New Greensboro council operates smoothly

by Eric Ginsburg

The new Greensboro City Council, including (l-r) Councilman Zack Matheny, Mayor Robbie Perkins and Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, has demonstrated cohesion and harmony, for the most part.

Greensboro`s new city council practically operated on consensus in its first business meeting Dec. 13, with most decisions passing 9-0. The new composition of council contributed to the change, but so did planning ahead. Rather than seeking to pass items depending on a faction of five votes like his predecessor, Mayor Robbie Perkins said he spoke with the interim city manager and fellow council members beforehand to avoid drawn-out disagreements. “If you were a board chair of any group where you had group decision-making, it’s the same thing you do — you don’t go into board meetings cold,” Perkins said after the meeting. “ It just hasn’t been done much over the past few years.” The city council breezed through most of the agenda items, spending the longest amount of time listening to supporters of a resolution to rename the Greensboro Boxing Club at Lindley Recreation Center and discussing the process for awarding contracts, specifically around a bid from JR Lynch & Sons for the GTCC water and sewer project. Dozens of supporters showed up to speak and stand in favor of naming the boxing club for Coach Al Lowe, and the council unani- mously approved the resolution and shared encouraging words. The item was pulled from the consent agenda, which also passed unanimously, to al- low supporters to address the issue. A few other items were removed for discussion too, though council members’ statements were brief and there was little dissension. Council moved quickly through the handful of public hearing items, and District 3 Council man Zack Matheny interrupted a presentation about the Greensboro-Jamestown joint annexa- tion agreement to move to a vote, which was also unanimous. The agreement drew a line between the two municipalities up to which an- nexation can happen and contained eight minor changes to a proposal that was approved by the previous council. With minimal discussion, council approved a $7.7 million budget for a Battleground Avenue intersection improvements project and a $1.6 million bid for the streets resurfacing project 9-0. On a few items, District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade acted as the lone opposition vote, though she was not alone in her concerns about the GTCC water and sewer project.

Matheny and others expressed concern that the contract was automatically being awarded to the lowest bidder, even if that bidder didn’t offer Minority & Women Business Enterprise participation like others did, which was a requested — but not mandatory — part of the request. Wade said companies like DH Griffin —who bid on the contract — with higher MWBE par- ticipation percentages were forced to subcon- tract to achieve participation, thereby driving up costs and effectively eliminating them from competing for the bid. “They are getting hurt because they did what we’re asking them to do,” Wade said, suggest- ing if the MWBE portion wasn’t enforceable, the city should consider dropping it. “We don’t have any guidelines for good-faith efforts.” Wade was referring to a statement by interim city manager Denise Turner Roth that JR Lynch & Sons, Inc. was considered to have made a good faith effort at MWBE participation. Even tually council decided to discuss the issue at a retreat, and the vote broke down 7-1 as Perkins abstained due to a conflict of interest. A potential debate around funding police overtime by $100,000 was avoided after Matheny, who proposed the item, said it should be discussed in January as part of a larger discussion about police funding once it was clear other council members wanted to see the money go to the department but be spent in different ways. One of the first moves of the new council was to return speakers to the floor to the begin- ning of the meeting, reversing the controversial decision that marked the beginning of Knight’s tenure. Johnson made the motion because she said many residents were upset about the change. Johnson also asked city staff to revisit the sustainability action plan, which came from the sustainability council she created as mayor, and make recommendations. The entire council approved the motion.

“It’s important because there are some things that can be done that will save the city money,” she said, “so I want them to come back with some recommendations to us, which is different from just accepting a report.” Matheny’s proposal for creating a “Buy

Local Month” was also supported by the whole council and the president of Triad Local First, though it was modified from Nov. 15 –Dec. 15 to extend to the end of December. “My goal was to do this in the first week of December, but due to the ceremonial meeting I couldn’t get it passed,” Matheny later said. “It will be in place for years to come — until it’s reversed.” In some ways, the new council’s meeting resembled those of the previous years, with former police captain Charles Cherry criticiz- ing the current chief for not responding to his concerns, council fixture Leon Nutes address- ing council and an unsurprising disagreement between Wade at the conservative end of the spectrum and Bellamy-Small at the other. Yet overall, the meeting was marked by  ainclusive, patient attitude while still moving quickly through agenda items. Perkins’ ap- proach to running meetings differed from his predecessor in more than just planning ahead, as speakers were greeted with respect and the mood was generally jovial. The council could not reach consensus on whether to hire a lobbyist to represent Greens- boro, but the discussion was short. George Hartzman, who addressed council on so many agenda items that Perkins joked about it, said one of the lobbyists from the firm represented a conflict of interest for Perkins, who received donations from the lobbyist’s parents. The council members all agreed to hire Ralph Andersen & Associates to conduct a city manager search, and when Nutes spoke against the decision saying the council should keep interim manager Roth in the position, Johnson and Bellamy-Small encouraged her to apply if she was interested. “In my mind, she’s a Mr. Rashad Young,” Nutes said. “Forget about a consulting firm. Give our locals a chance.”

Three people spoke against the council’s deci- sion to fund the Greensboro Safe Streets gang task force to the tune of $51,607 and $16,375 for the US Marshals. Both items were passed unani- mously on the consent agenda with no discussion, exactly a week after both agencies collaborated in a raid on six members of the Almighty Latin King & Queen Nation in the area. “We are not a threat to this community,” said Rondell Walker, also known as King Chaos. “We are not thugs; we are human beings. We are hard-working people supporting our families.” At least ten people attended the council meet- ing to oppose the related ordinances, but due to confusion of council and staff were forced to wait until the end of the meeting to address council, long after the decision was made.

Perkins apologized that they weren’t able to speak when the item was being voted on, while Bellamy-Small didn’t address their concerns directly but spoke in support of the city’s anti- gang efforts. As the meeting closed, council members highlighted a number of community events and developments happening, including $1 million in corporate donations to the greenway, a new bakery opening and the winter emergency shel- ters for the homeless. At the end, Perkins thanked everyone for how smoothly the meeting ran. Council members said it was too soon to speak to the differences between the current group and the preceding council, and Matheny said he hadn’t had much of a chance to get to know new members Marikay Abuzuaiter and Nancy Hoffmann.

Johnson agreed it was hard to speak of the new council yet. “It’s early, but I think there’s a real excite- ment to really get some things accomplished,” she said. “Ask me that question again in two months.”