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Now that I’ve been around the block…

What a difference a year makes. Last Christmas season I was sitting around sketching out novel plots and penning lyrics to satirical holiday songs (Have Yourself a Pat McCrory Christmas was a big hit!). This year I was digging through more than 400 emails the City of Greensboro turned over to me on Dec. 23, trying to get to the bottom of a flagging development project in the middle of the city.

It’s actually quite fun. As I noted on a Facebook post sometime about 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I felt a bit like Tron, roaming around inside the mind of a few city planners and executive staff. If I’d had my Tron motorcycle I could have done it so much faster.

It’s a big privilege to be granted so much access to information, to have people return your phone calls, to answer your questions. I’ve approached the last 11 months with a sense of duty and responsibility, knowing that in the big city I had one chance to make a lasting impression. The first several months I was very cautious, not wanting to make any gaffes, or ask seemingly uninformed questions about the complicated topics of the day.

Such caution served me well actually, given that observation, surveillance even, is among my strong suits. It’s not hard to pick up on body language, or personal habits of the people I’m tasked to cover — elected officials, city staffers, movers and shakers in the city that make this place go — and knowing those things helped me decide who to approach early on, and who to avoid at all costs.

Along about mid-summer I felt I hit my stride in this complicated web of relationships and deception that passes for public affairs in Greensboro. It was easier to know who was blowing smoke in my face, who was worth pursuing for information, and who needed a deeper level of scrutiny. It also helped to have a few months of experience under my belt, to know whose information was dependable, and who could be mollified for the moment with a gentle ear and a quick “good to hear from you.”

I look forward to working harder and being more productive in 2015. Heaven knows there’s enough pools of competing interest in Greensboro to warrant as much productive journalism as one man can muster.

The coming year will be an election year for city council, and what a wonderful thing that will be. My goal all along has been to survive the first year, to learn the issues and the personalities in order to be conversant when election season rolled around. I think I’ve accomplished that much and I’m looking forward to it.

That being said, after 11 months on the job, I think I’ve earned the right to engage in a bit of reflecting and prognostication.

It’s hard not to like Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan. She’s tough and well informed. She’s quick to rap someone’s knuckles in a motherly way if she see’s fit, but patient to indulge those who seem desperate to be heard. It’s an appropriate balance for the leader of a diverse city, though her indulgence at times has led to something akin to chaos at council meetings. I don’t fault the mayor for letting people speak their mind, but I think in year two she might find a way to rein in the wayward.

Vaughan told me recently that she’s running for reelection. I think she’ll be tough to beat. Her background as a neighborhood activist and a productive member of council precede her.

She seems born of the developer-real estate interests that run this town, but empathetic, understanding even, of the activist and community-oriented segments that make Greensboro such an interesting place for a journalist.

Mike Barber is often mentioned as a potential opponent for Vaughan next year. I don’t know enough about Barber to make a judgment call on his viability citywide. He seems affable and popular, and given his history of winning elections at the city and county level, one could say he’s quite a capable politician. In speaking with Barber, he exhibits a masterful understanding of policy and issues. Too often, though, he comes across as impatient and unwilling to hear the unpopular view.

How would he translate to the activist class and the minority interests that are so strong in Greensboro?

Several of the other council members, in my opinion, have yet to distinguish themselves at a significant level. Too often the less experienced members of council get caught up in single-issue dogma, allowing tunnel vision to undercut their potential effectiveness. Or they remain silent, only speaking when their pet issue, be it money, development or projects in their district, are discussed.

I could go down the list, but I think it’s sufficient to say that one-trick ponies aren’t built to last. Less experienced members of council do have one thing in their favor. They can look to the constant serenity of Yvonne Johnson for inspiration and take a page out of her consensus-building playbook in order to make 2015 a big year for getting things done in Greensboro. !

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