Rakestraw wants to continue to clean up police department

by Jordan Green

The Greensboro Partnership, an influential economic development consortium in the city, asks candidates for Greensboro City Council what they see as their most important challenge. Mary Rakestraw’s response is straightforward: “Restore confidence in the police department.”

A former Guilford County commissioner, Rakestraw won her first term on city council in 2007, placing third in the at-large race. This year, she has filed to run in District 4, where political ally Mike Barber is retiring. Also seeking the open seat are Joel Landau, Mike Martin and Joseph Rahenkamp.

Rakestraw’s focus on the integrity of the police department marks a continuation of her campaign in 2007 and her track record during her first term. The candidate did not respond to an invitation to comment for this story.

During the 2007 campaign, Rakestraw expressed displeasure about then-City Manager Mitchell Johnson’s act of locking police Chief David Wray out of his office in early 2006, which precipitated Wray’s resignation. Black officers such as Lt.

James Hinson had been disciplined under Wray. Many voters then and now believe that Wray’s handling of those personnel issues had been warranted and proper.

An exchange with Wray’s successor, Chief Tim Bellamy, during a council meeting in her first month in office set the tone for Rakestraw’s service.

“I think we realize that we have problems,” Rakestraw said. “On the campaign trail, ladies and gentlemen, people asked us certain questions. People felt distrust of the police department.”

In February 2008, Rakestraw introduced a motion to fire Johnson. It garnered only two votes at the time, but along with Barber and District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade the three formed a faction that pushed relentlessly for Johnson’s dismissal. In a little more than a year, Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Anderson Groat and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny would come over to Rakestraw’s side and supply the five-vote majority to accomplish that goal.

The firing of Mitchell Johnson took place weeks after the acquittal of Scott Sanders, a detective who carried out many of the investigations that led to Wray’s resignation. Sanders and another officer, Tom Fox, had been suspended for months. While a television news crew set up, Rakestraw went to place a call to City Attorney Terry Wood. When she came back, she offered Sanders and Fox their jobs back.

Two other campaign issues listed on the candidate’s website reflect her record of service.

Rakestraw’s website says she will “serve as a watchdog over the taxpayers’ dollars,” adding, “I know who pays the bills.”

Rakestraw voted against the municipal budget in June, which maintained property taxes at the same rate and did not increase water rates.

Another is Rakestraw’s opposition to involuntary annexation — a stalwart conservative position that has received increasing support from progressives. Rakestraw’s opponent, Joel Landau, often cast the lone dissenting vote against annexation decisions as a member of the city’s planning board and has said he considers involuntary annexation to be undemocratic.

On council, Rakestraw has usually found herself on the losing end of those votes. She was one of four council members who voted in April against annexing three subdivisions near McLeansville. And early in her term, Rakestraw crossed faction lines to join District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small in opposing an annexation and rezoning decision allowing developer Roy Carroll to build a 300-unit gated apartment complex east of the city near Interstate 85.

She said she believed the land should be reserved for corporate office parks, she worried about the disappearance of rural farmland and that she thought the apartments would be priced out of the range of most residents employed by nearby businesses.