campaign. His comments reflect a sense of nostalgia for old friendships within the department, and a sense that things have gone wrong in the department.

In early October, he reminisced during a candidate forum held at the Greensboro Public Library about the downtown of his past, about driving a delivery truck and selling linoleum and tires at the Montgomery Ward department store.

“I spent a lot of time downtown over the years,” he said. “I had a lot of friends in the police department. I used to be a runner, a longdistance runner, and we ran there. So I’ve seen a lot going on in downtown.”

On the night that the city council voted to fire former City Manager Mitchell Johnson, Knight spoke asked the body to reimburse David Wray for his legal expenses and to issue a public apology to the former chief. The council discussed the possibility at its most recent meeting but failed to take action.

“This is a step to heal the rift in the city,” Knight said last week during a midafternoon break from campaigning at Yum Yum Better Ice Cream near the campus of UNCG.

Thepolice department presents an array of challenges to the new citymanager, Rashad Young, as well as the next mayor and council. Among theitems of old business is determining how to handle a number of lawsuitsfiled by black officers who claim to have been subjected to racialdiscrimination under Wray’s administration.

“Anything that needs to go to court, let it go to court,” Knight said. “I do not favor a financial settlement.”

Henoted that one of the plaintiffs is an assistant chief, adding, “Wecannot have an effective police department when one of the assistantchiefs is bringing a lawsuit against the city.”

Amore vexing matter might be current and ongoing allegations ofmisconduct within the police department. Knight has a decision byformer interim City Manager Bob Morgan to reinstate police Officer AJBlake “regrettable.” Blake was acquitted by a Guilford County jury ofassaulting his girlfriend and another woman at a drunken police partyin January. But Blake has leveled accusations of misconduct againstofficers himself, including that other officers at the January policeparty were involved in a swingers club, that supervising officers havemade derogatory comments towards Hispanics and harassed Hispanic gangmembers. Some view Blake as a whistleblower; others see him as anofficer who is trying to distract attention from his own unprofessionalconduct.

Knightmade it clear that does not sympathize with Blake, who has held anumber of press conferences, including one with Latin King leader JorgeCornell.

“The chief should not tolerate an officer holding a press conference against the department,” Knight said.

Knightsaid he does not believe the mayor and council should micromanage citystaff, but emphasized that police officers should be held to a highstandard of conduct and professionalism.

“Youlisten to your city manager,” the candidate said. “The city managerrepresents the city council, carries out council’s policies. The citycouncil certainly has the right to ask questions…. In the end, membersof city council are accountable to the taxpayers. If there’s aperception of wrongdoing in the department or the leadership in thedepartment is not doing its job, I would expect the city manager tohold all department heads accountable for performance.”

Asa retired certified public accountant, Knight said he would like toapply his expertise towards reducing expenditures and improveefficiencies in municipal government, and do more to aggressivelyrecruit new employers and reduce regulatory burdens on business.

“Iwant to do everything I can to make Greensboro fiscally solid, lean andmean, able to do a solid job without spending a lot of money,” Knightsaid. “I’m a fiscal conservative. I firmly believe that government isnot the solution; business is the solution.”

Almost as a mantra, Knight has said during candidate forums that the discussion of business has long been missing from council.

In late October, Mayor Yvonne Johnson defended her record on recruiting and promoting business.

“Idon’t agree that we don’t have business at the table,” she said. “Wehave recruited Precor, which is the top-of-the-line exercise company —300-some jobs — Lenovo, HondaJet, Federal Express Ground, and I couldgo on and on.”

Knightsaid in an interview that Greensboro’s mayor can do more to communicatewith leaders in Winston- Salem and High Point to advance regionaleconomic development, and exploit opportunities to attract bigcompanies.

“I’vemade the point if a Boeing — which makes some noises about leavingWashington State,” Knight said. “I would like to think we could getinto play with our great educational institutions — nine universitiesand colleges — a great airport with land to develop around it.”