SB 36 and its unintended consequences

by Ben Holder

Contributing Writer

c If the bill is passed it will completely change the way Greensboro is governed. There would be no more at-large council members, Greensboro would get seven new council districts, elected members would serve four year terms instead of two and the mayor’s job would be reduced to the job of a mascot with no voting power. But wait, there’s more! The polarizing bill created by Senator Trudy Wade will have four current council members living in the new District 4. Wade’s redistricting plan is the ultimate game of political elimination.

The idea became public after Wade claimed several concerned businessmen approached her. Wade has said she won’t identify the concerned businessmen because they asked to remain anonymous. However, many people in the know believe that the entire plan was hatched by Wade and NC Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr., and not scared local businessmen. According to sources close to this story, Berger Sr. became angry with Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny when Matheny did not support his son, Phil Berger Jr. in his run for the 6th District Congressional seat. Berger Jr. and Matheny both ran for the seat and ultimately lost.

The plan was to redistrict Greensboro to make it harder for Matheny to continue to get elected to the Greensboro City Council. If the plan was created to hurt Matheny, it may backfire. Matheny has openly admitted that he wants to be the next CEO/ President of Downtown Greensboro Inc (DGI). If Matheny were offered the job, he wouldn’t hesitate leaving the world of local elections. If Matheny leaves the election picture, the new District 4, which could be described as surgically drawn, would only include three current council members. Marikay Abuzuaiter, Mike Barber and Nancy Hoffmann would be left to battle it out if Matheny lands the DGI job.

The DGI CEO/President’s job came open when Jason Cannon resigned earlier this year. Cannon faced criticism from several fronts for a variety of reasons, including a lack communication skills. One of Cannon’s biggest critics was Matheny. YES! Weekly reported that Cannon received an unusual settlement agreement when he resigned. The settlement was far beyond what his contract permitted. Sources have told YES! Weekly that one of the reasons Cannon got that settlement was because there was a threat of a lawsuit. Cannon was going to sue because, he claimed, Matheny caused him to have a hostile work environment. Now, Matheny wants Cannon’s old job and apparently several council members want him to have it because it would mean less competition if SB36 becomes a reality. Current council members have launched an underground campaign to help Zack, with one council member having gone so far as to threaten to defund DGI if Matheny does not get the job.

DGI is funded by the taxpayers of Greensboro and they aren’t cheap either. The city has previously given DGI millions of dollars so they can promote and enhance downtown in a way that will attract investors and create jobs. However, things haven’t been going very smooth for DGI lately. Cannon was pushed as the savior for DGI and we all know how that ended. Now, it’s Matheny’s turn to play the part of savior. But, is Matheny what DGI needs or is it simply what he and his fellow council members need? Does Greensboro even really need to keep tossing taxpayer dollars to DGI? On December 23, 2014 the News and Record quoted Matheny saying this about DGI, “I don’t think we’ve gotten the return on investment that we’ve all wanted and desired.” In that same article Matheny voiced his dissatisfaction with former DGI President Jason Cannon.

Matheny serves as the Greensboro City Council liaison for DGI and has done so since 2014. When he became the liaison, he was quoted in the News and Record as saying, “I’m very involved with downtown. My goal is to get absolutely hands on with the direction DGI is taking.” The direction Matheny is taking them has ended in the resignation of Jason Cannon, a settlement payment to hush any talks of a hostile work environment that Matheny may have created and now Matheny is poised to take DGI’s reigns and our money with the help of his fellow council members.

What has Matheny done to improve the taxpayer’s investment return since becoming the council’s liaison to DGI? The only notable things are his stances on a downtown filled with surveillance cameras and police. As a matter of fact, Matheny has been quoted as saying he is in favor of putting surveillance cameras all over downtown and he also said he is in favor of having an “army” of police downtown. If SB36 gets the nod from the NC House Committee, downtown may become a militarized zone. !